Movie Review ~ Top Gun: Maverick

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When he finds himself training a detachment of Top Gun graduates for a specialized mission the likes of which no living pilot has ever seen, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell faces an uncertain future while confronting the ghosts of his past, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who will be chosen to fly it.
Stars: Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Ed Harris, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Danny Ramirez, Monica Barbaro, Manny Jacinto, Val Kilmer
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 131 minutes
TMMM Score: (10/10)
Review:  I think it’s safe to say that we’ve had our share of star movies over the past several years. You know what I’m talking about, too. Films that are the real draw more than any living, breathing actor or actress appearing in the picture. It’s like a long-running Broadway show in that, at a certain point, it doesn’t matter who is playing the leading role; it all depends on if the audience is willing to pay out money to see the machine at work. A seemingly endless stream of Marvel, DC Comics, franchise, and known content have clogged up theaters even before the pandemic, and now that’s all audiences want to spend their money on. It takes a bold movie with hot word of mouth (like the ongoing box office smash Everything Everywhere All at Once) to break through the noise. And it takes a movie star.

If anyone could bust through that wall of sound, it’s going to be an actor that’s been literally trying to break the sound barrier for years. Superstar Tom Cruise has had his fair share of bad press during his career and especially over the past half-decade, but what he continues to deliver is a breathlessly impressive supply of limit-pushing adventures that put the capital “C” in Cinema and remind you why you pay that extra fee to watch movies on the most giant screen you can find. His Mission: Impossible films have morphed from the kitschy fun of the original to mind-boggling action epics. Last onscreen in 2018’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout, with a two-part capper to his Ethan Hunt character from that series starting in 2023, Cruise is sliding back into theaters with a film that has been finished for a few years but has been delayed due to the pandemic. 

For a while, it felt like a sequel to the bombastic classic 1986 film Top Gun would never see a theatrical release. Already coming off to some like a stretch project thirty years too late, Cruise made it a point to let detractors know he’d been approached for a follow-up on multiple occasions, but it wasn’t until now that a script came together that felt right. With better technology and the opportunity to have actors trained to fly the jets (and film themselves as well!), Cruise could give fans a second chapter that would be worth waiting for. No one could have expected how long the wait would be, though. Intended for release in July 2019 (yes, 2019), it was bumped back for a myriad of reasons along the way. The important thing is that Cruise held out to keep Top Gun: Maverick from being a victim of the studio’s wave of pandemic straight-to-streaming offloads…and we should be forever grateful.

Thirty years into his career in the U.S. Navy, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise, Rock of Ages) has remained a test pilot, passing up promotions to stay airborne and avoid the dreaded desk job of senior officers. Currently working on a hypersonic test jet at the film’s start, when he breaks protocol and is targeted by a commanding officer for permanent grounding, he’s called back to familiar territory at San Diego’s Top Gun training program. His skills are needed to oversee a new mission carried out by an elite group of the best recent graduates, many of whom weren’t even born when he was in their shoes. One of the pilots, Rooster (Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now), isn’t thrilled to see Maverick onsite due to their complicated family history. Fans of the original will make the connection (and it’s no spoiler), but I’ll let screenwriters Ehren Kruger (Dumbo), Erin Warren Singer (Only the Brave), and frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) connect the dots while you watch.

Rekindling a romance with old flame Penny (a barely-there character from the original and the substitute for Kelly McGillis, who, like Meg Ryan, sadly doesn’t return for the sequel, though other familiar faces do), Maverick balances questioning the need for stability at his age with, well, feeling the need for speed. You can guess what wins most of the time, but credit Cruise and Jennifer Connelly (Alita: Battle Angel) as Penny for creating a mature, age-appropriate relationship that is allowed to take center stage believably and often without a lot of dialogue. Connelly is so good (and eternally, impossibly beautiful) at conveying whole paragraphs with just an eye movement, that she makes one of the best Cruise love interests I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s the kind of non-mushy romantic involvement that even audiences coming for full-throttle action won’t mind pausing for.

Not that the film doesn’t have the pulse-pounding, nail-biting action to keep you alternately on the edge of your seat or pushed back gripping your armrests. Making good use of the IMAX cameras it was filmed on and incredible cinematography seamlessly blending the actual flying from any green screen, it’s as realistic an action-adventure as you’ll see this side of a documentary or Navy-approved training video. Credit to Cruise and the actors for going the distance and putting in the work to make it look accurate. Working with a mission more in-depth than the first film could have brought more complex challenges to keeping engagement, but it’s an easy-to-follow film with easy-to-root for high stakes.

Like an authentic ’80s summer sweltering blockbuster, it has a power anthem from Lady Gaga with a needle drop at a perfect position. It was a fantastic move to have its theme weaved into the score throughout. I still like the Oscar-winning Giorgio Moroder/Berlin song from the first film best, but I am glad Gaga and Hans Zimmer didn’t simply remake that classic. Gaga has a serious chance to win another songwriting Oscar for her fist-raising barn burner that rounds out one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had at the movies in my recent memory. If you’ve been waiting weeks, months, or years (?) to head back to the theater…Top Gun: Maverick is the film to break your fast. See it on an IMAX screen as big as you can find with a great sound system and you’ll get the full impact. Waiting until streaming will not do at all. Top Gun: Maverick is a must-see in general, but you can’t miss it in the movie theater.

Welcome to Summer 2022.

The Silver Bullet ~ Top Gun: Maverick

Synopsis: A follow-up to the 1986 hit brings back Naval Aviator Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and will deal with the rise of unmanned drones and pilots becoming a thing of the past.

Release Date: June 26, 2020

Thoughts: Has it really been 33 years since Tom Cruise cemented his rising superstar status with the blockbuster release of Top Gun?  Inspiring countless imitators (including Cruise himself) and launching a million slow dances to the Oscar-winning theme song, the movie is firmly in our cultural lexicon and holds up quite nicely.  So you could hear some groans across the U.S. of A. when it was announced Cruise would be returning in the long rumored sequel.  For someone with as good as track record as Cruise has with starring in successful non-franchise fare, why occupy his time between Mission: Impossible sequels with another sequel to a previous role?  Teaming with his Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski and looping in an excellent roster of supporting players, from the looks of this first trailer for Top Gun: Maverick Cruise clearly knew what he was doing and I’m sorry I doubted him in the first place.  This sneak peak at the high-flying action film releasing almost 12 months from now stirs the kind of nostalgic summer excitement within me that doesn’t get a jolt that often.  Fingers crossed it’s more than just a retread of the original.

Movie Review ~ The Mummy (2017)

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: An ancient princess is awakened from her crypt beneath the desert, bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia, and terrors that defy human comprehension.

Stars: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Russell Crowe

Director: Alex Kurtzman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 110 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

Review: You’re going to hear from a lot of people that The Mummy, Universal’s first entry in their new Dark Universe franchise, is a baffling bomb.  Those people aren’t totally wrong but they’re not completely off the mark either.  The worst thing a movie can be is neither good nor bad but just mediocre and too much of this new take on The Mummy straddles that fence, stubbornly refusing to slump into schlock or get its ass into a higher-quality gear.  It’s not a total wash but the potential was there to take a fun step forward and the studio is too, uh, wrapped up in their quest for a new charter film series that they’ve lost sight of the here and the now.

As most of these creature-features often do, The Mummy opens with a little history lesson concerning an ambitious Egyptian princess (Sofia Boutella, Kingsman: The Secret Service) seduced by evil forces that promise her eternal life.  Clearing her way to the throne in a bloody rampage, she’s eventually captured and buried alive in a deluxe sarcophagus within an ultra-complex underground prison.  Remaining hidden for thousands of years, she’s unearthed by two unscrupulous soldiers (Tom Cruise, Oblivion and Jake Johnson, Safety Not Guaranteed) looking for antiquities to sell on the black market in modern day Iraq.  Once released from her prison, she wastes little time in bringing down a plane transporting her to London and proceeding to suck the life out of anyone that gets in her way, turning them into the walking dead for good measure.  It’s up to Cruise and a pretty prehistorian (Annabelle Wallis, Annabelle) to end the madness, a task made more difficult when our Mummy Princess sets her sights on making Cruise her eternal mate.

The framework of plot supplied by a screenplay written by David Koepp (Jurassic Park), Christopher McQuarrie (Edge of Tomorrow), and Dylan Kussman (Flight) has potential to it but director Alex Kurtzman (People Like Us) never fully trusts the material, opting instead to let Cruise take up too much space and pushing others to the sidelines.  Let’s not forget that in addition to the above brief outline, Cruise is introduced to the Prodigium, a secret group dedicated to hunting supernatural baddies and beasties.  Led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (yep, the one and only), look closely during a visit to Prodigium’s lab for a few familiar creatures that may pop up in future Dark Universe entries.

I get the feeling that when the script for The Mummy was sent to Cruise, it was with the intent he consider taking on Dr. Jekyll (played here by a twinkle-eyed Russell Crowe, The Water Diviner) but Cruise missed the memo and just assumed he’d be the lead.  Clearly written for a younger actor, everyone in the film at one time or another looks at Cruise (who’s still in fine shape and loves a good stunt sequence) and clearly is thinking, “You’re too old for this role!”  His chemistry with both of his leading ladies is strained and it becomes the Cruise show the moment he arrives onscreen with the titular character taking a frustrating back-seat to the A-list star.

Crowe seems keen on having some fun and while his storyline could be excised from the film entirely, he at least has the right idea of what his contributions are.  Knowing that Universal plans to craft a new franchise from their Stable of Scary, I wonder if the whole Prodigium business was folded in late in the game to tee up the Dark Universe.  Poor Wallis has a role that is entirely exposition, I don’t think she’s given one line that isn’t specifically meant to explain or clarify so the performance feels like the appendix it was written to be.  The true star here is Boutella and whenever she’s onscreen the film starts to crackle and pop only to be muffled by Cruise’s overbearing presence.  I like Cruise quite a lot but even I must admit he’s been given too much room to play.

Amidst a bunch of hokum happenings and a screenplay that’s pretty pokey, there are a handful of slick moments of fun that hint at what the movie could have been had it found a better focus.  A mid-air disaster is staged with edge-of-your-seat excitement and an underwater chase managed to make me hold my breath as Cruise and Wallis try to outswim a horde of the undead.  Being released in 2D and 3D formats, I caught it in 3D and since so much of the film is set at night or in dark underground lairs I’d advise going for a 2D screening which might produce clearer visuals.

There’s nothing I look forward to more than a good old-fashioned monster movie.  I don’t need flashy special effects or 3D gimmickry to get on board, just give me a good creature, a decent plot, and invested performances and I’m happy.  While Universal’s reboot of The Mummy doesn’t consistently hit any of the above specifications, it grazes them long enough to produce a somewhat enjoyable but ultimately misguided first step into a new franchise involving their classic catalog of monsters.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Mummy (2017)

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Synopsis: An ancient princess is awakened from her crypt beneath the desert bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia and terrors that defy human comprehension.

Release Date: June 9, 2017

Thoughts: If you didn’t know any better, the first few moments of this first look at Universal’s 2017 reboot of The Mummy may feel like you’ve fallen into another Mission: Impossible entry.  There’s Tom Cruise looking quite Cruise-ish in a cargo plane carrying the remains of an ancient princess.  Before they can even get through customs (or land the aircraft) trouble brews with Cruise (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back) winding up in a body bag.  What’s so nice about this thrilling teaser is that is leaves you with more questions than answers.  Where the 1932 original was a classic horror, its 1999 reboot owed more to Indiana Jones than to its source material.  This new take on The Mummy, however, looks to blend the best of previous incarnations.  With Russell Crowe (The Water Diviner) and Annabelle Wallis (Annabelle) along for the adventure under the direction of Alex Kurtzman (People Like Us), look for this one to be unwrapped in a prime summer slot.

Movie Review ~ Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.

Stars: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Robert Knepper

Director: Edward Zwick

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: At one point in the outright terrible Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Tom Cruise says to a character, “That was really stupid.  Please don’t ever do that again.”  I think I speak for the entire movie-going public by saying, ‘Physician, heal thyself.”  While 2012’s Jack Reacher wasn’t the kind of sizable hit that had tongues wagging, I felt it was a quite entertaining action flick and a nice opportunity for Cruise to push beyond his clean-cut hero image and latch onto a character with some demons to deal with.  Though Cruise didn’t fit the description of the former US Military Police officer author Lee Child has featured in twenty novels over the last two decades, he won over most of his naysayers and with Cruise’s A-List status reestablished by a string of hits (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Edge of Tomorrow, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) a sequel was easily greenlit with Cruise serving as main producer.

Of all the novels that could have served as the inspiration for the sequel, it’s surprising that Cruise and company gravitated toward Never Go Back which is one of the newer novels in the Jack Reacher series.  Though well-reviewed, it finds Reacher far along in the arc Child has developed and its transition to the screen is seriously flawed under the pen of Richard Wenk, Marshall Herskovitz, and director Edward Zwick.  The dialogue is dreadful and the plot about black market weaponry and drug trafficking is so non-existent that when it finally does circle back to Reacher and fugitive Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) out to clear both their names it’s treated more as a pee break opportunity than a climax.

Even worse, Reacher is identified as the possible father of a teenager (Danika Yarosh) and wouldn’t ya know it, when he gets involved the bad guys target his supposed offspring so she has to go on the run with her maybe-Daddy.  All the while, the trio are pursued by a horde of easily bested bad guys led by a man (Patrick Heusinger, Frances Ha) identified in the credits only as The Hunter.  There are a heap ton of ensemble players and all look more excited to be in a scene with Cruise than they do about playing poorly written throwaway roles.

In his last few movies, critics have singled out Cruise’s supporting players and leading ladies as highlights and I think he must have started taking that personally.  In Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, everyone other than Cruise seems to have been selected because they are so out of their league with their megawatt star.  I’m stunned Cruise deigned to share screen time with Smulders who was barely a serviceable actress on television.  Getting every single one of her line readings wrong, her character whines about Reacher not respecting her as a woman who can hold her own…while wearing a short robe casually opened almost to the navel.  If there’s supposed to be chemistry between the two, the formula didn’t pan out because they look like people that grabbed for the same magazine in the dentist office and just continued to talk.

As Cruise’s daughter, Yarosh is giving me Anna Paquin meets Patricia Arquette, minus any of the talent or charm that brought both actresses Oscars.  Uncomfortably awkward and sullen for 90% of the film, you’re praying Reacher doesn’t end up being her dad lest she be guaranteed a spot in a future sequel.  I’m not quite sure what happened with Heusinger’s hitman, he’s supposed to be a highly trained special ops killer but is outwitted and outplayed by almost everyone he comes in contact with.  If he kills someone, it almost feels accidental because he’s so grossly unbelievable in the role.

Though Zwick had early success in his career with Glory and Legends of the Fall, this represents a career low for him (and Cruise, and everyone else).  Had Cruise not been in this and the Jack Reacher moniker been stripped, I could see the entire production being moved to a comeback vehicle for Jean Claude Van Damme and it making some decent money.  It’s so bad, I half expected Cruise to turn to look at the audience and yell “Suckers!” before starting over again with a different cast and script.

Edited poorly with no continuity of time and place to speak of, the movie feels like it was put in a blender and assembled in the dark as part of a community service project.  The only act of kindness that can happen for Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is to have it wiped from our memory and Cruise be allowed a re-do.

Movie Review ~ Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.

Stars: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Tom Hollander

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 131 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: If there’s one thing I’ve said time and time again in this here blog it’s that Tom Cruise knows how to deliver a spectacular action film.  Off-screen antics aside, Cruise proves with each new release that he knows how to build off of his strengths and give the audience what they came for.  Never less than 100% committed to the work (see his bold turn in the otherwise blah Rock of Ages), he’s best when he’s going the extra mile.

That being said, for this fifth installment of the TV show turned blockbuster franchise I felt that Cruise and company didn’t take as strong a step forward as they did with 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.  That film felt fresh, with a renewed interest in inventive action sequences coupled with an intriguing plot of crosses, double crosses, and triple crosses.  Cruise tried out some cool stunt work and director Brad Bird produced a nice mix of over the top action and sly spy work.

With Bird off directing Tomorrowland, Cruise brought old pal Christopher McQuarrie into M:I5 and that’s where some problems surfaced.  All four previous installments had brought Cruise together with different directors he had no prior shorthand, but this is the first time Cruise is working with a director he has history with.  McQuarrie wrote 2008’s Valkyrie and 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow for Cruise and wrote/directed the underappreciated Jack Reacher back in 2012.

So what we have is a star and a writer/director that kinda already had it all figured out before starting up production and the final effect feels like an overly safe but still better than average film that could have been great.  No matter how many of his own stunts he was reported to have performed himself, Cruise isn’t challenged much by McQuarrie to truly push the limits so the resulting movie feels slightly tentative and more in service of protecting the profitable franchise instead of doing something truly original.

Not that McQuarrie’s script is your run-of-the-mill spy tale.  Sure, there’s a lot of intrigue to go along with the spy movie checklist items but it’s more intelligent than its predecessors and aims high in covering a lot of thoughts and ideas.  Each previous Mission: Impossible film has had its share of twists and turns and this is no different, it’s a credit to the filmmakers that even when the plot points feel rehashed from similar films they still manage to be effectively entertaining.

Building off of an idea introduced in the final moments of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation starts with Ethan Hunt and his IMF (Impossible Missions Force) compatriots attempting to prevent a stash of nuclear armaments from falling into the hands of the shadowy organization known as The Syndicate.  At the same time, the future of the IMF is called into question by a high ranking government official (Alec Baldwin, Aloha, doing his best impression of Alec Baldwin) and soon Hunt becomes a wanted man by The Syndicate and his own government.  Teaming with a skilled agent with a questionable allegiance (Rebecca Ferguson, Hercules), Hunt hops around the globe in search of the head of The Syndicate (rat-faced Sean Harris, Prometheus, a mostly forgettable villain).  Saying more of the serpentine plot would take up too much room here but suffice it to say that the quest isn’t easy and more than a few lies will be told along the way.

Where the film really excels is the breath-taking stunt work.  From the opening airplane sequence (already more than a little spoiled by the trailer and poster) to an underwater operation to thwart a complex security system to an edge of your seat motorcycle chase through the Moroccan desert, the film is a must-see on the biggest screen possible.  I didn’t catch it in IMAX but will seek out a screening later to really appreciate the scale of the work that went into these stunts that are more than worth the price of admission.

While Cruise may be the star of the show, Ferguson manages to swipe the film right out from under him.  Previous movies have placed the females as little more than damsels in distress (no matter if they’re trained super agents or not), but Ferguson represents a character that’s Hunt’s equal in every way.  Sure, her presence in a variety of skin baring costumes gives Cruise and audience members something to swoon over but McQuarrie wisely keeps it all business, adding to her mystery.  We never really know quite what side she’s on, so we never know what to expect when she appears onscreen,

While I’ve loved Simon Pegg’s work as a supporting cast member in Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and two previous Mission: Impossible films, it was an unfortunate mistake to beef up his role here as Cruise’s nervous ally within IMF.  Sure, he’s a valued element of comic relief but he’s made too much of a central figure here, taking time away from Cruise, Ferguson, and the forward motion of the plot.  It’s not all Pegg’s fault, but I’m sure Jeremy Renner (Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Ving Rhames (Won’t Back Down) would have liked a little more screen time of their own.

I felt like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol heralded the start of a new chapter of Ethan Hunt and the IMF and thankfully that’s continued here in Rogue Nation.  I do, however, wonder whatever happened to Paula Patton from Ghost Protocol, and Maggie Q from #3…not to mention Hunt’s wife (Michelle Monaghan, briefly seen at the end of the last film).  I kept hoping for a hint at what’s to come next but sadly the film leaves us with more questions than answers.  I’m invested enough in the series to keep accepting future Missions…but hope that the next outing feels a bit more challenging.

The Silver Bullet ~ Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

mission_impossible__rogue_nation

Synopsis: Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.

Release Date: July 31, 2015

Thoughts: I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time over the past several blogging years defending Tom Cruise. There’s a faction of audience members that can’t get past Cruise’s religious beliefs, wacky couch jumping tendencies, and somewhat self-aggrandizing attitude. Still…here’s the thing…the man knows how to make a movie. In fact, I’d say that Cruise has energetically come out of a mid-career slump of outings that were too serious and “important” and settled nicely into delivering popcorn chomping ready events that highlight his strengths. A lot of that renaissance was firmly cemented with 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol — maybe the franchise’s most enjoyable outing yet. I’ve got a good feeling about 2015’s upcoming fifth installment of Cruise’s spy series…and apparently so does Paramount Pictures. The studio moved it up from a prime Christmas Day release to an end of the summer bow that could be perfect time for box office gold. Reteaming Cruise (Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow) with his Jack Reacher director Christopher McQuarrie (Jack the Giant Slayer) and with familiar faces (Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames) returning and a new beauty (Rebecca Ferguson, Hercules) on board this is one mission I’m more than happy to accept.

Movie Review ~ Edge of Tomorrow

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An officer finds himself caught in a time loop in a war with an alien race. His skills increase as he faces the same brutal combat scenarios, and his union with a Special Forces warrior gets him closer and closer to defeating the enemy.

Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Noah Taylor, Kick Gurry, Dragomir Mrsic, Charlotte Riley, Jonas Armstrong, Franz Drameh, Masayoshi Haneda, Tony Way

Director: Doug Liman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 113 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I was discussing Tom Cruise with a casual acquaintance in a group setting the other day and when I mentioned how much I like his films, she responded with “Yeah, but he’ll always be that crazy couch jumper.”  It’s hard to believe that nearly a decade since the couch jump heard ‘round the world people still can’t let that one go…not that Cruise has helped his case by taking a critical stance against anti-depressants and being the poster boy for Scientology in the intervening years.

As a critic, though, you have to be able to put all that aside and look at the work…and when you look at the almost thirty years of Cruise’s Hollywood ventures you’ll see a portfolio filled with major blockbusters (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), guilty pleasures (Cocktail), old-fashioned epics (Far and Away), under-appreciated misfires (Oblivion, Jack Reacher), and miscalculated bombs like Rock of Ages that Cruise managed to emerge victorious from.  Put plainly…the man knows how to deliver the goods and that’s something that no amount of religious discussion or questionably hyper antics can sully.

Cruise is back in summer 2014 with the unexpectedly fun sci-fi action film Edge of Tomorrow, adapted from the graphic novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.  Already being described by critics as Groundhog Day with guns, the script from Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth rises above the simple ‘Live Die Repeat’ tagline to be a genuinely interesting mind-bender that plays by the rules (mostly) and keeps you on the edge of your seat after taking off like a rocket.

An alien race has arrived on Earth via comet and is lying waste to much of Europe.  In the battle to conquer these invaders, the army has developed specialized metal suits (think Sigourney Weaver in the final battle of Aliens) as armor against some very sneaky creatures that look like Medusa heads and strike with fatal precision.  Playing Cage, a cowardly lion of a military man, Cruise unwillingly finds himself moving from the face of the war recruitment effort into the front lines after running afoul of a general (Brendan Gleeson, Albert Nobbs, The Company You Keep) unimpressed with his spinelessness.

Without any training or real life knowledge of the enemies he’s fighting, Cage is dispatched to a military base where he’ll be one of the first troops to deploy on a deadly mission that plays out like the battle on Omaha Beach. Disoriented and seeing his platoon fall around him, he comes face to face with a Big Nasty Alien and dies.

Only that’s not the end, that’s just the first 20 minutes of director Doug Liman’s smashing freight train of a film.  See, when Cage dies the day starts over again, back when he arrives at the base.  Initially not believing it’s a convenient case déjà vu, when he continues to die in different ways only to wake up in the same spot he begins to figure out a way to change his fate and the fate of those around him.

Helping him out is Emily Blunt (Looper, The Five-Year Engagement) playing hard-ass Rita dubbed the Angel of Verdun for her impressive skills in alien extermination.  Cage soon finds that he has more in common with Rita than he’d ever imagined…and soon both are working together to turn the tables on an enemy always one step ahead of them.  Though the previews for Edge of Tomorrow seem to show a lot, there’s a nice hunk of story left that hasn’t been spoiled by the marketing department and certainly won’t be spoiled by me here.

Cruise is in top form (my date for the evening was heard saying several times “He’s 50!  The man is 50! How does he still look like that?” in the darkened theater) and is more than happy to let Blunt get her moment in the sunshine as well.  A movie star through and through, Cruise has fun playing a man of avarice humbled by his new found curse of living a bad day over and over and over.  Blunt steps up to the plate in a big way, proving to be a formidable co-star and giving the impression she’s just as tough as her leading man and any of the grizzled grunts that populate the film.

Liman keeps the action going strong without muddying the waters.  Originally I was a bit overwhelmed by the onslaught of explosions and battle sequences but it’s all in service to how the script refines what we’re seeing as the film progresses.  The musical score by Christophe Beck (Muppets Most Wanted, Endless Love) is appropriately juggernaut-y and the special effects blend seamlessly with the large scale set pieces necessary to tell the tale.

Movies are often compared to video games and in the case of Edge of Tomorrow that’s a fair comparison.  In video games, when you die you get to repeat the level and do your best to try and avoid past mistakes.  It’s a gimmick the film uses well and even if it bends the rules ever so slightly to get to an ending that was probably unavoidable, it’s a small nitpick for a summer blockbuster that more than gets the job done.  Well worth a watch.

Down From the Shelf ~ Endless Love (1981)

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A high school student’s love for a 15-year-old girl is thwarted by circumstance and accident.

Stars: Brooke Shields, Martin Hewitt, Shirley Knight, Don Murray, Richard Kiley, Beatrice Straight, Tom Cruise, James Spader, Ian Ziering

Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Rated: R

Running Length: 116 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: I wanted to turn off Endless Love about eight times…I know it was eight times because the feeling to flee reached its tipping point at regular fifteen minute intervals.  At a mind-numbing two hours, this drama from 1981 directed by Franco Zeffirelli was critically reviled but a head-scratcher of a box office hit.

Adapted (loosely) from Scott Spencer’s 1979 novel, this honest-to-god turkey is now best remembered for the Oscar nominated title song and its presence in movie trivia as the screen debut of Tom Cruise. Cruise appears on screen for all of three minutes as a teenage arsonist in the kind of short shorts that are only excused because early 80’s fashion really didn’t know any better.  Still, the jean cutoffs worn by Cruise are the least offensive thing in this tawdry tale of young love.

The film opens with a teenage love affair between a 15 year old (Brooke Shields) and a 17 year old (Martin Hewitt) in full swing.  The son of a typical suburban couple (Richard Kiley and Beatrice Straight), he’s considered part of Sheilds’ family too (headed by Don Murray and Shirley Knight)…by all accounts there seems to be peace in the world.  Then Hewitt and Shields decide to go all the way one night by a crackling fireplace and Knight catches them…but instead of breaking them apart she gazes lasciviously at their naked intertwined figures in the kind of way that you just know things are going to change.

Though Zeffirelli tries to give the passion between Hewitt and Shields the same kind of heat he infused into his 1968 take on Romeo and Juliet, he’s stymied by neither star having the charisma or chemistry to ignite any sort of spark.  Shields is lovely, no question, but her acting leaves much to be desired whereas Hewitt navigates some appalling dialogue and plot developments while being tasked with showing the most flesh (his tiny buns get nearly as much screen time as Knight’s various flowing mumus).  When the two kiss, it’s akin to a child pushing Barbie and Ken’s faces together…just a smushing of lips and not much else.

For some reason not fully explained, when sex is introduced it suddenly makes Hewitt persona non grata in the life of his girlfriend and their relationship hits the skids.  The rest of the film follows Hewitt as he tries to get her back over several years, with a few ridiculously timed tangents explored along the way.

Most embarrassing about this film is the way that well respected (and in some cases Oscar winning!) actors like Knight, Murray, Kiley, and Straight slum it up in such a seedy exercise.  All four say the lines and go through the motions but Straight especially looks sickened to be participating here.

The production design is evocative of gauzy 80’s Summer’s Eve commercials, creating pretty pictures with zero depth to them.  It’s a laborious affair to get through and a blast from the past you’ll wish you can blast into space.  I saw this after I saw the remake…and trust me when I say that this movie makes the so-so remake look like The Bridge on the River Kwai in comparison.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Edge of Tomorrow

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Synopsis: A soldier fighting in a war with aliens finds himself caught in a time loop of his last day in the battle, though he becomes better skilled along the way.

Release Date:  June 6, 2014

Thoughts: It’s become almost too easy for people to go after Tom Cruise and how he lives his life off-screen.  Yes, the couch jumping was eyebrow raising, the Scientology is head-scratching, and the rumors of his personal life have been tabloid fodder for decades.  Still, it’s hard to deny that the man continues to make very watchable films.  I thought his performance in Rock of Ages was the only saving grace in that mess and the underappreciated Jack Reacher and Oblivion showed the scrappy actor aging gracefully in quality product.

Slightly delayed from its original intended holiday 2013 release date and re-titled from the more interesting All You Need is Kill, Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow has the creative time behind it that suggests it’s more than just another big budget Tranformers-y point and shoot film.  Adding considerable interest to me is Emily Blunt (Looper, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), an actress consistently good but who has yet to lock into that perfect role.  2014 might be her year as she goes action chick in this and shows off her singing pipes in Into The Woods so check back in a year to see where she winds up.  Me, I’m looking forward to this…as I do most Cruise vehicles because they are always cinematically in tune with the times.