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Entries in Tom Cruise (4)

Thursday
Jun052014

Edge of Tomorrow

Last year’s “Oblivion” was one of the most underrated movies of the year and one of the most thought provoking science fiction movies in some time. While most science fiction films these days rely on explosive action (“Transformers”) or pseudo-philosophy (“Transcendence”), “Oblivion” had something interesting to say. Although it relied on some narrative genre tropes, it used those tropes to explore its themes in interesting ways. Tom Cruise’s newest science fiction film, “Edge of Tomorrow,” is the exact opposite. It has a cool story with some neat ideas, but the narrative doesn’t have any meaningful thematic context behind it. It’s still a stylish and entertaining movie, but it’s missing much of what makes the science fiction genre so interesting.

Cruise plays Major Cage, a media relations expert working for the military during the war against the Mimics, an alien race that arrived in Europe a few years back via meteor. Over the years, they have advanced across the continent and, with human resistance having little success, show no signs of stopping. Cage, despite not being a solider, is ordered onto the front line during an upcoming battle, one that could have devastating consequences for the human race if lost. While out there, he kills an “alpha,” one of the alien race’s leaders. Shortly after, he too perishes, but mysteriously wakes up in the previous day and finds himself reliving it all over again. Only one person knows what he’s going through, the Angel of Verdun herself, Rita (Emily Blunt), and with his help, she plans on stopping the Mimic invasion once and for all.

“Edge of Tomorrow” starts out on a low note. It introduces its story in a silly manner, complete with corny jokes that nearly all land with a thud and its characters come off as clichés, particularly Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton), who spouts off about the glories of war in a typical Southern accent. It even manages to treat the horrors of war and the sadness of death with a (perhaps unintended) humorous tone that makes you wonder just what in the world the filmmakers were thinking. When one soldier screams in joy at finally being on the battlefield, only to immediately get crushed by a crashing drop ship, there’s no other reaction to have but to laugh.

When the film does treat its characters like actual human beings and tries to wring some real emotion out of what they’re going through, it hardly resonates due to the nature of the story. The most glaring example comes when Rita dies in Cage’s arms, only for the day to be reset as Cage dies immediately after. Because of this, much of the action, which is already hard to watch due to excessive shaky cam, far too tight camera angles and quick movements of the aliens, has no real tension. Nothing is really at stake. We know that when they die, they will simply revert back to the previous day with superior knowledge that will allow them to not make the same mistake next time. With no real danger, there’s little to invest in.

“Edge of Tomorrow” still has a pretty neat story, even if it is just “Groundhog Day” with aliens, and its central character is interesting because he uses brain over brawn; he doesn’t find victory because he’s a battle hardened killing machine, but rather because he’s able to memorize and adapt to the aliens’ attacks through trial and error, that is until the last act at least, which abandons this different approach and transitions Cage into yet another indestructible action hero. But science fiction is interesting not simply because of its story or its characters, but rather from the way it uses them to tap into some deeper meaning. “Edge of Tomorrow,” while admittedly entertaining, is too thematically thin to be much more than a mild diversion.

Edge of Tomorrow receives 2.5/5

Friday
Apr192013

Oblivion

If you’ll take a moment to travel back to 2010 with me, you may remember a movie called “Tron: Legacy,” the highly anticipated sequel to the beloved 1982 classic, “Tron.” Undoubtedly, you remember the gorgeous visuals, eye-popping 3D and perfect score by electronic synthpop duo, Daft Punk. Surely, if you’re a fan of the original at least, you remember the fuzzy feeling you got when you saw Jeff Bridges back in his iconic role. What you may also remember, if you’re a more discerning viewer, is that the film was hollow. With all its flash and technical expertise, it was missing a worthwhile script to complement them. Director Joseph Kosinski was hardly to blame because he did everything he could with a film that, by and large, was narratively empty. His new movie, “Oblivion,” likewise has a wonderful score and stunning visuals, but there’s so much more to it than “Tron: Legacy.” Having written this one himself, the movie is filled to the brim with interesting themes and ideas that were all but missing from his previous directorial effort. It’s a movie that excites you and pleases your senses, but it also works your brain and gives you something to ponder over long after it’s done.

The year is 2077, five years after a mandatory memory wipe, and the Earth has been ravaged. Years ago, a mysterious enemy called the Scavengers destroyed the moon and attacked Earth and mankind did the only thing it could to win the war: it nuked itself. This, along with the changing weather patterns from the now destroyed moon, made the planet practically unlivable. Now, all remaining humans have evacuated to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Only a couple people remain back on Earth, Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), and their job is to extract whatever remaining resources it has left. However, after a shuttle crash lands on the planet with a beautiful woman named Julia (Olga Kurylenko) in it, the very same woman Jack keeps having flashbacks of, they discover things aren’t as they seem.

To go further would be ill advised, as doing so would constitute spoilers, but not in the narrative sense that most would consider a spoiler. Sure, I could go into the mid-movie twist about the Scavengers or the revelation Jack has after traveling into the previously forbidden zone or even the big finale about what’s really been going on (though, of course, I won’t), but it would hardly matter because they aren’t the least bit surprising. Each twist is taken directly out of the big book of science fiction plot conventions, each of which we’ve seen so many times, you’d have to be a complete newcomer to the genre to not see them coming. However, doing so would give away the sense of discovery and the careful thematic unraveling the film so beautifully explores. What makes “Oblivion” feel so fresh even in the face of these sci-fi clichés is the way they’re used, not because they simply fit the conventions of a science fiction story, but rather because they’re necessary to flesh out the meaning behind the picture’s glossy veneer.

And glossy it is, an adjective used in the kindest way possible. “Oblivion,” much like “Tron: Legacy,” is a visual wonder. Director Joseph Kosinski has a keen eye and manages to capture the beauty of this ruined world in a way that makes it feel alive. The majority of the world’s oceans are now dried up, the rusted ships strewn throughout being the only hint that there was water there at all. The moon off in the background, broken apart, unlike the sight we’re used to seeing in the night sky, is a sight to behold as well. This post-apocalyptic landscape is simultaneously beautiful, scary, lonely and full of wonderment. Even if the story and themes don’t hook you, the visuals absolutely will.

“Oblivion” is one of the best science fiction movies in recent memory because it, like many of the most beloved sci-fi classics, is about the human condition, not about dumbed down destruction and chaos. It explores the beauty of existence and the necessity to preserve it. It explores the importance of identity and the need to hold onto the memories that define us. It explores the meaning of life and death, intertwining them in a beautiful finale that gives purpose to both. Despite a few minor stumbles, including an uncharacteristically sappy final shot that doesn’t necessarily fit with the sadness and desperation that came before it, “Oblivion” is a wonderful and thought provoking movie.

Oblivion receives 4.5/5

Friday
Jun152012

Rock of Ages

Movie musicals are magical. They’re the amalgamation of the two best art forms, the two that speak in one way or another to the most people. In recent years, however, musicals have been on a decline. The sexy, but underwhelming Nine comes to mind as well as 2010’s Christina Aguilera flop, Burlesque. You have to go back five years to reach the last great musicals in the form of Once and Hairspray. The latter was so lively and warm that all but the most cynical of filmgoers found joy in it. The director of that wonderful film is back this week with his adaptation of the hit Broadway play, Rock of Ages, and while it is disappointing upon recollection, it, like Hairspray, has a ton of energy and a great soundtrack. If it doesn’t get your toes tapping, then you might be dead.

The film takes place in 1987. Sherrie (Julianne Hough) is a fledgling singer who just arrived in Hollywood with the hopes of becoming a star. After meeting Drew (Diego Boneta), who runs to her aide when a purse snatcher attacks her, she lands a job with him at The Bourbon Room, the famous nightclub owned by Dennis (Alec Baldwin) that gave the world’s biggest rock star, Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) his start. She quickly learns that fame isn’t an easy thing to achieve and that her idyllic dreams may not become reality.

Rock of Ages has a pretty simple set-up, one that doesn’t give much leeway for characterization. If the story is bare, then the characters are thin and their relationships blossom far too quickly to be convincing. If you’re expecting to care about the characters, similar to Hairspray or Once, you’re bound to be disappointed, but as far as pure spirit and vigor go, Rock of Ages has it in spades. The animated renditions of classic 80’s hair metal songs like Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock” and Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” are wonderfully performed, both visually and aurally, though the former is definitely better than the latter. While you may be surprised by just how well Tom Cruise sings, he’s still far from excellent and given that he’s lip-synching anyway, one can’t help but wonder why the filmmakers couldn’t hire someone with more vocal talent.

The most exuberant moments in the film come from the meshing of popular songs, like Foreigner’s “Juke Box Hero” and Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” They’re blended so well that what they create stands alone as a unique song, despite their familiar parts. Every musical number in the film, including these dazzling mash-ups, are performed with pizzazz from a committed cast and it’s impossible not to enjoy watching certain actors step out of their comfort zones to do something different, even if it is a bit painful watching Alec Baldwin through up the devil horns and sing into a beer bottle. Regardless of any criticisms that can be lobbed at Cruise’s questionable vocal talent, he puts everything into his role, playing a drugged up, constantly drunk womanizing rock star. The stuff he says is so off-the-wall that if his real world behavior hadn’t recently calmed down, I’d say he’s basically just playing himself.

Despite a general indifference most will feel towards the characters and what happens to them, the songs are nevertheless cleverly integrated into what’s going on at that particular moment in time. Unlike Across the Universe, which tried to create a narrative through songs from one band that weren’t necessarily connected in such a way, Rock of Ages borrows from many bands who sang about a number of different topics, allowing the writers more freedom to take the story in the direction they wanted to while still having the musical content to back it up. Unfortunately, the movie so often succumbs to melodrama and typical screenplay misunderstandings that too much of its runtime is given to slow ballads, which effectively sucks away much of its appeal.

But when Rock of Ages is fun, it’s really fun. The movie may be a bit mopey, but it knows it’s silly and occasionally mocks itself as it absurdly transitions into certain songs, like when Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin break into a rendition of REO Speedwagon’s love song, “Can’t Fight This Feeling.” You’ll be laughing at how clumsily the transition happens, but that’s precisely the point. You’re supposed to laugh at it. You’re supposed to have fun, whether that means laughing or singing along. Rock of Ages knows this and though it’s far from amazing, that is its greatest strength.

Rock of Ages receives 3/5

Wednesday
Jun232010

Knight and Day

Last week, Toy Story 3 was presented to the world to almost complete adulation, sans a not too surprising negative review from the critic everyone loves to hate, Armond White. In front of that marvelous film was a short from Pixar called Day and Night, which has more thought and ingenuity put into it than this week’s film reversely titled Knight and Day. That in no way makes it a bad movie, however. On the contrary, it’s a blast, a summer popcorn flick that asks you to check your brain at the door. Like the recent Prince of Persia, I was happy to oblige.

The film stars Cameron Diaz as June, a woman on her way home to attend her sister’s wedding. As a gift to her soon-to-be-wed sis, she has been restoring her father’s old GTO hoping that her sister will love it as much as he did. When she arrives at the airport, she bumps into Roy, played by Tom Cruise, a rogue agent on the run from the FBI after being set up by his former partner. June doesn’t yet know this, however, and steps foot onto the plane, unaware of what is about to happen. In the bathroom, she musters up the courage to make a move on Roy only to walk out and find everybody dead, including the two pilots. After safely crash landing in a field, June is drugged and wakes up in her apartment the next day. She thinks she has seen the last of Roy, but he keeps showing up and eventually drags her into his predicament.

There’s more story, something having to do with a battery that can light up entire cities, code named “zephyr,” but what really matters is what I’ve detailed above. Where the two go and why seems unimportant compared to what they do there. The wild action and witty vocal jabs they take at each other are more than enough to please, even if the story seems a bit redundant of other similar pseudo spy comedies like Mr. & Mrs. Smith or Get Smart.

Say what you want about Tom Cruise and his personal life, but the man is a fine actor. Outside of a few select performances, namely the recent Valkyrie, he has always found a way to impress the guys and woo the ladies. He emits vigor and likability at every turn and it’s never been as apparent as it is here. He isn’t merely a side character as he has been in other comedies, such as Tropic Thunder or his brief cameo appearance in Austin Powers in Goldmember. He’s allowed to do his own thing for nearly two hours and he’s great. He’s the kind of actor that can make us forget that what we’re seeing is mindless and surprise us with his versatile mix of humor and physical stunts.

It was the late film critic Pauline Kael who once wrote, “The movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we shouldn’t go at all.” Knight and Day perfectly encapsulates that sentiment. This is the type of movie where the hero stands in wide open spaces surrounded by FBI agents, yet never gets shot. It’s the type of movie where the characters continually make bad decisions. It’s the type of movie whose plot twists are contrived and predictable. It’s stupid, but it’s the right kind of stupid.

When I walked out of Knight and Day, I felt like I had just watched the big screen version of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Action Movies.” It’s not a poorly produced film—on the contrary, it’s quite good—but it’s hard to take this stuff seriously. This is fluff through and through, an entertaining time waster that will drift from my mind as the summer moves along. But rather than look towards the future, I’m reveling in the present and I’m finding that Knight and Day is easy to recommend.

Knight and Day receives 3.5/5