Film Review: Tropic Thunder (2008)

Release Date: August 11th, 2008 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Written by: Justin Theroux, Ben Stiller, Etan Cohen
Music by: Theodore Shapiro
Cast: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Steve Coogan, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Brandon T. Jackson, Bill Hader, Nick Nolte, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Cruise, Brandon Soo Hoo, Reggie Lee, Trieu Tran, Tobey Maguire, Tyra Banks, Maria Menounos, Martin Lawrence, Jason Bateman, Lance Bass, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Alicia Silverstone, Christine Taylor, Yvette Nicole Brown, Sean Penn, Jon Voight, Justin Theroux

Goldcrest Pictures, Red Hour Films, Dreamworks Pictures, 107 Minutes (theatrical), 121 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I’m just like a little boy, playin’ with his dick when he’s nervous.” – Kirk Lazarus

Tropic Thunder is only thirteen years old yet it definitely isn’t a movie that you could make today.

Things have really changed in American culture and this picture now feels like it was Hollywood’s final attempt at a giant middle finger to the sensitive bitches that they knew would dictate the direction of cinematic art going forward.

While I haven’t seen this since it came out, I loved it pretty immensely at the time. I wasn’t sure if it would be as good as I remembered but man, I really should’ve been watching this fairly frequently over the last several years. I miss movies like this where nothing was sacred and you could make fun of anything and people still laughed.

There is a stark contrast between the world in 2008 and 2021. It’s fucking worrisome, as we live in a time where everything is fucking offensive and because of that, comedy is dead. I mean, when’s the last time a new movie made you laugh as hard as this one? These films just don’t and can’t exist anymore.

Not only is this hilarious, it’s pretty superbly acted for a comedy movie. The cast is pretty stacked with talent and all of them commit to the bit in every single scene. Frankly, there isn’t a weak link in this flick and I say that not being a big fan of Ben Stiller or Jack Black. Sure, I like some of their films but they were never guys I went to the movies for.

That being said, this might be the greatest thing that Ben Stiller has even done, as he doesn’t just star in it but he also co-wrote and directed it.

With that, the concept for the film was great and Stiller’s direction was just on another level, here. He showed that he can handle action, as well as comedy, and he got some fantastic shots in this picture.

The more I reflect on this, after my first viewing of it since the ’00s, it might very well be one of the all-time greats, as far as ensemble comedies go. While it’s not quite on the level of Ghostbusters, it’s not too far behind it, honestly.

Rating: 8.75/10

Film Review: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Also known as: Traumnovelle, Rhapsody (working titles), EWS (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: July 13th, 1999 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Frederic Raphael
Based on: Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler
Music by: Jocelyn Pook
Cast: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Marie Richardson, Todd Field, Sky du Mont, Rade Šerbedžija, Thomas Gibson, Vinessa Shaw, Fay Masterson, Alan Cumming, Leelee Sobieski, Leon Vitali, Julienne Davis, Madison Eginton, Abigail Good, Cate Blanchett (voice, uncredited)

Hobby Films, Stanley Kubrick Productions, Warner Bros., 159 Minutes

Review:

“Bill, I don’t think you realize how much trouble you got yourself into last night just by going over there. Who do you think those people were? Those were not just some ordinary people. If I told you their names… no, I’m not going to tell you their names… but if I did, I don’t think you’d sleep so well at night.” – Victor Ziegler

Stanley Kubrick has multiple films that I consider masterpieces and this is one of them. In fact, while re-watching this, I tried to look for things to pick out as negatives and I didn’t find any.

While this motion picture has a long running time, it’s one of those special films that has a real mystique about it and it just lures you in and holds your attention from scene-to-scene.

It stars then-married Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman and as good as both of them have proven to be at their best, this is possibly both of them at their absolute best.

The scenes between Cruise and Kidman are intense and magnetic. While they were divorced a few years after this movie’s release, their love transcends the screen, as does their pain and then their shared truths potentially strengthening their bond by the end of the film. If they were no longer in love in real life, their performances just solidified how great both of them are at their craft. I also think Kubrick saw this in them and that’s why he cast both of them as a married couple.

The bulk of the story deals with Cruise having discovered that his wife nearly had an affair and it makes him question their marriage and sets him off on a quest of sexual exploration. While he is confronted by a lot of things, he never really cheats on her either. However, along the journey, he uncovers a billionaire sex cult in a mansion outside of New York City. He is immediately discovered and then ousted from this secret meeting but it creates an obsession within him, where he needs to uncover the truth behind it. He then finds himself in a cat and mouse game as the reach of this group is much larger than he could’ve imagined. Eventually, a very rich, close friend has to give him his final warning to stop pursuing this mystery.

The end of the film, sees Cruise breaking down and confessing to his wife in a similar manner that she confessed her near affair to him.

The sex cult stuff is the highlight of the film, really. And no, not because it’s a sequence with a sex cult but because of how opulent the setting was and how mysterious and unsettling the whole thing was despite the affluent atmosphere. This sequence was one of Kubrick’s best in his long career and it’s neat that it came in his final film, as so many auteurs tend to lose “it” towards the end of their careers.

The sex cult sequence, like the rest of the film, is hypnotic and enchanting. This is not just due to the acting, the pacing of the film, the score and the mysterious, disturbing circumstances but also the tone and atmosphere, which came courtesy of Kubrick’s wonderful eye for shot-framing, as well as the stellar cinematography of Larry Smith. Shockingly, this was Smith’s first film and he also did double duty, serving as the lighting cameraman, as well. He’d eventually go on to work with Nicolas Winding Refn on Fear X, Bronson and Only God Forgives, three films that also look amazing.

Eyes Wide Shut is a picture that isn’t for everybody. It actually asks a lot of its audience, as there are a lot of deep things to ponder. While Cruise’s obsession with the cult might seem like a large distraction from the real point of the plot, it’s actually just what he latches onto to simultaneously ignore and process his feelings of sadness, anger, growing guilt over his own actions and the overbearing thoughts of marital betrayal. 

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Top Gun (1986)

Release Date: May 12th, 1986 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr.
Based on: Top Guns by Ehud Yonay
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, John Stockwell, Barry Tubb, Rick Rossovich, Tim Robbins, Clarence Gilyard, Whip Hubley, James Tolkan, Meg Ryan, Adrian Pasdar

Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Paramount Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“That was some of the best flying I’ve seen yet. Right up to the part where you got killed. You never, never leave your wing man.” – Jester

If you weren’t around when this movie originally came out, it might be hard to understand how much of an impact it had on pop culture. As a kid and a big fan of G.I. Joe and movies like Iron Eagle and Red Dawn, I thought it was cool as hell. The coolness was also maximized through the casting of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, as well as the Kenny Loggins hit song “Danger Zone”.

Also, to my little mind, Maverick was about the coolest f’n name ever!

Anyway, I used to watch this a lot. It’s been years since I’ve seen it though but I wanted to get a fresh take on it before its long-awaited sequel comes out later this year, assuming it’s not delayed again.

While I actually don’t see this as a great film or have the crazy amount of love for it as many from my generation do, it’s still entertaining as hell and it’s really cool simply for the insane visuals of all the fighter jets just doing their thing. The aerial stunt work is f’n phenomenal! That being said, there just wasn’t anything like this when it came out and many have tried to replicate it with less success. Nowadays, they just opt out and go the CGI route but everything you see in this movie is real.

Apart from that, the story is just decent. It doesn’t really grab you or pull you in and it feels like its all just to set up the aerial parts of the movie. While I do like the characters, they also feel grossly underdeveloped. You spend all this time with them but it’s hard to connect to them. Sure, it’s tragic when Goose dies and you understand Maverick’s heartbreak but it doesn’t have as much impact and meaning had we seen these characters fleshed out more.

I think that the movie actually suffers from having a little too much of its best part: the aerial stunts. If that was trimmed down a bit or the film was a wee bit longer and just spent more time developing the core characters, it could’ve been something much better.

Still, it is a cool and energetic movie that’s well acted and superbly executed. And despite what I feel is a lack of character development, it does hit me in the feels when Iceman finally accepts Maverick at the end.

Also, I f’n love James Tolkan in everything.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Tom Cruise movies of the ’80s.

Film Review: Austin Powers In Goldmember (2002)

Also known as: Austin Powers 3, Austinpussy, Austin Powers: Never Say Member Again, The Next Installment of Austin Powers, The Third Installment of Austin Powers (working titles)
Release Date: July 26th, 2002
Directed by: Jay Roach
Written by: Mike Myers, Michael McCullers
Music by: George S. Clinton
Cast: Mike Myers, Beyonce Knowles, Michael Caine, Michael York, Robert Wagner, Seth Green, Mindy Sterling, Verne Troyer, Clint Howard, Rob Lowe, Fred Savage, Masi Oka, Michael McDonald, Donna D’Errico, Greg Grunberg, Kinga Philipps, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Kristen Johnston, Tom Cruise, Danny DeVito, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones, John Travolta, Britney Spears, Ozzy Osbourne, Sharon Osbourne, Kelly Osbourne, Jack Osbourne, Willie Nelson, Burt Bacharach, Nathan Lane, Katie Couric

Team Todd, Gratitude, New Line Cinema, 94 Minutes

Review:

“There are only two things I can’t stand in this world: People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures, and the Dutch.” – Nigel Powers

The third and unfortunately final film of the Austin Powers series may be the worst of the three but it’s still damn enjoyable and pretty good. Besides, all the films are fairly close in overall quality; this one just happened to be the odd one out.

That being said, this one is the most ambitious of the three pictures.

I like this movie, even if the story feels really overstuffed. There are some cool, big twists to the series’ mythos and I actually kind of loved what they did with it by the end of the film. It also ended in a way that opened up a fresh take on the franchise that would’ve been really neat to explore in another movie.

While a fourth film has been rumored since this one came out, I don’t see how you could even do it now in our overly sensitive, always offended modern world. Comedy is truly dead in the 2020s and anything they could make, would be an unfunny, mittens wearing, faded Xerox copy of the original three flicks. No thanks.

Anyway, I think what I liked most about this was the inclusion of Michael Caine as Austin’s father. He was so enjoyable in this that I wish they would’ve debuted his character earlier so that we could’ve got him in more than just one picture.

Mike Myers also ups the ante, as he now plays not just Austin, Dr. Evil and Fat Bastard but also a new villain, Goldmember.

Heather Graham is gone, unfortunately, but Beyonce was decent as the new female partner for Austin. They didn’t really seem to give the two a romantic plot, though, which kind of felt weird, as Austin, in spite of his ugliness, is a chick magnet of incalculable levels.

As I said, this is the worst movie of the three but it’s still a good send off for these characters and their story, assuming we never get a fourth film.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the other Austin Powers films and other ’60s styled spy spoofs like the Dean Martin Matt Helm movies and the original Casino Royale.

Film Review: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Also known as: M:I-6, Mission: Impossible VI (alternative titles) 
Release Date: July 12th, 2018 (Paris premiere)
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie
Based on: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett, Michelle Monaghan, Vanessa Kirby, Wes Bentley, Frederick Schmidt, Ross O’Hennessy, Wolf Blitzer (cameo)

TC Productions, Bad Robot Productions, Skydance Media, Paramount Pictures, 147 Minutes

Review:

“There cannot be peace without first a great suffering. The greater the suffering, the greater the peace. The end you’ve always feared… is coming. It’s coming, and the blood will be on your hands.” – Solomon Lane

These movies are so damn good! Well, at least from the third one forward. I’m still sour about my initial experience with M:I-2 from twenty years ago.

Anyway, this one is a hair below the previous chapter but it’s still a near perfect, spy thriller masterpiece.

There is really only one negative with this film and that’s the exclusion of Jeremy Renner. However, Renner had become too busy with his work as Hawkeye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so his absence is understandable. Also, adding Henry Cavill to the cast was a massive plus, even if he doesn’t survive beyond this chapter… or so, one would assume.

Other than Renner, this brings back everyone from the previous film, as well as bringing back Michelle Monaghan in a role that was thankfully bigger than just an uncredited cameo like in the fourth movie.

This one also adds in Angela Bassett as the CIA director, who is a secondary antagonist until she sees the light and learns to trust America’s greatest hero, Ethan Hunt. We’re also introduced to a new character, played by Vanessa Kirby, who I sincerely hope returns in future films. Not just because she’s f’n gorgeous but because her character is really damn interesting, badass and I’d just like to see her get to develop more, as they keep pumping out these movies because Tom Cruise is ageless.

The plot feels a little heavy and overloaded but thankfully, by the end, everything kind of falls into place in a good way. I also felt like this didn’t just build off of its direct predecessor by featuring the same villain and key characters but it also sets up the future, as the main villain is still alive and one would assume that he will come back into play again, almost becoming Mission: Impossible‘s equivalent to James Bond‘s Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Plus, Sean Harris is f’n chilling as hell in this role and despite him being a monster, I want to see more of him. Although, I do eventually want to see him catch a bullet or an even more over-the-top death.

I think that my favorite thing about this film, though, was the rivalry and personal war that developed between Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and Henry Cavill’s August Walker. While Cavill dies, their final battle was so damn enjoyable that I wish he hadn’t. And no, I don’t think they’ll bring him back because that’d be stupid, based off of how he gets taken out, but killing him was a mistake due to how well he and Cruise worked together.

Additionally, the action in this chapter is top notch and nothing short of what you would expect.

I also feel like I need to give props to the film’s score by Lorne Balfe, who successfully experimented with the classic Mission: Impossible theme in multiple parts of the picture. I liked his fresh take on the score, as it felt like it belonged and didn’t come off as a composer trying too hard to stand out and make his own mark. It meshed well with what we’ve become used to over the last few films and just built off of that.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is impressive. But most importantly it was entertaining as hell and a shit ton of fun.

I’m also just going to come out and say that this series, after the disastrous second chapter, is my favorite film series post-2000. They’re consistently great, always leave me impressed and make me yearn for more.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Mission: Impossible films.

Film Review: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Also known as: Mission: Impossible 5 (working title), MI5 (informal title)
Release Date: July 23rd, 2015 (Vienna premiere)
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie, Drew Pearce
Based on: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Music by: Joe Kraemer
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris

TC Productions, Bad Robot Productions, Skydance Media, Paramount Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“I can’t protect you, that’s why I need you to leave.” – Ethan Hunt, “That’s not your decision to make, Ethan! I am a field agent, I know the risks! More than that, I am your friend, no matter what I tell the polygraph every week! Now you called me because you needed my help! And you still do! So I am staying! And that is all we are gonna say about that!” – Benji Dunn

Man, I was a fool for quitting this series after the pretty terrible second film. Each movie since then has gotten better and better and frankly, I’m incredibly impressed by these stupendous movies! I shouldn’t have ignored the hype, I should’ve bought in and just enjoyed these on the big screen. Well, thankfully there are two more installments currently being filmed.

Getting into this particular chapter of the franchise, all my favorite surviving members of the series are back and it’s great seeing them pick up where the fourth film left off while also adding in Alec Baldwin and Rebecca Ferguson, who I absolutely fucking loved in this. I’m glad they chose to let her stick around for more films after this one, as she hit it out of the park and became the best female in this series almost immediately. Although, I was curious about Paula Patton’s absence and hope that her character appears at some point again, in the future.

This chapter also establishes a great villain and villain group that our heroes have to face. It’s sort of like Ethan Hunt having to face his own version of James Bond‘s SPECTRE but a lot less hammy and a bit more scary, as these film’s tend to veer more towards realism than the classic SPECTRE stories in the earliest Bond movies.

And while this might easily be brushed off as a rehash of that idea or other similar stories with villainous, secret terrorist groups like Hydra or Cobra, this group feels more plausible in the real world.

As is customary with these awesome flicks, the movie is full of incredible stunts and action sequences. While I think the previous film edges out this one in that regard, this is a slightly better movie, overall. That has a lot to do with the story but also in how this expands the mythos in a cool new way while building up from the franchise’s very strong foundation (excluding M:I-2 of course).

In the end, this was near-fucking-perfect for what it is. It gives me hope for the sixth film, which I still haven’t seen, as well as the two sequels yet to come. If the series maintains its quality beyond this chapter, it may become my favorite franchise of the modern era, post-2000.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Mission: Impossible films.

Film Review: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

Also known as: Aries (fake working title), Mission: Impossible IV (working title), MI4, MiGP (informal titles)
Release Date: December 7th, 2011 (Dubai International Film Festival)
Directed by: Brad Bird
Written by: Josh Applebaum, Andre Nemec
Based on: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov, Josh Holloway, Anil Kapoor, Lea Seydoux, Tom Wilkinson (uncredited), Ving Rhames (uncredited cameo), Michelle Monaghan (uncredited cameo)

TC Productions, Bad Robot Productions, Skydance Media, Paramount Pictures, 132 Minutes

Review:

“The Secretary is dead. The President has invoked Ghost Protocol. We’re shut down. No satellite, safe house, support, or extraction. The four of us and the contents of this car are all that remains of the IMF.” – Ethan Hunt

Well, out of the four Mission: Impossible films that I’ve seen, this one is hands down the best. Now I still have to see the two after this but following the third movie and this one, the franchise seems to be on a great trajectory following the second film, which killed the series for me way back in 2000.

I loved this movie from top-to-bottom and it had a superb cast that had solid chemistry, allowing them, as a unit, to carry the picture and alleviate the big burden from just being on Tom Cruise’s shoulders. As great as Cruise is, this made for a better film where he was still the star but a part of a great ensemble that made this movie seem bigger, cooler and more important than any of the previous ones.

As far as the cast goes, I wish that Ving Rhames was more involved and didn’t just appear in a cameo at the end.

The story here was also the best of the series. Although, it is hard to top Philip Seymour Hoffman as the villain in the previous chapter. Still, the villains in this one are good and I was enthralled by their plot and how it effected the bigger picture of this franchise not just in this movie but moving forward beyond it.

The action sequences were stellar and the stunts were damn impressive. Each of these sequences sucked you right in, keeping your eyes glued to the screen. I loved the tower climb sequence, as well as the sandstorm chase.

All of the techie stuff was also very clever and while this dips its toe into the James Bond high-tech spy thriller pool, these films feel very much like their own thing and the tech is unique and fits the film’s style. It’s similar to Bond but our heroes here aren’t just using tiny gadgets with one function or suped up, weapon-loaded cars. The tech here is bigger and more interesting than just being one-off gags or easy solutions to an immediate problem.

I also loved the cinematography and the way the film was shot, as it had massive scope and just looked pristine and perfect. The locations contributed a lot to this but everything was masterfully crafted and captured on film.

Michael Giacchino’s score was really good and the more of I hear of his work, the more I like it. I think he has the ability to become one of the top composers in the game, which is refreshing as so much of the music made for films these days is forgettable and almost generic, paint-by-numbers compositions. Giacchino’s scores harken back to a time when film scores were iconic, memorable and would go on to stand the test of time by living on in people’s minds for decades. While I can’t call him a John Williams or an Ennio Morricone, I’ve greatly enjoyed his work and it exceeds what has become the norm.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is an incredibly solid blockbuster picture. Everything in it just feels right and I was smiling ear-to-ear from start-to-finish. And honestly, that’s all I want from these sort of movies. 

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Mission: Impossible films.

Film Review: Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Also known as: Heyday (fake working title), M:i:III (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: April 24th, 2006 (Rome premiere)
Directed by: J. J. Abrams
Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, J. J. Abrams
Based on: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, Simon Pegg, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Keri Russell, Maggie Q, Laurence Fishburne, Eddie Marsan, Greg Grunberg, Aaron Paul

MI 3 Film, Cruise/Wagner Productions, Paramount Pictures, 126 Minutes, 124 Minutes (cut)

Review:

“You can look at me with those judgmental eyes all you want, but I bullshit you not, I will bleed on the American flag to make sure those stripes stay red.” – Brassel

Mission: Impossible II was such a disappointment when I saw it in the theaters, that I never saw another Mission: Impossible film after it. However, I’ve heard great things about the more recent sequels and I’ve been motivated to go back and give the franchise another shot.

Having already revisited the first two films for review purposes, I have now reached the third one, which is the first one I’ve never seen. Granted, I knew about the gist of the story as a former roommate used to talk about the movie a lot. He was also a J. J. Abrams mark until 2009’s Star Trek kicked his hard-on into the sun.

Speaking of which, this is directed by J. J. Abrams. I actually have to say that this is one of the best films he’s directed, if not the best from the ones I’ve seen.

This actually doesn’t get wrecked by relying on too many of the tropes that have made some of Abrams’ other films and television shows, predictable and tiresome. Sure, there’s the whole MacGuffin thing and the big swerve and he also borrows heavily and obviously from other films, even ones in this picture’s own franchise, but the final product was entertaining and palatable.

The film is also helped by the performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Cruise and most of the other key players. Hoffman really stands out in this and I might even say that his talent far exceeded what was needed for this movie.

The action sequences were good, even if some of them felt familiar. The bridge battle, for instance, was very True Lies. However, at least sequences like that didn’t just outright copy their influences and tried to do something unique. Now had we had Cruise reaching for his wife to save her from her car going into the ocean, I probably would’ve called shenanigans much louder.

One thing I did like about this film is that it seemed more serious than the two before it. With that, it kind of reinvents the series and wipes away the gigantic misstep that was the second film. Because of that, this is the best film out of the first three.

In the end, this was a solid, fun movie with good action, good characters and a few performances that were much better than they had to be. Although, the twist ending about the bad guys having someone on the inside was just a rehash of the ending from the first movie and it was kind of lame. But I guess Abrams couldn’t help himself.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Mission: Impossible films.