Tag Archives: Jennifer Connelly

Mission Accomplished

Top Gun: Maverick

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Sentimental, button-pushing and formulaic, as predictable as it is visceral, Top Gun: Maverick stays laser-focused on its objective.

Attract crowd. Thrill crowd. Please crowd.

Expect bullseyes on all three fronts, as star Tom Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski take a couple cues from the Star Wars franchise in reconnecting with friends and re-packaging feelings.

After all these years in the Navy, Pete Mitchell’s “Maverick” tendencies have kept him from advancing past the rank of Captain. And when Pete blatantly shows up Admiral Cain (Ed Harris), he’s in danger of being grounded until Admiral “Iceman” (Val Kilmer) rescues him with orders to return to Top Gun and whip some new flyboys and girls into shape for a secret mission.

One of those young guns is “Rooster” (Miles Teller), son of “Goose,” who resents Maverick for more than just coming home alive when his father did not.

Against the wishes of Admiral “Cyclone” (Jon Hamm), it is Maverick who will train the 12 Top Gun pilots, and then pick 6 to take out a newly discovered uranium plant that poses a clear and present threat to the U.S.

Who’s doing the threatening? We never know. Does it matter?

Not in Maverick‘s world.

The screenplay-by-commitee doesn’t stretch anybody’s imagination or talent, with early hotshot dialog so phony it feels like a spoof. But nobody came for banter. We came for nostalgia, flight action, and – god help us – Tom Cruise.

He delivers, in his inimitable movie star way. He cries on cue, runs like his hair’s on fire, and burns charisma. What more do you want?

Romance? Here’s old flame Penny (Jennifer Connelly), who now runs that famous San Diego beachfront bar and just happens to be a single mother who might be looking for someone as ridiculously good-looking as she is. As both characters and actors, they click.

Cruise’s chemistry with a mainly underused Teller – who really looks like a chip off the old Goose – finally gets to show itself late in the film, exposing both tenderness and humor in its wake.

And once we’re in the air, get in front of the biggest screen you can and hang on. Kosinski’s airborne action sequences are often downright breathtaking, every moment in the danger zone moving us closer to that Goose/Rooster/Maverick moment that has no business working as well as it does.

It’s emotional manipulation, but not nearly as garish an act as Val Kilmer’s thankless role. Still, Cruise and Kosinski know it’s nostalgia that flies this plane, and Iceman is part of the plan that starts right from that original Kenny Loggins tune heard in the opening minutes.

From manufactured rivalries to shirtless team building to the entrance of a surprise Top Gun instructor from last night at the bar, Maverick sells us back what we first bought back in 1986.

And dammit, it feels even better this time.

Waiting for a Sunny Day


by Hope Madden

The last time Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel wrote a screenplay together, they came up with the filmmaker’s grandest, most epic misstep, The Fountain. Gorgeous and heady without enough beneath the surface to ground the visual display, it was a film about self-destruction, madness and commitment to the ideal of love.

Well, after two gritty, intimate tales on those same themes (The Wrestler, Black Swan), Aronofsky goes grand again with the biggest tale of human self-destruction, madness, and commitment to an ideal he could find: Noah. Amid the recent flood of Christian themed films (Son of God, God is Not Dead, and the upcoming Heaven is Real), it’s tempting not to take Noah very seriously. Aronofsky is serious.

An IMAX spectacle worthy of its subject matter, the effort is epic in scale and sometimes dizzyingly powerful to look at. And though the approach is 100% earnest and absolutely respectful of the Old Testament tale being told, he’s not only emphasizing parallels between the damned of Noah’s time and our current culture, but slyly asking  whether saving humanity was really the best idea.

It’s an admirable attempt, and though he nearly lost me with the biblical rock monsters (I swear to God), on the whole, the storytelling is as almost strong as the imagery.

He’s not getting the kind of nuanced, career-high performances from this cast that he enjoyed in his previous two efforts, though. Perhaps the reason is that these characters are far more broadly drawn, but their one dimensionality doesn’t help the film generate a lively, resonant quality. It tends instead to feed the film’s feel of a bombastic take on a musty, old story.

Russell Crowe scowls and looks conflicted, as does Jennifer Connelly (veteran not only of Crowe’s onscreen relationships but of Aronofsky films).

Ray Winstone delivers (as always) in the role that animates man’s wickedness, and with him Aronofsky scores the most points in articulating modern society’s connection to the parable without offering a sermon.

It’s a tremendous, impressive feat of cinema, the kind of epic biblical tale not attempted since Charlton Heston had his own hair. Aronofsky has entrenched himself in Noah’s story, considered what it really meant to him as a human, and by extension, what it meant to humanity. He doesn’t entirely pull it off, but it’s a hell of an effort.