Top Gun: Maverick

Hey, remember Top Gun? It was that 80s movie full of strong-jawed, confident men flying cool fighter jets and having intense but controlled confrontations in their underwear. Well, the executives at Paramount Pictures remember it – along with the hundreds of millions of dollars it made them at the box office. They remember it so well that they’ve gone and made it again!

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Released last year, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ returns 36 years later (!) to the story of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. Once a cocky young flyboy, Mav is now a weathered test pilot whose career has stalled. He’s been put out to pasture, but he’s still in the Navy, he’s still a crazy maverick and he’s still the best of the best. Now he’s got to return to the Top Gun flight school for one last mission and teach these young bucks how to do it right.

America lost its mind for this movie, but Brian and Hemal had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it beautifully captured the whole elite, fighter-jock vibe of the original movie, and set the bar even higher in terms of how the airplane stuff was shot and integrated into the story.

But the fan service – my God, the fan service. Hardly a scene goes by when the filmmakers don’t stop the action to wave something in our faces from the original movie. Hey, remember this guy? Remember this awesome scene? Remember when Mav said that cool thing? Here it all is again! 

The theory seems to be that we loved it before, so there’s no reason to change anything. But also they don’t think highly of our intelligence, so they want to make sure we get it. We can accept the first part of the theory, but the second part wears us down. Yes, for the love of Christ, we get it. 

Jerry Maguire

You complete me. You had me at hello. Show me the money! If you were around during the 90s, you have almost certainly repeated one of the many memorable lines from ‘Jerry Maguire’, the beloved rom-com / sports-comedy hybrid from fabled Gen X director Cameron Crowe.

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If you haven’t watched ‘Jerry Maguire’ in a while, be warned that there is a lot going on in this movie. There’s a whole romantic comedy where Tom Cruise plays an ill-starred sports agent who gets together with the somewhat wilted Renee Zellweger, then splits up and then gets back together again. Then there’s a whole buddy comedy where Tom Cruise paRankingsls around with Cuba Gooding Jr., his sole remaining client.and tries to score him a multimillion contract to play football. 

For the most part, Cameron Crowe fits it all in, but Brian and Hemal felt that the movie showed its age a wee bit. But Tom Cruise is in excellent form here. Usually his movies lean heavily on dramatic tirades or him running around and jumping out of exploding vehicles, but here he’s fully inhabiting the stressed-out, striving, emotionally spent character of Gerald Maguire.

The Mummy

So many iconic Tom Cruise movies one could choose. Why the 2017 flop ‘The Mummy’? Wouldn’t it have been better to just watch the Brendan Fraser version for the fifth time?

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But it has become rare for Tom Cruise to star in a commercial failure. The man is a certified box office draw – he makes the great big movies America loves.

Sadly, though, America did not love ‘The Mummy’. Not only did it lose a pile of money and receive – quite justifiably – critical derision, it single-handedly tanked Universal Pictures’ planned shared universe series rebooting classic movies monsters and teaming them up, Avengers-style. Though, upon reflection, that seems like a bad idea,  so perhaps we can’t lay all the blame at the mummy’s feet.

But surely, at least, the film is a fun romp? Or, perhaps, a terrifying thrill ride? Or the sort of high-octane action movie for which Tom Cruise is so well known? Unfortunately, it’s a mish-mash of all those things, switching from one to another without a lot of rhyme or reason.

It does, however, feature a lot of Tom Cruise doing that thing where he runs with his knees up high – and a couple times Russell Crowe comes on screen to explain the plot, so that’s all right.

The Firm

Whether he’s running from aliens, infiltrating enemy lairs or flying his jet upside down , Tom Cruise’s character are always the best of the best. In ‘The Firm’, he’s a hotshot young attorney, fresh out of law school, the best of the best. And the boutique Memphis law firm that hires him away from Wall Street? Turns out THEY WORK FOR THE MOB! Dang it.

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Luckily he sorts it all out, via an extremely complicated plot that requires him to run all over Memphis in his suit, being pursued by an albino assassin and a menacing, gun-toting Wilford Brimley, while Holly Hunter flies to the Cayman Islands and photocopies files at a furious pace. You’d think that part would be dull, but Holly Hunter somehow makes it exciting.

If you like a tense thriller, ‘The Firm’ will be right up your alley. It’s a white-knuckler. Brian and Hemal both enjoyed it – and felt that Tom Cruise was going beyond his usual skill set (running! grinning! running!) to give us an honest-to-goodness character. 

Even better, this movie is chock-a-block full of terrific character actors, from Holly Hunter’s sassy working-class broad with a heart of gold to David Strathairn’s crookedly wise ex-con to Wilford Brimley with his gun and menacing scowl. And, of course, the inimitable Gene Hackman as Tom Cruise’s charmingly corrupt mentor wreathed in doom.

Interview with the Vampire

On the one hand, one regrets the recent, Twilight-era trend towards making cinematic vampires moody and emo, instead of ravenous monsters of the terrifying dark. On the other hand, it’s possible to lean a little too hard into the horrible – ‘Interview with the Vampire’ is a seriously dark movie. Way darker than you’d expect a mid-90s Hollywood blockbuster starring the likes of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt to be.

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In the previous Tom Cruise movies we’ve watched this season the Last Great American Movie Star has been in his usual mode: the confident, handsome leading man righting wrongs and battling evildoers. Whether he’s a lawyer, a spy or a fighter pilot, he’s always the best of the best.

Here, though, he plays a melodramatic, campy vampire in a bad wig who has a thing for Brad Pitt. And he’s not even the lead! If you can imagine. But, say what you will, the man always commits.

Hemal and Brian agreed that ‘Interview with the Vampire’ wasn’t necessarily a movie we enjoyed watching, but has a certain weight to it. It’s weird, genuinely horrifying in many (many) places and campy in others, but it has a warped sort of integrity to it – these fellas set out to make a for-real old-school vampire movie, that’s for sure.

Minority Report

Two titans of popular American cinema, together for the first time! We are referring, of course, to Max von Sydow and Tim Blake Nelson. Ha! We joke. ‘Minority Report’, released in 2002, marks the first time that famed director Steven Spielberg worked with Tom Cruise. (Though Max von Sydow and Tim Blake Nelson do appear in the movie, the latter as a delightfully weird future prison warden who plays the pipe organ and spouts aphorisms.)

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‘Minority Report’ concerns itself with the lofty concept of free will. In the not so distant future, police can detect murders before they happen, thanks to the telepathic abilities of the “pre-cognitives”, a trio of bald people floating in goo. Is this arrangement moral? Is it fallible? We’ll find out when Tom Cruise, the lead detective in charge of the “pre-crime” unit, is himself marked as a would-be murderer.

The movie was well received upon release, and seems to have gone on to achieve a degree of even more positive retrospective appraisal. It’s certainly a plotful film – you really have to pay attention to this one. Brian and Hemal did not entirely agree on whether that was a good thing, but they did both appreciate Tom Cruise zipping around the future being chased by proto-facist police and feeling sad about his dead son.

A Few Good Men

You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! No truth-handler, you. Bah! We deride your truth-handling abilities! 

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It’s all here in ‘A Few Good Men’, the iconic military legal thriller courtroom drama. Tom Cruise as a cocky young hotshot lawyer! Demi Moore as an idealistic, impassioned career military attorney (who, as the only woman in a world of competent men, is herself strangely incompetent)! Jack Nicholson as the menacing, authoritarian Marine colonel who ordered the Code Red! Wait, but did he? You’re goddamn right he did!

Hemal and Brian went long on this one. There’s a lot to unpack. At its heart, ‘A Few Good Men’ is less a mystery or a legal thriller than an extended philosophical exercise, putting the classical liberalism of virtue ethics against cold-eyed utilitarianism, if you like that sort of thing. Mostly, though, we had a lot to say about Kevin Bacon’s haircut.

It’s a strangely formal & focused movie. From the very first scene, director Rob Reiner deliberately punctures any possible tension that might arise from mystery. We, the viewers, know exactly what happened that fateful night, even as the characters struggle to understand and make sense of it. We decided this is because screenwriter Aaron Sorkin doesn’t trust his audience to figure anything out on their own; the movie has to spell it out for you, often in the form of the characters themselves delivering lengthy explanations of their actions and beliefs. Brian enjoyed this, since the movie has such a clear sense of what it cares about. Hemal disliked it, because she can’t stand Aaron Sorkin’s whole deal.

Days of Thunder

If you haven’t seen ‘Days of Thunder’, it’s basically the exact plot of ‘Top Gun’, except all the airplanes are racecars and the story is significantly slower and more ponderous. But that didn’t stop Hemal and Brian from watching the film for the Ten Movies podcast and that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this delightful episode.

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Tom Cruise leans heavily into type here, playing a cocky young hotshot racecar driver who is (say it with us) the best of the best. With the help of Robert Duvall, the world’s greatest pit crew chief, he wins a lot of races and dates Nicole Kidman, but then he gets in a wreck and is sad, but then he’s the best of the best again. A simple, age-old tale, perhaps, but it takes a long time to get through because they show a LOT of car races.

Released in 1990, ‘Days of Thunder’ reunited Tom Cruise with Tony Scott, director of ‘Top Gun’, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer for a legendarily troubled production. There was also an extensive promotional advertising tie-in campaign for Mello-Yello, a once top-tier soda that Wikipedia informs us “is still sold as a fountain drink at various locations including Arby’s and Cracker Barrel”, if that tells you how well that worked out for those guys.

Brian and Hemal had mixed feelings about the film. Brian objected to all the interminable car racing and ponderous narrative structure, while Hemal was more upset that they got the pace car rules wrong. Either way, you should probably listen to this episode.

Mission: Impossible

Is there a more iconic Tom Cruise movie than ‘Top Gun’? If there is, it’s ‘Mission: Impossible’, the film that launched his longest-running and best-loved franchise – and steered him from the dramatic roles of the 80s and early 90s to the high-octane action films of his later career.

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The movie was released in 1996 and directed by Brian De Palma, which struck Hemal and Brian as an odd choice, given the slightly creepy and weirdly intimate tone he brings, a direction very much at odds with the later, glossier entries in the Mission: Impossible series. 

But the template for those future movies is all here from the get-go: the betrayals and counter-betrayals, the disavowals, Tom Cruise going rogue, the iconic action set pieces, Ving Rhames, and, of course, the stupid masks they’re always putting on.

Rather than the generically serviceable 90s action-thriller it might have been, ‘Mission: Impossible’ is actually a strong opening to one of the biggest (and most lucrative) movie franchises around.

Top Gun

Did we start an exciting new season of the Ten Movies podcast featuring iconic cinematic works of Tom Cruise, the Last Great American Movie Star? You bet your ass. And is ‘Top Gun’ possibly the single most iconic Tom Cruise movie of all time? Again, you bet your ass.

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If you’re a fan of strong-jawed confident men making American military hegemony look fun and awesome, then Top Gun is the movie for you. Most of the time they’re flying their cool fighter jets, but sometimes they’re having intense but controlled confrontations in their underwear. 

But whether the boys are in each other’s faces making terse statements, playing shirtless volleyball or going Mach 2 with their hair on fire, one thing is for sure: Maverick is the best of the best. He wins the dogfights, he drives the coolest motorcycle and he gets the ladies – even when his generally insufferable behavior gives one reason to question the ladies’ judgment.

Released in 1986 and directed by Tony Scott, ‘Top Gun’ is a genre- and era-defining classic, so beloved by moviegoers that they made another one, like, 20 years later. Also starring Kelly McGillis, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt and Val Kilmer as the unforgettably cool, jaw-clenching Iceman.