Last time we saw Tom Cruise he was known as Jack Reacher. Now, in Oblivion, his name is Jack Harper. What range! What diversity! You’d hardly recognise him. Harper is a maintenance guy, repairing the drones that protect giant machines that suck Earth’s oceans up to an enormous space station orbiting above us, a space station that is going to take the few remaining survivors of our pyrrhic victory over invading aliens on a final journey away from a devastated planet to a new life on Titan.
Assisting Mr. Cruise with his mechanical defence duties is Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), life and work partner, keeping him in contact with the supervisors floating above them and keeping an eye on the straggling remnants of the aliens who tried to conquer us. Traditional gender roles are very much still intact in the future – even though the Moon isn’t – and Ms. Riseborough’s character seems content to never leave the spotless modern kitchen while Cruise gets his hands dirty on the surface. Neither of them seem too bothered by the fact that they had their memories wiped six years previously, although he has been having some strange dreams recently.
Danny Boyle is one of my favourite directors. From Shallow Grave in 1994 to 127 Hours in 2010, his work has stimulated and inspired me. I re-watched Trainspotting the other day and it still made everything else I saw that week seem old-fashioned. Everything, that is, except Trance which just happens to be Boyle’s new film, a return to cinemas after directing the biggest theatre show of all time – the Olympic Games opening ceremony which was seen by an audience of – ooh – about 900 million people.
Trance returns Boyle to his $20m budget comfort zone and his new lightweight digital filmmaking style. It also reunites him with screenwriter John Hodge (Trainspotting) so it should be all systems go, yes?
Not quite. In Trance, James McAvoy plays an art expert with a problem. Instead of helping a gang of thugs steal a very expensive painting from his auction house he actually tries to steal it himself, getting a whack on the head for his trouble. Now he can’t remember where he left the painting and the gang are trying everything from fingernail-pulling to hypnotherapy to help him remember where it is.
Two of the big three Academy Award contenders this year are about looking back on the early days of cinema itself. While Scorsese’s Hugo uses the latest technical whizzbangs to bring to life the idea of early cinema and its novelty and excitement in The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius recreates the techniques of old Hollywood in search of pure nostalgia.
A painstakingly created silent movie with several moments of loveliness, The Artist follows the riches to rags story of screen hero George Valentin and the concurrent rags to riches story of starlet Peppy Miller – who tries to catch him as he falls. The performances of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo as the two leads are both splendid, Dujardin in particular displays a technical precision that most actors can only dream of.
It’s the fifth anniversary of my first column for this paper – my, how time flies. Five years of searching – usually in vain – for some transcendence among the many flickering images in dozens of darkened rooms. And then, as if by magic, transcendence appears.
It has taken a few weeks – and a second viewing – to properly process Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Often baffling, frustrating, unhelpful, yet emotional and evocative in ways I couldn’t put my finger on, I wrestled with it throughout the two and a half hour running time – searching for answers and meaning among the beautiful images, floating, soaring camerwork and weird diversions into cosmology and vulcanology.