Tagged Tom Cruise

Minority Report’s Speculative Fiction is All Kinds of Awesome

Minority Report. 2002. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Jon Cohen & Scott Frank; based on the short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick.
Starring Tom Cruise, Max von Sydow, Steve Harris, Neal McDonough, Patrick Kilpatrick, Jessica Capshaw, Anna Maria Horsford, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Tim Blake Nelson, Lois Smith, Mike Binder, Jessica Harper, & Peter Stormare. Amblin Entertainment-Cruise/Wagner Productions-Blue Tulip Productions.
Rated PG-13. 145 minutes.

Steven Spileberg is one of those directors whose work usually calls me back to a specific time in life. The memorable cinematic experiences of my early days were informed by Jaws which is the reason for my fear of deep water, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and its long lasting effect on my strange interests (aliens, paranormal, so on; even though I’m a major sceptic), as well as the adventure and thrill I found in Raiders of the Lost Ark and of course the emotional ride that is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. So many times, Spielberg wowed my young mind, as he did to so many, many others long before me. And yet even while I grew up the classics kept on coming. Jurassic Park changed my life in terms of how I saw movies, that they could be action-oriented and full of science fiction, that the adult and childhood interests in dinosaurs could find a way to fuse in one exciting bit of fiction. On top of everything, Spielberg has dipped his talent into producing a vast number of projects, many of which are classics in their own right without him having taken the reins as director. So usually if his name is attached, I’ll watch a movie simply for that sake, no matter how it turns out.
Minority Report didn’t get ravaged by critics, in fact it generally received a positive turn out. Furthermore, the movie did well domestically and overseas; the profit was more than triple its budget of just over $100-million. At the same time, I feel it’s not as well remembered as it ought to be when considering how great a movie it is, from acting to the direction to the overall look and atmosphere. Reason being that 2002 was a massive year in film, including releases such as The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Spider-Man, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Men in Black II, Die Another Day, Signs, The Count of Monte Cristo, and those are just the big ones. Getting lost in the cracks, Minority Report is one of Spielberg’s best post-2000, and one of the last legitimate dives into sci-fi that he took (until taking on duties for Ready Player One). There’s enough excitement and intrigue in this movie to fill a few of them. Cruise gives a solid performance, and Spielberg keeps us on the edge of our seats while we roam the futuristic landscapes of an America that feels not too far off. Ultimately, Spielberg and the writers explore Dick’s story while asking if the technological advancements our society is capable of can manage to outwit the corruption and moral weakness at the hands of the people tasked with using that very technology. The bottom line of Minority Report concerns morality, humanity among the advancements of science, and the will of man to do evil, despite all odds.
The entire process of the Precrime system is a ton of fun. Spielberg really went to town on coming up with the whole thing. I’d like to know more about how the design was decided. Just that room where Cruise’s character does his thing with the screens, those tailor-made wooden, varnished balls, every last detail is incredibly fun. Of course part of this most likely comes from the original short story by Philip K. Dick, though as I understand it the story’s been changed a good deal. I don’t doubt Dick’s story definitely has plenty of the detail Spielberg then used to come up with the look of his Washington, D.C. law enforcement facility of the future. However, part of it is definitely the master filmmaker himself putting his mark upon the adapted material.
One thing I’ve always loved is the design of the roadways, even the cars themselves. The chase scenes are incredible. Funny how certain reviews out there, by professional critics, have claimed these scenes are silly. Really? Are we watching the same movie? Because these chase scenes are perfectly science fiction and every bit the epitome of action. Totally exciting. That first sequence where Cruise is jumping down across the various vehicles is heart pounding. As far as the visual effects go, there are only one or two slight missteps. When you’re not dealing in practical effects, CGI and the like can sometimes let you down. Luckily, these moments are seldom, only one or twice throughout the over two hour runtime. The large majority of the effects look great, keep the pulse thumping, and add another nice element to the dark, gritty nature of the story and its feel.
A huge part of what interests me is the idea of the surveillance state. We’ve almost got this amplified version of the CCTV-laced streets in the U.K. in this future vision of Washington, D.C. and other areas. For instance, as Anderton first tries to get away he moves through the malls and the subway stations, and every screen nearby is flashing his name, speaking to him through personalised advertisements, the newspapers in other passengers’ hands read pop-up headlines about John and his Wanted status. Overall there’s a really great riff on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in that Dick, as well as the screenwriters here, further explore the concept of the ‘thoughtcrime’, the idea that basically forms the foundation of the Precrime Division and their precognitive awareness/action on crime.
This entire angle makes for incredibly interesting plot developments. The fact Anderton is tagged in every way to be recognised by all the various computer systems makes for a tough predicament. There’s an optical recognition system around the entire city, which heightens the police search, as it’s not as simple to just hide away when every street corner, every sidewalk is seemingly rigged to scan your eyeballs and go straight to the source for your identity. Eventually, John finds a doctor whose talents lie in the black market – eye surgeries, to be exact. That’s actually one of my favourite sequences, including a cameo for one of the best character actors Peter Stormare; the whole thing is dark, gritty, weird, it’s an awesome bit that adds to the atmosphere, and turns into a nice addition to the chase elements of the screenplay. What I love most about this whole part of the film is that it speaks to the loss of privacy, the great lengths to which some will go in the future to avoid all the intrusion on their personal lives by way of technology, and so on. Before the film released, Spielberg talked about the technology he envisioned for the movie, and it’s also interesting to note he usually consults a lot of technical experts when making science fiction in order to try and bring some degree of realism to the subject matter. So go check out the TED talk with John Underkoffler, a scientific adviser who worked with Spielberg on the film. Then try and tell me we won’t see more of that in the future. In turn, we’ll watch our privacy disappear, more and more. Online ads are already tailoring themselves to our Facebook and Twitter accounts, our personalised information that’s floating around inside the internet. Soon enough, we’ll walk down the street, just like Anderton, and find the screens looking out at us, scanning, tailoring their ads to who we are as people. Most of all, Minority Report isn’t merely thrilling action: it’s a scary vision of a future world towards which we are headed, if we’re not too careful.
The performances are good, from Cruise in the lead to Farrell and Max von Sydow in their respective supporting roles. Above anything, the atmosphere is what makes this one for me. I love Spielberg’s movies and every one of them feels different, though each of them also has that same magic. Despite moving from genre to genre, as well as through many types of characters and stories, Spielberg always retains that classic style. No matter if the subject material and themes are dark, friendly and youthful, or if they explore a world completely foreign to our own, his films are all capable of transporting us into a sacred space, one beloved by many cinephiles around the globe. Minority Report is one of his best in recent years. There’s a constant excitement, even in the more low key moments. The pacing is exceptional and keeps the whole thing going, allowing Spielberg to stop between his big chase scenes to flesh out a deeply personal, emotional story involving a father and the loss of his son, the crumbling of the relationship with his wife, all of which is folded up in a wonderfully compelling sci-fi tale. Don’t sleep on this one. If you’ve yet to see it, get out and do yourself a favour. Especially if Spielberg gives you the nostalgia feeling in your stomach the way he does for me.

Eyes Wide Shut in Pursuit of Sexual Understanding

Eyes Wide Shut. 1999. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Kubrick & Frederic Raphael; inspired by Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler.
Starring Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Marie Richardson, Rade Sherbedgia, Todd Field, Vinessa Shaw, Sky du Mont, Fay Masterson, Leelee Sobieski, & Thomas Gibson. Warner Bros. Pictures/Stanley Kubrick Productions.
Rated R. 159 minutes.

Stanley Kubrick is one of the best directors to have ever lived, certainly if we’re considering American directors. It’s hard for me to choose my favourite film out of his filmography. Although, I do absolutely prefer some over others. I believe 2001: A Space Odyssey is his best work, yet my all-time favourite is Dr. Strangelove; Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, followed by A Clockwork Orange.
And right alongside those two in my top three sits Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick’s final film. Based on Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle, known in English as Dream Story, Kubrick and writer Frederic Raphael take us through the strained relationship of a married couple, as the husband finds his way down into the eerie underbelly of the upper crust. All those awesome Kubrick techniques we’ve come to know and love are here: long and luscious tracking shots, dreamy fades between most scenes, an almost uncanny ability for perfectly composed frames, and much more. When you add in two solid actors such as Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (the former is undeniably crazy yet a talented performer), a Kubrick picture can only get better. Such is the case with this masterpiece.
Not everyone loves this film as much as I do, and many deride it as a lesser work near the end of a great director’s life and career. Me, I believe Kubrick left life having bestowed us with one last work of tantalizing art.
I’m always intrigued by real life couples willing to act in a film together, especially when it comes to a film such as this one, its themes, the wild subject matter. There are a few incredibly raw moments. For instance, early on when Bill and Alice are arguing after smoking pot together she starts laughing at him; the look Cruise gives his wife, his real wife, is a genuine look of an open wound hurt. Maybe being husband and wife in reality gives actors a further depth they can reach in thinking of what it might be like if their characters lives were actually their lives. That entire scene where Alice reveals her fleeting, though thoroughly shocking feelings about a Navy man she saw during a vacation at Cape Cod is, in my mind, a master class in acting. Kidman and Cruise are both in top form. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the writing from Kubrick and Raphael is downright compelling. Whereas the plot of the film gets much weirder, and wilder, these personal moments are what the entire picture is all about.
Aside from acting this film is built upon Kubrick and his eye for gorgeous shots, the way those shots are composed from framing to the actual look of the sets and everything in between. More than that, the atmosphere and tone of Eyes Wide Shut is so impressive. The cinematography of Larry Smith, who’d been a gaffer on Barry Lyndon and The Shining (later working with Kubrick-lover Nicolas Winding Refn), uses all natural lighting, as the director did not want to use studio lighting. So the visual look is beautiful and interesting, a combination of natural light sources and push processing (a developing process which works on the actual sensitivity of the film itself). The processing makes all the colours much more intense. Couple that with some of the interesting lighting Smith resorts to in order to capture many scenes and it makes for a lot of strange, tinted shots with hues of neon, blue light washing through windows, and lots of deep shadows amongst the vibrantly coloured rooms. On top of the cinematography and the expert directorial choices of Kubrick is the score. Kubrick was the master of musical choices, he opted to use such fascinating stuff to flesh out his efforts. Here, there’s original music from Jocelyn Pook, the stuff we hear as Bill ends up confronting the masked crowd, that ominous piano and other weird sounds which end up recurring. Also, as usual, Kubrick employs the use of classical pieces, which all work impeccably for where they’re placed. Often I feel as a director he was able to mimic the feel and flow of ballet. Never more so than in this film, fitting enough his last. This is most clear in those scenes where the Steadicam takes us through the large, mysterious cult mansion where they’ve all gathered, the various rooms, as if we’re moving around a stage. All together, the elements of this movie work so well together in a gorgeous, strange unison.
Eyes Wide Shut is a story of sexual relationships, both in and out of marriage. Of course we’re framed by the marriage of the Harfords. However, the entire journey Bill finds himself on over the course of that one especially wild evening takes him out of the realm of marriage, into that vast, mysterious sea of sex with faceless people. In a way, you can see it as Alice has a face: she is his wife, the mother of his child, the love of his life, his best friend. Many, many things. We know her, we see her perfectly, flaws and all. She represents, obviously, the married life. Then there’s the cult, all those people under the hoods and masks and costumes. They are the deep unknown of bachelorhood, which Bill confronts. They are the faceless mass of people only looking for sex, anonymity in their relationships, without feeling and without responsibility or any of that which marriage brings. Those lavish, secretive parties – never in the same place twice, their piano player given an address where to head an hour prior, so on – are representative of how the ultimate bachelor sees their lifestyle, as better than anything marriage offers. The cult itself is closed off, they do all in their power to keep others from getting in because their parties are just way too interesting for outsiders; certainly for a married doctor.
Furthermore, the men in this orgy cult are the basest form of men, guys like Ziegler (Pollack) – one minute he stands with his wife downstairs hosting the big party and the next minute is upstairs having sex with a girl that proceeds to nearly overdose on a speedball. The types which let people die, or worse, then cover things up, all in the name of power and pleasure and control. Whereas to the deceptive, lusty man marriage is a loss of control, to a caring man marriage is sharing control; something Bill seems to eventually realize, one way or another. To the people that belong to this high society sex cult, marriage is a loss of freedom. So a large part of this story, if not the majority, concerns Bill effectively struggling with his faithfulness. The catalyst is the revelation from his wife, setting him forth on a quest to figure out if being faithful is truly his choice, or rather if it’s something he’s merely settled into casually because of societal expectation. Bill is not like Ziegler, nor the rest of the faceless cult members at the orgy. He discovers the dangers of insane, swinging single life later, as well; after going back to the apartment of Domino, a young prostitute he’d nearly slept with, her roommate lets him know that she is HIV-positive. This and the sinister danger of the cult are enough to propel him back to his happy family life. By the end of the film he discovers he can both have his cake AND eat it, too. It’s called having a wife and being in love, Bill.
There’s not enough time in the world to talk about every last thing I love. Eyes Wide Shut is not given the proper respect it deserves. Maybe if Kubrick made a couple more films before he’d passed, then this wouldn’t be so maligned. Over time, more people have warmed to it, though still not enough. That doesn’t matter, really. I couldn’t care less about the majority. This is a masterpiece from one of the great masters in our time. Kubrick’s sensibilities make this a ride through strange cityscapes, through the darkened corridors of mansions where the rich and powerful conduct their suspicious activities, and we come out on the other side not totally sure of where we’ve been, or where we’re headed. If anything, Eyes Wide Shut is a well crafted mystery-thriller, masquerading as an erotic thriller. At its heart the film concerns the sexual politics of relationships, and of the single life. Nothing is ever simple or bland when in Kubrick’s hands. If only there were a hundred more of his movies.

The Solid Action & Suspense of Mission: Impossible

Mission: Impossible. 1996. Directed by Brian De Palma. Screenplay by David Koepp & Robert Towne from a story by David Koepp/Steven Zaillian; based on the television series created by Bruce Geller.
Starring Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Béart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, and Rolf Saxon. Paramount Pictures.
Rated PG. 110 minutes.

There are certain movies out of the 1990s I remember fondly because they’re titles I’d rent on the weekend and watch with my parents. They were always pretty good about letting me watch a lot of things, as long as my little sister wasn’t around, and depending on how crazy it was they would probably watch it with me. But even before that, when I lived with my grandparents – my grandfather was a member of Columbia House when it was in its prime and he’d get like 9 VHS tapes for such a low price. So their place was full of old movies on VHS; I saw tons of stuff I probably shouldn’t have seen at ages 7-8.
Mission: Impossible is one of those movies I remember seeing after it came out on video. My parents and I rented it, I remember enjoying it so much it was one of those films I’d watch over and over. Honestly, I think Brian De Palma did an excellent job directing this with a great deal of suspense and tension, plus there’s the fact I think it’s a pretty damn good adaptation from the original 1966 series. No doubt hardcore fans of the original television series might not enjoy it, however, I think they modernized it, updated things just well enough while keeping the spirit of the original to make it something interesting.

When Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) heads to Prague on another mission with his IMF team – including wife Claire (Emannuelle Béart) and top agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) among others – things begin as per usual. Unfortunately, there is an incredible failure during this new mission; a fatal failure. But no one is sure who did what to cause the chaos.
After he is left the sole survivor in a massacre which sees Phelps and Sarah Davies (Kristin Scott Thomas), among others, all die at the mysterious hands of an outsider, Ethan Hunt is accused of mutiny and the failure of their mission is pinned on him. With the help of Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Franz Krieger (Jean Reno), and even a shadowy arms dealer named Max (Vanessa Redgrave), Hunt goes underground, using everything and everyone at his disposal in order to uncover exactly what has been happening. Most importantly, he hopes to find out who laid waste to his colleagues from the IMF and why they hoped he would be framed.
still-of-tom-cruise-and-kristin-scott-thomas-in-mission--impossible-(1996)-large-pictureAbove all else, I think De Palma does well by crafting a genuine atmosphere of suspense because while there’s action here, it would come off like any other action film were there no such feeling to the movie. It follows along with the flow of the plot well. As we start, things are light and fun – the team feel in sync with one another, joking, laughing, generally acting as if being secret undercover agents in a dangerous high stakes type of game is no big deal. However, this quickly cuts from that lighthearted feel to one of tension. As the IMF team, one by one, are dispatched, the tension gets thicker. Even the way in which De Palma has the scenes go, the fog on the night air almost seems to intensify with the plot’s movement. Everything is shrouded, until finally it’s Ethan left; things clear off, he is the only one living, and then there are the police. This sets up how the next segments will feel, as we move into the heavy mystery of Mission: Impossible.

Something I’ve always loved about this movie is how there’s a ton of action, but it’s not a load of gunshots and muzzle flares and smashing objects, walls and other set-pieces filled with bullet holes. I find it’s all intense action while not having to resort to the typical gunplay with which so many other American action/crime/thriller movies seem to be obsessed. This is where that ever present air of suspense and tension helps.
While many films might’ve flubbed the scene where Ethan Hunt (Cruise) suspends himself down over the lasers, in that high tech security room from Thieves Hell, De Palma makes this so insanely tense you can almost feel Tom’s butthole clench just watching it. It’s great stuff because what could be so simple and visually unappealing at the hands of another director becomes the stuff of action movie legend under the guidance of Brian De Palma. He doesn’t have a perfect track record as a director – but honestly who in the hell does? Not even Kubrick for those typical film fans who say he’s perfect; he was amazing but not perfect – but I think De Palma is absolutely one of the greats of American cinema. No doubt in my mind about that. Here, he shows why he’s a master of the craft.
The entire sequence leading up to the ‘suspended above lasers’ moment is classic. Well filmed, nice pace, and the set they used for that is very cool. Always loved the way De Palma includes the shot showing a drop of perspiration slipping off a plastic cup, setting off the alarm in the laser protected room; such a perfect zoom in close on the cup as Ethan Hunt describes the security inside. Not sure why I particularly enjoy that little moment, but it’s always one that strikes me for whatever reason.
still-of-tom-cruise-and-henry-czerny-in-mission--impossible-(1996)Ever the fan of Alfred Hitchcock, as so many are, De Palma has a magnificent shot a little over 30 minutes in which reminds me of the staircase in Vertigo (which is my personal favourite Hitchcock). I don’t know if that was intentional, or simply a wonderfully coincidental shot that came up from the use of that location, but either way it is awesome. A wonderful homage. The camera rotates opposite the staircase and it creates a neat effect. Disorienting slightly, in a good way.
One of my favourite scenes is when Ethan uses his explosive gum. The way it’s shot, the angles De Palma frames each one, there’s a good pace of suspense up until the explosion, then Hunt is gone again. Not a long scene, it’s just well executed. De Palma goes for a lot of interesting low angles and tight close-ups in those suspenseful moments. Another great example is when Ethan first meets Max (Redgrave) and they’re watching for a signal – something simple, once more, becomes impressive because of the precise, honed direction. Has all the earmarks of a fabulous thriller.
mission-impossible-DIThough I do like a couple of the other Mission: Impossible films, it’s easy to see the distinction between this and every other one. I was even a huge fan of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, though, there is still no comparing it the original in this series of films. I mean, there’s such a genuine measure of tension built up throughout almost every scene, or every second one, that the movie never seems to let you go. Start to finish. From those opening bits, as the IMF team watch Ethan Hunt do his thing – mask and all – to the incredibly subtle, suspenseful moments as Ethan is being lowered into the ultra secure room at Langley a.k.a CIA Headquarters in Virginia; every important piece is shot in such a way that the maximum suspense comes out. Most of the franchise after the first movie seems to rely heavily on massive, epic-style set-pieces alongside fast paced action sequences and gunfire, as well as the odd explosion and demolition. I’m not saying that’s no good because with movies such as Mission: Impossible, you do come looking for a certain degree of explosive, big Hollywood budget type action movie stuff.
However, Brian De Palma gives us so much more. Almost each shot is deliberately framed which aids in setting the pace, and in turn the tension. Even in Ghost Protocol which I enjoyed to the fullest, there’s not the same type of tense atmosphere and tone created in any of the sequences, it’s mostly balls to the wall sort of filmmaking. Again, nothing wrong. Just different here. De Palma makes this more than another action flick, and more than a reboot of some old television series (something ALL too familiar now in 2015) – this is a genuine thriller, with mystery to boot, and there’s a bonafide sense of old school filmmaking from an old school director.
screen shot 2015-07-27 at 2.00.12 pmWhile my only complaint is mostly a bit of the acting (mainly Jon Voight who I find personally is either hit or big miss), I think the script itself is pretty solid. Lots of good twisty-turny corners and red herring-like activity going on, which fits perfectly with Brian De Palma who, as I mentioned, comes from the school of directors who pretty much worship Hitchcock. Overall, I’ve got to say this is a solid 4.5 out of 5 star film. A few things could’ve been improved on, but I think ultimately so much of this is pure excitement, thrill, and suspense/tension that it’s hard to deny how great of a film it is. Not to mention De Palma’s direction elevates this above all the general tripe we get calling itself action these days.
Naturally, there are some over-the-top elements absolutely. However, I think the way De Palma plays with everything, plus the fact the script knows exactly what it is and what it aims to do, really helps make it all so very worth it. Boasting an impressive performance by Tom Cruise, including his penchant for trying to do as much of his own stunt work as possible, Mission: Impossible is one of my all-time favourite action movies; it has everything from intensity to a drop of humour, and don’t forget there’s an expertly cultivated atmosphere at the hands of De Palma which would never have made it to the screen had this film been helmed by anyone else.