Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Eyes Wide Shut

Only a truly serious wiseass like Stanley Kubrick would dare to pose the question at the heart of Eyes Wide Shut: if everyone thinks Tom Cruise is so hot, why can’t anyone fuck him? To judge by the film, the problem lies with Cruise himself. Regardless of which way he swings (and the film certainly covers its bases), the guy just won’t get down and dirty with the little people. In a beguiling nocturnal New York, the film tosses all manner of temptations at poor Tom, from lithe Lolitas to oversexed mourners and hotel clerks. He’s the loneliest guy at the top-secret, pseudo-occult evil orgy. Everyone wants to take the cruise, in other words, but the ship just won’t leave the dock.

On the surface, this is really just the simple story of a doubting husband (Cruise) putting himself in temptation’s way to prove his fidelity to his wife (Nicole Kidman, at her best). But the surface may be the least interesting part of this dreamy, weird movie, which remains a provocative and fascinating depiction of the intersection of sex and celebrity. Kubrick’s inherent solemnity obscures the general goofiness of the plot, and deadpan doesn’t begin to do justice to the weird tone that results. He’s not telling a joke seriously—he’s joking and serious, all at once, as if cognitive dissonance were the most honest way to tell this tale. And perhaps it is, considering we’ve got two major movie stars here who are both sexy yet essentially sexless. Admit it—lusting after this pair would be like falling in love with two mannequins, which are just as unnaturally well-formed and equally unobtainable.

The crucial moment comes during the aforementioned freaky-deaky orgy, where Cruise is commanded to strip before a masked crowd. For a film that so casually objectifies the nude female form, this feels like a fair bit of turnabout, an opportunity to make the voyeur squirm a bit and feel his own helplessness. But Cruise is saved from this threat, which begs the question of who exactly is being protected from nudity here—him or us? No one wants to see the sex object, female or male, made real (brought down to size, in a manner of speaking). In the context of the film, the moment is so terrifying it can only be compared to something like the opening of the box in Kiss Me Deadly, which was enough to separate flesh from bone and raze buildings. Is Tom Cruise’s penis another one of those cinematic truths just too terrible to bear?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Source Code

It’s the perfect setup: strangers on a train fall in love, only to be swallowed up by a giant fiery blast. And then the whole thing reboots, and they do it all over again. One can imagine the marketing types explaining why this is the perfect date movie, so finely balanced between the stereotypical male and female viewer (Big explosions for the boys! Icky feelings for the girls!). Plus, the scenario helpfully spares the filmmakers the challenge of portraying love as anything more complicated than the two prettiest people in the room trading flirty banter. This is a perpetual emotion machine, cranking out a generic sense of infatuation with no noticeable wear and tear. It runs on mediocrity and produces happy endings. Entropy is not a factor here. Has someone patented this thing yet? I’m not saying I like it, but it’s certainly brilliant, and it probably has more practical applications than holding together an off-season Hollywood B-movie.

Directed by Duncan Jones—another promising young talent seduced by the ineffable charms of middlebrow banality—Source Code is a love story between a phantom man (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a ghost girl (Michelle Monaghan) that is somehow devoid of all poignancy. Think La Jetee remade as Groundhog Day, minus Bill Murray. How’s that for high concept? Now to be fair, the actual idea behind the film—that Gyllenhaal’s character is reliving the eight minutes before a terrorist attack in order to discover the culprit—is a decent start, but the film doesn’t have anywhere to go. The filmmakers create this powerful plot device, and what do they do with it? Puffed-up heroics, a few earnest weepy scenes, some blown up shit. How curious can one be about a film that seems to lack interest in itself? Eight minutes out of the theatre, and it’ll already be out of your mind.