Magnolia, a San Fernando Epic About The Search for Redemption Through Mere Coincidences: A Review

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The consistency of a filmmaker like Paul Thomas Anderson is enough to place him among the very best American auteurs working today, for his sophomore feature Boogie Nights he has only ever managed to turn out hit after hit at a rate that’s near indescribable. But determining a favourite film of such an impressive body of work can already be enough of a challenge for many, although for me I feel like it would be easy enough to admit that my answer whenever I’m asked what my favourite Paul Thomas Anderson film is none other than his third feature, Magnolia. While all of his films have their many distinguishable qualities, something about Magnolia has a specific potency to it that I think many of his later films never lived up to. That having been said, I can’t help but admit that this film was a turning point for my own love of film, with it being my all-time favourite film for a period of time while I was in high school. Even today, I can’t help but hold the film in such high regard, because I feel like there’s so much about Magnolia that also feels so fully realized for a young filmmaker like Anderson, because every time I come back to this film I keep thinking to myself I’d never be able to make anything of this sort at any point of my life.

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An Alternate Take: Mission: Impossible – Fallout is Exhilarating from Start to Finish

The “Alternate Take” indicates an instance where another writer on our behalf also wants to share their thoughts on a film previously reviewed on the site. You can read Chuck Winters’s review right here.

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Six films already into the Mission: Impossible series and they may have already hit their peak – something I don’t really know if I can say I would have expected. It’s one thing to be impressed with how Tom Cruise still manages to remain as extremely physical as he does, but in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, he already manages to find a way to take this to a new level as he reunites with writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (his second film for this franchise) – and somehow what they already managed to create is perhaps the most exhilarating result out of what could have been made with the stories that the Mission: Impossible films could have set up. It already seems like a near-impossible feat, but given as all the stakes in Mission: Impossible – Fallout are raised as high as they can, it just makes the ride every bit as satisfying as you can imagine.

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Mission: Impossible – Fallout Review: Tom Cruise’s Most Intense, Emotional Mission Yet

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I like to think of the first three Mission: Impossible movies as a Goldilocks trial.

Brian De Palma jumped on the first movie and crafted a stone classic, if only for that oft-imitated vault sequence. De Palma’s film was a swervy, paranoid popcorn thriller that got lambasted long after release for having a plot that was, well, impossible to keep up with. In other words, too hard.

So enter John Woo and the second movie, a pure action vehicle for Cruise with a plot that borrows heavily from Hitchcock’s Notorious. It was Woo indulging in some of his worst excesses as a filmmaker and while it’s no small amount of fun (especially if you’re a fan of Woo’s), it was rightfully derided as one of the dumbest blockbusters of its time. Too soft.

Then J.J. Abrams cracked the code with the third movie. He brought it back to what made the TV show work—team-based shenanigans, steering slightly away from being a pure Tom Cruise vehicle in favor of an ensemble model—and rooted it as deep in character as he could. M:I–3 kept the nature of its big threat vague but confined the real menace to our heroes in middle managers with personal grudges, people who shouldn’t normally be a problem, people that spy films tend to cast aside. Frankly, it was better for it. I’ve spoken to people who have big, understandable problems with the third movie, but for the most part, it was Just Right. Abrams moved on from the director’s chair, but Bad Robot stayed involved and Cruise built off that film.

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Frankly, there’s a whole series to be written about the evolution of the Mission: Impossible film franchise. Suffice to say for the purposes of this review, after the third movie, the films kept going in a positive, character-based direction. Slightly echoing 3Ghost Protocol had a bad guy and an evil plot to foil, but the real villain was technology, screwing over Ethan Hunt’s team at every chance, forcing them to lean on each other. When Christopher McQuarrie took over with Rogue Nation, he built on that with a narrative that was borderline distrustful of any authority that treated agents as disposable. It’s almost like the last three films have been trying to tell us something in defiance of nearly every serious spy narrative and even some of the less serious ones (*cough cough* Bond): That the people in the field matter just as much as the mission.

With Mission: Impossible – Fallout, McQuarrie comes back for a franchise-first encore as writer/director to bring that subtext to the forefront of the narrative and flash it right in the viewer’s face. The narrative directly addresses Ethan Hunt’s nigh-pathological inability to sacrifice innocent lives for the greater good, and the resulting film is a success beyond even my wildest expectations.

Whereas Rogue Nation felt like a heist film at times, with Ethan Hunt having a solid grip on the situation no matter how dire it might get, Fallout has the team constantly on the run after Ethan chooses to save the life of his longtime friend Luther (Ving Rhames) instead of securing three plutonium cores from the remains of the Syndicate, whom the IMF crippled in the last film but couldn’t quite finish off before they could reform as “The Apostles.” The Apostles have the ability to weaponize those cores in 72 hours, so Ethan’s team better run like hell to get them back. A constant refrain in the film is that the team needs to do some crazy thing, but they often don’t know how they’ll do it until they get there. These guys are constantly hanging off a runaway train that’s coming up real fast on the edge of the cliff and you can hear the panic in Ethan’s voice as he keeps slipping and screaming “IT’S OKAY IT’S OKAY I STILL HAVE THIS I THINK” and it’s absolutely exhilarating to watch.

If that was all there was to it, though, it’d be little more than a fun action movie. McQuarrie, long underappreciated before this movie apparently (and deservedly) got him on the radar for Man of Steel 2, knows so much better than that. The first scene of the film is a dream sequence that quickly reintroduces Ethan Hunt’s wife from the third movie, Julia, played once again by Michelle Monaghan. We last saw her in a quick cameo at the end of Ghost Protocol, revealing that she had to fake her death and go into hiding after Ethan went back into the field. The dream sequence none too subtly expresses Ethan’s intense regrets about essentially ruining Julia’s life; putting it up front colors every decision Ethan makes about his teammates and the potential collateral damage around him. When he says, and then quietly repeats “I won’t let you down” to his teammates during a crucial action sequence, it’s coming from a part of him who knows just how capable he is of doing so. Suddenly, all the dangerous, borderline insane shit Ethan does to complete his mission without getting anyone hurt just feels like a way to drown out the voice in his head that keeps telling him he’ll always be a failure. (Knowing that many of these stunts were performed by Cruise himself with no safety nets in place becomes…interesting in that light.)

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Then there’s the supporting cast. Hunt’s unwanted partner in this mission is August Walker (Henry Cavill), a CIA-assigned watchdog ordered to get the plutonium back on his agency’s behalf and kill Ethan if he should step out of line. As an antagonist, Walker makes for an interesting counterpoint to Hunt. Like Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, making a return here looking haggard and wild-eyed compared to his unsettlingly sleek look from the last movie), he’s a calculator; he’s willing to live with collateral damage for the sake of a successful mission. Unlike Lane, he runs hot, often charging into situations without thinking them through, and if that sounds familiar, you’ve been paying attention. If Lane is the diametric opposite of who Hunt is, Walker is the guy Hunt could’ve been if one or two things were different, the guy Hunt probably wishes he was on one occasion or another.

On that note, Rebecca Ferguson returns as Ilsa Faust, pursuing the plutonium for her own mysterious reasons despite being essentially freed from the spy life in the last film. Simon Pegg is also back as Benji Dunn, as is Alec Baldwin as IMF Secretary Hunley. Of course, they all give fantastic performances, but it’s significant that there are no real new additions to the team this time. All of these people have a history with Ethan. All of them are in a position to get really hurt by him, at least in his mind. Ilsa, in particular, is so closely aligned with Ethan’s personality that he feels a particular kinship with her, maybe even more than Julia; suddenly, his haunting concerns about his former wife give his refusal to follow Ilsa to “freedom” in the last movie, and the ways he tries to discourage her in this movie, a brand new context. “Fallout” doesn’t just refer to the consequences of Ethan’s decision at the film’s onset, it refers to his general fear of destroying others with his baggage. There’s an emotional struggle with the self that’s playing out in the background behind the “Go get the nuclear material before it violently reshapes the world as we know it” struggle that you’re paying to see, giving Ethan (and, in turn, the film as a whole) a deeper, more vulnerable, more relatable sense of humanity than ever. Mind you, this series wasn’t exactly lacking for humanity to begin with.

Not that the stuff you’re paying for is a letdown. For a 147 minute monster, this is some of the leanest filmmaking I’ve seen in an action movie, save for maybe the John Wick movies. The comparisons going around to Mad Max: Fury Road might be a bit unfair; this movie isn’t nearly as relentless. McQuarrie and editor Eddie Hamilton (returning from Rogue Nation) aren’t afraid to go quiet and take their time through small, personal beats that break up (and ultimately support) the big, loud chaos of the action. But none of it feels superfluous; every moment on screen supports a future moment or brings further context to a previous moment. I wouldn’t cut a damn second of this thing nor would I want to. I wouldn’t add to it either; when the end credits hit, I felt so satisfied I literally didn’t know what to do with myself, opting to stand in the lobby like an idiot for several minutes while I tried to work out how the hell Christopher McQuarrie did that.

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Oh, the action scenes. I don’t quite know how to describe them except to say you’re not prepared. I was privileged enough to see this on a big IMAX screen, and if you can afford it, you should too. The fight scenes feel astonishingly brutal and immersive—and not just because of Cruise. Part of the reason Cavill does so well here is that he’s maybe the only guy in this franchise I’ve seen whose physical performance could credibly stand toe to toe with Cruise’s. Much has been rightly made about the moment Cavill “reloads” his arms in the much-publicized bathroom brawl; rest assured, that’s only a hint as to how intense he is. Between that and Cruise’s apparent wish to die on a movie set, these scenes are next level. There’s a HALO jump in the movie you might have heard about; one take, no CG, just Tom Cruise being Tom Cruise, and a cameraman and stuntman brave enough to follow him.

Yeah, that happens at the top of the second act. Try to imagine how they steadily build on that and ramp up to the finale, and then ask yourself how the hell Cruise managed to only break a leg while filming this movie.

Fallout is already a miracle, and I haven’t even gotten into Rob Hardy’s (Ex MachinaAnnihilation) cinematography, Lorne Balfe’s (The Crown) score, or some of the excellent sound design on display—particularly the way the score will drop out for some action scenes to really emphasize the raw impact, while one other scene is set entirely to score without sound effects to emphasize its ethereal and horrific qualities. There are so many elements of this movie that demand praise, but it’s that quiet personal hook that I keep coming back to, the one that cuts through the gimmickry and playfulness of the franchise and gets at some of the realest shit I’ve ever seen a nine-figure tentpole actioner so much as attempt to address.

J.J. Abrams figured this series out when he shifted focus to the human side of Ethan Hunt. Three films later, Cruise and McQuarrie have utterly perfected it. Blockbuster filmmaking doesn’t get better than Mission: Impossible – Fallout.


Watch the trailer here:

All images courtesy of Paramount Pictures.


Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Based on the TV series created by Bruce Geller
Produced by Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie, Jake Myers, J.J. Abrams
Starring Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson
Release Year: 2018
Running Time: 147 minutes

American Made – Review

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I was never bored watching American Made, but all I could ever think of as I was seated down was what this movie would have looked like under the eyes of Martin Scorsese. I feel like Doug Liman was trying to remind his audiences of how much of a blast The Wolf of Wall Street was, by taking a true story and turning it into a breezy adventure. But I’m not entirely sure that Doug Liman completely understands what made said film feel as if it was moving by so fast, because the most I kept thinking of was how much I would much rather be watching The Wolf of Wall Street. It seemed to be the worst recurring thought to have watching American Made because I know already that it isn’t the first film of its sort to be done within this style, and it isn’t made with the same cleverness that made its originators work as well.

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The Mummy (2017) – Review

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It already seems as if we’re getting cinematic universes after another at this rate that stretch outside the likes of Marvel and DC, for now we also have Legendary’s MonsterVerse and now Universal is chiming in by reviving classic horror movie icons for the Dark Universe. To say they’ve started things off interestingly is one thing, because I’m still struggling with trying to deconstruct what it is that I’m really feeling about The Mummy right after having seen it because it only seems like this new cinematic universe will probably not go the way it was planned to be; and yet somehow that’s a part of why The Mummy only resulted in such a baffling experience. I was far too busy laughing at the stupidity of where it was going to the point I couldn’t say I was ever finding myself getting bored, yet at the same time that’s a part of why it’s difficult enough for me to even say it allows the Dark Universe to show promise.

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Knight and Day – Review

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Mismatched pairings aren’t particularly new for action-comedies, but it’s easy to do them just wrong and Knight of Day isn’t any different. It starts off from having Tom Cruise, an actor who can be extremely charismatic if he’s inside of a role that fits him, paired together with Cameron Diaz, who has always hit me as nothing more than a bland if pretty face. Those aren’t the least of my many problems that arise from Knight and Day, but with that factor out there, it’s already a bad sign. There are moments in Knight and Day that are funnier than all of the rest, but at best it’s only a light chuckle as opposed to what the film wished it could have brought out even more. Stuff really doesn’t get all that much worse from right down there though, but Knight and Day still never finds itself working even with the effort it tries to display. Continue reading →

Edge of Tomorrow – Review

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I wouldn’t have thought that Edge of Tomorrow would have turned out nearly as fun as it was from looking at the ads alone, but I saw it in theaters anyway particularly because I happen to like Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, in spite of their runs of misses throughout their careers. In an age where action blockbusters have grown to become rather repetitive, Edge of Tomorrow shines from the many coming out during the summer, for it managed to provide the fun which I was awaiting amidst a sea of mediocrity. Watching Edge of Tomorrow did indeed prove an assumption from the advertising to be wrong, and revisiting it now after not having seen it since theaters proved it still held up rather well as one of the better blockbusters from recent years. Continue reading →

Eyes Wide Shut – Review

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My first memories of Eyes Wide Shut were not the fondest – even though I had seen many of Kubrick’s other films (all of which, then, I loved) prior to watching his swan song for my first time, I did not like it very much. Although over the years, much talk upon looking back at many of Stanley Kubrick’s other films has considerably made my opinion of Eyes Wide Shut grow favorably. Suddenly I realized on another viewing that perhaps I may have misunderstood what was Stanley Kubrick’s intention behind such an odd film, and eventually, I grew to the conclusion that Eyes Wide Shut truly is one of the finest swan songs of all time. Continue reading →

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – Review

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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation continues going along with the good path that had been paved for the Mission: Impossible films thanks to Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and while it may not hold a candle to the preceding film, there’s still enough fun to be had with what is left with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. It’s a ton of fun from beginning to end and while it falls short of achieving what Ghost Protocol had set for the franchise, there’s still enough service to provide some truly good popcorn entertainment, all in all being good fun. Continue reading →

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – Review

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For once, I’m gladly impressed with a Mission: Impossible film, for after having been left bitterly disappointed by Mission: Impossible III, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol not only is a huge step up from its predecessor but it’s also the first that I would gladly be able to truly call a good film. Given what potential the films had, it’s finally rather nice to see that by the time Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol had come along, the series had realized what it was capable of, and uses that to the very best of its own ability. Continue reading →