Viewing Diary (6/30/14)

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I know you have missed the Viewing Diary the last few weeks, and that you have constantly been sitting at your computer, hitting refresh, and hoping that one materializes. Well, our long national nightmare has come to an end. After a couple busy weeks without much movie-watching, I return with looks at Transformers: Explosions in Financially Advantageous LocationsThe Rover and Obvious Child. For the old stuff, how about some praise for A Hard Day’s Night? Those Beatles have had a rough go of it, haven’t they?

What to look for later this week: A review of Deliver Us From Evil, as well as a mid-year look at the best and worst movies I’ve seen so far in 2014. It should be fun! Or mildly diverting, at the very least! Continue reading

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Summer of Cruise III: The era of the “Tom Cruise Picture”

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“I’m more afraid of being nothing than I am of being hurt.” – Cole Trickle, Days of Thunder

The only thing more difficult than becoming a movie star is remaining one, and that is the challenge Tom Cruise faced in the wake of Risky Business and Top Gun. Many an actor has gotten big breaks like those, only to quickly fade away into the background. However, if you are familiar with Cruise’s personality and work ethic, you know he was not going to let that happen. In fact, he barely even took a moment to appreciate his own success, and he spent the rest of the ‘80s stringing together hit after hit in order to keep his name in the spotlight. He was smart about it, too, balancing commercial projects with slightly more prestigious fare. We will get to the latter category in a later post, but for now, let us focus on three films in which he attempted to capitalize on the “young hotshot” image he so successfully created in Top Gun. Continue reading

Check this out: “Transformers: The Premake” explores the making of a blockbuster from outside the barricades

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These days, blockbusters aren’t simply big movies, but unstoppable behemoths. Hundreds of films are released every year, but it’s the $100-200 million mega-projects that make up the sun around which the rest of the movie universe orbits. We may not like it, but that is the truth. The critical community has grown to, by and large, despise Michael Bay’s Transformers films, but they are so huge and so successful that many of the films’ harshest critics will still find themselves sitting through another 150 minutes of Bay’s incoherent toy commercial explosions when Age of Extinction graces us with its presence next week. Ignoring a new Transformers movie is like ignoring a giant zit on the face of our cinematic landscape. We may not like it, but it must be dealt with. Continue reading

With “22 Jump Street,” Phil Lord and Chris Miller maintain their remarkable winning streak

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There are two major factors driving the sudden and unlikely success of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller in the world of comedy. The first, and most important, is that their movies are funny. Really funny. The second factor is their ability to turn the inherent silliness of their projects into virtues rather than hindrances. In particular, their last three movies, 21 Jump Street, The LEGO Movie, and now the sequel 22 Jump Street, are ostensibly cynical projects conceived out of creative laziness or pure commercialism. Instead of turning their back to such notions, Lord and Miller have attacked them head on, via self-referential jokes and an uncanny ability to weave them into the very themes of their films. 21 Jump Street worked not because it simply poked fun at its own existence, but also because it became a film about nostalgia and attempting to relive the past. If anything, 22 Jump Street doubles down on the self-awareness, and in the process becomes a comedy sequel about comedy sequels. Continue reading

Summer of Cruise II: A mission so impossible, he did it four times

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“I work for an agency. It’s called the IMF.”
“What’s that stand for?”
“Impossible Mission Force.”
“Shut up.”—Ethan Hunt and his wife Julia, Mission: Impossible III

Considering how long Tom Cruise’s movie stardom has lasted, it’s somewhat surprising that he hasn’t been involved in many huge franchises. Unless you count The Color of Money, and I don’t, Cruise did not appear in a sequel until 2000’s Mission: Impossible II. (Sadly, Eyes Wide Shut 2: The Adventure Continues never came to be.) To this day, Mission: Impossible is the only franchise to which Cruise has attached himself, and as a result it may be these films for which he is most known among my generation. It’s also a franchise rather unlike anything else going today. Most modern film series are obsessed with continuity and building worlds over the course of several installments. Outside of a few characters, the Mission: Impossible films have no real interest in such things. All four films are completely different beasts in terms of visual and storytelling style, and yet of the four movies there is only one real stinker of the bunch. The name Mission: Impossible doesn’t mean much more than “Tom Cruise action movie,” and yet it has turned out to be a surprisingly consistent entity. Continue reading

Viewing Diary (6/9/14)

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After not posting a Viewing Diary last week, I’ve decided to spend this week’s post catching up on some of the new releases I’ve yet to discuss. I know I have done otherwise before, but henceforth, Viewing Diaries will not include films that I am writing about for other blog posts/reviews. That’s why the various Tom Cruise movies I’m watching will not be covered here, as well as films like Deliver Us From Evil, which I have seen but will not write about until the full review posts closer to the release date. Anyway, that concludes all new business. Let us begin. Continue reading

“Edge of Tomorrow” hits the usual marks, but does so in thoroughly entertaining fashion

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As Edge of Tomorrow begins, we are greeted with the kind of montage that has kicked off many a science fiction film before, as director Doug Liman assembles a collection of fake news footage that sets the audience up for the world they are about to enter. Tom Cruise appears in a couple of these clips as well, and the film lets you know that he is not a typical soldier, but a sort of media spokesman. It’s not a particularly auspicious first couple minutes, but then an interesting thing happens: the film quiets down. The first proper scene in the movie is a long, engaging conversation between Cruise’s Major William Cage and Brendan Gleeson’s General Brigham. The editing is patient, and there’s no manipulative music trying to drive anything home. It’s entirely about the two actors, and it allows them to play the scene in a way that establishes who they are and their place in the world. That, in a nutshell, is what makes Edge of Tomorrow so successful. There’s nothing terribly surprising about the story it’s telling, but it presents this story with refreshing wit and personality. Continue reading