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Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise as test pilot Captain Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell in a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

In 1986, 24-year-old, pre-couch-jumping Tom Cruise was featured in a string of high-profile films: The Outsiders (1983), Risky Business (1983), All the Right Moves (1983), and Legend (1985). Poised for a breakthrough, his performance as rebellious Naval Aviator Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun secured his stardom. The highest-grossing film of the year, it made over 350 million dollars worldwide. 

Many critics found little to love outside of the aerial dynamics, but it became a pop culture hit, winning the Academy Award for Best Song, “Take My Breath Away” (music by Giorgio Moroder; lyrics by Tom Whitlock). Inspired by Ehud Yonay’s article “Top Guns,” the film’s screenplay (by Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr.) combined endless flight jargon with dialogue lifted from the lesser After School specials. 

Peppered with clichés like “he’s a wild card” and “it’s not your flying, it’s your attitude,” the film lacked depth, subtlety, and even basic tension. The insufferably smarmy Maverick is not so much a character but the smirk of one. Outside of one “steamy” scene between Cruise and co-star Kelly McGillis, the homoerotic movie is populated by men in towels talking about the need to shower. Both misogynistic and juvenile, Top Gun made Risky Business seem emotionally sophisticated. 

As early as 2010, a Top Sequel was in development. Finally, after years of delays, Top Gun: Maverick arrives 36 years after the original’s release. Instead of a clumsy sequel, the creators have forged a smart, entertaining, well-made film that is visually stunning. If the screenplay (by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie) is not exactly Citizen Kane, the storytelling is defined. The characters are simply drawn but true to the situation. There is an honesty and a general earnestness that harkens back to the better war movies of the 1940s. Joseph Kosinski has directed his actors to play the characters straight down the middle. There are not a lot of surprises, but the can-do spirit works.

Cruise’s Maverick is a much-decorated pilot but still a captain. For every commendation he has received, overstepping has prevented him from receiving a promotion. While his skills are never in doubt, his problematic behavior towards authority has not so much stalled his career but buried it. At the end of the first film, Maverick requested a position as a Top Gun trainer. He reveals that he only lasted two months.

The older Maverick is low-key but still rebellious, rankling his superiors. Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (Ed Harris) tells him, “The future is coming. And you’re not in it.” 

Maverick’s formal rival, “Iceman” (Val Kilmer), now commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, has called Maverick back to Top Gun. (Except for Cruise, Kilmer is the only holdover from the first film. He has a single scene where he mostly communicates by typing as the admiral has throat cancer.) The mission is to take out a rogue state’s uranium enrichment plant before it opens. Surface-to-air missiles and skilled fighter pilots protect the canyon. The only way to bomb the plant is to literally fly under the radar in a demanding, dangerous mission.

Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (John Hamm) and Rear Admiral Solomon “Warlock” Bates (Charles Parnell) have gathered an elite group of fighter pilots for Maverick to train.

The plot is simple, with the sole complication that one of the pilots, Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, is the son of Maverick’s former radar intercept officer and best friend, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards in Top Gun). While cleared of the responsibility for his pal’s death, Maverick still carries guilt, and he reveals that at the request of Goose’s widow (now dead—Meg Ryan in the earlier film), he has done everything to prevent Rooster from flying. Eventually, Maverick and Rooster come to terms with their joined histories.

A minor romantic subplot involves Maverick and a bar owner, Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly), but it generates little heat or interest.

The film’s two driving forces are Cruise and the mission. Both Cruise and Maverick have aged well, and the general lack of arrogance makes for a watchable experience. As the writing is focused, the technical details are clear. The actors lean into the physical demands and challenges of the flying and the mantra that “It’s not the plane. It’s the pilot.” The cavalier comment in Top Gun—“A need for speed”—here actually makes sense. Everything builds up to a spectacular final act, with the operation beautifully orchestrated with the right amount of suspense and a couple of twists that help keep it interesting. The faceless, but ominous enemy, is smartly handled.

Top Gun: Maverick’s major song, Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand,” plays over the credits. It is an appropriate metaphor for the film. A bit schmaltzy but also effective, honest, and wholly satisfying.

Rated PG-13, the film is now playing in local theaters.

Sophia Boutella is ‘The Mummy’ in Universal Pictures latest venture. Photo from Universal Pictures

By Heidi Sutton

Recently Universal Pictures announced that it will produce a new series of classic monster films, titled “Dark Universe,” of which “The Mummy” is the first to be unwrapped. The studio also plans to remake “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Invisible Man,” “Dracula,” “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Dr. Jekyll” as well as a “Wolfman” reboot. “The ‘Dark Universe’ is a continuation of a love affair the studio has had with its classic monsters. It is a Valentine to the genre that is in our DNA,” says Universal domestic distribution president Nick Carpou.

Let me begin by saying I love scary movies. “The Grudge” and “Shutter” are personal favorites. And I’ve always been fascinated with ancient Egypt and the pyramids ever since my father gave me a book about King Tutankhamun as a child. So when given the opportunity to see the big summer reboot of “The Mummy” I was excited. The 1999 version starring Brendan Fraser, who evoked the Indiana Jones character, and Rachel Weisz became a surprise box office hit and was, at times, bone chilling to say the least.

Tom Cruise and Annabelle Wallis in a scene from ‘The Mummy’ Photo from Universal Pictures

Unfortunately, watching the new monster flick play out on the big screen at the Port Jefferson Cinemas last Sunday afternoon, I felt my excitement turn into disappointment as I realized I had set my expectations too high. Tom Cruise stars as Nick Morton, a less than likable character who lurks around war-torn Iraq with his partner in crime, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) stealing ancient artifacts and selling them on the black market. During an air strike, a missile uncovers the burial chamber of Egyptian Princess Ahmanet, played to the hilt by Algerian actress Sophia Boutella.

Why is an Egyptian burial chamber in the Persian Gulf? A flashback to 5,000 years ago tells the story of how the princess is next in line to succeed her father, Pharaoh Menehptre. When her father’s second wife gives birth to a son, the enraged princess sells her soul to the Egyptian god of death, Set, who gives her a special dagger to murder her family.

As she attempts to sacrifice her lover so that Set may appear in a physical form, Ahmanet’s plan is thwarted by the priests and mummified alive for her sins (sound familiar?). Her sarcophagus is carried to Mesopetamia and buried in a tomb filled with mercury, “a fate worse than death” and a curse is placed upon it. When Nick finds a way to remove the coffin, he unknowingly awakens the princess from her “prison” and is forever cursed as the chosen one who must be sacrificed.

In the succeeding scenes the mummy chases Nick around London unleashing an evil energy wherever she goes, all the while searching for the special dagger that was stolen by knights fighting in the Crusades in Egypt in 1100 A.D. and taken back to England to bury with their dead. Sounds interesting enough, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it only gets more complicated from then on.

Directed by Alex Kurtzman, and written by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman, with story by Kurtzman, Jon Spaihts and Jenny Lumete, the film also stars Annabelle Wallis who plays Jenny Halsey, an archeologist and friend of Morton, and Russell Crowe who plays the role of Dr. Jekyll (Yes, Mr. Hyde does make an appearance) intent on capturing the mummy to disect her, an obvious introduction of what is yet to come in the “Dark Universe” series.

While the special effects and stunts are top notch, especially the scene where the transport plane carrying the sarcophagus crashes, and the flashbacks of Egpyt in the New Kingdom are visually stunning, it is not enough to hold the story together as the actors are left to work with a poorly written script that seems to jump all over the place with no focus. When it tries to be funny it is corny; when it tries to frighten, it is funny. It’s also not very scary — creepy, yes — but not scary. And in hindsight, maybe 54-year-old Tom Cruise was not the best choice in the lead — he’s certainly no Brendan Fraser!

“There are worse fates than death,” says the mummy to Tom Cruise’s character. Yes, like having to sit through “The Mummy!” I’ll take Rick and Evie and Jonathan and even Benny anytime!

Now playing in local theaters, “The Mummy” is rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images and for some suggestive content and partial nudity.