"Valkyrie" reviews are in, and they aren’t so good
This morning we wait for the Golden Globe nominations to see which stars — Tom, Brad, Angelina, Jim — the Hollywood Foreign Press has pandered to for a highly rated return to NBC.
In the meantime, the waiting is over for something else even bigger: reviews of Tom Cruise as Col. Von Stauffenberg in "Valkyrie." Both Variety and the Hollywood Reporter have weighed in, and the results are as expected: not so good.
The Reporter’s Kirk Honeycutt gets right to the heart of the matter. "The release should enjoy modest success," he writes, "but if Cruise's career is seen as momentarily stalled, "Valkyrie" is not the electric jolt he needs to jump-start it."
He continues "Cruise doesn't actually star in this movie as he has in nearly all his previous films. He is the key player in an ensemble, but he — how to put this? — blends in."
Honeycutt, just like Variety’s Todd McCarthy, praises director Bryan Singer for making a solid thriller, but wishes the film carried more heft about the actual plot to kill Hitler.
McCarthy takes a little more time, circling around Cruise, who he writes, "is a bit stiff but still adequate as Col. Claus von Stauffenberg." McCarthy gets to it a little later: "Cruise makes Stauffenberg a stalwart, flawed and honorable man, but reveals little sense of his stellar intellectual, artistic and family background. The star's neutral Yank accent contrasts with the British voices that surround him…"
McCarthy also has some kind words for Singer, but concludes: "Allowing for the need to compress and streamline events, the scribes have hewed pretty closely to the facts but haven't injected sufficient sizzle into the dialogue or individuality into the characters." He surmises that Valkyrie "looks destined for just so-so commercial returns."
And that’s not good. "Valkyrie" cost between $90 and $100 million to make. Another $50 mil or so will be plowed into its marketing by MGM’s revived United Artists branch. I’m being conservative. UA already lost a bundle on "Lions for Lambs." Cruise’s partner, Paula Wagner, is gone.
Originally, Cruise-Wagner received a promise of $500 million in credit, but delivered in increments. Since then, their banker — Merrill Lynch — has gone out of business. If "Valkyrie" is the money loser that’s expected, we can also anticipate that the funding is over (if not already), the end of UA, and the remainder of the Cruise deal.
Will Cruise’s career be over? Oh no, not by a long shot. But the challenge to resuscitate will be that much more heightened as Cruise — if he’s to stay in the game of movie making — must choose his projects more carefully. It’s not so easy. He’s at an age where others, like Tom Hanks, have cut back expectations and work load.
Is Los Angeles a ridiculous place? As a New Yorker, I think so. This year’s choice of Best Film by the Los Angeles Film Critics bears me out.
The group — which is really just the L.A. Times’s Ken Turan and who knows who else — chose Disney/Pixar’s animated "Wall E" for their Best Film.
Contrast that to the New York critics, who picked Gus van Sant’s "Milk," for their top honors.
My FOX News colleague Bill O’Reilly worried the other day on the radio that "Hollywood" — whatever that is — would go crazy for "Milk" because of California’s Proposition 8. He thought choosing "Milk" would be a statement by a gay-sympathetic arts community on the west coast.
How wrong Bill was! The Californians — who could have made a statement — picked a cartoon instead. Yes, "Wall E" is a lovely, brilliant cartoon, the "Fantasia" of 2008, but it’s still a…cartoon! Meantime, the New Yorkers, who don’t need to make a statement about gay life, went for "Milk" — the story of the murder of a California gay political pioneer.
This speaks volumes about N.Y. vs. L.A.
Anyway, both groups went for Sean Penn (Milk) and Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky) as Best Actor and Actress. That’s not too surprising. Penn does a fine job as Harvey Milk. He’s already on everyone’s top 5 list. Hawkins, however, gets significant buzz from these selections. She now vaults into the top 5, alongside Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, and, I should hope, Kristin Scott Thomas.
I’m filing this column before the Golden Globes come running in with accolades for Angelina Jolie, whom they desperately want on their TV show, for her odd performance in "Changeling." They may also deliver nods for Nicole Kidman in "Australia," Cate Blanchett in "Benjamin Button," and maybe even Jennifer Aniston in "Marley and Me." Who knows? Who cares? The real finalists are above; anything else is just designed for ratings.
As for Sean Penn, his "Milk" performance is heroic. It’s grand acting, there’s no question about it. But Clint Eastwood is so great in "Gran Torino," and there’s the fact that he’s never won an Oscar for Best Actor. He’s 78, and squawking about not acting again. My guess is, the Academy will anoint him when the time comes.
And "Wall E"? What a waste of a vote for the L.A. critics. Still, it’s a gem of a movie, a monumental technical achievement. And who doesn’t love a movie that features songs from "Hello, Dolly!" by Jerry Herman. I wonder if all its fans realize the voice singing "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" is that of Michael Crawford, circa 1969. Twenty years later he became the voice of another musical landmark, "Phantom of the Opera."