Review of “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is in Berlin and on the trail of three missing plutonium cores that could be used to make three bombs. Ethan, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) are double crossed and the nuclear material is stolen by a shadowy group called the Apostles, the remnants of captured anarchist Solomon Lane’s (Sean Harris) group. CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) insists her agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) go with Hunt and his IMF team due to Ethan’s choice to save Luther in Berlin but let the plutonium cores go. Ethan and Walker parachute into Paris to infiltrate a meeting between a representative of terrorists code named John Lark and an arms dealer known as the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby); but an effort to subdue Lark in a men’s room fails when during a fight he is killed by Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). Ilsa’s sudden appearance and her unwillingness to explain it adds more plates for Ethan to keep spinning. To retrieve the cores Ethan must break Solomon Lane out of an extremely well-guarded convoy as he is the price being asked by the White Widow. Ethan doesn’t know who he can trust as there is treachery from the Apostles and possibly within his own team.

Tom Cruise is still a tool. I’ve had that opinion for quite some time due to his adherence to a pseudo-religion made up to win a bet by a hack science-fiction writer and transformed into a money-making cult by its leadership over the decades. Cruise’s calling former Today Show host Matt Lauer “glib” during an interview that strayed into psychology and drugs to treat depression was the moment I truly turned against him. He can believe whatever he wants but I don’t have to support him and his films. At least that’s what I thought and said back then. As with most things my opinion softened over time. While I think Cruise is misguided in his beliefs I will go see his films. If they stink, I’ll say so. “The Mummy” wasn’t great but wasn’t awful, and I said so. “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” doesn’t stink and doesn’t fall in that middle ground. It is quite spectacular.

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” manages to take a terrifying reality of the modern world and make it entertaining. It takes the very plausible and frightening scenario of nuclear material for sale on the black market and turns it into a twisty and believable mystery. Granted, parts of “M:I-F” stretch credibility, especially some of the tech and the life-like masks, but the overall bones of the story hold up to scrutiny. Sadly, we live in a world where nuclear material can go missing and those tasked to keep an eye on it have no idea where it might be. This probably happens more than we know (especially from facilities in the former Soviet Union) and I’d prefer to remain ignorant so I sleep at night.

“M:I-F” turns Ethan Hunt into a troubled hero. Hunt is wracked with guilt over the life he shared with his wife Julia, played by Michelle Monaghan, and the danger he put her in. He dreams of a wedding where the vows are perverted into what his actual life is like by Lane and they all die in a nuclear explosion. Hunt saves Luther despite allowing the plutonium to fall into the wrong hands because he believes saving one life is just as important as saving millions. Hunt seems to be paying for his various sins by trying to save everyone practically by himself. It must be tiring to work with someone like Hunt that constantly takes all the weight on his shoulders and causing his partners to share the burden out of a sense of obligation. It also says a great deal about the friendship between the team as they take on these impossible missions with Hunt despite the long odds.

That friendship is believable thanks to a terrific supporting cast of Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson. While not technically part of the team, Ferguson’s Faust should be considered an associate member as she’s played a big role in the last two movies. There’s the potential for a love affair between her and Hunt but wisely the filmmakers haven’t fallen into that easy trap. Pairing these super spies working for two different countries would never work as they would A) never be in the same place at the same time long enough to have a relationship and B) Hunt would face the same emotional demons as during his marriage to Julia but compounded by them both being in the field, making each a target to get at the other. And on top of all of that they could never chat about work since everything they do is classified.

Rhames and Pegg are kind of the Laurel and Hardy of the “M:I” series. Rhames is the large and powerful member of the duo. He’s soft spoken but can turn up the pain when needed. Pegg is the twitchy and seemingly incompetent one that comes through when the pressure is on. Together they serve as Hunt’s backup and emotional support team. They work as characters since neither stray too far from what appears to be their natural selves. I can see a Luther and Benji spinoff film…or maybe a Blu-Ray bonus feature.

Naturally what attracts the most interest in the “M:I” series is the stunts. While nothing quite rises to the white-knuckle level of climbing on the outside of one of the world’s tallest buildings or being strapped to the outside of a plane as it takes off, “M:I-F” still manages to impress with the HALO jump and the car/motorcycle chase through the streets of Paris. While much of the jump was really done by Cruise there are clearly parts that are handled with either CG or stunt people. Despite this it manages to be an exciting and harrowing stunt. Cranking up the adrenaline scale is two chases through Paris in a motorcycle and a car. Narrowly avoiding pedestrians, other cars, police vehicles and motorcycle cops, Hunt whizzes through the narrow streets and alleyways of Paris. The motorcycle scenes are shot with Cruise not wearing a helmet. Even a mistake made by a professional stuntman would risk serious injury; but stunt performers are a dime a dozen. There’s only one Tom Cruise. Production was shut down for over a month while Cruise recovered from a broken ankle suffered while jumping between two buildings. The $80-million in added costs, from needing to pay the crew and cast to keep them from taking other jobs, was covered by insurance. Tom Cruise is 56 years old. While he’s certainly not ready for an assisted living facility he should perhaps let the professional stunt performers that normally play the nameless henchmen in his films do the truly dangerous stunts.

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language. There are numerous shootings and stabbings in the film, but none are bloody. There are also some very violent fistfights that would leave people not in a movie with concussions, broken jaws and noses. There are also a few car crashes. There’s a helicopter chase that leads to helicopter crashes with bodies being thrown and flung out of the craft. Hot oil scalds a character’s face leaving him looking awful. There is a couple of attempted hangings, a man beats up a woman and the death of the bad guy can only be described as unique. Foul language is scattered and there is the one rating-allowed use of “F**k.”

Are there more “Mission: Impossible” films coming down the pike? I don’t know. “…Fallout” seems to put a bow on several dangling story threads from previous entries in the series as well as dealing with Hunt’s guilt over Julia. Could another threat to global world peace and safety be used to lure Hunt and his IMF team back into the field and on the big screen? Sure! Big paychecks can get anyone to do just about anything. Is there really a need? Right now, no. In three years, maybe. Since this sixth film in the franchise had the biggest opening of all the films, both domestically and worldwide, there’s a better than average change we’ll see Ethan Hunt choose to accept another mission. While Tom Cruise is a tool he does make a very entertaining action/adventure movie and if there is another, I’ll see it.

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” gets five stars.

This week’s films run the gamut from a political documentary to teenagers with superpowers. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Darkest Minds—

Death of a Nation—

Disney’s Christopher Robin—

The Spy Who Dumped Me—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news in streaming, movies and TV available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “The Girl on the Train”

Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a broken woman. Her marriage to Tom (Justin Theroux) ended badly after they were unable to conceive a baby and Rachel began treating the depression with alcohol. She would black out and Tom would tell her all the violent things she did. He began an affair with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) who he eventually married after divorcing Rachel. He and Anna have a six-month old named Evie. Rachel rides the commuter train into the city every day and is able to see her old house through the window. She also sees the house next door and makes up stories about the young couple living there. That is Megan and Scott (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans). Rachel has seen them having sex through the big window of their house that faces the tracks and believes they are a perfect couple; but that isn’t the case as Megan is restless and doesn’t want to have a baby despite Scott’s wishes. Megan sees psychiatrist Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez) and tells him all her secrets and desires and how Scott is an emotional bully. On her daily commute, Rachel sees Megan on the porch in the arms of another man. Distraught, Rachel gets very drunk and plans on confronting Megan about the apparent infidelity. The next day, Rachel wakes up after blacking out, covered in blood and discovers Megan has gone missing. Is she responsible? What happened in the hours she can’t remember?

Based on a book by the same name, “The Girl on the Train” is a twisty, slow-burn thriller that had the potential of being a very good movie. It has lots of sex, infidelity, lies, misdirection and substance abuse and could have really kept the audience guessing about whodunit. Sadly, all the mystery of the mystery is exposed far too early and the story is strangely uninvolving despite being made very complicated and with a fairly large cast of characters.

The cast isn’t to blame for the shortcomings of “The Girl on the Train.” Emily Blunt’s Rachel is about as sad and pathetic as any character in any film I’ve ever seen. Her investment in the lives of Megan and Scott, two people she’s never met, is about the only thing holding her anywhere close to together. When she sees what she perceives as Megan’s betrayal of Scott it turns her into a member of the drunken morality police and marks her rock bottom. It is a performance that must have been taxing for Blunt as it required so much raw emotion, so much crying and at times so much naked honesty from the character. Blunt manages to make Rachel both annoyingly pathetic and someone you want to wrap up in a tight hug.

Rebecca Ferguson plays Anna, the “other woman,” like a creepy Stepford wife. She is all about raising her child and maintaining her home and anything that interferes with that is met with a look that implies she is plotting your death. Ferguson is kind of the heavy of the story for a while and is fairly easy to dislike. Her jealousy of Rachel doesn’t make her any more pleasant. For this character it is an effective performance.

Haley Bennett plays Megan like a bit of a spoiled child. Megan admits to being restless and she’s always comparing her life now to what it was like when she was 17 and living in a hunting cabin with her boyfriend. It is a pivotal part of the story that eventually leads to the tragic events that play out. Bennett, who bears a striking resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence, has a smoldering sexuality that is a good match for the character. She looks both innocent and seductive at the same time. It’s a delicate balance that Bennett uses to her full advantage.

The rest of the cast is impressive as well. What doesn’t work in “The Girl on the Train” is the arm’s length way the story is told. I never felt invested in these characters. The story meanders, jumping back and forth in time, filling in backstory leading the audience up to the events of Megan’s disappearance and juxtaposing that with what’s going on in Rachel’s life as she’s trying to pull herself back together while also befriending Scott. The story becomes a tornado of information that is mixed together in a haphazard way. Perhaps the disjointed narrative made emotionally investing in these characters impossible or maybe the script didn’t stick closely enough to the book to give us the depth of feeling for the people we learn so much about. Whatever the reason, “The Girl on the Train” feels like a static display in a museum: All the information about the subject is in front of you but it lacks any life.

“The Girl on the Train” is rated R for violence, sexual content, language and nudity. There are several brief sex scenes. The most graphic nudity is mostly backsides. All other body parts are imaginatively hidden. Violence is scattered but bloody. Foul language is also scattered.

“The Girl on the Train” is somewhat intriguing until a revelation from Rachel’s past mostly exposes who is responsible for Megan’s disappearance with about a half hour left in the film. After that, you’re just waiting on that character’s inevitable comeuppance. Watching the film from that point on makes it a bit annoying. Thrillers shouldn’t give you the real villain until much later. After all the information we are given about these five main characters, knowing who is responsible so early makes all that comes before it seems wasted. “The Girl on the Train” has the potential to be a mind-bendingly complicated and involving thriller but it seems to take the road most travelled from the train to the conclusion.

“The Girl on the Train” gets three disappointed stars out of five.

Number crunchers, joke slingers and reluctant power wielders are invading your local multiplex. I’ll see at least one of the following:

The Accountant—

Kevin Hart: What Now?—

Max Steel—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”

IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is tracking a worldwide terrorist organization called the Syndicate. He believes they are responsible for political assassinations around the world that all looked like tragic accidents. Each of these acts also led to political upheaval in the countries where they occurred. CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) believes Hunt is creating conspiracies in his mind and wants the IMF defunded and absorbed into his agency and convinces a Senate subcommittee. Agent William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) now works directly under Director Hunley but still tries to protect and help Hunt where he can. Hunt is captured by the Syndicate; but just before he’s going to be tortured by Janik “Bone Doctor” Vinter (Jens Hulten), Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) helps to kill the guards watching him and set him free. Ilsa appears to be a deep-cover agent working within the Syndicate for another intelligence agency. She stays behind to protect her cover. Hunt contacts Brandt to tell him what he’s discovered and is informed the IMF is no more. Hunt decides to stay in the field despite now being declared a target of the CIA. Hunt covertly contacts electronic intelligence expert Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) to help him track down the leader of the Syndicate: A man he’s only seen once killing an innocent woman. The chase will lead Hunt, Ilsa, Brandt, Dunn and fellow agent Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) around the world in an effort to take down a terrorist group that seems to have eyes, ears and assassins everywhere.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” has the slick and polished look of the most recent “James Bond” movies but has a decidedly lighter tone. While the fate of the world is equally at risk in this film series based on the TV show that ran 1966-1973, the characters are allowed to make a degree of fun of the situation that Bond is rarely allowed. While Bond is a lone figure with minimal support from his agency, Ethan Hunt is part of a larger and much more active ensemble. Hunt is frequently saved by one of his fellow agents, either directly or remotely, setting this view of espionage apart from its British counterpart. Each approach has its merits and the M:I series gets a bit more narrative mileage from the comradery of its characters.

Much has been made from the well-publicized stunt of strapping Tom Cruise to the side of a plane and filming him as it took off. The advertising for the film certainly didn’t bury the lead as this is the first scene in the movie. While it is probably the biggest stunt in the film, there are plenty more that occupy a great deal of the film’s over two hour running time. Whether sliding down a rope from the roof of the Vienna Opera House or holding his breath for six minutes to film an underwater scene in one take, Cruise delivers big thrills at great personal risk to himself and his multimillion dollar paychecks.

Whether the acting is any good is kind of beside the point in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” but it is good. The entire cast is spot on with particular praise for Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust. Without giving too much away, her loyalties are always in doubt as she never plays her role with too many clues as to which way she might go. She also looks good in a silky yellow dress as she prepares to carry out an assassination. Ferguson is also adept at physical stunts, performing more than a few wild and vicious moves.

Simon Pegg is always reliable for some lighter moments as tech genius Benji Dunn; but these lighter moments are actually a set up for some dark times near the end of the film. Audiences don’t like seeing the smart, friendly characters face mortal danger. It gives us even more stress than when we watch the characters that we expect to be at the edge of death. We have learned Ethan Hunt can extract himself from every situation; but Benji is far more adept at hacking a security system, not beating up a security guard. After all, his name is Benji…like the dog.

Alec Baldwin also provides a secondary heavy that is almost as detestable as the leader of the Syndicate. Baldwin’s CIA Director Hunley shares many attributes with Baldwin’s “30 Rock” character Jack Donaghy: Both are decisive, ruthless and like to talk in a low growl when they are making a point. Baldwin doesn’t have that much screen time but he uses it to full effect. Hunley is portrayed as a bit of blowhard that talks a good game but has trouble delivering what he promises. Baldwin tackles the role with an intensity that says Hunley might be a bit of a braggart but he means business. It’s a very good performance.

If there’s anything I can complain about in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” it’s the omnipotent villain trope that has played a part in nearly all this series. The Syndicate seems to be everywhere and always prepared no matter what Hunt or his colleagues do. The story elements seem to require someone on the inside of the CIA and IMF in order to be as well informed as they appear. I guess this would be a spoiler so prepare yourself: No one is exposed as working with the bad guys. A couple of red herrings are dropped here and there but none of them ever converts into a double agent. The leader of the Syndicate is supposed to be the product of a friendly government’s intelligence agency that goes rogue and creates his own organization to commit chaos around the world. It would seem that he is far better trained than any of the people trying to stop him as his presence is unknown to every other spy agency in the world. It’s all a bit too neat and tidy to occur in a world where every email, phone call and Internet search is collected by one organization or another for analysis. I would hope someone sifting through all that metadata would notice something that would tip off the CIA. I suppose this is yet another example of me thinking too much about a movie plot but it always strikes me as odd when a bad guy can gather so much material and so many operatives and fly completely under the radar.

All in all, this is a minor complaint as everything that is good about “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” far outweighs the bad. From the cinematography to the action to the interplay between the characters to most of the story, the film is a huge love letter to fans of the series.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action & violence and brief partial nudity. There are several fist fights, a knife fight, car chases, car wrecks, motorcycle chases, motorcycle wrecks and shootings in the film. There is far more blood in the trailer for the new “Hitman” film than there is in this entire movie. The brief partial nudity is so brief and partial I’m surprised it was mentioned. It is the back of a woman as she takes off some wet clothes and puts on dry clothes. Foul language is brief and scattered.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” opened at number one at the box office but with the lowest opening of any of the previous four films. Some news stories attribute this to the bad publicity Cruise received from the HBO documentary on Scientology. That seems unlikely. Perhaps the public is just tired of big budget, big action flicks; especially the fifth in a series. Aside from strapping Cruise to the side of a plane (that everyone with an Internet connection could see as many times as they wanted), what was really different about this version of M:I? The answer is nothing. This is a really well done version of the thing we’ve seen four times before. If people decide not to go should we really be that surprised?

The film is doing well worldwide so we can expect a sixth M:I to be released in two or three years as Cruise has already agreed to star in it. If the studio and Cruise don’t mind a little free and unwanted advice, may I suggest you figure out some twist or variation on the spy genre that will surprise people and drive them to tell their friends about what a unique experience the next M:I is. Otherwise, even the rest of the world may start staying home.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” gets five stars.

Two new films open this week and I’ll see at least one of them.

Fantastic Four—

The Gift—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.