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Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Non-Risky Business: How Tom Cruise Neutered Himself to Remain a Hollywood Staple

In his 2005 book The Game, author and journalist for Rolling Stone magazine Neil Strauss discusses the week he interviewed Tom Cruise for a magazine cover story. Strauss had just written an article for The New York Times about the underground community of Pick Up Artists (it's also the basis for The Game) which piqued Cruise's interests, and asked to spend time with the author. As Strauss writes in this book, "Tom Cruise was the perfect specimen. He was the [Alpha Male of the Group] that... everyone in the seduction community had been trying to emulate. He had a natural ability to remain dominant, physically and mentally, in any social situation without seeming to exert any effort... Nearly everyone in the community had studied his films to learn body language and regularly used terminology from Top Gun in the field."

This is the persona of Tom Cruise. By almost all accounts, Tom Cruise is the absolute best. As Strauss writes, "He was the first person I'd met since joining the seduction community who didn't let me down." The person who walks in a room and allows his charisma to brighten it. You don't know what "it" is but you're 100% sure Tom Cruise has it. He is the epitome of a movie star. Tom Cruise is Maverick from Top Gun. He is Ethan Hunt from the Mission: Impossible franchise. He is Cole Trickle from Days of Thunder.

Part of the reason Tom Cruise wanted to sit down with Neil Strauss for the aforementioned interview was because Strauss's New York Times article mentions a fellow Pick Up Artist who claims to be the basis for Frank T.J. Mackey. Mackey is the seduction artist played by Cruise in Paul Thomas Anderson's 1999 magnum opus Magnolia. Mackey's first lines uttered in the movie, in a close up shot of Cruise speaking to a crowded seminar filled with desperate men, are, "Respect the cock and tame the cunt." Magnolia came out in the same year as Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, a film where Kubrick seemingly wanted to fuck with the real life marriage of Cruise and his then-wife Nicole Kidman while Cruise spends most of the movie in an orgy in the middle of a mansion. Tom Cruise willingly starred in films that would seem to destroy his Good Boy Persona. Who wants to see their charming leading man act like an Incel on a 4-chan subreddit or sneaking around during a sex party?

Saturday, June 8, 2019

100 Greatest Films of the 2010's

Trying to create a list of the 100 best films within a 10 year span is a daunting task. I have been working on this post for the past 8 months, and I will continue to tweak it as the year goes along (as I consider your feedback as well as to include more films from 2019 on the list). However, it is not the inherent time it takes to think and rank and write about 100+ films, it's knowing that you're going to be inherently wrong. Even when I floated my top 10 to my friends, people with similar movie tastes to me, I couldn't get a consensus. Yet despite this, I persevered, and moved forward. Every year I create my own personal Best Of lists, but that's not what I wanted this list to be. I wanted this list to be as objective as possible. I wanted to rank films solely on their quality and how well they've pierced our pop culture. I included my own biases of course, but I looked at many outside factors as well. How well received and talked about is the film on Twitter? Are YouTube videos or podcasts made to discuss the film? How often is it a cable rewatch? What did critics think of the film? What did the Academy Awards think of it? My friends? My parents? All of this went into consideration in trying to determine the absolute best films of the decade. Although I know you think I'm wrong, we're going to give it a shot anyways.

1) The Social Network (2010)
Directed By: David Fincher
Written By: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, & Armie Hammer
RT Score: 95%

Why It's Great: The Social Network is the culmination of the greatest writer of our time collaborating with one of the best filmmakers of our time to create the best film of a decade about the defining technological achievement of our time. This film not only has Aaron Sorkin's snappy dialogue (we get it right out of the gate with Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg discussing life at college with his then girlfriend Erica played by Rooney Mara) but Sorkin seamlessly interweaves the origin story of Facebook as being told through the lens of two different legal depositions. It's a bold storytelling device that is brilliantly executed. This incredible script combined with David Fincher, a man who makes a regatta race one of stand out scenes of the movie, and indelible performances, and you're left with the unequivocal best film of the past ten years.

2) Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Co-Written & Directed By: George Miller
Starring: Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, & Nicholas Hoult
RT Score: 97%

Why It's Great: I have only seen this film once, and I was not the biggest fan of it, even I can marvel at its technical brilliance and realize how Mad Max: Fury Road has cemented this film as probably the best film of this generation. The film is basically one giant car chase scene, but it's so much more than that. Miller is able to introduce us and immerse us in this patriarchal world. The film is a feminist anthem about destroying a system and starting anew. We know so much about this world system without any overt exposition dialogue or clunky narratives. Miller shows us bits and pieces and nuances together to create something fully formed yet brief. It just is, and then we're thrust into action. It's no surprise this film took home 6 Oscars, because it is a technical sensation. Just a treat all around.

3) The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Written By: Terence Winter
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, & Margot Robbie
RT Score: 78%

Why It's Great: Whether it's the excess run time of the film, or the excess, abhorrent lifestyle of the real life of the main character (played by DiCaprio in the film) and how he's portrayed in The Wolf of Wall Street, you can't say that Jordan Belfort isn't at least interesting. I understand the criticisms, and truthfully they are all pretty much valid, but Martin Scorsese has created such a brilliant work of art that the film he gifted to us that we need to treat it like the bona fide masterpiece that it is. There have been so many films that have tried to be Scorsese (like Todd Phillips' War Dogs or Craig Gillespie's I, Tonya) or many films that would have been improved had Scorsese been behind the wheel (like Scott Cooper's Black Mass) that we need to reward Scorsese when he creates a quintessential classic for his oeuvre.

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Top 10 Best Films of 2018

1) Black Panther
Co-Written & Directed By: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, & Lupita Nyong'o
STARS: 3.5 out of 4

Brief Description: Having seen Black Panther three times now, I can confidently say this film is my favorite of the year. Sure we have traditional Marvel action set pieces like a car chase through Busan, Korea or a third act fight sequence that involves genetically engineered rhinos, but we also have thoughtful discussions about what it takes to be a man and a leader, and what is the best approach to rule a country that is obviously the most powerful in the world. We sympathize with the villain Erik Killmonger because we agree with his approach for how Wakanda should run (and because Michael B Jordan can convince us to do anything), if not knocking the execution. There are so many ideas and themes in Black Panther that it easily rises to the top of being one of Marvel's best and earning the top spot on my list for the top ten films of 2018.

2) Minding The Gap
Directed By: Bing Liu
Starring: Zach Mulligan, Kiere Johnson, & Bing Liu
STARS: 4 out of 4

Brief Description: Minding The Gap is a beautiful and haunting documentary about the generational cycle of abuse through the lens of three skateboarders from Rockford, Illinois. Director Bing Liu set up his camera in front of his friends as we watch the extremely charismatic Zach and the thoughtful Kiere as we're painted a picture of life skateboarding in the middle of the country. Quickly we learn that the skateboarding is a way to mask the pain of the harsh reality. All three of of these boys have been physicallyu and emotionally abused, and it's soul crushing to watch how this abuse has manifested itself as these three boys become men. Bing uses the film as therapy whereas Zach turns to alcoholism and Kiere tries to push past it as a way to build a life for himself. Zach impregnates his young girlfriend and we see the cycle start all over again. You can watch the film exclusively on Hulu, and I highly recommend seeking this one out.

3) Vice
Written & Directed By: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, & Steve Carell
STARS: 3.5 out of 4

Brief Description: I love the fact that Vice has it's own unique style and that you can tell this is an Adam McKay feature. Besides the quick cuts to Jesse Plemmons as our narrator or a lion chasing down and killing a gazelle, you know you are watching an Adam McKay feature has he has an incredible knack for turning mundane history lessons into entertaining works of art. Dick Cheney the man is not very interesting, and is in fact very, very secretive, but by telling his rise parallel to the rise of the Republican Party and how they created the America we see today, we leave the theater is equal parts awe and disgust. I find any criticism that McKay ends up humanizing Dick Cheney or that we find sympathy for the man, because the film obviously loathes the man, but Adam McKay loathes someone in the only way he knows how: by making great movies.

Friday, February 15, 2019

#TheAcademyHatesAmy Why Doesn't Amy Adams Have An Oscar Yet?

In 2005, a movie barely anyone saw called Junebug was released. It's a better-than-average Indie fish-out-of-water character study about a couple who spends time with the husband's family in North Carolina. The film has not stood the test of time in the fact that still no one has heard of it or seen it. But it did have one stand out performance in it, a young woman by the name of Amy Adams who popped every time she was on screen. She clearly had "it" and The Academy awarded her for it by giving Amy Adams her first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

In 2005, you knew Amy Adams was going to be a huge star, and by 2019, she has proven it time-and-time again. Adams had to "earn" her shot thanks to bit roles in The Office, Talladega Nights, and The Ex, (and a whole lot of nothing starting in 1999) starting laying the ground work for her super-stardom by starring in Enchanted, Leap Year, and Sunshine Cleaning, but now has the chance to work with any director she wants to. Adams has made the most of her opportunities starring in David O Russell pics The Fighter and American Hustle, Clint Eastwood's Trouble With the Curve, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, Spike Jonze's Her, Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals and Denis Villenueve's Arrival. That's a murder's row, '27 Yankees esque line up of incredible directors. She's even managed to cash in from Hollywood along the way by playing Lois Lane in the DCEU and starred alongside Jason Segel in a Muppets movie.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Disappointment of a Green Book Best Picture Win

We were told this version of The Academy is different. This version is younger, this version is more diverse, and this version is more in sync with Hollywood and culture. That's why we saw films like Get Out and Lady Bird earn major Oscar nominations last year like Best Picture and Best Director. Now we still ended up with another terrible Best Picture winner in The Shape of Water, but hey, they're trying and they're getting better!

The narrative around Get Out felt like that of "you should just happy to be here" but there was no reason it couldn't or shouldn't have won it all. It's widely original and entertaining, it's artfully done, it resonated with the youth and taste-makers in this Country, and it forever cemented itself among the ranks of Brokeback Mountain and Pulp Fiction on the annual lists of "which films deserved to win Best Picture but didn't" that gets written every year.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Top 10 Best Television Shows of 2018

Needless to say, this tweet did not age well:

While I easily could have written about an additional 8 shows, I realized the back half of my list just consisted of the shows I always watch and love and recommend. Shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Superstore, and Bob's Burgers are shows I absolutely love and adore, but don't particularly like putting on lists anymore. A lot of that comes down to the fact that I don't have a lot of say about these shows that I haven't already said before outside of "It's still really good you guys", but I also don't want my work to feel repetitive. Additionally, there were so many new and great shows in 2018 that I didn't want to feel like I was cheapening my final list.

What you will not see on this list is a lot of HBO. I found their dramas and limited series this year to be downright boring or not worth watching. I know people seemed to have loved Succession, but after watching the entire first season and consuming all I could about the content after the show aired, I still don't particularly like or respect the project. I respected a lot of the first season of Westworld, but the show failed to solve any of its problems from it's rookie to sophomore season. In fact, they doubled down on the aspects of the show I never particularly cared for that it just became an expensive mystery box for Reddit to solve. And Sharp Objects was just plain boring. When your show is compelling, a slow pace is considered "deliberate". When your show isn't, it's just considered "boring.".

Netflix also took a hit on my list this year. For my 2017 list, five out of my top 10 shows came from Netflix. For my 2016 list, 4 out of my top 10 shows came from Netflix. For this list? Only 2. In the era of peak television, different channels and mediums are finally producing great content as opposing just just producing content to produce content. I have two shows from Amazon (and I haven't even seen The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel yet) and a show from YouTube. Showtime also managed to crack my list which I don't think it's managed to do since season one of Homeland. During a year where you could watch great television basically anywhere, I think my lists accurately reflects the great diversity of programs that we're living in. So without further ado, here is my list of the Top 10 Best Television Shows of 2018:

10) Homecoming (Amazon)
Season: 1
Created By: Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz & Sam Esmail
Starring: Julia Roberts & Bobby Cannavale

Brief Description: Based upon the popular podcast of the same name, Homecoming is paranoid thrilled ripped straight from the 1970's. Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz created an extremely compelling story for the audio medium and Sam Esmail works his usual magic to bring that storytelling to life. Of course, having Julia Roberts in peak form and Boardwalk Empire alums Bobby Cannavale and Shea Whigham who always elevate their projects. (My theory of having Boardwalk Empire alums as the third though fifth lead will always be good for your program or film remains in tact). I knew exactly how this story would end, and yet Esmail and crew kept me entertained throughout.

9) Better Call Saul (AMC)
Season: 4
Created By: Peter Gould & Vince Gilligan
Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn & Jonathan Banks

Brief Description: Not all of the fourth season of Better Call Saul worked. The show was slow to pick up steam after it's strongest piece, the relationship between brothers Jimmy and Chuck McGill, ceased to exist, and the Mike (Banks) subplot of helping Gus Fringe build his Super Lab felt like the show was spinning its wheels. But once the show found its footing by deepening the relationship between Jimmy (Odenkirk) and Kim (Seehorn) and focusing on Jimmy's stalled career, Better Call Saul really started to sing.

8) Killing Eve (BBC America)
Season: 1
Created By: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Starring: Sandra Oh & Jodie Comer

Brief Description: I don't much care for classic spy stories and John La Carre novels/adaptations, but I loved the twist that creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge have managed to put on the genre. Sandra Oh playing the titular Eve as a low level British intelligence officer trying to hunt wickedly brilliant Villanelle played spectacularly by Jodie Comer. Comer's performance really made this season for me. It was over-the-top crazy in the most delightful way. As much fun as the spy stuff was, it was the characters of Eve and Villanelle and the relationship they ended up having together that really made for one of the best surprises of 2018.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Top 10 Best Songs of 2018

10) "Shallow" Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper

 A Star Is Born become an American phenomenon once we realized the movie lived up to the hype. A part of the hype was the release of "Shallow" which is the odds-on favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Song. The song premieres decently early in the movie and is the first big moment where the film really sinks its claws into you and never lets you go (despite the second half of the film). There's a reason the song has gained radio play, because of how good it is. 

9) "Money" Cardi B

I'm not the biggest fan of Cardi B's music (although I'm a big fan of  persona) and I like "Bodak Yellow" and "I Like It" just fine, but something about this hook of I was born to flex / Diamonds on my neck / I like boarding jets / I like morning sex / But nothing in this world / that I like more than checks that really got me hooked (pun intended). Especially after her epic IRS rant

8) "& Run" Sir Sly

Every time I hear a song I enjoy, I place it on a list in my phone. This song happened to be on my list, and I was about to delete before I began writing this blog post. Then I started playing the music video of the song on YouTube and now it's been playing on a loop while I finish this post. That driving snare beat combined with the zig zag trill after the chorus (and to start the song) gets me every time.