Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

June 15, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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I didn’t initially plan on seeing Tom Cruise’s latest blockbuster, Edge of Tomorrow, at the cinemas. The well-publicized Groundhog Day device applied to a sci-fi premise didn’t feel all that enticing to me, and neither did the fairly stock-standard trailers I had seen. In the end, I was swayed by good word-of-mouth reviews and decided to give it a shot. And I’m glad I did. Edge of Tomorrow is everything you could hope for in a summer blockbuster — exciting action, tremendous special effects, superstar power, and just plenty of old-fashioned fun.

The story is actually based on a Japanese light novel called All You Need is Killin which the protagonist is placed in a time loop that keeps bringing him back to the day he dies in a war against aliens who have invaded Earth. Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage (a nod to the Japanese protagonist Keiji), a PR man of sorts for the NATO-lead United Defense Forces in their fight against the alien race called the “Mimics.” He’s not exactly a likable guy, and for that he ends up being on the front line in humanity’s last-ditched effort to topple the Mimics once and for all. Then, as the “Live. Die. Repeat” tag line suggests, Cage is forced to live the same day over and over again until he can either defeat the Mimics or the time loop ends. The only person who can help him is Sergeant Rita Vrataski, played by Emily Blunt, a giant sword-wielding warrior affectionately nicknamed the “Full Metal Bitch.”

It’s a synopsis that sounds almost typical, and in many ways Edge of Tomorrow is straight and predictable. Having said that, I was surprised by what an enjoyable ride it was. First of all, despite the time loop, the film never feels repetitive (my main fear). There are of course some parts that are repeated, but for the most part the script does an excellent job of varying up what to show audiences and throwing in little differences and curve balls to keep things interesting.

Another strength is its ability to switch tones between serious and funny with apparent ease. We feel Cage’s pain, frustration and helplessness at his situation, but we also have plenty of fun with it when the movie tells us it’s OK. Many of the deaths Cage has to endure are actually lighthearted and in some cases quite hilarious, as is a lot of the banter he has with army leader Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) and the members of J Squad, a ragtag team of crazy rejects he has been assigned to.

Most of all, the film comes at audiences at a finely tuned pace — relentless enough so that you never have time to stop and think about all the plot holes or things that don’t make sense, but not so fast that you lose track of what is happening or the sci-fi explanations you’ll need to grasp. Speaking of which, I was impressed with how smart and efficient the film was in explaining Cage’s predicament, including WHY everything was happening to him. For me it was important to know that the time loop had a reason, and director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith, Jumper, Fair Game) does a great job of creating a “believable” premise and helping audiences in suspending their disbelief.

The action is finely executed and goes hand in hand with the top-notch special effects. The human soldiers wear these mech-warrior suits that remind me a little of Elysium (but are actually quite commonly seen in Japanese anime) and look very convincing in both their design and movements. The Mimics have a unique look with a body that is constantly changing, and they move so fast that there’s no mistaking that they are not from this world. The only complaint I have is that the enemy, as often is the case in these invasion movies, are essentially generic robots that don’t serve any purpose other than to overwhelm our heroes with sheer numbers.

The performances are fantastic, as you would have expected with any Tom Cruise film. Say what you want about him, but Cruise, at 51, is still looking great as an action hero. He may be the craziest “technically sane” man alive off-screen, but when it comes to making movies, Cruise has always been the consummate professional. His trademark intensity shines throughout the film and he is superb whether as a conniving coward or a courageous soldier. Emily Blunt also looks like she had a lot of fun making this, trading her stereotypical image of the prim and proper damsel in distress for baddass warrior (who also happens to be in incredible shape). A lot of scene-stealing supporting roles too, including from Paxton and Brendan Gleeson, as well as Aussies Noah Taylor and Kick Gurry.

At 113 minutes, Edge of Tomorrow is about right in terms of length and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The thing that almost ruined the film for me, however, was the ending, which I felt did not match the rest of the film’s high standards. In the beginning I was confused, but then I realized it just didn’t work. I think it’s a reflection of the fact that the script had to undergo several rewrites and that they went into filming without having finalized the ending.

Apart from that, Edge of Tomorrow is a surprise summer hit that ticks all the right boxes. I don’t think it’s Tom Cruise’s best sci-fi — that honour would have to go to his all-time classic Minority Report – though I believe it ranks right up there at either No. 2 or 3 along with the underrated War of the Worlds.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: Tom Cruise has actually only starred in five sci-fi features: Vanilla Sky, Minority Report, War of the Worlds, Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow

Furious doomsday believers demand to know what went wrong

December 22, 2012 in Best Of, Humor, Religion

ruins_of_mayan_pyramid-normal

As small pockets of civilization around the world celebrated their survival of the Dec. 21 Mayan apocalypse, the vast majority of normal people have angrily demanded to know how things could have possibly gone so wrong.

The world as we knew it was supposed to end at precisely 10:11pm (Australia Eastern Standard Time) on Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. Earth was supposed to be struck by another planet or an asteroid. Aliens (or apes) were supposed to attack. Time was supposed to stop, or the universe was simply meant to stop existing.

But instead, as the clock struck 10:12pm and everything remained as it had been at 10:10pm, anticipation turned to disbelief. And as the hours passed, disbelief turned to disappointment, before finally erupting into fury.

“What the hell? We were supposed to be teleported into another dimension!” said Francois Ancel, 54, who had camped out at the southern French town of Bugarach for the past six weeks. Ancel and his family of seven had heard about the town’s curious “upside down” mountain and had expected to be beamed into another world by sitting in a hole on the summit at the exact moment it was supposed to end for everyone else.

Unlike some of his fellow campers, who have left the hole in tears, Ancel said he has not given up hope and will remain in the hole for as long as it takes, noting that the Mayans may have miscalculated the precise moment of the apocalypse.

“The Mayans didn’t have smartphones, computers or even abacuses back in those days,” agreed Professor Chris Copeland from the New York Calculator Institute, who has urged everyone to remain calm and continue waiting. “A margin of error of three to five years is not unreasonable under the circumstances. I will give them the benefit of the doubt this time.”

Copeland also ridiculed Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “guess” that the world won’t end for another 4.5 billion years, based on the life expectancy of the sun. “There is no scientific basis for that claim whatsoever,” Copeland said.

However, Copeland’s assurance that “it could end at any moment between now and Dec. 21, 2017″ has failed to quell the rage of former-believers, who have vowed to commence an anti-Mayan movement across the globe, beginning with the boycott of  the now-half-priced Mayan calendars. Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, a small group of protesters have also reportedly initiated “Occupy Machu Picchu” at the ancient Inca site in Peru.

“We’re not going anywhere until the Mayans come down and give us an explanation, face to face,” said protester Geri Jingleberry, 34, from Texas. “They can tell me what to do with the 21,000 cans of baked beans in my basement bunker.”

In China, reactions were more subdued, as the majority of believers have disappeared after being rounded up by the Chinese government well before Friday.

“This hoax has rekindled my faith in the Communist Party,” said Kai Wanxiao, 29, who lives in the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing. “The party said the world wouldn’t end and the party was right. Long live the Communist Party!”

There were, however, reports in the eastern coastal provinces of Shandong, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Liaoning of people asking for their money back after having donated all their assets to charity.

“I gave away everything I had to the less fortunate because I truly believed the world was going to end and everyone was going to die,” said Zheng Congming, 62, from the port city of Dalian. “Now that we have survived I would like my money back, thank you very much.”

The world’s leading Mayan expert and director of Apocalypto, Mel Gibson, said he could sum up why the Mayan prophecy did not come true in one word.

“Jews,” he said.

Movie Review: Prometheus (2D) (2012)

June 8, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

I just watched one of my most anticipated films of the year, Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s is-it-or-isn’t-it prequel to Alien, his 1979 classic. There is an answer to that question but it’s not a particularly important one, because Prometheus stands on it’s own extremely well. It’s not the classic Alien or Aliens is, but hey, few films are. If you measure the film by the impossible standards of those films, of course it is going to fall short. But by ordinary standards this film is freaking awesome. Visually stunning, with excellent performances and plenty of suspense. It’s not groundbreaking by any means but takes the successful Alien/s formula and places it on a much larger and different angled palette.

Set late in this century, it tells the story of a group of private sector space travellers who head to the moon of a distant planet to seek the origins of mankind. What they find, of course, is not quite what they expected.

This is a very different film to those in the Alien franchise (I am going to pretend, by the way, that the Alien vs Predator pieces of crap never existed). This is a ‘big ideas’ movie, or at least it tries to be one, and the scale and grandeur dwarfs anything that has been attempted in those earlier films. The special effects and the sets and make up are simply mind-blowing. The introductory scene sets the tone perfectly and is one of the best I have seen in a very long time.

At it’s heart though, Prometheus is still a sci-fi mystery horror, and in that regard it delivers. Even when you have a fair idea of what is likely to happen it’s still suspenseful — and often, extremely gross. It has scare tactics that will remind viewers of the Alien franchise though I wouldn’t call it ‘recycled.’ There are also one or two memorable scenes that will probably linger in the back of my mind forever.

The screenplay is written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. Spaihts previously wrote the script for The Darkest Hour, which was a horrible movie but not because of the writing (I thought the idea was decent). Lindelof, on the other hand, is the co-creator of and writer for one of the most fascinating and frustrating TV shows of all time, Lost, and his fingerprints are all over this one.

On the bright side, the plot unravels like a brilliant mystery, akin to slowly peeling off the layers a giant onion. When you’re not terrified you’re fully engaged trying to figure out what the heck is going on. On the other hand, Prometheus is full of plot holes, loose ends and unexplained stuff that will frustrate a lot of viewers to no end. It’s almost as though it was written with a sequel in mind, or perhaps, like Lost, the writers just did what they thought was cool at the time without giving much thought to whether they could make sense of it later, if at all.

Being a film about finding the origins of man, there are of course some philosophical considerations. On this point I felt Prometheus was also very Lost-like; that is, a lot of interesting questions but not a lot of answers, a lot of style but not a whole lot of substance. That said, I didn’t really care. Intellectual stimulation was not high on the list of reasons why I wanted to watch this film.

The cast is super. Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce. No weak link in that line up. The Assbender, though, is the clear standout as David, a mesmerising guy you quickly find out is not quite the same as the others. It’s not a stretch to say the Assbender carries the bulk of this film. 300, Centurion, Inglourious Basterds, X-Men: First Class, Shame and now Prometheus. The dude has become one of my favourite actors.

Rapace gives a sound effort as scientist Elizabeth Shaw, though it’s rather unfair to compare her to Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) because they are such different personalities. Unfortunately, she doesn’t even channel her inner Lisbeth Salander, which might leave some of her Dragon Tattoo fans disappointed. Despite her name being the first in the credits, Rapace doesn’t stand out throughout the first half of the film, which I’m not sure is by design. However, she does have one ripper of a scene later on, possibly the best sequence in the entire film (and an instant classic), and more or less redeems herself by the end.

So yeah, Prometheus is pretty cool. Flawed but very enjoyable if you can look past its most egregious problems. At the end of the day, I didn’t watch Prometheus expecting it to be as good as Alien/s. I didn’t watch it expecting to gain more insights about where we came from. I watched it expecting to be entertained, awed and terrified for a couple of hours. And I was.

4.25 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Paul (2011)

June 21, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

I like comedies and I’m fascinated by aliens, so Paul, the new sci-fi comedy written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (of Shaun of the Dead fame) seemed right up my alley.  In short, Paul is pretty good, but nothing special.

Paul is about two English comic book nerds and buddies, Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost), who travel across the Atlantic to attend Comic-Con and to take a trip in their RV across the country to visit alleged alien hotspots.  Of course, they run into the titular character, voiced by Seth Rogen, who is unlike all the stereotypes we have come to expect, and that kick starts off a series of wild and wacky adventures.

For me, there were lots of moments where I went, ‘That’s very clever’ and had a giggle or two, but the laugh-out-loud moments were rarer than expected (though, to be fair, there were a couple of ripper gems).  That made it slightly disappointing as I thought the potential for better laughs was definitely there.

My favourite thing about Paul is the Arrested Development connections.  The film is directed by Greg Mottola, who did a few AD episodes back in the day before going on to direct Superbad and Adventureland.  Jason Bateman plays the mysterious Agent Zoil, and there’s also Jeffrey Tambor as a sci-fi writer and Jane Lynch as a themed cafe owner.  They are all brilliant.  I won’t spoil any more than that except to mention that the film also features the likes of Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), Bill Hader (Adventureland) and John Carroll Lynch (my favourite husband from Fargo), plus a few truly awesome cameos.

Ultimately, Paul is what it is.  A few flashes of comedic brilliance, some clever lines, surprisingly wonderful cameos and references — super fun but not exactly super funny.  I’d call it an amusing film with a dash of geeky charm, for the most part an enjoyable chuckler as opposed to a laugh-out-loud kind of movie.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Monsters (2010)

November 12, 2010 in Movie Reviews

Monsters commences across Australia on 25 November 2010

Tell me this is not an awesome premise for a film:

To find alien life in the universe, NASA sends a probe into space.  The probe crashes at the US-Mexico border upon its return.  Six years later, the US and Mexican military are still struggling to contain the “creatures” in a sealed off area dubbed the “Infected Zone”.  And now, an American photojournalist is entrusted with escorting his boss’s daughter through Mexico back to US soil as the mayhem continues around them…

If that synopsis got you a little interested, then you might understand why I was super excited to catch a screening of Monsters, the low budget British sci-fi written and directed by special effects master Gareth Edwards.

Unfortunately, Monsters doesn’t come close to living up to its promising premise.  There were some good moments, but the main problem is that Edwards decided to place the focus of the film on the relationship between the two central characters, Andrew (Scoot McNairy), the photojournalist, and Sam (Whitney Able), the boss’s daughter.  While the two actors have chemistry (they were dating at the time and are now married), neither character came across as particularly likable, making it a bit of a stale romance in my opinion.

Consequently, Monsters became a bizarre hybrid between an alien sci-fi and road romance movie — kind of like a mix between District 9 (or Cloverfield) and Before Sunrise — except neither aspect was done very well.  There were moments of genuine tension and excitement whenever the “creatures” were nearby, but they were too often overshadowed by the tedious glances and conversations between the leads as well as the long montages of them travelling through Mexico.  This doesn’t mean those things weren’t done well, but man, I just wish Edwards took a different path with this film.

Having said all of that, Monsters does have a lot of positives.  The visual effects were magnificent (as you would expect from a writer and director who specialises in it), despite the fact that the entire film was made on a budget that would ordinarily only be enough to cover the catering expenses of most Hollywood blockbusters.  The acting was solid, as was the cinematography.  Much of the dialogue was apparently improvised, and I think it shows (in a good way), coming across as natural and unforced, for the most part.

Clever idea, intriguing premise, good performances, wonderful special effects, and when it wanted to be, pretty exciting.  But at the end of the day, Monsters was not what I wanted it to be.  That’s really my problem, but it is what it is.

2.5 stars out fo 5

 
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