Tag Archives: Tom Cruise

Edge Of Tomorrow


-Nate Hill
Tom Cruise, dare I say, has been making really decent stuff these days, some of which is downright brilliant. Oblivion had its moments, carried on wings of an M83 score that was better than the film itself (hello Tron Legacy syndrome), Jack Reacher was solid badassery all round, but Edge Of Tomorrow is just pure class and could almost be considered an instant classic. I waited a long time to finally see it, because in most cases a pg-13 sci fi blockbuster starring Tom would be cause for me to cruise right on by in the Netflix/on demand lineup and pick something else. The reviews were uncommonly good though, and so I inevitably went for it. I’m sorry I waited, because it’s flat out spectacular. What makes it so? Well, it is everything I described above. A sci fi, blow ’em up blockbuster starring Tom Cruise, packed to the gills with action, aliens and stuffed with more Independence Day fireworks than you can shake a stick at. The catch? It has the plot, script and character development to match. This is one seriously thought out story, with heroes who don’t start off that way, conflict among the ranks of characters and genuine, honest to god arcs. You can hurl all the cash you want at a film and blow up as much shit as you can, but if you don’t have those core elements of story in place, and well so, you’ll end up with a hollow piece of vapid space garbage (like that Independence Day sequel). No, this one earns its stripes, opening up during a chaotic intergalactic war between humans and a formidable alien race, who are winning fast and stamping out any hope for our race. Cruise plays a weaselly military PR puppet who talks shit but has never seen a moment of actual combat, until he’s thrown directly into it by chance, with neither skills nor experience to keep him afloat. Stuck in a Groundhog Day esque time loop (I won’t spoil the how and why, but it’s a wicked smart premise that logically plays out), our coward gradually gains what it takes, day by day, to become a hero and save the planet. It takes a lot of dying and starting over though, each day beginning in the same fashion, the possibilities ripe for him to finally get that perfect round and win the day. Emily Blunt, that adorable badass, plays the most adorable badass thus far in her career, a resilient and vulnerable valkyrie who’s rage at the marauding fiends burns through terrifically, providing moments of grit, warmth and humour as needed. Bill Paxton plays a gung-ho military honcho with the same gee whiz charm that made Pvt. Hudson (Aliens, for you plebs) so memorable, and Brendan Gleeson does a third act encore as another General who takes a fair bit of convincing to get onboard with their plan. It’s so much fun you never want it to end, the high concept used for all it’s worth, supported by truly inspired creature design, detailed steam punk style weaponry and old school Hollywood fanfare rationed out in deliciously measured portions, resulting in that perfect recipe, an effects driven crowd pleaser with the brains to back it up. Who knew they could still make that? It’s a thing of beauty. 

THE COLOR OF MONEY – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

color-of-money

The 1970s saw the rise of the Movie Brats, a collection of filmmakers that had grown up watching and studying films. They made challenging films that reflected the times in which they were made and were revered by cineastes as much as some of the actors appearing in them. Directors like William Friedkin, Francis Ford Coppola, Hal Ashby and Martin Scorsese made intensely personal films that blended a European sensibility with American genre films. However, the one-two punch of Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) and the failure of expensive passion projects like New York, New York (1977) and Heaven’s Gate (1980) ended these directors’ influence and saw the rise of producers like Joel Silver, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and movie star-driven blockbusters in the 1980s and beyond. It got harder and harder for the Movie Brats to get their personal projects made. Most of them went the independent route, making films for smaller companies like Orion and doing the occasional paycheck gig with a Hollywood studio.

For years, Scorsese had been trying to fund a personal project of his own – an adaptation of The Last Temptation of Christ. It was a tough sell and he ended up making After Hours (1985) and The Color of Money (1986) as a way of keeping busy while he tried to get Last Temptation made. At the time of The Color of Money much was made of it being Scorsese’s first movie star-driven film and some critics and fans of the director felt that he was selling out. It would not only be promoted as a film starring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise (and not as a Scorsese film), but was a sequel (something that the director was never fond of doing) of sorts. Newman had been interested in reprising his famous role of “Fast” Eddie Felson from The Hustler (1961) for some time but he had never met the right person for the job – that is, until he met Scorsese.

The Color of Money begins twenty-five years after the events depicted in The Hustler and we find that Eddie (Newman) is enjoying a comfortable existence as a savvy liquor salesman with his bar owner girlfriend Janelle (Helen Shaver) and occasionally fronting a pool hustler. His current investment, a cocaine addict named Julian (played with just the right amount of sleazy arrogance by John Turturro), is getting roundly beaten by a young turk named Vincent (Tom Cruise) who catches Eddie’s attention with his “sledgehammer break.” He becomes fascinated watching Vincent play and his cocky behavior between shots, like how he works the table. Eddie also watches the dynamic between Vincent and his girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). What really catches his attention is not just Vincent’s raw talent but also his passion for the game. He’s even willing to play Julian after he’s won all of the guy’s money because he just wants his “best game.”

There’s a nice bit where Eddie tests Carmen’s skill as Vincent’s manager, exposing her lack of experience and schooling her on the basics of pool hustling in a beautifully written monologue by Richard Price that Newman nails with the ease of a seasoned pro. We get another healthy dose of Price’s authentic streetwise dialogue in the next scene where Eddie takes Vincent and Carmen out for dinner and continues to school his potential protégés: “If you got an area of excellence, you’re good at something, you’re the best at something, anything, then rich can be arranged. I mean rich can come fairly easy.” The scene is also nicely acted as Tom Cruise plays the cocky upstart with just the right amount of arrogant naiveté without being a typical goofball. As Eddie puts it, “You are a natural character. You’re an incredible flake,” but tells him that he can use that to hustle other players. The ex-pool player lays it all out for the young man: “Pool excellence is not about excellent pool. It’s about becoming something … You gotta be a student of human moves.” And in a nice bit he proves it by making a bet with them that he’ll leave with a woman at the bar. Of course, he knows her but it certainly proves his point. This is a wonderful scene that begins to flesh out Vincent and establish how much he and Carmen have to learn and how much Eddie has since The Hustler.

The young man is a real piece of work – brash, directionless but with raw talent. It is clear that Eddie sees much of his younger self in Vincent and decides to take the young man under his wing and teach him “pool excellence” by taking him and Carmen on the road. It’s an opportunity to make some money while also getting back Eddie’s passion for playing pool. The Color of Money proceeds to show the three of them on the road for six weeks, getting ready for an upcoming nine-ball tournament in Atlantic City. Of course, there are the predictable bumps in the road as Vincent’s impulsive knack for showing off costs them money and Eddie feels like the young man’s not listening to him. It’s a formula we’ve seen used in countless films but Scorsese does everything he can visually to keep things interesting, especially in the dynamic way he depicts the numerous games of pool, the use of music (for example, one game is scored to “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon) and the actors that play some of the opponents along the way, like a young Forest Whitaker as a skilled player that manages to hustle and beat Eddie at pool.

However, it is the camerawork by veteran cinematographer Michael Ballhaus that impresses the most. He and Scorsese depict each game differently, employing a variety of techniques, like quick snap zooms in and out, and floating the camera gracefully over the pool table or gliding around it. He even has the camera right on the pool table following the balls around. The camera movement and editing rhythm of each game is dictated by the mood and intensity of each match, like the grandiose techniques employed when Vincent shows off during a game of pool. As he revels in his own showboating moves, the camera spins around him as if intoxicated by his bravado. However, much like the chaotic pool hall brawl in Mean Streets (1973), the camera movement goes nowhere symbolizing the futility of Vincent’s actions. Sure, he beat the top guy at that pool hall but in doing so scared off an older player that had much more money.

While The Color of Money was made fairly early on in Tom Cruise’s career, his relative inexperience actually suits his character. His youthful energy mirrors Vincent’s. It is his job to come across as an arrogant flake of a human being, which he does quite well (too well for some who were unimpressed with his performance). Cruise has always been an actor that performs better surrounded by more talented and experienced people and with the likes of Paul Newman acting opposite him and Scorsese directing, it forces the young actor to raise his game. One imagines he learned a lot on the job much like Vincent does in the film. Scorsese knew exactly what he was doing when he cast Cruise and got a solid performance out of him. In the late ‘80s, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio acted in a series of high profile roles like The Abyss (1989), The January Man (1989) and this film. She’s given the thankless job of the girlfriend role but manages to make the most of it. One gets the feeling that Carmen is a fast learner and smarter than Vincent. She is much like Eddie in understanding the business side of pool hustling.

Color-of-Money-Tom-Cruise

Naturally, Newman owns the film, slipping effortlessly back into Eddie’s skin after more than 20 years and it’s like he never left. The scenes between him and Cruise are excellent as the headstrong Vincent bounces off of the world-weary Eddie. Over the course of the film something happens to the elder pool player. As he tells Vincent at one point, “I’m hungry again and you bled that back into me.” We see that youthful spark fire up in Eddie again after so many years dormant and Newman does a fantastic job conveying that. While many felt that his Academy Award for the performance he gives in The Color of Money was really a consolation prize for a career of brilliant performances, this does a disservice to just how good he is in this film and how enjoyable it is to watch him get to work with someone like Cruise and Scorsese, watching how their contrasting philosophies towards acting and filmmaking co-exist in this film. There is an energy and vitality that Cruise brings and Newman feeds off of it and Scorsese captures it like lightning in a bottle.

When Paul Newman read Walter Tevis’ sequel to The Hustler it made him wonder what “Fast” Eddie Felson would be doing now and wanted to revisit the character. He had seen Raging Bull (1980) and was so impressed by it that he wrote a letter to Scorsese complimenting him on such a fine piece of work. The director was just coming off of After Hours and was attached to several projects, including Dick Tracy, with Warren Beatty, a fantasy film entitled Winter’s Tale, Gershwin, with a screenplay written by Paul Schrader, and Wise Guy, a book about the New York mafia written by Nicholas Pileggi. However, they all took a backseat when Newman invited him to direct a sequel to The Hustler. The actor had been working on it for a year with a writer. Scorsese was interested but didn’t like the script Newman showed him because it was “a literal sequel. It was based on at least some familiarity with the original.” Scorsese felt like he couldn’t be involved with the project if he didn’t have some input on the original idea of the script.

Scorsese wanted to go in a different direction and brought in a new screenwriter, novelist Richard Price who had written The Wanderers and also a script for the director based on the film Night and the City (1950). Scorsese liked the script because it had “very good street sense and wonderful dialogue.” For The Color of Money, Price and Scorsese’s concept was basically what became the film, exploring the director’s preoccupation with redemption but with what Newman saw as “recapturing excellence, having been absent from it, and then witnessing it in somebody else.” Newman liked it and Price and Scorsese came up with an outline and began rewriting the script. Price studied pool players and wrote 80 pages of a script. They took it to Newman and got his input. By the end of nine months, Price and Scorsese decided to make the film with Newman.

For Scorsese this was the first time he had ever worked with a star of Newman’s magnitude. “I would go in and I’d see a thousand different movies in his face, images I had seen on that big screen when I was twelve years old. It makes an impression.” As a result, Scorsese and Price made the mistake of writing for themselves when they should have tailored the script to suit Newman and his image, or as Scorsese later said, “we were making a star vehicle movie.” The actor wanted to explore aging and the fear of losing his “pool excellence.” He also wanted the character of Minnesota Fats, played so memorably by Jackie Gleason in The Hustler, to return but Price couldn’t get the character to fit into the script. He and Scorsese even presented a version of the script with Fats in it to Gleason but he “felt it was an afterthought,” said Scorsese.

It was Newman that suggested Cruise for the role of Vincent to Scorsese. The young actor had met Newman before when auditioning to play his son in Harry & Son (1984). Scorsese cast Cruise before Top Gun (1986) had come out but he was a rising movie star thanks to Risky Business (1983). He had seen the young actor in All the Right Moves (1983) and liked him. The project was initially at 20th Century Fox but they didn’t like Price’s script and didn’t want to make it even with Cruise and Newman attached. Eventually, it went to Touchstone Pictures.

Newman was not fond of improvising on the set and suggested two weeks of rehearsals before filming. Scorsese wasn’t crazy about this and found them “aggravating. You are afraid that you are going to say ridiculous things, and the actors feel that way too.” However, he agreed to it and brought in Price so that he could make changes to the script. Fortunately, everyone felt secure in character and with each other. Price and Scorsese didn’t have the film’s ending resolved and felt that they had written themselves into a corner. The studio wanted them to shoot the film in Toronto but Scorsese felt that it was too clean and chose Chicago instead. Both Cruise and Newman did all their own pool playing with the former being taught how to do specific shots that he played in the film with the exception of one, which would have taken two additional days to learn and Scorsese didn’t want to spend the time. Cruise had dedicated himself to learning how to play pool: “All I had in my apartment was a bed and a pool table.” He worked with his trainer and the film’s pool consultant Mike Sigel for months before shooting started.

Some Scorsese fans marginalize The Color of Money as one of his paycheck films – the first he did for the money – and while it may not have the personal feel of a film like Taxi Driver (1976), it still has its merits, a strong picture that fits well into the man’s body of work. I would argue that it is one of his strongest films stylistically with some truly beautiful, often breathtaking camerawork capturing all the nuances of playing pool: the energy and vitality of the game is there without sacrificing any of the story or the characters. This film also shows how a director like Scorsese can take a hired gun project and make it his own. It looks, sounds and, most importantly, feels like one of his films and not a commercial studio picture. Others must have agreed as the film not only became Scorsese’s most financially successful film at the time but a critical hit as well.

ColorOfMoney_Rolex2

The director proved to the studios that he could deliver the goods at the box office while to himself he was still able to invest the film with some of his own personal touches. Ultimately, The Color of Money is about Eddie’s redemption and rekindling the spark he had in The Hustler before the screws were put to him. As with many sports movies, the story builds towards the climactic big game or, in the case of this film, the big tournament but Price’s script offers a slight twist in that Eddie’s victory is a hollow one and the real one is at the very end when his love for playing pool has finally come back completely. He is reinvigorated and excited about where his life and game will go from here and this is summed up beautiful in the film’s last line – “I’m back.”

TROPIC THUNDER – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

large20tropic20thunder20blu-ray6

For the years leading up to Tropic Thunder (2008), Ben Stiller had been coasting on his patented, one-note neurotic doormat shtick in films like Night at the Museum (2006), The Heartbreak Kid (2007), and others. What happened to the guy who could play a self-destructive junkie screenwriter in Permanent Midnight (1998) and a dorky romantic in There’s Something About Mary (1998)? Stiller, at times, is more interesting behind the camera as director of the Generation X comedy Reality Bites (1994), the black comedy about stalking and television, The Cable Guy (1996), and the hilarious fashion world satire Zoolander (2001).

With Tropic Thunder, Stiller returned to being behind the camera (and also in front of it) and decided to take on the Vietnam War sub-genre. In an odd way, we have Oliver Stone to thank for this film. Not just because he made Platoon (1986), which really popularized the sub-genre, but he also rejected Stiller when he auditioned for a role in the film. Stiller never forgot it and now he’s parlayed those feelings of rejection into a film that not only lampoons war films but Hollywood in general.

Tugg Speedman (Stiller) is an action film star on the decline, still flogging his Scorcher franchise – films that resemble a cross between something Tom Cruise might do and Roland Emmerich’s brain-dead special effects epics. Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) stars in low-brow comedies filled with fart jokes that allow him to play multiple characters a la Eddie Murphy (Norbit, anyone?). Australian actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) is a five-time Academy Award winner who appears in “serious” films that win all of the important awards just like Russell Crowe.

They are all starring in a Vietnam War movie called Tropic Thunder that is currently being made on location in South Vietnam. The production is on the verge of being in the kind of trouble that almost consumed Apocalypse Now (1979) as Lazarus is upstaging Speedman. First-time director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) can’t control his actors, which is causing the movie to go behind schedule, much to the chagrin of Les Grossman (Tom Cruise), the blustery, Harvey Weinstein-esque head of the studio.

In an effort to save the movie, Cockburn takes the five main actors to a remote jungle area to shoot a bunch of scenes guerrilla-style only to stumble across a rag-tag group of Vietnamese drug runners who assume that the clueless movie stars are actually DEA agents. At first, Speedman and his co-stars think that this is all part of the production but they (except for Speedman) quickly realize that this is for real.

Robert Downey Jr. was rightly praised for his hilarious performance as an actor who goes so deep into character that he undergoes “pigmentation alteration” surgery to darken his skin in order play an African American soldier. Downey’s commitment to the role is almost as dedicated as Lazarus’ and he gets some of the film’s best lines, including such gems as “Man, I don’t drop character ’till I done the DVD commentary,” and “I know who I am. I’m the dude playin’ the dude, disguised as another dude!”

It’s not too hard to figure out the real-life Hollywood power players that Stiller’s film satirizes with Cruise’s Grossman channeling the abusive reputation of the aforementioned Weinstein and Downey poking fun at the way-too serious on-and-off-screen antics of Crowe. Unlike all of those Scary Movie spoofs, Stiller understands that a good satire plays it straight on the surface. Admittedly, he’s got a much bigger budget to play with ($100 million+) than any two of those dime-a-dozen spoof movies so he’s able to hire the likes of A-list cinematographer John (The Thin Red Line) Toll and cast marquee name actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black instead of C-listers like Carmen Electra to make Tropic Thunder look like the slick war films he is sending up. Of course, the danger in doing this is to become the very thing you’re trying to parody, but fortunately Stiller doesn’t fall into this trap.

Every generation needs a Mel Brooks and Stiller takes up where the legendary comedian left off – before he became irrelevant and painfully unfunny. Stiller goes after the usual suspects of the genre: Platoon, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter (1978), and even a sly reference to a scene from Predator (1987), but Tropic Thunder is more than a game of spot-the-reference that spoof movies tend to devolve into. It actually has something to say other than Hollywood is excessive. This is one of Stiller’s most ambitious film to date and demonstrated that he can play in the same big leagues that fellow comedian-turned-filmmaker Jon Favreau has also graduated to with Iron Man (2008). They both started off with very modest films and have shown a very definite learning curve with each subsequent film they’ve helmed. Tropic Thunder has everything you’d want from a big budget, R-rated comedy.

TONY SCOTT’S TOP GUN — A 30TH ANNIVERSARY RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

1

At this point in our culture, it’s nearly impossible to discuss Top Gun with any amount of clear-eyed objectivity. The film is a milestone for all of its key contributors, a pop culture touchstone for multiple generations of people, and an often imitated and parodied relic from a very specific time and place in cinematic history. For director Tony Scott, it was his early-career masterpiece, the film that announced an exciting new voice in commercial cinema while showcasing his slippery-slick yet still gritty visual aesthetic, which would come to dominate the action genre for decades. It’s also the film that got him out of director’s jail after the critical and box office failure of his artsy debut, The Hunger, which is now of course a premiere cult classic. For producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, it was the movie that truly solidified them as the uber-showmen of the 1980’s, with Flashdance and Beverly Hills Cop arriving before and Beverly Hills Cop 2 and Days of Thunder immediately following.

10

As legend has it, Simpson and Bruckheimer were in their office, and an issue of California magazine was sitting on their desk, featuring a clean cut fighter pilot standing next to a jet. And with that evocative and elaborate “Nothing On Earth Comes Close” Saab commercial that Scott had made in the early 80’s continually turning heads (the one that showed a Saab 37 Viggen fighter jet going neck and neck with the Saab 900), it was clear that it would be a match made in heaven between the producers and their ace in the hole. And for star Tom Cruise, it was his first runaway blockbuster sensation, his first taste of global superstardom, and the film that made him a house-hold name. Top Gun is a product of its time in a way that so few films can claim to be, and over the years, has come to mean so many different things to so many different people, which is why it remains imminently watchable 30 years later.

2

Released in the summer of 1986, Top Gun played on the still lingering fears of war with the Soviets, and carried a rah-rah, jingoistic spirit that seems laughable to some nowadays, but probably felt very honest at the time of release. It feels pointless to rehash the plot of Top Gun – anybody with a pulse has seen it and knows all about Maverick (Cruise, in all his perfect-grinning excellence) and Goose (Anthony Edwards, everyone’s best buddy) and Iceman and Jester and Charlie and the rest of the crew. The scenes on the ground carry an earnestness to them, playing off of melodrama (the mysterious death of Maverick’s father, himself a legendary pilot; workplace romance; the death of a best friend), but the film truly comes alive when it’s up in the sky, as Jeffrey Kimball’s gorgeous, smoky, 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen cinematography is still a lesson in mid-80’s perfection. Every single shot in this film is spectacular, whether the moment is big or small, with cool blues and sunset reds dominating the horizon. It can’t be understated how influential the look and feel of Top Gun would become for so many films and filmmakers to follow in the years, and whether or not this style is your favorite or not, it’s undeniably exciting on a visceral and stylistic level, with an emphasis on the balance of light, visual minutiae, and overall atmospheric texture. It’s commercial cinema without a shred of pretension, smartly focusing on the drama and action inherent to the story’s scope, and all balanced out by Harold Faltermeyer’s propulsive, oh-so-80’s musical score and the lightning quick editing patterns of Billy Weber and Chris Lebenzon. And when you add in the ridiculously quotable one-liners conjured up by co-screenwriters Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr. (who knew that rubber dog shit originates from Hong Kong?) and the high-flying airborne camerawork which is still unmatched to this day, then it’s no wonder that the film plays every Sunday on TNT and has become one of the most influential and iconic movies ever made, with so many other movies attempting, and failing, to ape its success.

3

On a thematic level, the film is all about machismo (a major theme in all of Scott’s work), and how men deal with expectations, loss, tragedy, acceptance, and success. Those classic scenes in the shower (or during a particular game of beach volleyball…) seem homoerotic in hindsight (and maybe they did upon first glance…), but what they’re really about is men trying to one up each other, trying to figure out how to best your opponent, and always remembering that there are no points for second place. To say that Top Gun is one of the most macho movies ever made would be understatement; you can practically smell the testosterone on the set. I’ve often wondered if PA’s were kept solely for the purpose of spraying down the actors with water in order to simulate excessive sweat, because everyone is glistening in this film. Top Gun also expertly understands male camaraderie and friendship, and how people are willing to go the extra step for those that they care about, both professionally and personally. Kelly McGillis and Meg Ryan were the objects of affection for Cruise and Edwards respectively, while the absurdly masculine supporting cast included Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, John Stockwell, Clarence Gilyard, Jr., Whip Hubley, James Tolkan(!), Barry Tubb, Rick Rossovich, Duke Stroud, Tim Robbins, and Adrian Pasdar.

5

Shot for a now hard to believe $15 million, Top Gun opened on roughly 1100 screens nationwide, grossing $8,193,052 on its opening weekend. The film would eventually gross $176 million in the U.S. and another $177 million overseas, truly cementing the Simpson-Bruckheimer brand after the similar worldwide gross two years previous from Beverly Hills Cop. Top Gun would also break every single VHS sales record, as it was one of the first movies made available to the public at the $20 price point. Scott would continue his legendary streak with the two producers in the following years with the equally huge Beverly Hills Cop 2, and then in 1990 with the summer hit Days of Thunder, which while not becoming the blockbuster some might have thought, is still a splendid piece of action moviemaking that was all accomplished with zero CGI and some of the greatest racing footage ever put on film. But Top Gun would be the film that all of the creative parties would become remembered for, what with its sleek visual design, tough guy banter, love story for the ladies, and the dynamic aerial combat footage that still pops off the screen to this day, especially when viewed in the Blu-ray format. In 2015, the United States Library of Congress added the film to their preservation vaults, deeming it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” And if you’re not a fan of Top Gun, then just remember, the plaque for the alternates is in the ladies’ room.

11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

micruise

A lot was riding on Mission: Impossible (1996) for Tom Cruise. Not only was it the first film he produced (in addition to starring), it was also his first attempt to kick start his own film franchise. And what better way to do this than resurrecting a classic television show from the 1960s? Cruise, always the calculated risk taker, wisely surrounded himself with talented people: Robert Towne co-wrote the screenplay, Brian De Palma directing and the likes of Jon Voight, Jean Reno, and Vanessa Redgrave in the cast. At the time, the James Bond franchise was in a transitional period and didn’t produce a new film until the following year. Mission: Impossible was a huge box office success spawning a franchise that continues to produce installments.

Jim Phelps (Voight) leads his group of IMF agents on a mission to intercept Alexander Golitsyn (Marcel Iures), a traitorous attaché, who has stolen a list of the code names for all of the CIA operatives in Europe. He plans to steal the other half of the list with their real names from an embassy in Prague. One by one, members of the team are killed off by mysterious assailants. Only Ethan Hunt (Cruise) survives the bungled mission and rendezvous later with his superior, Kittridge (a wonderfully twitchy Henry Czerny) in a restaurant. Over the course of their conversation, Ethan realizes that he was set-up and that another team was shadowing his own. Kittridge reveals that the embassy debacle was actually an elaborate scheme to expose a traitor within the IMF organization and he believes that it is Ethan and that he also killed his entire team.

De Palma conveys Ethan’s growing sense of paranoia and panic in this scene through increasingly skewed camera angles as the magnitude of what has happened begins to sink in. Henry Czerny plays the scene beautifully as Kittridge talks to Ethan as a parent might scold a child. The conversation between them culminates with a daring escape as Ethan causes a large aquarium to explode, using the ensuing chaos to make his getaway. This scene was Cruise’s idea. There were 16 tons of water in all of the tanks but there was a concern that when they blew, a lot of glass would fly around. De Palma tried the sequence with a stuntman but it did not look convincing and he asked Cruise to do it despite the possibility that the actor could have drowned.

Ethan regroups at a safe house where he meets Claire (Emmanuelle Beart), another surviving member of his team. He must find out who set him up and retrieve the list. To aid him in his endeavor, Ethan enlists the help of Claire and two other disavowed agents (Ving Rhames and Jean Reno). The film really gets going once Cruise hooks up with Reno and Rhames (playing an ace hacker no less) and they decide to break into CIA headquarters for what is Mission: Impossible’s most famous set piece. This impressively staged sequence is cheekily dubbed the “Mount Everest of hacks” by Ethan and is masterfully orchestrated by De Palma. The heart of this sequence is nearly soundless proving that one doesn’t need a ton of explosions and gunfire to have an exciting, tension-filled action sequence (Michael Bay take note).

Paramount Pictures owned the rights to the television series and had tried for years to make a film version but had failed to come up with a viable treatment. Cruise was a fan of the show since he was young and thought that it would be a good idea for a film. The actor chose Mission: Impossible to be the first project of his new production company and convinced Paramount to put up a $70 million budget. Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner worked on a story with filmmaker Sydney Pollack for a few months when the actor hired Brian De Palma to direct. They went through two screenplay drafts that no one liked. The screenwriting team of Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) wrote a draft and then David Koepp (The Shadow) was reportedly paid $1 million to rewrite it. According to one project source, there were problems with dialogue and story development. However, the basic plot remained intact. De Palma brought in screenwriter Steve Zaillian (A Civil Action) and finally Robert Towne to work on the script. According to the director, the goal of the script was to “constantly surprise the audience.”

Amazingly, even with all of these talented screenwriters working on it, the film went into pre-production without a script that the filmmakers wanted to use. De Palma designed the action sequences but neither Koepp nor Towne were satisfied with the story that would make these sequences take place. Towne helped organize a beginning, middle and end to hang story details on while De Palma and Koepp worked on the plot. The director convinced Cruise to set the first act of the film in Prague, a city rarely seen in Hollywood films at the time. Reportedly, studio executives wanted to keep the film’s budget in the $40-$50 million range but Cruise wanted a “big, showy action piece” that took the budget up to the $70 million range.

The script that Cruise approved called for a final showdown to take place on top of a moving train. The actor wanted to use the famously fast French train the TGV but rail authorities did not want any part of the stunt performed on their trains. When that was no longer a problem, the track was not available. De Palma visited railroads on two continents trying to get permission. Cruise took the train owners out to dinner and the next day they were allowed to use it. For the actual sequence, the actor wanted wind that was so powerful that it could knock him off the train. Cruise had difficulty finding the right machine that would create the wind velocity that would look visually accurate before remembering a simulator he used while training as a skydiver. The only machine of its kind in Europe was located and acquired. Cruise had it produce winds up to 140 miles per hour so it would distort his face. Most of the sequence, however, was filmed on a stage against a blue screen for later digitizing by the visual effects team at Industrial Light & Magic.

The filmmakers delivered Mission: Impossible on time and under budget with Cruise doing most of his own stunts. Initially, there was a sophisticated opening sequence that introduced a love triangle between Phelps, his wife Claire and Ethan that was removed because it took the test audience “out of the genre,” according to De Palma. There were rumors that Cruise and De Palma did not get along and they were fueled by the director excusing himself at the last moment from scheduled media interviews before the film’s theatrical release.

In some scenes, Cruise has a tendency to over-emote, like when Ethan is reunited with Claire after their entire team has been wiped out. Sleep deprived and paranoid, Ethan yells at Claire, “They’re dead! They’re all dead!” It’s an embarrassing bit of overacting on Cruise’s part but the actor redeems himself somewhat later on in a cheeky bit of acting when he cons Reno over a CD of vital information through a clever display of sleight of hand.

The film’s overriding theme is one of deception, a world where nothing is what it seems. The prologue has a disguised Ethan trick a captive man into giving up a name of a key operative. This is only one of many disguises (created by make-up legend Rob Bottin) he adopts throughout the film in order to obtain information or trick an opponent. The prologue also cleverly serves as a metaphor for filmmaking. The spy trade, like cinema, is all about creating an illusion and pretending to be something that you’re not. In addition, several members of his team are not who they appear to be as well and this keeps the audience guessing as to who is “good” and who is “bad.”

mi_still02The common complaint leveled at Mission: Impossible was that it was hard to follow, fueling speculation that De Palma’s original cut was non-linear in nature and that Cruise re-cut it after disastrous test screenings. Regardless, if one is paying attention to what is happening and what is being said (or not being said, in some cases) it isn’t difficult to navigate the film’s narrative waters. The script is lean and unusually well-written for a big budget action blockbuster, which is quite amazing when you consider how many writers worked on it. Make no mistake about it; this is a paycheck film for De Palma. However, being the consummate professional that he is, the veteran director still delivers an entertaining film with some nice stylistic flourishes. What more could you ask for from this kind of film?

Neil Jordan’s Interview With The Vampire: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Neil Jordan’s film version of Interview With The Vampire is simultaneously one of the most sumptuous and tedious visions of the affliction to ever hit cinema. On the one hand, it’s an absolutely gorgeous, atmospheric and old worlde glance at two damned souls who carry out their macabre destiny with flair and vicious grace. I say tedious as some kind of bitter compliment, because no other film has quite captured the internal torture of eternity or the nocturnal gloom that must prevail over such an existence quite as well as this film has. It barely runs over two hours and we feel like we’ve been planted in front of the screen for years. Such is the dedication of director Jordan, a sneakily versatile gent who augments his stylistic and tonal approach to whatever material he is working with. The film is exciting and raises a pulse, but only on its terms, and for long periods of time we sit through languishing despair that no doubt adds to the mood, but exists to serve the psyches of our two leads, and dares the viewer to suffer alongside them. I have somewhat of a bone to pick with certain producers behind the scenes who no doubt had a forceful hand in the casting of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. You see, author Ann Rice had her heart set on a filmic version starring Rutger Hauer as Lestat, and Lance Henriksen as Louie. Now, Cruise and Pitt are at the utter opposite end of casting types in Hollywood, and while Jordan is never a guy to compromise or chase stars right off that bat, I am still sour when I think of the film we’ll never see, starring two actors infinitely more fascinating and vampiric that Brad and Tom. Nevertheless, I have som much appreciation for the film that I can’t take it too hard, and remain a steadfast fan. Pitt plays Louie, a depressed Louisiana plantation owner with nothing left, especially to lose. He meets roaming vampire Lestat (Cruise), who promptly turns him, and the two embark on a century spanning odyssey of nighttime escapades, thoroughly fraught with homoeroticism. It’s isn’t so much an organized narrative as it is a lengthy look at these two, trapped by their condition and making the bitter best of it. They meet others along the way, including Armand (a slinky Antonio Banderas), Santiago (Jordan regular Stephen Rhea, lively evil incarnate) and Claudia, a child who Louie turns. She’s played by Kirsten Dunst in the best performance of the film. A young girl with the vampire curse thrust upon her at such an age, who mentally matures into a steely, furious woman trapped in the body of a ten year old. Not many actresses could succeed at that, but she is a spitfire little shryke who dominates every scene. All this is being retold by Louie to a 1990’s journalist (Christian Slater) who morphs from bemused disbelief to cold terror, and eventual morbid fascination. It’s a slog to get through, but an ornately beautiful one with some really bloody effects and the always terrific stewardship of Neil Jordan, whose films are never short of mesmerizing, whichever genre they fall into. A dark, dingy horror with lacy elegance at its core. 

LEGEND – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

legend_8_tim-curry_darkness3

“The time is ripe for a John Ford of science fiction films to emerge. And I’m determined to be that director.” Ridley Scott told this to author Harlan Ellison when he asked him to write the screenplay for Dune (1984). Although, Scott’s version never happened, for years it looked like he was going to fulfill that bold statement with the incredible one-two punch of Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). The 1980s was a fertile period for fantasy films with the likes of memorable efforts such as Dragonslayer (1981), Conan the Barbarian (1982), and Ladyhawke (1985) and not so memorable ones likes The Beastmaster (1982) and Krull (1983). The best of the bunch was Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985). With this film, he wanted to do for the fantasy genre what he did for science fiction with Blade Runner – create a visually stunning film rich in detail. He cast two young, and up-and-coming stars, Tom Cruise and Mia Sara, recruited acclaimed author William Hjortsberg to write the screenplay, have make-up genius Rob Bottin bring the various fantastical creatures to life, and get legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith to compose the score.

Sounds like the ingredients for a masterpiece, right? Partway through principal photography, the elaborate forest set created on a soundstage burned down. The studio, eager to appeal to Cruise’s youthful fanbase, replaced Goldsmith’s score with one by Tangerine Dream because they had scored Risky Business (1983), the breakout film for the young actor. To add insult to injury, the studio and Scott cut over 20 minutes of footage for North American audiences. After all the dust had settled, Legend was a commercial and critical failure, relegated to cult film obscurity. It’s too bad because even the mangled U.S. version has a lot going for it, namely Bottin’s groundbreaking prosthetic make-up and Tim Curry’s mesmerizing performance as the Lord of Darkness. In 2002, Ridley Scott revisited Legend for a souped-up Ultimate Edition DVD that allowed the director to assemble a version of the film approximating his original intentions.

The opening credits play over shots of a dense forest at night. In typical Scott fashion, we are fully immersed in the sights and sounds of this place. We see a goblin by the name of Blix (Alice Playten) walking through the forest until he comes across a foreboding marsh dominated by an imposing structure that resembles a massive tree. It is known as the Great Tree – “when evil anarchy ruled the land, the wicked came here to sacrifice,” a character says at one point.

The first words that are spoken in the film are, “I am the Lord of Darkness. I require the solace of the shadows and the dark of the night,” They come out of Tim Curry’s booming, theatrical voice, one that is absolutely dripping with menace. Not surprisingly, his enemy is the light of day, but he seeks to find a way to make it night forever. Since he is confined to the shadows, Darkness (Tim Curry) entrusts his “most loathsome of goblins,” Blix, whose heart is “black as midnight, black as pitch, blacker than the foulest witch,” to find and kill the two remaining unicorns – the most pure symbols of goodness and light. Darkness instructs Blix to bring him their horns – the source of their power.

Reclusive creatures, the unicorns can only be lured out into the open by innocence. Cut to Princess Lili (Mia Sara), a beautiful young woman traveling carefree through tall grass, singing happily to herself. Mia Sara, with her expressive big eyes and fresh-faced look (this was her feature film debut), certainly epitomizes the essence of innocence. When she’s not slumming with the common folk, Lili flirts with Jack O’ the Green (Tom Cruise), a young man who lives in the forest among the animals. While the film’s stylized dialogue doesn’t always sound convincing coming out of Tom Cruise’s mouth, he makes up for it with a very physical performance, moving gracefully at times like a classically trained dancer.

Jack shows Lili the wonders of the forest, including the rare unicorns. Their first appearance, captured in slow motion and soft focus, is a sight to behold. Unfortunately, Blix and two other goblins have been following Lili. When she dares to break the unwritten rule of the forest and actually touch one of the unicorns, the goblins strike, taking down one of the magical animals and removing its horn. Lili’s single act of selfishness plunges the world into darkness, blanketing the once lush forest in snow and transforming a nearby pond into ice. I wonder if Peter Jackson is a fan of Legend as the scene where Jack dives into a pond to retrieve Lili’s ring, with its use of a distorted lens, eerily anticipates a similar shot early on in The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) when the Ring’s backstory is recounted.

Lili runs off in shame and guilt, leading the goblins to the second unicorn that they capture. She finds her way to the Great Tree and is courted by Darkness, only to be bewitched and transformed into his dark bride. Crestfallen over Lili’s betrayal, Jack takes refuge in the forest and is discovered by Gump (David Bennett) the elf and two dwarves, Screwball (Billy Barty) and Brown Tom (Cork Hubbert) – providing much of the film’s comic relief. They are in turn helped out by a fairy named Oona (Annabelle Lanyon) who is smitten with Jack. Together, they go to the Great Tree to retrieve the unicorn’s horn and free its mate.

The corruption of Lili sequence is arguably the highlight of Legend as it takes on a captivating, dream-like atmosphere. Dazzled by sparkling trinkets and jewelry, she spots a figure dancing in swirling black garments. Lili is compelled to dance with this mysterious, featureless figure and pretty soon they merge into one and she adopts a stunning Gothic look, complete with black lipstick to contrast her pale alabaster skin. Lili has been bewitched by a powerful spell and it is at this point that Darkness chooses to reveal himself, emerging from a mirror.

Scott prolonged the reveal of Darkness’ entire appearance for as long as possible. All we get early on is a tantalizing glimpse of a hand or an arm. But here is the money shot and what an impressive creature he is: massive with two large horns and cloven feet. He is Rob Bottin’s crowning achievement, a creation so stunningly fully-realized that it still surpasses anything done in subsequent fantasy films, The Lord of the Rings trilogy included. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Tim Curry’s personality is still able to permeate the tons of prosthetic makeup that he’s buried under. With that great voice and the deliberate cadence he adopts, Curry gives his dialogue an almost Shakespearean flair with the lyrical quality in which he speaks.

When filming The Duellists (1977) in France, director Ridley Scott came up with the idea for Legend after another planned project, Tristan and Isolde, fell through. He thought of a story about a young hermit that is transformed into a hero when he battles the Lord of Darkness in order to rescue a beautiful princess and release the world from a wintery curse. However, Scott felt that it was going to be an art film with limited mainstream appeal and went on to do Alien and then extensive pre-production work on a version of Dune that never happened. Frustrated, Scott came back to the idea of filming a fairy tale or mythological story. For inspiration, he read all the classic fairy tales, including ones by the Brothers Grimm. However, he wanted Legend to have an original screenplay because he felt that “it was far easier to design a story to fit the medium of cinema than bend the medium for an established story.”

By chance, Scott discovered books written by American author William Hjortsberg and found that he had already written several scripts for some unmade lower-budgeted films. Scott asked Hjortsberg if he was interested in writing a fairy tale. As luck would have it, he was already writing some and agreed. The two men ended up bonding over Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946). In January 1981, just before Scott was to begin principal photography on Blade Runner, he and Hjortsberg spent five weeks working out a rough storyline for what was then called Legend of Darkness. Originally, Scott “only had the vague notion of something in pursuit of the swiftest steed alive which, of course, was the unicorn.” He wanted unicorns as well as magic armor and a sword. Hjortsberg suggested plunging the world into wintery darkness. Scott also wanted to show the outside world as little as possible and they settled on the clockmaker’s cottage. The quest was longer and eventually substantially reduced. Scott wanted to avoid too many subplots that departed from the main story and went for a “more contemporary movement, rather than get bogged down in too classical a format.”

The look Scott envisioned for Legend was influenced by the style of classic Disney animation which, incidentally, was the studio Scott originally offered the project to but they were intimidated by the film’s dark tone despite his reassurances that he would not go too far in that direction. Regardless, the director visually referenced Disney films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Fantasia (1940) and Pinocchio (1940). Early on, Scott worked with Arthur Lea as a visual consultant, drawing some characters and sketching environments. However, Scott replaced Lea with Assheton Gorton, a production designer the director had wanted to work with on both Alien and Blade Runner. Scott hired Gorton because he knew “all the pitfalls of shooting exteriors on a soundstage. We both knew that whatever we did would never look absolutely real, but would very quickly gain its own reality and dispense with any feeling of theatricality.”

As with all of Scott’s films, Legend is a marvel of production design as evident from the interior of the Great Tree. For example, there’s the hellish kitchen where Jack and his companions find themselves imprisoned only to watch helpless as some other poor creature is tortured among infernal fires. There are the intricate carvings and finely crafted sculptures located in Darkness’ throne room, or the immense columns that lie just outside of this room and Scott gives you an idea of their scale as they dwarf Lili when she runs among them. You could pause the film at almost any moment and marvel at the detail contained in a single frame.

And yet for all of its visual grandeur, the film feels surprisingly intimate. It certainly is not set on the scale of say The Lord of the Rings and this actually works in its favor. Legend has a very specific focus with one overriding quest for our heroes to accomplish. There is a textured, hand-made quality to Scott’s film that seems to be missing from most post-Lord of the Rings films (with the possible exception of The Brothers Grimm as director Terry Gilliam was also working with a modest budget).

Scott also consulted with effects expert Richard Edlund because the director did not want to limit major character roles to the number of smaller people that could act. At one point, Scott considered Mickey Rooney to play one of the major characters but he didn’t look small enough next to Tom Cruise. Another idea they considered was to use forced perspective and cheating eye-lines (later used on in The Lord of the Rings films). Edlund came up with the idea of shooting on 70 mm film stock, taking the negative and reducing the actors to any size they wanted but this was deemed too expensive. Producer Arnon Milchan was worried that the budget for Legend would escalate like it did on Blade Runner and would be an expensive box office failure also. Scott had to find an ensemble of small actors.

After completing The Howling (1981), Scott contacted Rob Bottin about working on Blade Runner but he was already committed to doing John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). Scott told Bottin about Legend and towards the end of his work on The Thing, the makeup wizard received a script for it. He saw this as an excellent opportunity to create characters in starring roles. After finishing The Thing, Bottin sat down with Scott and they reduced the amount of creatures to a workable number (the script suggested thousands). It would be a daunting task involving complicated prosthetic makeup that would be worn for up to 60 days with some full body prosthetics as well. According to Bottin at the time, Legend had the largest makeup crew ever dedicated to one project. He divided his facility into different shops in order to cover the immense workload. As actors were cast, Bottin and his crew began making life casts and designing characters on drafting paper laid over sketches of the actors’ faces.

The creature makeup in Legend features Rob Bottin at the height of his powers. Consider Meg Mucklebones (Robert Picardo), a nasty-looking witch with green skin, large ears and a crooked nose – exaggerated ugliness at its most inventive. In the film, she has long, spindly arms that end at curved fingernails. The amount of detail just in her face alone is incredible. With the exception of Cruise and Mia Sara, all the principal actors spent an average of three-and-a-half hours (with Tim Curry taking five-and-a-half hours) every morning having extensive makeup applied. Each person needed three makeup artists working on them.

Curry took considerably longer because his entire body was encased in makeup. At the end of the day he had to spend an hour in a bath in order to liquefy the soluble spirit gum keeping it on him. At one point, Curry got too impatient and claustrophobic and pulled it off too quickly, tearing off his own skin in the process. Scott had to shoot around him for a week. From that point on, he had to have an oxygen tank because the makeup was so claustrophobic. Out of all the characters the most challenging one in terms of makeup was Darkness. Bottin and Scott had agreed on a Satanic look for the character. Curry had to wear a large, bull-like structure atop his head with three-foot fiberglass horns supported by a harness underneath the makeup. The horns placed a strain on the back of the actor’s neck because they extended forward and not straight up. Fortunately, Bottin and his crew came up with horns that were lightweight enough to reduce the strain.

Set at a budget of $24.5 million (that by many reports escalated to $30 million), the film’s sets were constructed on six huge soundstages at Pinewood Studios in England, including the world’s largest film stage where a vast forest resided. It took 50 men 14 weeks to build. Principal photography on Legend began on March 26, 1984. The larger the production became, the less money Scott had to work with. Then, 16 weeks into production, and with 10 days left on the large soundstage at Pinewood, the entire set burned down during a lunch break. Flames from the fire leapt more than 100 feet into the air and clouds of smoke could be seen for five miles away. Scott quickly made changes to the schedule and only lost three days as the crew continued to film on another set on a different stage. Meanwhile, the art department rebuilt the section of forest set that was needed to complete filming.

Scott’s first cut of Legend ran 125 minutes long. He felt that there were minor plot points that could be trimmed and cut the film down to 113 minutes, testing this version for an audience in Orange County. However, it was felt by studio executives that the audience had to work too much to be entertained and another 20 minutes was cut. The 95-minute version of Legend premiered in France in September 1985 and the United Kingdom in December through its world distributor 20th Century Fox. Universal Pictures originally planned to release the film in North America on November 6, 1985 but pushed back the date after audience previews did not go well. They re-cut it and replaced Jerry Goldsmith’s score with one by Tangerine Dream. Goldsmith said, “That this dreamy, bucolic setting is suddenly to be scored by a techno-pop group seems sort of strange to me.” It must’ve been a bitter pill for the veteran composer to swallow. Normally, he would spend 6-10 weeks on a film score but for Legend he spent six months writing songs and dance sequences ahead of time “so they could shoot them. Of course all that is out now.” At the time, Scott said, “European audiences are more sophisticated. They accept preambles and subtleties whereas the U.S. goes for a much broader stroke.” As a result, he made the film simpler.

With Legend, you can see Ridley Scott aiming for the prestige and grandeur that Peter Jackson achieved with his The Lord of the Rings films. Scott’s film had the ambition and the sterling production values but failed to capture the popular imagination because of the lack of faith and belief that the studio had in it. Did Scott not do his homework and remember how Universal screwed over David Lynch on Dune (1984) and Terry Gilliam on Brazil (1985)? This was not a studio friendly towards fantasy and science fiction films. One wonders how Legend would have done back in the day (or now for that matter) if this director’s cut had been available and the studio put everything they had behind it like New Line Cinema did with The Lord of the Rings films. We’ll never know and as it stands, Legend is a fascinating cinematic what-could-have-been and a cautionary tale of an ambitious filmmaker succumbing to a myriad of problems and pressures that marred his original vision. Alas, Scott never did realize his dream of becoming the John Ford of science fiction and fantasy films. The commercial and critical failure of Legend, coupled with its production and post-production problems, scared him off from revisiting these genres until recently with Prometheus (2012).

MICHAEL MANN’S COLLATERAL — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

2

Collateral is a laser-precise action thriller, that as per usual for macho auteur Michael Mann, also stops to pause for the introspective moment from time to time, certainly more than your average studio shoot ‘em up. This was a theatrical five-timer for me, and it’s a movie I’ve revisited numerous times on DVD and Blu-ray; Mann knows this rough, urban terrain better than anyone else at the moment. Breathlessly written by Stuart Beattie (with uncredited rewrite work by Mann and Frank Darabont), this was one of the key films to bust down the gate for big-budget studio actioners to get the digitally-shot treatment. Cinematographers Paul Cameron and Dion Beebe collaborated with Mann on the intensely stylish visuals, with nocturnal Los Angeles giving off a totally unique vibe that’s dangerous and exotic and alive with endless possibility; I love how digital cinematography allows the viewer to see far off into the distance. Tom Cruise gave one of his most magnetic performances as Vincent, a hitman made of steely discipline and possessing seemingly air-tight internal logic. Jamie Foxx, as Max the cabbie, made for an unexpectedly great co-star, with his initial timidity turning into reluctant bravado by the final act, in an arc that felt honest considering the circumstances. The dynamite supporting cast has showy turns from a greasy Mark Ruffalo, the always commanding Bruce McGill, a priceless Javier Bardem doing some excellent storytelling, a sharp Jada Pinkett Smith, edgy Peter Berg, the soulful Barry Shabaka Henley, and the sagacious Irma P. Hall, with awesome cameos by resident ass-kicker Jason Statham and the spunky Debi Mazar.

The Statham bit at the airport, in particular, is a real hoot; Mann isn’t known for being a “fun” filmmaker, and in this one wink-wink moment, you get the sense that he was enjoying himself in a way he normally doesn’t. James Newtown Howard’s moody score pulsates with electronic-synth-sexiness, with all of the physical locations choicely selected for maximum atmospheric effect. And honestly, enough can’t be said about the downright hypnotic cinematography in this film; shot after shot is absolutely striking in ways that are hard to describe. Memorable moments include a roaming coyote shambling across a lonely Los Angeles city street, a phenomenally staged and extra-lethal Korea town night-club shootout, and that fantastic encounter between Cruise and Henley at the jazz-club, which culminates in both verbal and visual poetry which highlights the chiaroscuro quality of the dimly lit interior. The back and forth dialogue between Cruise and Foxx during the various cab rides sting with acidic bite, with both actors getting more than one moment of serious emoting amidst all of the violent showdowns and confrontations. This was an extremely disciplined effort for Mann, and however minor some people may find it amongst the rest of his sensational filmography, it’s one of those endlessly re-watchable films that paid attention to all of the aspects of the medium, resulting in a rock-solid genre entry that feels a cut above from the norm.

3

PTS Presents ARTISAN WORKBENCH with WADE EASTWOOD

WADE EASTWOOD POWERCAST

MI5-09932RcPodcasting Them Softly presents an explosive chat with Stunt Coordinator and Second Unit Director Wade Eastwood! Wade has an extensive list of credits on some of the biggest blockbusters of the last 15 years, including the latest Mission: Impossible entry, Rogue Nation, the upcoming James Bond adventure Spectre, 2014’s Interstellar, Godzilla, and Edge of Tomorrow, and numerous other high-throttle action films that have featured some of the most dynamic stunt work in modern cinema history. A true dare-devil at heart (he’s also a stunt driver and performer), we had a great time chatting with Wade, and we hope you enjoy!

Episode 14: Steven Spielberg’s MINORITY REPORT with Guest Joel Copling

We are pleased to be joined by Joel Copling of Joel on Film, who is a great friend of Podcasting Them Softly’s.  We discuss Steven Spielberg’s masterful MINORITY REPORT as well as the top five performances of Tom Cruise and Samantha Morton!