Mission: Impossible— Fallout (***) R  

Much like the last several entries in the Mission: Impossible franchise­—now 22 years old and going seemingly strong in its sixth installment—Tom Cruise performs a death defying stunts that’s sure to leave audiences slack jawed. Here the actor plummets thousands upon thousands of feet from an airplane attached to an oxygen mask with the camera locked in tight for much of the action. We all know a stunt man was not employed and that the actor is performing his own stunts as he’s previously done in those aforementioned earlier entries. It’s an effective moment, knowing that had the all-important oxygen line been severed somehow, the film might be making headlines in a less than positive light. I mean after all, it was duly noted in the press when Cruise broke his ankle during production as he made a leap between buildings so I suppose the risks are getting higher each time out. I just kept wondering what it is in a person’s psyche that would lead them to insist on putting their life on the line for such things, especially when it’s something as lightweight as this film in terms of its takeaway. If one were to look at it from a psychological perspective this could be viewed as just another version of the actor’s infamous couch jumping incident in that there’s a certain feeling of desperation in someone just simply wanting to prove something. I do realize, however, that we’re here to review a movie and not an actor’s psyche so I’ll move onward.

As refreshing as it is to witness a modern day film where so many of the stunts and special effects are done practically as opposed to utilizing computer technology, there’s a bit of a feeling of déjà vu hanging over the proceedings in this latest Mission: Impossible chapter. It’s exciting enough but the first half of the film feels somewhat rote and by the numbers. Luckily there’s a rousing a high note the film manages to hit during the final thirty minutes that’s likely to help audiences forgive the film for its shortcomings. Let’s just say that this Mission isn’t likely to supplant memories of the well-received chapters four and five anytime soon.

The film opens up with IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) receiving a mission and accepting it—said mission instructions hidden inside a hardbound copy of Homer’s Odyssey—as one would expect. It’s up to Hunt to aid his team in retrieving a nuclear device that’s fallen into the wrong hands. When it comes down to Hunt choosing between losing a member of his team or retrieving the device, he opts to let the device go, putting the life of one over many, a recurring theme in this installment. That may sound illogical except when one considers that this plot device is simply needed in order to get the film underway. Long story short, franchise fans won’t be disappointed but clearly Cruise and his team are going to have to work a bit harder in the story department next time around should another Cruise accept another Mission.

Sorry to Bother You (***) R

Boots Riley, leader of the hip-hop group The Coup, comes through with a pretty interesting filmmaking debut, Sorry to Bother You. It’s clearly a film that owes more than a debt of gratitude to last year’s breakout hit Get Out, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t march in time to the beat of its own drum. Taken on its own terms, this is a film that’s meant to be topical without being preachy. Riley certainly has a lot on his mind and many things he wants to articulate, at least for the first half of the film. It’s only when things get a little more plot driven during the film’s second half that it begins to falter.

Lakeith Stanfield in ‘Sorry’

Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield), a young African American male, is having no luck finding a decent job until he’s given a chance to shine as a telemarketer. In spite of having a job, Cassius finds little success in his work until an older co-worker (Danny Glover) informs him that success is around the corner if he can adopt a voice that makes him sound like a non-threatening white man. Things do turn around for Cassius but his success coincides with a strike that his coworkers are organizing which leads the young man to a moral dilemma of sorts.

Things take a strange turn during the second half and unfortunately it was a bit too out of synch with the rest of the film for my tastes. Still, Sorry to Bother You has enough salient points to make that I can heartily recommend it.

Puzzle (***) R

Kelly MacDonald is one of those great actresses whose face you will instantly recognize, having turned in superb performances in such films as No Country for Old Men, the two Trainspotting films, Elizabeth and Finding Neverland. She’s never really been given a chance to shine in a leading performance but all that changes with her latest film, the potent and inspiring drama Puzzle. It’s a showcase for her sizable talents that, frankly, has been a long time coming.

Puzzle is based on a 2009 Argentinian film and it tells the story of Agnes (MacDonald), a neglected housewife and mother, who dutifully attends to the duties that she’s been expected to carry out in her respective roles. When Agnes is given a puzzle as a birthday gift a whole new life of possibilities open before her. These include entering a puzzle competition with a fellow puzzle partner (Irrfan Khan) who’s nursing a broken heart due to the collapse of a recent relationship, and Agnes’s temptation to begin a romance with said partner.

There are lots of lovely moments to savor in Puzzle. I especially liked the depiction of her domestic life and the quiet desperation found therein. There are a few moments in the plot that stretch credibility from time to time but not enough to detract from the wonderful message of finding one’s inner joy and purpose that it tries so desperately to convey.

‘Mission’ is playing everywhere. ‘Sorry’ is playing in Charlotte, Puzzle hasn’t opened here.

Kelly McDonald in Puzzle

Questions or comments? Write Adam at [email protected].