#262. Tom Cruise

Say what you will about his personal life, be it the tabloid headline-inducing relationships or his involvement with Scientology, but Tom Cruise has been in a lot of movies. But what seems to be the unique element to his prolific career is the fact that most of his films were recognized as “Tom Cruise films” (i.e., films that star Tom Cruise). While his early career has had a few minor roles, and his later career also includes the occasional bit part (via cameo), most of Tom Cruise’s roles have been in the leading capacity for the majority of his career. Perhaps the genius of his unique personal life frequently making the headlines of grocery store checkout lines is how we are often reminded that he is starring in a new film sometime soon. This week’s two films highlight some of the varied work Tom Cruise has done on the big screen.

                                         Mission Impossible: Ghost ProtocolMission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours

Perhaps what has given Tom Cruise his success is two-fold: being cast by a lot of legendary directors and a knack for action films. Quite early in his career, he worked with Francis Ford Coppola on The Outsiders (1983), which no doubt opened the door for him working with Martin Scorsese (The Color of Money (1986)), Rob Reiner (A Few Good Men (1992)), Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut (1999)), Steven Spielberg (Minority Report (2002) and War of the Worlds (2005)), and J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III (2006)). While there are plenty of other directors who have tied Cruise into their movies, the theme that is often seen in a fair number of his roles is that he excels at action. One of his franchises that epitomizes this is the Mission: Impossible series. With five films under his belt as Ethan Hunt, this 20+ year franchise helped to get him where he is today.

Because of a semi-botched mission to extract some information from the Kremlin that resulted in the famous Russian building being destroyed, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team have been disavowed from the United States via the “Ghost Protocol.” Now it is up to them to find the perpetrator of the Kremlin bombing, a mysterious man who goes by the name of “Cobalt.” In their pursuit, the team finds that Cobalt is attempting to strike up a global war between the United States and Russia since his new target is to obtain Russian launch codes for their nuclear missiles. Intercepting the codes in Dubai, all the members of the IMF team are prepared to do what it takes to stop Cobalt. Unfortunately, as their plans begin to fail, it’s down to the wire to stop an incoming nuclear missile from detonating on San Francisco.

Rain ManRain Man
Year: 1988
Rating: R
Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours

While Cruise has proven he can go the distance for action films, he has also shown he can excel in dramas as well. In fact, his three nominations for an acting Oscar have been from dramas. Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire (1996), and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999) gave him nominations from the Academy, but none of them earned him the coveted gold statue. That’s not to say these (and other) films haven’t won big at the Oscars. For instance, Rain Man (1988) ended up being the Best Picture for that year. Of course, once again the mark of famous directors is at play here, as many of Tom Cruise’s more dramatic roles have been in the films guided by the experienced hands of a skilled director. It’s no wonder Rain Man also won an Oscar for Best Director, Barry Levinson.

Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) is one of those fast-talking, deeply-in-debt scumbags who is always trying to break it big by dealing in less-than-exemplary deals. His recent deal quickly falling through places him many tens of thousands of dollars in debt, which is why he is pleased to hear his rich and estranged father has died. Unfortunately, none of the money of the estate is bequeathed to him. Instead, this money is willed to a mental institution where Charlie finds he has a heretofore unknown older brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman). Raymond is severely autistic, but also has the qualities of a savant that Charlie tries to exploit to make money in Las Vegas counting cards. While Raymond’s strict routines stress the brothers’ relationship, they eventually grow close enough that Charlie no longer cares about the money and would rather have a brother than be rich.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 classic Cruise roles

Bacon #: 1 (A Few Good Men / Kevin Bacon)

#080. Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg is perhaps the most prolific director of our time. In the last 45 years, he has directed over 30 films and produced and written many more. As such, it is difficult to pick out two films that could represent the whole of his work. However, the simple fact is that Spielberg directs in two distinct categories: war and science fiction. Movies like Saving Private Ryan (1999), War Horse (2011), and Lincoln (2012) have shown his talents in capturing the brutality of the battlefield, as well as the efforts of those to save as many people as they can. And yet, he also excels in the representation of aliens on screen, including E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and War of the Worlds (2005). Even though it is simple to try and put Spielberg inside genre boxes, he has created numerous other successful movies as well, including the Indiana Jones series and Jurassic Park (1993). This week’s two films highlight some representative works of the vast and varied career of Steven Spielberg.

Schindler’s ListSchindler's List
Year: 1993
Rating: R
Length: 195 minutes / 3.25 hours

It is somewhat obvious by his name, but Steven Speilberg was born to Jewish parents in 1946. Never backing away from his heritage, he has directed a few films that examine tragic events against the Jews. In 2005, he released a film about the murder of Jewish athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, which highlighted the antisemitic sentiments still prevalent in Germany decades after the end of World War II. Of course, before this film, he directed Schindler’s List (1993), an examination of the exemplary efforts of an Austrian industrialist to save countless Jewish lives during the Nazi-run Holocaust. The film is a fitting memorial for the tragedy that befell the Jewish people and should be used to remind us where we have been as a global community, “lest we forget . . .”

As a shrewd businessman, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) didn’t give much thought about his workforce. However, when he finds out that the Polish Jews who are working in his factories are being persecuted by the Nazis, he decides to do something about it. He figures that the Nazis won’t look into the manufacturing plants that are giving them the supplies to continue their war, so he starts hiring Jews to work in his factories to protect them. As an added bonus, his factories are in fact producing some of these supplies needed by the Germans. To quicken their demise, he allows the quality control of these goods to temporarily go by the wayside. And yet, rich as he is, he can’t save everyone. By the end of the war, Schindler had rescued over 1,000 Jews from the concentration camps at Auschwitz, but he wished he could have saved more.

Year: 1975
Rating: PG-13
Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours

Up until 1975, Steven Spielberg was essentially an unknown name in Hollywood. That was until he made Jaws (1975). Based on a book of the same name, it has been said that the film didn’t go quite as planned due to some mechanical problems with the shark. However, the longer the antagonist went unseen, the more terrifying it became. Spielberg made a name for himself with this film, and he’s been creating thrillers like this ever since (like Jurassic Park, for instance). His presentation has been unique and has been the influence on many directors since. There is so much that is iconic about this film: the music, the quotes (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat”), and (of course) the shark itself. The American Film Institute has placed Jaws mid-way through their Top 100 lists in recognition of its influence on American cinema.

What’s the best way to beat the heat in the summer? Go swimming, of course. And if you live in the New England area, the best spot for swimming is the Atlantic Ocean. However, the chewed up remains of a swimmer wash ashore on a small island, and soon every fisherman is out trying to bag the shark that did it. Unfortunately, only one fisherman understands what kind of beast they’re dealing with, and he’s the only one equipped to capture this shark. As the body count rises, it becomes imperative that the monster is brought to justice. As such, the fisherman, Quint (Robert Shaw), Marine Biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) go out to sea in an attempt to find this shark before it kills again. And yet, are they truly prepared for what they will eventually find out there?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Spielberg sensations

Bacon #: 2 (Minority Report (directed) / Tom Cruise -> A Few Good Men / Kevin Bacon)