Thursday, June 5, 2014

Riske Business: The One About Tom Cruise

This week, Patrick and I talk Tom Cruise like it’s 1995 and we’re on The Rosie O’Donnell Show. So watch your head because we’re shooting Koosh Balls! How many? So many that we’re starting to get Kooshlash.

Adam: I miss the Tom Cruise that used to make movies like as Born on the 4th of July, i.e. mostly dramas. He gave such a raw, emotional and sad performance. Nowadays, he seems primarily interested in making action movies. Do you feel the same way about Cruise? And do you think his action movies are the only type of movies he can get made these days?

Patrick: I think we’re seeing a couple of things with Tom Cruise. Yes, I think he’s playing it “safer” now and sticking with what sells, so we get effects-driven movies and big blockbuster-type movies. But I also think that’s where his interests lie, and I’d rather Tom Cruise make the kinds of movies that he’s passionate about and which he feels challenge him than some prestige drama. It bums me out that he has made some choices this decade seemingly out of fear (it’s never going to be as good as the craziness of Magnolia/Eyes Wide Shut/Vanilla Sky), but I also think he continues to make interesting career moves.

Playing a supporting role as a rock star in a musical isn’t exactly “safe,” and if the movie was any goddamn good we might have been talking about what a smart choice Rock of Ages was for him. The movie is terrible and so we rewrite history to say that he fucked up. But he's the best thing in that movie and doesn't phone it in. Tom Cruise NEVER phones it in. He played a German soldier in a historical epic. He played a professional murderer. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol remains one of the best action movies of the last two decades, and Cruise took a chance on working with Brad Bird in his live-action debut (just as he had done with J.J. Abrams in the third installment, and that guy has since been handed both Star Trek and Star Wars). Jack Reacher is not a conventional blockbuster -- it has more in common with the kinds of movies you’re missing from the ‘80s and ‘90s than it does with the movies of today. And then there are his science fiction movies, which we know is where his heart lies these days.
Adam: You bring up some interesting examples. I forgot just how many of his movies I enjoyed in the last 10 years. Valkyrie was better than I expected, Jack Reacher is a smart, engaging thriller and of course, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, but I have to split with you there because I think Mission: Impossible 3 is the better movie. Am I nuts? Rabbit’s foot!

Patrick: I like M:I III, too! We are a dying breed (and Ghost Protes is totes better. Totes.). Getting back to Born on the Fourth of July, I think that’s a fine movie and an unexpected (at the time) choice for Tom Cruise. But it was also a very conscious choice on the part of TC to align himself with the best filmmakers and take roles that weren’t just teen garbage or 15 variations on Top Gun (he settled for only six or seven of those). He was a movie star of his own making as much as of his audience. Amy Nicholson just wrote a really interesting piece in L.A. Weekly that charts his rise up through his “flame out,” which she argues was not really a flame out. It’s worth reading.

Adam: I read that piece by Amy Nicholson actually because I heard about it and was worried I would be duping what she wrote about here. Maybe a strange concern though since it’s not as if two people writing about the same thing on the Internet has never happened before. Anyways, ditto, everyone should read that piece.

Patrick: I think Cruise also helped reinvent the action film. I’ve said a million times that one of the things I like best about him is the way he wills a movie to succeed when it otherwise wouldn’t -- I can see him singlehandedly dragging it across the finish line.

Adam: Are you referring to Mission: Impossible specifically? I never thought of it that way before, but yeah, I guess it does usher in that gritty spy movie that has since been co-opted by Jason Bourne and Daniel Craig’s James Bond.

Patrick: Yeah, I think Cruise is responsible for ushering in the Jason Bournes of the world. The original Mission: Impossible moved the action movie away from the super-violent, super-human heroes of the ‘80s and early ‘90s and towards a more cerebral spy-thriller vibe. And then M:I:2 came out and was the dumbest thing ever (that I still kind of like…shhhhh).

Adam: Wow…you’re a fan of M:I:2, huh? That’s a bold statement! Do you want to drive our motorcycles into each other head-on, jump in mid-air and start a fight? I’m free on Sunday.
Patrick: I like Tom Cruise. I know he’s a polarizing figure even on this site and I know he’s made some bad movies. But I have a hard time looking at his filmography and denying that he has made some of the smartest and most interesting choices of any movie star of his stature in the last 50 years. He has worked with SO MANY great directors.

Adam: He has worked with many great directors BUT in the past 10 years it seems he’s falling in with lots of middle-of-the-road ones.

Patrick: And yet I think it does speak to an interesting quality that TC has: now that he’s not really working with great established directors (and there just aren’t that many he hasn’t already worked with), he is willing to take chances on the Next Big Thing. He was working with Joe Carnahan on a Mission: Impossible movie before that fell apart. Brad Bird. J.J. Abrams. I'll even include Joseph Kosinski on that list; though Oblivion falls kind of flat (it’s fine but generic), Cruise took a leap of faith in trusting in Tron: Legacy’s vision.

Adam: I want to get back to when you mentioned that sci-fi might be where Cruise’s interests lie these days. Have you read or heard that is the case? He seems equally committed to everything he does so I’d be interested in finding out if he’s a big sci-fi or action fan.

Patrick: I haven’t heard anything specific that says he’s way into sci-fi; I just made a connection based on the kinds of movies he’s done in the 2000s (and, to be honest, with his religion). And to be fair, I completely forgot about Oblivion when I was all “his science fiction movies are challenging and interesting!” Because that one doesn't quite fit the bill, even though I think it's an ok movie.

Are you a fan of Tom Cruise?

Adam: I am actually a pretty big Tom Cruise fan and will see his movies based on him being in them alone (Rock of Ages excluded), but I have to be honest and say that I get all sad and shit that his movies don’t capture my interest as much anymore. It’s as if he’s aged and he’s more into hip properties and as I age, I want more dramas out of him and old man movies (though that could mean more Lions for Lambs, which sucked ballz #BangerzTour).

Patrick: If you do not love his career choices these days, what kinds of movies would you like to see him do?
Adam: If I could have Cruise play more of something, I would want him to take more parts similar to Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible 3. There were vulnerabilities to his man of action and he was revealed to be this big softy romantic guy, which drove the emotion of some of the character interactions and parts of the conflict. I think he’s played “the man” -- i.e. the guy in total control -- way too much recently, but then again, that’s been his M.O. for most of his career. He should also play more assholes such as the one in Rain Man, which is my favorite performance of his. He owns that movie. I love how willing he is to be a total shit without empathy, and not care about being liked by an audience, yet still completes a character arc and transitions to a total shit with empathy.

Patrick: Are there any performances of his that you think are deserving of more respect?

Adam: Sure. Minority Report and The Firm come to mind. The unifying factor of those (along with Mission: Impossible 3) is that he plays up the fact that he doesn’t have all the answers and he’s at the mercy of the situation or the antagonists in question. And he just breaks my heart in Born on the Fourth of July.
Patrick: I like him in Born on the Fourth of July (though I don’t like that movie as much as you), but I think that’s another case of great casting as much as it is good acting. The movie works on our relationship with Tom Cruise, Movie Star. I’m fascinated that he knew enough to do that fairly early on in his career.

Adam: It’s interesting that you mention great casting in reference to BOT4OJ. At Ebertfest, Oliver Stone did a post-movie Q&A and said that he deliberately wanted to cast Cruise as a piece of subversion. It was very much a scenario of turning his Maverick pro-military image from Top Gun on its head. It’s not a safe movie.

Patrick: For as easy as it is to say he’s making FX-heavy genre movies to be “safe” right now, there is very little that’s safe of even audience-friendly about movies like War of the Worlds or Minority Report. Maybe Edge of Tomorrow will be generic (though I’m looking forward to it), but I like where Tom Cruise is at right now. He’s trying to stay relevant while still following his heart and trying to make mainstream art, just as he always has.
Adam: I’m more pro-Edge of Tomorrow now as the early reviews are coming in saying that it’s quite good. I’m keeping my fingers crossed because Emily Blunt gives me nervous energy. She pretty. I have to comment though (er, disagree) on War of the Worlds. I think it’s safe. Hell, even the 9/11 overtones didn’t seem to rile up anyone as I remember it. Is it the ending that you mean by it not being safe? Because that ending ruins the movie for me. It’s one of the most anticlimactic endings ever.

Patrick: Sure, War of the Worlds is audience friendly, because Steven Spielberg knows how to play an audience better than any other filmmaker. But I also think it's an angry, nasty movie that pushes back at the audience as much as it delivers the things they want. And, yes, the ending is bad. Not just because the son lives. It's because there's only two-thirds of a movie there.
Adam: There is little I appreciate about Spielberg’s War of the Worlds outside of the first act. That movie hurts my feelings. 103 minutes, they must be crazy. I’ve been watching third acts since Santa Claus was a glimmer in his father’s eye. I can handle anything.

Unrelated to War of the Worlds, I heard speculation a while back that Cruise is going to star in a reboot of Van Helsing. Is that anything you would be interested in seeing?

Patrick: I would love to say that there's NO WAY I can be tricked into seeing a re-do of Van Helsing, but of COURSE I would be there opening day. There's a good idea for a movie there. It's just that Stephen Sommers' version hates me. And you. And babies.

Adam: Yeah, that Sommers is an Odd Thomas. What are your five favorite Cruise movies? Mine are Magnolia, Minority Report, Collateral, Jerry Maguire and Mission Impossible 3 – which is better than Protes, for real.

Patrick: I'm not sure I could pick a Top 5 Cruise movies, but I'm guessing my list would look a LOT like yours. Except MI3 would be replaced by the superior Ghost Protes. And that's the last word on that. Xenu says it is so.

Adam: The warrior princess?


  1. I think Tom Cruise is a very good actor. I like his energy and drive to make things succede. I think my favorite performance of his is in Collateral because he's great in it and it's a different kind of part for him than I feel like he normally plays, which makes it all the more intriguing.

    I'm quite excited to see Edge of Tommorow. It sounds both interesting and entertaining, and like just darn good sci-fi. I'm hopefully seeing it tonight!

    1. I should also admit that I've never seen Magnolia before. I know, I'm the worst. I think I rented it one time with every intention of watching it, but was never able to get around to watching it, eventually sending it back unseen.

    2. You should watch Magnolia this weekend. It will make your weekend even better. Cruisesploitation!

    3. I don't know if I can secure it by this weekend, but I'll certainly see it as soon as I can!

  2. Now this is a proper discussion of Tom Cruise THE ACTOR. I don't follow tabloid garbage and while I've been unable to escape the fact that he's a Scientologist weirdo, I would never examine an actor's film career through the lens of his personal life so I'm glad you guys don't (though I think it's fair to speculate on whether his religion has affected some of his film choices).

    There's a lot of Tom Cruise stuff I love, and a lot I like, but I don't think I've ever HATED a Tom Cruise performance (yeah, even Tropic Thunder) or even movie he's in - the guy NEVER phones it in - the closest thing I can come up with as a complaint is that sometimes he's almost too perfect; i.e. his performance is GOOD where a less secure actor might have made it more INTERESTING (if that makes sense).

    Looking forward to Edge of Tomorrow!

    1. It's funny that you mention "interesting" because I think his character in Edge of Tomorrow is different than the guy he usually plays, especially at the beginning. It's like he listened to you and repeated the making-of Edge of Tomorrow to make sure he was following your advice.

    2. It's possible - I don't know him personally but our Thetans hang out sometimes.

  3. I too am a big Mission Impossible III fan! Glad people out there agree. I have always heard that directors and actors LOVE working with Cruise as he is known in Hollywood as one of the most professional, hard working people who shows up on set ready to go and completely prepared. I always keep that in mind when I go into a Cruise flick. I have no problem saying that I'm a fan. I've grown up with Cruise movies my entire life and when I think about it, I've probably seen almost all of them.

    1. M:I:III rules! I'm watching that and Ghost Protes back to back this weekend to settle what is best once and for all.

    2. That's a tough one. Two VERY different movies if you think about it. MI: III is dark, Protes is cartoonish (hence Brad Bird directing).

  4. My vote is for Ghost Protes, but I can only assume Patrick thinks that I must REALLY hate MI:III. Which I don't, of course.

    1. M:I: III is the Hellboy II of the series, Mike.

  5. I’m not a huge Tom Cruise fan. Not due to his public persona, although I find that all quite ridiculous, but I’ve never been very attracted to Star driven vehicles and the concepts of his movies aren’t usually very attractive to me. However, as his decisions have come more in line with concepts I do like I am finding that he is reducing my interest in movies I assume I would find more attractive is not a TC Vehicle. I cant explain that.

    But in looking at his filmography (thanks Wikipedia for my vocabulary) I think his choices have reflected the times and trends in general popularity more than personal interest. I see him similarly to someone like Madonna. They have altered their look, style and genre to fit with the popularity of the times in order to remain relevant and top of the pops. This has resulted in an impressively long career which I’m not going to try to take away from him. Just that when you look at it this way plus take into consideration his role as producer in some of movies, I think its far more business strategic than personal artistic interest. His big movies at least.

    But then again, I can be an asshole.

    1. I think you're onto something. The Madonna comparison seems apt. Especially with his cone t*ts from Far and Away.