For Tom Cruise, from top gun to second fiddle? Jun 23, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 39 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Movie stars go cold. It’s part of the way popular culture works. For a long time, people just love watching them. People can’t get enough of them. And then, after they go to the well once too often with a formula that has gone flat, or after their messy personal lives get all mixed up in the characters they’re playing, stars become even slightly distasteful.
Just in the past year, it’s become clear that Will Smith, for a decade the biggest star in the world, has lost it. And after two enormous flops, Johnny Depp—who single-handedly earned Disney nearly $3 billion in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies—can’t get anyone to see him in anything else. Adam Sandler, an incredibly reliable money-maker in his self-produced fare for the better part of two decades, can’t get audiences to the theaters. And this past week has shown that Tom Cruise has now indisputably fallen into the also-ran category as well. His latest vehicle, a $175 million futuristic war epic called Edge of Tomorrow, was a major box-office disappointment in its opening days.
The Cruise case is especially interesting because, of all the A-list Hollywood actors over the 30 years he’s been a star, he has distinguished himself in his effort to make the best movies he can—not good little movies or indie-film character studies, but high-quality fare intended to reach large audiences. That is particularly true of Edge of Tomorrow, which—until a dull climactic sequence and a stupid coda—is a genuinely inventive and thrillingly clever picture.
I expected very little from Edge of Tomorrow, whose previews suggested it was a humorless ripoff of Groundhog Day (1993), which may well be the best American film of the past quarter--century. But the director, Doug Liman, working off of a script by a rather large number of credited writers, takes the Groundhog Day inspiration—one day, relived endlessly—and manages to take it in new directions.
The movie works almost exclusively because of Cruise, playing a slick PR executive who finds himself, untrained and unprepared, among the first wave of soldiers in a D-Day-like invasion force—a force that is almost instantly decimated. Cruise deploys his famous smile in the movie’s opening scenes, but rather than making him seem winning and attractive, the grin exposes the hollowness of his character.
Even the way he moves is a marvel; as we watch him repeat the day, we see him slowly grow in physical confidence. He is trapped in a metal body suit with weaponry built into it that he does not know how to manipulate. In the first couple of scenes, he waddles and stumbles and is almost haplessly comic. Then he begins to get it. Then he gets it some more. Eventually, he becomes almost supernaturally able.
Edge of Tomorrow is a potent reminder of just how good a movie actor Tom Cruise can be. He has limits, to be sure: There is nothing of the chameleon in him, save for his indelible and unrecognizable turn as a foul-mouthed studio executive in the hilarious Tropic Thunder (2008). Still, he roots himself in the characters he can play as deeply as anyone: Think of him as the flaky pool hustler in The Color of Money (1986), the con-man car salesman in Rain Man (1988), the sybaritic Lestat in Interview with the Vampire (1994), the self-help guru in Magnolia (1999), the mysterious tough guy in Jack Reacher (2012)—and, most notably, the sports agent with a conscience in Jerry Maguire (1996). These are all terrific performances.
Cruise cooled off not because his movies went sour but because he did. In 2005, he went on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show and professed his love for his (now ex-) wife Katie Holmes by jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch in a display of heterosexual exuberance so false you might say that, to many, it seemed he was growing a beard right there on the air. Later, he appeared on the Today show and got into a bizarre fight with host Matt Lauer about the wisdom of Brooke Shields taking an antidepressant—of a piece with his fundamentalist belief in Scientology.
These images of the real Cruise, jumping on a couch and yelling about Paxil, have been superimposed on Cruise the movie star. You can’t really see the latter without remembering the former, and those memories are uncomfortable ones. Outside the United States, where audiences either don’t know or don’t care about all that, Cruise remains a potent draw, and it’s possible that Edge of Tomorrow will end up doing all right because of the foreign box office.
Still, Cruise provides an important cautionary lesson for every would-be movie star in the age of YouTube: Keep some mystery about you. Which means, basically: Shut up.
A parody of a spoof of a well-worn formula. Jun 16, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 38 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The much-maligned new comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West is actually pretty funny in spots. But it’s very strange. It’s an affectionate western homage, a mash-up western, a western pastiche. That’s not odd. What’s odd is that it’s an homage to a parody, and paying tribute to a spoof is just weird.
‘Less is more’ works for atomic monsters, too. Jun 2, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 36 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Why does it feel like a modest triumph that the new version of Godzilla is actually not bad? This is really the best thing to say about Godzilla—if said in a surprised, huh, who’da thunk it? kind of way: Hey, not bad! It’s an achievement of a kind when a film about a rubber-suited character featured in some of the most infamously ridiculous pablum ever made (Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla) doesn’t make you giggle.
A landmark in cinematic self-love.Jun 3, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 36 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Not once, not twice, but three times in the course of the 86-minute running time of the extravagantly praised Frances Ha is the title character shown running through Manhattan. Once, we see her running with her best friend. Another time we see her running to find an ATM. Then we see her running while improvising dance moves.
Impressive intentions yield less-than-impressive resultsApr 29, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 31 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
What does it mean to say a movie is an “epic”? An epic uses its characters and plot to illuminate a place, an era, an entire society. We are constantly being reminded, through camera work and art direction, that what we’re watching is something larger and more socially significant than its plot. The action is always placed within a wider context, historically and geographically, and the characters we’re watching move through the story as though they are actors on a grand stage.
A sweet sideshow in South Vietnam.Apr 15, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 29 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The surprise of The Sapphires is how unpretentious and unportentous it is, considering that its plot hinges not only on racist Australian policy but also the Vietnam war. Based loosely on a true story, The Sapphires is about four aboriginal girls (ranging in age from 15 to mid-20s) who turn themselves into a girl group and go on tour in Vietnam in 1968 entertaining the troops.
6:00 PM, Apr 11, 2011 • By EMILY SCHULTHEIS
Kelly Jane Torrance reviews Joe Wright's new movie, Hanna:
Films are sometimes described as "vehicles" for the big names that headline them. "Arthur," the remake of the 1981 film that opened this weekend, was made simply to showcase the outsize personality of Russell Brand. It's not often a film looks like a vehicle for a young, relatively new talent -- let alone one with a name few Americans can even pronounce.
It’s not the usual obstacle in the way of romance.Mar 21, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 26 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The Adjustment Bureau
Directed by George Nolfi
The Adjustment Bureau is the most surprising movie I’ve seen in ages, a full-fledged, unabashed, swoony romance in the guise of a paranoid science-fiction thriller. Every romance is about a couple meant to be together that must navigate and overcome the obstacles the movie strews in their path. The Adjustment Bureau turns this on its head. It’s a movie about two people who are not supposed to be together. The force pulling Matt Damon and Emily Blunt apart isn’t family, or career, or an inconvenient partner. It’s God. God Himself doesn’t want them to be together. How can two people overcome that? And should they?
How one Roman legion held together against the common enemy.Feb 28, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 23 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Modern British history as the cinema likes to remember it.Feb 7, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 20 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The King’s Speech is a winsome fantasy, as unreal in its way as Avatar. The science-fiction blockbuster succeeded in making an entirely animated world seem as though it actually existed. The King’s Speech, set in 1930s Britain and featuring famous personages, converts a stratified historical past into a comforting egalitarian dreamscape.
A classic gets the Coen Brothers treatment.Jan 17, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 17 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen
'Never Let Me Go' is really about cloning, no matter what they say4:26 PM, Oct 12, 2010 • By GINA R. DALFONZO
Never Let Me Go is a haunting exploration of what humans can do to one another, how they can attempt to redefine the very concept of humanity in order to exploit those they see as subhuman. It tackles these themes as skillfully and memorably as any film of recent years, perhaps even more than most. It does this by taking an idea that’s usually relegated to loud, explosive action films and spinning it into a quiet, deeply powerful drama.