Tom Cruise

Top Gun: Maverick


Cineworld, Edinburgh

I wasn’t a big fan of the original Top Gun.

Reviewing it for City Life Magazine in 1986, I complained that the film felt like a glossy advertisement for the US Navy – and I wasn’t in the least bit surprised when the American military elected to instal enrolment booths in cinemas showing the film, so that pumped-up youngsters could walk straight out of a viewing and sign themselves up for active service.

This sequel had already been a long time coming before the pandemic obliged its release date to be pushed back several times. Finally, here it is, with Tom Cruise still looking perfectly serviceable in the hunky action man role and with Joseph Kosinski taking up the directorial reins on behalf of the late Tony Scott.

Years after the events depicted in the first movie, we meet Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, still a mere Captain, while most of his contemporaries are either dead or have risen through the ranks. He’s now working as a test pilot and is still more than ready to bend the rules when the powers-that-be threaten to close down his current project.

Close to facing a court martial, he’s ‘rescued’ by his former teammate Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky (Val Kilmer), who gets him assigned as instructor to an elite group of young pilots, training for a dangerous mission in Iran.

Mitchell soon discovers that one of his students is Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his old wingman ‘Goose.’ Bradshaw blames Mitchell for the death of his father – and for the the fact that he chose to hold him back in his training for several years. Can Maverick somehow bury the hatchet with Rooster and, at the same time, teach him to become a valuable member of his young team?

Hey, does the Pope shit in the woods?

Maverick is, I’m glad to say, a major improvement on the original film. Yes, it’s still pumped full of testosterone and yes, there’s still (inevitably) some major dick-swinging on display, but this story is considerably more nuanced than its predecessor and at least here the female characters are allowed to be more than just compliant love interests. There is still some romance, of course: Maverick hooks up with an ex, Penelope Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly), now conveniently divorced and running the local bar. It’s hardly a plot spoiler to say that, yes, old sparks are destined to fly.

As with the first movie, there are some extraordinary flight sequences here and they are given extra oomph when I remember that Cruise is doing it all for real, which is a mark of the man’s commitment to his craft. Unlike its perfectly honed lead, the film does get somewhat lumpen around the mid section, when a series of training sequences go into rather more detail than is necessary. It could do with a little less of that.

But things rally magnificently for a genuinely pulse-quickening final half hour and (yes, I admit it) a heartwarming conclusion. While you could argue that plot-wise it’s all faintly ridiculous (and you wouldn’t be wrong on that score), this is nonetheless a slice of highly polished entertainment that largely succeeds in taking its original premise to unexpected new heights.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Rain Man


King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s traditionally been the case that a successful play is turned into a movie but, more recently, there’s been a trend towards the reverse of that process, particularly when it comes to turning comedies into musicals. Happily they’ve decided to play this one straight. Rain Man first saw the light of day in 1988 as a film, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. It was, of course, a huge (and deserved) hit. This version is the inaugural production of ‘Classic Screen to Stage,’ with Ronald Bass’s original screenplay adapted by Dan Gordon. The story retains its 1988 setting, which is a good decision, since the world is now much more aware of autism and those who have the condition are treated far more sympathetically than they once were.

Charlie Babbit Jnr (Ed Speleers) is a hard-nosed automobile salesman operating just on the edge of the law. When we first encounter him, he’s closing a couple of deals over the phone, promising to pay cheques to people on the other end of the line and planning to take his fiancé, Susan (Elizabeth Carter), off for a naughty weekend. But then comes the news that his father has passed away, an event that barely causes him to raise an eyebrow. He and his father have been estranged for years. But, Charlie’s mother being long dead, there is a considerable estate to be handed over so, of course, Charlie and Susan head to the family’s home town for the funeral and the reading of the will.

Charlie is disgusted to find that all he’s been left is his father’s old car and his prized collection of classic roses. The three million dollar estate is to go to an unnamed party. Understandably miffed, Charlie starts doing some digging and soon discovers that he has an older brother he never knew about. Raymond (Mathew Horne) is sequestered in an institution. He is what was then known as an ‘autistic savant.’ Unable to cope with everyday situations, Raymond nevertheless has an incredible ability to remember facts, numbers and images. At first merely interested in getting his hands on half of the estate, Charlie practically kidnaps Raymond and takes him across country towards L.A., meaning to use him as ransom for his demands – but, as the two men spend time together, something suspiciously like brotherly affection begins to blossom between them.

At first, I don’t think I’m going to enjoy this adaptation. The opening scene, which is just people talking to unseen characters on the phone, doesn’t really catch fire. But as soon as Raymond makes an appearance, so the story takes a massive step up. Horne, who seems to have spent the past decade trying to atone for the (admittedly rather dismal) Lesbian Vampire Killers is really rather good in this, and he and Speleers make an engaging double act. Like the  film, there really isn’t that much for the female actors to do, but Carter makes the best of what she’s been given. (Just a thought. Couldn’t one of the doctors featured here have been a woman?)

Morgan Large’s production design is nicely done, all illuminated outsize squares and rectangles that rise up and down to form portals, posters and advertising hoardings, while the various set changes are slickly choreographed to the sound of classic 80s pop songs. The show seems to scamper along so briskly that I am surprised when the interval comes and equally surprised when the show reaches its poignant conclusion.

If you loved the film (and let’s face it, who didn’t?), the chances are you’ll enjoy this too. And thank goodness they’ve not attempted to turn this into Rain Man: The Musical!

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Mission Impossible: Fallout



Most film franchises follow a familiar trajectory. They start well and, through the rules of diminishing returns, steadily become ever more feeble until somebody finally has the good grace to pull the plug on them. The Mission Impossible series, however, seems to have gone in the opposite direction. After a couple of so-so efforts, episodes three, four and five really managed to cut some mustard – and this sixth instalment of the TV-inspired show is surely its strongest manifestation yet. Indeed, this audacious thrill-ride, courtesy of returning writer/director Christopher McQuarrie is so enthralling I occasionally find myself holding my breath as Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) jumps off buildings, races on motorbikes, dangles from helicopters and runs for miles, all in the name of truth and justice. Yes, it’s complete tosh, but when it’s done this well, who cares?

When we first meet up with Hunt, he’s worrying about Julia (Michelle Monaghan), the wife he’s been forced to live apart from in order to keep her out of danger. But of course, for an IMF operative, danger is never very far away. Old adversary Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is being used as a pawn by various secret powers, who aim to utilise his special skills to convert some stolen weapons grade plutonium into deadly nuclear devices. Hunt and his sidekicks, Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames), are assigned to take care of securing Lane and the plutonium and, for this mission, they are assigned an extra player – August Walker (Henry Cavill), a hard man with a high opinion of himself. But, when things go awry, the team are faced with a even trickier challenge. They must track down two nuclear weapons before they are detonated – an occurrence which will destroy huge areas of the planet. (So no pressure there.) Luckily, Hunt’s old flame Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) is on hand to lend her own special talents…

There’s quite a tricky story line here, with plenty of unexpected twists and reveals – and naturally, some of those hi tech masks that the makers are so fond of, but really, it’s all just a linking device for a whole string of spectacular set pieces, which are so triumphantly realised, you’ll barely have time to stop and speculate how far-fetched they are. Cruise, looking far better than anyone his age has any right to be, revels in some of the most hair-raising stunts this side of a Jackie Chan movie – indeed, the scene where he actually breaks his leg is included in all its wince-inducing glory. Cavill, who I’ve never really rated as Superman, is a lot more interesting when given a bit more character to play with and there’s excellent support from the rest of the cast.

Okay, you can argue that this film isn’t really about very much, but you’d be missing the point. It’s all about action and only a very few movies have managed to do it as effortlessly as its done here. My advice? Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride. And Mission Impossible Seven? Well, I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.

5 stars

Philip Caveney


American Made



It’s often said that truth is stranger than fiction and the story of Barry Seal could have been created simply to demonstrate that adage. This lively period piece, set against the wilder excesses of the nineteen seventies and eighties, is an enjoyable romp from start to finish.

Despite having a name like a welder from Dagenham, Seal (Tom Cruise) is a pilot for TWA, bored enough to stage episodes of ‘turbulence’ to brighten up his day, a man who makes a little pin money on the side by smuggling boxes of Cuban cigars in his luggage. When he is approached by wily CIA man, Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), and offered a job flying surveillance missions in war-torn Central America, he jumps at the opportunity. His wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright), isn’t keen on the loss of security, particularly as the couple have a young family and a new baby on the way. But Barry manages to persuade her that everything will be just fine. Convincing people that he is on the level is clearly his strongest suit. He soon discovers that his peculiar talents are in demand beyond the CIA. It isn’t long before he’s involved with the likes of Pablo Escobar, and the Medellin Cartel, flying plane loads of cocaine from Colombia to Louisiana and making obscene amounts of money in the process. Inevitably, he gets caught by the DEA. And that’s when things get really weird…

Doug Liman is always an interesting director and he expertly mines this story for maximum laughs, but it’s probably true to say that only Tom Cruise could make such a mendacious lead character as charming as he does. The way it’s presented here, it’s  not as if Seal is always on the lookout for dirty dealings. It’s just that powerful people can’t stop throwing opportunities in his direction and he doesn’t want to let anybody down. The jaw dropping escapades he lands himself in would beggar belief if this were a work of fiction. But I have to keep reminding myself: this actually happened. Okay, a few liberties have been taken with the odd detail here and there, but a quick Google search tells me that most of it is pretty much on the button. What the film does better than anything else is to reveal the shameful levels of corruption that were taking place within the corridors of power during Ronald Reagan’s ‘War On Drugs’ campaign.

This being a true story, there’s no happy ending for Mr Seal, but even his ultimate destruction is so skilfully handled that you come out of the cinema with a big grin on your face. This is enjoyable film making. Strap yourself in for a bumpy, but highly entertaining ride.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

The Mummy


When I heard this was looming on the cinematic horizon, my first thought was, ‘What, again?’

But then I realised it was actually as far back as 1999 and 2001 respectively that Steven Sommers enjoyed box-office hits with his two instalments of sarcophagus-bothering and, as it transpires, this is something rather different: the opening salvo in a series of ‘Dark Universe’ films. Inspired, no doubt, by what Marvel and DC are currently doing with their back catalogue, the bigwigs at Universal have clearly decided to raid their vaults and resurrect some of their most celebrated monster-themed hits. This initial offering has Tom Cruise attached, which is probably as close as you can get, in these troubled times, to a guarantee of bums-on-seats.

Here, Cruise plays Nick Morton, a not altogether honourable guy, who spends his time in war zones, ‘liberating’ antiquities (i.e. nicking them and flogging them on the black market). In war torn Iraq, with his sidekick, Chris (Jake Johnson), he stumbles upon a tomb – an Egyptian tomb, which is around a thousand miles away from where it ought to be. The audience has already been tipped off in a pre-credits sequence as to the provenance of said tomb (there’s a lengthy preamble about crusaders and murdered pharaohs), but what Nick doesn’t know is that this place is actually a repository for the undead soul of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutell), who has been waiting five thousand years to be reborn. What’s more, one glance at Nick and she’s smitten by him – probably because, just like her, Cruise is somewhat older than he looks and incredibly well-preserved.

At any rate, Nick quickly finds himself possessed by Ahmanet and suffering from confusing visions of shifting sands and a mysterious jewel-handled dagger. Antiquities expert (and convenient love interest) Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) promptly whisks him over to London for a meeting with Dr Jekyll – yes, that Dr Jekyll (Russell Crowe) and many supernatural shenanigans ensue, replete with all the usual suspects – rats, spiders and scarab beetles.

This is actually a bit of a romp and, though there are some fairly grisly sequences, scattered throughout the proceedings, the accent is mostly on humour. Director Alex Kurtzman keeps the pot bubbling and never lets things get too bogged down in detail. The film occasionally borrows quite shamelessly from other hit movies– a repeated trope with Nick talking to an undead companion could have been lifted directly from John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London – but there is at least a decent script that actually displays a modicum of knowledge about Egyptian mythology. The more eagle-eyed viewers may spot items on display in Dr Jekyll’s laboratory that hint at other Universal products waiting in the wings for their chance to step back into the spotlight. Is that a vampire’s skull in a glass jar? I wonder, who can that belong to? And that scaly hand… The Creature From the Black Lagoon? At any rate, next for this treatment is The Bride of Frankenstein, so don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Horror movie purists will undoubtedly find themselves disappointed by The Mummy – it never really conjures up enough menace to totally creep you out – but those who, like me, go along with very low expectations, could actually wind up pleasantly surprised by what’s on offer. Give it a chance. It might be just your cup of mercury.

4 Stars

Philip Caveney

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back



Fans of the Jack Reacher novels are an unforgiving bunch. Tom Cruise is NOT Jack Reacher, they insist. The ex-army hard man hero as described by author Lee Childs is a big shambling bear, while Cruise is… a bit more compact. No matter that Child has repeatedly endorsed Cruise’s version of Reacher. No matter that he even makes a cameo in the latest film. Crime fans are not to be trifled with.

Whatever, Never Go Back is an assured chase movie that never puts a foot wrong. At the film’s opening, Reacher has just solved another case and having had a brief telephone chat with Major Turner (the exotically named Cobie Smulders) he resolves to call around and take her out to dinner at his earliest opportunity. But by the time he gets there, things have changed somewhat. Turner is in prison, accused of espionage, and Reacher discovers that he is being sued by a woman he’s never heard of who claims that he’s the father of her teenage daughter. Reacher is promptly arrested by the military police but it’s hardly a plot spoiler to say that he isn’t incarcerated for long and before you can say ‘with one bound,’ he and Turner are on the run and have hooked up with Reacher’s ‘maybe’ daughter, Samantha (Darika Yarosh). Meanwhile, a trained killer is on their trail…

Okay, this isn’t going to win any prizes for originality, but it’s nonetheless a gripping action yarn, ably directed by Edward Zwick, that races breathlessly from one set piece to the next, before culminating in a bruising punch-up on the roof tops of New Orleans at the height of Mardi Gras. Cruise does his action shizzle with his usual aplomb, Smuthers gets to kick a lot of ass too and Yarosh is suitably appealing as the precocious Samantha, who might just turn out to be a chip off the old block. As somebody who has never read one of the source novels, I found this thoroughly entertaining and the height of the titular character really didn’t matter one jot. And when it comes to onscreen running, few people do it as well as Tom Cruise…

If you like an undemanding chase thriller, this should be right up your street. On the other hand, if you’re a devotee of the novels, you might not be so enamoured.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

My Scientology Movie/Going Clear


With its unusual release scheduling, it was actually quite difficult to see Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie. Most cinemas seemed to be showing it as a one-off on Monday 10th October and, we were dismayed to discover, tickets had sold out across all venues in Edinburgh, days in advance.

Really? Were we not going to be able to see it? Luckily our local indie – the lovely Cameo Picture House – eventually decided to put on a couple of extra showings, so we trooped along last night, late to the party but glad to have blagged a pass. And these extra shows all sold out too, so it seems odd that it’s not been given more of an airing, unless the scarcity is a strategy in itself. If it is, it’s working…

The film itself is a bit of a curate’s egg. It’s hard not to enjoy Theroux’s antics: he’s immensely likeable – quirky, funny,serious, demanding, self-reflective – and the film is never less than entertaining, engaging my attention throughout.

But… well, it’s impossible to ignore the emptiness at the film’s core. It’s supposed to be a documentary about Scientology, and it isn’t really. Not much is illuminated here.

I’m minded, this morning, to watch Alex Gibney’s 2015 Scientology documentary, Going Clear, referenced by Louis Theroux in the Q & A session broadcast after his film. So I rent it from amazon – and the comparison is stark. Gibney’s film is a much richer affair, explanatory and revelatory in a way Theroux’s is not. It’s clear that Gibney’s movie has impacted on Theroux’s, made him realise he needs a different angle to give it a USP – but, honestly, I don’t think his solution really works.

Going Clear is truly an exposé. It traces the origins of Scientology, reveals plenty about L Ron Hubbard’s motives (primarily to make a lot of money and pay no tax) and raises a lot of important issues that Theroux just doesn’t touch upon. There’re those Sea Org members, for example, who work for 40c per hour, a slave wage that has led to the FBI investigating  the church on suspicion of human trafficking.

From Theroux, I learn that the Scientologists are neurotic about their privacy, that they don’t welcome journalists, that they go out of their way to intimidate those who speak out against them. I learn that new recruits sign up for classes and pay their way up the scale, and that those who reach the upper echelons become members of the elite Sea Org (no mention here of the menial work they are expected to do). I learn that the church is rich and litigious. I don’t learn much else.

And this vacuum is a fatal flaw. Okay, so it’s fascinating to watch former Inspector General Marty Rathbun run the full gamut of emotions, to witness the mixture of contempt and awe he still feels for Scientology. It’s painful to witness his inability to examine his own culpability and the naked defensiveness that emerges when he’s questioned. But even here, Gibney elicits more than Theroux. In Going Clear, Rathbun admits to feeling shame, to regrets that haunt him all the time. We also gain a greater understanding of why people choose to stay in a cult that bullies and abuses them: some have grown up within its confines; others can’t bear to admit that they have been so duped, so compromised. Some are frightened, not just of the persecution they know follows those who leave, but also of what might be revealed: the regular ‘audits,’ where their deepest, darkest thoughts are analysed, are all recorded and kept on file. And they all know that these can be used against them, should they try to break free of their cage.

Theroux does succeed in showing us clear evidence of the Scientologists’ stonewalling technique: by talking to him only about trespass and private vs. public access, they manage to dominate the conversation and stymy all efforts to find out more. He attempts to fill the space left by their silence, hiring actors to recreate some of the church’s practices as described to him by Marty. But it’s not clear to see what these achieve: the young hopefuls are game and give it all they’ve got, but it isn’t real, and it certainly doesn’t have the impact of the reenactments in, say, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, where the subjects were telling their own tales. Nor does it carry as much weight as the testimony of Tom Cruise’s ‘arranged’ girlfriend, Nazanin Boniadi, or Sara Northrup’s painful description of being cut off from her daughter, who chose to stay with the church when her family left.

Theroux’s My Scientology Movie is thoroughly enjoyable, but curiously dissatisfying as a documentary, revealing little, leaving the church’s shiny facade pristine and unscratched. If you want to be entertained and amused, then Theroux’s film will deliver the goods. But if you really want to learn about Scientology and its dodgy practices, then Gibney’s is the one to watch.

My Scientology Movie: 3.3 stars

Going Clear: 4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation



We were far too late getting on to this – largely because an entire month of reviewing at the Edinburgh Fringe left us with too little time to actually make it to the cinema: a sorry state of affairs. Rogue Nation is the latest improbably titled instalment in Tom Cruise’s evergreen TV spy spinoff and as the series goes, it’s one of the better efforts – an adrenalin fuelled romp with an outrageously daft plot and a whole heap of inexplicable gadgetry to help the IMF team achieve their goals.

The film starts as it means to go on with the throttle wide open. Ethan Hunt attempts to board a plane… after it’s taken off. (Don’t try this at home. That’s my old stamping ground of RAF Wittering hundreds of feet below, by the way and yes, that is Cruise clinging on to the side of the plane. Nobody can say he doesn’t earn his millions.)

Hunt is on the trail of a mysterious organisation called The Syndicate, who have dedicated themselves to the eradication of the IMF and who are headed up by evil villain, Solomon Lane (a deeply creepy Sean Harris.) As Hunt hurtles around the world, evading assassins and leaping athletically from very high buildings, back at base, Brandt (Jeremy Renner) is engaged in a more pedestrian battle as grumpy CIA man, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) attempts to get the Impossible Missions team shut down. It seems he finds them a bout too reckless for his liking. Soon Hunt is pretty much out there on his own, aided only by his hapless bessie mate, Benjie (Simon Pegg, who must be relieved to add a much-needed hit to his CV) and by the mysterious Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who keeps popping up just in time to save Hunt’s life.

It’s fairly pointless to go into the plot. Most of it is unfathomable and all of it is unlikely, but it’s presented with enough tongue-in-cheek brio to suspend your disbelief. There’s an ingenious set piece at the Vienna opera house, while an underwater sequence where Hunt has to hold his breath for three minutes wracks up the tension to an almost unbearable degree. On the downside, there’s a  motorbike/car chase that seems a tad perfunctory this time around, but that’s a minor quibble. Overall, this is a superior slice of entertainment, which should keep you riveted till the final credits. And of course it still features Lalo Schifrin’s sinewy, unforgettable theme tune, which is a thriller all by itself.

What else can I say? Mission accomplished.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney