Monthly Archives: January 2024

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

It has been an extremely long time since I’ve seen a new Mission Impossible movie. I dropped out right around the time they had finally gotten good, with consistent recurring characters and deep continuity and such. Of course, since I dropped out then, I only barely knew this had even happened. But there’s a new two-part… episode? I don’t really know what to call it when a movie is “to be continued” like the one I’m describing purportedly is (since I haven’t seen it yet, you see). But anyway, middle of this two-parter, and also all of the movies are extremely accessible right now, so I’ve watched a lot of them. (Rewatched, for 80% of them so far.)

The first one is from the ’90s, and it was goodish then but terrible now. The second one has a better plot, and is about the same on quality[1]. The third and fourth ones I’ve reviewed, and what you need to know is that the third one is where the continuity starts and the fourth one is the first that goes crazy with action quality that has now become the other hallmark of these movies, plus also where they prove there is continuity.

The fifth one, Rogue Nation, improves on continuity, in the sense that half of the plot is a direct sequel to and explores the consequences of number four. The other half, as with all of these movies, is Ethan Hunt trying to match wits with a world-spanning criminal mastermind and/or organization. The stakes are globally lower but have almost never been personally higher for the team, and also there are a lot of cool physical challenges (like in the fourth movie where he jumped around on that tall building in Dubai) and chases and insane plans that had better work the first time, or else someone gonna die. (Maybe Tom Cruise, if my understanding of who performs his stunts is correct.)

I guess what I’m saying is the plots are (in modernity) pretty decent, but far too intricate to actually try to summarize, plus spoilers, plus also all you really care about when you see these movies is what crazy thing Cruise will do next, and my point is: they are still delivering the goods.

Also though, what this really does is make me excited to get around to watching the Fast and Furious series, which is more or less the same. Early movies that are too old to be what you want today, plus weirdly low stakes compared to what will come later, but in the meantime with a huge focus on family and keeping everyone alive, instead of “whatever, y’all are spies, you’ll probably die soon” that you otherwise see in this kind of movie. I like it here, and I expect to like it there.

[1] except too much Face/Off energy; John Woo made that movie once and did not need to make it twice

Deliria (1987)

I cannot say that I know much about the history or evolution of gialli, so when I claim that StageFright is a late stage giallo, you should fully understand the credentials that I’m bringing to this claim. But it’s the first movie from a guy who previously assisted Dario Argento, and it is definitely on familiar terms with “stylish”. I call it late stage because the mystery trappings have been completely left behind; you know who the killer is before a single person has been butchered. Nevertheless, you can really see the historical underpinnings between there and here.

See, there’s this extremely off-Broadway musical about female empowerment against a serial killer? rapist? who wears a giant owl head as a mask. And via a series of improbable circumstances, a crazy actor breaks out of a mental facility and gets locked in with the cast and crew while they are finalizing their rehearsals in advance of opening night. So the introductory scenes are the musical, followed by improbable circumstances, and these are followed by some relatively by-the-numbers killings throughout act two. But then in the last 20 minutes, it just absolutely springs to life. Owlhead, the last survivor, the key, the cat, the fan blowing the feathers around… it’s as though without the weight of all the rational people caring about who is doing this or why or if they can survive, keeping things tethered in their own personal trauma, the true insanity of the situation is permitted to fly free.

I know not all of them can be hits, not even all of them from the ’80s, but I really was prepared to be disappointed here, and then, suddenly, I wasn’t. Bravo!

Prey (2022)

You know those Predator movies? A couple of years ago, Hulu made another one, except they flipped the script and named it Prey. Which made sense superficially, as it’s set 300 years ago among the Comanche, and yeah, there’s just every reason to expect a slaughter.

But then the movie takes an early right turn, when the main character is a young woman who wants to be a hunter for the tribe, only nobody really believes she has any potential as a hunter except her brother. And honestly, the early scenes prove the tribe right, or at least they would if it were not clear that most of her failures come from everyone else’s criminal negligence. She is mocked and spurned at every turn, and even her pretty good ideas are seen as failings, but ultimately it is fair to say that she’s just not a very good hunter, even if the fault lies elsewhere.

Meanwhile, it appears Predators have never been to Earth before, because this one is only interested in hunting that which has first hunted it, as though it’s on a fact-finding mission; it ignores all prey, and only hunts predators. Which in a piece of dramatic irony is also the method by which the Comanche graduate a hunter; he (well, she in this case, of course) must hunt something that is hunting him.

There’s a lot of ground to cover between here where I’m leaving off and there where the movie ends, but if you think that the real confrontation is between predator and prey, well, it seems to me that you understand the kind of spoilers that a title can bring to the table.

[1] Also there were a few more that predate me reviewing things. (No pun.)

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Last year, they made another Indiana Jones movie. I know that a lot of people complained about the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull movie, which, wow, was longer ago than I thought. But I think a certain suspension of disbelief is required to watch really any of these movies, and the things I saw at that time were more or less from the perspective of people who had lost their childlike sense of wonder about watching a pulp-inspired movie, and thought the sequel should have grown up with them. All of which to say, if you didn’t like that, you probably won’t like this. (If you simply thought it was weaker than some of the other movies in the series, this one is stronger again, for sure.)

Which brings us to 1969 and the latest (last?) sequel, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. The veracity of the plot is somewhat less than that of the other Indy movies involving Nazis, while still having more basis in fact than you’d expect from a pulp movie in general. See, there’s this fancy gear/dial thingy that predicts events based on prior knowledge, called an antikythera. The movie inaccurately(?) attributes its invention to Archimedes, who to be fair is a pretty cool dude, on par with your Da Vincis and your Teslas as far as coming up with fancy ideas (and perhaps executing them).

Everything else can be derived from first principles. Will there be an exciting chase sequence in which the upper hand changes direction multiple times? Will the Nazis deserve to have their faces melted off? Will there be glorified tomb-raiding, complete with traps and bugs and snakes and whatnot? Are there unexpected twists? Will it belong in a museum? (Yes, yes because it’s an odd-numbered movie, more or less yes, obviously yes, and, well, yes.)

Nona the Ninth

It is my understanding that Tamsyn Muir wanted to name this book Nona, rather than Nona the Ninth, but her editor and/or publisher told her she couldn’t if she expected people to find the book and continue reading the series. The compromise position they reached was Nona the Ninth, and to my regret, this is not something I can reflect in the post name. So just be aware I would have if I could have.

Nona was much easier to read than Harrow, but I find that it is much harder to describe without spoilers. Part of that is because it is the third book in a nominally four book series, of course. Part of it is because Tamsyn Muir never met a plotline (or a character development) she couldn’t obfuscate inside out and backward[1].

So let’s see. If Gideon is a book written from the perspective of the Nine Houses, and Harrow is a book written from the perspective of The Emperor and his Divine Saints, then Nona is a book written from the perspective of the citizenry of the Empire that exist outside the Houses[2]. Nona and her friends (and the citizenry that surround them) live in a city on a planet under siege. Under siege by the [let’s say] terrorist organization Blood of Eden, under siege by the Empire, under siege by the glowing blue light in the sky. Within five days (as heavily implied by the early text of the book), everything is going to go straight to hell, and Nona (and her friends, let us not forget) must balance the razorwire to make it through those five days. Also, not for nothing, that’s when Nona’s birthday is!

Before I go, I will introduce you to Nona, by telling you that her primary concerns are her job at school, and her upcoming birthday, and dogs, and absolutely none of the dangers that surround her. (And her friends.)

[1] To be clear, this is a compliment. I think a grudging one, and that is probably what makes it not be clear, but a compliment nonetheless.
[2] Which is already sort of a spoiler for the series, because as far as I could tell reading Gideon, the Nine Houses were the entirety of the Empire; I had no idea a separate citizenry existed!

The Lighthouse (2019)

The podcast I’ve been listening to determined that their theme for “this” week should be Edgar Allan Poe crossed with an aquatic monster, and as you may or may not know, there’s not really a lot of that. Which is how I learned that his last unfinished story is about a guy on remote lighthouse duty. Lighthouses in the past, you see, were mostly manned by practically nobody, in long shifts. I guess via the Navy?

So anyway, these two guys (a master and an apprentice, but for lighthouses instead of ruling the galaxy) named Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson arrive to a remote island off the coast of New England, in artistic black and white, and proceed with their month or so shift at keeping the light on for passing ships. The thing is, the ocean and the seagulls and the mermaid figurine and the solitude and the lack of solitude gradually take their tolls on the sanity of one or both men, and in conclusion, I would really love to read Poe’s original story, wherever it is catalogued in Dream’s library. It would not have been this movie, but I believe it very much might have been in the spirit of this movie. Or perhaps more accurately, The Lighthouse is in the spirit of Poe.

Suspiria (1977)

For I want to say my birthday, my mother-in-law pulled from my wishlist the 4K Blu-ray of Suspiria, a movie which I have somehow never seen, despite having felt its allure since at least as far back as when I bought The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine[1]. I cannot even say what puts them, for me, in the same category. Objectively, they are not, but it’s the kind of thing where I just saw it in that period twenty years ago where I was buying up weird ’70s movies, so they are all jumbled together in my mind.

Learning that Suspiria existed was also my introduction to Dario Argento. I’ve seen a number of his movies since, but I always felt like this was his masterpiece. I do not especially know why that was my belief, only that it was. After the fact, I’m not so sure anymore, but there’s a lot to like here. This girl shows up in a weirdly Greek German city on a dark and stormy night to go to ballerina college, but they won’t let her in, and also this other girl is running away in terror.

Later, the other girl is dead, and they do let her in but everything is creepy all the time, and also they are just minimally pretending that learning how to dance is important, amidst all the food storage problems and exponentially amplified footfalls down the corridors outside the dormitories and weirdly vampiric Romanian handymen. This is not a giallo, and I think that is the single biggest departure from expectations. Because although they sort of acted like there was, this is not a movie that had a mystery to solve.

Instead, it has a series of vignettes happening to or near the American ballerina fish-out-of-water person, and they are all designed to be unsettling. The dog attack was not scary because it was gory, but because of the peculiar and shocking circumstances. The razorwire was not scary because it was razorwire, but because it was completely inexplicable, and because of how long the scene went on. And so forth. The entire movie was one long stretch after another of “this spooky and/or shocking scene is just going to keep going and going and going, long past the point of tolerability.”

My only real complaint is that it shared the Rosemary’s Baby problem of people in the 20th century never having heard of witches before. I just cannot wrap my head around who in the script room thought this kind of thing needed to be explained. What audience were they worried about leaving behind?

Before I go, I would be remiss to not mention the spectacular restoration this movie has undergone. The color palette is maybe the second most important character. The dance academy building is not red; it is drenched in red. The nighttime lighting is so far from today’s hyper-realistic “oh, is it dark in the story? then it’s by god dark on your screen” methodology as to basically be an inverse comparison to when people in 1939 discovered that color film existed while making The Wizard of Oz. No dim but serviceable lighting here; no, if it’s dark, it’s electric blue, or green, or whatever they felt like / had on hand in the moment. The important thing is, with every scene, you feel like Argento is throwing a bucket of paint at you, except beautifully instead of messily. …unless the scene calls for that, of course.

Last thing: that Goblin score? Maybe one step below being as iconic as your John Carpenters or your [guy who did Friday the 13th]s. Chef’s kiss.

[1] A movie which I may or may not have seen but definitely have not reviewed. Hmmm.