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Film reviews

Apr 12, 2013

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Oblivion

Don't rushThe official plot synopsis for Oblivion, a large, expansive, empty-looking science fiction movie featuring Tom Cruise as one of the last human beings on earth, describes the relationship between its protagonist and his love interest as “a connection that transcends logic.”

In layman’s terms this generally means “didn’t put a lot of thought into it.” It came as something of a surprise to discover director Joseph Kosinski’s follow-up to his eye-boggling Tron: Legacy (2010) is a big-thinking movie that touches on several knotty themes: constructed realities, God and the “creator”, nature versus science and the pernicious influence of drones, which are rendered like angry-looking versions of Pacman crammed into square slabs.

Set in a post-apocalyptic 2077, the earth has been decimated by a war against aliens. The hurlyburly is done, the battle lost and won (by us) — but the bastards smashed our moon and most habitable land fried like a leaf torched by a flame thrower, so mankind shuffled off to another planet. Continue reading “Oblivion movie review: expansive, enticing and empty”

News & commentary

Nov 27, 2012

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One memorably awkward scene in writer/director Ben Lewin’s acclaimed Oscar-ready drama The Sessions depicts a full-body-naked Helen Hunt, who plays a “sex therapist”, perched with her genital area positioned directly above the mouth of John Hawkes, who plays a paralytic polio-afflicted poet incapable of moving his arms or legs or spending more than four hours away from a gigantic metal box that helps him breathe.

Muffled sounds emerge from Hawkes’ mouth. Hunt, who was once paid a million dollars per episode of Mad About You and is now clearly under the sheets of an “artistic” film with a “vision,” asks “are you OK down there?”

“You’re choking me,” he responds, and with that line whatever vague traces of romance the scene had disappear faster than Hawke’s character climaxes, which is about the same time it takes to snap your fingers.

Despite its heart-on-sleeve sentimentality The Sessions handles its subject with restraint and a lightness of touch, but this is nevertheless an indisputably strange sequence, a rare moment of kooky Hollywood kink. Particularly for a film so widely associated with “Oscar bait.”

It’s not the only time this year American movies got freaky in the bedroom; not by a long shot. Representations of carnal encounters are a dime in a dozen in an industry populated by people who have long understood the holy significance of the mantra “sex sells” but 2012 has been different. Memorable. A special splotch on the bedsheets of American filmmaking. Continue reading “Lights, camera, smut: the year Hollywood got its rocks off”

While I was watching Rock of Ages, director Adam Shankman’s film adaptation of the 80s-set off-Broadway production, something strange happened to my face.

As the story of Sherrie (Julianne Hough), a small town gal living in a lone-lee world began to unfold and a star-studded cast sang anthems from the decade that taste forgot while one glob of schmaltzy plot setup melted into another, my brow squished in like massaged putty. My tongue dried of moisture, my jaw dropped as if it were powerless to resist the pull of gravity and my bottom lip extended a good two inches, leaving not so much a human being but a gobsmacked Dali-esque disfigurement, a single frame from a John Carpenter special effect gone bad.

A few scenes later something amazing happened. That look of horror disintegrated as my muscles reformed into an expression of delight and disbelief. The performance that resonated like a frog leaping out of a dynamite pond, the man whose mojo turned my frown upside down, was Tom Cruise. As a rock pig sex god of the Axl Rose ilk, shirtless, tattooed and muscular, all snarl and whiskey and hubris, with rings of black makeup imprinted like coffee stains around his eyes, Cruise doesn’t so much act the part as smoke it, stub it and stick the butt in his eye — a shockingly good performance in a shockingly bad movie. Continue reading “Rock of Ages movie review: time to forget”

After director J.J. Abrams and star Philip Seymour Hoffman gave the Mission Impossible series a shot in the arm in Mission: Impossible 3 (2006), two-time Oscar winning filmmaker Brad Bird arrives to turn that shot into a blood transfusion in the spectacular Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which, despite its espionage gadgets and crazy techno-thingmebobs, feels awesomely retrograde.

For the fourth time Tom Cruise headlines as Agent Ethan Hunt. A producer since the first film, Cruise wants to keep this baby bankrolled given it’s his one reliable gig in Hollywood — the only cert the Scientology overlord has to draw the box office numbers he believes he deserves. If the quality of the franchise, which appears to have plenty of wind left in its sails, remains at this level — nobody can assume, of course, that it will — audiences might even start to believe it too. Continue reading “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol movie review: entertainment accomplished”