Archive for Tom Cruise

In-Flight Mentaltainment

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2015 by dcairns

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Movies seen while going to America —

EDGE OF TOMORROW, directed by Doug Liman and written by THE USUAL SUSPECTS’ Christopher McQuarrie along with mockney specialists the Butterworth Brothers, which was really good by big Hollywood standards. Emily Blunt excellent as always — I knew she could do almost anything but I couldn’t have sworn she could be bad-ass. Tom Cruise is also really well-used, and has a huge character arc, starting out a bit like James Garner in THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY or if Don Draper got drafted. It’s really funny to see Cruise playing a conflict-averse wuss. And by the end he has of course become an unstoppable killing machine on the side of good. Yes, it’s GROUNDHOG DAY meets INDEPENDENCE DAY, but it’s refreshing to see a film with so many interesting narrative notions.

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By contrast —

The recent GODZILLA remake has a scene with an upturned Eiffel Tower, just like EDGE OF TOMORROW, but the one in the kaiju knock-off is the miniature imitation version in Vegas, which kind of sums up the relationship GODZILLA has to a proper movie. Thanks to some hectic editing they even manage to make Bryan Cranston look like a bad actor. If you’ve ever wanted to see Juliette Binoche outrunning an explosion, this is the film for you, and I hope you choke on it.

Fans complained that there was a bare minimum of the big green guy, and not very much of Cranston. The filmmakers had completely miscalculated their audience’s needs, like the makers of the previous US GODZILLA, who thought the public wanted Godzilla as an atomic bad guy stomping on cities for kicks. The great minds at Legendary Pictures grasped the fact that Godzilla, as he is known and tolerated by millions, is thought of as a benevolent colossus who breaths radioactive fire on other, nastier monsters, and only kills thousands of people by accident, a bit like America or Israel. What they failed to grasp is that audiences want to look at Godzilla doing these things for longer than ten minutes out of two hours. Ideally, what the film should have delivered is a 300 foot tall Bryan Cranston, in his Heisenberg guise (“Say my name!”), fighting the big lizard all over New Mexico. Or else Bryan Craston AS Godzilla, with Aaron Paul as Godzooky*.

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Pierce Brosnan is walking away from this explosion because it Simply Doesn’t Interest Him.

I usually seek out bad movies to watch on planes because I don’t like to see good ones “adjusted to fit my screen” or “edited for content.” THE NOVEMBER MAN isn’t totally awful — maybe it’s the best film Roger Donaldson could make now —  but the only thing that could have made it memorable would be a downbeat, 70s-style ending. A happy ending on a thing like this (spy thriller) suggests that the security services are basically benign and that rotten eggs will be filtered out (with one of those egg filters you can buy in the shops, I suppose — couldn’t find a way to write this sentence without a mixed metaphor) and that leaves the movie feeling pretty inconsequential.

Olga Kurylenko looks amazing, though, and after she gets over a regrettable impulse to smile on one side of her mouth to convey ‘tude, she acts well. Pierce Brosnan is someone I always enjoy, though I’m a bit fed up of him always playing a widower. It’s started to feel like a tacky exploitation of his own biography. He’s a fun presence, though — I watched PERCY JACKSON & THE LIGHTNING THIEF on a plane once, and the sight of him as a centaur was inexplicably hilarious. They should really have cast him as the statue of Talos from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS though, so they could have the credit “with Pierce Brosnan as Bronze Person.”

Movies seen returning from America —

Flying back home was somehow much quicker. I watched an episode of Louie and one of Veep, neither of which I’d gotten around to. Clearly I will have to see more, they were both excellent. Man with hangover in Veep: “Find me a hamburger made out of aspirin, I’m going to get some air and be sick in it.”

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Then Fiona and I watched HOW TO DRAIN TRAIN YOUR DRAGON II, which was very nice, as good as the first one. Excellent vocal perfs, beautiful images (Roger Deakins advised on the virtual cinematography, as he did on RANGO), great action and storytelling and a lot of emotion. This one felt more like a flattering portrait of America — we always seek peace but if we need to fight, we will kick ass” (like GODZILLA) which made me feel a little uncomfortable. But for sheer craft approaching artistry, I couldn’t fault it.

Then I looked at X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (the title seems a riff on killer Bob’s rhyme in Twin Peaks) which was something of a return to form for Bryan Singer, only the plane landed seconds before it was over. It has the best bullet-time ever, with cheeky Evan Peters running around the walls of a circular room like a cross between Fred Astaire and Gary Lockwood.

The movie is action-packed, has a reasonably complicated story, and the dispute between Professor Xavier’s get-along-with-the-humans philosophy and Magneto’s kill-them-before-they-kill us attitude remains compelling, even as all the other characters are more interesting AS characters. And somehow, Jennifer Lawrence fighting in blue rubber pasties never got boring to look at.

BTW, United Airlines have the best safety film I’ve ever seen. We saw it twice in a week and didn’t get bored. The idea is novel, the production values immense, it’s all very slick, there’s some wit, but what helps most of all are the little non-professional moments, such as the flight attendant at around 1.54 who can’t stop laughing for unknown reasons.

*Purists will say that any miniature Godzilla should be called Minilla, after the pudgy reptile star of SON OF GODZILLA, but I recall the Hanna-Barbera series The Godzilla Power Hour, which, though completely without any artistic merit whatsoever, was, episode by episode, a lot shorter than any Godzilla film from either Toho or Tristar or Legendary.

It’s Worse When You Smile

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2014 by dcairns

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I’LL JUST GIVE IT THE GRIN

You know what’s a better film than you might think? Frank Mangold’s Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz vehicle KNIGHT AND DAY (not to be confused with NIGHT AND DAY in which Cary Grant plays a gay man as a straight man — it’s totally different, honest!) The movie wouldn’t be that good if it was just a romcom or just an action film, but it succeeds at both by combining them, and Cruise is amazingly well used — he plays a rogue spy who has either been framed for crimes against the state or else is batshit insane. Obviously, it will turn out that the Cruiser knows the whereabouts of all his marbles, but for the first half, the movie is an amazing amount of fun, playing the actors’ usual tropes and tricks — intense staring, manic grinning, furious running with pistoning little karate-chop arms — as simultaneously evidence of his movie-star heroism and a suggestion that he might be an incredibly dangerous maniac. The film sags a little at the end, mainly because it’s decided to let us know he’s OK, so half the joke is gone.

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THE APE-TH WONDER OF THE WORLD

You know what’s a worse film than you might think? The 1976 KING KONG. I know, you probably already suspect it’s terrible, and you may even have seen it, in which case you KNOW it’s terrible, but it is not actually possible for any mere mortal to know how terrible this film is. It’s awfulness cannot be contained in a human mind. You would need the skull of a forty-foot ape to encapsulate the wretchedness of the whole enterprise.

The positive aspects can be summed up rapidly. Hawaii looks nice. Although Jessica Lange mainly makes you feel embarrassed, the movie did sort of launch her career. Jeff Bridges demonstrates his awesomeness by managing to avoid ever appearing awful or awkward, in a movie where even Charles Grodin stumbles at times. But mostly Grodin is good too.

I guess Dino de Laurentiis had some kind of a great business mind, because he correctly deduced that the public would not pay to see a man in a gorilla suit, so a great juggernaut of ballyhoo was foisted upon the moviegoing public to convinced them that a 40 foot mechanical ape was going to maraud across the Panavision screen. It worked — I remember the queue round the block  at the Odeon, Clerk Street. I also remember thinking, “That looks a lot like a man in a suit,” and then, as Kong is exhibited in New York, “THAT looks like an unconvincing 40-foot mechanical ape.” As indeed it was.

The ape suit stuff is designed and acted by Rick Baker, and is probably as good a gorilla costume as audiences had seen. I would believe, if the film made it worth my while, that I was looking at some kind of man-ape. I just wouldn’t believe he was forty feet high. The foliage blowing in the wind behind him is blatantly miniature. He doesn’t move with the slomo heft of Godzilla (even though the big G is even more hilariously a man in a costume.) There’s an over-the-shoulder shot where his shoulder is transparent (an example of verfremdungseffekt that Brecht never thought off).

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IT ISN’T BESTIALITY IF HE MAKES THE FIRST MOVE

Baker’s performance is good, though he hasn’t quite worked out a convincing alternative to the authentic silverback’s knuckle-walking. Sometimes Kong seems to be merely out for a stroll. And there’s too much smiling. Willis H. O’Brien’s masterful Kong didn’t go in for smirking. Admittedly. the big mechanical head in the ’33 film was grinning maniacally, rather like Tom Cruise. But I never liked that head.

The smiling is all directed at Jessica Lange, who is worth smiling at, but that means this falls under the heading of sexy smiling, which I don’t want to see on a gorilla. Certainly not that close up. I feel as if I now know what it is like to have sex with Rick Baker, and this is not knowledge I have ever sought. Not consciously.

In some scenes, Jessica Lange is quite good, good enough to make us think she might be very good if her director was looking out for her, at all. Publicity genius de Laurentiis sold her as a completely untrained model, because everybody hates looking at trained actors, especially in films. Here’s the untrained model speaking about her work in The Creation of King Kong by Bruce Bahrenburg (the film was too epic for a mere “Making of”) ~

“How do you play to a huge ape who is romantically attached to you? I had to do some substitution and personalisation.”

Yep, no signs of training there.

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Unfortunately for Lange, she is required to act batshit apeshit  insane half the time, writhing orgasmically as Kong blows on her to dry her off after she’s showered in a waterfall. Because warm air is sexy, always, and apparently nobody in this movie has a sense of smell, or maybe gorilla breath really is deliciously aphrodisiac. I have seen a zoo gorilla cram its mouth with fresh shit to scare off some annoying kids, so I am totally prepared to believe that gorilla breath makes women horny. It stands to reason.

Then there’s the undressing scene, which plays like curiosity, mainly, in the original. even if Max Steiner did scribble the title “Stinkfinger” on the sheet music for this scene (isn’t that a Frank Zappa composition?). Here it’s full-on rape-ape mode, with Rick Baker grinning as meaningfully as he knows how, mind bent upon the anatomically impossible. John Guillermin was always a director who would go a good bit out of his way to get some tits into his film. My old friend Lawrie knew him, and knew of his casting couch inclinations. I once read a Radio Times review of Guillermin’s EL CONDOR out loud to Lawrie: “Nasty, slick and superficial.” “That’s John!” he cried in delight. Like meeting an old friend.

Guillermin DID have considerable visual talent, seen in RAPTURE (1965) particularly, and I have a suspicion he was badly let down by his ape unit here. Lots of eye-level shots and long-shots which seem designed to make Rick Baker look smaller than he really is rather than, as Guillermin probably hoped, a bit taller.

If enthusiastic bumbler Carlo Rambaldi couldn’t manage a convincing giant ape, and he couldn’t, he and Glen Robinson did cobble together a pretty good pair of mechanical hands. I guess the opportunity of nudging Jessica Lange’s mammaries with a massive pneumatic digit brought out the best in them. It’s not an opportunity likely to come your way twice in a lifetime.

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MONKEYS AT TYPEWRITERS

Supposedly, a team comprising Bob Fosse, Paddy Chayefsky and Neil Simon were at once point going to direct and write this monstrosity. Since the film shows every sign of being cursed, I don’t think that would have saved it, but Lorenzo Semple’s screenplay is pretty stinky. He kind of solves the question of “How could they ship Kong back to America?” with the oil tanker, but that still leaves the question of how they winched him aboard, and that question comes more sharply into focus with the surrounding mysteries cleared up. In the 2005 version, the whole issue is elided during intermission, which my friend Sam Dale objected to. “But isn’t that the case, basically, in the original?” I asked. “Yes, but the original goes like a train,” he countered. With pre-code pace, the audience has less time to ponder, and the movie is more like an unexpectedly genius potboiler, rather than a wildly implausible simian version of Heart of Darkness.

Since the Dino KONG is a super-epic, it can’t afford to get zippy at any point, so everything is gone over in great detail and at great length, although this doesn’t help it make sense. “I remember as a little girl,” said Fiona, “I was quite confused about her attitude to Kong.” In the original, Fay Wray is quite simply scared of the big guy. Admittedly, it always seemed that more could be done with this relationship. Entirely thanks to Willis H. O’Brien’s artistry, Kong had become a sympathetic character, chewing people’s heads off, smushing them into the dirt, and dropping them from skyscrapers, but essentially virtuous. An unscripted warmth of feeling was created between the audience and the ape (particularly in the moment where he hurts his finger, a beat missing here).

In the Peter Jackson arse-marathon, the relationship is tastefully desexualized, so that Kong becomes a big devoted pet, and on that level it’s extremely moving, thanks to great work from Naomi Watts and excellent animation (sorry, Andy Serkis, that’s not you up there). The seventies attempt ramps up the pre-code smut factor to an uncomfortable level. In 1933, Kong barely enjoyed a moment’s peace with Fay Wray without some Cretaceous interloper barging in, which was again useful to stop the audience wondering about stuff that shouldn’t be on normal people’s minds anyway. Here, there’s only a giant rubber snake, showing up at the exact optimum moment to serve as a Freudian symbol.

Of all Semple’s changes, the one most offensive to a schoolboy viewer is the deletion of all the dinosaurs, clear evidence that the film did not love its audience and did not have the technical confidence possessed of the filmmakers of forty-some years earlier. But the stupidest one is probably the ship’s crew setting a trap for Kong but then bolting the door of the big gate to prevent him reaching it. “Are you sure he can break through this thing?” somebody thinks to ask. “Just bolt it halfway.” is the compromise choice. I guess they figured leaving it open would MAKE THE GORILLA SUSPICIOUS.

One thing I kind of approve of, even though it’s also kind of awful, is the very seventies unhappy ending. After the Peckinpah bloodbath with Kong turned into a pink plush toy by his own spurting gore, Jessica doesn’t even get folded into the big strong arms of Jeff Bridges as consolation. He rather inexplicably hangs back, apparently feeling that this ordeal has turned her into a star, which is what she always wanted, and so she doesn’t need him, even though she is obviously distraught and does need him. It’s some kind of NETWORK type dark satire thing and was certainly incomprehensible to me as a kid, and seems unclear now. Maybe she should have grabbed a microphone and said “I’m Mrs. Norman Maine,” or “Mrs Norman Kong,” or something.

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GRODIN TO THE MAX

Poor Charles Grodin — in his lovely memoir he talks movingly about his childhood love of KING KONG and how he really didn’t want to be a bad guy in the movie. He particularly didn’t want to be the guy who gets killed by Kong and the audience cheers. They shot a scene where Kong seems to step on him but in fact just crushes his stetson. Audiences hated it. So they recut it to make it look — rather unconvincingly — as if Kong had indeed trodden on Grodin. But then they include a shot, a few seconds later, where Grodin, minus his stetson, appears to be fleeing alongside Jess & Jeff. That is what I believe is known as a continuity error.

They also cut out Grodin’s best bit of acting. Mostly in the film he impresses just with how unlike Charles Grodin he is. He has a moustache which obscures the distinctively curled upper lip (almost but not quite a sneer — just a look of “I can’t believe this,” always incipient if not actually manifest) and a sort of spray-on skull cap of hair like an Action Man doll. And he’s playing a loud jerk, which is not his usual mode. But when he sees Kong for the first time, he reacts in a way which is absolutely the essence of Grodinism, without in any way stepping out of character. It’s extremely funny, and because it’s so comic, even though it is completely truthful and should therefore be completely believable, it is kind of wrong for the film, so they cut it.

They were right to cut it. On the other hand, if they had left it in it would have been better than everything else in the film.

Charles Grodin’s best acting from David Cairns on Vimeo.

Anyhow, in The Creation of King Kong, there is a fair bit about Grodin complaining that his trailer isn’t as big as Jessica’s trailer or Jeff’s trailer — for a publicity book, it makes the surprising choice of making nearly all the principles look bad at one time or another. The seventies was a different era.

Buy KONGS —
King Kong (1976)
King Kong [Blu-ray]
King Kong

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2012 by dcairns

I gave up going to blockbusters after the worthless TWISTER, only breaking my embargo when there seemed something genuinely special on offer from the creative talents involved. And then lapsing a few other times.

Brad Bird’s involvement in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL was enough to draw me in — he’s shaken up the world of feature animation (THE INCREDIBLES, for instance, has no songs, one writer, is two hours long, features numerous deaths, and focuses on its hero’s mid-life crisis) and I was intrigued to see what his live-action debut would be like. How would he handle actors and props and settings and camera moves with their own real physical weight?

The yearning of the flesh to become pixel.

Confession — I have actually seen all the M:I films at the cinema. It’s that “creative talents” clause: Cruise has seriously sought out filmmakers with interesting sensibilities. Weirdly, J.J. Abrams, the least celebrated director, crafted maybe the most satisfying film, maybe because he had the best script. Besides, I liked the way he was able to shoot action scenes where shots served more than a single purpose, even as he cut fast. DePalma’s opening installment seemed tailor-made to offer him some typical set-pieces, such as the hi-tech version of his trademark split-screen sequence. I’ve finally decided I can’t stand John Woo, and anyhow grafting the plot of NOTORIOUS onto an action drama was a dumb move — it makes the fights and chases even more redundant than usual. The writers tried to make it a Woo vehicle by inserting a dove. Big deal. Abrams carries less baggage that those guys, and he had an inventively absurd script to handle (that improvised defibrillator was outrageous).

Bird casts better than any of his predecessors since DePalma: it’s impossible to beat the combo of Ving Rhames and Jean Reno, who have such distinctive comic-book looks, but Bird doesn’t miscast his bad guy as Woo and Abrams did (Dougray Scott is too stolid, Philip Seymour Hoffman is an excellent actor wasted as a cartoon snark) — I didn’t find Michael Nykvist quite as colourful as I’d have liked, but his role is actually less significant than you’d expect, with relatively little screen time. Somebody with more visible derangement or physical threat might have been nice, but it’s no big deal.

The star attraction here is Jeremy Renner, America’s best knobbly actor, who manages to be more intense and dynamic than Cruise and funnier than Simon Pegg. Paula Patton and Lea Seydoux provide requisite glamour, and there are some surprise cameos. But it’s what I enjoyed in M:I III, the enjoyable absurdity, that makes this one the best yet ~

1) Tom Cruise does a lightning sketch in biro on the palm of his hand and Renner positively IDs it, using only the information that it’s a “European male”. This is my new favourite thing ever.

2) Cruise survives AT LEAST four lethal vehicular smash-ups, each more of a sure-death proposition than the one before.

3) He climbs the tallest building in the world using special gloves. Which don’t work. He should’ve tried licking his palms like Steve Martin in THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS.

4) He coincidentally finds himself on the run with a man with a secret and tragic link to his past, who also coincidentally was the only survivor of auto smash number 2.

5) Cruise and Pegg sneak around the Kremlin using a portable screen that projects a view of the corridor they’re in, so the security guy can’t see them. This is a digital version of the tunnels Wile E. Coyote would paint on rock faces. I would like one — it would make my living room look bigger.

6) Cruise gains admittance to the Kremlin — basically Moscow’s Disneyland, I believe — by sticking on a false moustache to impersonate a general. Even though he has a machine that makes completely convincing and flexible rubber masks. In fact, these masks are never used in this film, almost as if the writers, Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec, thought they were too silly to get away with. Which, in its touchingly naive way, is the most joyously absurd thing of all.

If you like action films at all, you should try this — gleefully O.T.T. mayhem, coherently and dynamically shot, with Michael Giacchino’s score once again channeling the spirit of sixties espionage flicks. But it’s also Bird’s least emotional film to date, which is odd, although I guess it fits the nature of spy films. The attempts at human drama mainly involve backstory and characters from previous entries in the series, so they don’t amount to much. The emotion you will get is the sweaty palms and pounding pulse of suspense, which is the chief reason most people are going to go, I expect.

This movie finally cracks the series’ biggest problem, which is that it’s simultaneously about a TEAM, and a star vehicle for one actor. The balance is finally right, even though, rather weirdly, we end up with more access to Renner’s emotions than Cruise’s, and Renner gets the Big Emotional Backstory scene. A coda tries to hand it back to Cruise, but that’s a little late in the day. Still, this plays along with one of Cruise’s underrated qualities as a star: you’re never quite sure what’s really going on with him.

This is Bird’s first film not ostensibly about a Beautiful Freak or Amazing Genius, though by its nature it’s still a celebration of The Exceptional, just in less overt, didactic form. Maybe that theme needed retired anyway. I’m not 100% sure what this latest film’s theme IS, just as I’m not sure what Ethan Hunt’s appropriation of W’s “Mission accomplished” is meant to tell us…

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