Episode Forty Two: Joga Bonito

World Cup fever grasps the podcast firmly in its grip as John struggles not to talk about every World Cup since 1970 in extensive detail. Firmly uneducated guesses on how the tournament is going to go and a general discussion of the weird, morally compromised sports tournament that comfortably provides the most fun you can have sitting on a couch rooting for small countries against former imperialist nations.

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Episode Forty Two: Joga Bonito


Rumination on a film I haven’t seen yet: EDGE OF TOMORROW

Tom Cruise is a funny sort, an acquired taste that everyone seems to have whether they want to have it or not. Much as we all both loathe McDonalds’ food just as mysterious anonymous hordes consume it, so does Mr. Cruise remain a phenomenal draw, guaranteed money in an era when studios’ major creative decisions are typically fuelled by fear. That’s how we end up with TRANSFORMERS films: people (usually men) in suits are terrified they’ll lose their privileged position in a society (ours) that values all human worth in terms of the value/number of automobiles owned. Or possibly property owned. I can never remember. Isn’t it both? There’s a formula involved, I think. Don’t forget to carry the one. In any case, we’re left with movies dominated by explosions created on a Mac Pro by some people nobody intends to thank at the awards shows. Safe choices are the norm.[ref]Or are they? I suppose it’s bad form to directly contradict myself, but 2014 is throwing up some weird ones. A GODZILLA movie that keeps its powder dry for as long as possible, the second installment in a revived PLANET OF THE APES series that may well end up doing more for animal rights than a thousand paint-sodden fur coats and a Marvel film starring the schlubby guy from PARKS AND REC, a professional wrestler and a talking squirrel that looks like the most fun anybody on the planet Earth has had for ages. Still, don’t get too excited: the future has plenty of pirates in the Caribbean, transforming robots and wars amid the stars yet.[/ref]

Then there’s Tom. We all hate him right? Well, we can’t stand him at least. I have credibility in this area. I’m immune to a lot of his back catalogue. He’s completely overrated in RAINMAN (in his own way his performance is as over-done as Hoffman’s), TOP GUN was just silly (I’m European, and thus mostly immune to its stupidity) and various turns in MAGNOLIA, VANILLA SKY and A FEW GOOD MEN scream “I’m acting!” in a way that only certain Hollywood performances seem willing and interested in doing. I’ve always had problems with Cruise. Like many Hollywood stars his ego is sufficient to take over a film completely. He’s the white man trying to save Japanese ethics in THE LAST SAMURAI, he’s our only hope against Hitler in VALKYRIE. And my God, what’s with the running?

Of course, the ego brings all kinds of wonderful things with it. OBLIVION might have been terrible but we’re getting terribly, goofy sci-fi movies in the 2010s and that’s not all down to the rise of the comic book movie. Without Tom Cruise, that film doesn’t exist. Ditto EDGE OF TOMORROW, a film that features Tom Cruise in a mech suit. I would like to remind you that this is a man whose career is defined, or at least was defined, by his being skinny in the 1980s whilst wearing sunglasses. COLLATERAL is just flat out good, no matter what way you slice it. Sometimes, just sometimes, his mixture of confidence and genuine star power results in wonderful flukes like INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. That film hasn’t aged well but Cruise’s performance has if anything improved over time, as if he somehow knew we’d all relax a little once the 1990s were over and Team Lestat was going to make Team Louis look as morose as he always (always! Insert Tom Cruise patented intense repetition here) knew they were.

So we’re back to the conundrum. If nobody will admit to enjoy eating at McDonalds here and there, who is going to all the Tom Cruise movies? All the couch jumping in the world can’t break us of our Tom Cruise habit, it seems. If that’s going to be the case I’m glad we’re getting films like EDGE OF TOMORROW, even if its creators/marketers/secret overlords overruled the infinitely more entertaining title ALL YOU NEED IS KILL. Sure, Tom Cruise will act in capital letters, but Emily Blunt will surely act a little more convincingly if only to pass the time, much as a busy cash register at the supermarket trumps empty aisles with three hours to go until clocking out. Meanwhile Tom will die a lot, I presume in between grins, but otherwise this is essentially a HALO movie.* It will at least be the movie my subconscious assumed OBLIVION might have been.[ref]There has been talk that EDGE OF TOMORROW is the first great video game film, but I find that hard to go along with. Yes, the main character respawns a lot and the action is extremely frenetic, but by that criteria video games have been influencing films for years now (usually negatively). Perhaps it’s my own personal bias, as I just don’t play those kinds of games much anymore. In fact, online shooters seem mostly inhabited by a different subset of fans. TITANFALL aspires to attract a fan base of people that own a five hundred dollar console and two games. KENTUCKY ROUTE ZERO aspires to attract people that want to play a clever and interesting game.[/ref]

I quite like the fact the marketing has left the aliens out of things so far, as I’m sure they’re terrible and boring. Part of the appeal of this film is Cruise’s continuing aggressive, defiant recognition of the fact that he’s terribly boring as an artist; this has never stopped him from being an effective movie star. He personifies the difference between acting in London (or parts of New York) and acting in Hollywood. Cruise is presence itself, a grinning sprinting presence that appears and sells things to the viewer. He sells the mech suit to people that would otherwise scoff at a mech suit so that I can enjoy my mech suit. For that at least I should be grateful. We all should be.

I’m still not sure what’s going on in EDGE OF TOMORROW, a special sensation in 2014. Emily Blunt does yoga, Tom Cruise dies a lot and people fall out of futuristic STARSHIP TROOPERS (novel, not the film) style personnel carriers. There are puddles. Emily Blunt is either a strong independent character or she shags Tom Cruise because he’s the hero and heroes use their penises with abandon. I know these things don’t need to be mutually exclusive but it often feels that way somehow. Blunt’s character is apparently the hero of this future society but Cruise is the hero for our audience: I guess this fictional universe has done a better job of undermining patriarchal norms than we have so far.  You could see it as an optimistic vision of the future perhaps, if not for the anonymous and boring alien invasion force.

Still, you know. Science fiction. It makes me happy. I wish this little run of sci-fi films was a little more like Chuck Heston’s famous run, but I’ll take it. It’s all about the mechs, you know. Mechanically assisted sprinting: we have reached full Cruise.