Viewing Diary (7/28/14)

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It’s been a busy week of movie-watching for me, so that can only mean one thing: time to bring out the old Viewing Diary! This time around, we looks at the new releases LucyMagic in the MoonlightA Most Wanted Man and Wish I Was Here. On the oldies side, I finally get around to Alfred Hitchcock’s World War II journalism thriller Foreign Correspondent. Good times all around! So let’s take some random Taiwanese drugs, start using 100 percent of our brains, and get to work. Continue reading

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Summer of Cruise V: You had me at “Fidelio”

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Tom Cruise’s career had now entered its fourth decade, and in all that time there is one stretch that stands out as the most interesting. It begins in 1996, which brought us two of the most important films of his career: the original Mission: Impossible (covered previously) and Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire. The former is notable for sending Cruise down the action hero path that would eventually lead him to his current state, and the latter is a memorable quote factory that was able to get not one, but two lines onto AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes list, with a third just missing the cut. It’s the film that got Cruise his second Oscar nomination, and for the next few years he continued to chase that dragon, resulting in perhaps the three weirdest movies Cruise has ever starred in: Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia and Vanilla Sky. Continue reading

Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” is a magnificent film about time, youth, family, and so much more

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Of all the impressive things about Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, and they are legion, one of the most extraordinary is how the film was able to be crafted into something that will be able to connect with just about anybody who watches it. The title, while accurate, is a bit limiting. This isn’t just a movie about a kid growing up, albeit one with a heck of a hook. Boyhood is ultimately about time itself, and Linklater wisely dodges the usual coming of age clichés by focusing on everyday events rather than major life events. It does not advertise its leaps forward through time. For instance, one moment that has stuck with me is a post-time jump scene in which our hero Mason (Ellar Coltrane) returns home late one night, visibly drunk, smoking pot and making out with a nameless girl in the back of his friend’s car. Other coming-of-age movies would show us how Mason matured to this point, but in this case it just happens and we are meant to accept the change. In Boyhood, there is no time to stop and explain. Life moves too quickly for that. Continue reading

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a rare anti-violent blockbuster

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The last few weeks of summer movie season have provided us with something of an accidental contrast in how violence is handled in your usual blockbuster. The weekend before Independence Day, there was the release of Transformers: Age of Extinction, which provides viewers with the usual heavy dose of constant mayhem, robot fights and boring/embarrassing human storylines. Like the previous Transformers films, along with most of Michael Bay’s oeuvre, it could not care less about what any of the carnage or violence means. On top of that, the scenes of hand-to-hand robot combat would be The Raid 2-level gruesome if they played out between human beings, and the series’ ostensible noble “hero” Optimus Prime is actually a super-violent psychopath who will quickly murder anyone that even looks at him funny. As much as I dislike the Transformers films, however, it is unfair to single them out. Most summer blockbusters and big-budget action films share this series’ bloodlust, and only when something like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes comes along do we realize that there’s actually another way to go about things. Continue reading

Summer of Cruise IV: The truth, and how to handle it

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As I discussed last time around, one of the most difficult moments in any young movie star’s career is what they do immediately after their sudden rise to fame. These days, we’re actually seeing several actors go through this stage, what with franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight reaching their end. When Top Gun exploded and Tom Cruise became a household name, he decided to respond by simply making as many movies as possible. He also helped himself by refusing to simply make Top Gun 2: Still Playin’ With the Boys, and instead tried out a bunch of different projects. Many of them may have had similar plots, characters and themes, but others decided to push his now-famous persona into more interesting places. This post covers three early attempts by Cruise to work on more prestigious fare, and in one case he was able to get his first Oscar nomination. Continue reading

The 2014 Halftime Report

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As hard as it is to believe, we now find ourselves six months into another year. Of course, we should use this time to reflect. Not on our lives, of course. Who cares about that? We should instead turn our attention to the various movies that have been released so far in 2014, and this has probably been the best January-to-June stretch we’ve seen in several years. Normally when I do a mid-year post, I have trouble coming up with five movies that I really liked. This time around, I quite easily came up with a list of 10 movies I really, really liked, and the even greater miracle is just how strong Hollywood has been so far this year. We didn’t get our first genuine stinker of the summer movie season until a certain Michael Bay arrived last week to muck things up. 2014 is off to a rousing start, and we still have six months ahead that are full of new movies from Paul Thomas Anderson, Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan and more. Continue reading

“Deliver Us From Evil” is part horror film and part police procedural, but fails to add anything to either genre

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Scott Derrickson’s Deliver Us From Evil wants so badly to be a different kind of horror movie, and there are several moments when it seems as though it might succeed. Not many movies like this would start with a scene featuring a group of soldiers fighting in Iraq, and a slightly later sequence in the Bronx Zoo feels particularly unique. Horror films have typically been bound to claustrophobic, dimly-lit indoor spaces, but in the first act of Deliver Us From Evil, Derrickson makes a concerted effort to bring the darkness out into the open. If the film stuck to these concepts, it might have had something. Eventually, it turns into a below-average cop story with intermittently effective horror elements. Instead of hunting serial killers, the cops in Deliver Us From Evil are doing battle with the devil, and that doesn’t turn out to be quite as interesting as it may sound. Continue reading