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My 12 for ’18: Holding Out for a Hero in “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”

It’s that time of year. I’ll counting down my top twelve films of the year daily on the blog between now and New Year. I’ll also be discussing my top ten on the Scannain podcast. This is number ten.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout was released around the tenth anniversary of The Dark Knight.

In fact, the week after I caught the preview of Fallout, I attended a tenth anniversary screening of The Dark Knight. This is important, because Christopher McQuarrie’s second Mission: Impossible film undeniably exists in conversation with Christopher Nolan’s epoch-defining blockbuster. It is impossible to watch Fallout without thinking of The Dark Knight, from Lorne Balfe’s propulsive score to the sight of an armoured truck sinking slowly into a river.

However, McQuarrie does something interesting with Fallout, in relation to The Dark Knight. Too many of the films influenced by that iconic piece of cinema opted for shallow and superficial homage. Thor: The Dark World and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Transformers: The Last Knight settled for borrowing influence from the title. Law Abiding Citizen tried to embrace moral ambiguity. Man of Steel attempted to emulate that serious grounded approach to other properties.

In contrast, Fallout understands that the best thing that most films could learn from The Dark Knight is simple craft and professionalism. Fallout understands that top-notch production, an emphasis on in-camera effects and a propulsive sense of momentum are the most applicable lessons that most films could take from The Dark Knight. As such, Fallout takes those lessons and applies to them to Mission: Impossible, leading to the year’s most impressive embrace of the concept of heroism.

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94. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (#166) – This Just In

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and with special guests Graham Day and Luke Dunne, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 166th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Skyscraper

Hollywood never really gives up on a genre that it loves, even when it might appear that the audience has moved on.

The perpetual reinvention of the western is one example, a genre that is constantly updated in terms of style and substance to reflect the times. The western has been reinvented and reimagined countless times over the past few decades, whether by combining it with other genres or by examining its underlying assumptions. The western survives in movies like The Hateful EightThe RevenantBone Tomahawk; films that are very clearly westerns even if audiences from the genre’s peak would struggle to recognise them.

Hanging on in there.

Disaster films are another example of Hollywood’s perpetual reinvention of a genre that has fallen out of style. While by no means as ubiquitous as they once were, disaster films still pop up from time to time. The attempts to update the disaster film often take the form of hybridisation, of tying the trappings of the genre into a more marketable template. In the nineties, Independence Day cleverly wed the disaster movie to an alien invasion narrative. More recently, Patriots’ Day tied the structure and rhythms of the disaster movie into a counter-terrorism epic.

Skyscraper hits upon what might be the ultimate genre fusion for the disaster movie template. At the very least, it feels like an inevitable hybrid in the modern cinematic climate. At its core, Skyscraper essentially asks… “what if a disaster movie, but also a superhero film?

The bed Rock of a stable marriage.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Manoeuvres (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

It is weird to think that the much-maligned Kazon provided perhaps the closest thing that Star Trek: Voyager had to a long-form story arc.

That probably says more about Voyager than it does about the Kazon. In storytelling terms, Voyager was firmly episodic. There were some loose threads that would span and connect multiple episodes, but the bulk of the show was comprised of very traditional “done in one” adventures. It seems fair to observe that Voyager represented something of a backslide for the franchise. It was much more episodic than Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but also less interested in long-form storytelling than the later years of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

"This is still more enjoyable than Tattoo!"

“This is still more enjoyable than Tattoo!”

One suspects that the Kazon arc running through the second season had something to do with this storytelling choice. Michael Piller pushed really hard to make the Kazon a recurring threat to Voyager and to place them at the centre of the second season. As a result, they become a loose thread that runs through several of the season’s “big” episodes. They place a traitor on board Voyager in Alliances. They provided Tom Paris with a character arc culminating in Investigations. They provided the season-ending cliffhanger in Basics, Part I.

The arc was not well-received, whether by the fans or by the staff. It is not too difficult to understand why. Even before considering the quality of the arc itself – or the storytelling involved – the Kazon are hardly the most compelling Star Trek villains. Allowing for that, it seemed like the writing staff had no real idea how to serialise a story arc across a season, making all manner of clumsy mistakes along the way. The arc never gathered momentum and it never paid off, which are very real problems when trying something that ambitious.

Either you Kazon... or you be gone...

Either you Kazon… or you be gone…

Manoeuvres effectively kicks off the arc. Although the Kazon had appeared in Initiations earlier in the second season, Manoeuvres features the first reappearance of Seska and Cullah since State of Flux midway through the first season. The episode is perhaps the strongest of the “Kazon” shows, with a sense of momentum driving the first half of the script. However, things rather quickly come off the rails in the second half of the story. Already, the production team’s inexperience with serialised storytelling is showing.

Manoeuvres is perhaps as good as the Kazon ever got. It is nowhere near good enough.

So that's why they call them raiders...

So that’s why they call them raiders…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Forgotten (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Forgotten opens with a funeral service.

It is nominally a service for the eighteen people who died in the Xindi attack. (The total was given as seventeen in Damage, but it is possible that Archer is counting the death of Fuller from Anomaly or that another crew member died in the interim from their wounds.) It is a nice illustration of just how strongly the final stretch of the third season embraces serialisation, with the episode’s teaser serving as a coda to the events of the previous two episodes. It is a nice, small touch that sets the mood for the episode ahead.

Funeral for a friend...

Funeral for a friend…

However, it also seems like a very self-aware sequence. Archer is nominally talking about the death of eighteen characters, but he might as well be talking about the looming death of this iteration of the Star Trek franchise, or of the death of innocence that featured in Damage. “We’re in bad shape, I can’t deny that,” Archer tells his crew. He could just as easily be talking about the show, which seemed practically under siege at this point. “But we’re still in one piece. Enterprise is a tough ship. She took more than anyone could ask her to and then some.”

In many ways, the beating that the Enterprise took in Azati Prime reflects the beating that Star Trek: Enterprise had taken over its three year run: from a fandom hostile to the idea of a prequel and unsatisfied with an overly familiar storytelling structure; from a network that had changed hands during the first season of the show; from an eager Hollywood press that could smell blood in the water that had been ripely aged eighteen years; even from former allies like Majel Barrett, William Shatner and Ronald D. Moore.

Tripping over his emotional state...

Tripping over his emotional state…

The Forgotten is a story that is very consciously symbolic and metaphorical. It is also something of an oddity. In a way, it feels like a more successful version of what the show attempted with Harbinger, offering a light character-driven story falling between two bigger beats in the larger plot arc. With its fixation on sex and violence, Harbinger was goofy and pulpy in equal measure. In contrast, The Forgotten is an episode that is morose and sombre. It is an episode that very clearly articulates where the third season is going – and where it always has been going.

If Damage was a show about how Star Trek could easily get lost in a grim and gritty War on Terror metaphor, The Forgotten reveals that the third season was never about rationalisation or justification. The Forgotten is a show about how the Star Trek franchise needed to find a way back to its more traditional values.

A massive breach...

A massive breach…

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Non-Review Review: Big Game

Big Game is a rather unlikely combination. Jalmari Helander’s comedy action movie plays as a cocktail of Airforce One and E.T., a coming of age film blended with a old-fashioned action adventure film. It is a combination that works surprisingly well, allowing Big Game to be both playful and charming. Big Game feels like an homage to classic eighties and nineties cinema – the emotional beats are broad, the action is absurd, the irony is layered on pretty heavy. Big Game is always wry and self-aware, but never quite breaks character.

It is a potent mixture, and one that manages to hold itself together remarkably well across the film’s ninety-minute runtime. Big Game never takes itself too seriously, providing a light and exciting action adventure treat.

“I’m king… er… leader of the free world!”

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Vengeance Factor (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Vengeance Factor is an ambitious little episode that never quite manages to follow through on its potential. Something of a Riker-centric romance to compliment the Troi-centric romance in The Price, the episode is an exploration of vengeance and generational strife – the cost of feuds that last decades, even centuries. It’s a story where Yuta’s thirst for revenge keeps her young, and one that opens with Crusher tracking the acts of piracy back to the Gatherers using a blood stain on a shard of metal. Subtle, it is not.

However, there’s something almost endearing about The Vengeance Factor, from its very eighties leather Mad Max reject space pirates through to the way that channels the optimism of Star Trek quite well. Although the ending is unbelievably forced, at least it is striking and effective. Far from perfect, and not among the high points of this third season, The Vengeance Factor still marks a sharp improvement from The Price.

There will be blood...

There will be blood…

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