Sean Harris

Mission Impossible: Fallout

 

27/07/18

Most film franchises follow a familiar trajectory. They start well and, through the rules of diminishing returns, steadily become ever more feeble until somebody finally has the good grace to pull the plug on them. The Mission Impossible series, however, seems to have gone in the opposite direction. After a couple of so-so efforts, episodes three, four and five really managed to cut some mustard – and this sixth instalment of the TV-inspired show is surely its strongest manifestation yet. Indeed, this audacious thrill-ride, courtesy of returning writer/director Christopher McQuarrie is so enthralling I occasionally find myself holding my breath as Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) jumps off buildings, races on motorbikes, dangles from helicopters and runs for miles, all in the name of truth and justice. Yes, it’s complete tosh, but when it’s done this well, who cares?

When we first meet up with Hunt, he’s worrying about Julia (Michelle Monaghan), the wife he’s been forced to live apart from in order to keep her out of danger. But of course, for an IMF operative, danger is never very far away. Old adversary Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is being used as a pawn by various secret powers, who aim to utilise his special skills to convert some stolen weapons grade plutonium into deadly nuclear devices. Hunt and his sidekicks, Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames), are assigned to take care of securing Lane and the plutonium and, for this mission, they are assigned an extra player – August Walker (Henry Cavill), a hard man with a high opinion of himself. But, when things go awry, the team are faced with a even trickier challenge. They must track down two nuclear weapons before they are detonated – an occurrence which will destroy huge areas of the planet. (So no pressure there.) Luckily, Hunt’s old flame Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) is on hand to lend her own special talents…

There’s quite a tricky story line here, with plenty of unexpected twists and reveals – and naturally, some of those hi tech masks that the makers are so fond of, but really, it’s all just a linking device for a whole string of spectacular set pieces, which are so triumphantly realised, you’ll barely have time to stop and speculate how far-fetched they are. Cruise, looking far better than anyone his age has any right to be, revels in some of the most hair-raising stunts this side of a Jackie Chan movie – indeed, the scene where he actually breaks his leg is included in all its wince-inducing glory. Cavill, who I’ve never really rated as Superman, is a lot more interesting when given a bit more character to play with and there’s excellent support from the rest of the cast.

Okay, you can argue that this film isn’t really about very much, but you’d be missing the point. It’s all about action and only a very few movies have managed to do it as effortlessly as its done here. My advice? Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride. And Mission Impossible Seven? Well, I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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Macbeth

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08/09/15

Macbeth has been filmed many times with varying degrees of success. Indeed, the story is so familiar there’s no point at all in describing what actually happens, since it is indelibly imprinted upon most people’s consciousness. Yet every single film made thus far has overlooked a really important opportunity. Macbeth and his wife need to be teenagers. Only the overbearing hubris of youth and rampant ambition can ever fully explain their actions. Of course, when you’re in the business of financing a movie, the simple truth is that you need names that will put bums on seats, so the chances are we’ll never get to see such an interpretation on the big screen. Which is a shame.

Here, Michael Fassbender gives us a grimy, muscular Macbeth, while the usually dependable Marion Cotillard struggles somewhat with her Scottish accent as his scheming wife. If you’re going to film this play, you really need to have something different up your sleeve and apart from a few neat flourishes, director Justin Kurzel doesn’t have an awful lot to offer us. He opens with the funeral of the Macbeths’ young son (something alluded to in the text but not, to my knowledge, ever shown before) and then he gives us a big slow motion battle, set against some bleak highland scenery. The witches are nicely restrained (some of their most famous lines summarily dispensed with) and from there, matters proceed at a funereal pace, with Fassbender and Cottilard reciting their lines whilst gazing into the middle distance, like actors in an Ingmar Bergman film.

It isn’t terrible, you understand, but the leaden quality rather neuters this most virile of Shakespeare’s plays, making you long to push on to the next action sequence, rather than relishing those wonderful words. There’s also a terrible misstep when Macbeth appears to discuss the assassination of Banquo (Paddy Considine) as the entire court listens in. It must have been Kurzel’s intention to do it this way, but it looks, frankly, risible.

The closing sections, in which the avenging forces set fire to, rather than transport the woods of Dunsinane, finally allow a touch of awe into the proceedings and the confrontation between Macbeth and Macduff (Sean Harris) is visceral enough to ensure this probably won’t be suitable to show in schools. There’s also a nice twist at the end involving the King’s sword – but by this time, it’s a little too late to salvage proceedings.

Advance reviews for this had led me to expect something extraordinary, but overall this felt like just another version of a tried and tested story. Decent but not a game changer.

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

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02/09/15

We were far too late getting on to this – largely because an entire month of reviewing at the Edinburgh Fringe left us with too little time to actually make it to the cinema: a sorry state of affairs. Rogue Nation is the latest improbably titled instalment in Tom Cruise’s evergreen TV spy spinoff and as the series goes, it’s one of the better efforts – an adrenalin fuelled romp with an outrageously daft plot and a whole heap of inexplicable gadgetry to help the IMF team achieve their goals.

The film starts as it means to go on with the throttle wide open. Ethan Hunt attempts to board a plane… after it’s taken off. (Don’t try this at home. That’s my old stamping ground of RAF Wittering hundreds of feet below, by the way and yes, that is Cruise clinging on to the side of the plane. Nobody can say he doesn’t earn his millions.)

Hunt is on the trail of a mysterious organisation called The Syndicate, who have dedicated themselves to the eradication of the IMF and who are headed up by evil villain, Solomon Lane (a deeply creepy Sean Harris.) As Hunt hurtles around the world, evading assassins and leaping athletically from very high buildings, back at base, Brandt (Jeremy Renner) is engaged in a more pedestrian battle as grumpy CIA man, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) attempts to get the Impossible Missions team shut down. It seems he finds them a bout too reckless for his liking. Soon Hunt is pretty much out there on his own, aided only by his hapless bessie mate, Benjie (Simon Pegg, who must be relieved to add a much-needed hit to his CV) and by the mysterious Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who keeps popping up just in time to save Hunt’s life.

It’s fairly pointless to go into the plot. Most of it is unfathomable and all of it is unlikely, but it’s presented with enough tongue-in-cheek brio to suspend your disbelief. There’s an ingenious set piece at the Vienna opera house, while an underwater sequence where Hunt has to hold his breath for three minutes wracks up the tension to an almost unbearable degree. On the downside, there’s a  motorbike/car chase that seems a tad perfunctory this time around, but that’s a minor quibble. Overall, this is a superior slice of entertainment, which should keep you riveted till the final credits. And of course it still features Lalo Schifrin’s sinewy, unforgettable theme tune, which is a thriller all by itself.

What else can I say? Mission accomplished.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney