Its coming outta the Goddam Couch! : Split Second (1992)

split1
“Operator? Get my Agent!”

There’s a scene in Split Second in which our hero’s love interest, Michelle (Kim Cattrall) is sitting in her lover’s apartment being stalked by the monster, and she’s frantically sweeping the room with her gun for sign of the menace, when its huge claws rip up from inside/under the couch she’s sitting on… utterly ridiculous and nonsensical (this thing is ten or twelve foot tall but it can sneak up out of the sofa?) this moment sums up the whole sad, silly film.

Its a very cheap, very dumb British sci-fi film trying so very hard to be an American action thriller, heavily indebted to Blade Runner and Predator and Alien, set in an unconvincing flooded future London with a plot and characters that come across as pure unadulterated fan fiction: the kind of thing where being adult is saying the F-word endlessly, so much so that this film may have the most F-bombs of any film I’ve ever seen. The kind of film where sophistication and ‘cool’ is mistaken for chomping cigars and eating junk food. Its the kind of film that can star actors like Rutger Hauer and Kim Cattrall and waste them completely.

I have Rutger Hauer’s book All Those Moments, in which he reminisces about his film career. I just searched through it for any mention of Split Second. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe some self-deprecating comment, some wry humour, some telling anecdote. But no. No mention at all. Maybe Rutger was trying to pretend it never happened. Maybe his book only had so many pages permitted and some topics/films just had to be cut. Maybe he had forgotten it.

I’ll be honest, I was rather disappointed. His memories of making a film like Split Second would be fascinating, I think. We are used to hearing actors talk about their finest moments, their greatest films (for obvious reasons), but I suspect we might learn the most telling things about them if they talked more about their mistakes, their embarrassments. Tom Cruise, for instance, has never, to my knowledge, ever reminisced about starring in Ridley Scott’s Legend– its a film he’d clearly rather forget and strike from his filmography. Indeed, maybe dear Tom has absolutely forgotten that film, had it excised from his memory totally I’m not so sure Rutger would be like that regards Split Second; he seemed the kind of guy that wore all his films like some badge of honour: proud of his finest hours, pragmatic about his more embarrassing efforts. Goodness knows he had plenty of the latter: so many times in the 1980s and 1990s I was horrified in seeing his face on the cover of some straight-to-VHS b-movie fodder, far too many times.

The guy was Roy Batty. I always thought he deserved better, but then again, I was an LA 2019 obsessive. Everyone who was involved in that film was touched by greatness, in my book.

So how to explain Rutger in trash like Split Second, a film so bad even its title doesn’t bear any connection with anything in the film itself, it feels so absolutely random, nonsensical. I suppose Rutger was practical. He needed the money, it was a job, you can’t expect every film to be a Solder of Orange or Blade Runner or LadyHawke or The HItcher (moment of confession: I only ever saw one of those. There are so many films of Rutger’s that I have to catch up with).

I find it so very difficult to say anything positive about Split Second. It seems well-intentioned, but the story is so weak, the direction so amateur, it feels like something based on a very dated, very poor 1970s comic strip so obscure most people forgot it and it got handed to a creative team still in film school. Rutger is hamstrung by a very poorly written, cliche-ridden character, but he’s also actually very good in it: you can see a wry gleam in his eye at times, like he knows he’s in a piece of trash only dreaming that its Blade Runner (and God knows he was in that, so he’d know the difference) and that he’s going to have fun with it anyway. There’s a gentleness to Rutger: you could see it in his Roy Batty even though he was ostensibly that films villain. Rutger deserved his own franchise, his own Indiana Jones series of films.  He could have been great in it.

KIm Cattrall of course is as sexy as ever- she just exudes this aura in everything she did, and that’s true even in something as poor as this- the film suddenly brightens, quickens, somehow, as soon as she (eventually) appears in it. The film  missed a trick not bringing her appearance forward by about half-hour. Indeed, she perhaps shouldn’t have been Rutger’s lover at all, but rather his buddy cop. She must have come to the set straight adter appearing in Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country, because I swear she’s wearing the same hair-do. That’s one of the most interesting things I can say about Split Second, its that poor a movie.

Split Second is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Pre-Crime Doesn’t Pay: Minority Report

minorityLa La Land has just released  Minority Report as the latest in their series of expanded John Wiliams soundtracks; its not a score I’m particularly fond of so I’ll be saving my money on that one, but the news did get me deciding it was past time I dug out my old Blu-ray and gave the film another watch. Its been years since I’d seen this last.

Considering it came out in 2002, when Spielberg was well into his grown-up, more adult-orientated, ‘take me more seriously’ period, Minority Report is surprisingly juvenile. Indeed its a really mainstream, rather dumb science fiction film posing as something highbrow and dark. Its quite surprising to see how it poses as a science fiction future-noir film, with the obvious nods to Blade Runner, Gattaca etc, but all the time maintains Spielberg’s routine safety-net of warmth and lack of edginess.

I could go on about the films horrible ‘nice’ ending with its comfortable message that the good guys win and the bad guys don’t, and how it all feels like bullshit. I prefer to watch Minority Report safe in the knowledge that everything once Anderton is Haloed is just a fantasy in his imprisoned head. I prefer to imagine that after Anderton is ‘victorious’ the film should segue to a cut ‘real’ ending that features Sydow’s villain seen heading up a flourishing National Pre-Crime department with suggestions that in future any non-authorised, say, anti-establishment thinking will become a crime too. You know, something genuinely dark that pulls the rug from under the audience.

Because anyone who thinks its not a WTF moment when the crime-scene stuff (like Anderton’s gun, the murder weapon for goodness sake, or his bag of original eyes) is just put in a box of his personal belongings so that his wife can go all vigilante and just walk into the prison to free him… I mean Jesus in a handbag, that’s so crazy it deserves all the contempt it can get.

I was always troubled by the premise that the whole drama about the expansion of the Pre-Crime unit going National with the three Pre-cogs was nonsensical. How would it even work? Those three Pre-Cogs would just go into meltdown if they had to ‘read’ all the Nations dirty murderous minds, and I don’t believe there was any method of making more Pre-Cogs (a few times they are described as miracles). I actually think the script missed a trick there- if the actual conspiracy that Anderton and Agatha was uncovering was that a secret government department was canvasing medical records for children with nascent psi-abilities and was snatching them for genetic experiments to develop their talents and turn them into Pre-cogs, that national expansion thing would make sense and, more importantly, tie into Anderton’s personal history of his son being snatched. Immediately that back-story takes more importance, and there’s a nicer ending in which Anderton finds his son alive in a lab or indeed being enslaved as a Pre-Cog. The irony of his son’s disappearance being directly linked to his job and vocation, thus undermining his whole life/career, would be a lovely noir twist with which the film would justify its adult future-noir aspirations.

But hey, I’m doing Hollywood’s job again. They pay scriptwriters and producers a hell of a lot to not come up with ideas like this.

 

 

MI:7 and 8 in 2021 and 2022

Movie Mission Impossible Fallout, Beijing, China - 29 Aug 2018Well, I really didn’t see this coming. Fallout must have been a bigger success than I had thought. Tom Cruise has announced that there will be two more outings for his Mission Impossible franchise, and that they will be shot back to back for release in summers 2021 and 2022. Not only that, but Ghost Recon Protocol, no sorry, try again–  Rogue Nation and Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie has revealed that he has signed up (presumably to both write and direct) both films.

As Fallout was my favourite film of last year this is very welcome news. I’m not sure where this leaves Bond exactly, with that franchise stuttering and floundering, finally rush-releasing (if you can call it that, after a five-year break) Bond 25 next year, with shooting to yet start. This film that will be Daniel Craig’s last outing as Bond, meaning another reboot (or at least the usual casting the next Bond hysterical nonsense) beyond that. In comparison, the MI series seems to be sailing on to bigger and better things, with a creative team confidently in charge.

I assume making two MI films together will enable a really epic, two-part narrative that may very likely complete the Ethan Hunt saga (can’t imagine even the apparently indestructible Tom Cruise has too many more of those physical stunt-ridden projects ahead of him).  Mind, after all the hyperbolics of Fallout, how I would dearly love to be in on the thought-processes involved in somehow topping that film. I’d actually like to see them reign it all in and make the films low-key and more intimate, but this is blockbuster territory so that’s out the window. Maybe some villain is going to threaten to pull the moon down onto America and Hunt has to go up there into space and save the world from Lunar orbit? At this point, not even the sky’s the limit anymore, is it?

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)

Bandersnatch-NetflixThere’s a moment in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a film Netflix is touting as ‘an interactive film’ where young computer programmer Stefan (Finn Whitehead) in a moment of PKD insight becomes convinced he isn’t in control of his own actions and shouts out to The Big Unknown. That’s when a choice is offered to the film viewer and I opted for Netflix as my answer, and lo, a text message appeared on Stefan’s computer that he was being controlled by a viewer watching Netflix, an online streaming service. Of course from Stefan’s vantage point of 1984, this didn’t mean a hell of a lot, but for me it was a strange meta-reality commentary on all things PKD and The Matrix and the nature of reality and what films are now and possibly might be in the future.

How well Bandersnatch functions as a dramatic work is open to debate, but as an interactive experience and nod to PKD and 1980s culture its something of a marvel. The old-style WHSmith stores (crikey, those old carrier bags even more of a nostalgic nod than possibly intended with recent news of Government intent over here), 2000AD, Tomita’s The Bermuda Triangle on vinyl, the Thompson Twins and the grand finale (at least the one I experienced, as there are supposed to be five endings to Bandersnatch) of Laurie Anderson’s sublime O Superman, a song that sums up that whole era for me- so many moments had me cooing ‘awww….’ at the screen. Possibly the best was the Ubik poster coming alive. That would have blown poor Philip K Dick’s mind had he seen it, I think.

I’m curious to rewatch Bandersnatch and choose a different path/s to really put the test to its ‘interactive/multiple branches’ credentials but on first viewing it was damned impressive. Quite how Netflix managed the branching streams without incurring pauses for buffering etc is something of a mystery and, yeah, to be honest, one I’d actually like to avoid learning about, as if part of some unquantifiable magic.

It was quite apt, I suppose, as Black Mirror itself tends to comment upon and extrapolate on modern technology in dark and devious ways that the series used this interactive experience to tell its story of choice/freewill and the nature of its technology. Making the viewer a cog in the machine was quite ingenious. Whether in 2028 we’ll see a MI:9 that puts the viewer in charge of a (possibly CGI/virtual by then) Tom Cruise as he weaves through multiple paths of espionage and various twists of fate, and whether that would be a Good Thing or a Bad Thing is open for some other debate, but it’s possibly a insight into eventual possibilities.

Well, on the bleak side, there’s another nail in the coffin of good honest storytelling, maybe. We may have seen a glimpse of the future, and it’s something to do with keeping our hands on the remote, but not regards switching channels etc…

 

Film of the Year

Well, okay, while this may yet seem a little early to post something like this, it’s surely a foregone conclusion- I’m only confirming, afterall, something I suggested back when  I saw the film at the cinema in August. I watched the 4K UHD of Mission Impossible: Fallout the other night and can only suggest the film gets even better and more impressive on second viewing. I’d actually add that the 4K UHD is actually a better experience/presentation than the cinema screening I attended (alas, I didn’t see the film in Imax, which must have been breathtaking).  At any rate, this film is surely the best film I have seen this year. Its astonishing/riveting/thrilling/funny/surprising… its possibly the Perfect Summer Blockbuster, and God knows, that title has plenty of competition.

Whatever Bond does next, it’s going to be a fascinating thing to see.

fallAs far as Mission Impossible goes, you know, I’d love to see them now go in some other direction, maybe go small and into a low-budget, character-focused, espionage drama. I think that’s highly unlikely, but trying to top this one is so beyond risky, I’d almost suggest its foolhardy. I’m almost tempted to say they should call it a day, wait ten years and do another reboot, start afresh. But part of me really wants another Cruise flick with Ethan Hunt saving the world again whilst blowing my socks off.

Mission: Impossible- Fallout (2018)

mi6Your mission, Mr Cruise, is to make a summer blockbuster better than Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation. Well, this is Mission: Impossible, after all, Mr Cruise, not Mission: Difficult.

Utterly bonkers, and yet almost ridiculously flawless, this astonishing film is surely the blockbuster of the year, possibly the best for the years since the franchise’s previous entry, Rogue Nation. As pure edge-of-your-seat entertainment, its as good as blockbusters get. Thrilling, jaw-dropping, gasp-inducing, exhilarating… word was it would be good, trailers teased something extraordinary, and early reviews seemed to be overwhelmingly positive. Well, here’s a film that lives up to the hype. Sure, there will be some who will somehow be left cold by its charms, but most cinema-goers will leave screenings with big smiles on their faces. As Hollywood entertainment goes, this film delivers a masterclass.

Its madness, really, that a franchise by its sixth entry 22 years old just continues to get better and better. True, it can be said that the last three films have largely followed the same template, but it has to be said, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Instead the production team have just upped the stakes and somehow improved and finessed with each successive effort. A series of films that started in the shadow of Bond seems to have finally beaten Bond and left it behind in the dust.

If I had to fault it, well, I’d say the Hans Zimmer-inspired music score from Lorne Balfe is just a tad overpowering and uninspired; it works okay in the film but it doesn’t really have the finesse of Joe Kraemer’s Rogue Nation score, the lightness of its touch or the sophistication of its orchestration and writing. Balfe’s score screams summer blockbuster at you in its Dark Knight/Inception-style glory and beats you over the head with it. I suppose its just continuing the trend for current Hollywood scores but I think it would have been interesting to hear something a bit more restrained and measured against the films insane visuals and energy.  In many ways Fallout clearly betters Rogue Nation but the score is where it slips up, the one bad decision in the creative process.

Other than that, though, its pretty much a perfect summer blockbuster. The script is great, the stunts and action sequences rattle away with jaw-dropping verve and the cast is pretty much spot-on. As crazy as the spectacle is, its nice to at least feel like it is grounded in some kind of reality, and while I’m sure there are plenty of erased wires and CGI tricks it never feels like a cast of animated CGI doppelgangers leaping around as it does in so  many Marvel/DC actions sequences.  I was a little concerned by some awkward plotting during the first act (when Hunt loses his three plutonium cores) but it was clearly just setting-up the spectacle to follow. I can’t really put my finger on it, but during this section I felt a little nervous that things weren’t quite right- it felt a little contrived, which might well seem an odd criticism for a franchise that is obviously hopelessly contrived. It just didn’t feel quite as smooth as I would have liked, as if a little more polish on the script was needed. But I can excuse fifteen minutes of so-so material when it sets up all the spectacular stuff that follows.

The funny thing is, after the brilliant Rogue Nation, if three years ago I had to make a wish-list  for the sixth entry, it would have been more Solomon Lane, more Ilsa Faust, more chases, more fights, more jaw-dropping stunts, and that’s pretty much what we get with Fallout. Its everything I could have hoped for. Crikey. That Cruise fella may be annoying in the real world but as a movie producer/star he’s pretty damned impressive.

Well, there’s only way to end this review. Your mission, Mr Cruise, is to make a summer blockbuster better than Mission: Impossible- Fallout. Well, this is Mission: Impossible, after all, Mr Cruise, not Mission: Difficult

The Mummy (2017)

mum2Oh dear. There is certainly something supernatural lurking within this movie, but that’s mostly Tom Cruise’s uncanny refusal to show much sign of ever aging. He could easily pass of as -and likely does in this movie too, though it’s never stated- as a guy in his mid/late ‘thirties, rather than someone who is actually 55. On the one hand, it’s a hugely impressive feat that he can carry off such physical roles with apparent grace. On the other, its a little disconcerting that his love interest in this film, English actress Annabelle Wallis, who is 33, could conceivably be young enough to be his daughter. Well, I guess that sort of thing is nothing new in Hollywood movies, but I do wonder how odd it might have looked had his love-interest been played by an actress of the same age as Cruise.

Related to this, here again I was partly distracted by a familiar face, knowing that I’d seen Annabelle Wallis (who is very good here, by the way, in a fairly underwritten role that she is clearly too good for), somewhere before. It was only after watching this film in its entirety though  that I finally discovered that she had been in that operatic brutalizer of historical fact, the tv series The Tudors, in which she damn near stole the show as Jane Seymour. But that ‘where have I seen her before’ mystery was rather distracting.

In all honesty though, it’s easy to get distracted by anything when watching something as fairly dire as this woefully ill judged addition to the list of Mummy films. You have a genuine superstar (whose star, admittedly, may be on the wane) in Tom Cruise in the lead, a great star-in-the-making with Annabelle Wallis, a fairly solid supporting cast that includes Russell Crowe doing his best Nick Fury, with a budget of $125 million to keep the blockbuster spectacle top-notch. You then saddle it with a reprehensible turkey of a script that makes Tobe Hooper’s Life Force look like a genuine classic.

Who writes this stuff? There is this magical dagger with a red stone in its hilt which, if used to kill ‘Chosen One’ Tom Cruise, will bring about the End Of The World by ushering in Egyptian God of Evil Set into the world. Russell Crowe wants to avert this calamity by, er, killing Tom Cruise with this magical dagger with a red stone in its hilt. Tom Cruise ultimately averts this crisis by, er, killing himself with this magical dagger with a red stone in its hilt. And then, er, smashing that red stone so no-one can do this again.  Somehow, instead of dying and his body being immortaly possessed by the Evil God Set, Tom then becomes, well, Tom with the ability to resurrect the dead whilst setting off on a quest to cure himself of said immortality (that’s another movie, and one we aren’t ever going to see, I suspect).

Maybe i missed something. To be honest, Tom was pretty much immortal from the time his military plane was crashed into the English countryside by Egyptian Princess/Mummy in residence Ahmanet. Instead of his body being smashed to pieces and burnt to a crisp he instead wakes up in the morgue perfectly fine without a scratch. Having therefore demonstrated that he has gone all Captain Scarlett he is simply allowed to walk out of the morgue without any consternation from doctors or staff and goes to the nearest pub for a drink.

At this point in the proceedings I realised I was indeed in Life Force territory, not only regards the nonsensical plot but in how Ahmanet sucks the life-force out of her victims and recruits them as zombie stooges. And also in how Ahmanet has gotten ‘into’ Tom’s head in a similar fashion to how the space vampire got into our hero Tom Carlsen’s (hey, another ‘Tom’) head in Life Force with all sorts of head-spinning logic twists ensuing. Infact, the LIfe Force nods just keep on coming, they even manage to put London under threat again. They throw in some American Werewolf In London too, with Tom’s best mate coming back as a ghost to chat with him a few times. Its a real mess of a movie, a spiritual successor to Life Force indeed.

Biggest mystery is what in the world Tom Cruise is doing in this movie. He’s a canny film producer and surely can sniff out turkeys such as this at the script stage. Perhaps he was simply more interested in launching another film franchise rather than, ahem, a decent film. But this is such a bad choice for him, its weird. Its so bad, why wasn’t that obvious from the script? How do films like this get made?

The hell with this rubbish. I’ve already devoted too much time to it writing this post. This film is such a major misfire it actually makes the DC films look good. Its really that bad- I suppose the one good thing is that’s that for the Dark Universe series then, whilst we’ll be inflicted by DC movies for a few years yet.

 

What it means to be young: Streets of Fire

sof1Whenever I think of Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire I always think about VHS. Its like they are inseparable, and might explain why it’s been more than twenty years since I last saw it. Watching it on blu-ray just feels… almost weird, and although the picture is inevitably better it almost seems inferior without all the grain, drop-outs and blooming reds of watching it on tape.Bizarrely, looking back on it, some films almost looked better with that grainy VHS fuzziness, and I’d likely include Blade Runner in that, too. VHS just had this thing for smoke/steam/neon, the way images would go grainy and the colours bloom out into a pulsing mess. It was kind of beautiful. In crystal-clear HD it can sometimes look, well, too clean.

And thats another curio about those two films, as each of them crashed and burned at the box office but gained a second life -and revaluation- on home video. Streets of Fire in particular seemed to me to just capture the zeitgeist, almost, of that time and that new home-viewing technology. It was bold and colourful and fairly gritty and had rock songs and a great Ry Cooder soundtrack (an unreleased score, too, another weird synchronicity between SOF and BR). It just seemed made for video, back in the era of the early days of MTV remember, and of course seemed light years ahead of the films being shown on network tv at the time.

How to explain the new thrill back then of video rentals, picking films from their box art on a shelf and taking it home to watch? Impossible in this day and age of streaming and downloads and buying films to explain how much of a revolution it was back in the 1980s and only having four channels on the television, and that heavily sanitized by censors etc. Of the delicious tactile thing of that plastic, rattling case and the tape inside? Beats shiny discs in just the same way as vinyl will always be more romantic a thing than cds or mp3’s.

So I’ll aways remember Streets of Fire as being a video rental back when those things were something special and an exciting departure from the stuff on television. And it was a pretty cool movie anyway. It looked like a retro/futuristic fantasy much akin to Blade Runner, had sharp witty dialogue and yet an old-fashioned feel, like something out of a Jimmy Stewart western. It had this breathless pace, carried by that throbbing, beautiful Ry Cooder score, the heartbeat of the movie. It had a great young cast. And Walter Hill directing it.

Watching it now on Blu-ray… well, there was the first thing that was off about it. Watching it on disc instead of tape. The reds didn’t bloom, the picture was clear of drop-outs and I didn’t need to fret about the tracking. Man, thats no way to watch Streets of Fire.

sof2In all seriousness, Streets of Fire today holds up pretty well.  Its a neo-noir Western/gangster flick/Musical, this weird stylistic hybrid that maybe doesn’t really work but has a fine time trying to. There is such a blatant naivety about it, a weird fairy tale of youngsters pretending to be old-school movie stars in a big Hollywood movie. It really is a silly Rock and roll fable with intentionally cheesy dialogue and characters straight out of old Westerns, familiar archetypes that are so old-fashioned as to be almost endearing, as if it’s teenagers appropriating those archetypes, Hollywood being self-reverential. It has likely dated poorly and new viewers no doubt find it oddly disjointed and bettered by later, better films, but old fans like me will love it forever.

Maybe you just had to be young. I don’t know. There are far worse films.

And the cast! God lord they all look so young (because of course they really were). Diane Lane so beautiful  (and apparently utterly vexed she couldn’t perform her character’s songs herself), Amy Madigan, Rick Moranis, Bill Paxton (this is the first film I’ve seen of his since he passed away, rather bittersweet), William Dafoe… a great cast, all destined for greater things. And then of course there is Michael Paré in the lead role of Tom Cody, the film’s biggest casting misstep. He doesn’t really work, the biggest problem being his lack of chemistry with Lane. He’s not a bad actor, he just feels like he’s in the wrong movie (besides, is it an actor’s fault if he’s miss-cast? How come he is then expected to carry the blame for a film’s failure?).

MSDSTOF EC052
STREETS OF FIRE, Michael Pare, 1984

Not that Paré doesn’t have his moments, but he’s clearly more of a supporting/character actor than the charismatic, charming major lead which this film needs. Then again, it was his first big movie and he needed help that he apparently didn’t get from the director, left to flounder like a fish out of water and it shows through most of the film. Its sad and there’s a charm to how wrong he is, like he’s some kind of acting underdog who you just want to somehow succeed. Apparently they came really close to signing a pre-superstar Tom Cruise instead, and you have to wonder how that Streets of Fire would have looked/fared with Cruise in the lead (and Daryl Hannah originally intended in Lane’s role, too, at one point). At any rate, you can’t lay the blame of the film’s failure simply on Paré. There are more responsible parties who would always prefer that, of course.

More importantly, and most damningly, there are several key stylistic choices that really derail the film. The keyed-down violence is one of them. The thinking was that as its a fairytale/Rock and Roll fable nobody should get hurt and almost all the cast be under thirty, but that lack of gritty violence and/or gore just, well, bleeds the life out of it. It looks dark and edgy, has a great Cooder score that throbs and pulses, but it all feels watered-down and neutered, there’s no sense of real threat. Its a pity there was never an alternate, stronger cut, or that the film wasn’t shot in two different ways to offer that choice. But it was only shot the one way and by the time it came together it was too late to ‘fix’ it I guess. The good guy doesn’t really have to suffer to succeed, and the bad guy never really has the chance to be anything bad. There isn’t any real intensity to any of the drama.

Even the title of the film hints at problems- originally the Bruce Springsteen song was to be the main/end title music for the film but Springsteen wouldn’t allow it to be used. Oddly enough, before Cooder got involved, the original score was by James Horner, which was even recorded but got rejected. So you also have to wonder how that might have affected the film- although I love what Cooder did, a Streets of Fire with an early James Horner score would sound, and feel, quite different. Its also another clear sign that the film was in trouble, that they just couldn’t nail the stylistic feel they were after or got lost in second-guessing themselves, all clear signs of a film in trouble.

Not that I really cared back when I watched this on VHS. It still seemed pretty cool. Its only watching it again decades later that it is all too apparent where the film falters and what it could have been.But its still fun. One of those ‘what might have been’ movies, and anyway, to me it will always feel like a love-letter to the days of VHS. So all that young cast and cheesy songs and 1980s MTV stylings, and a ‘straight-to-video’ actor in the lead role, all of that kind of works. It throws me back to when I was young. Got to love films that do that.

…and the best film of 2015 is….

I’m rather torn on this one. On the one hand, the biggest film of the year (The Force Awakens) turned out to be a flawed, ‘safe’ reboot/continuation of the beloved Star Wars saga that didn’t deliver everything it promised, and the years perhaps most audacious film, Mad Max: Fury Road, was a veritable tour de force and more daring than I could have possibly hoped. And yet my best film of 2015 is neither of them. Instead, it’s…

mi5

 yes Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, something I would never have believed twelve months ago. Somehow I find it hard to believe even now. Indeed, many of you are probably thinking I’ve had too much to drink over the holidays. Somehow though it is indeed my favourite film of the year. Its just one of those films that simply delivers- it is what it is; a daft spy caper with lots of high-octane thrills, quite a few laughs and a great cast. It can be argued that it is the film Spectre should have been, and it does share many themes and plot devices with that Bond entry (so much so that it rather stole Bond’s thunder, what with its central hero going rogue in order to uncover the existence of a shadowy super-criminal organisation). While Spectre was generally grim and moody with at least a passing nod to realism, Rogue Nation is wildly over the top fun and great entertainment because of it. I recently watched Rogue Nation again following its Blu-ray release and yes, it was huge fun all over again. High art it isn’t, and neither is it sophisticated or thoughtful, but it is a much better film than it possibly has a right to be. The script is tight with plenty of twists and turns, the cast is terrific (particularly Rebecca Ferguson), the stunts are fantastic and the direction by Christopher McQuarrie (who is, thank goodness, returning for the next film) is a genuine marvel. Even Tom Cruise outdoes himself. Frankly, it blew me away and it really surprised me how much I enjoyed it. It delivers from start to finish everything you’d expect from a Mission Impossible film, leaving me eagerly anticipating the next in the series.

 

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)

Say what you like about Tom Cruise, he knows how to fashion an audience-friendly blockbuster. Rogue Nation is a great summer movie, delivering everything anybody could possibly want from a Mission Impossible film. Even more remarkably, for a series nearly twenty years old now and into its fifth outing, it all somehow still seems fresh and exciting with some remarkable action sequences and a welcome return to spycraft and espionage. No small part of this is the presence of rising star Rebecca Ferguson as British Intelligence agent Ilsa Faust. Ferguson damn near steals the film from Cruise with a warm and affecting performance with a surprising physicality (I’ve seen her on tv before and this performance is a big surprise). No doubt many viewers will marvel at her performance and wonder where this new female action star has come from (it’s been a great summer for female action roles, with this, Charlize Theron’s Furiosa and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow). Cruise has hinted at launching a sixth Mission Impossible film as early as next year and I hope thats an indication that it will be a follow-up to this one with Ferguson returning.

A follow-up would also be a welcome opportunity to bring back the Syndicate and its leader Solomon Lane (the name a riff on REH’s Solomon Kane, perhaps, or am I looking too far?) cooly played with real menace by Sean Harris. If Rogue Nation has any possible fault its the nagging feeling of anti-climax that hangs over a final confrontation that dispenses with the high-flying stunts and explosions, but that would be ably solved by it only being, in hindsight, a prelude to the next film. Who knows, as it is the finale might be considered a pleasant change from the usual OTT blockbuster theatrics, but I was left with a feeling there is more to be seen of Solomon Lane, in just the same way as the last few James Bond movies have had a more serial feel than the more individual Bond films of old.

rogue2So a great summer movie then, and one that has demonstrated the viability of its franchise just as much as Fury Road revitalised the Mad Max series (Fury Road is still my favourite film of the summer though). I’m not a great fan of endless sequels but I have to say, looking at the Mission Impossible series as a whole, its a pretty damn fine series of movies that delivers what its audience expects. Certainly it has been far more consistent than the Die Hard series. Tom Cruise seems to know what he’s doing with these Mission Impossible films, and I’m quite excited to see what he comes up with next.

Oh, and while I’m in gushing mode, the score by Joe Kraemer is fantastic action stuff too and no small part of the film’s success. Great film; roll on the blu-ray- that release may be the ideal time to get a Mission Impossible boxset to while away the Winter Blues.