Ep. 106 – American Made, Battle of the Sexes, Gerald’s Game, Fantastic Fest recap, and home video reviews of Wonder Woman, The Big Sick and A Ghost Story

October 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Podcast

After some technical difficulties, The CineSnob Podcast is back for the 106th time with reviews of “American Made,” “Battle of the Sexes” and “Gerald’s Game.” Cody also fills us in on his time at Fantastic Fest, and reviews home video releases of “Wonder Woman,” “The Big Sick” and “A Ghost Story.”

Click here to download the episode!

American Made

September 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright Olsen
Directed by: Doug Liman (“Edge of Tomorrow,” “The Bourne Identity”)
Written by: Gary Spinelli (“Stash House”)

Based (somewhat loosely) on a true story, “American Made” finds Tom Cruise finally returning to the type of role that gives him some vulnerability—something which has been sorely lacking in a decade filled with high-octane “Mission: Impossible” movies, the dull “Jack Reacher” series, and this year’s dreadful reboot of “The Mummy.”

Cruise plays Barry Seal, a TWA airline pilot who, in 1978, is bored of welcoming passengers to Bakersfield and Vancouver. While in Canada, he and other pilots run a low-level smuggling ring, bringing Cuban cigars into the United States for a few extra bucks. This attracts the attention of a CIA agent named Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) who plays into Seal’s boredom to recruit him to fly a twin-engine plane over communist training camps in Central America, snapping photos for Uncle Sam. Barry agrees, but doesn’t tell his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen), who pesters Barry for more money for their growing family. When he’s shut out of a raise by Schafer, Barry accepts an offer from the men who would become the Medellin drug cartel, led by Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejía) and Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda), to smuggle cocaine into the United States for piles and piles of cash.

When Barry is arrested and thrown into a Colombian prison for drug smuggling, Schafer again comes to his aid with an offer: deliver guns to communist-fighting Contras in Nicaragua. Again, the cartel steps in and offers to buy the guns from Barry, who becomes obscenely wealthy from the smuggling, attracting the attention of the FBI, ATF, and several other law enforcement agencies.

Directed by Doug Liman, who previously helmed the under-appreciated (and poorly titled) Cruise sci-fi vehicle “Edge of Tomorrow,” “American Made” aspires for the breezy, comedy-drama feel of “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “The Big Short” and ends up mostly succeeding. There are times when the plot feels hacked up to get the running time just under two hours, with stunted characters like Jesse Plemons’ “look the other way” small town sheriff getting featured introductions and significant follow-up scenes only to end up with little to do afterward and the sudden fore fronting of one of Barry’s vague associates in the final act.

It’s a small quibble, really, and it doesn’t do much to detract from the enjoyment in finally seeing Tom Cruise really sink his gorgeous teeth into something for the first time since “Magnolia” or “Vanilla Sky.”

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.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

October 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge
Directed by: Edward Zwick (“Blood Diamond”)
Written by: Richard Wenk (“The Magnificent Seven”), Edward Zwick (“Love & Other Drugs”), Marshall Herskovitz (“Love & Other Drugs”)

In the movie landscape of constant sequels, it may not always make narrative sense to come back for more, but there’s almost always a monetary reason to do it. Original films (or films made to be tentpole franchises) perform so well at the box office that going back and making more of those films is, at worse, less of a financial risk and at best, studios practically printing their own money. It’s why there was a collective shrug and head scratch when it was announced that Paramount was going back for another installment of the Tom Cruise vehicle “Jack Reacher.” The reception for the first film was mixed, and it only grossed $80 million in North America, which is pretty modest for a film marketed as a potential blockbuster. Yet here we are, with an unwanted sequel in hand: the ironically titled “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.”

As Jack Reacher (Cruise) returns back to his military base to visit a friend and colleague, Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), he discovers that she has been arrested and charged with espionage. Suspecting something has ran afoul, Reacher works to break Turner out of prison and along the way, discovers a girl who just may be his biological daughter. From there, Turner, Reacher and his possible daughter fight to stay hidden and take down their enemies while keeping each other safe.

A better title of this film would have been “Jack Reacher: Military Dad” as the main narrative through-line is the idea of Reacher coping with possibly being a father. There are, of course, generic scenes of him being a hardass and acting like he doesn’t care about things. Or when he and Cobie Smulders’ character have super on-the-nose “parental” fights. It’s just such a lazy, ho-hum story that is sandwiched in between a lazy, ho-hum action film. There is some somewhat surprising brutality, but beyond that, nothing on screen feels meaningful and Cruise doesn’t seem particularly interested.

The last act of “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” contain some of the most contrived, Hollywood-fake, lazy moments I’ve seen in any film this year. The only appropriate word to describe the way events plan out is “insulting.” Ever heard of the concept of “Chekov’s gun?” The idea that nothing is shown on screen unless it will play out somehow? This is basically Chekov’s everything. Every twist, turn and plot point can be seen from 400 miles away. Being unpredictable would be one thing, but it happens in such a hokey way that it is deprived of any emotion. It’s a truly awful sequence of events.

A look at Tom Cruise’s most recent film output shows that he is still mainly focused on being an action star. The problem is, the market desire for perennial kick ass action-star driving vehicles seems to be dwindling with the saturation of comic book films. It’s also a reality that Cruise is a man in his early to mid 50’s continuing to pursue his career as an action hero. There’s no question he’s got acting chops and a magnetic personality on screen. He can certainly keep making “Mission Impossible”’s 13 and 14 until he gets physically unable to hang off of jets and scale large buildings, but if the staleness if “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is any indication, it may be time for Cruise to re-consider the direction of his career.

Ep. 3 – The Fault In Our Stars, Edge of Tomorrow and the ups and downs of Tom Cruise

June 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Podcast

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Click here to download the episode!

In this week’s episode, the guys from CineSnob.net review and discuss “The Fault In Our Stars” and “Edge of Tomorrow.” They also discuss the pushing back of the Wachowski’s “Jupiter Ascending,” the interesting decision to re-release “Forrest Gump” in IMAX, and the highs, lows and trajectory of Tom Cruise’s career.

[0:00-0:29] Intro
[0:29-6:43] Jupiter Ascending is pushed back to February 2015
[6:43-13:48] Forrest Gump to be re-released in IMAX in September
[13:48-17:24] Ant-Man finally lands a director
[17:24-22:58] The Fault In Our Stars
[22:58-31:12] The Fault In Our Stars Spoiler Talk
[31:12-32:32] The Fault In Our Stars Wrap-Up
[32:32-41:49] Edge of Tomorrow
[41:49-1:03:33] Overrated/Underrated: Tom Cruise movies & discussion of his career
[1:03:33-1:06:38] Teases for next week & close

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To give your feedback, e-mail us at podcast [at] cinesnob [dot] net, or leave a voicemail at 920-FILM-210.

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.


April 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski (“TRON: Legacy”)
Written by: Joseph Kosinski (debut), Karl Gajdusek (“Trespass”), Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”)

Just like in his last film, the CGI-rich albeit hollow-to-the-core sequel “TRON: Legacy,” filmmaker Joseph Kosinski captures an exciting setting in his second movie “Oblivion.” In this Tom Cruise-vehicle, Kosinski’s idea of a futuristic, post-war Earth is vast and dreary. High-tech drones blaze through the sky with purpose. The planet is lifeless, but Kosinski’s vision isn’t. It’s not until characters actually speak and a plot is brought to the forefront when “Oblivion” becomes just another dull sci-fi genre flash in the pan.

Cruise, who is no stranger to substantial science fiction like “Minority Report” and “War of the Worlds,” tries his best to keep the drama high as the director maintains the fascinating world around him. He stars as Jack Harper, a security expert whose mission is to monitor drones on Earth. Along with his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), the duo is only two weeks away from clocking out and joining their fellow humans who have been transported to another planet after a nuclear war ravaged the world uninhabitable. Hanging out in the shadows of Earth are aliens called “scavs” who are hellbent on attacking machines built to harvest the Earth’s remaining ocean water.

If that read like a jumbled up narrative, that’s because it is. In fact, we haven’t even started to explain why Jack is seeing a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko) in his dreams or why an annoyingly southern-accented Melissa Leo is giving him the runaround via video transmission or why the heck Morgan Freeman shows up wearing shades and smoking a cigar. Besides not wanting to ruin some of the surprises “Oblivion” has in store, we also don’t want to dilute the synopsis as much as screenwriters here do with the script. “Oblivion” is a sprawling mess filled with big, muddy ideas. It’s a perfect example of a sci-fi movie that over-thinks its mythology and ends up forcing the viewer right out of the story.

It’s also not very mindful of other recent sci-fi movies that share some of its major twists. Sure, there are plenty of movies out there that cover the same themes and a few of the scenarios seen in “Oblivion,” but it boggles the mind to understand how a couple of them didn’t set off the copycat alarms. And no, we’re not talking about Cruise reliving his fighter-pilot days in “Top Gun.” Here he’s impressive behind the controls of a high-speed spacecraft. Too bad the year is 2077 and not 1986.

Off his Oscar win for the gorgeously shot “Life of Pi,” the work of cinematographer Claudio Miranda is easily the film’s forte. From a shootout inside an abandoned library to the eye-melting landscapes and skyscapes, the images in “Oblivion” coincide with its $120-million price tag. Producers should’ve skimped on a few CGI drones, however, and transferred some of those funds to someone who could’ve tightened up the screenplay with a vise.

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.

Rock of Ages

June 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise
Directed by: Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”)
Written by: Chris D’Arienzo (“Barry Munday”), Justin Theroux (“Tropic Thunder”), Allan Loeb (“Just Go With It”)

Isn’t 80s music the best? Sure, the songs can be kinda cheesy, but the catchy melodies, powerful vocals and wailing guitar solos gave birth to not only some of the most popular drunken karaoke songs around, but some truly enduring classics. So, fans of 80s hair metal, imagine all of your favorite songs turned into show stopping song and dance numbers, how awesome would that be? Wait..where are you going? Come back! That’s right, if you’ve ever wanted to hear Twisted Sister’s rebellious anthem “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and Starship’s universally mocked “We Built This City” mashed together for alternating battle cries in a fight between fans of a rock club and an angry mob of moms against rock, you are in for a treat. If you think that sounds absolutely awful, that’s because it is.

The film opens with a “small town girl” named Sherrie (Julianne Hough) stepping off a bus in LA where she hopes to make it as a singer. Shortly after stepping out and singing a few songs, Sherrie gets mugged and has her precious records stolen. There to help her out is a “city boy” (GET IT?!?) Drew (Deigo Boneta) who works at The Bourbon Room, a famous local rock club. After Drew gets Sherrie a job at The Bourbon Room, they browse around a record store, where Drew reveals that he is a singer that desperately wants to be a big star. Of course, he doesn’t just say this, he grabs a random hanging guitar, jumps on top of a shelf and belts out a rendition of Foreigner’s “Jukebox Hero” as almost a mini-concert, complete with a spotlight being shined on him and shoppers going nuts. When that settles, Drew reveals to Sherrie that he can’t be the star he wants because he has stage fright. That’s right. The guy who just made love to a Tower Records during business hours crumbles at the prospect of performing in front of a more traditional audience. Enter Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), an over-the-top rock star caricature who is either the most successful cover artist of all time or a rock and roll enigma who is responsible for classic hits like “(Wanted) Dead or Alive” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” To be fair, Cruise gives 100 percent to the sexually-charged and alcohol-fueled role, but that gimmick, combined with overplayed rock-star quirks like Cruise’s ever-present pet monkey, undercuts the character’s impact.

A major part of why “Rock of Ages” fails so completely is that the script is truly bad. Not only is it ridden with clichés and very unimaginative jokes, but nearly every line in the film serves as an uncomfortable, clumsy segue into another song. I actually let out an audible “ugh…” when, while explaining a potential job to Hough, Mary J. Blige tells her that she can have it “ANYWAY YOU WANT IT, THAT’S THE WAY YOU NEED IT.” It’s clear that cast members like Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand are having fun with their roles. It’s a shame that they are given such uninspiring material to work with. Another major problem with “Rock of Ages” is that it does a disservice to the music it borrows. Nearly everyone in the cast sounds like they were taken straight from a Broadway stage. Boneta, for example, is by no means a bad singer. But no matter what song he performs in the film, he does not sound anything like a singer from the 80s. In fact, the only member of the cast who captures anything resembling an accurate reproduction of the film’s songs is Cruise.

When thinking about “Rock of Ages,” its difficult to determine who the intended audience for this film is. Most diehard fans of classic rock and hair metal will hate hearing their favorite songs from the 80’s bastardized and turned into Broadway tunes. Perhaps fans of musicals will be charmed, but since it makes use of pre-existing songs of a specific genre, does there need to be some sort of overlap? When the film closes with a big stage production of the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin’,” (SPOILER WARNING)  I couldn’t help but laugh to myself when one of the cast members, without a hint of irony, delivers the line “the movie never ends it goes on, and on, and on and on…” Clocking in at just a shade over two hours, I couldn’t agree more. Those looking for a fun, nostalgic trip are better off spending their money on a Foreigner greatest hits album, cranking it up and singing along with their friends.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

December 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg
Directed by: Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”)
Written by:  Andre Nemec (TV’s “Alias”) and Josh Applebaum (TV’s “Alias”)

The “Mission: Impossible” franchise is an odd one.  As the only, “Hey, let’s update an old TV show!” film series to make it out of the ’90s alive (“Lost in Space,” anyone?), the movies have been a mishmash of styles, each film having little to nothing to do with the one that preceded it aside from the character of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise).

The first one, released 15 years ago and directed by Brian De Palma, was Tom Cruise’s answer to James Bond with elements from the TV show, like fantastic disguises and self-destructing messages,  grafted onto the plot for name recognition alone. “M:I- 2” in 2000 was a balletic John Woo-directed fever dream that featured things like a motorcycle fight and slow-motion doves. In 2006, “Mission: Impossible III,” directed by J.J. Abrams, brought a lens-flared grittiness to the series. Hunt took a beating after finally being held accountable to the laws of physics, and the franchise was given new life, as if a tiny explosive device had been shot up its nose.

“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” directed with ease by animation veteran Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”) ends up being the first true sequel in the series. Continuing the tone set by Abrams (credited here as a producer) “Ghost Protocol” opens to find Hunt locked away in a Russian prison. With the help of agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton), recently-promoted agent Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” Hunt manages to stage an elaborate escape. The IMF needs Hunt, because it seems the recent murder of IMF agent Trevor Hanaway (Josh Holloway) has resulted in the loss of Russian nuclear launch codes that could bring about the end of the world. After a mission to infiltrate the Kremiln and obtain a launch device goes awry, resulting in the IMF being branded as terrorists and disavowed, it’s up to Hunt, Carter, Dunn, and analyst-turned-agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner) to stop global nuclear war.

While you can’t deny the slickness of the presentation, it’s the mechanics of the plot that dampen the enjoyment. The film’s big action set piece, featuring Cruise sprinting vertically down the side of the world’s tallest skyscraper, ends up being the end result of an incredibly robust network firewall, of all things (not to mention that his stealth is undone by running on the outside of building on actual windows), and the back story of Renner’s character (rumored to be a replacement for Cruise in future missions) is unceremoniously defanged by the time the credits roll. The gadgets range from innovative and fun, like an iPad-powered cloaking device, to complex and contrived, like a magnetic hover suit/robot combo. As villains go, Michael Nyqvist’s Kurt Hendricks is a disappointing bore, especially following Philip Seymour Hoffman’s brilliantly psychotic turn as Owen Davian in “M:I-3.” While Cruise’s Hunt remains a cipher, Renner and Pegg combine for some welcome bursts of humor, and the chemistry of the pairing is reassuring for the day Cruise decides to step away.

The stakes have never been higher and the spectacle has never been greater, but the plotting has never felt more episodic. After raising the bar with the third movie, you can’t help but feel a little let down that Cruise, Abrams, and Bird merely maintained the status quo.


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.