By Marc S. Sanders

Brian DePalma directed the first installment of Tom Cruise’s film adaptation of the Mission: Impossible series. It’s good, but not necessarily the best of the bunch.

DePalma’s approach with a script by screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown) & David Koepp opens with last ditch effort at a Cold War setting. (By 1996, Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond had already abandoned that point in history.)

Cobblestone streets in Prague glisten under wet street lamps as a team of spies, led by Jim Phelps (the “Captain Kirk” of the original series) with Cruise’s Ethan Hunt as point man. They are attempting to prevent a buy/sell exchange of a disc containing identities of undercover agents spread across the globe. There are shadows. People walking covertly and other people watching people through cameras on eyeglasses and computer monitors. Everything is going according to plan, until as we expect, nothing goes according to plan, and Tom Cruise seems to be the only one surprised by it all. Now he’s accused of being a traitor having gotten his whole team murdered and he must go rogue (he does this a few times in the M:I films). DePalma’s opening is straight out of a John LeCarre novel. All good stuff.

More good stuff appears in act 2 when Ethan Hunt has to infiltrate CIA headquarters to retrieve another disc and allow himself to cable down into the most high tech secure room in the…well lets just say the world, that is conveniently run by the most incompetent dweeb in the…well let’s just say the world…again. The primarily silent sneak is as beautifully choreographed as a Russian ballet. It’s spectacular.

Even more good stuff occurs in act 3 in a high speed super train crossing through the Chunnel in Europe. There’s a helicopter and Tom Cruise on the roof of the train and even some exploding chewing gum. Act 3 is where DePalma, Towne & Koepp opt to leave the Cold War behind because let’s face it, no spy can remain covert when a helicopter gets tethered to a high speed train in a tunnel.

So yeah, there’s lots of goodies in Mission: Impossible, but it falls terribly short because Tom Cruise produced the film with his ego in the way. For example, he sets up a team of four, all with different specialties. They get properly introduced and then they are given not much to do except watch Tom Cruise “Ethan Hunt” his way out of one dangerous situation after another. Ving Rhames seems like an especially interesting character but all he’s reserved to is typing on a keyboard. Vanessa Redgrave puts on a charming mystery about herself for one short scene as an arms dealer only to do nothing else but sit on the train later on.

Lots of talent was assembled for this film including Jon Voight, Emilio Estevez, Jean Reno and Kristen Scott Thomas but they’re only here to be a live studio audience for Cruise’s heroics.

Compare this film to Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop. Murphy is no doubt the centerpiece, but he does not own every scene. Big moments come from the supporting cast as well. There’s more variety to that picture, which Murphy produced, than Cruise’s production.

A well utilized cast can be the difference between a good picture and a great picture.


By Marc S. Sanders

Prince!  The vanity on this guy!!!!!  Watching his second film, Under The Cherry Moon, is to indulge in Prince’s pride, Prince’s ego, Prince’s conceit, Prince’s vanity.  The Purple One, of which I’m an admitted fan of his music, directs his own picture here in beautiful black and white cinematography, compliments of Michael Ballhaus.  That is where the accolades end though.

The film is set along The French Riviera.  Prince never speaks French in the film, nor does anyone else.  So why are we in France again?  He plays a kid named Christopher and along with his best pal, Tricky (musician Jerome Benton) spend their days glorifying Christopher (or Prince as Christopher) and swindling wealthy heiresses as they continue to live a life decadence in outrageous outfits, high heels and a modicum of makeup to especially keep Prince-I’m sorry-Christopher looking gloriously sexy, pretty and handsome.  At night, while putting on music acts in various drinking establishments, they seek out their female prey. 

When Christopher notices Mary (Kristin Scott Thomas, in her feature film debut), he and Tricky go to work.  Somehow Tricky falls instantly in love with Mary.  (I think.  The two hardly have a scene alone together.  Prince monopolizes most of the space.)  Chris plays the “Prince Adonis” with teasing flirtations, ridiculous get ups and so on.  Later, he will fall in love with Mary.  We are supposed to believe Mary falls in love with Chris too.  But let’s come down to reality here, please.  Tricky grows angry and blah blah blah.  You’ve seen this tripe in better fare from the minds of Looney Toons shorts.  A side story character is Mary’s wealthy possessive father, Isaac (Steven Berkoff, playing the same kind of villain he did in Rambo and Beverly Hills Cop).  What do you think he’s here for?  Right!!!!!  He disapproves of Christopher and refuses to let Mary see him.

Beyond the terrible acting of this piece with vomit inducing kissing scenes involving Prince and Thomas, the film is an annoying, pesky love letter from Prince to Prince.  It’d be impossible for me to count how many close ups he does of himself.  Prince is a poet and a brilliant lyricist as well.  However, the script is littered with expressions and slang that feels like they popped into Prince’s head at one time or another.  He must have jotted it down on napkins, and then he passed it all on to the credited screenwriter, Becky Johnston,  instructing her to work this stuff into the dialogue.  Things are uttered out of nowhere, for no reason.  Conversations don’t make sense at times.  Certain words feel like the have a good rhyme.  So, make it work Becky! Mmmkay!

On other occasions, Prince and Kristin Scott Thomas will share scenes together just sitting there with nothing to say, as if it is a director’s (Prince’s) own artistic choice.  Prince is no Terrance Malick.  The gaze and the pose (of Prince!) says it all.  Calvin Klein commercials have more depth.  A phone call scene between the two goes on for a good three minutes.  They never speak into the phone.  They just hold it to their ears.  The edit goes back and forth on them and again…they don’t speak!  Prince makes it exciting by chewing on a cracker.  In another film, this would’ve been cutting room floor material.  You would think this is behind the scenes stuff and the actors were waiting for the sticks to snap and “Action!” to be called out.

Samples of Prince’s music are peppered throughout the movie.  The sounds are good for the most part, but that’s all they are.  Just random sounds.  Most of the music is not complete and seem like samples that were experimented on in a kid’s garage.  The music does not cue up anything.  None of it heightens any developments or drama or comedy.  At times the tunes will obnoxiously interrupt a scene, much like a mariachi band may intrude on an intimate dinner at a quiet restaurant.  Prince loves his music though.  So, he wakes up and tells his film/sound editors to put this and this and this into the film.  Context man.  Context!!!!!!!  What about the context?????

Under The Cherry Moon is an immature film, made by an immature filmmaker with a very mature photographer (Ballhaus).  It’s tripe of the most shamelessly vain kind.  It’s been three days since I saw the picture, and I have yet to think of another film more ridiculously conceited and egotistical.  My Cinephile colleague, Anthony, is a proud Prince fan.  He has a wealth of knowledge on the famed musician.  He’s learned to be forgiving of this film’s shortcomings.  I assured him when we sat down to watch this that I was going in with an open mind, especially when the gorgeous black and white shows up on the screen.  When the movie was over, however, I explained that this might have become something with an admirable B movie cult following, had Prince at least agreed to welcome another director to oversee the picture.  Someone needed to be watching the one in charge and humble the poor guy because if I want to look at various captions of Prince, all I need to do is lay out his album covers on my bed and pick up a Rolling Stone magazine.  I did not have to subject myself to Under The Cherry Moon.