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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #27!

Your podcast, should you choose to accept it…

This week, I join Jay Coyle and Luke Dunne from Film in Dublin to discussion the week in film news. There’s a host of interesting stuff here, from the James Gunn controversy over Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 to the film noir compromise of Gilda to the divisive Dublin Oldschool. Along the way, we take a side-trip into discussions of vaguely unsettling YouTube algorithms aimed at children. However, perhaps the real reason to give it a listen is to hear Luke’s “grand unified theory of Tom Cruise” as part of a broad discussion about Mission Impossible: Fallout.

Give it a listen at the link, or check it out below.

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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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“A Bunch of Grown Men in Rubber Masks Playing Trick or Treat.” Mission: Impossible – Fallout and Good Old-Fashioned Espionage Fun…

One of the most striking aspects of Mission: Impossible – Fallout is how thoroughly and how completely it rejects the idea of morally compromised blockbuster protagonists.

The Mission: Impossible series has always had a bit of an auteur quality to it, with individual writers and directors bringing their own styles to bear on a given installment. The original is very much a Brian dePalma film, leaning heavily into themes of identity and Hitchcockian tension. The second is very much a John Woo film, complete with slow motion black leather and white doves. The third is a J.J. Abrams film that comes in and very consciously tweaks the formula while drawing attention to its own plot mechanics. The fourth is a string of incredibly impressive and kinetic action sequences strung together with Brad Bird’s patented sense of pacing and spectacle.

However, there was some tension when Christopher McQuarrie was recruited to direct the fifth film in the franchise and returned to direct the sixth. McQuarrie is primarily known as a writer rather than a director, with only a handful of director credits to his name. McQuarrie doesn’t necessarily have a distinctive style, although he has a long-standing relationship with Cruise from his work as director on Jack Reacher and as writer on Valkyrie and The Mummy. However, in a high-stakes action series, there was always a question of what McQuarrie could bring to the series to put his own distinct slant on the series. Whether he has or not is still a matter of heated debate; some would argue that Mission: Impossible is an ode to Tom Cruise as auteur or to the stuntman as auteur.

That said, there is a sense that McQuarrie is approaching the material in his own unique way. Perhaps reflecting his own background as a writer, his two Mission: Impossible films tend to play rather heavily with the idea of what a Mission: Impossible film actually is, even if they aren’t quite as ponderous or self-conscious as the recent James Bond films. McQuarrie’s scripts for his Mission: Impossible films are decidedly writerly in a way that Mission: Impossible II and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol are not, and in a markedly different manner than Mission: Impossible III. In fact, arguably the biggest issue with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was that McQuarrie was too writerly, working too hard to sell the idea of Ethan Hunt as a compulsive workaholic.

Fallout perhaps gets the balance right. A large part of this is down to the careful structuring of its action sequences to build a sense of propulsive momentum. Most Mission: Impossible films tend to peak in the middle; the dangling sequence from Mission: Impossible, the Vatican sequence and bridge raid in Mission: Impossible III, the skyscraper climb from Ghost Protocol, the opera sequence and underwater dive from Rogue Nation. Instead, barring the spectacle of the HALO jump, the set pieces in Fallout constant escalate. They ramp up; the bathroom brawl, the Paris motorbike chase, the two-level urban pursuit, all building to the three-thread helicopter climax.

However, part of that is undoubtedly down to the fact that McQuarrie seems to fundamentally understand how a Mission: Impossible film works, and so weaves it carefully into the plot. Fallout superficially resembles a modern franchise blockbuster in a number of ways; the pulsing Lorne Balfe score, the darker and edgier teases, the heightened sense of continuity, the ridiculous escalated stakes, the crosscutting climax. However, all of these elements serve to emphasise the relative simplicity of Mission: Impossible as a series, and to celebrate what distinguishes it from contemporary blockbusters rather than attempting to close the gap.

The Mission: Impossible films seem relatively old-fashioned as far as blockbuster franchises go. They are released at a fairly steady pace, but with significant gaps between films. There is always relatively little gossip or hype around them until they actually arrive. There are seldom any casting rumours. There are no hardcore fans wondering how this instalment will fit within an established continuity. There is no post-credits teaser to set-up the next installment. Each film has a markedly different tone instead of enforcing a consistent house style across the films. It is possible for audiences to dip their tow into a particular film in the franchise without having to do any real homework.

More than that, they are a rare modern franchise that seems to be driven as much by star power as by the intellectual property. This may be largely down to how Brian dePalma adapted Mission: Impossible for the big screen in 1996, in the era before X-Men and Spider-Man effectively changed the blockbuster landscape. dePalma approached Mission: Impossible not as a sacred “mythos” to be adapted to screen with fidelity and delicacy. Instead, dePalma treated Mission: Impossible as a springboard to crafting his own decidedly esoteric psychological espionage thriller. There are elements of the original Mission: Impossible that can be traced back to the original show, but it is about as faithful to the source material as Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman: Returns.

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Non-Review Review: Mission – Impossible: Fallout

Mission: Impossible – Fallout has the best third act of any blockbuster in years.

To be fair, the first two acts are highly enjoyable on their own terms, with writer and director Christopher McQuarrie building and maintaining momentum across the film’s near-two-and-a-half hour runtime. As expected of the franchise, Fallout is peppered with memorable set pieces that push the plot along with an endearing commitment to in-camera action set-ups, impressive stunt choreography and ambitious imagination; skydiving through a thunderstorm, a brutal bathroom brawl, a daring mid-movie motorcade abduction, a three-dimensional topographical pursuit.

Snow escape.

While all of these elements work well, with the bathroom brawl in particular serving as a worth addition to the franchise’s set piece canon, the final act of Fallout is a masterclass in blockbuster film-making. It is a genuinely dizzying piece of spectacle, a soaring accomplishment that manages to ratchet up the suspense for the better part of forty minutes, making excellent use of an ensemble in close geographic proximity but in very different situations. McQuarrie skilfully understands the rhythm and the tempo of the scene, crosscutting beautifully between the various strands to sustain the tension.

Fallout is not the best film in the Mission: Impossible franchise; it isn’t quite the all-rounder that Mission: Impossible III was, and it lacks the gleefully demented sustained adrenaline rush of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. However, it is a testament to the remarkable and sustained quality of the franchise, and the best movie of the summer to this point.

Just dive right in…

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The Lone Gunmen – Maximum Byers (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

With Maximum Byers, it seems like The Lone Gunmen has wandered back into the wilderness.

Madam, I’m Adam and Planet of the Frohikes suggested a show that had found its own voice and figured out how best to tell stories featuring theses characters. Those two episodes worked by eschewing the caper-driven hijinks of episodes like Like Water for Octane and Three Men and a Smoking Diaper in favour of character-driven melancholy. Planet of the Frohikes might be the single funniest episode of the show’s short run, but it mostly works because it is underpinned by a sense of genuine tragi-comedy. Its characters felt real; even the talking monkey.

"Thank you very much..."

“Thank you very much…”

Maximum Byers seems to set the clock back to the early first season, sending the Lone Gunmen on a wacky self-aware adventure designed to evoke classic episodic television. It is a model very similar to that employed by scripts like Eine Kleine Frohike or Diagnosis: Jimmy, where the objective is to drop a major character into an unlikely situation and hope that the plot (and the laughs) take care of themselves. After all, “Byers undercover in prison!” seems as compelling as “Frohike undercover as a woman’s long lost son!” or “Jimmy in hospital!”

For most of its runtime, Maximum Byers is fairly bland and inoffensive. It is not particularly memorable or hilarious, but it is not close to the worst episode of the show. Unfortunately, then the ending happens. One of the more frequent criticisms of The Lone Gunmen is that the show had difficulty balancing its tone. While there is an element of truth to this observation, it is never quite as clear as in the final act of Maximum Byers. Then again, it is probably quite tough to do a comedy set on death row.

Critics couldn't wait to (bed)pan the episode...

Critics couldn’t wait to (bed)pan the episode…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Stratagem (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.

With Stratagem, the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise gets its head back in the game.

The recent stretch of third season episodes seemed to lose sight of what made this such an intriguing premise. Although Rick Berman had conceded that there was an escape hatch in place in case the Xindi arc could not sustain a full season of television, it was increasingly clear that the third season of Enterprise would be a single extended arc exploring Archer’s attempts to find the source of a deadly threat against mankind. It was a bold experiment for a show that had been quite rigidly episodic to this point. At least in theory.

Archer's on candid camera...

Archer’s on candid camera…

In practice, the third season of Enterprise seemed to flounder a little bit once it got past the initial burst of speed powering it into the third season. All of a sudden, the crew found themselves involved in a number of increasingly stand-alone adventures with superficial ties to the larger arc. Episodes like Extinction and Chosen Realm could easily have been produced and broadcast during the show’s first two seasons, with minor alterations. Exile and North Star were only loosely connected to the season’s plot. Carpenter Street was a time travel episode.

Proving Ground had suggested that the show was ready to re-focus its attention on the matter at hand and get back to the imminent threat posed by the Xindi. At the same time, the episode was also keen to stress its episodic nature – most notably in its role as the show’s annual check-in with the Andorians. Stratagem is very much its own self-contained story, but it is a lot more confident about how it fits in the larger scheme of things, and where it fits in the broader arc of the season.

Engineering a convincing set-up...

Engineering a convincing set-up…

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Non-Review Review: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation moves like the clappers.

The movie speeds along through a selection of impressive stunt work and setpieces, constantly ramping up the tension and raising the stakes. The threat is constantly larger, the game ever more deadly. The film escalates and escalates, to the point where foreign heads of state are nothing more than pieces on a chessboard, fodder for impressive action sequences and swift double-crosses. In a way, this is the approach that made Mission: Impossible III and Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol taken to its logical conclusion. Momentum is key.

Cruising...

Cruising…

However, there are points where it feels like Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation hits the limit of this approach – that it serves as a control case to demonstrate just how far you can push this sort of suped up storytelling without breaking the emotional tethers that hold all this together. There are several major emotional beats in Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation that simply don’t land because the film has never eased its foot off the gas long enough to develop any of its characters beyond familiar archetypes.

This is perhaps the biggest problem with the film, but writer and director Christopher McQuarrie is shrewd enough that he never lets it get entirely out of hand. If the movie’s biggest emotional moments never have the necessary punch, that is not enough to sink the film; there is always another big action setpiece or another reversal or another tense thrill ride waiting after this underwhelming character beat. Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation might move so fast that it seldom has room for its characters, but it also moves so fast that this is seldom a fatal flaw.

Winging it...

Winging it…

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