The Mummy

June 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman (“People Like Us”)
Written by: David Koepp (“Jurassic Park”) & Christopher McQuarrie (“Edge of Tomorrow”) & Dylan Kussman (debut)

I have fond memories of 1999’s “The Mummy” starring Brendan Fraser. As a goofy knock-off Indiana Jones for the CGI age, the film opened weeks before “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” and people were already camped out to buy tickets for that when I left my first screening of “The Mummy.” One of the friends I saw “The Mummy” with ducked out to wait in that very line. Oh, and the movie was fun, too—junky and shallow, sure, but fun. There’s even a pretty fun roller coaster based on it at Universal Studios!

Anyway, here we are 18 years later, and now a reboot/remake/secret sequel(?) of “The Mummy” is here, set in modern times to kick off a Universal Monsters cinematic series—dubbed the Dark Universe—which will allegedly feature an Avengers/Justice League-style team-up featuring the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolfman. And Universal is bringing the big guns to the fight, casting Tom Cruise as the lead, but unfortunately the movie wrapped around him is a mess.

Cruise plays Nick Morton, who the script would have us believe is a criminal U.S. soldier in Iraq, a tomb-robbing looter, stealing artifacts from historical sites with his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) and selling them on the black market. When they deviate from a mission to check out a potential location to swipe antiquities from, Nick and Chris become pinned down by enemy gunfire. A last-second airstrike saves them, and opens up an ancient Egyptian tomb in the process—which clearly doesn’t belong in Iraq. Enter Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), who along with Nick and Chris enter the tomb to explore it and, in the process, reactivate an ancient, too-evil-to-bury-in-Egypt mummy named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), and she’s looking for a mate. Since he’s the one that released her, Nick becomes cursed, able to survive a plane crash and lots of brutal punishment at the hands of Ahmanet’s reanimated goons. He also becomes the target of Prodigium, a sort of magic-focus SHIELD led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), looking to rid the world of monsters.

First things first, this is a Tom Cruise movie, and he’s absolutely the wrong choice. The notion that we buy into Cruise playing a war criminal is ludicrous at first, and the script, credited to three writers and three more with “story by” credits, doesn’t ever seem to be comfortable committing to the notion of Cruise’s Nick being a real shitbag. There are flashes of humor, much of it on Jake Johnson’s capable shoulders, but the film stops dead when Dr. Jekyll (sigh) shows up to exposition the whole thing into a sarcophagus. At least the Brendan Fraser movies were fun. Universal would be wise to remember that.

Edge of Tomorrow

June 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton
Directed by: Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”)
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”), Jez Butterworth (“Fair Game”) and John-Henry Butterworth (“Fair Game”)

Okay, sure, “Edge of Tomorrow” looks like a sci-fi spin on “Groundhog Day” and yeah, that’s the premise in a nutshell. When you have a guy reliving the same day over and over and over again, the Bill Murray classic is instantly top of mind. But more so than that, though, the film is a mildly satirical, exceedingly clever adventure featuring the most accessible and likeable performance by Tom Cruise that we’ve seen in years.

As a TV-friendly officer charged with selling a land war with aliens to the world, Cruise’s Major William Cage is ordered to the front lines with a camera crew to record the great victory over the so-called Mimics. When Cage resists, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) cooks up a conspiracy to bust him down to private. Cage is assigned to J-Squad under Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton) where no one cares if he lives or dies. The next day, after some hasty training and brutal hazing, Cage suits up in his futuristic exo-skeletal armor and is dropped in the middle of a massacre with the rest of the infantry. Cage manages to survive the firefight long enough to come face to face with an “Alpha,” one of the rarer Mimics, only to be burned to death by its blood. Immediately upon dying, though, Cage awakes to relive the previous day, destined to fight and die again. This happens over and over and over, with Cage improving his skills every re-lived day with the help of military superstar Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the one person who understands what he’s going through.

“Groundhog Day” memories aside, “Edge of Tomorrow” brings a fresh and funny perspective to what, on the surface, looks like another futuristic snoozer on par with last year’s “Oblivion,” also featuring Cruise. Director Doug Liman never leans too heavily on the overarching gimmick, instead using the days Cage relives that we don’t see to move the narrative forward. When we think we’re seeing progress toward the goal of defeating the Mimics, Rita slowly discovers she and Cage have been in this situation dozens—if not hundreds—of times before. You absolutely feel Cage’s frustration, doubly so if you grew up playing video games without save features in the ‘80s, when a lengthy quest could come to a maddening end just to leave you back at the very beginning. Like Cage, all you’re left with is the accumulated knowledge of what you went through. And, like lots of ‘80s video games, “Edge of Tomorrow” falters near the end, foregoing creativity for mindless action. But truthfully, getting there is all the fun.

Jack the Giant Slayer

March 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Elanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci
Directed by: Bryan Singer (“X-Men”)
Written by: Darren Lemke (“Shrek Forever After”), Christopher McQuarrie (“Jack Reacher”) and Dan Studney (debut)

Based on the fairy tales “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Jack the Giant Killer” comes a fantasy movie from former (and future…future past?) “X-Men” director Bryan Singer. In “Jack the Giant Killer,” farmhand Jack (Nicholas Hoult) decides he must climb up a giant beanstalk in order to save Isabelle, (Elanor Tomlinson) a princess who has been kidnapped and is trapped at the top. When Jack and the team of the King’s men reach the top of the beanstalk, a group of newly awakened giants await.

Though the acting in the film isn’t bad, it is certainly nothing to write home about either. For better or worse, everyone in the film plays everything relatively straight, so you get actual effortful performances from acting veterans like Ewan McGregor and Ian McShane. The same goes for the performances from Hoult and Tomlinson as Jack and Isabelle. While neither of them are particularly good, they are adequate enough to where they aren’t trite or cheesy.

One of the things that “Jack the Giant Slayer” struggles with is finding a consistent tone. At times it seems as if the PG-13- rated film is going for a serious, adventurous tone while other times Singer takes full advantage of gross out and flatulence humor that would appeal to younger kids. Regardless of tone, the script is also a problem with lame jokes and a tendency of extended lulls in action.

“Jack the Giant Slayer” trudges through most of the first half of the film as the entertainment levels wax and wane. The final act of the film is a CGI-heavy battle sequence that finally ramps up the action and adventure levels. The effects behind the actual CGI  giants are pretty good, but the noisy finish can’t quite make up for the film’s overall mediocrity.

It’s a little surprising that Warner Bros sunk $200 million into a CGI-heavy fairytale adaption with no stars in its leading roles. What makes the situation even more perplexing is spending that much on a film without a distinct tone, a strong story, a worthy script or built in audience. Too serious and dull in parts for small kids, and too juvenile and monotonous in others for older kids, tweener tone in “Giant Slayer” misses the mark on all intended audiences and will likely prove to be massive waste of cash for a studio that is struggling to find a hit in 2013.

Jack Reacher

January 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie  (“The Way of the Gun”)
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie (“Valkyrie”)

As the year comes to a close, the patterns at the box office are typically the same.  To capitalize on family outings at the movie theater, late December is usually reserved for broad, family-based comedies, tent-pole franchise films, and those films that are waiting to make their Oscar push. Every now and then, however, you get a film that doesn’t fit neatly into any of those categories.

Based on the popular novel “One Shot” by Lee Child, “Jack Reacher” stars Tom Cruise as the title character, an ex-Army cop investigating the deaths of five random people at the hands of a sniper. Along the way, a conspiracy unfolds as Reacher and the shooter’s defense attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike) try to uncover the truth while determining who they can trust.

This is the kind of movie that Cruise was built for. He continues to be one of the most charismatic actors in Hollywood and it is no different here. Though his much-maligned but profoundly awesome running style is sadly absent from most of this film, Cruise displays plenty of action-star quality physicality with hand-to-hand combat. For her role, Pike plays it pretty decently, but the supporting cast gets lost behind Cruise. Other smaller roles include Werner Herzog playing a terribly unoriginal villain and Robert Duvall turning in one of the best parts of the film.

Still, “Jack Reacher” is hampered by an inconsistent tone.  While the film never quite shoots for comedy, so to speak, there are misplaced scenes and lines that act more as a confusing distraction than effective comic relief.  There is a scene, for example, where Cruise’s character fights several men in a bathroom that feels as if it belongs in a Three Stooges movie instead a first-rate action movie. The script of the film is also a weak point, with cheesy dialogue and only about half of Reacher’s one-liners truly hitting their mark. The narrative of the film, while enough to keep it chugging along, is pretty generic and very difficult to fully invested in. This is complicated by the fact that much is made of Reacher’s mysterious and nomadic background but it is never truly explored.

The film never quite takes off and ascends above typical crime thriller material.  There are plenty of car chases, scenes of violent, and plot twists, but most of the latter are done quite clumsily. What makes “Jack Reacher” successful, however, is the sheer entertainment value of an on-screen personality like Cruise. If you can last through the entire two-hour runtime, “Jack Reacher” is a decent way to waste time, but not much else.

The Tourist

December 10, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany
Directed by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others”)
Written by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others”), Christopher McQuarrie (“Valkyrie”), Julian Fellowes (“The Young Victoria”)

Hollywood star power can’t get much more extravagant than Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Set on a picturesque backdrop of Venice, Italy, “The Tourist,” a remake of the 2005 French film “Anthony Zimmer,” has breathtaking set pieces, but the superficial script – with all its generic twists – makes this romantic espionage thriller the perfect example of style over substance.

From German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who won an Academy Award for his gripping 2006 film “The Lives of Others,” “The Tourist” marks the first American feature of his career. It’s a decision von Donnersmarck might regret especially if he made more concessions than he’s used to just to sample the mainstream. It could pay off in the long run, but right now this should leave a bad taste in his mouth until the next opportunity comes up.

Depp plays Frank, a college math professor who is easily captivated by a woman he meets on a train. Although it seems like a chance encounter to Frank, Elise (Jolie) has underlying intentions. She needs Franks’s help to evade Scotland Yard (Paul Bettany is the lead detective) who is trailing Elise so she can lead them to her thieving lover Alexander (identifying Alexander is supposed to be part of the intrigue, but it’s fairly obvious to figure out who he is if you don’t get caught up in the far-fetched plot).

Despite its elegant look, “The Tourist” lacks any real intense moments where we actually think our attractive leads are in any danger. Sure, Jolie sashays as lovely as any actress, but without any character development or chemistry between her and Depp “The Tourist” is a wasted vacation.

Valkyrie

December 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson
Directed by: Bryan Singer (“Superman Returns”)
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) and Nathan Alexander (debut)

Tom Cruise has been on some major public relations detail over the last year. When the release of United Artists’ first film under his watchful eye “Lions for Lambs” didn’t do as well at the box office last year as the studio would have liked, Cruise probably realized his stock had plummeted into uncharted territory.

What happened next?

Cruise joined the cast of “Tropic Thunder” to lighten things up (and was hilarious), zipped his lips about anything having to do with Scientology, and admitted that some of the philosophical messages carelessly blurted from his mouth were, to say the least, arrogant.

Now, with “Valkyrie,” the second film under his United Artists umbrella, Cruise is attempting to reintroduce himself to an audience on a clean slate. While it still might be a hard sell to his most diehard haters, Cruise has made a fairly entertaining thriller worthy of look especially from history buffs. The film follows one of the many assassination attempts on Nazi leader Adolf Hilter during WWII.

Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a German solider who has been recruited by his peers to help assemble a team to overthrow Hilter’s government. While the plan itself may take a while to understand completely – they want to use one of Hilter’s own military procedures against him – screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander write the accounts with such precision, it’s easy to get back on track if you’ve lost your way for a few moments.

The real challenge for director Bryan Singer (“X-Men”) is to drive the suspense throughout the film even when the audience (unless they failed World History class) knows the end result. Singer succeeds not because he has his head wrapped around the material entirely, but because he pushes the story forward the way he should: as a suitable action thriller with political undertones and not vice versa. You might know how the story ends, but it’s still intriguing to watch it all unfold.

Forget whether or not Cruise is using the correct accent (isn’t it funny that if he did use a German accent we’d be hearing from the same critics how fake the accent sounds?), the man can still command a screen. He, along with actors Kenneth Branagh and Bill Nighy, do a fine job making us empathize for the “good-guy” Nazis and have us still keep our distance. Singer also does a great job by never over-vilifying the soldiers in the Third Reich we actually want to see dead. The whole thing plays out like a football game on Sunday afternoon between two teams you don’t like. You really don’t have anything invested in the players, but it’ll be entertaining to watch them compete…at least until halftime.