Top Gun is back after a mere 36 years away. We talk Tom Cruise’s unusual longevity as a star, the ways in which this sequel uses and develops its predecessor’s plots and characters, the direction and editing of the action, and how Maverick has become Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Originally published in Sight and Sound; London Vol. 6, Iss. 7, (Jul 1, 1996): 18.
A mega bumper double podcast today, as we see Mission: Impossible – Fallout twice and incorporate both discussions into one episode. Long story short, we had tons of fun both times and you should see it.
We both adore the visual storytelling and the elegance of the action. We fawn over gripping sequences which evoke silent cinema. We discuss in depth the idea of Ethan Hunt as a moral character, something that the film places front and centre throughout, giving him choices to make and emphasising the protection of innocents and self-sacrifice. José doesn’t quite buy it but Mike does his best to talk him round.
Neither of us is quite sold on the concept of the villain – he’s not enough of an idealist – but Cavill’s performance unquestionably elevates him and he’s a constant delight to watch. To José, he’s the new Errol Flynn. Mike focuses on two implausible scenes to compare and contrast, exploring why he believed in one but not the other. José describes how the action scenes develop like good jokes, with ideas building on top of each other in logical ways. And we go off on a tangent about Idris Elba for some reason.
Recorded on 29th and 31st July 2018.
Is it possible for a film about drug smuggling, weapon dealing, CIA-sponsored militias and getting ludicrously rich to be in any way immoral? Tom Cruise helps destroy several Latin American governments and cultures, oblivious to everything except money and a sense of adventure. Do we empathise? Find out as we tolerate American Made so you don’t have to.
I don’t remember Tom Cruise being as badly miscast as he is in The Mummy. He’s meant to be cool, suave, nonchalant, catnip to the ladies and slightly unethical with it: a cross between Paul Newman and Errol Flynn. Instead, well…. he’s Tom Cruise: focussed, intense, over-committed, unwavering, humourless. He’s a very good actor and I like him. But he lacks a light touch. At least he’s better than Russell Crowe who I didn’t realise was in it and might as well not have been. He fails doubly, as Dr. Jekyll AND as Mr. Hyde, and he recites his lines in the worst English accent I’ve ever heard in a recent film playing both parts. The only actors who walk away with any honour from this disaster are Jake Johnson, best known from New Girl, who is actually funny and charming as the sidekick; and Sofia Boutella as Ahmaned, the evil Egyptian queen who starts the narrative rolling and who looks terrifically terrifying. I also hated the look of the film, a return to that dingy and dull slate greys, dark blues and metallic chromes that has so unnecessarily blighted cinema since the turn to digital. How Alex Kurtzman got the gig to direct this film is a story I’d like to hear. He won’t be getting another opportunity soon.
This lingers interestingly on the mind for a while after one’s seen it. The design, cinematography, the whole look of the film is sublime if rather different to the gorgeous play of light we got to see in Tron: Legacy (Joseph Kosinski, USA, 2010). It was extraordinary to see Tom Cruise with flushed cheeks at his age, every pore on his face clearly made visible by Claudio Miranda’s crack camerawork and lighting. The film too is beautiful to look at, with a spare aesthetic that empties the frame of things and fills it with wonderful use of line and striking and original compositions. Andrea Riseborough, displaying nervy intelligence and emotional neediness, and Tom Cruise, iconic yet also emotionally transparent, are both wonderful. Olga Kurylenko obviously needs to prance as she did in To the Wonder (Terece Malick, USA, 2012) in order to be watchable at all because here no prancing, dud performance, and rather dull to look at in spite of her beauty.
Oblivion suffers from a story that isn’t properly dramatised. I loved the minimalism of the first half but then, when more people arrived on the scene, it made the film seem less interesting. People have been saying it’s dull, and I do know what they mean; if one isn’t particularly attuned to the various delights cinema can offer on a purely visual plane, the film can seem slow as it doesn’t really compensate or underline story points or dramatise tension effectively with other dimensions of cinematic storytelling. However, I think Joseph Kosinski is a most fascinating director and would happily see this again, preferably on a big screen.
Rock of Ages is really bad, really camp, hugely enjoyable: Alec Baldwin throws himself into a crowd like a happy hippo into a mud pool and ends up in Russell Brand’s arms; Mary J. Blige gets a head-to-toe makeover for each shot she’s in (and plays the ‘manageress’ of a strip joint, of course); Bryan Cranston enjoys a caning from his stenographer; and Tom Cruise and Catherine Zeta-Jones go completely OTT as the slithering sex god and the mayor’s wife trying to ban heavy metal. The film is very poorly directed, visually and rhythmically, but the actors are great. This is what people who don’t like musicals think musicals are like but no less enjoyable for that. Julianne Hough wastes her second chance at stardom.