Tag: henry cavill

Mission: Impossible – Fallout


Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The sixth “Mission: Impossible” film, “Fallout,” written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, plays out like a Greatest Hits collection, making numerous references from previous entries, particularly serving as a direct sequel to “Rogue Nation” in terms of plot and recurring characters. And yet it never comes across as a lazy, last-minute compilation. On the contrary, it strives to entertain the audience by making sure that nearly every element looks bigger and increasingly more impressive as it goes on, especially its jaw-dropping action sequences and practical stunts. I was impressed with its willingness to put the viewers in the middle of the action and provide a specific experience filled with sudden left turns. We know they’re coming—because that is the nature of the franchise—but we’re surprised anyway.

Although the plot is as generic as it comes—a potential weapon of mass destruction is lost to those who wish to use it and the item must be acquired before millions are killed—there is a freshness laid on top of it because the characters who are pushed by the plot are played by performers who are veterans in exuding a certain effortless cool, from familiar faces like Tom Cruise as the moral government agent/main protagonist Ethan Hunt and Simon Pegg as the bumbling but charming tech guy to new additions like Henry Cavill as a formidable assassin assigned to ensure that Hunt follows protocol for once and Angela Bassett as the CIA director who wishes to keep Hunt on a very short leash. These actors sell their roles with convincing authority, colored by a balance of tension and humor that is perfect for summer blockbusters. I could watch these characters simply sitting in a room and conversing. Intense and knowing pauses are required.

Action films are no stranger in showcasing international destinations. Usually, the rule is the more locations are visited, the grander the story being told. However, only a handful, the true standouts, strive to utilize exotic locales as characters in and of themselves. Notice how the first three “Bourne” films manage to stand the test of time. In this picture, for example, Paris is used so thoroughly that its labyrinthine streets and alleyways command personality… and sometimes the personality is dependent upon the district. Narrow walls and cars passing by within speed limit are as dangerous as flying bullets. In other words, its action sequences are never boring exactly because there is more than one way to cripple an enemy. The violence is not reliant upon throwing punches or using guns or assault weapons.

But when it does go back to basics and employ hand-to-hand combat, it remains thrilling. There is a wonderful ballet of kicks and punches early in the picture that involves Hunt and Walker (Cavill) having to face a highly trained assassin (Liang Yang) in the bathroom of the Grand Palais. The goal is to knock the man unconscious so they can make a scan of his face and create a mask… but the men glued by a tenuous partnership get more than they bargained for. Our expectations are played with because we assume Hunt and Walker to have the advantage since it is the first time they are on assignment together. Surely the scene is setting them up to be a surprisingly effective duo. The screenplay’s willingness to forge one step ahead of the audience is perhaps its greatest asset.

It is quite a feat for an action picture to run for one hundred fifty minutes and not for a minute does it wear out its welcome. Whether the action is unfolding in the busy streets of Paris under broad daylight, within the darkness of claustrophobic warehouses, in the grubby sewers, or hundreds of feet up in the air, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” maintains its high energy, visual acrobatics, and tension-filled encounters. It is a popcorn movie of the highest caliber.

Justice League


Justice League (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Although not as polished, lean, and emotionally satisfying as Marvel films that have found strong footing in terms of establishing a specific tone while juggling a team where every member stands out, Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” is a step in the right direction. Perhaps the most important change in this expansion of the DC universe is the decision to make room for moments of levity. What results is a superhero picture that is actually enjoyable rather than one that is drowning in its misery, grim look, and would-be philosophical musings about what it means to be a protector of mankind.

Fans of the genre will likely check in for the action, but I found that one of the film’s strengths is when two characters simply connect either by sharing memories or challenging one another’s ideals. An example of the former involves Lois Lane (Amy Adams) being visited by Martha Kent (Diane Lane) at the Daily Planet and eventually the two women touch upon how Clark Kent’s death (Henry Cavill) has changed their lives. Neither is as strong as she thought she would be or could be, making their grieving process believable and relatable. As for the latter, at one point Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) find themselves at odds in terms of how to use a powerful but dangerous technology. A clash of ethics turns personal real quick and suddenly we see them as Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince rather than their counterparts. It goes to show that with the right script exploring the right themes, this universe has a chance to become compelling.

The villain requires more work to be interesting, especially when it is a CGI character. Although the goal of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) is clear, hoping to reduce the planet to its primitive state by acquiring three energy-filled boxes hidden across the planet, it is yet another antagonist who wishes to end the world. It is a oft-tread path and at this day and age, having so many superhero films come and gone, it is not a good enough motivation. The best modern superhero films of the genre offer villains that function within the morally gray. The most recent example is Adrian Toomes/Vulture (Michael Keaton) in Jon Watts’ earnest and energetic “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” The man simply wishes to provide his family a good life. We relate to his goal; we may or may not relate to the path he chooses to take to get to that goal.

New faces of the team—The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher)—are given moments to shine outside of their specific personalities. Although none of them are fully realized characters yet, they command enough intrigue that I wish know more about them in future installments. Out of the three, Miller is most surprising given my knowledge that the performer specializes in playing extreme characters: people who are psychologically out there, some of them downright disturbed. For Miller to deliver a character that is fun and someone with whom one wants to be friends with, Barry Allen is a most welcome addition to his oeuvre. I can’t wait to see where he will take the character.

“Justice League” offers just enough entertaining action sequences. Although they tend to suffer from diminishing returns, especially because the giant CGI bugs are utilized too often (all of them looking the same with zero personality does not help), these scenes create a steady, accessible rhythm with enough camera acrobatics to create some level of urgency. A fresh perspective is that although Batman is the leader of the pack, he is perhaps the most vulnerable physically since he has zero superpower. The material milks a couple of jokes out of this curious situation.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

The greatest hindrance of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” written by Chris Terri and David S. Goyer, from becoming great piece of work is its inability to iron out the main story and the accompanying subplots in such a way that all of them, by end of its running time of one hundred fifty minutes, feel complete and thoroughly satisfying. Instead, what results is at least three movies—potentially good ones—compacted into one rushed film. One feels the pressure the studio puts on itself to release a product—including other movies planned to stem from it—instead of focusing on the assignment at hand.

Action sequences become underwhelming eventually because the grim-faced tone does not change even on a subtle level. For instance, the hand-to-hand combat between The Dark Knight (Ben Affleck) and the Man of Steel (Henry Cavill), are certainly well-choreographed, but there is no personality and there is a lack of genuine ingenuity to how they fight. Thus, tension does not build during their confrontation. The battle is built up to be the centerpiece of the film but the result is so pedestrian that one is left in disbelief.

There is a tendency for characters to explain themselves constantly. Expositions lead up to more unnecessary expositions and platitudes so the material barely takes off. Superior pictures, regardless of the genre, are written, executed, and acted in such a way that inner turmoil is felt and understood without relying on voicing out feelings and thoughts on a constant basis. A litmus test of superhero movies: Does the work still function as an engaging dramatic piece when superhero elements are taken away?

Two new characters stand out but deserve more screen time. Initially, I found Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor to be a major miscalculation. My mind kept telling me that he would better off as The Riddler or some villain of that sort. But looking closely at his performance, he milks every moment of snark and intelligent lines. There is always something behind the eyes. In every scene, I could not help but pay attention to this interpretation of Lex Luthor and wonder what he might be up to. Although arguably miscast, Eisenberg’s commitment to the role won me over.

A more effortless but equally magnetic performance is delivered by Gal Gadot. Her interpretation of Diana Prince, whose secret identity is Wonder Woman, is sultry, mysterious, full of presence. She commands the screen even during moments when only half of her face is showing. The picture comes closest to being playful during Diana Prince and Bruce Wayne’s repartee, so for a few minutes the movie comes alive. Their allure and chemistry together is so strong that one smiles at the possibility of a movie with just the two of them together.

Directed by Zack Snyder, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is a dark, brooding, and tonally flat transition to an expansion of a franchise. Although its ambition is admirable and it does offer a few positive qualities to offer, it is neither a film that is easily likable nor one that inspires the viewer to see it more than once. Since many details of the story are either unfocused or not explored under the most rigorous standards, the work offers no compelling message, or messages, about power, sacrifice, and mercy.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.


The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

A CIA agent, Solo (Henry Cavill), and a KGB operative, Illya (Armie Hammer), are forced to work together in order to infiltrate an organization that kidnapped a scientist who has found a way to enrich uranium through an easier process, making it possible for almost anyone to create a nuclear bomb. Accompanying them on their mission is a mechanic named Gaby (Alicia Vikander), a woman that Solo had just extracted from East Berlin—and Illya tried to prevent from escaping. They must learn to put their differences aside somehow and work toward a common goal.

Based on a 1964 television series, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” directed by Guy Ritchie, has an eye for fashion, good-looking people, and lighting the actors just so in order to make their bodies look modelesque, but it is a limited action-comedy because the screenplay lacks the necessary edge to get the audience to invest in its story. It is superficial for the most part, but one cannot deny that it is partially fun and the performers, especially Cavill and Hammer, share chemistry.

The most enjoyable action sequence in the film is presented during the opening minutes. Right away the differences between the American and the Russian spies are highlighted which creates great tension. The former is more suave and debonair while the latter is more brutish, commanding tank-like qualities. Quite amusing is the part where Illya tries to stop a moving car using only his hands and Solo is so amused at the whole spectacle, he chooses not to kill his enemy to prolong his enjoyment. Their differences make the sequences worth watching because of the way these vastly different characters attempt to solve problems that appear in front of them.

Less interesting is when they are forced to forge a partnership. Although amusing lines are still present, especially when they relish each other’s limitations, the threat and thus suspense is no longer there. This is because there is a lack of a defined and memorable villain who is at least equally charming as Hammer and Cavill. The screenplay creates a plethora and varying degrees of distractions, such as a possible romantic connection between Gaby and one of the agents, but none of them are especially complex, worthy of our time to explore or navigate through.

One grows tired of the plot and story eventually. I found myself admiring the sorts of wine the characters drink, the hotel rooms and how they are organized, the quality and color of the suits and dresses worn, how the performers’ hair is styled and how it would look even more magazine-ready when it gets ruffled or wet. It is a beautiful-looking movie, certainly, promoting a luxurious, rather fantastic lifestyles of international spies—which is perfectly all right because it aims to entertain—but there is a deficiency when it comes to the requisite dramatic gravity in order to make the story interesting beyond what is on the surface.

“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” based on the screenplay by Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram, is a tolerable and passable comedic action-thriller with enough charm that helps to keep it barely afloat. Yet despite its glaring shortcomings, I smiled about half of the time because I had a feeling the people on screen are having a blast especially during the verbal sparrings between Cavill and Hammer’s characters.

Man of Steel


Man of Steel (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★

During Krypton’s final convulsions due to the planet’s increasingly unstable core, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife (Antje Traue) rush to get their son, Kal-El, into a pod so he alone can escape the doomed planet and prevent the Kryptonian race from reaching extinction. This task is not made any easier by General Zod (Michael Shannon) as he and and his henchmen stage a coup d’état against the planet’s leaders. Zod wants the codex in his possession because it holds the genetic information of his people. Having it will allow him to recolonize another planet. But the codex is in the pod–located inside the infant to be exact–and Jor-El will not allow his son to be harmed.

To claim that “Man of Steel,” based on the screenplay by David S. Goyer and directed by Zack Snyder, is visually spectacular and consistently thrilling is not an understatement. Propelled by a confident execution and an above average script, when the film reaches emotional apices, especially in the first half, it makes for a compelling watch. It drags a bit toward the end, favoring ostentatiously grandiose action sequences over substance, but it is far from similar to the incomprehensible cling-clanging denouement of Michael Bay’s “Transformers.”

One of the wisest techniques employed is the non-linear storytelling. While this is not new to the superhero sub-genre, it is effective here. By choosing only the important moments of Kal-El, named Clark Kent (Cooper Timberline, Dylan Sprayberry in his younger years and Henry Cavill as an adult) by his adoptive family (Kevin Costner, Diane Lane), learning to control his powers, keeping a cool temper, and trying to keep his abilities and identity a secret, the small lessons are contained and to the point so they do not disrupt the rhythm of Clark’s journey toward discovering his origins.

I enjoyed the casting of Lois Lane. She is played by Amy Adams who, in my eyes, is not conventionally pretty. I think she is beautiful but her beauty comes with an edge. For me to be convinced that Lois is a serious journalist, one who can go toe-to-toe with the sharks in the Daily Planet and among its competitors, the actor playing her has to have the look as well as the capability to evoke conviction and intelligence. Adams is ace casting because she embodies these qualities.

However, the romance between Superman and Lois Lane is not handled with grace. There is a kiss that occurs near the end that felt like a knife to my stomach. Even when they stand from each other, silent, only a couple of inches apart, I cringed a little bit. The intimacy is not earned. Their relationship, one that is romantic in nature, is far from fully developed. And yet it is forced. A kiss between the two leads does not deserve a place in this movie. Perhaps a hug would have been acceptable–but only as a symbol of thanks.

The smashing of and crashing against buildings, helicopters, and alien ships are impressive. The first few big action pieces, especially the battle in Smallville between Superman against Faora (Antje Traue) and a robotic but very intimidating minion, offer genuine thrills. It is good that our hero is not made out to be invincible; he can feel pain and exhaustion–without being exposed to Kryptonite, an ore infamous for being Superman’s ultimate weakness. To circumvent the expected, the writer is forced to be a little more creative and I appreciated that.

Still, the explosions, skyscrapers crashing onto each other, and flying debris wear out their welcome eventually. Because it runs for longer than is necessary, I began to consider that perhaps the film might have been better off as having a hard R rating. Though it is implied, not one human death that includes all of its ugliness is shown. For example, when a structure is about to crash onto a group of panicking people desperate for escape, it quickly cuts onto another scene. If human casualty is shown once in a while, it might have made a stronger statement, one that is relevant to Superman’s journey of becoming a symbol of the human race. It would have shown that death of the innocent is a part of the story’s universe and that not even Superman can save everybody.

Despite a handful of missteps, “Man of Steel” is an action sci-fi fantasy that has more than enough gravitational pull in its marrow to keep us wondering about what will happen–within its story as well as a potential franchise. I want a sequel–one that is leaner, maybe laced with more humor, clever ones, but certainly one that does not flinch away from the uncomfortable.

Immortals


Immortals (2011)
★ / ★★★★

It’s always depressing when you’re watching a movie and your eyes are seemed to be programmed to check the clock, hoping that about thirty minutes had passed since the last glance, only to find out, with much dismay, that barely five minutes has gone by. In “Immortals,” written by Charley Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides, Theseus (Henry Cavill), a peasant whose mother (Anne Day-Jones) was regarded by the village as a whore, was chosen by Zeus (Luke Evans) to lead his people, the Hellenics, to fight against King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) and stop his blood-thirsty quest of obtaining the Epirus Bow, so powerful a weapon that it could awaken the Titans and bring destruction to the world. While I have no problem conceding that some of the images it offered were awe-inspiring, like when the action would switch into slow motion and show Theseus fiercely plunging a spear into other men’s throats as if they were made out of butter, but there were instances when it was impossible to see a thing because it was so dark. For a movie with a healthy budget, I wondered why the filmmakers didn’t seem to have enough light on set. I wished that the characters constantly carried around a torch especially during the scenes set at night and they were required to actually speak and communicate ideas. If we couldn’t see the actors’ faces, then what chance did we have in absorbing certain subtleties, if any, so we could end up having a certain level of understanding of the men and women in the brewing war? The story was messy and confusing. Aside from the fact that I had no idea how the characters got from Point A to Point B, Phaedra (Freida Pinto) being a virgin oracle who knew the location of the much desired Epirus Bow was not handled properly. We saw the first scene through her eyes, a glimpse of what was to come. But since we knew what was going to happen, the journey toward future had to be executed a certain way, loyal to the goal yet packed with enough surprises, so that we wouldn’t be bored or feel cheated. I wasn’t convinced that the screenplay was strong enough so sustain such a promise because the visuals almost always took precedence. The characters lacked logic. There was a natural sexual tension between Cavill and Pinto, covered in grime and sweat, but not between Theseus and Phaedra. While the actors looked alluring, I reckoned that the writers interpreted the actors looking good while barely clothed as actively constructing genuine sexual friction between their characters. Given that Phaedra and the people that surrounded her knew that she would lose her gift of foresight the second she lost her virginity, to have the peasant and a holy figure engage in sex was not only careless with regards to story but a tired convenience for the sake of consummating something even if the romantic angle was barely established. Surely having the ability see the future could have game-changing effects in a time of war. It would have been more interesting to watch Theseus being very attracted to the oracle yet he had to maintain his distance because, during such a critical period, he valued his responsibility to his people more than his craving for flesh. At least for me, the most interesting heroes are those who are required to practice self-denial for the sake of the bigger picture. Directed by Tarsem Singh, watching “Immortals” was like looking at a painting that you can admire because it looks good on the outside. But when a person asks why you like it, your brain panics and you quickly realize that you can’t find anything concrete about it. In order not to come off as stupid, you feel that you have to say something–anything–and you end up saying, “Oh, because it’s shiny.”

Whatever Works


Whatever Works (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Boris (Larry David) was a cynical man. He was smart but he was lightyears from charming. He was a man without a filter; he took great pride in pointing out the phenomenal idiocy of mankind like their belief in the man in the sky, pretentious art, and the travesty we call modern culture. Nothing surprised him. Beating kids at chess and teasing them about him gave him pleasure. But his eccentric nature hit a detour when he met a Southern girl named Melody (Evan Rachel Wood). It was her first week in New York City so she had nowhere to go. To our surprise, he allowed her to stay in his apartment until she found a job. Despite what he considered to be her utter lack of intelligence, often calling her an “inchworm,” he began to like her the more they spent time with each other. Written and directed by Woody Allen, “Whatever Works” consisted of some good performances but it failed to resonate with me emotionally due to its lack of focus on the lead character. I enjoyed the film when it was only Boris and Melody in one room. It was like watching a man with anger issues fire in a shooting range: Boris was the shooter and Melody was the target. As Boris complained about humanity and the like, Melody just absorbed each verbal bullet. I loved her because she was sunny and words didn’t get her down like most people. She knew that Boris’ verbal diarrhea was therapeutic for him and, for her, it was an opportunity to learn something different, something so far from the beliefs she was raised in. They were good for each other even if it was just for a while. But when Melody’s mother (the wonderful Patricia Clarkson), Marietta, knocked on their door, it was a downhill race to the finish line because the story was no longer about Boris and his wild temperament. It became about Marietta’s evolution as an artist, her ménage à trois with our protagonist’s friends, and her desperate attempt to pluck her daughter out of Boris’ life and set her up with an actor named Randy (Henry Cavill). Another unnecessary piece of the puzzle was John (Ed Begley Jr.), Melody’s father, and his mission to win back Marietta’s heart. Boris hated clichés and this film ended up exactly that. I kept waiting for the director to pull something different out of the bag but he didn’t. Excitement came as far as Boris talking directly to the camera to acknowledge his audience, to discuss the concepts of entropy and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Only about a quarter of the material was funny. The rest of the time I spent wondering why Boris was constantly yelling. We didn’t know much about his background, other than he was once considered to be awarded a Nobel Prize, so why was he such an angry, hypochondriac misfit who saw himself as better than everyone else? “Whatever Works” was an appropriate title because it was mishmash of third-rate material from Allen’s other projects.