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Magnolia (#110 of 7)

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 embedded 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.

15 Famous Movie Hosts

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15 Famous Movie Hosts
15 Famous Movie Hosts

This weekend, a Stephenie Meyer adaptation will likely top the box office yet again, as The Host, based on the author’s only non-Twilight novel, lands in theaters. A supernatural, dystopian soap opera, the new film stars Saorsie Ronan as Melanie Stryder, the titular vessel for an alien life form that overtakes her body (things get especially tricky when possesser and possessee fall for two different strapping lads, played by Jake Abel and Max Irons). The movie got us thinking about other hosts in cinema, and we decided to keep the definition loose. On our list, the folks in question host game shows, parties, and, yes, troublesome phantom entities. Click on to see who made the cut.

Venice Film Festival 2012: The Master

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Venice Film Festival 2012: <em>The Master</em>
Venice Film Festival 2012: <em>The Master</em>

Power, ambition, sex, religion, daddy issues—themes that have obsessed Paul Thomas Anderson throughout his patchy but compelling career. You’ll find them all here and more in The Master, a feverish snapshot of America at the dawn of the ’50s, war fresh in its mind. Anderson’s dazzling feature is also, notoriously, a thinly veiled portrait of the birth of Z-grade science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard’s celebrity-endorsed religion, though less barbed than you might expect.

Credit for this nuanced approach should go to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who imbues title character Lancaster Dodd with a large dollop of avuncular charm. One gets the impression that “The Cause,” Dodd’s teachings that claim to have the potential to cure cancer and bring about world peace, is simply an outlandish bit of mischief that’s gotten out of hand, a petty confidence racket that requires increasingly flamboyant lies as his followers multiply.

The film opens like a playful Beau Travail. WWII is nearing its end and on a golden South Pacific beach members of the U.S. Navy lark in the blue surf like they’re in an Old Spice commercial. One of these sailors, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, gaunt, loose-limbed, in Two Lovers form), stands out from the wholesome crowd. Freddie is pure id, a volatile ball of bodily functions and uncontrollable urges. After entertaining his buddies by miming a sex act with an anatomically correct female sand sculpture, he wades knee-deep into the drink to jerk off. This is as close to contentment as we’ll see Freddie for the rest of the film.

Poster Lab: The Master

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Poster Lab: <em>The Master</em>
Poster Lab: <em>The Master</em>

Poster designer Dustin Stanton has a history with Paul Thomas Anderson, devising the ad for the director’s Punch-Drunk Love while working with BLT & Associates, and creating the unforgettable one-sheet for There Will Be Blood while employed by Concept Arts. Now an independent artist, Stanton has been followed by his auteur collaborator, and has easily outdone himself with the poster for The Master, Anderson’s forthcoming sixth feature. Focusing on a drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) who, in the early 1950s, finds apparent salvation from alcoholism and malcontent with a budding religious group, the film is served well by Stanton’s glass-half-full approach, which implies a skepticism about the drifter’s turning point, and seems to question whether or not his saviors’ murky world is indeed better than his own. There’s a host of meanings one could ascribe to this handsome image, which easily sits in the top tier of 2012 film posters. Stanton first marries the elements of liquor and the sea, as the cultish group reportedly gets its start on a boat (where much of the film takes place). There’s also the dichotomy between Phoenix’s bobbing-through-life apprentice and his titular mentor (Philip Seymour Hoffman), whose credibility may just be going down by the head. And if you care to take the bait, there’s always the matter of the title itself, which seems an incidental reflection of Anderson’s ego.

Drilling for Art: There Will Be Blood, Take 1

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Drilling for Art: <em>There Will Be Blood</em>, Take 1
Drilling for Art: <em>There Will Be Blood</em>, Take 1

Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic drama There Will Be Blood—in which Daniel Day-Lewis’ prospector-turned-robber baron antihero, Daniel Plainview, pick-axes his way toward an oil fortune—isn’t perfect or entirely satisfying, but it’s so singular in its conception and execution that one can no more dismiss it than one can dismiss a volcanic eruption occurring in one’s backyard.

It cannot be diminished—as Hard Eight, Boogie Nights and Magnolia could, and to my mind, rightly were diminished—as another instance of a facile, energetic director hurling homage at the audience.

In Blood, as in Anderson’s fourth, most distinctively original feature, 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love, the director lays his influences on the table (in plain view, as it were). But he isn’t content to quote and rearrange with his usual hyperkinetic fussiness. There are moments, scenes, and an entire section that I think veer out of control, and not in a good way. But for the most part, Anderson seems to have absorbed his influences and created a singular work; there are so few tonal or dramatic miscalculations—and so few reversions to the cinematic karaoke machine mode of his first three pictures—that when one does pop up, it’s a such a shock that it takes you out of the movie. From the opening section, in which Daniel the prospector finds and stakes a crude oil claim and inherits the young son of a worker who died in his employ, through the complex, moving, frequently upsetting midsection that depicts Daniel amassing his fortune, acquiring and betraying allies, out-thinking and sometimes terrorizing his rivals, and destroying people he should treasure, Blood becomes as pointed a critique (and celebration) of capitalism as the Godfather movies—and other things besides.

Lost Thursday: Season 2, Episode 22: “Three Minutes”

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<em>Lost</em> Thursday: Season 2, Episode 22: “Three Minutes”
<em>Lost</em> Thursday: Season 2, Episode 22: “Three Minutes”

“Previously on Lost...” Not just a nifty way to recap the events leading up to last night’s episode, but also an apt one of describing the actual show itself. At times walking a fine-line between a new episode and one of those annoying, “Destination: Lost” clip-shows they get Peter Coyote to narrate and stick on TV in the dead of April, the Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz penned “Three Minutes” showed us exactly what happened when Michael ran off into the jungle in search of his kidnapped son Walt (the long absent Malcolm David Kelley) only to return weeks later a cold-blooded killer.

And it kind of looked a lot like the episode “Hunting Party” which aired back in January.

Feeling like a lull between the fireworks of the last couple of shows and the ones sure to come next week, the episode goes about setting up the odd circumstances that will require Jack, Kate, Sawyer and Hurley to follow Michael into the jungle armed to the teeth to raid the Others’ camp and get Walt back, while attempting to humanize Michael’s betrayal as an act of fatherly devotion. We probably didn’t require Eko’s story about a young boy killing a dog that bit his sister to understand where Michael’s head is at, but it certainly underlined the issue: nothing matters more than reuniting his family, no matter what the cost.