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Review: Amy Nicholson’s Tom Cruise: Anatomy of an Actor

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Review: Amy Nicholson’s Tom Cruise: Anatomy of an Actor
Review: Amy Nicholson’s Tom Cruise: Anatomy of an Actor

The core of Tom Cruise’s ongoing superstar appeal to audiences is relatively self-evident: He’s a doer. His characters do things that encourage us to believe that we can do things. It’s too easy to say that Cruise came of age at the perfect place and time—the gung-ho American 1980s—and rode that rollercoaster to the bank for something like 30 years and counting. Cruise is shrewd and adaptable, and he’s probably still in the game because he informed his fame with a quietly autobiographical aura. He lets his work show, and so his desperation to be “taken seriously” as an actor while staying forever youthful parallels his characters’ various self-actualizing yearnings.

Cruise is a continued subject of fascination for critics because his everlasting prominence as a star is noteworthy regardless of any further context and, more interestingly, because of that tendency to always assume that still waters run deep. Cruise is so polished, and his performances so clearly, nakedly hyper-controlled, that he can’t help but invite scrutiny of neuroses and of more-obvious-than-usual bridges between art and commerce. Cruise’s self-consciousness implies a peek behind the curtain of how Hollywood works, and critics, obviously, are concerned with the symbology imbedded in Hollywood product. Control, whether artistic or personal, is, fittingly, the theme of Amy Nicholson’s Tom Cruise: Anatomy of an Actor, and the star’s tricky simultaneous courting of fame and artistic credibility is the book’s logical through line.

Summer of ‘89: 84 Charlie MoPic

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Summer of ‘89: <em>84 Charlie MoPic</em>
Summer of ‘89: <em>84 Charlie MoPic</em>

Found-footage films largely fail because they value gimmick and style over character and theme. We’ve seen it time and again ever since 1999’s The Blair Witch Project revolutionized the formula, paving the way for Paranormal Activity and countless other knockoffs striving for very little beyond schlock and awe. Shaky camera work, calculated jump scares, and cheesy special effects have all but become stock in trade for this genre of filmmaking that’s left audiences numb from overexposure and unoriginality.

But don’t mistake that for intolerance, as two of the best films of the last 25 years use the found-footage model to dissect and subvert popular genres to dizzying effect. Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, and Benoît Poelvoorde’s horrifying Man Bites Dog gives its serial-killer narrative an omniscience sense of dread by largely examining the culpability of the filmmakers (and audience) during a charming psychopath’s monstrous and sadistic rampage through the French countryside. Even more impressive is Patrick Sheane Duncan’s 1989 masterpiece 84 Charlie MoPic, a scathing Vietnam War-set film that finds an army cameraman embedded with a small infantry platoon on their final search-and-destroy mission.

Review: James Naremore’s An Invention Without a Future: Essays on Cinema

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Review: James Naremore’s An Invention Without a Future: Essays on Cinema
Review: James Naremore’s An Invention Without a Future: Essays on Cinema

If Daniel Herbert’s Videoland views the video store as a history without a future, then James Naremore’s new book, An Invention Without a Future, suggests that cinema, as it came to be defined by various cultural forces throughout the 1960s and ’70s, may be meeting a similar fate as well. At least, the title seems to suggest as much, though it’s actually taken from cinema pioneer Louis Lumière, who supposedly made such a statement regarding the cinema to his brother around the end of the 19th century. There’s no actual record of the remark; Jean-Luc Godard, among others, has attributed the statement to Lumière. Whether apocryphal or not, its ambivalence suits Naremore’s tongue-in-cheek title quite well, since the totality of An Invention Without a Future is anything but a coup de grâce for cinema. Quite the contrary, as Naremore’s collection of essays here, some written years ago, though amended in key places to address contemporary developments, is divided into three sections, but coheres to form an urgent, nearly comprehensive plea to take cinema seriously from a multitude of perspectives.

Check Out the Official U.S. Trailer and Poster for Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin

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Check Out the Official U.S. Trailer and Poster for Jonathan Glazer’s <em>Under the Skin</em>
Check Out the Official U.S. Trailer and Poster for Jonathan Glazer’s <em>Under the Skin</em>

When cinephiles discuss films of the aughts that were mysteriously unloved or misunderstood, a title that often comes up is Jonathan Glazer’s Birth, a taboo tale crudely summarized as one of resurrection and cradle-robbing love. It was a bold work that required time for its formal merits to be processed and appreciated; however, few of its champions probably thought that they’d have to wait so long for a follow-up from the director. It’s been 10 whole years since Birth first bewitched us, and only now is the next entry in Glazer’s oeuvre within reach. Starring Scarlett Johansson in a performance that’s netting her international raves, Glazer’s Under the Skin looks to be an elliptical sci-fi flick of Kubrickian proportions, taking an intoxicatingly artful approach to the Species formula of a sexy, predatorial female alien (Johansson) roaming the earth. Yesterday, the film’s official cosmic one-sheet debuted. Today, A24 released its first U.S. trailer.