Tagged: Tom Cruise

Box Office Democracy: The Mummy

You would think Universal would be happy with the money they’re making.

The last two Fast & Furious movies made over a billion dollars each.  They were the top grossing studio in 2015 and this year are on track for a second place finish.  No one is worried about the studio going broke or the lot being shut down or even serious cutbacks at their amusement parks.  Things are good.  I have no idea why they feel the need to invest so much in this Dark Universe nonsense that gave us this version of The Mummy.

They take what could be a perfectly good story about a scary, driven, magical lady mummy and fill it with exposition for movies that won’t be out for years and a “shared universe” with nothing anyone has any real attachment to.  There’s no one out there dying for a Creature From the Black Lagoon reboot, but here we are with pregnant pauses on a jar with a flipper in it in hopes it becomes the next Avengers or some such nonsense.  The Mummy is overloaded with ideas and starved for coherent storytelling, and it’s not a good combination.

The Mummy opens, like all good movies about an ancient Egyptian monster, in 12th century England.  I’m not entirely sure why we need the movie to start with a bit about crusaders except to start laying pipe for the insane shared universe they start building to later, but whatever.  We quickly move to ancient Egypt and the story of Prnicess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), the titular Mummy, and her thwarted inheritance and the horrible revenge she took that led to her being turned in to the kind of being that lives more than 3000 years and throws curses every which way.  It’s an interesting story and her character is more immediately gripping than any of the other characters.  You have Tom Cruise in this movie playing an army officer who loots antiquities and the movie spends the whole time falling over itself to praise him for the smallest bit of human decency.  Then you have Annabelle Wallis as an archaeologist who spends so much time keeping and revealing secrets that we never get to an actual character.  We spend 70% of the movies with those boring nothings of characters, while a much more electric villain languishes on the sidelines causing wordless havoc.

I get that this is trying to build to some bigger set of movies and that you would much rather have Tom Cruise as your linchpin than Sofia Boutella, but it isn’t just star power that makes Robert Downey Jr. the best part of The Avengers, it’s that they give him things to say or do that feel like they matter.  As someone who sees a lot of movies and plans to continue to do so I’m interested in the story hooks they leave at the end of The Mummy, but I’m not excited to spend any more time in this world or with this thieving soldier turned supernatural figure if his defining character trait is going to be “mostly a prick but not to this one woman he slept with” for an indefinite number of films.  That said, he’s got some A+ costuming in the last scene and Cruise is the biggest movie star of a generation, so there’s reason to hope there.

Otherwise you’ve got a horror action movie that isn’t particularly scary and has few memorable action beats.  The sequence with the crashing airplane is wonderful and something I haven’t seen before.  Or, rather, it would be something I haven’t seen before if it hadn’t been in all the trailers.  Other than that, it has a bunch of zombie-esque chase beats, and a fight scene that was a redux version of Black Widow and the Hulk.  There were better action beats in the 1999 Brendan Fraser version and that movie wasn’t very good either.  We don’t even get a good Tom Cruise running sequence and why even hire the guy at that point.

The Mummy is a frustrating movie not because it’s objectively bad or anything but because it’s so very boring.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so boring if they hadn’t been compelled to cram so much material in to build to more Dark Universe films.  If the story they’re actually telling in this film had gotten more room, instead of being dedicated to stuff that might be in movies we never see after the poor box office reception this weekend, it could have been saved.  We could have gotten more time with the supporting characters that were more interesting than the mains.  We could have focused on the mythology we were interacting with here, instead of needing to tie all evil in to one amorphous blob we could draw on later or being force-fed quite so much Dr. Jekyll.  Rather than get a nearly two-hour commercial for a product I’m not sure I want, The Mummy should have tried harder to be something worthwhile in its own right.

John Ostrander: Default Mode

guardians-of-the-galaxy-movie-images

About a million years ago when I was a kid, summer time was the entertainment doldrums. All the TV shows were in reruns (and we only had a few channels back then) and the new season wouldn’t begin until September, right around the time school began, limiting the shows we could see. Big new movies usually didn’t come out during the summer; the prevailing theory was people didn’t want to sit in a darkened theater (even if it was air conditioned) during the summer. They’d rather be outside. Drive-ins did good business because they combined both. My mother usually didn’t let us go to one because they were reputed to be make-out dens for teen-agers… and they probably were. Mother didn’t approve. Again, the fall started up the movie season.

We didn’t have VHS tapes when I was a kid, let alone DVD or Blu-Ray. No channels on TV devoted exclusively to movies or old movies or cartoons. Even our music wasn’t portable; vinyl records had to be played on large machines. Transistor radios were small enough to take with you and that gave you some music but it was always what the guy on the radio chose for you to listen.

I know. The Dark Ages, huh? Somehow we managed to survive.

These days, you can see or hear what you want when you want and you can get it On Demand. Miss something? Netflix or Hulu or any of a number of other services will provide it.

With all these choices and the ability to experience new things, I still find myself watching and re-watching certain movies on TV. If I come upon them, I’ll watch them first, even if they’ve already started. Or I’ll seek them out. Or put on the DVD or Blu-ray. I think of it as my own personal default mode. It’s probably a result of the summer rerun season I learned when I was a kid. It’s what I know.

Sometimes something new will enter into the rotation. A few films have done that recently. I don’t say they are the best films but I seem to like them a lot. For example, my current fave Marvel superhero film is Guardians Of The Galaxy. I think it really captures the essence of what made Marvel Comics so cool to me. The heroes are not your usual heroes, initially they don’t like each other, they are all flawed, they become a sort of family along the way, there’s lots of comedy, a really big villain to fight, possibly cosmic consequences at stake, and a tug at the heart. For me, it’s the best realization of Marvel Comics on screen.

I’ve stumbled on Edge Of Tomorrow and become very fond of it. It sort of combines Starship Troopers and Groundhog Day. It was originally known as Live Die Repeat, which is a terrible title. I think it’s more inclined to keep people away from the movie.

The premise of the movie is that bug-like aliens have invaded Earth and are rapidly taking it over. They have the ability to “re-set” a day, going back 24 hours but retaining their memories of what happened. Thus they can correct any errors made and continue the conquest.

A human, played by Tom Cruise, gains the alien power and finds he an also re-set the day. He just has to die – which he does over and over again. I’m not a big Cruise fan but I like him in this. His character is something of a coward at the start and he must change during the film, fight through hopelessness and despair, in order to win and save everybody. Doug Liman, who directed the first Bourne film helms this one as well and does a very good job of it.

Knowing the film and how it works out, I still watch it even if I come in on the middle of it. It’s familiar, I enjoy it, and I watch it a lot.

I’ve also grown fond of The Judge starring Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duval. It’s a courtroom drama, a family drama about fathers and sons, and it sets two terrific actors up against one another. It also has a terrific cast including Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton, and Vera Farmiga. The script is good but not great but the film is very watchable. Again, one of those I can come in on anywhere and probably watch it through the end.

The most recent film to enter my rotation is This Is Where I Leave You. The story is of a family that comes together after the father dies and spends an uncomfortable week in each other’s company. Despite how that sounds, it is mostly a comedy and has an incredible cast – Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Tina Fey and Timothy Olyphant among others. It’s very well written, terrifically directed by Shawn Levy and I can come in anywhere on it and probably stick right through the ending.

There’s also TV shows that I’ll watch in default of other things. I’ve seen every Castle episode multiple times but still will seek it out and watch it. I’m happily watching the reruns of the first season of The Flash. Most episodes of Doctor Who will get my attention and there are my cooking or food related shows, Kitchen Nightmares or Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives or Chopped. They’re not my favorite but they are part of my default mode.

There are better movies and television shows, I’ll admit but these are familiar, I know that I’ll be entertained and sometimes that’s all I ask. Sometimes that’s all you need.

 

Box Office Democracy: “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is a very good spy action movie. It expands and builds on the previous entries in the series although sometimes in ways I’m not entirely sure are necessary but it’s consistently compelling and visually interesting, often funny, it checks every box I would put on a hypothetical action movie checklist. Unfortunately I think the landscape for these movies have changed and being very good might not cut it anymore. Movies need to either push the genre in new or interesting directions (like a Mad Max: Fury Road) or be so consistently excellent the movie becomes a non-stop delight to sit and watch (the approach taken by the last three Fast & Furious movies) or it feels lacking to me. Tom Cruise isn’t enough by himself and Tom Cruise: Movie Superstar is all that is being offered here.

Let’s not take anything away from Tom Cruise as a movie star, because he is a phenomenal one and this is a stunning showcase for him. He is charming and magnetic and because he’s willing to do his own insane stunts the movie looks more authentic. It’s not a very active improvement, though; it’s more like appreciating how it doesn’t look like bad CGI than being particularly amazing in its own right. Tom Cruise is good in a way that makes me think “Tom Cruise is amazing” but not in a way that makes me thing “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is an amazing movie” and that’s a problem. He’s appealing in the role but he never makes me think anything about the character, I know I’m watching Ethan Hunt but I never ascribe any character traits to him, he’s a stunningly blank character for the lead of a fifth movie in the series.

The plots haven’t advanced very far along in five movies either. For Rogue Nation the Impossible Mission Force is disgraced in the eyes of the government and Ethan and his team must work to stop the bad guys with no official support for their actions. This is exactly the same premise of the last entry in the franchise. All they did this time was change the particulars; it isn’t about stopping a nuclear missile, it’s about shutting down a criminal anti-IMF, and the force of government resistance are represented by Alec Baldwin who plays his part as director of the CIA and I can only imagine his process was deciding he was going to play Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock and the director would have to fight him for every bit of seriousness. This is not intended as a complaint; it works quite well. There are also some legacy problems due to the longevity of the series. In a world where good and evil intelligence operatives have been able to do perfect face masks to pose as others for almost 20 years, you would figure no important people on earth would have sensitive conversations without blood tests or some such. As it is you just spend the entire movie waiting for that iconic face pulling off shot and this time around I saw it coming a mile away. It hurts the credibility of the movie.

I’ve complained a lot here and while I think the film deserves it I want to emphasize that it was a perfectly enjoyable way to spend 2 hours and 20 minutes on a hot summer day. It’s fun to watch, the action spectacle is as good as Hollywood is capable of doing. Rogue Nation crosses the globe to incredible exotic locales and it’s fun to see motorcycle chases through Morocco. The supporting cast is a hoot and a half, Simon Pegg is delightful, Ving Rhames is wonderfully gruff and while he sometimes feels like he’s acting on autopilot it’s never distracting. Rogue Nation is a very good movie but I want it to be excellent, these days the genre almost demands it and it just isn’t there yet. I hope the inevitable sixth movie can push it in that direction, and with the track record of this franchise I wouldn’t rule it out.

Box Office Democracy: “Edge of Tomorrow”

I’m always rooting for sci-fi action movies to succeed and when it became clear that Edge of Tomorrow was going to be equal parts sci-fi action and Groundhog Day I was ready to love this movie.  Unfortunately the movie they delivered has the distinct feel of studio notes all over it leaving it feeling a little too much like a Tom Cruise movie than any of the component parts.  I like Tom Cruise movies but it hurts this premise to make it hit all the same beats of a Mission: Impossible film.

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Dennis O’Neil, Mel Gibson, Scientology, and Woody Allen

Dennis O’Neil, Mel Gibson, Scientology, and Woody Allen

So, can we still love the work of Woody Allen? For me, the answer is an uneasy yes. Because, I do. To say Ill stop would just be another lie in a situation already mired in falsehoods and overlooked facts.

So, I think we can still love the work of Woody Allen, but under one condition: This part of his story is told. No more burying the bad beneath the slightly less bad. And, certainly, no illusions that the whiny, hypochondriac charmer onscreen is anything more than a character he created. I believe Alvy Singer is an underdog. I believe Woody Allen is a child-molester.

Maybe one person writing one post on the Internet isnt going to change the tide of cultural consciousness. Still, what is cultural consciousness but a number of individuals creating a story?

If only a few hundred people make it to the end of this post, then its a few hundred people who have their own decision to make. Ill take it.

I wasn’t as conscientious as maybe I should have been in transcribing what I have just extensively quoted, and so I don’t know if Mick Gray wrote the words or was quoting someone else. In any case, I’m grateful to Mr. Gray for putting the piece on Facebook. It deals with the topic of last weeks column and deals with it far more cogently than my blather did.

Mea culpa. By now, I should know that the work should not be judged by the man. And I’m not even sure that I’ll never pay money to see another Woody Allen movie, as I claimed, because I should also know, by now, never to say never.

But I have not patronized Mel Gibson entertainments, at least not yet, ever since his storm of hate talk and his public espousal of what I consider to be a virulent form of Christianity. The logic is: Mr. Gibson’s public pronouncements are pernicious and could conceivably nudge minds and hearts into pernicious places and I don’t want even a nanocent of my money to end up in Mel’s possession, where he might use it to further his agendas.

That’s me, striking a blow for righteousness!

Sure. Truth is, my lack of patronage makes absolutely no difference to Gibson and his cohorts. But it helps me validate my opinions and my self-esteem – looky looky what that virtuous Den is doing for his morals and maybe it offers me the illusion of having some control over my life. I can neither understand nor affect computers, home heating systems, the car parked in the driveway, Congress, the stock market, cable television, global warming, the volcano under Old Faithful that might blow and cause massive extinction, errant asteroids, why execs of chemical and tobacco companies that wreak havoc on the common good don’t have crises of conscience – all things which either bear on me, or might, but I can sure give that Gibson a reckoning! Take that, Mr. Mel.

Final note: I haven’t boycotted the work of Tom Cruse or John Travolta, both of whom are vocal supporters of Scientology which is a… what is scientology, anyway? Cult? Religion? It’s spokespersons use “religion” and that’ll do. Anyway, although I think this religion is, all around, a bad deal, it seems to harm mostly its followers. I don’t know that it’s poisoning the rest of us and everyone to his own lunacy as long as he doesn’t try to convert me to it.

And for all I know, those execs mentioned above do have crises of conscience and are just keeping mum about them.

THIS AFTERNOON: Tweeks!

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

 

Mike Gold: U.N.C.L.E. S.H.I.E.L.D?

Gold Art 130515Hoo boy. My Uh-Oh sense is screaming its fool head off.

Here’s the inevitable backstory. In the late spring of 1965, Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. replaced The Human Torch in Marvel’s Strange Tales monthly. I liked the Human Torch in Fantastic Four, but this series was sadly second-rate. I also liked Nick Fury and his contemporary appearance in the just Big-Banged Marvel Universe. But I really loved the teevee series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (damn; typing all those damn dots is gonna wear real thin) so the new Nick Fury was met with a minor adolescent fangasm.

Timing is everything. U.N.C.L.E. was just ending its first season, and the next two would suck the chrome off of a mid-sixties Buick. Over at Marvel, Stan and Jack were just warming up. A couple years later Jim Steranko would take S.H.I.E.L.D., and comics, to a whole ‘nother level. My feelings towards U.N.C.L.E. remained positive, but in a more hopeful sense. That hope actually paid off in the show’s final half-season, and the series remains iconographic to this day.

Meanwhile, S.H.I.E.L.D. became a critical part of the Marvel Universe – but attempts at maintaining it as an ongoing series proved unsuccessful. It attracted some great talent, but not great sales. I doubt most humans were aware of the organization until Iron Man 1 came along.

Maybe it was the success of the Marvel movies that finally got the Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie off the ground. I hope so, as that appeals to my sense of Cosmic Balance. Guy Richie is directing it, and Tom Cruise and Armie Hammer are starring as Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, respectively.

Uh-Oh.

I can’t say anything about Mr. Hammer except that his great-grandfather, Armand Hammer, became the world’s wealthiest man by selling lots of stuff to the Soviets. This appeals to my Cosmic Balance thing. Nonetheless, he is barely noticed in the trailers to the upcoming movie The Lone Ranger, in which he plays the lead but Johnny Depp plays the Star. But I can say a lot about Mr. Cruise.

Tom Cruise is, in my opinion, a good actor. Sometimes great. He stars as the continuing lead in the Mission: Impossible series. He stars as the continuing lead in the Jack Reacher series. In both series, as well as most of his movies I’ve seen, he doesn’t play the character, he makes the character Tom Cruise. That’s fine for M:I – his character is original, even though the series is not. But, as noted, I have a fondness for Napoleon Solo, the human being spy who kidnapped other human beings to engage them in adventures that even Alfred Hitchcock would find amazing. If the movie is called The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I want to see Solo on the screen and not Cruise.

I also have a fondness for S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson, who earned those feelings in a whole lotta recent Marvel movies. The same guy, Clark Gregg, is playing the character in the new teevee series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Perhaps that Cosmic Balance can be described by the old sawhorse “What goes around comes around.” But I gotta tell you, my fanboy reaction to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is one of great anticipation.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie? Not so much.

But I hope I’m wrong.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

 

Jack Reacher Coming to DVD in 2 Weeks

JackReacher_Combo_BRD_3D_xtraSkewWhile Tom Cruise flogs the so-so reviewed Oblivion, his last feature effort, Jack Reacher, is coming to home video on May 7. According to the PR:

One of the most compelling heroes ever to step from novel to screen makes his highly-anticipated home entertainment debut when JACK REACHER blasts his way onto Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand on May 7, 2013 from Paramount Home Media Distribution.  The film will be available for Digital Download on April 23rd.  Tom Cruise tackles the title role with the brute force his character is known for and his “tightly controlled performance holds our attention all the way through to the tense finale” (Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News).  Based on best-selling author Lee Child’s wildly popular series of novels, JACK REACHER was adapted for the screen and directed by Academy Award-winner Christopher McQuarrie (Best Original Screenplay, The Usual Suspects, 1995).  Filled with heart-pounding action, thrills and a “killer chase scene” (Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News), JACK REACHER is “hard-boiled detective story entertainment” (Richard Corliss, Time) that “will have you gasping in surprise at the velocity and ferocity of the action” (Marshall Fine, Huffington Post).  The film also boasts “a top flight ensemble cast” (Claudia Puig, USA Today) including Robert Duvall (Apocalypse Now), Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day), Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn), David Oyelowo (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods) and Jai Courtney (A Good Day to Die Hard).

In anticipation of the home entertainment release, journalists from around the globe gathered on the Paramount lot in Hollywood, California to step into the shoes of world-renowned author Lee Child’s legendary anti-hero, Jack Reacher.
 From the brutal, no-holds-barred street fight to the heart-pounding and high-octane car chase, experts demonstrated how they helped bring these unforgettable scenes to life in the action-packed film Jack Reacher.

Veteran fight coordinator Robert Alonzo provided expert training in the Keysi Fighting Method to prepare participants for their own choreographed fight.
Stunt coordinator and 2nd unit director Paul Jennings gave an inside look at how the killer car chase was filmed.

Blake MycoskieStunt driver Joey Box showed off the actual Chevelle from the movie.

The JACK REACHER Blu-ray/DVD combo pack with UltraViolet™ is bursting with compelling bonus features including an in-depth look at Reacher’s journey to the screen, the filmmakers’ devotion to remaining true to the essence of the character and their drive to create an action-thriller that harkens back to the landmark films of the ‘70s.  The combo pack also includes a look at the training and stunt choreography behind the gritty and intense fight sequences, an exploration of the Reacher phenomenon around the world with Lee Child, as well as commentaries by Tom Cruise, director Christopher McQuarrie and composer Joe Kraemer.  The film will also be available as a single-disc DVD.

The Blu-ray release available for purchase will be enabled with UltraViolet, a new way to collect, access and enjoy movies.  With UltraViolet, consumers can add movies to their digital collection in the cloud, and then stream or download them – reliably and securely – to a variety of devices.

Martha Thomases: Heroes and Big Hair

For no reasons that are indefensible intellectually, I went to see Rock of Ages the other day. I like Alec Baldwin, okay?  It’s loud and it’s fun, and while hair metal was never my genre, I kind of like the power ballads that dominate the soundtrack.

The main plot is almost identical to Get Crazy,  one of the greatest movies ever made. A sincere rock club on the Sunset Strip (in this case, The Bourbon Room), run by Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, is in the rapacious site of greedy real estate developers. Our heroes must put on a show that will sell enough tickets to raise money and thwart the evil plans. Meanwhile, a sweet young girl (Julianne Hough) from the heartland comes to Los Angeles with dreams of rock stardom, and falls in love with a boy with similar dreams (Diego Benota).

Mixed up in all this is Tom Cruise as Axl Rose, Malin Ackerman as a Rolling Stone reporter, Mary J. Blige in not enough scenes, and Paul Giamatti as Cruise’s manager.

Will the sincere and noble rockers triumph over the skeevy politicians and music executives who want to replace The Bourbon Room’s metal with malls and boy-bands? What do you think?

The acting is broad and fun. My only quibble with the casting is that Diego Benota looks a lot like Jonathan Groff, only he’s not, and that was distracting. I’m sure he’s a lovely human being in his own right.

And yet, as I watched it, I found myself getting irked. “That’s not historically accurate,” I would think, and then I’d remember that it’s a movie based on a Broadway jukebox musical. It’s like complaining that F Troop isn’t historically accurate.

I wasn’t in Los Angeles in 1987. I was in New York. Not only that, but I had a three-year-old child, so I didn’t spend a lot of time in rock clubs. Still, my memory of popular music of that time includes a lot that wasn’t metal. The biggest album for most people was Michael Jackson’s Bad. The biggest albums for me were Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love and Warren Zevon’s Sentimental Hygiene.

From this movie, you wouldn’t know there was any hip-hop. You wouldn’t even know there was any punk, even though the black leather and studs that denote authenticity among the rockers owe nearly as much to punk as they do to rockabilly. I don’t know what it’s like in L.A. these days, but you can see every one of those outfits today on St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan.

The other place you can see all these fashions is superhero comics. For some reason, the big hair, the fringe, even the shoulder pads live on at DC and Marvel. I guess once your creative vision of women is limited to bitch, naif, and slut, your visual imagination is similarly locked in the past.

The difference is that in Rock of Ages, they know they’re being camp. It’s funny, and they expect the audience to be in on it. For those of us who are superhero fans, the joke is on us.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

Jeremy Renner’s First Mission

This is going to be Oscar-nominee Jeremy Renner’s year beginning with this week’s release of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol on Blu-ray followed by next month’s role as Hawkeye in The Avengers. Later this summer, he appears in the fourth Jason Bourne film, playing another espionage agent in The Bourne Legacy.

Here’s a chat with the actor courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment.

Q: Hey Jeremy. Congratulations on Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Not only was it a huge box office success in its films release, but you actually managed to survive making the film. That’s a surprise considering the amazing stunts in the movie.

A: (Laughs) Yes, it’s good to be alive. There are some amazing set pieces, my friend.

Q: Let’s talk about the biggest one. It involves Tom Cruise hanging outside the tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa – which stands almost 830 metres (2,723 feet) high in Dubai. Can you talk about the stunt?

A: Yes. As you say, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. It’s twice the size of the Empire State building in New York. We were on the the top of it and it is so high that when you look down it is like the view from a plane. It’s intense. All the stunts are practical and that made that a lot of fun. There’s a lot of challenges to overcome, but luckily we had a man like Tom to lead the way. (more…)