Friday, August 24, 2018

Worth Mentioning - You Can't Fight the Friction

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Spy action, an invisible non-agent, and a psycho ranger.


I was a big fan of the established tradition that each film in the Mission: Impossible series would have a different director at the helm, and thus each film would have that director's own unique stamp on it. One of my favorite things about following this franchise has been waiting to hear who would be directing the next sequel. So I was somewhat disappointed when it was announced that Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (who got his start on M:I movies by doing uncredited work on the script for Ghost Protocol) would be back to write and direct another entry in the series, even though I loved Rogue Nation. McQuarrie could write the script again, sure, but why couldn't another director bring that script to the screen with their own visual style?

Even though McQuarrie agreed to direct another Mission: Impossible, he did want to stick to tradition as much as possible and took steps to make it appear that Fallout had been made by a different director than Rogue Nation, including hiring a different cinematographer. But you can only try to think like someone else to a certain degree. What really helps me come to terms with the fact that two Missions have been directed by the same person is that McQuarrie made two really good Mission movies.

While the first three films were separate stories following the same secret agent, Impossible Missions Force agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), there has been close continuity with the films in the "McQuarrie trilogy". As Rogue Nation carried on from Ghost Protocol, Fallout carries on from Rogue Nation and examines the consequences of Hunt and his IMF teammates taking down the villainous Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and his organization called The Syndicate. With Lane in captivity, the remaining Syndicate devotees carry on under the name The Apostles, and they are now associated with a mysterious extremist called John Lark, who is working to get his hands on three plutonium cores stolen from missile base in Russia.

Hunt and his frequent co-workers Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) have a chance to get the cores first through a shady deal in Berlin, but things fall apart when Luther is threatened by Apostles. Hunt doesn't subscribe to the idea that "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one", to him one life is just as important as many, so while he saves Luther the cores are lost.

From Berlin to Paris to London to Kashmir, the rest of Fallout deals with Hunt and his teammate's mad scramble to get those cores back in his possession before they're slotted into nuclear bombs that will be detonated in a certain location where they would cause the greatest possible devastation. Along the way, Hunt crosses paths with a black market broker called the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), is reunited with former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), finds himself in a tenuous alliance with CIA agent August Walker (Henry Cavill)... and has to rescue Solomon Lane from police custody.

I wasn't too impressed with the plutonium core / have to stop the nukes elements of this story. As dangerous as that is, it seems like tired subject matter for a spy thriller at this point, and Ethan Hunt already stopped a nuclear apocalypse in Ghost Protocol. Nor was I impressed with the "twist" (given away early in the film and in the marketing materials) that August Walker is a traitor working with Lane and the Apostles, because there have been way too many traitors in this franchise. By part 3 it was already my wish to get a Mission: Impossible movie that didn't have a traitor in it, and I didn't get my wish with part 3. There were traitorous IMF members in the first three movies, Solomon Lane was an MI6 agent, and now we have a traitorous CIA agent. Ghost Protocol is the only one without a traitorous spy in it, and even there Hunt and his team had to go rogue to do their jobs.

Cavill does do well in the role of Walker, though, and it was fun to see Hunt working alongside a character who has a clear disdain for how IMF does things; someone who thinks these "grown men in rubber masks playing trick or treat" are ridiculous.

The really interesting thing in Fallout is the section of the film where Hunt is forced to undo the victory he earned at the end of Rogue Nation and set Lane free. While working with criminal types in this endeavor, Hunt takes on the identity of John Lark, an unscrupulous and evil man, which drops him into some uncomfortable situations where innocent lives are put at risk. McQuarrie initially thought of digging much deeper into the idea of Hunt having to put on the act of being a bad man, but felt that it would get too dark and drift too far away from Mission: Impossible territory. What remains in there is a moment in which Hunt imagines how badly a scenario could go if he's forced to go full John Lark, and another where people he's associating with shoot a police officer.

Fallout doesn't go as dark as McQuarrie originally imagined, but I would say it is the darkest film in the series. It drops the humor of Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation and replaces it with a rather dour atmosphere, made even darker by the heavy score composed by Lorne Balfe. A score that contains moments of piano that kept reminding me of Silent Night, Deadly Night for some reason.

Fallout is quite serious, but there's still some fun to be had thanks to its several incredible action sequences. Sequences like the heart-pounding HALO jump that required Cruise to jump out of a plane at 25,000 feet more than 100 times; a hard-hitting restroom fight between Hunt, a man with martial arts skills, and hulking bruiser Walker; vehicular chases through Paris that had me in awe; the foot chase that Cruise broke his ankle filming; and a climactic sequence that cuts between a helicopter battle and a harrowing physical altercation.

In the midst of all this, McQuarrie packed in callbacks to every single previous film, from scenes that are reminiscent of moments from preceding entries to references to characters. Fallout even brings us closure to the relationship between Hunt and his former wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan), who he married in Mission: Impossible III and then was separated from by the events of Ghost Protocol. The fact that McQuarrie saw fit to resolve that storyline (from a Mission he wasn't even involved with!) was very much appreciated, and I felt he wrapped all of that up in a satisfying, emotional way.

Overall, I enjoyed Fallout, despite the nukes and despite the traitor, because of the Hunt / Lane / Julia / action of it all. It's not my favorite entry in the series, but it's a good one.

McQuarrie has pulled it off twice, but now I'm back to hoping the next Mission will have a different director. Many viewers feel like this franchise has settled into a groove that it needs to stay in now, but I would like to see things get shaken up again. Fallout may have changed the tone, but it's still very much in the same style as Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation. I would like a return to the days when you didn't know what you'd be getting from the next Mission: Impossible movie because it would depend on what the new director brought to it - the days when a Brian De Palma thriller would pave the way for a John Woo action fest that was nearly followed by a David Fincher movie with a gruesome plot that would have centered on the black market sale of human body parts. Keep me guessing.


After being on Saturday Night Live for a few years and then starring in some of the greatest comedies of the 1980s / of all time, Chevy Chase was anxious to show the world that he was capable of doing something other than comedy - so an adventure film adaptation of Harry F. Saint's 1986 novel Memoirs of an Invisible Man became a passion project for him. The initial screenplay by William Goldman was too comedic, so Chase passed on it. First director Ivan Reitman signed on thinking he was going to be making a comedy about an invisible Chevy Chase, so he was replaced, first by Richard Donner and finally by John Carpenter.

Carpenter ended up working from a screenplay by Dana Olsen and Robert Collector, crafting a surprisingly simple film that centers on stock analyst Nick Halloway (Chase), who gets turned invisible by a lab accident. Nick isn't a scientist, so the film can't dig into scenes of him trying to reverse his own condition. He's not a villain, he doesn't use his invisibility to go on a crime spree. He's not a hero, and you could actually say the film is about him trying to avoid becoming a hero, as Nick is pursued by the CIA, represented by an agent played by Sam Neill, with the organization hoping to experiment on him and turn him into an "invisible agent", much like the invisible fellow in the 1942 film Invisible Agent.

By making an invisible man movie about a guy who just wants to be left alone, Chase's idea was to explore "the loneliness of invisibility". The film delves into that during a stretch that takes place at a beach house Nick retreats to, but rather than go too far down that path it also provides him with a love interest: Daryl Hannah as Alice Monroe, who left a law career to become a documentary producer. Alice just got back from spending some time in Brazil, and now that she's back in the states she seems to be desperate for love - so desperate that she falls in love with Nick during one dinner scene before he turns invisible (the feeling is mutual, as he states that he's "nuts about her" before the viewer has any reason to think he would be), and after he's invisible she remains so crazy about him for no apparent reason that she's willing to leave her life behind, flee the country, and spend the rest of her days living in seclusion with him. The love story here doesn't really work.

Memoirs of an Invisible Man may be more dramatic than the average Chase movie, but it's not clear in the finished product that this was supposed to be his big break away from comedy. There's still plenty of humor in here, my favorite example of that being when Nick knocks out a drunk and uses the man like a ventriloquist dummy to get a ride in a taxi. It's also pretty amusing to see Nick in the makeup that Alice slathers on him so she can see him.

It's also not clear in the finished film that this was directed by John Carpenter. None of his usual trademarks are present, this doesn't look or feel like a Carpenter movie at all. The difficulty of shooting the invisibility effects, which required scenes to be shot twice, may be one reason why the film looks so generic, but the director was actively trying to make something that would be completely studio friendly. Even if that meant losing his own personality.

Memoirs of an Invisible Man isn't very highly regarded, but it's actually not that bad. Whether considered a comedy, an adventure movie, or a love story, it's not a classic on any of those levels, it's not the most interesting invisible person movie out there, and it's not a great representation of a John Carpenter film... but it is thoroughly watchable and decently entertaining.


Director Steven C. Miller got his started in the horror genre with movies like Automaton Transfusion, Scream of the Banshee, and Under the Bed. He started to lean into action with the thriller The Aggression Scale, then after making the slasher remake Silent Night he really started to focus with action as of the film Submerged - which has more action to it than you would expect from a movie that deals with people being trapped into a limousine that's sinking in a body of water.

Working from a script by Max Adams and Umair Aleem, Miller made his first full-on action movie with Extraction, which also marked his first collaboration with Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films, a company he has worked for multiple times since.

I don't know why Bruce Willis does so many direct-to-video action movies, but the guy makes a ton of them, and Extraction is one. Willis plays CIA agent Leonard Turner, but he is not the hero of this film, he is the objective. When Leonard is captured in the field by terrorists seeking to obtain a device called the CONDOR, which can give them control over any government's communications (and thus things like their nukes), the CIA sends an agent out to deal with the situation. That agent is not Leonard's son Harry (Kellan Lutz of The Expendables 3 and 7 Guardians of the Tomb), who does office work for the agency and has applied and been rejected for field work four times. The agent sent out is Victoria Phair (Gina Carano of Haywire and Deadpool), who happens to be Harry's ex-girlfriend.

With his father's life at stake, and since his work in the office has given him extensive knowledge of the CONDOR and the terrorists who were after it, Harry goes rogue and heads out into the field to assist Victoria in her mission. Assistance she's not overly pleased to receive, but she quickly accepts it. She gets so accepting that things start to get reheated between Harry and Victoria while they follow leads and work their way through action sequences.

Extraction is a very simple movie, so simple that in a story about a father and son the thing that can neutralize the CONDOR is called the Patriarch Key. No one was thinking too hard when putting this together, so the viewer isn't required to think very much, either. It gets through its story in just 82 minutes, and that includes the end credits and a title sequence. This is just a little snack of an action flick.

The scale of the movie reflects that short running time. The setting is Newark, New Jersey, and the action never gets very big. It mostly consists of physical altercations, which is definitely something you want to see when you're watching a Gina Carano movie. That was fine by me, as Miller and Carano were my reasons for watching this movie. Miller filming Carano kicking ass was all I needed.

The following review originally appeared on


It's my opinion, and this is an opinion I hold due to my undying love for The Return of the Living Dead, that there aren't nearly enough punk-style characters in horror films, so the group of punk youths at the center of director Jenn Wexler's feature debut The Ranger were a very welcome sight for me. Sure, these punks aren't as cool as the ones in The Return of the Living Dead, they couldn't hang with Suicide and Trash, but I was glad to see them anyway.

Adding to my enjoyment of The Ranger was the fact that it's a slasher throwback, and slashers are my favorite sub-genre of horror. I'm always looking for a modern slasher that can live up to the greatest of the slashers that came out in the 1980s. They rarely even come close, but The Ranger is a solid effort - and one that I found to be very reminiscent of an entertaining lower tier '80s slasher film, 1989's Psycho Cop (although I actually prefer Psycho Cop 2, which came along in 1993).

These drug-peddling punks are on the run from the law after one of their rank stabbed a police officer, and the first place they can think of to go is the remote cabin that our heroine Chelsea (Chloe Levine) spent her childhood summers in, a place where she endured a tragedy that she doesn't fully remember the details of. The cabin is located on a mountain in a national forest and is watched over by the title character, played by Jeremy Holm.

Chelsea and the Ranger have a history together; again, that's something she has mostly repressed. But those buried memories start coming back to her when the Ranger starts picking off her friends one-by-one... And when the killing began, that's when The Ranger really started making me think of Psycho Cop. The '89 film crossed my mind as soon as I saw Holm in the Ranger's full uniform, including hat and sunglasses, but when the Ranger started reciting the laws of the land to his victims while doling out bloody deaths to them, that's when I began to see this as the closest thing we'll ever get to a Psycho Cop 3. Holm doesn't go as far over-the-top as Robert R. Shafer did when he was playing the Psycho Cop, but the similarity is certainly there, and it was really fun to watch Holm in action as this Psycho Ranger.

The rest of the cast did well in their roles, with Levine making Chelsea a strong but conflicted heroine. Wexler and the casting director also did a perfect job of casting the younger version of the character for flashbacks to her childhood; I could totally buy that the Chelsea being played by child actress Jeté Laurence would grow up to be Levine's Chelsea.

It's a trend these days for genre stories to be set in the '80s, and that's not a trend I dislike, since I love '80s movies. Still, it was nice that The Ranger managed to capture an '80s vibe without beating the viewer over the head with the idea that "This is set in the past!" I'm not even sure when it was supposed to be set - the punk-packed soundtrack does feature some music from contemporary groups, but the characters had a boombox and a Walkman instead of cell phones, there were some vintage walkie talkies that were in my household during my '80s childhood, and there was some nice, colorful neon lighting at one point. Of course, there's also synth in the score composed by Wade MacNeil and Andrew Gordon Macpherson, and some synth is always appreciated.

This movie brought back the feel of the '80s while showing me punks getting slashed by an heir to the Psycho Cop throne, so there was no way I wasn't going to enjoy The Ranger. If those elements appeal to you, you'll probably have a blast watching this movie, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment