Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 10/31/23;
Paramount;
Action;
Box Office $172.14 million;
$25.99 DVD, $31.99 Blu-ray, $37.99 UHD, $44.99 UHD/BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence and action, some language and suggestive material.
Stars Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Esai Morales, Pom Klementieff, Henry Czerny, Shea Whigham, Greg Tarzan Davis, Cary Elwes.

The last few “Mission: Impossible” movies have pretty much set the standard for espionage actioners the past decade. However, Dead Reckoning, the seventh film derived from the premise of the 1960s TV series, feels more formulaic than the franchise has for a long time.

While it still features some terrific action scenes and excuses for star Tom Cruise to do many of his own stunts, Dead Reckoning offers the thinnest story of the franchise since the third film. Of course, ostensibly all the plots for films such as this are crafted as an excuse to string together a series of action sequences, but the seams for Dead Reckoning are showing a bit more than usual, which isn’t ideal for a film that, at 163 minutes, is not only the longest “Mission,” but also the first half of what is meant to be an epic two-parter.

The antagonist is an elusive artificial intelligence program called “The Entity” that has somehow become sentient. What it ultimately wants to do isn’t exactly clear, but its immediate concern is finding a special key that can apparently be used to gain access to the computer that stores its base code. The key is thus the film’s MacGuffin, the object being sought after by all the major characters that puts them in conflict with one another, from Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, to the Entity’s handpicked mercenary, Gabriel (Esai Morales), and all parties in between, including a thief (Hayley Atwell) in above her head, to CIA operatives tracking Ethan for once again going rogue on a mission.

It’s all well and good, and an entertaining adventure on the whole that looks and sounds great on disc, though some of the character arcs are questionable, and the action beats seem to take more than a few pages from the book of Bond. The finale on board a train is also well realized, though it does bring to mind similarly staged sequences from the film Under Siege 2 as well as the “Uncharted” video games.

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The film’s HD disc configurations include a standalone regular Blu-ray Disc, a standalone 4K Ultra HD disc, and a Steelbook containing the film on both 4K and Blu-ray discs. The only extras included with the film discs are an audio commentary with director Christopher McQuarrie and editor Eddie Hamilton, and an isolated track of Lorne Balfe’s musical score. The filmmaker commentary is informative but tends to lean heavily toward the technical side.

The Blu-ray, 4K and Steelbook all come with the same bonus Blu-ray of additional extras, amounting to just six short featurettes totaling 31 minutes of behind-the-scenes material. Each of the videos focuses on a different setting or stunt: “Abu Dhabi,” “Rome,” “Venice,” “Freefall” (about Cruise’s well-publicized motorcycle jump off a cliff), “Speed Flying” and “Train.” These are pretty typical of promotional videos for movies such as this, though it is interesting to see some of the raw footage of the action sequences before visual effects were used for things such as removing cameras and replacing motorcycle ramps.

Digital versions of the film also include a nine-minute montage of deleted footage and a 10-minute featurette about editing the opening submarine sequence. Both are available with an optional commentary from McQuarrie and Hamilton.

Without the commentary, the deleted footage plays with a sample of Balfe’s score and no other sound or dialogue, as the footage is offered without any context aside from the viewer’s presumed knowledge of the film itself.

The editing featurette includes footage of the finished scene next to earlier footage and unfinished visual effects to provide some contrast between them as a demonstration of how the post-production process completes a film.

That these two pieces that total just 20 minutes are digital exclusives and weren’t included on the extras Blu-ray is something of a headscratcher, as surely the disc would have room for them given how scant what’s on there actually is.

Ryan Phillippe Thriller ‘The Locksmith’ Due On Demand Feb. 3 From Screen Media

Screen Media will release the thriller The Locksmith, starring Ryan Phillippe and Kate Bosworth, in theaters and on demand Feb. 3.

In the film, Miller (Phillippe), an ex-con recently released from prison for a bungled robbery, tries to walk a straight line and work his way back into the lives of his ex, Beth (Bosworth), a police detective, and their young daughter. While Miller is doing his best to stay on the straight and narrow with the help of an old friend (Ving Rhames), he finds his past will not stay in the past, and he is forced to commit one last crime before he can truly walk away. Things once again go badly, and now not only his freedom, but also his daughter’s life, hang in the balance.

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The film also stars Jeffrey Nordling, Gabriela Quezada, Madeleine Guilbot and Charlie Weber.

 

Mission: Impossible — Fallout

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 12/4/18;
Paramount;
Action;
Box Office $220.16 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $37.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language.
Stars Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Sean Harris, Vanessa Kirby, Angela Bassett, Michelle Monaghan, Wes Bentley, Alec Baldwin. 

The latest entry in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise brings together elements from all the movies to craft a top-notch, high-energy action adventure that could go down as a benchmark in the genre.

Central to the film’s success is star Tom Cruise, who took on many of the most dangerous stunt sequences himself. This emphasis on practical stunts lends a verisimilitude other contemporary action movies would be hard-pressed to match, as they so often resort to frenetic editing to mask underwhelming stuntwork or visual effects.

What’s even more remarkable about this is that Cruise is now 56 years old. By comparison, Roger Moore was 58 by the time he walked away from James Bond, when critics were saying he seemed way too old for the part. Even more astonishing, as has been pointed out online, perpetual old guy Wilford Brimley was five years younger in the quintessential senior citizen movie Cocoon than Cruise was in this movie. And yet Cruise shows no signs of slowing down (though a broken ankle during one of his stunts does raise the question of how far is too far).

In Mission: Impossible — Fallout, the sixth film in the franchise based on the classic TV series, Cruise personally executes a lengthy skydiving sequence, pilots a helicopter through a narrow mountain pass and races a motorcycle without a helmet through the streets of Paris. Not to mention his signature running scenes that have become a staple of the franchise. All this comes, of course, after he learned to hold his breath for five minutes for the previous movie.

In Fallout, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has to track down stolen plutonium that got into the hands of terrorists because his personal attachment to members of his team led him to save them instead, compromising the safety of the world (and highlighting a big reason why James Bond usually works alone).

Hunt’s IMF squad is then saddled with a CIA observer (Henry Cavill) as they attempt to recover the plutonium again, which now involves a group that wants to free Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the bad guy from the previous film who ran a covert network of rogue secret agents looking to undermine world governments.

Another subplot deals with Ethan’s relationship with Julia (Michelle Monaghan) from Mission: Impossible III, and how they had to part ways so he could continue to save the world without putting her at risk. (Cleaning up this storyline was one of Cruise’s main goals for the film, he says in the supplements).

What’s clear from the bonus materials is that, aside from the flexibility Cruise doing his own stunts being a huge advantage for the film’s editors, director Christopher McQuarrie and the writers were still making up the story as they were filming (which isn’t unlike Ethan’s methodology for completing the mission).

McQuarrie is the first person to direct a second “Mission: Impossible” movie, and even though this film is very much a direct sequel to his Rogue Nation, he insisted on bringing in a new production team to give the film a different style than his previous work, and the results speak for themselves. McQuarrie’s action is kinetic and thrilling while maintaining a clear sense of space and geography so the audience can easily track where the characters are and what is going on.

A number of the action sequences were shot using Imax cameras, and the Blu-ray aspect ratio adjusts to fill the full screen during these scenes.

The Blu-ray comes loaded with bonus materials, including three audio commentaries — a rarity in a day and age when most new home videos are reluctant to include even one.

McQuarrie is involved in two of the commentaries — sharing one with Cruise and another with editor Eddie Hamilton. The McQuarrie/Cruise pairing, amusingly dubbed “Tom Cruise University” at one point, is more an exercise in self-praise and an affirmation of how much fun they were having crafting the film. The track with Hamilton gets more into the filmmaking process in general.

The third commentary involves composer Lorne Balfe, who discusses his creative process and how he went about incorporating the iconic “Mission: Impossible” theme. Fittingly, there’s a score-only audio option to show off the terrific music.

The disc also includes an introduction of sorts in the form of a PSA-type video with Cruise and McQuarrie discussing motion-smooting settings on new TVs and telling viewers they should turn it off to avoid the movie looking like glossy videotape.

All the featurettes and behind-the-scenes material are on a bonus disc, with the main piece being “Behind the Fallout,” a grouping of seven featurettes that run a total of 53 minutes.

Balfe returns in a five-minute featurette to discuss mixing the music for the foot chase sequence. There’s also a three-minute featurette called “The Ultimate Mission” in which Cruise offers his own reflections on the franchise.

The bonus disc also includes the theatrical trailer and storyboards for several sequences, plus a four-minute montage of deleted scenes, offered with or without the director’s commentary.

The deleted scenes are alluded to frequently in the commentaries, but the montage is mostly just the visuals of the scenes set to music, with minimal sound effects and no dialogue. McQuarrie says he usually prefers not to show deleted scenes but decided to present them in a musical montage as a compromise because he really wanted audiences to see the hard work that went into them.

While a couple work fine without sound, it probably would have been more effective to just present the scenes as a disc typically would, rather than make a music video out of them.

The Star

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 2/20/18;
Sony Pictures;
Animated;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG’ for some thematic elements.
Voices of Steven Yeun, Gina Rodriguez, Zachary Levi, Keegan-Michael Key, Kelly Clarkson, Patricia Heaton, Kristin Chenoweth, Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Aidy Bryant, Anthony Anderson, Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Plummer, Ving Rhames, Gabriel Iglesias, Mariah Carey, Phil Morris, Roger Craig Smith.

This fluffy faith-based animated adventure frames the tale of the Nativity from the point of view of a group of animals whose lives intersect with the coming of the Messiah.

The Star follows a little donkey (Steven Yeun of “The Walking Dead”) with big dreams who befriends the pregnant Mary (Gina Rodriguez of “Jane the Virgin,” playing another woman pregnant by unusual means here) before she leaves for Bethlehem, then sets off with his animal friends to protect her after learning King Herod (Christopher Plummer) has sent hunters after her in his attempt to prevent the birth of the King of the Jews. The camels (Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey) of the Three Wise Men also seek out the impending birth of Jesus to protect him.

Lest anyone worry about the film straying too far from scripture with its talking animals, one of its best running gags involves the fact that the animals can communicate freely with each other, but just sound like animals to the humans around them.

It’s a testament to the earnestness of The Star, and a sign of how it expects its audience to approach the film, that an early scene involves Mary returning home to her husband, Joseph, after being away for an extended period of time. Visibly pregnant, she explains it’s the Son of God and that it’s his duty to help her bring the child into the world, and he embraces the calling. Were this not a faith-based movie aimed at children, I suspect most men being told that story by their wife might have a different reaction.

The film’s screenplay was originally intended for a live-action production of the Jim Henson Company, which reportedly would have employed a style similar to Babe, using visual effects to make the animals appear to talk. When that didn’t pan out, the project was revived at Sony Pictures Animation by DeVon Franklin, a prominent Christian preacher and motivational speaker who has produced a number of notable faith-based films, such as Heaven Is for Real.

The end result is a cute adventure that, despite some broad Looney Tunes-type humor, remains grounded in its piety. While not a musical, the film relies heavily on a soundtrack consisting of modern renderings of some classic Christmas songs.

The songs are the subject of a good portion of the Blu-ray’s bonus materials, which include several “lyric videos,” two sing-alongs and a dance-along video.

The Blu-ray also offers some typical behind-the-scenes featurettes, such as the 13-minute “An All Star Cast” and the two-minute “Creating the World of 9 Months B.C.” There’s also a commentary with executive producer Franklin and director Tim Reckart.

But the Blu-ray also has ambitions to serve as a faith-based teaching tool, and to that end it includes the 10-minute “Faith All Year Round With DeVon Franklin,” in which the producer discusses the film’s message with a group of children. For those who prefer something more interactive, there are three arts-and-crafts videos.

Finally, the Blu-ray offers a bit of background art for special occasions in the form of an animated Nativity scene that runs on a 21-hour loop.