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Tom Cruise in Cruise Control

Tom Cruise is a Hollywood tiger, an actor who rakes in the big bucks and doesn't seem to age. At one point, Cruise was married to Katie Holmes, jumping up and down on Oprah's couch and punting scientology to the point of becoming a social piranha. However, those days are long gone and now seem part of some elaborate stunt for what's ultimately been an amazing comeback. Maybe he'd pissed off his PR team, hired Bell Pottinger to stir things up or was just going about world domination the wrong way around. Well, whatever the fiasco... kudos to Cruise who's worn his adoptive name with pride and managed to create an empire in the remnants of that tabloid frenzy.

tom cruise in cruise control

The Tom Cruise phenomenon still sells tickets and gets people talking. Being one of the last true movie stars, at least of the age where star power meant something, he's become a film maverick... mogul even. Sporting the eagle-eyed determination that's come to represent his whole career, he's leveraged sheer determination in his bid to be the biggest and the best. Cruise has done Magnolia and Tropic Thunder to keep people on their toes when it comes to his casting. He doesn't want to always be in action-orientated blockbuster movies because he can act, but this seems to be the thing he does best.

Testament to the brilliant "running for office" video, it's not all that shocking to imagine a United States where someone like Cruise could potentially run for President. If actor Ronald Reagan and tycoon Donald Trump were to the task and got voted in then why wouldn't this be a very real possibility. Arnold Schwarzeneggar achieved the third thing on his American Dream bucket list by becoming governor of California, one of the most powerful entities on the face of the planet, so why the heck not.

It seems Cruise is never far from the entertainment headlines either, having been at the intersection between long-awaited Top Gun: Maverick and Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning recently. Doing a flyover at Cannes to inaugurate the excitement for Top Gun: Maverick, the actor recently finished filming a series of action sequences for Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning in South Africa, where he performed some outrageous stunts and was an absolute darling with local fans.

When asked about his audacious stunt work, he contrasted this full tilt commitment to the craft and ensuring maximum immersion for audiences with Gene Kelly's dancing. No one would ask Kelly why he dances and no one does Tom Cruise better than Thomas Mapother IV. A living legend, the actor always seems to come out guns blazing whether he's blasting aliens in the Groundhog Day style Edge of Tomorrow or rocking out in Rock of Ages. Audiences love Cruise for doing his thang and even though the final installation of Mission: Impossible has been split into a Part I and II, there's no doubt that Cruise has more wild adventures up his sleeve.

Being from the old guard... no, not the movie with Charlize Theron... the old school Hollywood brigade, he's adamant about ensuring the survival of the big screen experience. Movies are made to be enjoyed in theatres and while Cruise has been vocal about film set safety protocol during the pandemic, he's not about to let films hit streaming platforms simultaneously with theatre releases. Much like Christopher Nolan, the filmmakers aren't about to let cinemas become an afterthought. The way that Marvel blockbusters are performing, it doesn't seem like this clear and present danger is about to undermine film theatres, cineplexes or exhibitors who have made it through the worst of the pandemic.

Everything Everywhere in Theatres Now

It is a difficult task to have something to say about a film that leaves you speechless. The maddeningly good multiverse action-adventure-comedy-drama Everything Everywhere All At Once was greeted warmly by critics, but set the cinemagoing world on fire by word of mouth alone. Those brave enough to take a swing on a high concept independent film in this market have propelled Everything Everywhere straight into the annals of various “Best of All Time” public rankings, but with the opening weekend gross of the latest Marvel film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, reasserting that there is a movie-going public well beyond what Everything Everywhere was able to reach, we have to ask: is it just a bit too ‘much' for the unconverted?

First, the makings of a plot: Evelyn (the immensely talented Michelle Yeoh) is being audited on the eve of her family-run laundromat's Chinese New Year party. Her husband can feel their marriage straining under the weight of it all, while her emotionally vulnerable daughter has invited her girlfriend to the party, a fact being kept from Evelyn's hard-hearted father, visiting from China, demanding and judging all the while. Moreover, Evelyn learns that she'll have to connect her consciousness to those of her parallel lives across the multiverse in order to defeat an all-powerful being set on destroying it all.

The mighty and unknown foe is daunting as it is, but Evelyn is just as distraught to discover all of the things she was capable of becoming. And so, by way of kung fu, matter-manipulation and hot-dog fingers, Everything Everywhere emerges as a beautiful take on the absurd. That is, the idea that if you look close enough, life presents itself as meaningless, especially in the case of Evelyn, who can now grasp the full breadth and sum total of all experience. When you feel everything, looking for meaning in the face of endless possibility, reason will lead you to some dark conclusions. Everything Everywhere cakes this rather bleak assumption in enough whimsy and inspired goofacity to sustain you till its kind, affirmative and sincere conclusion. For a film this heavily invested in its own silliness, as we may have expected from Dan Kwan and Daniel Schinert (the duo behind the terminally quirky Swiss Army Man), Everything Everywhere's ambitions to recognize generational trauma, validate modern disillusionment and broach life's purpose are grand, and deeply affecting.

This goes some ways to explaining the rave reception the film has had, speaking so directly to a universal personal struggle to find value in life. For many, far from being a simply entertaining, or even moving experience, audiences are leaving the theater with some catharsis and a revitalized appreciation for the world. Daniels (as they prefer to be known) sublimate what begins as an outwardly exciting action premise with a far more personal story, keeping an emotionally-draining 2 hours and 20 minutes at bay with the levity of their style, the reassurance of their theme, and a near-constant barrage of wackiness.

That same style may present a hurdle for some. Certain critics have found it to be incongruous with the heavy thematic subject of the film, others found the handling of that theme too lightweight, and most audience members who were unable to connect with the film cite either it's juvenile humour or overwhelming style. Constantly shifting tone, setting, aspect-ratio, medium, focus, etc. to communicate the various universes, emulating the crashing, collapsing and expanding of Evelyn's consciousness and realities, there is no way around it; Everything Everywhere All At Once makes good on its title by assaulting the senses. Aversion is an understandable reaction, and whether or not you'll find all this grating should probably be clear from your reaction to the film's trailer. There is a chance though, that it may be here to stay.

This same exuberant, multi-faceted creativity and hyperactivity could point to the potential of a post-internet generation of filmmakers. For all its elaborate direction, stunt work and visual effects, Everything Everywhere was made on a relatively tight budget of $25 million, with a skeleton crew of 5 main VFX artists working from home during Covid, by filmmakers who taught themselves most of what they know through ingenuity. Daniels themselves have been working with the film's concept since 2010, the very start of their professional careers, and that time pays off in the stuffed-to-the-brim nature of the beast, but a straightforward emotional through-line means that despite its indulgence, you won't need to watch Everything Everywhere more than once; the brilliantly realized, hilariously intricate imaginings of Daniels will make you want to.

There are plenty of reasons why some people haven't returned to the theatre just yet, but one movie lovers seem reluctant to consider is this: perhaps for some that one film that will get them to trek all the way to the local cinema just hasn't come along yet. If the franchise movies exhaust them, the art films don't promise a fun night out, the marketing slips through the cracks and streaming at least doesn't ask as much money or effort for its mediocrity, staying away doesn't sound too hard. Maybe you've been waiting for something that will shake you awake in your seat with a hearty “THIS IS WHAT YOU'VE BEEN MISSING OUT ON!”. If you've wondered lately where all those wildly original, charming and powerful movies have been the last few years, they've all been stowed away here.

Actors and their Fan-imposed Alter Egos

Story-driven entertainment sometimes makes us forget the people we're seeing on screen have their own lives and that they're actually working! The dreamy line between real and unreal is at its fuzziest when someone portrays someone else for another someone's amusement. This thin veil of illusion is what Hollywood was built on, is the weird tension that David Lynch and mockumentaries like to tease out and is what makes it possible for this kind of medium to hold our attention. We buy into the suspense of disbelief, the hook that enables us to enter a collective dream where directors can build worlds and actors can say their lines and hit their marks with enough conviction to keep us transfixed.

actors and their fan-imposed alter egos

Yet, somehow it comes as such a surprise when the actors who *are* those characters don't really know themselves as well as we'd hope. A great example of this phenomenon that could serve as a case study is Gilmore Girls, a comedy drama set in the sleepy town of Star's Hollow where Lorelai and Rory Gilmore make a life for themselves. Creating a town with enough supporting and minor characters that it seems to carry on living when it's not in frame, there's a The Truman Show feel to this long-running series. Recently given new life on Netflix, winning over a whole new generation of fans, Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino's Gilmore Girls received enough renewed interest to warrant a reunion series. Composed of four seasons, the series was a welcome return for old and new fans, addressing some of the show's hanging character arcs after it was abruptly cancelled after 7 seasons.

During a 2015 ATX Q&A that saw the return of almost all of the show's most regular characters, a move that pretty much necessitated the reunion series Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life a year later, the idea of actors not really knowing their characters inside out became abundantly clear. Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel and Kelly Bishop are the Gilmore Girls... with Bishop playing the matriarch, who takes on more of a supporting role even though you could argue her generation of Gilmore warrants an equal footing as the show's co-leads. Centred on the youngest Gilmore girls, the series is based on this central relationship and branches out as Rory heads to school and then college.

While the "Girls" part of the title and strong female characters makes one think the show is primarily aimed at women, it's actually a lot more open-handed thanks to its broad cast and weighting of subplots. The kicker, and possible excuse, is that much like Aaron Sorkin's dense The West Wing scripts the show packs much more dialogue into its running time than your average TV show. Delivering 40 minute episodes, there's enough material for almost twice as long and Sherman-Palladino leverages her co-lead's sharp wits to set the platform for a great deal of fast-talking. It's so relentless, you can understand the appeal of watching the show several times, never quite getting every pop culture reference or inside quip.

The reason this densely scripted show is an excuse is that for Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel and Kelly Bishop it's a bit difficult to recall the show. Fans watching the show are all-seeing, able to rewatch the series many times and discuss the plot points, memorable quotes and characters ad nauseum. For actors, who are on the other side of the camera, it's not that easy to see it this way. Besides being under considerable deadlines with rewrites and filming, it's still a job as much as you love it and most probably aren't going to settle down in front of the couch with a hot cup of cocoa to watch themselves at work during their downtime.

This misconception of actors knowing their characters inside out must leave many fans crestfallen to hear a lovable lead actor hardly remembers anything from the show as with Lauren Graham, who's arguably the most inseparable of the Gilmore Girls characters. For many actors, watching themselves act can be a cringe fest as they become their own worst critics. It's not really the same viewing experience for someone who's actually in the show. Being able to immerse yourself in the story and dissociate from your colleagues must be near-impossible and probably explains why Milo Ventimiglia's mother went so quiet when he told her the good news that he'd landed the recurring role as Jess in one of her favourite shows.

So while actors may "know" their characters very well from having walked in their shoes for so long and be able to answer questions as if they are still them, the truth is that much like our lives, the filler becomes peripheral. As important as it is for fans to know the lore of a film or series, it's not quite as critical for actors of a beloved or cult series like Gilmore Girls. It's obviously a good idea to have enough love for the character and series so that you can facilitate in-depth questions with some decorum, but beyond this it's kind of bittersweet for fans to discover that mimesis isn't a given and that sometimes it's more of a job than you'd like to believe.

This isn't just a thing for Gilmore Girls or Lauren Graham and company, it's actually fairly typical for actors who shy away from watching themselves perform and is even more prevalent for actors on long-running soap operas. Many actors will attest to a time when an overbearing fan has confronted them about doing something untoward and chastising them as if they were their character. If this is their only point of reference these shows can become so fuzzy that the actor becomes inextricably linked, so much so that my grandmother found herself praying for the characters in her favourite daytime soapie at one point.

'Avatar: The Way of Water' Teaser Trailer Lands

James Cameron brought us Titanic, Terminator, Alita: Battle Angel, The Abyss and Avatar. While there weren't any alien beings in Titanic (at least none that we know of besides Billy Zane) it seems as though he's constantly pushing the boundaries of what's out there - from a filmmaking and an out-of-this-world perspective. Whether it's the depths of space or the ocean, much like Spielberg, cameron has a real thing for what lies beyond the beyond.

That's why the long-awaited sequel to the highest-grossing film of all-time is starting to spark renewed interest. It's been long enough that some will have forgotten much of what made the original Avatar special (or not so special). Having tied into the idea of epic over-arching trilogies such as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, it seems as though Avatar is trying to summon up all the appeal it can muster. Kate Winslet and Jemaine Clement have joined the cast with many role reprisals from the original.

Avatar was the movie that lost out to Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker at the Academy Awards, a decision that still seems correct in hindsight. However, what makes Avatar special is it's spectacular scope of ideas and visuals. Cameron's talent is world-building... able to conjure up the seemingly impossible and suspend it long enough for viewers to be transported. While Avatar has taken a great deal of flack over the years with snide parallels to Thundercats, Smurfs and even Fern Gully, it's the kind of cinematic event that carries overwhelming curiosity. The kind of cat-like curiousity that probably made the first movie a massive hit. While there are still question marks over Sam Worthington whose role almost served as an avatar to create a vicarious experience, let's hope Cameron has taken the criticism onboard.

Avatar Way of Water

Based on the trailer, there's not a major shift in terms of the design, which was to be expected. Cameron seems to be more concerned with realising the visuals according to lighting and texture, which is probably where all the advanced CGI is taking place. It's still spectacular and all the flying and lush fantasy will probably make people think of How to Train Your Dragon. One possible issue raised by the teaser trailer may be the balance of real versus unreal with the original giving a healthy dose of humans to ground the film against the kingdom of Pandora.

The teaser trailer for Avatar: The Way of Water is now available in the build-up to the film's release on December 16. The first movie was a box office sensation and given the flagging nature of cinema attendance and the steady recovery on the back of big superhero releases, it couldn't come soon enough.

Set more than 10 years after the events of the first Avatar, the sequel Avatar: The Way of Water begins to tell the story of the Sully family. Jake, Neytiri and their children are the focal point as the story gets to grips with the troubles, dangers and battles they must endure. The film stars Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Cliff Curtis, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Edie Falco, Jemaine Clement and Kate Winslet. 

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