Film Review: Top Gun: Maverick (dir. by Joseph Kosinski)


From the moment it was announced, I had low expectations for Top Gun: Maverick. I figured it was just Tom Cruise milking his other franchise for what it’s worth. I mean, I adore the Mission: Impossible movies, but was there ever really a need to return to the Top Gun Universe? I didn’t believe so, particularly with Joseph Kosinski being involved. I enjoyed Oblivion and I’ll die on the hill that is Tron: Legacy, but also recognize that Tron: Legacy could have been a better film if the writers just didn’t paste the original film and wipe it down with a new coat of paint. I think I may have incorrectly put that on Kosinski, rather than the writers.

Top Gun: Maverick does pretty much the same thing here. If you’ve seen the original Top Gun, you already have the blueprint for the sequel in your head. You could play both films side by side, and not counting for the pacing between them, align each scene with the sequel’s counterpart. Does that even make for a sequel? Did we learn nothing from Star Wars: The Force Awakens?

I don’t know. I didn’t hate Top Gun: Maverick at all. It’s just that odd feeling at having seen it all before and almost completely guessing what’s going to happen next. If you can get past that, it’s a good film. By the end of the movie, I wanted to buy a computer, a Thrustmaster HOTAS set and a copy of DCS to fly with.

Top Gun: Maverick continues the story of ace fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, once the 2nd Best at Top Gun. Now testing special aircraft, he lands himself into trouble again with the Navy, only to be sent back to Top Gun. Yes, he was an instructor there and this new film references this. However, Maverick’s return has him training a team of elite pilots on a special bombing mission requiring some unorthodox maneuvers. In training the pilots, the best will be declared the mission leader. When Maverick discovers that one of pilots is Brad Bradshaw (Miles Teller, Whiplash), son of his deceased Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) Goose, tensions erupt. Can Maverick get the team to improve and be ready for the mission?

Writing wise, Top Gun: Maverick isn’t bad. It gets in, does the job and gets right back out. No scene is drawn out too far, no storyline angle seems to be mulled on. With two main writers and three screenplay writers (including Mission: Impossible‘s Christopher McQuarrie), it’s pretty tight. Again, there’s the problem of using the same story map as the original. There doesn’t appear to be many obstacles for them to hurdle, storywise. Like Underwater, having so many familiar sites and scenes helps. What I did like was that it didn’t point many fingers at any one place. The opposing fighters are “5th Gen” craft, but you don’t really get any kind of feeling of where they’re from. Were they Russian? Serbian? Chinese? Canadian? Unless I missed something in the watch, I didn’t catch who the enemy was. They were just men in planes with missiles and guns.

I liked the cast here. Jon Hamm (Tag)makes for a good opponent to Cruise, and they have good scenes together. There’s also something of a love story to the film, though it’s light. While it would have been cool to have Kelly McGinnis back, Jennifer Connelly (Alita: Battle Angel) made for a good replacement and her character’s okay. For the young pilots, I particularly liked Lewis Pullman’s (Bad Times at the El Royale) Bob and Monica Barbero (NBCs Chicago Justice) Phoenix, along with Glen Powell’s (Everybody Wants Some!) Hangman. Each one brought some style and attitude to the mix.

By far the best entry here is Val Kilmer’s return as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky. The story was written in a way to include his issues with speech, given his cancer diagnosis. He honestly has one of most memorable moments in the film, and I loved how they tied his character back to Maverick’s. I have to give some kudos to Cruise, Kilmer and company for that. If there’s any other reason to see the film other than the planes, that was it.

Oh, the flight and fight scenes! Goodness, what a treat! I usually sit in the front row, where no one ever sits. Since the Regal RPX screen is huge (but not Lincoln Center IMAX beastly), that first row is some distance away. The sense of speed was cool and there were some fantastic shots both in cockpit and out, which had me leaning in my seat with the action with every hard left and right. While I’ve always been more of a fan of the F-14 Tomcat used in the original, there is a legitimate reason for the team to have to use the F-18 Hornet. While the main mission feels a lot like the trench run from Star Wars: A New Hope, it’s a great sequence overall. Watching Maverick make a plane dance is a sight to behold, and there is at least one scene in the film that contained an awesome thrust vectoring moment. Think of thrust vectoring like drifting a plane in midair the way you would drift a car in a turn. It’s hard to describe, but beautiful when seen.

Musically, I don’t have much to say. While Lorne Balfe (Mission: Impossible – Fallout), Hans Zimmer (Dune), Harold Faltermeyer (Top Gun) and Lady Gaga (House of Gucci) all worked on this, I can’t say that any tune other than the original Top Gun Anthem really stood out for me. Not a terrible thing at all, just not extremely memorable. At least with Fallout, I was humming the 2nd half of “Stairs and Rooftops” until I bought the album. Gaga’s “Hold My Hand” is a great piece and ties in pretty well to where it’s used.

Overall, Top Gun: Maverick is a treat, and was better than I expected. It gets a little heavy handed at following the same path of the original, the but the new story is enjoyable enough to have it stand out on it own.

Ethan Hunt returns in the Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One Teaser!


Holy Cow! On Twitter, Christopher McQuarrie dropped the teaser trailer for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning – Part One and there’s just so much to unpack here. Lorne Balfe reunites with McQuarrie on the score and I’m loving the piece that plays in this trailer. It looks like almost everyone from Mission: Impossible Fallout are back, and some new faces are present with Haley Atwell joining the fray. It’s also interesting to see Henry Czerny back in the mix. If the Fast and Furious movies have taught us anything, it’s that you can always find a use for a character you thought you shelved. Wow, it’s just a teaser, and it’s only Part One! I’m pretty excited for this.

Trailer – Top Gun: Maverick


Maverick is back in the skies in Top Gun: Maverick. In the newly released trailer, it looks like Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is still flying after all these years, which explains why he isn’t an Admiral by now. He still has that old motorcycle, though it looks like he rides a newer one and we’re seeing F-18 Hornets in combat, which should be cool. Tomcats are also still in flight, bless the angels.

Not much is known about Top Gun: Maverick save that Christopher McQuarrie (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Mission Impossible: Fallout) has the writing duties here along with a few others. The directing duties are tied to Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy). Kosinski and Cruise also worked together on Oblivion.

Top Gun: Maverick also stars Academy Award Winner Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris and Val Kilmer.

The movie will be released in theatres next Summer.

Enjoy.

Film Review: Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (dir by Christopher McQuarrie)


Rebecca FergusonEarlier tonight, Jeff and I saw Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation and now I’m pretty sure that I’m developing huge girl crush on actress Rebecca Ferguson.

She plays Ilsa Faust, a former operative for M.I.6. who is now somehow involved with a shadowy terrorist organization known as The Syndicate.  And while Ilsa may only be a supporting character (because, after all, this is a Mission Impossible film and therefore, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is unquestionably the star), she dominates every scene that she’s in.  Whether she’s escape the scene of an attempted assassination while wearing a dress that is simply to die for or rescuing Ethan Hunt from certain death, Ilsa Faust is a woman who kicks ass, takes no prisoners, and looks great while she’s doing it.  As much as I love Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, Ilsa Faust is my new espionage role model.

The movie attempts to suggest that there’s some sexual chemistry between Ilsa and Ethan.  Oddly enough, there’s not.  Tom Cruise looks good and he gives a confident and likable performance but, as a character, Ethan comes across as being almost asexual.  He seems to be attracted to only intrigue and danger.  And yet, that lack of authentic romantic chemistry actually works to the film’s advantage.  Ilsa is never reduced to merely being a love interest.  Instead, she’s an equal to Ethan throughout the entire film.

Of course, Ilsa has secrets of her own.  Everyone in Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation has a secret.  The film opens with the IMF being disbanded and its operatives being absorbed into the CIA.  When the CIA director (Alec Baldwin, in full jerk mode) orders Ethan to stop investigating the Syndicate, Ethan goes underground and continues his activities in secret.  His allies (Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, and the great Simon Pegg) can only help him in secret.  The origins of the Syndicate turn out to be the biggest secret of all.  There are so many secrets in Rogue Nation that it’s sometimes hard to keep track of them all but, again, that works to the film’s advantage.  It keeps the audience off-balance.  You never know when someone’s going to suddenly pull out a gun and start shooting or rip off a mask and reveal themselves to be someone else.

Rogue Nation is an entertaining action film.  The stunts are spectacular and the set pieces are exciting and enjoyably over the top.  (There’s a scene where Ethan Hunt has to change out a security card while holding his breath underwater and I literally watched it through my fingers.)  I wouldn’t suggest trying to read too much into the film and yet, at the same time, Rogue Nation does capture the paranoid times in which we live. The film manages to both condemn the excesses of government while celebrating the toys that make those excesses possible.  The average film goer may not be able to do all of the things that Ilsa and Ethan can do but we all know what it’s like not to trust authority.

That’s what makes Solomon Lane, the main villain played by Sean Harris, such an interesting character.  I know that some reviewers have complained that Lane’s role was underwritten but I have to disagree.  Lane may not be as verbose as the typical spy movie villain but I appreciated the fact that he remained somewhat enigmatic up to the conclusion of the film.  He never made the mistake of over explaining his evil plan and accidentally giving the IMF team extra time in which to defeat him.  (Solomon Lane obviously learned his lesson from watching countless would-be world conquerors accidentally allow James Bond to get the better of them.)  Lane may be ruthless and evil but he’s also a revolutionary who is outraged by some of the same things that the rest of us are outraged by.  This brings a welcome hint of ambiguity to the film.

Though it never quite reaches the lunatic highs of either Kingsman or Furious Seven, Rogue Nation is still an enjoyable and effective action movie.  Undoubtedly, Ethan and the IMF team will return in another installment.  Here’s hoping that Ilsa Faust gets a spin-off of her very own.

 

 

Review: World War Z (dir. by Marc Forster)


WorldWarZ

I’ll get this out of the way and just say it: World War Z the film pretty much has nothing in common with the acclaimed novel of the same name by author Max Brooks (reviewed almost at the very beginning of the site). Ok, now that we have that out of the way it’s time to get to the important part and that’s how did the film version turn out on it’s own merits.

World War Z was a film that took the long, winding and rough road to finally get to the big-screen. Whether it was the five different writers brought in to work on the script (J. Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5 fame came onboard first with Christopher McQuarrie coming unofficially to help tighten a few scenes in the end) to the massive changes made to the original source material that was bound to anger the fans of the novel, the film by Marc Forster had an uphill climb to accomplish even before the final product even came to market.

I was as surprised as man others were that the finished product was better than I had anticipated. Some had very low expectations about World War Z coming in due to the rumors and news reports coming in about the problems during production, but it doesn’t change the fact that the unmitigated disaster predicted by every film blogger and critic beforehand never came to fruition.

World War Z might not have been what fans of the novel had wanted it to be, but when seen on it’s own merit the film was both exciting and tension-filled despite some flaws in the final script and use of well-worn horror tropes.

The film begins with a visual montage interspersing scenes of nature (particularly the swarming, hive-like behavior of certain animals like birds, fish, and insects), alarmist news media reporting and the mindless celebrity-driven entertainment media that’s so big around the world. From there we’re introduced to the main protagonist of the film in one Gerry Lane (played by Brad Pitt) and his family. We see that the Lane family definitely love and care for each other with his wife Karin (Mireille Enos in the supportive wife role) and their two young daughters, Rachel and Constance. The film could easily have spent a lot of time establishing this family and their relationship towards each other, but we move towards the film’s first major sequence pretty much right after the opening. It’s this choice to not linger on the characters too long that becomes both a strength and a weakness to the film’s narrative throughout.

WorldWarZPhilly

World War Z finally shows why it’s not your typical zombie film with it’s first major sequence in the center of downtown Philadelphia as Gerry and his family sees themselves in bumper-to-bumper traffic. As they wait there are some subtle hints that something might just be somewhat awry ahead of them as we see more and more police racing towards some sort of emergency ahead of the family and more and more helicopters flying overhead. There’s a brief lull in the scene before all hell breaks loose and the film’s zombie apocalypse aspect goes from 0 straight to 11 in a split second.

It’s this sequence of all-encompassing chaos overtaking a major metropolitan city seen both on the ground through the eyes of Gerry Lane and then on flying overhead wide shots of the city that gives World War Z it’s epic scope that other zombie films (both great and awful) could never truly capture. It’s also in this opening action sequence that we find the film’s unique take on the tried-and-true zombie. While not the slow, shambling kind that was described in the novel, these fast-movers (owes a lot more on the Rage-infected from 28 Days Later) bring something new to the zomgie genre table by acting like a cross between a swarm of birds or insects with the rapidly infectious nature of a virus.

These zombies do not stop to have a meal of it’s victims once they’ve bitten one but instead rapidly moves onto the next healthy human in order to spread the contagion it carries. We even get an idea of how quickly a bitten victim dies and then turns into one of “Zekes” as a soldier has ended up nicknaming them. It’s this new wrinkle in the zombie canon that adds to the film’s apocalyptic nature as we can see just how the speed of the infection and the swarm-like behavior of the zombies could easily take down the emergency services of not just a city and state but of entire nations.

WorldWarZJerusalem

World War Z works best when it doesn’t linger too long between action sequences. Trying to inject some of the themes and ideas that made the novel such a joy to read only comes off as an uncomfortable attempt to try and placate fans of the novel. When we get scenes like Philadelphia in settings like Jerusalem and, in smaller scales but no less tense, like in South Korea and on a plane, the film works as a nice piece of summer action fare. This works in the first two thirds of the film but a sudden shift in the final third in Cardiff, Wales could be too jarring of a tonal shift in storytelling for some.

While the change from epic and apocalyptic to intimate and contained in the final third was such a sudden change this sequence works, but also shows just how bad the original final third of the film was to make this sudden change. It proves to be somewhat anticlimactic when compared to the epic nature of the first two-thirds of the film. We get a final third that’s more your traditional horror film. In fact, one could easily see World War Z as two different films vying for control and, in the end, the two halves having to try to co-exist and make sense.

World War Z doesn’t bring much of the sort of societal commentaries and themes that we get from the very best of zombie stories, but it does bring the sort of action that we rarely get from zombie films. The film actually doesn’t come off as your traditional zombie film, but more like a disaster story that just happened to have zombies as the root cause instead of solar flares, sudden ice age or alien invasion.

So, while World War Z only shares the title with the source novel it was adapting and pretty much not much else, the film wasn’t the unmitigated disaster that had been predicted for months leading up to it’s release. It’s a fun, rollercoaster ride of film that actually manages to leave an audience wanting to know more instead of being bombarded with so much action that one becomes desensitized and bored by it. There’s no question that a better film, probably even a great one, lurks behind the fun mess that’s the World War Z we’ve received, but on it’s own the film more than delivers on the promise that most films during the summer fails to achieve and that’s to entertain.

Darren Aronofsky to take on Wolverine


A little over five years ago Warner Brothers made the decision to reboot the Batman film franchise. Several names of filmmakers were mentioned as candidates to helm this reboot. One of them was director Darren Aronofsky. He has made a name for himself helming very dark (and for some very depressing) films about very damaged personalities and their struggles. The Batman/Bruce Wayne duality was perfect for Aronofsky and he had begun to do early treatments to adapt Frank Miller’s classic Batman origin tale, Batman: Year One. In the end, this Aronofsky project fell through and the reboot ended up being handled by Christopher Nolan (not a slouch of a filmmaker himself).

Aronofsky has made a couple of original and very personal films since then (The Fountain, The Wrestler, Black Swan), but with 20th Century Fox scrambling to put another one of their Marvel-licensed properties into production in order to keep the rights to them, they’ve decided to give the reins of the next Wolverine film to Aronofsky. Rumors of Aronofsky close to signing the deal to helm this Logan sequel was finally confirmed by none other than Hugh Jackman himself aka Wolverine in an interview for Vulture.

The first film in this character’s franchise was lackluster at best and horrible to most. The fact that a sequel has been greenlit even after the less-than-stellar box office returns of the first film was headscratching to many. Will Aronofsky’s involvement in this sequel actually erase the bad taste that Wolverine: Origins left in fans’ mouths. If there was anyone who can actually get a handle in the troubled and damaged psyche of one of Marvel’s most iconic characters it would be Darren Aronofsky.

There’s still little details as to what sort of storyline this Aronofsky sequel will take or will he just decide to reboot the franchise and start fresh. The reaction I’ve been reading has been mostly tepid with some guarded excitement from those who thinks Aronofsky will end up working his dark magic on this character on the big-screen. We’ll learn more once filming starts in early 2011.

Here’s to hoping that Aronofsky can do for Wolverine what Nolan was able to do for Batman.

Source: Vulture