Improbable Missions, Impossible Lives | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Improbable Missions, Impossible Lives

Will symbiosis save the theatrical experience?

No other actor alive cares more about saving and protecting the theatrical experience more than Tom Cruise. We used to have dozens of movie stars: actors that would put butts in seats just due to their presence in a film, regardless of the quality or content. Back in the day it was Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable, who eventually morphed into the explosive popularity of action stars like Schwarzeneggar and Stallone until eventually landing on Denzel, Will Smith, Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise.

I'm leaving quite a few out, but you can fill those in yourself. None, however, have had the staying power of Tom Cruise, who has somehow managed to have a deeply controversial personal life that negatively effected his status as a bankable movie star only intermittently. Will Smith managed to slap himself out of a career and Denzel doesn't have the box office draw that he once did, but Cruise, even if he stalls out for a movie or two, always manages to bring people back to the movie theater. Even a movie like "The Mummy" which not a single human person I know actually liked (or remembers) made almost half a billion at the box office.

click to enlarge Improbable Missions, Impossible Lives
Courtesy of Paramount
Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson in “Mission: Impossible-Dead Reckoning Part One.”

We all know COVID almost killed movie theaters for good and popular opinion has it that "Top Gun: Maverick" is the movie that saved them. But there are two reasons why that's wrong. 1: Theaters are still a long way away from being saved as the American box office is still trending much lower than it was pre-COVID and 2: It was the combination of "Maverick" and "Everything Everywhere All at Once" that started slowly bringing people back. As much as studios want us to believe that their blockbusters are keeping the movie business turning along, it's the symbiosis be-tween the blockbusters and the weird, word-of-mouth art house pictures that will allow movie theaters a future.

This weekend saw the perfect example of that symbiosis with Tom Cruise leading a new "Mission: Impossible" movie into the multiplex and the impeccable A24 romantic drama "Past Lives" following directly behind. While millions more people will end up seeing "Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One" theatrically, it's "Past Lives" that will slowly grow in estimation and financial success as people see it and tell their friends.

"Mission: Impossible" will probably make over half a billion in the box office, but "Past Lives" will be remembered far longer and with greater fondness. That's not to say "M:I-7" is bad, it's actually quite entertaining. If you liked the last few of the series, this one is more of the same. Cruise is once again doing insane stunts and running long distances like a madman for our entertainment, although nothing in this really tops him climbing the Burj in "M:I-4" or hanging off the plane in "M:I-5."

The story is much goofier in "Dead Reckoning" than normal, with a staggering number of reversals, double crosses and unmaskings, and a sci-fi villain that is so evil that their motivations are unknowable. As entertaining as it is, it feels lightweight, dramatically, compared to "Fallout" and "Ghost Protocol." Since this is just the first half of a movie, maybe all my issues will be resolved the summer of 2024 when "Dead Reckoning Part Two" is released.

click to enlarge Improbable Missions, Impossible Lives
Courtesy of A24
Greta Lee and Tea Yoo in the great “Past Lives.”

"Past Lives" hits much harder than one initially thinks. It tells the story of Nora and Hae Sung, two childhood friends in South Korea whose relationship is brought to a premature end when Nora and her family immigrate to America. After reconnecting online a decade later, their relationship grows in ways that feel honest and unexamined in a typical motion picture. What feels like a very specific story to writer/director Celine Song ends up quietly and devastatingly becoming packed with universal truth, allowing the audience to imagine their own roads not taken and lives they might have lived had their choices been entirely their own.

As much as I want to spend most of my words championing small and gorgeous movies like "Past Lives," I know theaters, and in many ways, the entire motion picture industry, rely on franchises like "Mission: Impossible" and movie stars like Tom Cruise to keep the lights on. Plus, sometimes it's kinda nice to just sit in some air conditioning and watch things explode for a few hours without existential questions heaped upon my always overflowing plate of anxieties. We need to allow room for both and not be gatekeepers about what constitutes a "real" movie vs. what is just low-brow "entertainment" for the plebes. There's room for it all, whether you consider it your brand of entertainment or not.

"Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One"
Dir. Christopher McQuarrie
Grade: B+
Now playing at Regal Old Mill, Sisters Movie House, Odem Theater Pub, McMenamins Old St. Francis

"Past Lives"
Dir. Celine Song
Grade: A-
Now playing at Regal Old Mill and Tin Pan Theater

About The Author

Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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