Friday, August 10, 2018

Tom Cruise — Better Than Ever! Also TV Tumults ... Kathleen Turner (why so bitter?) ... Rita Hayworth, Fred Astaire, Jackie Wilson and Judy Garland!

Tom Cruise — at the pinnacle of his career in “Mission: Impossible — Fallout."
by Denis Ferrara

“YOUR MISSION, should you choose to accept it, involves ... continuing as Tom Cruise!!!”

BACK in 1983, I saw four movies with Tom Cruise, “Losing It” (a kind of “Porky’s” spring break, horny teenage boy thing), “The Outsiders,” “Risky Business” and “All the Right Moves.”  I didn’t know quite what to make of Cruise, even after the smash of “Risky Business,” even after the tender performance (and brief frontal nudity) of “All the Right Moves.”  I actually thought his “Risky” co-star Rebecca DeMornay was the better bet for lasting stardom.  But oddly, it was Cruise’s 1985 effort in Ridley Scott’s not-terribly-well-received “Legend” that made me think Cruise was in it for the long haul.  I thought, if he could make this mess watchable, he’s got it.
Tom as forest dweller paramour Jack in “Legend.”
Then came “Top Gun,” “The Color of Money,” “Rain Man,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Days of Thunder.” 

Squeezed in-between was the “minor” much-criticized “Cocktail” which made a fortune, and then came “Far and Away,” mocked but grossing an initial $137 million worldwide (very big bucks in 1992. And I loved it!) 
More success with “The Firm,” “Interview with the Vampire” and “A Few Good Men.”  Hollywood could happily “handle the truth” — Tom Cruise was a once-in-a-generation box-office bonanza, a real gold-plated movie star, and — certainly in my opinion — an excellent, willing-to-take-chances actor.
The first of the “Mission Impossible” movies arrived in 1996, as well as “Jerry Maguire.”

Today, at 56, Tom, as far as I am concerned, stands at the pinnacle of his career.  There has never been such a dazzling, well-plotted, high-octane, stunt-filled, expertly crafted “MI.” Cruise is an eternal force of nature.  Of course it is well-buttered, high-summer, suspend your disbelief summer corn. What — we don’t need that desperately now?!

Loved the cast, including Ving Rhames, Angela Bassett, Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg, Wes Bentley, Michelle Monaghan, Vanessa Kirby, the fabulous Rebecca Ferguson, and, OMG, Henry Cavill. He’s around to rein in Tom, and display his controversial moustache.  He’s great!  The plot?  Don’t be silly — we’ve seen it a million times before, and probably in at least four of the  six Mission Impossible” movies.  Plot is NOT the point. 
The great success of the “MI” films allows Tom to make lots of other, more daring, less immediately commercial films — “Magnolia,” “Vanilla Sky,” “Eyes Wide Shut,” “Minority Report,” “Knight and Day,” “Rock of Ages,” “Topic Thunder,” “Jack Reacher.”  Most of these films, despite not being universally admired by critics, made money. 

To me, Cruise is as iconic and important male figure in film as Gable and Cooper and John Wayne.  He is certainly right up there with Harrison Ford.  Cruise has been Oscar nominated three times — for “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Magnolia” and “Jerry Maguire.” 
Don’t hold your breath on his ever winning. Although I have never heard a disparaging word about Cruise being hard to work with, unprofessional, unkind to cast or crew, a sloppy substance abuser, he is not popular in Hollywood.  His devotion to Scientology seems to be the issue.  While I think Scientology is ridiculous, at this point, if pressed between having dinner with a Scientologist or a Evangelical so-called Christian, I’d bone up on my L. Ron Hubbard and do my best to get through the evening with a straight face and a lot of vodka.  (Cruise has been married and divorced three times.  There has been some drama. This makes him no different than scores of other movie stars and millions of mere mortals.)
Supposedly the Academy of Arts & Sciences is introducing a new Oscar category, something like “Most Popular Movie.” (A decision that is already running into trouble.)   I say how about  being a bit more generous with those honorary Academy Awards, to people who have stuffed the coffers of Hollywood studios with billions of dollars?  Tom deserves a little golden guy. 

And with that said, with Tom praised, I must add Doris Day has never won an Oscar!!!!!!

Oh, come on — you knew I was gonna say it.

... LONGTIME fans of Showtime’s “The Affair” (count me in) were stunned with the somewhat unexpected demise of Ruth Wilson’s character, Alison. I say “somewhat” because Alison was the most wounded heart of the show — and indeed was the heart of the show; from her agonies came the series’ many plotlines. Alison always seemed on the edge of permanent darkness.

Earlier this year, Wilson commented that she knew her co-star Dominic West was being paid more than she.  She wasn’t happy but said she didn’t really know how to address the issue. (Other than speaking about it in an interview?)  Now, some are saying that showrunner, executive producer Sarah Treem, killed Wilson off because of those comments.  Yikes!  Perhaps all the new talk about “female solidarity” in the wake of TimesUp and MeToo isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be?  Ms. Treem says Wilson asked to leave the show.  Wilson has neither confirmed or denied this.  Stay tuned. “The Affair” has a fifth season scheduled.  Good luck on that.  By the way, the most recent episode of the series was especially effective, with a particularly heart wrenching performance by Joshua Jackson, who plays one of Alison’s ex-husbands.  Emmy consideration, for sure.
... MORE TV musing:  Binge watched the entire season six of “Orange is the New Black,” which left me sad, super-satisfied, shocked and primed for season seven. It was great to see Mackenzie Phillips as one of a pair of vengeful, battling imprisoned sisters, and I’m looking forward to more of Vicci Martinez, so appealing as “Daddy.” (I’d never seen or heard of Martinez, but intrigued, looked her up — a quite reasonably successful singer/songwriter before this acting gig.) I won’t spoil as to the fates of popular characters, as not everybody is quite as addicted to binging as I have become.
... TNT’s “Animal Kingdom” is winding up its third and best season yet, surviving with tense panache the loss of Scott Speedman as Baz.  Ellen Barkin remains hypnotic as the monstrous matriarch Smurf, and all her still-living albeit screwed up boys, Shawn Hatosy, Ben Robson, Jake Weary and Finn Cole are better than ever. (Nice, appropriately seedy work this year by guest star Denis Leary.) Kudos also to the totally casual, it’s-there-it’s-normal-let’s-not-even-fuss-over-it gay storyline of Deran Cody, as played by Weary.  Even though Deran’s relationships are in the shadow of his criminal life, it’s all so matter-of-fact that to be honest I identify more with that representation than, let’s say, those two ladies, Jessie Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet on “Modern Family.” (Yeah, yeah — I know one’s a sitcom and the other a drama, and everybody is absurd, but even in a comedy you have to wonder how Cam and Mitchell ever got together).
... “Queen of the South’s”  third season has been a bit of a mess, with writing and even performances becoming tiresome and repetitive. I love the concept of two powerful women — even if they are drug lords — fighting for control, but it’s the same thing, over and over.  I’d hate for the lazily savage Veronica Valcon (Camila Vargas) to be dispensed of, but perhaps she has to be. If Alice Braga is ever to become “Queen of the South,” something’s gotta give.  Right now, as ever, Alice’s Teresa Mendoza seems boringly victimized endlessly. 
... I HAVE long admired Kathleen Turner as an actress — what’s not to admire?  Her battle with rheumatoid arthritis, which has given her a lot of pain and altered her looks to some extent has been valiant.  But recent interviews in which she expressed her rage and bitterness are an indication that she is a suffering woman.  Everybody’s been mean to Kathleen, nobody’s been friendly (not even the cast of “Friends”), she resents other actresses who have “played the same role for twenty years.” (Most great and enduring stars actually do portray aspects of their most potent and recognizable qualities, over and over.  That’s what makes them great stars — Katharine Hepburn, anyone?)  And then there’s her Elizabeth Taylor thing. She says — again! — that  ET “wasn’t very skilled” had a “terrible voice” and that she, Kathleen, has spent part of her career “righting the wrongs” of some of Taylor’s most famous performances — stage productions of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
I’ll give Kathleen a little on La Liz’s voice, an instrument that could go shrill when she went volatile — which as her career matured she often did — but Taylor’s screen Maggie the Cat is THE Maggie against which all others will be compared.  As for “Virginia Woolf” I’ve always felt it did have elements of a stunt — “See Liz Fat!”  “Hear Liz Curse!”  But so many of her quiet moments — the great “screen door” scene among others — are splendid and not worthy of Ms. Turner’s scorn.  I’m sorry Kathleen feels so put upon, surely correctly at times.  But these things are better said on the couch, for $150 bucks an hour. Otherwise it’s all sour grapes and nobody really cares, certainly not these days.
... FINALLY, thank-you to my friend, the writer Thomas Santopietro (“Why To Kill a Mockingbird Matters,” “Considering Doris Day”) who sent something to cheer me up. 

It is a YouTube clip of Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire dancing the “Shorty George” number from “You Were Never Lovelier” accompanied by Jackie Wilson’s “Your Love (Keeps Lifting Me Higher.”) It’s astonishing how beautifully Wilson’s song and the joyful, graceful athleticism of Rita and Fred meld.  Believe me, if this doesn’t get you out of a funk, nothing will.
... And another big thankful shout-out to the Decades Channel (I see it on 112 in Hoboken, NJ).  This network airs all sorts of nostalgic programming, including marvelous old Ed Sullivan shows.  So there I was channel-surfing, and suddenly Mr. Sullivan appeared, saying: “And now, the one and only Judy Garland!” 

And there she was. It was a clip from 1965. Garland was looking robust and healthy. (She was struggling, yet again to “get clean” from the prescribed drugs that she’d been addicted to since adolescence.)  On that show, Judy knocked out, one after another, three ball-busting classics, “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Rock-a-bye Your Baby” and “By Myself.”

Under the best of circumstances, this would have been daunting.  At this point, Judy’s voice had been damaged permanently, but from time to time, she could pull it off magnificently.  This was one of those nights.  Despite a slight vocal wobble, she was magnificent, in full control.  Goose-pimple time!  (Garland felt compelled to give her fans these larynx-bruising chestnuts, and usually made them thrilling.  But I’ve always felt if only she could have aligned herself with a smaller label — she’d formerly been at Capitol for years — with people sensitive to the issues with her voice — aging but still extraordinarily pliable — and the more introspective, jazz infused, softer songs she often longed to try. A new career might have been born.)

On the Sullivan program, at the end of “By Myself,” Miss Garland makes a slight bow, turns her back and saunters off, tossing the microphone cavalierly to an unseen crewmember.  It might be the first recorded instance of “dropping the mic.”  What a woman, what an artist, what a diva.
Contact Denis here.