Saturday, 21 June 2014

Edge of Tomorrow (2014) Movie Review

This week, I put on my coolest looking mechanized suit, took off my helmet and clumped on down to the local movie theatre to check out Edge of Tomorrow (2014) starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt and Bill Paxton. It's directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity).

The concept for Edge of Tomorrow is pretty straight forward and detailed well in the trailers. Major William Cage (Cruise) is a PR guy with the Armed Forces who, much to his chagrin and terror, is asked to suit up for combat for the first time against a new alien enemy known as the Mimics. The ensuing massive offensive is a complete disaster with the last vestiges of the human defense forces wiped out to a man. During the battle, Cage dies but suddenly finds himself alive again and right back to the beginning of the day before, on the eve of battle. Cage, confused, seeks out Rita Vrataski (Blunt), a hero of the previous Battle of Verdun, who tells him she experienced the same thing. With Rita's help, Cage uses his new found time-looping ability to keep reliving the battle over and over again, finding ways to turn the tide in humanity's favour. 

The idea, here, is to emulate Harold Ramis' Groundhog Day (1993) only in a totally different setting. And it totally works.

This could easily have been a dark, grim and monotonous tale of endless slaughter and cool special effects. Instead, Liman infuses an energy and light-heartedness that's unexpected to say the least. There are some genuinely funny moments in this movie. Because Cage ends up redoing the same day hundreds of times, Liman decides to have all kinds of fun with the concept, very similar to Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day. Some of the similarities include timing specific events based on trial and error to get where he needs to go and using knowledge about people gleaned in previous loops to get them to trust him and do what he wants. Liman also uses different camera angles and character perspectives to change up the scenes so you don't end up feeling like you're sitting through the same scene over and over again. It's extremely well done.

Tom Cruise is at his best in this action/sci-fi romp. He's become very good at picking scripts that focus his talents in such a way that you can't help but root for him in the film. He doesn't get a really wide range of emotions to show off, but all the classic Cruise moves are there. Like him or hate him in the real world, Cruise knows his craft and plays to his strengths.

Emily Blunt also shines as Rita Vrataski. As a war hero, her character has become a rallying point for the last human defensive strategy. She plays this up and is a hardass in most of her scenes. She also has just enough femininity to take notice of her beauty along with her strength and her obvious chemistry with Cruise. Oh, and she gets to kick a bunch of ass in the movie too, something rarely scene in action films these days.

And then there's Bill Paxton. While Cruise knows how to pick roles and scripts that play to his strengths, Paxton could teach a University course on the subject. He's used to absolute perfection in this as the over-the-top, southern twang drill sergeant who glories in battle. He provides the foil for a lot of the humourous one-offs in the film with Cruise and the two work seamlessly together. If you're not a fan of Paxton after seeing this film, you're doing something wrong in your life.

That's not to say all is well in Edge of Tomorrow. I've got a few bones to pick with this film. Chief among them is the camera work.

Maybe it's just me, but I've never understood the whole shaky camera phenomenon. Made popular by director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum), it mainly involves shooting scenes with a handheld camera instead of a steadycam and purposefully making small, jarring movements with the camera during shots. This is supposed to add a level of realism to the scenes, invoking a sense in the viewer of actually being there and moving around as you would in real life. The problem is, we don't actually view the real world in this fashion. If we did, I'd be in a constant state of motion sickness. Just like I was with this film. Truth is, when the camera starts to inadvertently shake around even during the calmest of scenes in the movie, let alone those filled with action, it makes following said action difficult. This is probably just a personal pet peeve of mine, but nobody would be happier to see this trend in Hollywood disappear than me. Unfortunately, Liman uses it extensively in the movie.

Also, there's the Mimics themselves. A cool and crazy looking alien, the effects were top notch and the details of how the Mimics move and use their time-looping abilities was nothing short of amazing. The issue lies in using a tired cliche in Hollywood movies where a huge invading force has this one ridiculous Achilles heel which, when neutralized, renders all of the remaining forces inert. To me, it smacks of lazy writing and, when you think about it, there's no human equivalent. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, think The Avengers (2012). Ironman bombs the alien mothership in outer space and all of a sudden every single one of the thousands of aliens on earth decides it's time for a nap. It's just too damned convenient and way overused.

The ending of the film employs another tired Hollywood cliche as well. I'm not going to spoil it for you. I haven't read the source material that this movie was based on, so I'm not sure how the original story ended. I can tell you that I'm willing to bet this likely wasn't the ending envisioned and the studio stepped in to tack this on. 

Overall, a solid effort by everyone involved with this one. A great action, sci-fi piece with generous amounts of humour thrown in. A high concept film that doesn't end up getting bogged down in it's own high concept.

4 out of 5 stars.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014) Movie Review
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Jun 21 2014
Rating: 4

Thursday, 12 June 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) Movie Review

This week, I traded in my spandex for some cool black leather, strapped some kitchen knives to my wrists and flew down to the local cineplex to see Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past starring most of the cast of the original X-Men franchise and some of the rebooted X-Men: First Class franchise.

This installment sees our intrepid heroes from the original X-Men franchise in the not too distant future fighting for their survival from the evil and all-powerful Sentinels. They're losing. With only a few scattered mutants left, they come up with an idea; send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman making his record-breaking 7th appearance) back to the 1970s when the Sentinel program began and stop it from happening. Encouraging Wolvie to take this leap is returning aged thespians Ian McKellan (Magneto) and Patrick Stewart (Professor X), who've managed to put aside their differences for this one chance to rewrite history. Wolverine's consciousness is sent into the past where he meets up with some of the characters from the X-Men: First Class franchise including James McAvoy (Professor X), Michael Fassbender (Magneto) and Jennifer Lawrence (Raven/Mystique). Some new characters are also introduced. Most notably, Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask and Even Peters as Quicksilver.

I'm going to say this now to avoid a lot of confusion. If the above synopsis and character names made little-to-no sense to you, this is not the movie for you. I can't put together a primer for you as this review would end up being 14 pages long and you'd probably fall asleep around page 3. No, you're just going to have to trust me on this. If you've not seen the previous 6 films in this franchise or, at the very least, the 4 X-Men films (you could reasonably skip the two standalone Wolverine movies, which I'd recommend you'd do anyway since they're both awful), you're not going to have a clue what's going on. 

Having said that, I'll do my best not to delve too deep into the backstory and focus on the merits of the movie.

First, it's important to note that this movie heralds the return of Bryan Singer to the director's chair. He directed the first two X-Men films, both of which were financially and critically successful. He basically ushered in the modern age of tentpole superhero movies. He's also an amazing director when it comes to ensemble casting. His first major film, The Usual Suspects, as well as the first two X-Men films show off this talent, and this movie is no exception. Remember, this movie is a blending of two distinct casts; the cast of the first three X-Men films and the cast of the reboot X-Men: First Class. There's also at least 5 new mutants introduced as well as additional supporting cast members. How on earth was Singer going to be able to handle all these old and new and not-so-familiar faces?

By placing the focus on the characters. That's how.

Don't get me wrong, the movie has plenty of mind-blowing action set pieces. Most of them, though, serve as a means to further the character development and the story, not take away from it. This, coupled with making sure nearly every character has their moment to shine, leaves you identifying with the characters and their plight in a much more personal manner.

In fact, the real fight in the third act for this movie is not against a monster or another mutant or the Sentinels or anything like that. The fight ends up being for one person's soul. I know, I know, that sounds totally cheesy, but it's also totally true. The entire point and purpose of the main plotline of the movie is the redemption of a single character.

Cool, huh?

Nearly every actor turns in a great performance in this one. In particular, James McAvoy is amazing as a drug-addled, guilt-ridden Charles Xavier. Sure, you know he's going to pull himself together and help save the day, but his portrayal of that journey reminds me of why he's one of the most under-rated actors working in Hollywood today.

Hugh Jackman also gets a nod here, but more for what he didn't do rather than for what he did. It's safe to say that, in the first three X-Men films, Wolverine stole the show. In fact, those movies could've been called "Wolverine and his Amazing Friends" rather than "X-Men" since most of the action and plot revolved around him. Essentially, it's the role that made Jackman a household name. The character was so popular that he spawned two solo efforts, which exactly none of the other characters appearing in the same franchise got. At first, it looked like the same thing was going to happen here when it was decided that Wolverine would be the one to go back in time. However, Jackman takes a step back from the intensity and grittiness that made the role famous and plays a much calmer, cooler, mentor style character. It actually works very well and gives the other characters a chance to shine. In fact, at the penultimate moment of the third act when all is decided, he's nowhere to be found. 

Then there's Quicksilver. Evan Peters steals every scene he's in. The character isn't overused, but isn't under utilized either. It's kind of a one-note character, which clearly the writers and directors realized, so they kept him to a few scenes and that was it. And absolutely nailed it. The speed effect associated is done superbly as well and made for some of the funniest moments in a movie that was a little lacking in the levity department.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention all the cool cameos. For fans of the previous films, I'm not going to name names, but I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by who all manages to turn up, even briefly. I know I was.

Not all is well in the land of mutants, though. This movie, due to the time-travel nature of it, serves as something of soft reboot moving forward in the franchise. Because the previous movies had different directors and writers and maybe weren't really meant to co-exist in the same movie universe, there were some serious continuity issues throughout. While this film saw fit to address some of those, a lot of them are still lingering. I can't go into a lot of detail without giving away some major spoilers. I will say that the next movie in the franchise, called X-Men: Apocolypse, is going to have some serious explaining to do. Just like Lucy.

Oh, and this is more of a general gripe than specifically aimed at this movie, but can we all just agree that having a movie shot or converted into 3D does almost nothing to enhance the viewing experience? It was a lovely experiment, but I'd like it to go away now, please. This film had some very dimly lit moments, especially at the beginning of the film. This dim lighting becomes even dimmer when putting on the shaded 3D glasses. Unfortunately, there was no way for me to see this movie without seeing it in 3D unless I wanted to see it in a shoebox. And I didn't want to see it in a shoebox. I'm fine if the format sticks around for those that seem to enjoy it, but please make sure there's a non-3D alternative for those of us who like to be able to tell what the hell is going on when a scene in a movie is shot at night.

4 out of 5 stars
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Jun 12 2014
Rating: 4