Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Edge of Tomorrow - The Review

The Edge of Tomorrow - The Review

For 30 years I've loved The Twilight Zone, a passion rekindled recently with the Blu ray box set. 
Those relatively cheap black and white dramas, many penned by Rod Serling, were either 30 or 60 minute ’what if?’ dramas. They created great premises for broader canvases, bigger budget, big screen offerings, some of which (Real Steel) were turned into A-list epics. 

The Edge of Tomorrow could have been another of Serling’s mini masterpieces, the ’what if’ tale of a soldier resurrected to fight an alien war on Earth. 

In this case Tom Cruise is William Cage, the cocky PR man railroaded to fight against an extra-terrestrial enemy. However, his unit is decimated in a Saving Private Ryan-style attack in Normandy, and Cage wakes up a few hours earlier to live the day over and hopefully glean enough information to defeat the enemy. 

Yes, it's a video game-style premise with Cage’s seemingly unlimited lives a handy perk as he tries to level up.
He's helped by Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the poster girl warrior who may or may not know more about Cage’s condition than he first thinks. 
What follows, for the first two thirds at least, is a snappily paced mix of Groundhog Day, Starship Troopers, Aliens and The Matrix, as our heroes fight whizzing, murderous creatures with the aid of clunky exo-suits. 

At one point Cage’s automated metal skeleton runs out of energy and powers down. He steps from it and leaves it standing, an empty shell. And for me that is the third act. 

Whatever wonderful ’story battery’ powered this multi-million dollar vehicle simply runs out of energy and becomes a generic, by-the-numbers adventure, hampered by the same murky, digitally graded darkness that plagued X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Hunger Games 2. 
I'm so bored of action scenes taking place in darkness, especially when the antagonists are so abstract. 

Through it all, Cruise is his usual committed self, but Blunt steals the show as the fearless posh trooper, who lights up every scene she's in. 

In a nice nod to Aliens, Bill Paxton is the gruff Sergeant Farell, commanding his drop ship troops. The scope of the movie is impressive, and director Doug Liman handles the action with flair, but the ghosts of Mr and Mrs Smith and Jumper’s humdrum finales return to haunt us. 

Whether by design or accident there is a feeling we've been here before with Tom’s earlier work, notably Minority Report (outwitting the enemy with pre-emptive moves) or last year’s elegant but sterile Oblivion (hero attempts to destroy big alien brain intelligence thing and wipe out enemy forces in one fell swoop. Smart move, but yawnsomely predictable.) 

Sadly the final scenes are also a let down, as are the closing titles. Recent Marvel offerings Iron Man, Avengers Assemble and Thor: The Dark World have offered stylish, engaging credits, but EOT looks like it was created a decade ago with a generic closing song and a feeling that the budget had all been spent by the time those last bits had to be tagged on. 

I really wanted to like Tom’s latest. I adore his positivity and enthusiasm for big crowd pleasers like this, but feel that when you strip away the shell of the movie, you're left with a sub-standard Twilight Zone episode with a rubbish pay-off. 
A real shame. 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

XMen days of future past. The review.

The future is rubbish. (Isn't it always in sci-fi epics?)
Shape-shifting Transform...er...Sentinels have laid waste to the mutant world. 
Making a Last Stand, (another one), Storm, Professor X, Magneto, Kitty Pryde, Frozonefrom The Incredibles (oh, apparently not), and a few other mutants playing Portal (for real) take on the mighty Destroyers from Thor (oh, apparently they aren't, though they seem to be variations of them).

Thankfully Ms Pryde has the power to send the long suffering X types back in time so they can get their collective derrières kicked again.

What our heroes need is someone who can go back to 1973 and stop Miles Dyson inventingSkynet... er, the little guy from Game of Thrones - Trask (the always wonderful Peter Dinklage).

The 'Sarah Connor' in this Terminator-style X-Men epic is Raven, aka Mystique, who still looks very blue and rather plastic. At no point does she 'put metal in the science oven'. Or will she get an Oscar for this. But Jennifer Lawrence is still one of the greatest young actresses you've ever seen.

So while she tries to kill Trask in 1973, Hugh Jackman shows off his stunning pecs (like crumpled wrapping paper stuck on an Action Man) and his rear end, for which millions of mums were truly grateful.

As Logan, aka Wolverine, is sent back to his 1973 body, he has to persuade Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and the young, doped up but still groovy Professor X (the brilliant James McAvoy) to help him break Magneto (Michael Fassbender) out of his plastic Penatgon prison and stop Mystique killing Trask.

Of course Magneto is the uber villain whose friendship with Xavier usually consists of a game of chess, saying "Charles" a lot, promising to help, and then betraying him with OTT set pieces involving twisted metal. It's like GroundX Day.

On the plus side, Fassbender is as great as ever and looks very cool in a hat. A bit like Bowiein the 1970s. All cheekbones and intrigue.

Thankfully our heroes are helped by Quicksilver, the breakout new star of the show whose lightning-fast reactions give us the movie's best set piece. A bullet-time kitchen scene filled with wit, style and panache.

Geeks of course spent part of the movie explaining to indifferent partners how Quicksilverwas also that kid in the post-credits sting for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Only played by someone else. And his sister is Scarlet Witch. Or will be. Only not in 1973. 
Still following? Good.

Director Bryan Singer has a lot of fun with his best film since X-Men 2. Yes he's spinning about 20 plates at once, but does a good job of keeping most of them rotating, even if he spends a little too long on young Xavier meeting his aged self.

The movie is hugely ambitious, brilliantly made, nicely edited and scored (both by John Ottman), and you can see where the budget went just by watching the credits. 15,000 people worked on the movie, and I'm guessing 14,000 were just slaving over laptops creating the impressive effects.

The whole thing is engaging enough and features some of the best thesps in movies. But for me it needs a sucker punch moment. That scene which grabs the heart strings and makes me a little misty eyed.

Sadly there was none of this here, possibly because when every other person in a movie has a gift, it's hard to be amazed. It's like the old Python sketch, Bicycle Repairman. In a world where everyone is a superhero, you yearn for someone normal.

Naturally I'll be among the millions who flock to see X-Men: Apocalyspe in a couple of years, and imagine another 15,000 folks will be kept busy animating bits of fractured metal and the like. However, I'd rather see a movie shot like the outstanding NT version ofCurious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, without a single effect on a simple stage, for the sake of one sucker punch moment, where I care about the fates of the protagonists instead of just being indifferent to their inevitable resurrection.

Sometimes less really is more Bryan.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Godzilla. The review

It's rare I get to feel like a kid on Christmas morning while watching a movie. More often than not filmmakers have contempt for the audience or signpost everything so far in advance, you feel like an A level student in a kindergarten.

Thank heavens Monsters director Gareth Edwards has given us such a terrific movie inGodzilla, or to coin a phrase for the text generation: OMGzilla

This is the sort of film Steven Spielberg used to make with Close Encounters and War of the Worlds: personal stories set against epic backdrops.

It's got the feel of Cloverfield, but without the stomach-churning found footage angle, or the annoying characters, and rubbish dialogue.

The great cast is the first piece of the puzzle to get right in Godzilla 2014, and in Aaron Taylor Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen (wonderful) and the especially good Bryan Cranston, there's a solid foundation for the fantasy that unfolds.

The story gives us enough of the right material to believe the motivations of protagonists and antagonists - nuclear testing; heroes forged by loss; grown-up hero desperate to keep his family, and others together; smart scientists and military folk colouring in the grey areas and giving us enough exposition to carry things forward. Cue final smack down.

There are some terrific touches, such as the HALO jump (scarlet flares scoring the misty skies) and assorted shots of the eponymous beast emerging through the fog like Night of the Demon.

The score by Alexander Desplat is classical and thrilling, while the effects range from the special to the okay.

It's tightly paced, brilliantly directed, hugely satisfying and doesn't outstay its welcome.

Edwards has successfully made the leap from indie filmmaker to blockbuster director with ease.

I can't wait to see what he does next.