Friday, June 20, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

This review is spoiler-free.

My ticket stub read "Edge of Tom." Cruise. I'm sure there's a good joke in there somewhere...

Groundhog Day goes sci-fi for Tom Cruise's latest action adventure. He is Major William Cage of the US army, and the world is under invasion from evil-seeking extra-terrestrials. He has just convinced millions of people to fight for a worthy cause (if saving the Earth and everyone on it is a good cause) and now, he himself will go and fight with them on the front lines. Wait, what? Actually, the Major is not cut out for that kind of thing -- doesn't even have combat training -- that's why he has the job he does. He can't even stand the sight of blood. Orders are orders, but Cage does everything he can to get out of it. This leads to his waking up on a base in handcuffs. The next day he is at the front of the invasion, not even knowing how to disable the safety on his metal gun-suit. He dies within five minutes. Then he wakes up, on the base, in handcuffs. Again.

Then again. And again. And again. ... etc, etc. This scene happened a lot. The movie's tagline is "Live. Die. Repeat." So you've got the idea, don't you?

Besides the obvious basic comparisons I've already made to the Bill Murray classic, this movie is pretty much its own thing. There are plenty of easy-going, fun and enjoyable sci-fi alien-invasion action flicks out there, but Edge of Tomorrow is basically the epitome of the genre. In the same way Stardust is the epitome of a fantasy adventure. And maybe the genre of "easy-going, fun, sci-fi alien-invasion action flick" is pretty specific, but it's still a classic one. And here it's done better than ever.

And honestly, there's no way it could have succeeded in being up there with the best of the genre without Tom Cruise in the lead. All we have to do is see him and -- poof -- all our lingering disbelief that might hamper our enjoyment of a far-fetched plot disappears. He leads the films in his typical style, but the style of the character makes the film stand apart. You may have noticed it; Cage has no combat training? Can't stand the sight of blood? This is not your typical Cruise, and it's different and amusing to see.

Also, just out of random curiosity, have you ever wanted to see Tom Cruise die over and over again?

Also providing nothing but good, pleasant feelings and uniqueness, is the absolutely fantastic Emily Blunt. She is sharp and cool and collected, and scary, and balances the desperate everyman of Cage wonderfully. With the film taking place in one day (one day over and over, but still) it's hard to get in a satisfactory amount of character development between characters, and while it's done just about as well as it possibly could be, there's still a little left wanting. Still the two make for a great and memorable team.

The both of them are great making everything around them seem more awesome, so really, how could they not be good together?

There are only a few things I wish had been done differently. The repeating for one -- I'm about to draw comparisons with Groundhog Day again. Last time, I promise -- it does get a little tiresome, especially when Cage, about to go through the exact same conversation for the hundredth time tries to derail the subject, but the person stubbornly finds a way to say it anyway. Dialogue is rarely good enough to get away with so many repeats. Groundhog Day (there it is) managed it better, but only just; there isn't much wiggle room available.

Otherwise, there were a few points that didn't make sense, but I haven't a clue on what could've been done about them, as they tangled in with the plot in a completely irresolvable way. And then there were some other points that came across as being very convenient, but the suspension of disbelief that came from the often-shown face of Cruise helped sort those away pretty easily. I really only have one thing I wish for certain were changed -- and this is the closest thing to a spoiler here -- that there had been more anti-climax; and even that it hard to say since the ending was very sharp and modernly stylish.

This is not the end... If you remember the trailer, you might find that amusing -- actually, was anyone else reminded of the turrets from Portal by that robot-y-song? Also, have you noticed how all my photo captions are questions? I noticed that.

The action side was fun, but not particular in any way. Filmed more like a regular war movie with a bit too much shaky-cam than a stylized sci-fi spectacle, so I'm glad I opted for no 3D, but it was choreographed and plotted well, so it was never bothersome or boring. Just a lot of alien fun. And speaking of the aliens -- they were very, very cool.

The whole film was nothing but fast-paced explosive fun. Well, next to nothing at least. A close examination will reveal a twinge of heart and a smattering of thoughtfulness in the drama. But mostly, there's action, and there's fun. And considering the month it was released in, that seems completely appropriate. A summer blockbuster never lacks anything when it checks off all the criteria for fun summer-escapism-with-air-conditioning so confidently. So, let's just say in close that Tom's Edge is still sharp. What? It's the best I could do.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Mild spoilers within.

The X-Men attempt time travel. Trippy.

After the events of The Last Stand things have gone irrevocably bleak and holocaust-like. The last few surviving X-Men we know come up with a desperate final play, knowing that the events of the present hinged on one particular act in the past, they send someone back with a mission to prevent that act. And luckily for us, there's only one mutant who can survive such a journey, and therefore become the central character of the story -- Wolverine, of course.

He's the best. Even without his shiny metal claws.

And with Hugh Jackman at the center of your movie, especially as this classic character, you cannot go wrong. Never mind that un-killable thing, he's the only character sturdy enough to stay steady and unwavering as the complex plot shifts story lines around in a tangling mess hoping to emerge in the end with something pliable.

The focus is mainly centered on the young Professor X, going through a seriously uncharacteristically dark and difficult time as James McAvoy, and Magneto, Michael Fassbender, regular, normal, not-exactly-evil-but-definitely-misguided-and-rather-obtuse extremely complex and annoyingly likable Magneto. Also Mystique and Beast, characters who only became worthy of main-character attention once Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult were cast as them. In fact, if I were to order these characters by importance and screen-time, Lawrence would be second only to Jackman. And with her skill, that's how it should be. Peter Dinklage also gets a turn as a typical, but memorable villain.

And they all turn in fantastic performances as we've come to expect of them.

The rest are more of side characters, even the greats Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, and while their storyline in the future does feel disjointed as you might expect, the characters and their powers are used creatively, make up good scenes and add to the suspense. That one mutant who knew how to think with portals made those scenes worth it singlehandedly.

The plot moved along at a quick and steady pace, and was involving and concise, if, at times a little too weighty and dramatic. It never went too far down that path to cause damage, but I certainly preferred the more fun, upbeat scenes. Like, for an example, every scene featuring Quicksilver. (Evan Peters) His character was brilliantly done, and played for comedy, and now I'm wondering how Age of Ultron could possibly top this with their version of the character. (I'm sure they'll surprise me too.) Anyway, the best of Quicksilver was unarguably the hilarious slow-motion bit where he casually saves the day in a fraction of a second. Unfortunately, he was too super-powered, and had to leave after that so there could be an actual plot for the rest of the film.

Four cool dudes.

And from there the rest of the film not being as balanced with comic relief veered over into seriousness, but didn't have sufficient content to ground it. It was still action-packed, sharp, clean, sensible, and filled with fine performances, but it seemed to all add up to nothing we haven't seen four or five times already, just with seriously cooler special effects -- and awesomer actors -- and those really wide 70's collars. Which, I suppose, makes it all worth seeing again doesn't it?

There was only one thing that really bothered me; lack of momentum in the characters. The character arcs were all more like circles because everyone got their due development, and it was all great, but at the end none show any actual progress. With the exception of Charles, who did have a marked change in character from beginning to end -- but not from end of First Class to the end here, which is the same difference.

"A person's a person, no matter how mutated, and we should all live in harmony." Yes -- we know. Are there no other themes worth exploring?

All these things make me believe that this film sole purpose was to be a connecting piece to combine the old and the new of the franchise into one, so they can continue from there on a new path. And that it does fantastically well, but the side effect is that it doesn't stand alone very well. As a piece of the franchise it's arguably the best yet, crafted well and with few flaws, and certainly succeeds in pulling the franchise out of a very deep hole. I honestly think it could have been more ambitious though, to band together and move forward into the future it creates simultaneously. It doesn't reach so high, but everything it does endeavor to do it succeeds in doing convincingly, and is well past a worthy installment for both sides of the franchise; as it sets the stage for a brand new future.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Upcoming Movie Roundup - June

Edge of Tomorrow
Jun 6th; PG-13
If science fiction is the peanut butter of movie genres, then Tom Cruise is the jelly. And this movie is looking delicious. The trailer is fantastically intriguing, and practically perfect; giving away just enough to create interest, while keeping the element of mystery. And besides the mysteriousness of it all it also looks packed with epic sci-fi action, the right amount of humor, and drama and fun. And don't forget about Emily Blunt who is brilliant, and and totally should have been in a movie with Cruise by now. I was won over already, so the current 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is just the sweet, sweet icing on my anticipation cake. (On a side note, I think I might be hungry.)

The Fault In Our Stars
Jun 6th; PG-13
Okay. Let's just say this: I'm currently in the middle of reading the novel, and, if this movie version has half the quality the book, it'll be a pretty great film, no matter how teenage-romance-y it is. However, with the cast including the great Shailene Woodley and her Divergent co-star Ansel Elgort, and with how the trailer seems like it could be a trailer for the book it follows it so closely... I dunno, I'm having a hard time believing it could go so far down as to be half as good. There's probably no chance of it turning out better than the book though. Still, who knows; I could hate the ending of the book, and take this all back. You never know. Except for sometimes when you pretty much do.

Trust Me
Jun 6th; R
Clark Gregg writes, directs, and stars. I repeat: CLARK GREGG writes, directs, and stars. Oh, and the supporting cast? Just a few people like Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, and Amanda Peet. Who all together remind me of The Way Way Back, and you all know how I felt about that movie. The plot is completely different of course, but very original, revolving around an agent for child actors. I won't get my hopes up since early review are split, plus there's the R-for-language rating to get around, but... oh, who am I kidding, my hopes are definitely up.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Jun 13th: PG
Sometimes sequels are terrible ideas and ruin the original movie (if the original movie was good in the first place.) I was wary of How to Train Your Dragon originally because of the silly trailer, but of course I was proved wrong when I finally did see it. And then comes along the sequel to be suspicious of. Except I'm not. I was a little, up until the teaser trailer came out, and after the silliness they won me over by proving they were making an original movie instead of just capitalizing on the first's success. They proved it by making Hiccup age significantly. It's a small thing, but a very encouraging one. It means things will be different. And now of course it's getting lots of praise in early reviews, so I guess I'll be happy to see this one eventually.

The Signal
Jun 13th (limited); PG-13
I'm not exactly sure why this one is interesting -- it has a little to do with Laurence Fishburne, and Brenton Thwaits (who is apparently in the middle of a breakout year, what with being Prince Phillip in Maleficent, and the lead in The Giver, which I'll certainly be mentioning come August) but mostly it's just the trailer which is "weird" and "wow" and "huh?" all at the same time.

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Jun 27th; NR (yet)
Oh help me. Am I actually including a Transformers movie in this list? I guess so... Technically it's not a reboot, but the cast of characters has been completely redone, so there seems to be a chance of a hope of a possibility of it coming off feeling maybe a little fresher than it would otherwise. Mark Wahlburg for Shia LaBeouf is a fine trade in my book. Plus the dinosaurs, er, dinobots... is it possible that mean that they've gone so far down the path of ridiculousness that this movie might actually be so bad it's good? I'll be observing from the sidelines to see.

Jun 27th (limited); R
I'll keep this one short and simple: Chris Evans. Jamie Bell. John Hurt. Tilda Swinton. And most importantly. Watch. This. Trailer.