Ask the Critic: The Cruise Whisperer, wicked Boston accents, and rockers who think they can act
Welcome back to the latest installment of EW’s Ask the Critic column. This week, you wanted to know who may or may not be behind the camera for the next Mission: Impossible sequel, why Boston accents in movies are so wicked awful, and (pegged to Rick Springfield’s turn in Ricki and The Flash) my candidates for the best and worst rock star performances on the big screen. So let’s get to it…
“With the success of Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, do you think Chris McQuarrie will return as the director for the first time in the series?” –@cdurham99
One of the things I love about the Mission: Impossible movies is that while Tom Cruise remains a constant, the filmmakers keep changing with each chapter. Every Ethan Hunt film has its own unique look and feel. I really admire what Brian De Palma did with the original (proving that, when he wanted to be, at least, he was still the heir to Hitchcock in terms of noose-tightening suspense sequences). I was utterly disappointed with Hong Kong auteur John Woo in the second (not nearly enough slo-mo white doves). I was pretty mixed on J.J. Abrams in the third (not surprising since I’m pretty mixed in general on Abrams’s particular brand of big setups followed by so-so payoffs). And I really dug Brad Bird’s cartoonishly gonzo set pieces in the fourth. With Rogue Nation, Chris McQuarrie showed that he had the technical chops to pull off the sort of action he didn’t deliver in his previous Cruise collaboration, Jack Reacher, while deftly assembling the Byzantine plot-puzzle pieces he engineered in the beginning of his career with his Oscar-winning screenplay for The Usual Suspects.
Normally, I’d strongly come out in favor of handing the bullhorn to someone new for the next M:I and keep the franchise’s one-and-done M.O. alive. But here’s why I think McQuarrie will be back. Ever since writing the script for 2008’s Valkyrie, McQuarrie has been The Tom Cruise Whisperer, basically his in-house collaborator. He wrote an early draft of Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp’s The Tourist, back when it was going to be a Cruise vehicle. He wrote and directed the aforementioned Jack Reacher. He wrote the screenplay for Cruise’s sci-fi flick Edge of Tomorrow. (And Lord knows what other Cruise projects we don’t know about.) He has his boss’ ear and he has a habit (mostly) of making him look good.
Based on the fact that Rogue Nation has received some of Cruise’s best reviews in years, I’d be shocked if he didn’t return for the next Mission: Impossible. Cruise is canny enough to have weathered a four-decade career in Hollywood through any number of personal storms and you don’t achieve that sort of longevity without knowing when to ride the hot hand.
“Boston accents in the movies drive me crazy. No one ever gets them right, and they can be brutal for those of us who grew up there. This week, I saw new trailers for Black Mass and Spotlight, both set in the city. Seems like the major actors in Spotlight don’t even bother to try, which might be for the best. How would you grade the guys in Black Mass and what are some of the best and worst Boston accents from movies?” —BradyO
As a native Bostonian myself, I feel your aural pain, BradyO. I really do. Nothing pulls me out of a movie faster than seeing an actor clutching a Dunkin’ Donuts cup and opening their mouth and sounding like Mayor Quimby from The Simpsons. They almost never get it right. For every convincing Beantown dialect (think Robert Mitchum in The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Damon and Affleck in Good Will Hunting, Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone, and Mark Wahlberg in, well, everything), there’s the “Pepperidge Fahm remembahs” trainwreck of Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island and The Departed, Tim Robbins in Mystic River, and Tom Hanks in Catch Me if You Can. Those are all good actors, but there’s something inexplicable that happens when movie stars venture past New Haven on I-95 North.
That said, I’m a little hesitant to pass judgment on Black Mass and Spotlight simply because I haven’t seen the finished films yet and I think there’s only so much you can tell from a trailer. Although I am happy to see Michael Keaton return to the newsroom two decades after the underrated The Paper, and I think Johnny Depp looks terrifyingly good in the teaser for Black Mass. Still, I reserve the right to bring a pair of cotton balls to the theater for both films in case there happens to be a pivotal scene about a cup of chowdah or one where someone’s smoking a hahd-pack of Pahliaments.
Rick Springfield is in Ricki and the Flash with Meryl Streep. Haven’t seen it yet. But made me think of some of the best acting performances by a rock star. (I’m partial to Courtney Love in Larry Flynt.) Do you have a favorite or 2? And a pick for the worst? —Bingo75
Bingo, I love this question and I am right there with you on Courtney Love in The People Vs. Larry Flynt. But I still don’t think it’s one of my top-three rock-star-turned-movie-star makeovers. After careful consideration, here are mine.
– David Bowie in The Man Who Fell From Earth (1976). Bowie, then in his Thin White Duke stage, looking gaunt, ghostly, and extraterrestrial, makes his big-screen debut as an alien who winds up on Earth seeking water for his home planet. He doesn’t have much to say in Nicolas Roeg’s sci-fi headtrip (so no telling how he might have handled a Boston accent — I kid), but his screen presence is mesmerizing. For the record, he was also quite good in The Hunger and The Last Temptation of Christ.
– Tom Waits in Down By Law (1986) In Jim Jarmusch’s black-and-white Big Easy jailbreak comedy, the sandpaper-voiced singer-songwriter teams up with John Lurie and Roberto Benigni in one of the strangest trios ever assembled. No one embodies skid-row grace like Waits (on film or on vinyl). And the scene between his late-night DJ and Benigni’s pidgin-English inmate where the one thing they agree on is that it’s “a sad and beautiful world” is one of my favorite moments from ‘80s cinema.
– Ice Cube in Boyz n the Hood (1991) As Doughboy, Ice Cube proved that there was a real artist and actor beneath his N.W.A. pitbull veneer. I loved John Singleton’s film when it came out and I love it now. And a large reason for that is Ice Cube’s surprisingly tender performance.
As for the Hall of Shame, that’s a tough call. I mean, you could shuffle through large stretches of Madonna’s filmography, you could point at pop divas like Britney Spears (Crossroads) and Mariah Carey (Glitter), you could go with the obscure (Ice T in the straight to video Leprechaun in the Hood), but I’ll stick with these six words: Vanilla Ice in Cool as Ice.
Join us again next week and don’t forget to email your movie questions and opinions to me at CriticsMailbag@ew.com or send me a tweet at @ChrisNashawaty, or just comment below.