Retrospect Reviews: ‘War of the Worlds and “Last Samurai’

Tom Cruise has been a major actor in Hollywood for a while, but as a 90s kid, I didn’t start seeing his movies regularly until the mid-2000s.

Perhaps his best work during that period was his performance as the cold, calculating hitman in 2004’s “Collateral.” That period also saw him appear in “Mission: Impossible III,” a movie credited with rejuvenating the franchise.

Two films from that era that I remember most fondly, though, are his Japanese period piece “The Last Samurai” and the “War of the Worlds” remake. Both films have received mixed reception, but I found them to be strong pictures.

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REVIEW: Maverick’s new mission in ‘Top Gun’ sequel is worth seeing

In the past 20 years, sequels have been made to 80s franchises like “Rambo,” “Rocky,” “Die Hard” and “Indiana Jones.”

It just feels right that “Top Gun” joins the club.

“Maverick” follows the titular character (Tom Cruise) as he enters what looks to be the last stage of his career. Rather than move on to other ranks and jobs, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell has remained a captain in the United States Navy, with the decision based on his love of being a pilot.

At the request of Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer), Maverick is taken off his current assignment as a test pilot for new aircraft and placed back in San Diego at Top Gun. He was chosen because he’s the only pilot with enough experience to train the top aviators in the country for a dangerous, nearly impossible mission. The situation is complicated by Maverick’s guilt, though, as his late wingman’s son Bradley (Miles Teller) is one of the pilots he intends to train.

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REVIEW: Alex Garland’s “Men” is ambitious but frustrating

I have a feeling this film will have some guys shouting “not all men!”

This film from director Alex Garland from the company A24 stars Jessie Buckley as Harper, a woman who’s gone to stay at a cottage in the country after a personal tragedy. The rental is in a nice enough small town and all seems well, but issues with her past continue to trouble her.

It’s made only worse as she has to deal with some rather bothersome figures in town, from a prying priest to a creepy schoolboy. These men only make her mental state worse.

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REVIEW: ‘New Era’ at Downton offers enjoyment, despite shortcomings

I didn’t always know what was going on in the 2019 “Downton Abbey” film since I didn’t watch the series. That was true again here.

However, like its predecessor, it’s still fairly enjoyable.

“New Era” has two main stories unfolding. One revolves around a new film being shot at the Downton estate, where Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Violet (Maggie Smith) are keeping watch of things. While the family is hesitant about the film industry using the building, they allow it as it will provide funding to do needed roof repairs.

Meanwhile, the characters Robert (Hugh Bonneville), Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), Edith (Laura Carmichael), Herbert (Harry Hadden-Patton), Tom (Allen Leech) and Lucy (Tuppence Middleton) travel to southern France to explore a villa Violet inherited. The inheritance was included in the will of a man who Violet met decades ago in her youth.

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Phase 4 shows the MCU is running on empty

No, I’m not being paid by Warner Bros. or DC to write this.

Honestly, for the longest time I rejected this notion. Marvel Studios had a really good track record here at this site. Aside from “Thor: The Dark World,” most entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe received a 3 out of 5 or higher from yours truly.

For those who may not know, that’s enough to get a “fresh” score on Rotten Tomatoes. That was true right up through the summer of 2019.

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REVIEW: ‘Firestarter’ is a faulty King adaptation

Stephen King is an iconic writer but the adaptations of his work have a tendency to be hit or miss. This new “Firestarter” movie is definitely one of the latter.

Zac Efron and Sydney Lemmon play parents of a daughter with a unique ability in the film. Their child, Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), has the ability to spontaneously create fire with her mind, although she can’t manage to fully control the power.

While her power is unique, though, her having an ability isn’t, as both her parents are also able to control things with their mind. This has put a target on the family by an organization set on controlling people with special powers. With Charlie’s powers more based on high emotions, it puts her family in a dangerous position, as their cover of being normal residents may be blown.

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REVIEW: Studio-driven ‘Doctor Strange 2’ short on substance

Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been pretty poor so far.

Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) starts off this latest Marvel adventure on a down note, having to attend a wedding where the woman he loved is getting married to someone else. Any negative feelings about that have to wait, though, when a giant monster attacks a young woman nearby.

The woman is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the power to travel to different universes, but can’t quite control it yet. After rescuing her, Strange seeks counsel from Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), as she might be able to help with her knowledge of magic. However, Wanda sees an opportunity to use America’s powers for herself so that she can find a different universe where she can be happier.

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REVIEW: ‘Memory’ is solid matinee action cinema

Wow, two Liam Neeson action movies in less than three months. Fortunately, “Memory” is a better film than February’s “Blacklight.”

In “Memory,” Neeson plays Alex Lewis, a hitman for organized crime who almost always gets the job done. However, his latest job involves killing a child, something he refuses to do.

Meanwhile, Guy Pearce portrays an FBI agent named Vincent who’s investigating a trafficking operation. It turns out the girl Alex was supposed to kill was involved in the trafficking operation and those who run it are now after the hitman to bring him down for not going through with the task.

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REVIEW: ‘Secrets of Dumbledore’ entertains, but is far too disjointed

This new “Fantastic Beasts” movie just reminds me the last “Harry Potter” came out more than 10 years ago, when I was still in college. Where does time go?

While there’s been some time since “Harry Potter” ended, though, the Wizarding World is carrying on. The latest franchise installment is the third entry in the “Fantastic Beasts” saga, with Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) still posing a threat to the magic nations.

In response to the Grindelwald threat, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) recruits a team including beasts expert Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), American charms professor Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams), Scamander’s brother Theseus who’s an elite dark wizard catcher and WWI veteran Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Dumbledore has to rely on this team, as there’s a spell preventing him from battling Grindelwald directly.

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REVIEW: Meticulously made’ Northman’ devoid of heart

As a Vikings fan, I felt a major urge to clap my hands above my head whenever the word “skol” was thrown out in this film.

The story of “The Northman” is based in a Scandinavian legend, which ultimately inspired Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The protagonist of this film is a prince, Amleth, (Alexander Skarsgard) who witnesses his father (Ethan Hawke) be killed by his uncle Fjolnir (Claes Bang).

Amleth is forced to flee as a child after Fjolnir’s bloody rise to power, but vows to return. He eventually does so, now as an experienced, hardened warrior. To get close to his uncle, Amleth goes undercover, appearing as a slave working on Fjolnir’s land.

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