Mission: Impossible – Fallout, or, Le Retour de Tommy C. Dans un Film d’Espionnage

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For Cinema!!!!!!!!!!!

All too often when we talk about cinema, that stuffy moniker reserved for only the finest of film, we fall back on the same few facets of the medium – writing and acting. Specifically, it seems that time and time again the films that are dubbed by the establishment and thus ingested by filmgoers as vegetables, those movies that are hearty and healthy, good for us in the long run, lean on plots and monologues. Both are certainly more than capable of profundity, but they are far from the outer limits of celluloid.

This is cinema, after all! Moving pictures! Light! Sound! To limit the heftiest cinematic discourse to film’s that excel at narrative or performance is to utterly shun the potential of the very medium and all it has to offer.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout, a film that demands the use of not a colon or a hyphen but both, is not the grandchild of Citizen Kane. It is not the spawn of The Godfather. It is the direct descendant of L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, those first infamous frames of a black and white train barreling ahead at an unsuspecting audience of the very first moviegoers like a bullet from an otherworldly gun. It is a film that takes full advantage of being a film.

Christopher McQuarrie, the first returning director to the Mission: Impossible franchise, has crafted a film that harkens back to the earliest days of Bond, when that franchise was a cinematic passport, taking audiences to faraway lands and showing them extraordinary things they might never otherwise see. Here, that passport is updated for transit in a world in which facsimiles of facsimiles of those places and things are a tap away in our own pocket. This is a movie that rabidly pursues spectacle at its most authentic and whole-heartedly believes in its value.

M:I-F is of distant relation to the likes of John Wick and Mad Max: Fury Road, a work of undeniable craftsmanship, of fine-tuned and purposeful movie-making. These bathroom fight scenes, these helicopter chases, these extended wind sprints are reminders of just how pigeon-holed we’ve allowed the ideals of film to become, how thinly the critical eye for quality has squinted.

Here is a style of film that we don’t get but once a year, if we’re lucky, in which calloused hands harness raw sweat into the sort of lavish exhibition only a movie can offer.

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Are You Ready to be Jimmy Caan?, or, Detroit (The Movie)

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Hey, how would one go about writing a blog post in such a way as to appear woke without seeming like they’re trying to appear woke and without betraying there casual ignorance of American History? I’m asking for a friend.

I would never say Detroit is a bad film and I would never say that it is an enjoyable one. It’s immersive and effective and stacked with excellent performances, but man, Detroit is an absolutely miserable movie.

Director Katheryn Bigelow’s latest film depicts events that took place in the Algiers Motel on a night in 1967 during the 12th Street Riot. A majority of the film focuses on the unsettling, claustrophobic proceedings, eventually proving to be an empathic endurance test.

Detroit lacks the narrative thrust of Bigelow’s previous based-on-true-events film, Zero Dark Thirty. Where that film’s focus on the proceedings of a global manhunt lent it an inherent momentum, Detroit largely abandons any sort of momentum when it arrives at the events in question. The film’s most compelling threads, concerning musician Larry Reed (Algee Smith) and security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega), are left to stew and stagnate and are only picked up again near the end of the film, making them feel like prologues and epilogues bookending the seemingly endless canvas of abuse and injustice that is the film’s lengthy second act.

It’s a bold move, the pacing equivalent of walking along the sidewalk for a few minutes, falling into a horrible, sprawling rancid puddle in which you become entrapped for like three hours, then finally getting out and walking home smelly, wet and miserable. The various narratives of the film are stopped cold and when they’re picked up again they are forever altered, certainly not unlike the lives of the victims of the incident in question.

Again, not a bad film, just an utterly miserable one.

Two decisions in particular really enable that misery, helplessness and injustice to permeate the film to its core.

The first, Barry Ackroyd’s handheld, documentarian cinematography, leaves the viewer feeling embedded in the unfolding events. Detroit is not a film looking for one perfect shot. It’s framing never feels planned and the images on the screen never feel composed so much as they feel captured.

The second, a sort of staggered, choosy contextualization, leaves the viewer with nothing to grasp but the abject abuse on screen. A brief animated sequence opens the film, providing a primer on the status quo of race relations in Detroit leading up to the 12th Street Riot and we’re shown a depiction of the onset of hostilities between police and the citizenry of the city, but I went into Detroit knowing nothing about the 12th Street Riot and I went out of Detroit knowing next to nothing about the 12th Street Riot. The backdrop to the events depicted in the film are taken as a given, treated like 9/11 is treated in Zero Dark Thirty, as an event that ubiquitous with the public consciousness  and thus requires no explanation. The macrocosm of the film is given no heft and the microcosm it concerns itself with suffers for it. Additionally, there’s a nuance afforded to the police force in the film that is not extended to the citizens of Detroit, which only furthers the uncertainty in regards to the world and the circumstances outside of the hellish motel the audience is held up in.

Without any sort of broader canvas to help contextualize the events at the Algiers Motel and with it’s utterly immersive camerawork, Detroit often feels like being forced into a front row seat watching the abuse of the powerless at the hands of the powerful simply for the sake of it.

And that may be exactly what it is.

I left Detroit wondering what it wanted from me, what it’s intent was. It didn’t feel educational as it doesn’t take particular interest in any single individual or in the 12th Street Riot. Its attempts at keeping a journalistic distance from the events keep it from feeling like an earnest call to action against the injustice it depicts. Ultimately, Detroit just feels like a very, very effective reproduction of a horrible incident. It feels like a film that wants nothing more than to have its audience bare witness to an unforgivable abuse of authority.

I would never say Detroit is a bad film and I would never say that it is an enjoyable one, but if its purpose is indeed to have its audience bare witness to cold, hard injustice and institutionalized racism, it achieves those aims with remarkable success.

Lion, or, TMI!

lion

That’s Pony Tricks dot net.

I never thought that one day I’d be getting choked up watching someone’s emotional state spiral out of control on the canvas of Google Earth, but such is the mastery of Lion, the cinematic adaptation of the memoir A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose, from director Gareth Davis and screenwriter Luke Davies.

Born into poverty in India, Saroo Brierley found himself separated from his family at the age of five, lost more than a thousand miles from home. Declared abandoned he was eventually adopted by an Australian couple and left India, but two decades later Brierley set out to find his home using Google Earth and his vague recollections of the incident years prior.

Lion is visually and emotionally sprawling, but more notably it harkens back to a notion I’d all but forgotten – the idea that more than a commodity, more than a novelty at the tip of our fingers, information is a tool that can move mountains.

The first half of the film concerns the incident that sees Brierley separated from his family. Here Saroo, played by phenom Sunny Pawar, is limited to his five senses and the faculties of a child. His intake of information is a drizzle at best. He can’t get a view over the Bengali crowds without climbing up poles. He can’t understand the Bengali language. He can’t pronounce the name of the village he’s from. Without information he’s left to live on the streets, left to the mercy of throngs of adults who are sometimes villainous, sometimes charitable, but mostly entirely uncaring.

In the second half of the film Saroo, now played by Dev Patel, has family, friends and a support system, but he also has the whole of the internet at his disposal. Rather than waiting desperately from stray drops from a faucet, his information flow is more akin to trying to drink from a fire hydrant with a straw. Saroo grows into a capable adult with a loving family, but it is his access to information that allows him to truly immerse himself in the hunt for home.

Lion is an incredibly moving, emotionally rich film, but it is also an eloquent reminder of the power at our fingertips and the miracles it can be harnessed to achieve.