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Fri04192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Tom Cruise is his maniac self in Mission: Impossible—Fallout, the sixth installment in the steady franchise—and proof that Cruise is certifiably insane. The movie is one “Wow!” moment after another, and the guy shows no signs of slowing down, even though he’s now 56 years old.

The movie stacks stunt after stunt, featuring Cruise doing everything from jumping out of airplanes, to scaling cliffs, to piloting his own helicopter. It also shows Cruise leaping from one rooftop to another and breaking his ankle against a building—a stunt that shut down production for weeks, but remains in the film, in all its bone-breaking glory.

Do we really care about the plot when some of the best stunts and action scenes ever are here? Thankfully, the plot is a fun, twisted story, so you’ll be interested even when Cruise isn’t risking his life. Yes, there are a lot of, “Hey, haven’t I seen that before?” moments—lots of masks get ripped off, for starters—but the labyrinthine hijinks still feel fresh overall.

No, I’m not going to do much to explain the plot. It wouldn’t really do you any good.

OK, I’ll tell you a little.

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) finds himself on yet another mission to save the world, this time from nuclear terrorists headed by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the baddie from the franchise’s prior installment, making a welcome return. This time, Hunt is saddled with an “observer” in August Walker (Henry Cavill), tasked by CIA director Erica Sloan (a so-so Angela Bassett) with making sure Ethan and the IMF complete their mission with minimal funny stuff.

Cruise is sick in the head. Thankfully, one part of his sickness makes him willing to pull off movie stunts like the ones mentioned above. Cruise, while reteaming yet again with director Christopher McQuarrie (now the only director to have helmed two M:I films), manages to pull off his most spectacular cinematic feats yet. The skydive sequence, in which Hunt must work to save an unconscious co-jumper before they go splat, is simply unbelievable (in a good way). There’s a motorcycle chase through Paris streets that demands you see this thing on an IMAX screen.

Cavill, whose facial hair in this film has gotten a lot of attention over the last year, gets a chance to stretch out and play someone far more interesting than his Kryptonian dud. Here, he’s a multi-dimensional badass, especially in a bathroom brawl during which Walker and Hunt try to take out a worthy opponent. Cavill shares in the glory of some of the film’s craziest stunts. That’s not him skydiving, though: Cruise, also a producer on the film, forced Cavill to watch that sequence from the ground in favor of a stunt double.

Alec Baldwin, the original Jack Ryan, takes a break from hosting Match Game to show that he can still throw some big-screen punches as Hunt’s new IMF commander. Vanessa Kirby is sinisterly terrific as White Widow, a sly arms dealer Hunt whom must confront. In her second go-round, Rebecca Fergusson’s Ilsa Faust adds many elements of surprise. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames deliver their usual, competent support. Lorne Balfe’s score deserves a big round of applause for its adrenaline-inducing contributions.

No matter how much money this movie makes, Cruise needs to slow down at some point. In some ways, Mission: Impossible—Fallout feels like it could be the franchise capper. It’s hard to think of any way Cruise could top what he puts onscreen, action-wise.

Then again, I probably started saying stuff like that when the original Mission: Impossible came out.

Mission: Impossible—Fallout is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The messed-up life of pilot Barry Seal gets a movie that’s not messed up enough in American Made, a sufficiently entertaining film that plays it a little too safe. Drug cartels and Iran Contra are played for laughs—in a story that should not be very funny.

The movie winds up being moderately enjoyable thanks to Tom Cruise, who sweats it out in the lead role. While his work here may not be his best, it’s miles better than what he put forth in The Mummy, that shit-storm that damaged his career this summer. Director Doug Liman (who teamed with Cruise on the sci-fi masterpiece Edge of Tomorrow) rips off Catch Me If You Can, The Wolf of Wall Street, Goodfellas, Blow and many others in telling the story of the notorious TWA pilot-turned-pawn for the CIA.

Inspired by Seal’s true story (and, yes, some of the more outlandish stuff depicted in the film actually happened), the movie starts with Seal grinding out flights for TWA—smuggling the occasional box of Cuban cigars, perhaps, but otherwise simply trying to support a family that includes his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright).

During a layover, Seal is approached in a bar by Monty (Domhnall Gleeson). After a brief discussion, Barry is given an opportunity to fly arms to Central America as an unofficial courier for the U.S. (He’s set up with a fake flying company as a front.) The gig soothes the adrenaline junkie in Seal, but it doesn’t pay enough.

That’s where smuggling drugs for the Medellin drug cartel comes in, something Seal starts doing on the side. The movie depicts Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) and Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) almost as fun-loving goof balls, and Seal becomes regular pals with them. Along the way, Seal’s operation expands to include an entire airport in Mena, Ark., on property large enough to fit a training ground for the Contras. Seal basically has his hand in everything.

The movie is a whirlwind of activity, but it skimps on some of the details that could have made it more than just a silly blast. The likes of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. are reduced to stock news footage (although W. makes a brief appearance, portrayed by an actor).

One element clearly stolen from Goodfellas is the tactic of breaking the fourth wall to narrate. Liman is able to pull this off through a series of videotapes Seal makes when he’s on the run; bits are used throughout the movie as story-framing devices. It’s a way to help out the viewer with all the different plot threads and time jumps going on.

This story might’ve played better as an HBO or Netflix miniseries than as a big motion picture. It feels far too slick for the story, and needed some more meat on the bone. A good 10-hour running time probably wouldn’t even be enough to cover everything into which Seal got himself.

Cruise brings his reliable movie-star prowess to the project, and while the movie might get a little messy, it is never boring. That’s because Cruise, as he often does, puts his everything into the role. Gleeson is decent in his fictional representation of the CIA; he provides some of the movie’s bigger laughs. Wright does all she can with a thinly written role.

American Made can’t seem to decide whether it’s an action movie, a dark comedy or a dramatic re-telling of a scandalous life. It keeps up the balancing act admirably until its final minutes, where everything crashes down on a discordant note. Anybody who knows anything about Seal knows things will eventually take a dark turn, but the film’s final tonal shift is handled poorly.

Still, you can do worse at the movie theater than seeing a cocaine-coated Cruise paying some kid for a bicycle and then riding it down the street, with the cocaine leaving a smoky powder trail. American Made is not a waste of time … but it is passable moviemaking, and nothing more.

American Made is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I don’t hate The Mummy because it’s a terrible movie; it’s not. I hate it because it could have, and should have, been good.

Actually, hate is a strong word; I just don’t like it. Opportunities abound for some real fun here, and they are all squandered.

Tom Cruise is fully committed for a gonzo performance as Nick Morton, a soldier moonlighting as a tomb raider in Iraq. After stumbling upon the tomb of an ancient nasty named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), he winds up on a plane with the mummy, some soldiers and a mysterious woman named Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis).

The plane crashes, and then the weirdness begins, with Nick surviving the crash—because he’s possessed by Ahmanet. Post-crash, Ahmanet starts sucking face with cops and dead guys, turning them into a zombie army as she marches on London. Along the way, Nick meets Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) in a subplot so freaking unnecessary that it’s maddening.

Jekyll is here, because he’s part of Universal’s new “Dark Universe” scheme, an attempt to Marvel-size classic Universal monsters into some sort of connected, ongoing series. What a seriously stupid mistake this is: Nothing connects these monsters other than their original gothic origins, so trying to make them modern stand-ins for Iron Man and The Hulk is a joke. Take it from me: Dr. Henry Jekyll is no Nick Fury.

Cruise is stuck laboring in this convoluted yet sometimes-almost-entertaining mess. The film starts with a blast as Nick and his sidekick, Chris (Jake Johnson), uncover the tomb and then run into trouble on that plane. The subsequent plane crash is thrilling, scary stuff, and the attempt to turn Jake Johnson into something akin to Griffin Dunne in An American Werewolf in London has potential.

Alas, the movie cheeses out, and becomes more concerned with being the start of a franchise than being an achievement unto itself. Director Alex Kurtzman plays it safe with the scares—scares that have potential, but reek of PG-13 confinement. Had he gone for something more in the spirit of the Evil Dead series by increasing the scares, gore and raunchy laughs, this could’ve been a lot more fun. What we wind up with is a film that is afraid of itself—and so unfocused that you’ll check out in the second half.

Too bad. Ahmanet makes for a compelling monster; I prefer her Mummy to the one running around in those hackneyed Brendan Fraser efforts. Wallis is equally good as a woman with a few secrets, and Johnson is funny when he’s allowed to be.

Cruise is Cruise … and if you are a fan, that’s a good thing. He holds his own for most of the flick, but the script lets him down with a finale that is terrible. It’s as if Kurtzman and his screenwriters had something nice and bleak, and then they had to re-shoot to make something happier. The final moments feel tacked on.

Seriously … Universal wants this to be a universe like those created by Marvel and DC? Maybe the sympathetic vampires of Twilight have studio execs thinking audiences will accept Dracula as a hero? I doubt it. First off … Dracula will always be nasty, and many movie goers frown upon bloodsuckers, even the Twilight ones. Johnny Depp is supposed to play the Invisible Man, and Javier Bardem is signed on for Frankenstein’s Monster. What … are they going to join hands and solve crimes together? Universal needs to pull the plug on this plan now, and simply make good, standalone monster movies. Kurtzman has made a messy film, but he’s not totally to blame: This is a movie in service of a franchise idea, and it feels like it’s being forced down our throats.

Abandon the Dark Universe, and, please, no more of that Russell Crowe Jekyll-and-Hyde act. It’s nonsense.

The Mummy is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

As is the case with some of the other sequels coming our way this summer (Terminator Genisys, Jurassic World), Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, the fifth in the series, is a decent piece of summer fluff, but little more than that.

Tom Cruise (whose hair stylist included a little too much red in the mix, resulting in a hue that doesn’t quite fit his complexion) is back as Ethan Hunt. This time around, he’s hanging from airplanes in unnatural and impossible ways, performing overly long tasks underwater, and riding a motorcycle again.

Everything he does is in service of a typically convoluted plot, involving some sort of evil syndicate of international agents who have faked their deaths and are looking to terrorize the planet. All sorts of nations are in on the evil, but the United Kingdom is especially nasty in this one, giving the whole thing a little bit of a James Bond vibe. In addition to London, Ethan goes to Morocco, Paris and Jupiter. (OK, I’m kidding about Jupiter … wouldn’t that be cool?)

If you are running late for the movie, just stay home, because you will miss the incredible airplane stunt in which Cruise clings to a jet while Simon Pegg looks on in horror. Some folks came into my screening a little late and missed the entire sequence. I wanted to walk up to them, point a finger and yell, “Ha, ha, ha … tardy, tardy, oh so farty, you and yours missed the plane stunt party! You suck! Go home!” However, the entire theater would’ve kicked my ass had I done this, so I refrained.

Speaking of Pegg, his Benji the computer analyst guy gets a bigger role this time around, reaching the level of spunky sidekick. He gets to scream and moan during car chases, and in the finale, he has one of the cooler moments in the movie, involving a bomb. It’s a good move having Cruise and Pegg pair up. It leads to a level of humor not present in previous installments.

A newcomer to the series, Alec Baldwin, gets a couple of good scenes as the CIA guy trying to eradicate Hunt’s agency. Rebecca Ferguson is impressive as an English agent who may or may not be a villain; she’s also quite decent-looking in a bikini. Jeremy Renner is around to crack wise as he messes with Baldwin’s character, while Ving Rhames still gets to collect a paycheck. As for Emilio Estevez, sadly, he’s still dead after his elevator accident in the first film.

This movie is directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who won a screenwriting Oscar for The Usual Suspects, directed Cruise in Jack Reacher, and wrote the incredible screenplay for Cruise’s vastly underrated Edge of Tomorrow. He’s officially in the Tom Cruise business.

Back to the subject of Cruise’s hair: I’m thinking his stylist should allow a little gray to come through, and should opt for something a little more dark brown. The reddish-orange tint bothers me, especially when the light hits it in a certain way. It makes him look older than he actually is. Come on—we all saw him totally grey in Collateral. He looked sharp, and that was more than years ago. Embrace the gray, Tom! Embrace the gray!

Word is out that Cruise is going to make Mission: Impossible 6, and who knows what crazy stunt he will subject himself to next time out? He’s scaled the tallest building in the world, gone cliff-climbing, and held onto an airplane while it takes off. Perhaps he will eat a whole glob of wasabi in one chomp at a sushi restaurant. That would be insane!

Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation is my least favorite M:I yet, but it’s still a good film. Things feel a little by-the-numbers this time, but Cruise is a crazy bastard who’s willing to go all-out for his movies, and this installment is no exception. The dude is nuts, and we, the movie-viewing public, are better off because he’s nuts.

Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

It’s a sad state of cinematic affairs when the brilliant Edge of Tomorrow bombs domestically at the box office, while the latest Transformers debacle brings in the big bucks.

Tom Cruise might be a kook, but he usually participates in good movies, and this twisted sci-fi experiment is easily one of his best. Edge of Tomorrow is the sort of spectacle best-suited for the big screen, but it looks like it will have to find fame via home viewing. I have a feeling it will—it’s that good.

Cruise plays a military man handling public relations during an alien invasion. After a rather intense meeting with a commanding officer (Brendan Gleeson), he finds himself sent off to combat—and he quickly dies. However, he wakes up and finds himself living the same experience again—and again, and again.

Yes, the movie has similarities to Groundhog Day, and it does use a sort of sick humor in the many ways Cruise’s character meets his end. Emily Blunt, a new queen of sci-fi after this and Looper, shows up as a soldier who knows exactly what is happening; that creates other interesting scenarios.

This is a movie that delights with every frame; you will kick yourself for missing it in theaters. Yes, Tom Cruise is maddeningly strange sometimes, but he knows a good script when he sees one.

Special Features: You get some decent behind-the-scenes docs and deleted scenes.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Tom Cruise must’ve had that Risky Business grin from ear to ear when he first read the script for Edge of Tomorrow: He had to know he had a magnificent movie on his hands.

Watching Edge of Tomorrow is like watching James Cameron’s Aliens or J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek for the first time. It provides many surprises, is often scary, has a lot of laughs and always feels original. This is one of those science-fiction movies that truly brings something new to the genre.

In the future, Earth is fighting a crazed, vicious alien force that is shredding armies. Cruise plays Cage, an armed-forces officer who serves as a public-relations man and doesn’t necessarily belong on a battlefield. After a publicity tour, he sits down with a hard-nosed general (a cold Brendan Gleeson)—and finds out that he is going into battle.

Cage is justifiably terrified, and his first taste of war doesn’t go well. While he does score a couple of decent hits, he is killed in an especially gruesome fashion. For reasons I won’t give away, he instantly wakes up after his death, and is transported back to a moment shortly after his meeting with the general.

Cage is in a seriously messed up situation.

He starts repeating the same day, dying every time. Cage does his best to change that outcome, but he always winds up meeting a grisly death and waking up back in the same place. He eventually comes into contact with Rita (Emily Blunt), the military’s poster girl for the perfect soldier. By repeating days with Rita, Cage starts to build himself up as a soldier, discover secrets about the enemy, and increase longevity for himself and mankind.

It’s not usually cool to laugh when somebody dies, but you will laugh at some of the ways in which Cage meets his end. Cruise embraces the comedic elements of the situation, but he and director Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity) keep things away from total silliness. At its core, Edge of Tomorrow is a well-oiled, sometimes-horrific thrill machine that never stalls out or missteps.

Cruise is becoming a major modern-science-fiction force. War of the Worlds, Minority Report, Oblivion and now this movie have established the guy as a sci-fi legend. The same can almost be said for Blunt, who occupied a major role in Looper, another terrific science-fiction film.

Cruise and Blunt are great together. Whether their characters are shooting each other in the head, or getting themselves irreparably bashed up during training sessions, they offer unyielding professionalism and commitment.

Another factor that gives the movie a nice Aliens vibe is the presence of Bill “Game Over!” Paxton as Cage’s ruthless commanding officer. It’s a great role that allows Paxton to take the crazy eyes out of that box in his sock drawer. Remember how edgy Paxton used to be? This movie gives him back some of that edge.

Edge of Tomorrow works on so many levels that I’m going to dare to call it a masterpiece. It’s also one of the year’s funniest movies: It’s not a comedy by definition, but when it gets laughs, it gets big ones.

As for that ending, it might feel a little strange at first, but think about it on the way home. It’s actually quite brilliant.

If you are a Tom Cruise hater, bury that hate. See Edge of Tomorrow—and discover how a blockbuster can be smart, funny, thrilling and totally insane at the same time.

Edge of Tomorrow is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Skip Tom Cruise’s latest offering in theaters, the so-so Oblivion, and watch him kick mortal ass as the title character in Jack Reacher, the adaptation of Lee Child’s popular novel One Shot.

There was a lot of griping that Cruise didn’t fit the physical mold of the character of Jack Reacher, who is 6 1/2 feet tall in the novels. No problem; Cruise brings a sinister, evil edge to Reacher, a super-intelligent former armed forces cop who finds himself investigating a mass shooting in Pittsburgh. Hey, Cruise might be less than 6 feet tall, but he will most certainly kick your ass if provoked. (Well, he will in the movies, at least.)

The ridiculously pretty Rosamund Pike is on hand as the lawyer who joins forces with Reacher in a search for THE TRUTH. She’s good here, as are Richard Jenkins as her district-attorney dad, Robert Duvall as a very helpful gun-range operator, and Werner Herzog as a super-creep.

To attain super-creepiness, Herzog basically talks in his normal voice, which is indeed creepy, and wears a cloudy contact lens to make it look like one of his eyeballs is messed up. When I read that Herzog would be playing a villain, I thought it was weird. Then I saw the movie. Good casting.

There’s a decent mystery at the center of the film, one that kept me guessing until everything was revealed.

As for Tom Cruise films, it falls somewhere safely in the middle—all of the Mission: Impossible movies are better than this one, while this one is better than Top Gun and Days of Thunder. It is certainly worth a rental. This comes out on home video Tuesday, May 7.

Special Features: A Tom Cruise commentary with director Christopher McQuarrie is pretty damned cool, as is the featurette “When the Man Comes Around,” detailing how Cruise got involved with the film. You also get a composer commentary, a look at the action sequences and an interview with Lee Child. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Tom Cruise spends most of Oblivion in a goofy, impractical-looking leather space suit that clashes with his 2013 hairstyle and reminds of Captain EO.

Yes, it’s silly to notice these things, but Oblivion is the sort of film that causes one to notice such trivial matters, for the movie surrounding that goofy outfit is not that good.

Cruise, however, is in typically fine form as Jack, a scout/worker for the surviving human race, following a devastating alien attack 60 years before (in 2017). The remaining population of Earth has been sent to a moon of Saturn, and Jack’s job is to make sure Earth’s energy resources are properly mined. He lives in a stylish outpost with a hot partner (Andrea Riseborough), and their work is being monitored via video by Sally (Melissa Leo), an overly nice boss.

Jack is haunted by dreams of a past Earth world that he is too young to have experienced. In his dreams, he meets up with a woman (Olga Kurylenko) atop the Empire State Building, just like in Sleepless in Seattle. He’s found a cabin in the woods where he wears a Yankees cap and listens to Led Zeppelin. He seems very at home for a guy who supposedly never set foot on pre-invasion Earth.

Of course, there’s more to Jack’s universe than meets the eye. He eventually comes face-to-face with Beech (Morgan Freeman), a wise, old, cigar-smoking man (those cigars must be 60 years old and awful) who is going to turn Jack’s world upside down.

The movie has some significant twists and turns, and some of them are not at all surprising. However, one particular twist caught me off guard, and is pretty clever.

As for the action, it’s sub-par. I actually stumbled upon Cruise on Jimmy Kimmel’s show the other night before I saw the film. I turned it on during a clip showing Cruise in a funny-looking little spaceship, shooting a drone-type thing out of the sky with a pistol and crashing in the desert. I thought it was a gag, because it looked cheap. Turns out it was the movie’s major action-set piece.

While the Cruise performance is good, he does slip into that Tom Cruise-yelling mode, often reminding of his interrogation of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. Tom Cruise yelling is, sometimes, unintentionally funny.

Oblivion is derivative of many sci-fi films that came before it, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, Total Recall, etc. A little bit of all of those movies and others can be found among the plot threads and visual effects.

As for those visual effects, they aren’t spectacular. I did like seeing the top of the Empire State Building protruding from grey Earth, the ground having risen to the famous landmark’s observatory deck. Otherwise, there are some weak CGI recreations of demolished landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty.

The film drags itself to its inevitable conclusion, providing no real surprises or excitement. The last scene involves something that is supposed to be triumphant, but is actually quite weird.

Joseph Kosinski directs; his only other directorial credit is TRON: Legacy. Oblivion is a marked improvement over that fiasco. As with TRON, Kosinski is far more preoccupied with visuals over substance. And in both cases, the visuals aren’t anything to get excited about.

Cruise is in a sci-fi state of mind these days. Up next is Doug Liman’s All You Need Is Kill, in which he plays a soldier caught in a time loop and repeatedly getting killed by aliens. (Cruise haters will probably get a kick out of seeing their nemesis getting repeatedly smoked.) Then it’s Yukikaze, based on yet another alien invasion scenario.

In his most recent three films, Tom Cruise has played similarly titled characters: Stacee Jaxx (Rock of Ages), Jack Reacher (Jack Reacher) and just plain Jack in this film. That’s another useless factoid I fixed on while being mildly bored by the ho-hum Oblivion.

Oblivion is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews