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287. Top Gun: Maverick – This Just In (#50)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Luke Dunne and Joe Griffin, The 250 is a weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

So this week, Joseph Kosinski’s Top Gun: Maverick.

More than thirty years after graduating, top naval figther pilot Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell is summoned back to Top Gun. His assignment is to train a new generation of hotshot fighter pilots for a seemingly impossible mission. However, Maverick quickly discovers that what is past isn’t ever truly past.

At time of recording, it was ranked 50th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On “Top Gun” as a Monument to Reagan’s Eighties…

I published a new piece at The Escapist over the weekend. With the release of Top Gun: Maverick at the weekend, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the original Top Gun.

It is debatable whether Top Gun is a good movie. However, it is a defining movie. There are few movies that so profoundly and so effectively capture a time and place on film. Top Gun is a movie that is very much in step with the era around it, the story of a nation still recovering from the trauma of Vietnam and embracing a rugged individualist fantasy as a way of working through the lingering after-effects. At its core, Top Gun is a movie about the necessity of letting go of one’s guilt or responsibility towards others in order to be the best that one can be.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On “Top Gun: Maverick” as a Tom Cruise Movie About Tom Cruise Saving Movies…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Top Gun: Maverick, it seemed like a good opportunity to talk about the blockbuster sequel. In particular the way that it is a movie that is very consciously and very deliberately built around its star.

Tom Cruise has been described as one of the last movie stars, and that means that the actor exerts a certain gravity on his projects. Most Tom Cruise movies wind up being about Tom Cruise in one way or another. This is particularly true as Cruise has entered the later years of his career, as Hollywood has changed around him and as he has found himself having to constantly fight to assert his own relevance in a rapidly-shifting market place. Most recent Tom Cruise movies are about this, in one way or another, and Maverick is no different.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On How “Mission: Impossible” Would Cause Fan Outrage Today…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With Brian dePalma’s Mission: Impossible turning twenty-five years old this month, it seemed as good a time as any to take a look back the film that started the modern iteration of the franchise.

In hindsight, it is impossible to imagine Mission: Impossible getting made today. The movie’s big twist is the revelation that the one character carried over from the television show, a standard bearer for the larger franchise, has secretly betrayed everything that the audience took for granted. The twist was controversial at the time, with several members of the original cast and some fans objecting to the characterisation. However, in a franchise-driven age where any deviation from the template is a source of outrage, it’s impossible to imagine Mission: Impossible attempting anything so bold today.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Podcast! The Escapist Movie Podcast – “An Ever-Escalating Series of Star Wars”

The Escapist have launched a movie podcast, and I was thrilled to join Jack Packard and Elijah Beahm for the sixteenth episode. Obviously, the big news is the slate of announcements from Disney’s Investor Day, including plenty of Star Wars and Marvel announcements, more news about Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and reports about Tom Cruise’s rant on the set of the new Mission: Impossible movie.

You can listen to the episode here, back episodes of the podcast here, click the link below or even listen directly.

“I Never Kid About Money”: Marty Goes Mainstream With “The Colour of Money”…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, continued our belated Summer of Scorsese last week with a look at Goodfellas. Next week, we’ll looking at Casino. It is a fun and broad discussion that is well worth your time, but the season ends up largely avoiding Scorsese’s output during the 1980s. So I thought it might be worth taking a look back at The Colour of Money.

For Martin Scorsese, the eighties come sandwiched between two masterpieces: Raging Bull and Goodfellas.

These are two of the quintessential Martin Scorsese movies. They are frequently ranked among the best movies that Scorsese has made, and often included in lists of the best movies ever made. Indeed, there’s a famous Hollywood myth that director Brian de Palma reacted to a screening of Goodfellas by involking Raging Bull, proclaiming, “You made the best movie of the eighties and, God damn it, we’re barely into the nineties and you’ve already made the best movie of this decade, too!”

With that in mind, there’s a tendency of overlook Scorsese’s work during the eighties – to treat it as something equivalent to a cinematic lost decade largely defined by the failure of King of Comedy and the controversy over The Last Temptation of Christ. This is understandable, but it is also unfair. Indeed, recent years have seen a welcome push to reassess Martin Scorsese’s tumultuous journey through the era of excess.

Scorsese’s eighties might not have been the best decade or most productive decade in his filmography, but they were instructive. They were a time of growth and evolution for the filmmaker, a point at which the director seemed to finally figure out how to reconcile the movies that he wanted to make with movies that studios wanted to finance. Although often overlooked and ignored in this context, The Colour of Money is perhaps the most instructive of Scorsese’s films from this period.

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New Escapist Column! On Tom Cruise as a Movie Star Defying Gravity…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. Given that he just announced plans to shoot a movie in outer space, it seemed like a good time to discuss Tom Cruise.

Cruise is a fascinating movie star. He’s one of the rare movie stars who has managed to remain a movie star for over three decades, at a time when movie stardom increasingly seems like an outdated concept. It’s interesting to look at how Cruise has navigated this shift, by essentially exerting enough gravity to bend established intellectual property towards him. There is no boundary between Ethan Hunt and Tom Cruise, whether Hunt is dangling out of an airplane in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation or atoning for a failed marriage in Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On “The Edge of Tomorrow” as the Perfect Video Game Movie…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine yesterday. With the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, I figured it was the perfect chance to revisit the best video game movie ever: The Edge of Tomorrow.

Look, I freely concede that there are maybe some slight issues with that argument, given that The Edge of Tomorrow isn’t actually or literally based on an established video game franchise. However, there’s something very compelling in the way that The Edge of Tomorrow embraces the aesthetics and sensibilities of video games in order to tell its story, offering a much more faithful replication of the experience of playing a video game than films like Street Fighter or Super Mario Brothers.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

94. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (#166) – This Just In

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and with special guests Graham Day and Luke Dunne, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 166th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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“A Bunch of Grown Men in Rubber Masks Playing Trick or Treat.” Mission: Impossible – Fallout and Good Old-Fashioned Espionage Fun…

One of the most striking aspects of Mission: Impossible – Fallout is how thoroughly and how completely it rejects the idea of morally compromised blockbuster protagonists.

The Mission: Impossible series has always had a bit of an auteur quality to it, with individual writers and directors bringing their own styles to bear on a given installment. The original is very much a Brian dePalma film, leaning heavily into themes of identity and Hitchcockian tension. The second is very much a John Woo film, complete with slow motion black leather and white doves. The third is a J.J. Abrams film that comes in and very consciously tweaks the formula while drawing attention to its own plot mechanics. The fourth is a string of incredibly impressive and kinetic action sequences strung together with Brad Bird’s patented sense of pacing and spectacle.

However, there was some tension when Christopher McQuarrie was recruited to direct the fifth film in the franchise and returned to direct the sixth. McQuarrie is primarily known as a writer rather than a director, with only a handful of director credits to his name. McQuarrie doesn’t necessarily have a distinctive style, although he has a long-standing relationship with Cruise from his work as director on Jack Reacher and as writer on Valkyrie and The Mummy. However, in a high-stakes action series, there was always a question of what McQuarrie could bring to the series to put his own distinct slant on the series. Whether he has or not is still a matter of heated debate; some would argue that Mission: Impossible is an ode to Tom Cruise as auteur or to the stuntman as auteur.

That said, there is a sense that McQuarrie is approaching the material in his own unique way. Perhaps reflecting his own background as a writer, his two Mission: Impossible films tend to play rather heavily with the idea of what a Mission: Impossible film actually is, even if they aren’t quite as ponderous or self-conscious as the recent James Bond films. McQuarrie’s scripts for his Mission: Impossible films are decidedly writerly in a way that Mission: Impossible II and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol are not, and in a markedly different manner than Mission: Impossible III. In fact, arguably the biggest issue with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was that McQuarrie was too writerly, working too hard to sell the idea of Ethan Hunt as a compulsive workaholic.

Fallout perhaps gets the balance right. A large part of this is down to the careful structuring of its action sequences to build a sense of propulsive momentum. Most Mission: Impossible films tend to peak in the middle; the dangling sequence from Mission: Impossible, the Vatican sequence and bridge raid in Mission: Impossible III, the skyscraper climb from Ghost Protocol, the opera sequence and underwater dive from Rogue Nation. Instead, barring the spectacle of the HALO jump, the set pieces in Fallout constant escalate. They ramp up; the bathroom brawl, the Paris motorbike chase, the two-level urban pursuit, all building to the three-thread helicopter climax.

However, part of that is undoubtedly down to the fact that McQuarrie seems to fundamentally understand how a Mission: Impossible film works, and so weaves it carefully into the plot. Fallout superficially resembles a modern franchise blockbuster in a number of ways; the pulsing Lorne Balfe score, the darker and edgier teases, the heightened sense of continuity, the ridiculous escalated stakes, the crosscutting climax. However, all of these elements serve to emphasise the relative simplicity of Mission: Impossible as a series, and to celebrate what distinguishes it from contemporary blockbusters rather than attempting to close the gap.

The Mission: Impossible films seem relatively old-fashioned as far as blockbuster franchises go. They are released at a fairly steady pace, but with significant gaps between films. There is always relatively little gossip or hype around them until they actually arrive. There are seldom any casting rumours. There are no hardcore fans wondering how this instalment will fit within an established continuity. There is no post-credits teaser to set-up the next installment. Each film has a markedly different tone instead of enforcing a consistent house style across the films. It is possible for audiences to dip their tow into a particular film in the franchise without having to do any real homework.

More than that, they are a rare modern franchise that seems to be driven as much by star power as by the intellectual property. This may be largely down to how Brian dePalma adapted Mission: Impossible for the big screen in 1996, in the era before X-Men and Spider-Man effectively changed the blockbuster landscape. dePalma approached Mission: Impossible not as a sacred “mythos” to be adapted to screen with fidelity and delicacy. Instead, dePalma treated Mission: Impossible as a springboard to crafting his own decidedly esoteric psychological espionage thriller. There are elements of the original Mission: Impossible that can be traced back to the original show, but it is about as faithful to the source material as Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman: Returns.

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