action, mission impossible, MOVIES, thriller

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

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Mission: Impossible has become the most impressive popcorn franchise going today, and not for how fantastical it is but for how grounded it is, whether Tom Cruise is actually climbing the Burj Khalifa (albeit via digitally erased harnesses) in Ghost Protocol or actually strapping himself to the side of an airborne plane in Rogue Nation. Not to mention, the episodic nature of the franchise allows for each director to give their own unique flavor to it. M:I 2 is in the bottom five movies I’ve ever seen, but I appreciate that the franchise is structured in a way that prevents an installment that bad from throwing the whole thing off.

M:I – Fallout, however, is the first entry of the series to have a returning director, Rogue Nation‘s Christopher McQuarrie, which results in it also being the first M:I movie to be a direct narrative follow up to another.

This time, not only is protagonist Ethan Hunt haunted by both Sean Harris’s Solomon Lane — the first returning villain of the franchise, whose terrorist syndicate has now named itself, ironically so given a touched upon anti-religious scheme of theirs, “The Apostles” — and his decision to marry a woman he can’t be with, Michelle Monaghan’s Julia, but he’s also put into situations that challenge him to compromise his aversion to unnecessary casualties, and it’s this respect for the individual life that could make him indirectly responsible for nuclear war when he’s forced to choose between rescuing a team member and commandeering a case of plutonium he’s trying to keep out of enemy hands.

From here, the plot takes so many twists that it’s hard to keep up with, especially when it eventually pulls off three or four major twists in a single scene, and the motif of moral dilemmas falls to the background from there. Of course, the biggest questions these movies raise regard what crazy stunts Tom Cruise is going to pull off in them, and this movie stuffs in more jaw-dropping stunts than any other entry, at times to an indulgent degree. A climactic helicopter chase had me freaking out like action movies rarely do, although it’s intercut with another showdown that gets ruthless in a way that didn’t sit well with me.

Still, the helicopter chase and the dual it leads to wowed me like no other action sequence I’ve seen since Mad Max: Fury Road, as did a HALO (high altitude, low opening) jump into France through a lightning storm that not only makes for a tense situation but also a striking (both figuratively and literally) visual.

Right of the bat, the movie establishes itself as not as lighthearted a romp as Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation through an eerie dream sequence that foreshadows the threat of nuclear war, though there turns out to be a catch to the grim developments of the prologue’s actual plot, which makes the opening credits with the iconic theme music all the more cathartic. While Fallout opts for a higher ratio of action and lower ratio of humor to break the tension than Rogue Nation, Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg are still there to provide comic relief. There’s also an extensive foot chase through France that not only fills Tom Cruise’s running quota, featuring a stunt that infamously got Cruise’s ankle broken and ended up in the film due to his determination to finish the take, but also puts Ethan in hilariously awkward situations along the way.

Still, I left the theater feeling like I’d been through a warzone rather than an amusement park, and while that’s fine for a movie like Dunkirk, a movie about an actual warzone, that’s such a conflicting feeling for an escapist spectacle that it’s taken me over a week to figure out what to say about this movie (on that note, I found Ant-Man and the Wasp so fluffy that I feel totally unmotivated to write about it). While it’s a lot to take in, I admire how wild a ride it gets, and I want to see it again, which is something I can’t say about most movies I’ve seen this year (such as the comparatively grounded Tomb Raider), or M:I 2.

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Disney, MOVIES, Pixar, superhero

Incredibles 2 (2018)

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It’s strange watching The Incredibles knowing how iconic it’s become. When I was a kid, I just liked it, and I met others who liked it; now that I’m more internet savvy, I can find out how popular any movie is, especially through how much it’s been joked about online. “Where’s my supersuit?!” is no longer funny in its own right but for the jokes that have been made about the joke. Nonetheless, The Incredibles triples as the best X-Men movie, the best Fantastic Four movie, and the best superhero movie of 2004 where the hero stops a moving train with his might alone, and its long-awaited sequel falls one third of its runtime short of being worthy of it.

The first two thirds of Incredibles 2 had me hoping that it could end up becoming as iconic as its predecessor; it just felt like the right expansion upon the original’s themes and characters, with some ingenious action scenes to boot. Alas, the writing takes a dip when a villain’s ridiculous motivations are revealed, leading to a rushed high stakes finale that generically takes itself too lightly. It ends up feeling like any other superhero movie, and, considering how special the movie feels up to that point, I left the theater with my soul crushed. At one point, Elastigirl comments on how society prefers ease to quality, and that’s a pretty good reflection of my impression of the movie itself. Then again, this is a first impression; a second viewing could fare better.

As for the short before Incredibles 2, Bao…I’ve never felt simultaneously heartwarmed and horrified like that before. I kind of admire its riskiness, but I’d recommend reading a synopsis first to prepare for its weirdness.

comedy, MOVIES

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

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The strangest part about watching Napoleon Dynamite as an adult is realizing how strange it isn’t, at least for someone who can now identify with it in a way a kid who simply saw it as a strange and funny movie couldn’t.

I didn’t have a typical high school experience, having been homeschooled with only a couple of classes at the local high school and most of my opportunities for making friends being statewide Catholic youth retreats. Yet, although Napoleon Dynamite is public schooled, he’s not having what I’d assume to be typical high school experience either, or at least not an ideal one. A brash and socially incompetent outcast, Napoleon is often bullied, and his conflicts with his family, such as his older computer geek brother Kip and immature Uncle Rico who’s watching over the household as their grandma is in the hospital for a four-wheeler accident, don’t help.

Whether or not a personality can be reduced to ‘typical’ or ‘atypical’, it’s true that introverts like Napoleon aren’t as prominent as extroverts like the popular Summer Wheatley, and it isn’t until Napoleon meets new student Pedro Sanchez (a Catholic introvert like me, I must add), and later fellow student Deb Bradshaw, where he finds someone he can connect with. The quirky natures of the characters are reflected in the film’s quirky structure; it feels like a string of random events, yet every event enhances the narrative in some way. Well, most events; there is one in particular that takes me out of the movie due to its meaninglessness, and a late moneymaking scheme Uncle Rico comes up with, although it does lead to his comeuppance, leads to situations that are less an endearing type of awkward and more a plain creepy type of awkward, and while I’d want to see him redeem himself after this, I don’t buy the chance at redemption the film sets him up with.

Still, I see myself in Napoleon, Deb, and Pedro, and not just because I quoted their movie to my date who I knew would get a kick out of it at a dance back in high school. In the end, when Napoleon pulls off an act that gets him the applause of a crowd, he runs out before he could hear the applause. It could be because he doesn’t want to know whether he just humiliated himself in front of the whole school, or it could be because the responses of the friends he was doing this for are what matter. While I would have enjoyed the applause, I know I, like Napoleon, would have taken the affirmation of a friend over the affirmation of the crowd.

adventure, fantasy, MOVIES, sci-fi, space opera, Star Wars, Star Wars reviews, war

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

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Since Return of the Jedi disappointments me with a disappointment that seeps back to The Empire Strikes Back, I can no longer hold the Original Trilogy up as something sacred, so it’s become easier for me to accept what’s happened to the franchise afterwards. The Prequels, promised from the episode IV, V, and VI subtitles given to the Originals, were never necessary, and their execution is infamously wonky, yet they have enough imagination for me to give their capper, Revenge of the Sith, a pass for more than its meme material.

As the Original Trilogy was already in constant rotation at my house by the time the Prequels arrived, I can’t remember the first time I saw the Originals, but I remember my first experiences with Revenge of the Sith and the hype surrounding it, so it’s become the most nostalgic Star Wars movie for me, which is odd to say about the downright grimmest Star Wars movie, telling the story of how Darth Vader turned to the Dark Side and how the Jedi died out, with the implication of Jedi children getting slaughtered and climaxing with the most gruesome onscreen injury in Star Wars history. Yet, what takes the edge off a lot of it is its cornball execution that quite deserves the mockery that’s been made of it. Not only is Vader’s turn to the Dark Side abrupt, but his relationship with his wife is so unnaturally acted and written that it’s hard to care that the promise that the Dark Side could save her from a prophesied fate is one of the reasons he joins the Sith.

Still, I do care how all of this affects Obi-Wan and Yoda, and the film has the coolest aesthetic of the saga despite poorly aged CGI, with locations and spectacle seeped in creativity, even if some of the action scenes get so indulgent that they lose tension. While Revenge of the Sith may be in crucial ways a failed ambition, I like the ideas behind its half-baked elements so much that I can allow myself to be stirred by the nonsense, especially as John Williams composes my favorite musical score of the saga.

Marvel, MOVIES

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

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In preparation for Avengers: Infinity War, I rewatched The Avengers, whose theatrical run was one of the funnest times I ever had in a movie theater, and while I still enjoyed it, it fell short of the “Favorite Superhero Movie Ever” status I was holding it up to, fundamentally because, with five individual movies leading up to it (two for Iron Man and one for the Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America each), it feels more like a season finale than something a newcomer can jump into without being confused (so yeah, I’ve now bumped up Batman Begins to the top spot). So, considering how fatigued I’m starting to become with franchises, how well does this third Avengers (technically fourth if Captain America: Civil War counts) fare?

With Infinity War juggling the biggest ensemble in movie history, not just the Avengers but the heroes introduced in between and the Guardians of the Galaxy too, the characters’ interactions are bound to have little time to sink in. It jumps straight into the action, leaving characters I would have wanted catch up time for with no time for catch up and characters I would have wanted to see reunited after the events of Civil War separated for the entire runtime. Most disappointing is the implementation of the Guardians; while one member is one of the story’s emotional cruxes, in general they offer the movie’s most forced jokes, and while I thought Star Lord’s development in the second Guardians was a step backwards from his path to heroism in the first one, by now he’s become so nastily arrogant that he’s lost all charm. On the fortunate side, the villainous Thanos who Marvel’s been hyping up for years lives up to the hype; others have pointed out how he embodies the Culture of Death, and his arc has the most depth out of any of the characters.

For all I can criticize Infinity War for, I still had a heck of a time watching it; it reminds me of Ready Player One in how it brings dozens of fictional characters I’ve known about for years together, except they’re more than mere references here. For as crammed as it feels, it had me laughing, fist-pumping, gasping, and choking up throughout, concluding with a feeling I’d never felt about a movie as the credits rolled. How much impact its emotional punch will have in the long run depends on next year’s Avengers 4, or even a rewatch.

action, gamey, MOVIES, sci-fi

Ready Player One (2018)

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After reviewing a Star Wars movies after reviewing a couple of video game movies, it’s time for me to change things up with…another video game movie. Except Ready Player One, like Wreck-It Ralph, homages rather than directly adapts the medium (it directly adapts a novel though), with various other pop culture references to boot, and it’s helmed by Steven Spielberg, a founding father of popcorn filmmaking.

The downside is that the meandering first two acts feel like a video game that would be more engaging to play than it is to watch, with far too much exposition bogging down the happenings in both the virtual reality world known as the Oasis and the real world whose citizens in dystopian 2045 escape into the Oasis where they can go anywhere, meet anyone, and be whoever they want. This beginning portion isn’t without fun moments, but it is convoluted and lacks energy (plus, squeamish viewers might not appreciate a sequence referencing The Shining that devolves into some gruesome macabre imagery). That is until the blissfully geeky finale happens, where cameos from all walks of pop culture come together for a virtual battle royale (and the movie comes up with a good reason for it), including a showdown between two iconic giant robots I’m quite fond of, and my feelings finally went from “This is…okay,” to “Sold!”

The ironic part is that the film cautions against substituting reality with virtual fantasies and nostalgia while relying on the things it’s cautioning against, and such a reliance is not likely going to stand the test of time. Still, for a disposable crowd pleaser that runs Hollywood’s nostalgia craze to the ground, the fact that it’s a love letter from the most iconic modern filmmaker to the culture he helped shape makes it a little more special.

adventure, fantasy, MOVIES, sci-fi, space opera, Star Wars, Star Wars reviews, war

Star Wars (1977)

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I found during this latest rewatch of the Original Star Wars Trilogy that my investment in it as a whole fluctuates from viewing to viewing. Since I grew up with the franchise in multiple mediums, my official stance on it as of now is that the Star Wars universe itself will always have a special place in my heart, even if not all of its movies and video games will. But Episode IV – A New Hope, initially titled simply Star Wars before the Prequels were announced, still retains its magic for me.

Star Wars didn’t become an overnight phenomenon just for its cutting-edge special effects and spectacle; it built a mythic fantasy world with futuristic trappings and characters who play off each other with rollicking chemistry. The idea that all of this takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away even makes its hokier elements by today’s standards seem timeless, with John Williams’s musical score that’s fully orchestrated as opposed to the easily aged synthetic scores of the time rounding out its timelessness. But the biggest reason why this is the most rewatchable Star Wars movie is not only because of its standalone nature but also because the conflict between the Jedi and the Dark Side, while it is introduced, isn’t in the forefront, allowing for less of the deeper attempts at drama and spiritual resonance of subsequent Star Wars films and allowing for straight-up popcorn escapism, with the story evolving into one swashbuckling action scene after another.

I often wonder if after all these years of popcorn cinema it’s inspired that Star Wars still lives up to its hype. Yet, my experience has proven that it does, with the college-aged friends I’d shown it to for the first time all liking it, the infamously low-res 2006 DVD of the theatrical version at that.

adventure, comedy, Disney, fantasy, gamey, MOVIES

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

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Wreck-It Ralph goes to show that video games work best on film when they’re homaged, not adapted; how fitting is it that a movie that works ingeniously in that regard, about a medium that’s more fundamentally a product than any other (and I don’t mean to diminish the medium’s artistic potential by saying that), was developed– uh, produced by merchandise machine Disney?

Of course, video game adaptations are meant to introduce the stories of games to non-gamers whereas a movie like Wreck-It Ralph would resonate best for those like me who get its references, taking place in a world where arcade games are connected through a power strip hub through which the games’ characters live lives of their own when players aren’t around, and it’s filled with cameos from icons and jokes about game design; oddly though, when a literally sugar-coated racing game called “Sugar Rush” becomes the story’s main setting, the video game references get overshadowed by food puns.

The way the film glosses over how the in-game reason for the titular Wreck-It Ralph’s motivation as the villain of “Fix-It Felix, Jr.” is Felix’s support of the people who forced Ralph out of his home could either be seen as a commentary on how video games often gloss over the questionable things the heroes can do (i.e. Mario punching Yoshi to make him use the tongue attack, Link trapping fairies in bottles to replace his life force with theirs when he dies [I am critical of my favorite game series]…), or it could be intended to tie into the story’s theme that what one roleplays as doesn’t make them who they actually are, yet the whole point is that Felix is the celebrated “hero” whose praise sets the disparaged Ralph off on a quest to earn the respect of a hero.

While the way the film develops its themes isn’t entirely successful, it’s still not only a joy for those who know video games but also plain inventive storytelling, fun in an “I understood that reference” way (not that I appreciate all of the games that are referenced) and also surprisingly moving; not to mention, it features a climactic plot twist so epic that Disney has taken notes from it for all of their animated movies since.

action, adventure, gamey, MOVIES

Tomb Raider (2018)

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I’ve known about the Tomb Raider games since I was young, with my biggest experiences with them actually happening in the last few years: watching through the thrilling but ghastily violent 2013 reboot being played and later playing through the brain-teasing and pulpy 1996 original, which was a pioneer in 3D graphics; the games are also infamous for protagonist Lara Croft’s cartoonishly sexualized appearance, which got played up as graphics improved until the more grounded reboot. I haven’t seen the early 00s Tomb Raider movies with Angelina Jolie, though video game movies are lucky to be “meh” at best; the last video game movie I saw, which was also adapted from a game I’m familiar with but can’t quite recommend, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, was no exception to this rule, but I was still hoping for this latest Tomb Raider to be decent.

This film reboot is fittingly inspired by the game reboot, toning down the violence and subject matter for a PG-13 rating, so I enjoyed a lot of it in an “I understood that reference” way. There is at least one standout action set piece, involving a plane wreck careering over a waterfall, and Alicia Vikander is terrific in the lead; it’s refreshing to see a young British female protagonist be introduced in a fight she doesn’t win after the young British female protagonist of the latest Star Wars movies had been written with no vulnerability to relate to. But then there’s some later imagery that directly reminded me of The Last Jedi, and then, fittingly so given the games’ inspiration, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (a much superior film, to be clear), and then The (1999) Mummy, and then World War Z… Although early scenes introduce intrigue and show promise, it ends up being uninspired stuff. The finale does take an unexpected turn, though the result is in an anticlimax, especially compared to how exciting the game’s finale is, and the villain is offed in a gratuitously cruel way.

But what really left me feeling empty in the end was its setup for a sequel involving an organization pulling the strings here that, from what I know of the games, doesn’t give Catholicism a positive image. Potential anti-Catholicism or not, can’t a studio give audiences an action story and wait for them to show interest in a sequel, not ask them to pay for more before they have time to process the story they just watched? The most satisfying thing about seeing a movie as unsatisfying as this is the content it gives me to write for this blog.