Archive for Tom Cruise

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…

Licking Hitler

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2011 by dcairns

Tom Von Cruise.

I was always very curious to see Bryan Singer’s VALKYRIE. Just not curious enough to actually see it, at least until three years after it came out.

The film, whose true title is LET’S KILL HITLER TO DEATH, as my friend Randy rightly says (in the same way that the true title of Meryl Streep’s A CRY IN THE DARK is A DINGO ATE MY BABY, as my friends Colin and Morag rightly insist), got a lot of negative publicity early on when people saw what Tom Cruise looked like in a Nazi uniform and eye-patch. Cruise is still a big star, despite being a strange cult member, and so the studio must have felt his involvement bolstered what was already a compelling true story torn from the history books (if you visit a library in LA, all the newspapers and history books are incomplete, because of all the stories torn from them), but the problem is identical to that faced by MGM when they made PARNELL: for every great star, there is a role which is so alien to what the star’s public expects, that the combination of actor and role destroys whatever appeal each may have had. In the case of Tom Cruise, that role was a Nazi with an eye-patch.

I confess to mixed feelings about Bryan Singer. I liked THE USUAL SUSPECTS as much as most people seem to, and his first X-MEN movie seemed like the first superhero movie to capture the appeal of comic book superheroes — good guys and bad guys, broadly drawn, each with his/her own unique set of powers, fighting each other and having soap opera emotional crises. Since some powers are particularly effective against others (Magneto’s magnetism turns Wolverine’s metal skeleton from a strength to a liability), the result has some of the cleverness of a chess game, but with more violence and property damage, so everybody wins.

Of course, SUPERMAN RETURNS was a misfire, despite a convincing Christopher Reeve clone and an amusing Lex Luther and Miss Tessmacher and a convincing duplication of the original Donner and Lester movie’s feel — when it became clear that the plot centered around a scheme basically identical to the first Donner movie’s masterplan, the whole thing started to get arthritic.

Just what this movie needs — a Busby Berkeley water ballet.

VALKYRIE seems to follow an opposite course, actually acquiring greater conviction and force as it goes on. To begin with, the American and British actors mingle poorly, and no alibi is in force to explain why all these German characters have different ways of speaking English. (I hated INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, hated it, but I have to give Tarantino points for an uncompromising approach to language, with everybody speaking the tongue they would have spoken, in the situations they would have spoken it in.) Then Hitler turns up, and he has a GERMAN accent.

I don’t want to be too down on Jeremy Bamber, the non-lookalike cast as the fuhrer. I don’t know whose idea it was that he assume a phony accent, or play the role with similar infirmity to Bruno Ganz’s still-fresh-in-memory barnstorming triumph in DOWNFALL. I can only say, “Lousy idea.”

Then some actual German actors turn up, confusing things still further. And meanwhile, Singer’s directorial tropes are all either over-familiar to the point of distraction, or else stylistically inexplicable and counter-productive. So, much as one wants to be mature and NOT laugh at the spectacle of Tom Cruise in a Nazi uniform and eye-patch, the movie doesn’t exactly help one. Once Cruise was seen recruiting Eddie Izzard in a men’s room, and Kenneth Branagh compared Germany to Sodom, I started to wonder if the whole movie could be some kind of strange, sly metaphor concocted by the out gay Singer around the officially heterosexual Cruise. It was weird.

But, as we near the moment of detonation, suspense starts to kick in. Here, David Bordwell talks about the mystery of how movies generate suspense around stories where the outcome is already known to us. It’s a fascinating area. Singer is helped by the fact that, though one hopes most of his audience know the plot against Hitler failed (just as one hopes they know Tarantino’s version of events is not historically accurate), the precise outcome of the aftermath of the failed coup is less familiar to many of us. So, while John Ottman’s scoring and editing, the high-stakes, complicated operation put into action by Cruise, Izzard, Terence Stamp etc (was the whole casting process predicated on height? Cruise may be the tallest man in the film), and the inevitable “what if?” and “if only” thoughts inspired by the story, all do their part, in some ways the denouement’s predictability only adds to the clarity Hitchcock insisted was necessary for true suspense.

As an example of the “what if?” factor — the coup fails because, obviously, Hitler failed in his part of the plan and didn’t die. But, more crucially still, he proved he was still alive by communicating by telephone and radio. Which suggests that, even if he HAD died, the bad Nazis (as opposed to all those good Nazis we’ve all heard so much about) could still have convinced the world A.H. was in charge by enlisting the services of a decent Hitler impersonator. Who was the Third Reich’s equivalent of Rich Little, anyway? On questions like this, the fate of nations may be decided.

Thunder Rocks

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2008 by dcairns

We enjoyed TROPIC THUNDER. Asses were duly laughed off. I guess there was a little malaise with the pleasure — I found the gory stuff slightly off-putting, even the bits that were meant to be movie FX gore. And I like gore in gore films. I think the military setting made it a bit harder for me to laugh at.

And there’s a weird thing about it — mostly the film respects the A-Teamconvention of not really hurting anybody with its pyrotechnics and stunt fights. The bad guys torture Ben Stiller, but he kind of deserves it, and then he’s not really allowed any pay-back. The bad guys suffer a bit of property damage and maybe some bruising. The bridge that blows up doesn’t take any of them with it, as far as I could see. Arguably the most extreme bit of slapstick, the hurling of a small Asian child, is followed by a traditional A-Team “mercy shot” that shows the homicidal sprog alive and well having landed in some undergrowth.

But there’s one death. Does this constitute a spoiler? It’s early enough in the film that I think not, but stop reading after the picture if you’re fearful of entertainment-loss.

Steve Coogan, the film’s incompetent director, first seen reenacting a movie explosion joke from Blake Edwards THE PARTY (the idea of a giant special effect that nobody remembers to film dates back to the famous “Ready when you are Mr. DeMille,” joke, and came true for Sergio Leone on the set of THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY — they had to blow that bridge up twice). Coogan gets mercilessly bullied by Tom Cruise’s ferocious studio boss, and together with Nick Nolte (an interesting screen pairing) hatches the idea of planting the movie stars in a “real” combat scenario.

Then Coogan is bloodily blown to smithereens at the onset of the comic war. This serves a definite narrative point, since it signals the moment the war movie becomes the real thing (without some of the characters realising it). I actually found the severed head that results rather unpleasant, partly I think BECAUSE it was so unconvincing. Strange. Strange too that Coogan is picked out for death, when his character, an incompetent and arrogant Britisher, is clearly no worse than most of the main characters. In fact, the film only really started to get laughs for me once the movie stars were placed in situations where their self-obsessed antics conflicted with their self-preservation. One theory of comedy suggests that inflexible, or mechanical behaviour is the key element, and this film is predicated on the humour of a junkie, a method actor and an over-serious action star trying to remain consistent in the face of a situation that demands they adapt or die. (The rookie and the rapper are actually fairly able to respond appropriately to the changing environment.)

So, although it’s good to see Steve Coogan playing with the big boys, I think it’s a shame his character was deemed disposable. I guess it’s just because there’s nothing to do with a director figure once the narrative acquires its own momentum. The movie director can’t pretend to be in charge anymore.

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