Friday, December 14, 2001

My editor warned me, the week previously: "Don't see it, it's a bloated egotistical train wreck," she solemnly intoned as I waited in line for Ocean's Eleven. "You'll regret it."

She wasn't speaking of Mr. Soderbergh's fine film, which is frothy, glittery low-impact fun of the highest order just as Mr. Ebert's review indicates. She was warning me of a movie her husband, a movie reviewer, had taken her to a screening of early with disastrous consequences.

Did i listen? Most assuredly. Why then, did I find myself this afternoon walking into a theater to see the film I had heard such a warning about? A film with an appalling jump-cut trailer and featuring star wattage so intense there could be no question of talent or life shining through the blinding egohood...with so many warnings, why was I a week later walking into the same room to be slaughtered?

I don't know. I have an ornery, twisted nature and maybe with the day being as gray and wet as it was, I wanted to be punished. Maybe because I have a lot of book to revise by January 1st, and I should be spending every free minute slaving myself to this book's final, delicate moments before birth--maybe that knowledge wormed its way into my heart and told me to neglect myself.

Maybe a theater sounded like a safe, dark place to rest when I was terribly hungover from the McSweeney's event the night previous, followed by drinking and heavy talking at the improbably named Sherwood Forest, a delightfully weird place with wooden boards, hunks of meat, great atmosphere and little tiny glass barrels filled with apple liquor that they bring to the table for no reason except that they are French.

Let this serve as a warning to all: just because you think the theater is the safest place, a place to escape from the world and your troubles does not necessarily make it so. It can be a horrible place, filled with horror, death and mind-destroying mindshit that makes your heart ache and stretch up from your chest in a vain attempt to choke the life out of your eyes and ears.

This will only happen at theaters today if you should see Vanilla Sky.

This is an endless, sickening circlejerk to Tom Cruise's ego, this year's Cast Away but without Hank's kindness or even a shread of self-respect. Cruise is rich in the film, Cruise is powerful, Cruise is a child, Cruise is hot and fucks Cameron Diaz, and he's the editor of MAXIM and he's a human dildo and he has a great car and he's so into vacant smiling and being Jerry Maguire and the guy from Top Gun and every other character he's done, even the dude from Born on the 4th of July after his face gets ripped off and did I mention that he also gets to fuck Pen�lope Cruz? He also has every gadget from Sharper Image plastered all over his lifestyle, so much so that they should have paid for placement.

That's the start of the movie. There's some dialogue, a lot of QUIRKY camera shots and craaaaaazy stuff from Mr. Crowe, who should know better but has been swallowed in the forcefield of Cruise's ego. Then we get to the car crash, facial injuries and things really start going south. We're supposed to care so much that this Plastic Ken Doll has been injured for reasons I can not descern, believe he had a future with Cruz because they date in real life (they certainly have no chemistry on the screen) and then watch the other Cruise ACT REALLY HARD over and over again: he looks pensive, he looks pensive and sad, he looks pensive and angry, he smiles. After the accident he loses the smiling, so the options are pretty fucking limited.

My wife said it best: "It's Jerry McGuire meets MASK" which I think is actually kind--it implies that this has a human heart, which it does not. I have no doubt that media flacks forced the Tom and Penelope together after seeing where this assfest was headed, knowing that many would walk in to see them as lovers...and would walk out when they saw he has no face and the movie has no point. I was made furious by this endless purile crap: angry and bored, angry and tired, angry and despairing--I was going through a larger emotional range than the phantoms on the screen!

And phantoms they turn out to be! At the last minute we discover that all the craaaaaazy stuff that is happening with the shitty retakes and endless pillow smotherings of Diaz and Cruz and bad prosthetic mask games (look, I'm wearing it on the back of my head! look, it's my alter ego! look! look!) because Cruise has been frozen in a goddamn cryogenic tank and the movie is his psychotic dream ravings wherein he controls the entirety of reality. Nothing is real, it's all illusion--ta da. Glad you came by. Tip the waiter on the way out.

Now that I'm done raving, I'm struck by how similar this solipsistic point of view is to the views of Scientology , Mr. Cruise's favorite cult. They believe in personal empowerment to the nth degree, and certainly if you were Tom Cruise you would believe that one day you might discover that no one other than you existed--it would just be confirmation of fact. Xenu the Friendly Space Alien race and other horseshit elements of Scientology also match up with the weird "lucid dreaming while we freeze your body" hookum that fuels most of VANILLA SKY. While I doubt the producers were in bed with the cult, I can see exactly why Mr. Cruise would take the role in a New York minute.

Post-divorce, I think it is interesting that Kidman is making exuberant choices like Moulin Rouge wherein she is a whore who wants to be an actress (no comment) and Cruise is making movies like Vanilla Sky wherein he is a god on earth who is tortured, lonely, perfect and desperately craving comment other than what you'll find above.

In closing, I'll recognize that yes, I just spoiled the movie. You're lucky--take the two hours you've just saved and spend it laying in bed squeezing your genitals in a vise grip and you'll have spent your time more wisely than by walking into the theater. I wish I could be beaten with fir branches like Irish monks.