Posts Tagged ‘Tom Cruise’

It’s Christmas Eve. The shopping is finished, the stockings are hung, and not a creature is stirring, so you know what that means: time to get to work on my year-end best movies list.

I don’t know exactly what years constitute “the old ways,” but they’re definitely dead in 2018. All the good movies come out in November and December? Nope. “Summer” movies have to be stupid? Nope.

Netflix can’t make a good movie? Nope.

We’ll get to all of that over the next couple weeks. But for now, here’s some of the movies I loved watching this year that didn’t quite make the final cut of the Top 10.

Best swan song: The Old Man and the Gun

Who better than Robert Redford to play a criminal of a certain age who robs banks using little more than effortless charm? No one, that’s who.

In what will be (allegedly) his final onscreen performance, Redford plays real-life heist man Forrest Tucker in director David Lowry’s (A Ghost Story, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) delightful film that is part whodunit, part biopic and part golden-years romantic comedy.

It’s a great sendoff for the veteran actor who, like Tucker, has always made it look easy.

Best Box-office Flop: Bad Times at the El Royale

“El Royale,” made $31.5 million worldwide on a budget of $32 — so safe to say there won’t be a “Worse Times at the El Royale” any time soon. (<— Not that I’m actually advocating for a sequel, as that would be a horrible idea).

It’s a darned shame too. As El Royale is one of the best ensemble pieces of the year, with the likes of Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Bridges and 2018 M.V.P. contender Cynthia Erivo (also in “Widows” this year) in a twisty Summer-of-love-era period thriller from writer-director Drew Goddard, whose “Cabin in the Woods” similarly goofed around with convention and failed to find the audience it deserved.

Best Superhero(es): Avengers: Infinity War

I absolutely understand why some are fatigued with superhero movies. I was getting close, but then “Infinity War” happened and pulled me back in.

Set aside, for a moment, the deluge of comic-book adaptations and consider what Marvel Studios was able to achieve with IW. The first Avengers, successfully merging three franchises (plus the Hulk), was itself a minor miracle. But Infinity War is on an entirely different and unprecedented scale, seamlessly weaving together narrative threads that spread out over 18 distinct films released over a period of 10 years.

It’s a feat of storytelling, put into corporeal form through a cinematic investment that spared no expense, all culminating in a surprising, genuinely affecting film that left anxious for the next chapter.

Best documentary: Three Identical Strangers

The initial set-up of “Three Identical Strangers” is, by itself, the kind of story that sounds stranger than fiction. A young man enrolls in college and finds himself an instant big man on campus courtesy of the identical twin he never knew existed who went to the same school one year earlier.

The already-bizarre tale gets its first twist early, as it turns out the twins are triplets. But that’s only the tip of an iceberg that is carefully and meticulously revealed regarding the brother’s separation at birth.

Best Horror: Suspiria

A close contender for the final award on this list, and one for which the “horror” label doesn’t fit quite right (the *actual* best horror movie of the year is part of the 2018 Top 10. Hint, hint) Luca Guadagnino’s remake of “Suspiria” is frequently unsettling, occasionally disturbing, and endlessly fascinating.

Centered around a dance schools/coven of witches in divided Berlin, “Suspiria” is a moody, atmospheric film that jumps from beautiful to grotesque and back again with a dark humor and unforgiving sense of dread. Bookended by two truly bonkers dance sequences (the first of which is back-dropped against a “how did they do that?” onscreen death) “Suspiria” is a movie that wonderfully defies description.

Best popcorn: Mission Impossible: Fallout

Until 2018, each of the five installments in the Mission Impossible franchise had been helmed by a new director and connected only by a loose mythology, a core cast of characters and the charge that Ethan Hunt, an agent within the Impossible Mission Force, save the world and nearly die in the process.

In Fallout, we have the first direct sequel, with director Christopher McQuarrie returning and continuing the story he launched in “Rogue Nation.” And it’s easy to see why the people behind all these impossible missions decided to break their own rules and ask McQuarrie on a second date.

Fallout is, simply, superb, the sort of extravanganza for which people say “this is why we go to the movies.” It’s nonstop plot barrels forward like a freight train, upping the ante with each new scene until a hold-your-breath climactic sequence that sees Tom Cruise in a helicopter chase/cliffside brawl while his team works to locate and dismantle a pair of nuclear weapons against a ticking clock.

For those nights when you need something big and loud and awesome, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Best indie: The Death of Stalin

Fans of HBO’s “Veep” know Armando Iannucci’s talent for mining government dysfunction for comedy. Now imagine “Veep” set in Soviet Russia and you have “The Death of Stalin,” a pitch-black comedy about the chaos and scheming that followed Stalin’s death as the members of his party jockeyed for position.

Steve Buscemi is the MVP as Nikita Khrushchev, but every member of the superb, expansive cast (including the always-interesting Jason Isaacs and a spectacularly dry performance by Andrea Riseborough ) gets plenty of moments to shine.

The 2018 Wood’s Stock Balls-to-the-Wall award: Sorry to Bother You

“Surreal” doesn’t even begin to describe “Sorry to Bother You,” writer-director Boots Riley’s film about a black telemarketer whose talent for sounding white on the phone catapults him to success selling what amounts to voluntary slave labor.

And that’s just the literal plot of “Sorry to Bother You,” an increasingly gonzo story that at one point takes a turn to [potential spoiler alert] include human-horse hybrid monsters. Riley’s meta commentary on race, class, art, popular culture and consumerism goes full-tilt for its central metaphor to increasingly bizarre and shocking results. It’s a movie with a lot on its mind, but at each point where there’s a risk of falling off the rails, Riley and his protagonist (the phenomenal Lakeith Stanfield) keep things just steady enough to keep the narrative going.

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Let’s start with some caveats, as few summer blockbusters arrive with the baggage that “The Mummy” is carrying on its shoulders. Not content to simply launch a new franchise, the fat cats at Universal are pinning the hopes of a brand new Cinematic Universe — the de riguer requirement of all major studios in the post-Avengers world — on the merits of this modern retelling of the old Boris Karloff ambling menace.

First, there’s nothing inherently wrong with making a new mummy (lowercase) movie, just as there’s nothing wrong with telling stories on screen that feature ghosts, ghouls, trolls, chupacabra, giant snakes, giant spiders, or any other fantastical antagonists.

Second, there’s nothing inherently wrong with cinematic universes. If the movies are good, the movies are good: that’s really all there is too it.

That said, “The Mummy” is not good, and it suggests Universal maybe shouldn’t have cashed its chips so early on its so-called “Dark Universe” (with a slate of films announced already and Johnny Depp cast as The Invisible Man). Russel Crowe pops in as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde in a few heavy-handed scenes that hint at his potential menace and one of the better-choreographed sequences, but to little impact.

What “The Mummy” does well is make the already-good 1999 version starring Brendon Frasier and Rachel Weisz look resplendent in comparison. New protagonist Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) passively trips toward the film’s convoluted and undercooked finale, driven by a combination of demonic possession and a desire to rescue a romantic interest (Annabelle Wallis) with whom he shares all the chemistry of an elementary school science fair project. There’s a dagger and a red stone and crusader tombs and a lot of talk of Set, the Egyptian god of war, all of which is thrown at the viewer like obstacles in an Asian game show.

There are exactly two things this movie does well: the zero-gravity plane crash in Act I that was aired *in its entirety* during the film’s trailers and a chase scene underneath London’s streets that features a brief scene of eye-poppingly impressive underwater photography. Beyond that, it’s a muddled mess of corporate cash-grabbing.

As for the mummy herself, gender-swapped for the modern era, Sofia Boutella does as good as can be expected with the material, but is robbed of any her predecessor’s menace and mystique by the movie’s rush to make her telegenic. Compared to the genuinely chilling Act II of the 1999 film, in which Arnold Vosloo’s Imhotep slowly regenerates while haunting his human prey, Boutella’s reanimated corpse makes light work of a few nameless meat sacks before she’s back to her old, strategically-shrouded-to-appease-the-MPAA-rating self.

It’s a rushed, narratively delinquent disappointment that could have injected some of that old-fashioned movie magic into the modern cinema landscape, but instead falls victim to the paint-by-numbers CGI malaise we’ve all grown fatigued of.

Grade: C+

*The Mummy opens nationwide on Friday, June 9.

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Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise’s last action extravaganza, 2013’s Oblivion, drew a mixed bag of reactions, drawing praise for its mood and visuals while being hit with demerits for the way its plot borrowed gingerly from a host of other, more established, sci-fi franchises.

So when the “Live. Die. Repeat.” marketing machine began revving up for Cruise’s latest, Edge of Tomorrow, you could almost hear the sound of the nation’s critics sharpening their pencils and jotting down every “Groundhog Day” pun they could think of.

Yes, we’ve seen these kind of time-loop shenanigans before and yes, combat exoskeletons are a staple of science fiction (see Aliens, Elysium, The Matrix, Avatar). But Edge of Tomorrow is more than just another cinematic Frankenstein’s Monster.

By pairing the always-game Cruise with the light-handed practical effects mastery of director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) EoT succeeds as an eye-popping summer smash that bounces with an unburdened and unimposing sense of fun.

Cruise stars as Private Cage, a demoted military officer who is flung to the front lines of a major military offensive after a display of cowardice. An alien race has crashed on earth, wiping out most of Europe, but the allied human resistance are betting big that a major surge of technology-enhanced soldiers can obliterate their enemy for good.

The attack goes poorly, with the alien “Mimics” apparently aware of the humans’ plans, resulting in a frantic and chaotic scene of death and destruction in which Cage is quickly dispatched by a squirming extra-terrestrial. Only instead of going gently into that good night, Cage awakens back at the military base, in hand-cuffs, seemingly repeating the eve of the invasion.

Cage’s immortality is quickly explained as he finds a partner in the form of Emily Blunt’s Rita, who experienced a similar phenomenon before rising the ranks as the war’s most decorated soldier. Rita helps Cage hone his skills as a warrior-seer while also working with him to identify the enemy’s weakness that will end the war once and for all.

The repetitions are handled deftly, with Liman knowing precisely when and how long to play a repeat for laughs and when to slow things down to allow forward momentum in the plot. The story also cleverly hides the extent of Cage’s experience, leaving the viewer unsure at times whether he is living a moment for the first time or painting by numbers.

Most impressive is Liman’s restraint with computer effects, opting whenever possible to outfit his stars in what must be horrendously bulky contraptions to run around and squabble in the mud. Obviously with a human-alien war there’s only so much the real world allows, but the moments of digital trickery are earned and more often used as a supplement to actual steel, sweat and flesh.

Where EoT fails, unfortunately, is its ending, which trades in on the goodwill built up by 90 minutes of creative storytelling to leave a glaring plot hole in the name of a group hug and a pretty pink bow. It’s not necessarily a bad, or even unexpected, finale, but a more daring choice would have elevated the film even further above the mold.

Grade: B

*Edge of Tomorrow opens nationwide on Friday, June 6

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I have been anxiously awaiting the release of Oblivion for quite some time. I devoured the trailers that promised a post-apocalyptic struggle for the future of mankind set to the backdrop of stunning 4K digital imagery. I looked forward to another feather in the cap of Tom Cruise’s career renaissance (seriously, why didn’t more of you see Jack Reacher? Shape Up!) And, of course, who could say no to a movie where Morgan Freeman cryptically waves a match in front of his face while chomping on a cigar.

Like a boss.

So imagine my surprise when, in the final days before the film’s wide release, a ho-hum buzz of mixed reviews started rolling in. Aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes gave Oblivion a very just-ok score of 59 percent while Entertainment Weekly, the I Ching of all things film, handed down a very stern C+ rating.

Now, I would never question the right of an individual reviewer to state his view of a film, whether I agree with that view or not. I hated the Blind Side. I absolutely, unequivocally despised it, but they still gave Sandie Bullock an Oscar (absurd). That’s the thing about opinions, sometimes every human being on earth besides you is wrong.

But among the criticisms of Oblivion‘s detractors is an interestingly omnipresent thesis statement, which in essence says that the visuals in Oblivion are mesmerizing and gorgeous but the plot is largely derivative of other, greater films. You can almost see the gleeful expressions on the faces of writers as they derisively compare Oblivion to WALL-E, Blade Runner and The Matrix. Even the positive reviews use the copy-cat label as a rubber stamp of failure, like that of Richard Roeper who said “This is the sci-fi movie equivalent of a pretty damn good cover band.”

Well, dear reviewing colleagues and not-so-dear internet trolls, I respectfully disagree.

First, the complaint of “it’s like every other sci-fi movie” has been and can be raised against essentially every other sci-fi movie. And chick flick. And coming-of-age tale. And buddy cop show. And Tyler Perry’s Madea’s latest adventure. Yes, some movies blatantly rip off the creative work of other, greater minds but the idea of building from a base of familiar themes and concepts is not, in and of itself, a negative trait. Also, some movies are just plain bad. Oblivion is not one of them.

Yes, it incorporates elements that are recognizable, but in my opinion it does so largely to set a stage from which several interesting and surprising paths diverge.

Second, I would argue that the plot’s weaknesses (of which I admit there are a few) in this case are not so grievous as to warrant a negative review, particularly considering the compensatory caliber of the remaining cinematic elements. In particular, the visuals in this movie are quite simply amazing. The scenes shot in the film’s most notable set piece, the Sky Tower, are exquisite, incorporating an innovative projection method in lieu of the cheaper and industry-standard green screen. For the shots, director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) literally surrounded the actors on stage with the same ethereal vistas that the viewer is experiencing in the theater. It’s a neat visual trick that pays of in spades.

This kind of meticulous and product-conscious directing to me makes the “just like other movies” argument even more infuriating when we consider that Avatar, the most derivative film ever made and a similarly visuals-heavy blockbuster, scored an unwarranted 83 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and went on to be nominated for best picture as well as become the single highest-grossing film of all time.

Injustice, I say. Which brings me to point number three: people just love picking on Tom Cruise.

Reading through the internet chatter, I can’t help but wonder how much of the non-buzz surrounding Oblivion is residual negativity from America’s refusal to let go of the couch-jumping incident. Despite being, by nearly all accounts, one of the nicest, hardest-working men in Hollywood, there is an unfortunate lingering schadenfreude toward Mr. Cruise. I still, from time to time, hear people saying “I can’t see that, Tom Cruise is weird.” To them I say, “Go kill yourself, Ghost Protes was Re-donk-ulous.”

In closing. I saw Oblivion last night and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Perfect? No. Awesome? Yes. Trippy? In the best ways. As always, Cruise is a machine of whispered intensity and I can not say enough of his co-star Andrea Riseborough. She was absolutely haunting, a master-class in subtlety and nuance. Also, watching it in IMAX melted my face clean off.

Oh, and initial reports have it pulling in about $13.3 million on Friday, on track for an opening weekend of just under $40 million and a first-place finish in the box office. So stuff that in your pipe and smoke it.

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