Tom Cruise is a movie star for a reason. With his square jaw, dazzling smile and effortless physicality, he’s the man we feel comfortable entrusting with sci-fi action because he has a near-perfect combination of humanity and inhumanity. But he can be boring. Last year’s Oblivion tried to compensate for Cruise’s inherent and often beneficial blankness by literally multiplying the number of Cruises onscreen. Edge of Tomorrow takes a different and far more successful approach: Cruise’s blankness becomes the joke, and the narrative “Edge of Tomorrow”: See It Todayengine, and the emotional hook. Hidden beneath his muscular exterior is the man we all fear we’d be.
I begrudgingly admire Michael Bay. I don’t like the Transformers movies, which he directed from scripts by Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci and Ehren Kruger, and I’m not convinced anyone else does either, but they look shiny, make loud noises and generate obscene amounts of revenue. With no incentive other than to reap billions of dollars from the box office, he’s hit upon the most impressive of magic formulas, directing enormously profitable blockbusters that no one can muster enough enthusiasm to admit they don’t really enjoy.
I’ve only seen the first two Transformers movies, and you couldn’t pay me enough to see any more. The first one has its moments, but by the second, all traces of fun and coherence have been tossed out in favor of some of the most technically complex, structurally massive, emotionally bankrupt action sequences ever realized on film. These films are immense achievements in technological fortitude – the battles are pitched at a scale worthy of the size of the title characters. Bay shoots these movies as spectacles of war, forgetting that genuinely satisfying war movies deal with people or ideas first and spectacle second, even if the two are fundamentally linked. Done right, substance-free spectacle can be as stirring as cinema gets. But as impressive as it is that Bay managed to construct “realistic” robots that convincingly appear to emerge from everyday machinery, this achievement means nothing without a sense of proportion, or narrative consequence, or emotional weight, or comedic skill, or even visual beauty.
I’m just about to hit the halfway point in my journey through the second season of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. Before I go any further, a quick clarification:
These instant reactions are not meant to take the place of a thoughtful, well-reasoned “take” on the show as a whole. Rather, I use them as a way of reacting to specific moments in each episode, so that I can savor the show’s micro pleasures and remember them when I’m considering the season as a whole. None of these judgments are definitive, but that doesn’t make them invalid. Orange is the New Black was created with this kind of binge-watching strategy in mind – I’m just intermittently taking stock of the experience.
Think of these post-episode reviews as a means of collecting my thoughts, gathering my emotions and dropping anchor after each hour of character maneuvers and poignant flashbacks. This show has a lot of layers and almost as many characters. Writing about each episode is a means of striving for clarity, not passing judgment.
With that, on with the show. (Check my previous blog post for my thoughts on each of the first six episodes of season two.)
After nine increasingly brilliant episodes, the first season of Fargo concludes tonight at 10pm on FX. When this show was first announced, it was quickly derided as an ill-conceived attempt to capitalize on a cult favorite film that could not possibly be improved or enriched by a ten-hour adaptation. The first episode assuaged those concerns to an extent, with instantly arresting performances and a visual style that recalls the Coen Brothers without imitating them, but the show truly distinguished itself approximately halfway through its run, when it diverged almost entirely from the thematic arc of its source material while tying itself more overtly than ever to the film’s chronology. With just the finale to go, Fargo stands as one of my favorite television experiences of 2014. Here are five things I’ll miss after tonight’s much-hyped finale:
Earlier this year, the directing team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller tackled the perils of conformity and the joys of creativity in The Lego Movie, which took America by storm and became the year’s highest-grossing movie so far. Having previously adapted Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and revived 21 Jump Street for the big screen, Lord and Miller were no strangers to Hollywood success, but The Lego Movie elevated their profile to previously unthinkable heights.
22 Jump Street ought to do it again. It’s as funny as the original, with an extra layer of metacommentary on the inevitable fatigue and repetition that plagues most movie sequels. Better yet, the metacommentary exists not as a mere distraction from a dearth of originality, but rather a springboard from which new ideas emerge. The movie is about the hapless Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and the muscular Jenkoff (Channing Tatum) chasing their former glory and confronting the unusual nature of their relationship. As in the first movie, there are car chases, preposterous plot twists, romantic entanglements, professional jealousies, pop-culture references, celebrity cameos and tidy resolutions. Working from a script by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman, Lord and Miller manage to freshen this retread with self-awareness and a genuine layer of compassion.
The producers of this year’s Tony Awards faced a challenge akin to cooking a perfect souffle and then being asked to do it all over again, without several of the key ingredients, a year later. Host Hugh Jackman, despite his dazzling physical features, sizable vocal chops and endless charisma, was never going to top the achievements of last year’s emcee Neil Patrick Harris, who managed to follow what was perhaps the greatest awards show number of all time with two more numbers of nearly equal entertainment value. No one was going to top the majestic Cicely Tyson’s towering acceptance speech or Audra McDonald’s show-concluding mic drop. Why try?
When 2013 began, House of Cards was widely predicted to be the show that would make or break Netflix as a potential long-term player in the increasingly diverse business of producing television. The show debuted to much fanfare and knee-jerk critical praise, though some viewers soured on the show after realizing that it is arguably an unremarkable show dressed up in the trappings of a remarkable one.
At the peak of the House of Cards backlash, a new Netflix show quietly entered the ring. I’m not going to mince words: Orange is the New Black (one of my ten favorites shows of 2013) is superior to House of Cards, and to most of what’s on television.