Tag Archives: Alec Baldwin

Great Balls of Fire! (1989, Jim McBride)

There’s no point to Great Balls of Fire! As a biopic it’s shaky–lead Dennis Quaid only gets to be the protagonist when he’s not being too despicable, which isn’t often and the film has to distance itself from Winona Ryder, playing Quaid’s love interest.

And thirteen year-old cousin.

So it’s understandable director McBride and co-screenwriter Jack Baran don’t want to delve too deep into the characters.

It’s also not a comedy, because even though Quaid plays Jerry Lee Lewis like an affable buffoon, it’s never clear if it’s all an act and Quaid (or Lewis) is really calculating or he’s just an idiot. Either way, he knows perving on his thirteen year-old cousin is wrong because her father–John Doe–is also putting a roof over Quaid’s head and playing in his band. During one montage sequence–when Lewis performs on “The Steve Allen Show”–suggests Fire could be some kind of rumination on American culture in the fifties, as the film cuts to various television shows of the era with the characters watching the television in shock… but it’s just that one sequence.

Otherwise, Fire just sort of churns along through the timeline. Hit records, marriage, failure. Sort of. There’s no arc to any of it. No one gets one. Not Quaid, whose character has less internal activity than a three scene cameo by Michael St. Gerard as Elvis. Certainly not Ryder, who gets a fun montage where she’s shopping for her home, then a breakdown when she realizes she’s just a kid then… relatively nothing until she starts getting abused by drunken failure Quaid. Doe kind of gets an arc. But it’s all background, going on when McBride is paying attention to other things. Doe probably gives the film’s best performance, partially because of that arc.

As his wife (and Ryder’s mom), Lisa Blount is fine. She’s in the movie a lot but gets absolutely nothing to do actually do. Except calm Doe occasionally.

Trey Wilson and Stephen Tobolowsky are the record producers. They’re fine. Wilson’s a little better, though both their parts are razor thin.

Then there’s Alec Baldwin as preacher Jimmy Swaggart (real-life cousin to Jerry Lee Lewis). He’s okay? His presence in the film is simultaneously sensational and pointless.

Quaid’s really good at pretending to play and sing the music. The real Lewis recorded all the songs and there are piano stunt doubles for the harder stuff; but what Quaid does, he does really well.

Technically the film’s more than proficient. Good production design from David Nichols. Solid photography from Affonso Beato. The problem’s the script. No one can act it well because it doesn’t want to be acted well. It gets queasy dwelling on its caricatures.

In the end, Fire just fizzles out. It’s often entertaining, sometimes engaging, but McBride and Baran don’t have a handle on the story they want to tell, much less how to tell it.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jim McBride; screenplay by Jack Baran and McBride, based on the book by Myra Lewis and Murray Silver Jr.; director of photography, Affonso Beato; edited by Lisa Day, Pembroke J. Herring, and Bert Lovitt; production designer, David Nichols; produced by Adam Fields; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Jerry Lee Lewis), Winona Ryder (Myra Gale Brown), John Doe (J.W. Brown), Lisa Blount (Lois Brown), Trey Wilson (Sam Phillips), Stephen Tobolowsky (Jud Phillips), and Alec Baldwin (Jimmy Swaggart).


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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015, Christopher McQuarrie)

While Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation doesn’t deliver much in the way of plot twists, it instead delivers a lot of easy smiles and a handful of good laughs. The easy smiles aren’t just for the action sequences, which often focus on characters’ reactions to them–sometimes relief, sometimes awe at Tom Cruise’s derring-do–but also for the chemistry. There’s not much in the way of character development in Rogue Nation (what does Ving Rhames do in his six months of retirement?), but the actors have a great time onscreen churning out the (relatively light) exposition and going through the espionage motions.

Rogue Nation opens with its biggest set piece–Cruise jumping on a cargo plane, which then takes off. Director (and writer) McQuarrie plays it for a nice combination of laughs and spectacle. Cruise’s sidekicks are all commenting on it, albeit sometimes from thousands of miles away. For the film’s first hour, McQuarrie relies on Simon Pegg for humor. Pegg doesn’t disappoint. After the first scene, it takes a while for Rhames to reappear, while Jeremy Renner (as the team’s permissive straight man) is a constant. First as the chiding presence, then as Cruise and company’s defender once CIA suit Alec Baldwin dismantles the IMF, making Cruise a fugitive.

Cruise is too busy hunting down an unknown villain–Sean Harris–who kidnapped him. Woman of mystery and ostensible Harris lackey Rebecca Ferguson helps free Cruise, just before he has to go on the run from Baldwin. Ferguson and Cruise’s scene, complete with complementary butt-kicking of Harris’s thugs, oozes with chemistry. It takes a while for Ferguson to return to the action; McQuarrie smartly doesn’t focus too much on Cruise–rather Pegg’s angle–because Cruise is… well… a little on snooze when Ferguson’s not present.

Eventually Cruise gets the band back together and travels from Vienna to Morocco to London while pursuing Harris and Ferguson. Baldwin’s after them (sort of) and Ferguson’s disavowed British agent subplot figures in as well. There’s a big car chase in Morocco, a shootout in the Vienna opera house, an underwater heist, and some attempts at plot twists in the U.K. McQuarrie’s set pieces for the third act are all a lot smaller than the ones before. He’s trying to wrap up the film with narrative not action, which is fine, but far from exciting. Particularly because, like I mentioned before… his plot twists aren’t particularly surprising. If they aren’t predictable, they’re entirely inconsequential. Rogue Nation constantly amuses, but never surprises.

It also leaves a couple big questions unanswered, just because they don’t matter once the plot points they’re supporting are resolved. McQuarrie can’t be bothered with anything even hinting at character development. Sometimes he just avoids it by cutting away from a scene and changing the narrative distance–Cruise will take over after a Ferguson solo scene, so her resolution in her own scene becomes a plot point in his new one. Or McQuarrie just forgets about something. It’s more frustrating when he forgets about it, because then it’s clear it never mattered in the first place.

Technically, the film’s excellent. Fine editing from Eddie Hamilton, good photography from Robert Elswit (except in the finale, where it just seems a little too artificial), decent music from Joe Kraemer. A lot of Rogue Nation‘s technical competences are just competences; they’re perfunctory. The film’s strengths are in the performances and the actors’ chemistries. Not just Ferguson and Cruise, but Cruise and Pegg, Cruise and Rhames, Cruise and Renner. Even Rhames and Renner, who do this odd couple schtick for about three minutes spread over a half hour or so. There’s not a lot to their interplay, but it’s damned amusing when they’re onscreen together.

And Harris is good as the odious villain. Rogue Nation sets him up as this terrorist mastermind, but doesn’t show any of the terror (good thing Cruise is really affecting when he’s passionate enough to yell). But when Harris is scheming or terrorizing Ferguson? He’s good. Understated. Maybe the only understated thing in the entire film.

Of the supporting good guys, Pegg’s best. He’s got the most to do. He’s even got the start of a character arc. Renner and Rhames are both fine. No heavy lifting, just easy smiles.

Cruise and Ferguson get the most screen time, with Ferguson getting more of the heavy lifting acting. Cruise has a little, but nothing compared to her. Just more than everyone else. Except–maybe–Pegg. And Cruise gets to do some straight humor scenes, which is nice. Unfortunately, McQuarrie hurries through them.

Baldwin’s in a glorified cameo. It ought to be stunt casting, but it’s hard to identify why it’s much of a stunt.

Rogue Nation is constantly entertaining and never challenging, never ambitious. McQuarrie’s direction is even, he toggles more than adequately between the various elements–humor, action, thriller, exposition–he just doesn’t shine at any of them. Except maybe the humor, which he eschews in the second half for the most part. He’s able to get away with some sincerity, however, thanks to Cruise and company. The actors are able to sell it.

The film’s a fine diversion. But it’s clear from the end of the first act it’s never going to particularly excel overall.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie; screenplay by McQuarrie, based on the television series created by Bruce Geller; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Eddie Hamilton; music by Joe Kraemer; production designer, Jim Bissell; produced by Tom Cruise, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Dana Goldberg, David Ellison, and Don Granger; released by Paramount Pictures

Starring Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust), Sean Harris (Lane), Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn), Jeremy Renner (William Brandt), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell), Jens Hultén (Vinter), Simon McBurney (Atlee), and Alec Baldwin (Hunley).


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Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018, Christopher McQuarrie)

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is two and a half hours of almost constant, continuous action. There’s an opening sequence to set things up–Tom Cruise botches a mission because he likes his sidekicks too much (and who wouldn’t like Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, who make a fantastic pair in the film). He gets in dutch not with boss Alec Baldwin (who can barely maintain his man crush on Cruise) but with Angela Bassett, who’s the CIA boss. Cruise and company are IMF, which stands for Impossible Mission Force. Oddly, even though Henry Cavill (as Bassett’s CIA muscle who tags along to babysit Cruise) makes fun of the Mission: Impossible “let’s wear masks and pretend to be bad guys” thing, he doesn’t make fun of the Impossible Mission Force name.

Maybe writer (and director) McQuarrie only wanted to go so far with it.

So even though Cruise has botched the opening mission, Bassett’s willing to let him go off and try to save the world from rogue secret agents who want plutonium. Sadly they don’t need it to get 1.21 gigawatts, they need it to set off nuclear bombs and destabilize the world as we know it. As long as he takes Cavill along.

Bassett describes Cruise as a scalpel and Cavill as a hammer, but it’s more like Cruise is a hammer and Cavill is a jackhammer. Cavill towers over Cruise, making their scenes together in the first act all the more impressive because Cruise maintains the upper hand. Not hogging the screen acting-wise, but in terms of being the more dominating ideology. Cruise is a good secret agent, Cavill is an immaculately groomed thug. Cruise is fairly immaculate as well, but he gets dirty. Not too dirty; whoever was in charge of maintaining their hair during action scenes deserves some kind of special Oscar. Secret agents have great hair.

Pegg, Baldwin, and Bassett included. Rhames is shaved bald. And when British secret agent and former Cruise and company member Rebecca Ferguson shows up a little while into the film, she too has great hair. Only Sean Harris, as the villain, doesn’t have great hair. He’s wild and unkempt. He’s an ex-secret agent who wants to destroy the world. Cruise stopped him once and, in Fallout, now has to decide whether or not to potentially free Harris to get back that plutonium.

The film stays in Europe for most of the story, with the biggest sequences in Paris and London. The finale heads to rural Central Asia, where director McQuarrie proves just as adept at mounting phenomenal action sequences as he does in European metropolises. McQuarrie never lingers too long on landmarks, but he’s always aware of the architecture. There’s lots of Cruise in long shot, running through a building (or across the top of one) and great scenic backdrops. It’s charming. And always perfectly paced. McQuarrie’s direction, more than his script, more than any of the performances, makes Fallout. He gets the film set up, gets it moving, and runs it to the finish. He never races–Fallout’s pacing (especially for a two and a half hour movie) is outstanding. McQuarrie has some twists, but he’s also just got good plot developments.

He’s also able to use dream sequences–albeit ones with visions of nuclear destruction–to do a lot of Cruise’s character development. Though, really, Fallout doesn’t have much character development. Not for anyone else, anyway. Pegg’s got a tiny personal subplot about being more self-confident and Ferguson’s sort of got one but not really. Like Rhames doesn’t have any. Neither does Cavill. He’s there to be a foil. There’s not time for character development. There’s plutonium out there and Cruise’ll be damned if he’s going to let anyone get hurt.

All of Cruise’s dream sequence character development involves guilt over how he ruined ex-wife Michelle Monaghan’s life by being a secret agent, forcing her into hiding. Monaghan’s a memory in Fallout, someone offscreen in danger to give Cruise something constant to fret about. McQuarrie doesn’t give Cruise any angst to deal with, just the dream sequences haunting him. Harris haunts him too, because Harris knows Cruise too well. It’s impressive how well McQuarrie integrates it into the film since Fallout’s always moving. Even when Rhames has to tell Ferguson about Monaghan because Ferguson is sweet on Cruise and thinks Cruise might just be sweet on her, which leads to a lovely scene in Paris in a park. McQuarrie is sparing with the quiet moments, but they’re always exceptional. They’re so well-executed, technically speaking, it lets him get away with the script being a little saccharine.

Baldwin’s not the only one with a man crush on Cruise; McQuarrie’s pretty smitten too. Cruise isn’t just a good guy, he’s the only good guy who can save the world. It’d be eye-rolling if the film didn’t make such a successful argument for it.

All the acting is fine or better. Vanessa Kirby, as a blue blood heiress arms dealer, gets a little grating, but she’s an arms dealer. She’s not really supposed to be too sympathetic.

Cruise is good. He’s got some really fun moments, not just the action stuff, but also the action stuff. He and Ferguson’s gentle flirtation is likable, just like he and Cavill’s muted hostility is entertaining. Rhames and Pegg are both fun. Harris is a good villain. Cavill’s good, though probably has the worst character in the film. McQuarrie never quite gives him enough and sometimes too little. Especially in the third act. Same with Ferguson; she’s got her own subplot–aside from the Cruise crush–and McQuarrie kind of chucks it once she fully teams up with Cruise and company. Actually, there’s enough of a logic leap with her character… maybe some scene got cut.

On the technical side, Fallout’s excellent. Rob Hardy’s photography is good, Eddie Hamilton’s editing is great. Lorne Balfe’s score is quite good; he’s sparing when integrating the Lalo Schifrin theme and always right on when does (or doesn’t) use it.

Fallout’s a superior large-scale, stunt-filled, action picture. It’s more thrilling than ever a thriller–in the third act, even the good guys can’t really be in any life-threatening danger because franchise, McQuarrie is still able to make every moment rivet. Fallout is a spectacular action spectacle.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie; screenplay by McQuarrie, based on the television series created by Bruce Geller; director of photography, Rob Hardy; edited by Eddie Hamilton; music by Lorne Balfe; production designer, Peter Wenham; produced by Tom Cruise, McQuarrie, Jake Myers, and J.J. Abrams; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Henry Cavill (Walker), Ving Rhames (Luther), Simon Pegg (Benji), Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa), Vanessa Kirby (White Widow), Michelle Monaghan (Julia), Alec Baldwin (Hunley), Angela Bassett (Sloan), Wes Bentley (Patrick), Liang Yang (Lark), Kristoffer Joner (Nils Debruuk), and Sean Harris (Solomon Lane).


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Glengarry Glen Ross (1992, James Foley)

The first half of Glengarry Glen Ross is phenomenal. David Mamet’s screenplay is lightning fast during this section, moving its characters around, pairing them off for scenes or moments–the brevity is astounding. Half the movie is over and it feels like just a few minutes. Then the second half hits and the pace is still good, but the energy is different. It meanders. Apparently the only thing keeping director Foley going was having different locations and different camera setups–many questionably framed for pan and scan; in the second half of the film, set entirely on one set, Glengarry Glen Ross starts to fizzle. The actors keep it viable for as long as they can, but then it becomes clear Foley’s just composing for one actor, one performance, not all the actors, all the performances. The film never solidifies and it’s so fast, it’s almost over before it becomes clear Foley’s not going to bring it together. He instead relies on James Newton Howard’s peppy smooth jazz score. It’s never a good idea to rely on smooth jazz, peppy or not.

Every performance in Glengarry Glen Ross is outstanding. Foley’s problem isn’t giving the actors time to act, he does fine with that aspect of his directing. Sure, even in the first half, he isn’t directing their scenes perfectly, but he’s definitely giving them room to act. Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Pryce, Alec Baldwin. They’re all great. Pryce and Baldwin don’t have particularly great parts, but they’re great. Baldwin gets a big speech, which he nails. Pacino, Lemmon, Harris and Spacey get the meatier parts (Spacey the least, Harris and Pacino just through force). Lemmon’s the lead for most of the film. Only not so in the second half, which Mamet might be able to cover if Foley knew how to stage the second half. He avoids doing an adaptation of the play–Glengarry Glen Ross was a play first, also by Mamet–for the first half, only to be forced into it in the second half and have no idea how to do it. Arkin doesn’t get much meat, but he still turns in a great performance. The performances are impeccable.

And impeccable performances, along with strong dialogue, keep the film going for quite a while. There aren’t even any danger signs until Harris and Arkin’s subplot in the first half, when Howard E. Smith’s editing seems to be elongating and distracting their conversations instead of curating and appreciating them. Glengarry Glen Ross isn’t a mystery. There’s a mystery in it–sort of–and Foley stumbles when trying to integrate it. All the humanity in the film is from its actors essaying the screenplay. None of it comes from the filmmaking itself, which is a big problem.

Again, Pacino, Lemmon and Harris are all phenomenal. None of them have great characters to work with–they have some great material, but not great characters. As an example of excellent acting, Glengarry Glen Ross works. As a film? Not so much.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Foley; screenplay by David Mamet, based on his play; director of photography, Juan Ruiz Anchía; edited by Howard E. Smith; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Jane Musky; produced by Stanley R. Zupnik and Jerry Tokofsky; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Al Pacino (Ricky Roma), Jack Lemmon (Shelley Levene), Alec Baldwin (Blake), Alan Arkin (George Aaronow), Ed Harris (Dave Moss), Kevin Spacey (John Williamson) and Jonathan Pryce (James Lingk).


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