Monday, March 09, 2015

Blowing Up Tom Cruise

I had a pretty good and productive weekend. Saturday I got my bedroom cleaned -- and I mean really cleaned, almost to hotel standards. There's still a little stuff visible because I live there, but there's nothing on the floor but furniture and little on top of the furniture other than the stuff that goes there. It's a room that could be photographed for a house listing with very little change. I have to give credit to the Pomodoro Method of time management -- set a timer for 25 minutes, work on the task for that time, then take a five minute break before starting another 25 minutes (the technique is named for a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato). I managed to get the room cleaned in three sessions. I think this helped because I either thought of it as overwhelming or I'd make a swipe at it and then get discouraged. It was easier to start knowing I had that time limit and knowing I had to keep at it for that long, and then I made enough progress I wanted to keep going. I've tried this before with writing and my rhythm didn't really fit with the 25 minutes, but then again it's probably good to at least get up and move every 25 minutes, so I may try it again. Like, today, since it's good rainy writing weather.

Meanwhile, I'm hardly tearing up Twitter, with only 27 people following me so far, but I have noticed that my Amazon ranking seems to jump each time I post something. I'm going to try some experiments today to test that.

I also managed to get in some entertainment this weekend. Saturday night I went to the spring production of the ballet ensemble associated with my ballet school (it's considered a "pre-professional" group -- these are the kids who stand a chance at a dance career, and I'm pretty sure that one of them is a real rising star). It was a number of shorter pieces, including a Balanchine work, but the one that I found utterly mesmerizing was a modern ballet (pointe and mostly classical technique, but in modern forms to modern music) choreographed by one of the teachers at the school.

Friday night, I watched Edge of Tomorrow on HBO OnDemand, and it was a fun science fiction war movie that you might consider Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers/Aliens. I didn't see it at the theater because I'm allergic to Tom Cruise (and this goes back to when I was a teen and he was supposedly a teen idol -- he's pretty much my physical type, but there's always been something about him that was offputting to me, mostly that he comes across as insincere and artificial), but it ended up being pretty good and quite satisfying for people who don't like Tom Cruise because he dies hundreds of times in this movie. It's kind of awesome.

Basically, there's been an alien invasion and the humans of earth have banded together in an all-out war to fight them off. Our boy Tom is a PR officer for the military. His job is to rally the public spirit, get people to enlist in the military and to get public support behind the war. There's been one big success fighting in France, and now they plan to follow that up with an invasion of France -- sort of D-Day, round two. Then the general tells him he'll be going in embedded with the troops so he call tell the story of the invasion. His response is essentially, "I don't do danger. PR, darling, PR." When he attempts to blackmail the general by saying he can ruin his reputation and then walks out, he finds himself arrested for desertion, tased when he tries to fight, and he wakes up on base with a sergeant screaming at him. And this is the Best Movie Ever. In spite of his protests that he isn't really a soldier and all this going in with the grunts is beneath him, he finds himself as part of the invasion (in the kind of mechanized suits that should have been in the movie version of Starship Troopers). It's a bloodbath. His squadmates are being slaughtered all around him. He even sees the woman who was the hero of the previous victory die. Then he gets killed, and it's a beautiful thing. Then he wakes up on base with a sergeant screaming at him. After doing this invasion thing a few hundred times, he's starting to get good at sidestepping the dangers and sometimes even saving people. When he saves the hero by warning her of something he knows will happen, she tells him to track her down when he wakes up. He does, an iteration or so later, and it turns out she's experienced what he's going through, she knows why it's happening, and she thinks they can use him to end the war.

This is where it gets fun. There's a training montage that's highly entertaining because when he screws up, gets tired or gets hurt too badly to keep going, she shoots him so he can reboot. They test their various plans by letting him try them, see what works, and then die and reboot. We don't necessarily see all the in-between stages because on the first time we see a sequence, he's already telling her what didn't work last time.

As someone who loves the Groundhog Day do-over trope and who has Aliens in my list of all-time favorite movies, I really ended up liking this movie. I loved the woman played by Emily Blunt. I'm not all that familiar with her outside Into the Woods and her and her husband's ongoing prank war with Jimmy Kimmel, who lives across the street, but her character here is in the Ripley mode. She is kind of the "Rambo in drag" flavor of "strong female character," but it's appropriate to the situation, and we can tell how she got that way. In fact, aside from one little bit (that I thought was unnecessary), it didn't really matter to the story that she was a woman. It was a character who happened to be played by a woman, and that's pretty cool.

Aside from the fact that much of the fun of the movie involved Tom Cruise dying horribly hundreds of times, I'd have to say that he was the weak link. It was fun to watch while I was watching it, but there was something missing. I did snark early in the movie when he was being a jerk that I bet he would be learning A Valuable Lesson. The problem was, I'm not sure he did. Yeah, he was a hero, saved the day, and all that, but his character arc was established at the beginning as someone who thought he was too good for combat. He was smugly superior to the grunts. But at the end of the day, he struck me as having really learned nothing. He was just smugly superior in a different way. The script even was structured as though to show he was learning something, like when he starts using his foreknowledge to save his fellow squadmates or when he uses things he's learned about them while repeating this same day to convince them of what's going on with them. I think that was supposed to show that he was starting to care about them and see them as people, but all we got was that usual Cruise smirkiness. The smug superiority was perfect for when he was in "PR, darling, PR, but I can't get my hands dirty" mode, but unfortunately I think that's his default, and he never managed to convey that he'd become one of the guys. I guess wanting more character depth in a movie that's basically about blowing up giant bugs and Tom Cruise is rather silly, but just a little more substance to his character, a trace of humanity, would have taken this movie up a level.

Bottom line: Even if you normally don't like Tom Cruise, make some popcorn and be ready to start counting deaths because this is in the same neighborhood as Aliens. Not quite as scary, not quite as deep, but it's a bughunt that plays games with time, which is something we don't get enough of.

No comments: