Five Takeaways: And the Oscar for Biggest Moneymaker goes to …

Rob Lowe and Oscars

As you’ve heard by now, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences wants to add an Oscar for outstanding achievement in “popular film” to the mix in 2019.

“The film business passed away today,” Rob Lowe (above left)  tweeted in response. “It had been in poor health for a number of years. It is survived by sequels, tent-poles, and vertical integration.”

On the surface, it seems like a cockamamie, ill-advised plan. A few quick thoughts:

  1. The Academy may be imperfect. The Oscars telecast may be kooky and overlong. But it has the highest profile of any organization/show designed to honor achievements in filmmaking — accomplishments related to the art of making movies. Box-office receipts aren’t the same thing. Does Oscar’s history count for nothing?
  2. Some films are simultaneously artistic standouts and commercial juggernauts. If the Best Popular Film award in 2019 goes to box-office hits “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” or “Mission Impossible: Fallout,” but those movies don’t get Best Picture nominations, isn’t that like saying, “Sure, your movie isn’t a stand-out artistically but it made a heckuva lot of money, so we’re giving you our Very Special Oscar?”
  3. Doesn’t introducing an Oscar for Best Popular Film dilute the impact of the Oscar for Best Picture? Which one is the “real” top winner?
  4.  If the idea is to pump up the TV ratings of the Oscars telecast, a last-minute CYA attempt to get more fans of, say, superhero movies to tune in seems misguided. There are other ways to restructure the thing to make it funnier and faster moving. And maybe, just maybe, the Academy’s members might consider cutting back on the political speechifying that’s alienated so many viewers, and potential viewers?
  5. Is the plan designed to keep the Academy from accusations of a) being “so white” if/when the enormously popular “Black Panther” doesn’t get nominated and/or win Best Picture or b) being unwilling to honor superhero movies if/when that film or “Avengers” don’t get nominated and/or win Best Picture? The Academy has notably made moves to diversify its membership via increases in minority, female, and younger members, along with other tweaks, including expanding the number of Best Picture nominees. Why not allow a bit of time for the nominations to reflect those changes? Is it really necessary to press the panic button right now? Patience, grasshopper.
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“Mission Impossible — Fallout”: Got adrenaline? (FILM REVIEW)

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE — FALLOUT: Stars Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson, and Angela Bassett; written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie; 147 minutes; Rated PG-13. Critic’s rating: B+

What does “Mission Impossible — Fallout,” which handily scores a slamdunk as the most riveting, most highly adrenalized action film of the summer, have in common with slasher movies and chopsocky fare?

It’s the relentless, sometimes breathtaking, sweeps-you-away-despite-the-sheer-preposterousness action, stupid.

Just as the aforementioned genres are all about cruel, bloody murders, and ferocious kung fu battles, respectively, alternating with in-between content that often amounts to soggy filler, the new “MI” and the most accomplished of its ilk are all about artfully staged combat — frequently hand-to-hand — and thrilling chases, this time via cars, motorcycles, and helicopters.

And about that exposition, which, you know, just slows things down, but nevertheless is delivered with absolutely straight faces by a roomful of gifted actors: Does the identity of the villain really matter, not to mention what, exactly, he or she plans to do to the world if not foiled by our intrepid hero?

The sixth installment in the “MI” series, a franchise that, unbelievably, dates back 22 years, again stars the world’s most famous Scientologist, the age-defying Tom Cruise, now 56 but 33 in body-specimen years, as unstoppable IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agent Ethan Hunt.

Expertly furrowing his eyebrows to better telegraph his seriousness, at the film’s start, in some dark lair in Berlin, Hunt takes in a snappy video presentation delivered via an electronic device disguised inside a copy of Homer’s “Odyssey.”

Get it? This way lies a long, treacherous journey, to be marked by many dangers, temptations, and hair-raising escapes. Then, just as we expected, the capper: “This message will self-destruct” is accompanied by a poof of smoke, in a nerdy but lovable bit that dates back to the ’60s/’70s TV show. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Of course, the old series never aspired to the technical brilliance of the new movies, the last two of which have been directed by Christopher McQuarrie. In those terms, this one’s an absolute stunner, an adrenaline-fueled marvel of perpetual motion and brilliantly directed set pieces. In some respects, it makes James Bond movies seem altogether laidback by comparison.

(If the title of the new “MI” reminds you of “Skyfall,” the 2012 Bond film that was also one of the best in that action series, you’re not alone).

Sure, 007 makes loads of hair-raising escapes, tossing out clever throwaway lines and bagging the babes along the way. But MI’s Hunt runs, runs, runs, leaps, falls, and runs some more, like the Energizer Bunny of superspies, and he does so with nearly as much style and grace as 007. Bonus: Ethan’s supporting pals and bosses — including funny guy Benji (Simon Pegg), lovable and loyal hulk Luther (Ving Rhames), and superiors Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) and Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett) — are, honestly, a lot more excitable and more fun than Bond’s stuffy stiff-upper-lip crew.

This time, saving the world entails a mission, should Hunt accept it, involving retrieving three missing plutonium cores from a group of anarchists known as the Apostles. The designated baddies include an international criminal named John Lark and hirsute villain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), back on duty from the last installment, “Rogue Nation,” also directed by McQuarrie and clearly superior to the earlier “MI” movies.

Femmes, potentially also fatales, are here, too, courtesy of Brit agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), possessed of mad motorcycle and sniping skills, and a mysterious negotiator/flirt named the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby).

Spicing up the mix are hard-bodied CIA straight arrow August Walker (Henry Cavill), a frenemy to Hunt who may or may not be on Team Western Civilization, and, oddly, Ethan’s ex-wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan), last seen in the series’ 2011 entry, “Ghost Protocol.”

Yes, there will be masks, a high body count, explosions, a ticking bomb, a race against a deadline — 72 hours — and travelogue-worthy mad dashes through Paris (cue the Arc de Triomphe and the catacombs), London (cue the Tate Modern museum and the Thames), and Kashmir. And Wolf Blitzer.

But mostly, the latest, longest — at 2 1/2 hours — and maybe greatest “MI” are those carefully constructed, elaborately arranged, elongated action sequences, including an endless bout of mostly flesh-on-flesh male brawling in an all-white bathroom inside the cavernous Grand Palais, made over as a pulsating nightclub and, even more astonishing, a cat-and-mouse helicopter chase in the Himalayas that concludes with literal cliff hanging.

I’m getting winded just thinking about it all. But, as characters utter more than once in the film, they’ll “figure it out” before everything is said and done. And the getting there will keep us glued to the screen until the credits roll.