My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Tom Cruise seems to be the only one left who knows how to make a good old-fashioned Hollywood movie, the kind everyone seems so nostalgic for but that the dream machine can’t seem to re-produce regardless of how many reboots, remakes, and sequels they make. He gets the spectacle but he also gets storytelling and I think there’s a strong argument that he is not only the last real movie star but also the “auteur” of his recent films, the main creative force driving a team of collaborators to carry out his vision.
As for the film itself, I found it mostly successful though wasn’t quite as enamored as many of my peers. The first third didn’t completely work for me. After a stunning opening with the plane test, the movie bumps along in an adequate but unimpressive way. For this viewer, that changed when Cruise’s relationship with Connelly began to mature. No spoilers, but that scene of intimacy not only serves as the take off for what turns out to be an astonishing last half but it also shows the way the character Maverick and Cruise himself have matured over the years. From then on, the movie struggles to do anything wrong. It’s propelled with great character relationships (the key to any Hollywood classic) and some of the best action since… well, since the last time Tom Cruise had a movie in theaters. Like the last Mission Impossible, the finale action scene is breathless. Cruise seems to understand action on a new level now, getting that it isn’t about looking cool but about danger. In these last two blockbusters he’s successfully achieved something quite incredible: convincing audiences that Tom Cruise could die on screen. That element along with the incredible craftsmanship on display makes this film and everything Cruise releases a must see.
Watched at Harkins Tempe Marketplace.
Operation Mincemeat (2022)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Coincidence that two of the best films (this and Munich: Edge of War) concern World War II and were released directly to Netflix? Though it somewhat saddens me to say, the films going straight to streaming are by and large better than the ones hitting theaters. This one is a near-perfect, riveting character-driven spy film.
The writing and acting are top notch, from the grounded Firth to the complex subtlety of Matthew Macfadyen (a new discovery for me) to the wit and vulnerability of Kelly Macdonald, who I feel like I haven’t seen on screen in a long time. Along with Penelope Wilton, they make up one of the best ensembles in recent memory.
The story is a fascinating untold tale and a reminder that the smallest actions can have great consequences. It has inspired me to return to one of my own stories, also based on a real war, that explores the same theme.
Capturing the spirit of John Le Carre and Alan Furst but also packing a strong emotional punch at the end, I cannot recommend Operation Mincemeat enough!
Watched on Netflix.
Only the Brave (2017)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Though it was unintentional, I realized when queuing this film up to watch with my parents that it is not only directed by Joseph Kosinski, who helmed the new Top Gun, but also features two of that film’s cast: Jennifer Connelly and Miles Teller.
Teller may be the highlight of this film as he gives us a very different performance than seen in other works like Whiplash and Bleed for This. I not only believed him as an addict and screw-up but I also bought his transformation. Josh Brolin is good too of course, reliable as always. His character and relationship struggles remind me of my own, balancing life and work, though I cannot compare making movies to fighting dangerous fires.
This film is the kind that should receive awards but it is neither flashy or obvious enough to attract the shallow Academy. It’s a sturdy, heart-wrenching true story that makes me appreciate the men and women who risk their lives for us.
Watched on Amazon.
Rules of Engagement (2000)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
In some ways, Rules of Engagement has aged well and that’s surprising since the war/foreign policy-themed film was made a year before the entire world changed with 9/11. I appreciated Friedkin’s procedural thriller more today than I did two decades ago, perhaps because it’s subject remains relevant and far more interesting to me at this age. Also, films like this don’t get made much anymore which only increases the value of ones released in the recent past.
The movie is also a reminder of Friedkin’s incredible skill as a director of action. The siege at the embassy is an astonishing sequence with all the right camera placement and cuts to make it a chaotic yet comprehensible depiction of battle. It should stand aside the other classic action scenes Billy made throughout his career.
The film falters in its last third, missing some key opportunities to explore certain aspects of the story and characters, especially Guy Pearce. His prosecutor is set up to be a complex foe but is given short change by the end of the film. It could have been a better movie, but it’s still a good one.
Watched on HBO Max.
Men Without Women (1930)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
This is a fascinating hybrid film, combining early sound technology with silent film techniques. It’s interesting to see where Ford chooses to use actual dialog and where he continues to lean on title cards.
The structure of the film is also worth noting. Though this isn’t a long feature, it’s first fifteen minutes are taken up entirely by sailors getting drunk. Soon after, they’re immediately thrown into the dire scenario that makes up the rest of the picture. It’s to Ford’s credit the film remains thrilling to this day, nearly a hundred years after it was made. He always has a knack for pulling at my heartstrings.
Watched on Criterion Channel