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.

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcast
Listen to this episode on Spotify

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.

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcast
Listen to this episode on Spotify

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.)

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcast
Listen to this episode on Spotify

‘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! 

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcast
Listen to this episode on Spotify

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.

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcast
Listen to this episode on Spotify

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.

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcast
Listen to this episode on Spotify

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.

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcast
Listen to this episode on Spotify

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.

Ten Movies: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson

Brian and Hemal bid farewell to the Dwaye Johnson season of Ten Movies, sharing the insights they have gleaned into the dark quotidian heart of America during this season’s journey.

More importantly, they rank the ten movies from this season and disagree very sharply on a definitive ordering of The Rock’s movies.

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcast

What did we learn this season? The Rock’s perch upon the loftiest heights of American consumer culture is substantial but shallow; a carefully-calibrated thing that traffics heavily in explosions, fisticuffs, car chases, idealized masculinity and a studied ideological vagueness.

Yet behind all that, a faintheartedness – for all the movies he makes (2.15 feature films a year; we did the math) and the untold cultural and commercial power he wields, Dwayne Johnson is deeply wary of doing anything that might cause even the slightest brow-furrowing among his extensive consumer segments.

But then again, who are we to fault him? Do the explosions, fistfights and car chases not delight us? Are we not entertained?

Whether you’re a regular listener or a first-time visitor, this is a not-to-miss episode. And if all the highbrow prattle isn’t to your liking, just skip ahead to the rankings.

Here’s what we watched this season:

Hobbs & Shaw. A high-octane and somewhat ridiculous action thrill ride where The Rock teams up with Jason Statham to fight evil and crash cars.

Rampage. The Rock fights giant monsters, but also has a giant monkey friend.

Jumanji. A bunch of teens gets transported into an evil video game, turn into action heroes and have to brave various perils to escape back to reality.

Central Intelligence. The Rock plays a weird man-child who is also somehow a merciless CIA operative and he embroils a hapless Kevin Hart in a series of tonally incoherent adventures.

Moana. A beloved animated kid’s adventure film featuring The Rock as a self-centered Polynesian demigod who helps a plucky young girl journey across a vast and perilous ocean to rescue her village.

Red Notice. A paint-by-numbers action-comedy starring The Rock, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds, all laboring to outdo one another in endearing smarm.

Hercules. A cynical exercise in giving the audience nothing they might remember, or even notice, this one stars The Rock as a mighty hero who does nothing interesting.

Fast Five. Car chases! Fisticuffs! Familial camaraderie! More car chases! The Rock joins the beloved Fast & Furious franchise to give Vin Diesel on more thing to worry about.

The Scorpion King. In The Rock’s feature film debut, he plays a sword-wielding warrior in a movie that takes its cues partly from D&D and partly from 80s-era heavy metal album art.

San Andreas. When The Big One hits California, The Rock zips around in a variety of emergency vehicles trying to rescue his daughter and win the affections of his estranged ex-wife while a million buildings fall down in the background.

Hobbs & Shaw

As Dwayne Johnson’s cultural vitality exceeds even his legendary physical might, he breaks free from the confines of the Fast & Furious franchise to team up with Jason Statham and fight evil robot Idris Elba in the high-budget action thrill ride, ‘Hobbs & Shaw’.

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcast
Listen to this episode on Spotify

Technically the movie is called ‘Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw’. How they exercised enough restraint to avoid adding “Brought to You By Mountain Dew Code Red” to the title we will never know. The Fast & Furious movies, of course, concern the exploits of a band of action heroes who do crimes, drive fast cars and talk about how they are a family. The Rock first joined the series back in Fast Five, but word on the street is that he and series producer / main star Vin Diesel get along less than famously, so this spinoff film is a way for the studio execs to have their cake and eat it too: Dwayne Johnson, reliable draw that he is, stays in the Fast & Furious-iverse, but doesn’t have to do movies with Vin Diesel, preventing the two from clashing over who is bigger, balder and more ethnically ambiguous.

Dwayne Johnson plays Hobbs, a great big tough guy federal agent turned outlaw, who teams up with Shaw, played by Jason Statham, a great big tough guy who was always an outlaw, and they run around battling evildoers who are chasing Shaw’s sister, played by Vanessa Kirby, because she has ingested some sort of virus, maybe? Or nanotech? It’s not critical.

Anyway, this movie is exceedingly long, and the three leads run all over the place fighting bad guys and exploding cars and so forth. Eventually they realize the only way they can defeat evil robot Idris Elba is to go to Samoa, where The Rock’s family lives in the form of his charming mother and 15-20 big tough Samoan brothers. He is allegedly estranged from them, but they sort that out in about five minutes and spend the rest of the team getting ready for, and then having, a big climactic battle.

Hemal, of course, is extremely loyal to the Fast & Furious movies, largely because the late Paul Walker was so darn handsome. Brian could barely finish this one, so if our hosts disagreeing upsets you, you have been warned.

Ten Movies is part of the Underdog Podcast network and is produced with help from Seth Everett and Anthony Gill.

Rampage

If you’re familiar with the marketing materials for the movie ‘Rampage’, you know that i’s largely about The Rock fighting giant monsters. But he doesn’t just fight giant monsters, he fights giant monsters and has an enormous monkey for a best friend. Hard to see how it could miss.

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcast
Listen to this episode on Spotify

If you’re a Gen Xer, you may remember the beloved arcade game on which ‘Rampage’ was based. They’ve added some stuff, but the story is the same – giant mutant animals fighting and smashing up a city. 

Dwayne Johnson plays his usual: a strong, confident, supremely competent ex-military guy, though in order to align with the fairly minor demands of the plot, they also make him a primatologist. Due to the machinations of some sort of evil bio-tech company, his monkey friend George has been mutated to King-Kong proportions, along with a couple other animals. The Rock and an attractive lady scientist must track the mutant animals to Chicago, whence the evil bio-tech company has summoned them, in defiance of all logic.

‘Rampage’ came out in 2018, and was directed by Brad Peyton, who you may remember from such Dwayne Johnson vehicles as ‘San Andreas’ – a reactionary disaster epic we reviewed earlier in the season – and ‘Journey 2: The Mysterious Island’ – a low-budget kid’s thriller that is honestly not worth the time it takes to watch. The Rock, in his desire to produce upwards of half-a-dozen feature films a year, has a notable fondness for directors like Peyton and Rawson Marshall Thurber. They may not bring a strong artistic perspective to the project, but they know how to produce content.

The movie also stars Naomie Harris as the attractive lady scientist who is given nothing interesting to do, Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy as the villainous siblings who run the evil bio-tech company and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a delightfully roguish government agent guy, but Johnson’s real co-star is the giant monkey, who, we must admit, is pretty good.

Ten Movies is part of the Underdog Podcast network and is produced with help from Seth Everett and Anthony Gill.