Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

June 15, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

edge

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

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 7

August 14, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Dark Shadows (2012)

dark shadows

During my 9 month studying at Cambridge between 2008-2009, the only extra-curricular event I attended without being invited is a session about Dark Shadows, the cult American gothic soap opera from the 1960s. I didn’t know anything about the show at all, but it was about TV/entertainment and it had a horror slant to it, so I figured it was good enough for someone bored out of their mind from reading law textbooks all day. So on that afternoon, I saw an episode of the show, and heard that a movie version was in the works directed by Tim Burton, and of course, Johnny Depp. I thought it had potential.

Fast forward to last year, and Dark Shadows the movie was finally here, with Depp as the protagonist vampire Barnabas Collins and Eva Green as his jealous ex-lover. The all-star cast also features Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe Grace Moretz and Jackie Earle Haley.

Though technically a horror, Dark Shadows intended to be a campy comedy about a vampire locked away for two centuries before being released in 1972. Most of the jokes, therefore, stem from Depp’s clueless attitude towards the “modern” world and the people who inhabit it, kind of like Brendan Fraser in Encino Man.

Unfortunately, while not horrible, Dark Shadows was rather lame and elicited few chuckles. It was pretty to look at, but the whole film was a tiring affair with obvious gags and not a lot of life (and I don’t mean that as a joke because vampires are supposed to be dead). To be fair, it was always going to be a difficult task to make a film based on a 60s TV show, but in this case it had me wondering whether they completely wasted their own and everyone else’s time. There just wasn’t anything inspiring or memorable about it. Encino Man was so bad it was awesome. Dark Shadows isn’t anything.

2 stars out of 5

The Words (2012)

the words

A seemingly interesting film that really doesn’t say much in the end. Bradley Cooper plays (like he does in Limitless) an impossibly handsome but struggling writer, who finds a riveting manuscript he decides to pass off as his own. But of course, he was never going to get away with it, and must face the consequences, including answering to his wife, Zoe Saldana.

To make matters more complicated, Cooper and Saldana’s story is actually a book written by Dennis Quaid, and he’s unveiling the story at a public reading. Meanwhile, there’s Olivia Wilde, an attendee at the reading who gets cozy with Quaid but can’t figure out how much of the story is autobiographical. And to really mess with you, when Cooper is confronted by the real author, he is told the story of how the manuscript came to be.

On the surface, The Words looks like three-tiered a morality tale, a story within a story within a story that tells us it’s naughty to steal someone’s work. And for most of the movie, I was hoping it would turn out to be something really intelligent and thought-provoking. But eventually I realized that it was just a bunch of contrived plot tricks masquerading as a clever movie, one that never really provides any answers or a satisfactory conclusion.

That said, as I kept hoping to be impressed and was curious about the questions the film raised, I was completely engaged for the majority of the film’s 96-minute running time. Unfortunately the payoff was a huge disappointment, but at least it wasn’t boring.

2.5 stars out of 5

PS: Ironically, the film was accused of having ripped off a German novel (true fact).

The Five Year Engagement (2012)

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I thought The Five Year Engagement looked like a pretty “meh” film from the trailers, to be honest, but in the end I was pleasantly surprised by how funny, warm and genuine it felt.

Emily Blunt and Jason Segel, who have amazing chemistry in this, are a couple who get engaged but then for various reasons are unable to marry and keep extending the engagement (for guess how long?). From work to deaths to misunderstandings and mishaps and temptations, the engagement just keeps going and going. I thought it would get tedious after a while but somehow director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) keeps it interesting by varying things up with jokes couples can relate to, plus the occasional bit of wacky or random humor.

It’s one of those films where you’re likely to find yourself rooting for them to stay together because the leads and the characters they are playing are so likable and they make such a sweet couple, but at the same time the circumstances make you wonder whether things are just not meant to be. As a result the film’s tone is infused with a sense of bittersweet melancholy — that mixes unexpectedly well with the light humour.

I wouldn’t call it an excellent film, but The Five Year Engagement is certainly one of the better rom-coms of the year.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Babymakers (2012)

babymakers

This was another attempt to cash in on the adult comedy market with a crude, outrageous jokes, but according to Wikipedia the film made about $8,000. I don’t think it’s that bad, but it’s not particularly funny and there’s nothing really helping it stand out from the rest of the pack.

Olivia Munn (The Newsroom) and Paul Schneider (Parks & Recreation) are a couple trying to get pregnant without much luck. Schneider discovers that his boys aren’t exactly swimming but remembers that he used to donate regularly to the local sperm bank years ago, when his boys were more capable swimmers.

But for some reason the bank won’t budge and Schneider intends to break in to steal his “stuff”, along with his buddies and a “professional” played by the film’s director, Jay Chandrasekhar. Craziness ensues.

Sounds like a fun premise — a heist film where the bank is filled with something other than money — and I have to admit there were moments when The Babymakers elicited a chuckle here and there. But the humour was too sporadic and was overshadowed by all the gross-out stuff that was completely unnecessary (sperm plays a large role, as you can imagine) and frankly not all that funny. And the film just trips and falls flat on its face by the end.

I like Olivia Munn from watching The Newsroom and she does have some comedic chops, as does Schneider, but sadly The Babymakers’ few good jokes were lost in a sea of crap ones.

2.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Looper (2012)

December 6, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

I love time travel films, and one of my favourites of all-time also had Bruce Willis in it (Twelve Monkeys, of course). Given that I have also recently developed a man-crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper appeared to be a tailor-made film for me.

The movie is set in the year 2044 and the future of that future is 2074, a time when time travel has finally been invented (I still have a chance to live to that day, so fingers crossed that this is based on a true story). Unfortunately, time travel is outlawed then but is still being used by criminal organizations, which need a “looper” to help them in the past when they transport things back over from the future. Gordon-Levitt is a young looper. Bruce Willis is him in 30 years. I can’t say why, but they don’t like each other.

It may sound complicated but I actually found Looper to be a really straightforward time-travel movie. The mechanics and laws of time travel in the film’s universe are sufficiently described in the beginning and there’s not much to be confused about, which is why I was really confused by all these reviewers saying that the film was confusing. Some even compared it to Christopher Nolan’s Inception, which I found strange because they are nothing alike apart from the fact that both star Gordon-Levitt.

Looper is an unusual and unusually clever time-travel film in the sense that it’s more of a character movie about how people deal with the effects of time travel rather than the time travel itself. From that perspective it means less trying to figure out what’s going on/pointing out gaps in logic and more just enjoying the movie for its action and freaky futuristic stuff.

It’s always hard to review a movie like this without slipping in unnecessary spoilers, so all I will say is that it also stars Emily Blunt and is in part related to genetic mutations which occur naturally in the human body at some point in the future (I am begging for this to be based on a true story).

Some people have criticized the decision to use prosthetics and make-up on Gordon-Levitt to make him look like a young Bruce Willis. I thought it was awesome. I have to admit, the thin-framed Gordon Levitt is one of the last actors I would have pictured playing John “Yippee-ki-yay” McClane, but the prosthetics made me believe he could have eventually grown to look like him. He still looks like Gordon-Levitt but it also reminds you a little of Bruce Willis – I don’t get what the big deal is.

Despite my praises, I think there is something missing from Looper that prevents it from being a time-travel classic like Twelve Monkeys, Back to the Future, Terminator 2, and so forth. The film has a great premise, interesting characters, solid action and enough twists and turns to make it a highly enjoyable experience, but perhaps it lacked the grand vision and scale that would have pushed it to that next level.

4 stars out of 5!

China DVD Movie Blitz: Part II

June 12, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Yes, there is a Part II.  For Part I, click here.

Here are the rest of the DVD movies I acquired in a recent trip to China.

Stone (2010)

Even though I didn’t know what it was about, I really wanted to watch this one when it came out at the cinemas, but I’m glad now that I caught it on DVD instead.

I thought it was going to be a smart, slick thriller, but Stone is essentially a character-driven drama about sexual politics featuring three sensational actors: Edward Norton, Robert De Niro and Milla Jovovich.

It’s a stylish film, an interesting film in many respects, but not exactly what I was expecting or hoping for.

3.25 stars out of 5

I Love You, Phillip Morris (2009)

It seems like the world still isn’t ready for a rom-com about a homosexual couple, because I had never heard of I Love You, Phillip Morris despite the fact that it features two big stars in Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor.

To be fair, apart from the intentionally full on gay jokes, Phillip Morris is not all that different from some of the other slightly farcical, somewhat strange/awkward (The Cable Guy comes to mind) comedies out there.

I did find certain parts quite funny, but there wasn’t anything apart from the unusual premise that made this film stand out.  And it did get a little tedious towards the end.

3 stars out of 5

 

Gulliver’s Travels (2010)

I’ve loved the story since I was a kid, and so I was kind of excited about the Jack Black version, even though to me Black is a bit of a hit and miss comedian.

Unfortunately, Gulliver’s Travels was pretty much all miss.  It had a great cast, including Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet and Billy Connolly, but the jokes were mostly infantile and unfunny.  A fair attempt at a modern retelling with updated pop culture references but even as a children’s film it missed the mark.

2 stars out of 5

 

Season of the Witch (2011)

 

If this film made it to the cinemas then it must have been pulled off pretty quickly, because even though I saw ‘coming soon’ posters months ago, I don’t ever recall seeing the film screening at cinemas.

After watching it, I can kind of understand why this film was a flop (or went straight to DVD).  On the other hand, there are far worse films making it to the cinemas.

This was a Middle-Ages fantasy film (which I usually like) with Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman as two warriors tasked with escorting a suspected witch to a monastery.  It started off okay but the middle section was a bit of a bore and the final part, as usual, fell apart.  A shame, because as uninspiring as it was, I thought there was some potential.

2 stars out of 5

 

And yes, there will be a Part III, though I haven’t watched them yet.

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

March 30, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

The other day I had a choice of Battle: LA and The Adjustment Bureau, and the general consensus with friends was the former, so I went with it and had a decent time (review here).  The Adjustment Bureau was supposedly ‘crap’ and ‘boring’, though one voice of reason suggested that it was ‘better than expected’.

To be honest, I had really wanted to see The Adjustment Bureau.  From the trailer, it looked like one of those classic sci-fi thrillers (and as I discovered, it was loosely based on a short story by Philip K Dick, the man responsible for Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report, but of course also Paycheck and Next) where you don’t know what the hell is going on but it’s nonetheless all very exciting and thought provoking.

As it turned out, The Adjustment Bureau was both different to what I expected and better than I expected.  If you go into it thinking it’s going to be anything like Blade Runner, Total Recall or Minority Report, you’ll probably come away bitterly disappointed.

There are thilling moments, but The Adjustment Bureau is at its heart an epic love story between a budding politician (played by Matt Damon) and a contemporary dancer (Emily Blunt).  And while it has sci-fi elements and a sci-fi feel to it, it’s not really sci-fi either.  Does fantasy romance with a religious slant count as a genre?

There’s not much of a mystery involved either as you discover what the ‘Adjustment Bureau’ really is relatively early on.  That’s because the focus of the movie is always firmly on the love story.

Therefore, whether you believe in the romance plays a huge part in whether or not you can appreciate the film.  I must admit I was one of the ones that did, mainly because of the excellent chemistry between Damon and Blunt.  Ordinarily I would have thought such an obviously contrived romance would be cringeworthy, but I actually found it rather sweet.  Maybe it’s just the romantic in me.

So while the film was a slow crawl in parts and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if you think about it, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I enjoyed it.  It’s really a fable about fate and love, and gets you thinking about free will, chance, and whether there are people out there who are meant to be together.

3.5 stars out of 5

 
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