Edge of Tomorrow (PG-13)

9 Stars

If you see one flick all summer then look no further.

It’s not only the best of the season, Edge of Tomorrow is the top release so far this year. It’s still playing in some theaters so catch it before it completely leaves the big screen.

Whether you’re a film buff or just the occasional theatergoer, you’ll love this science fiction thriller. It’s riveting, smart, inventive and fun.

With a massive budget, a strong supporting cast of knowns and unknowns, and top-notch special effects; the cinematic experience doesn’t get any better.

But it’s the story you’ll dig most. EoT is similar to last year’s Ender’s Game by offering an original take on extraterrestrial invasion. The ‘mimics’ are organic, menacing and wildly compelling.

To pile on top, the plot fiddles with time travel in the smartest way.

Let’s discuss discouraging numbers.

Edge of Tomorrow pulled $28 million for third place in the box office opening weekend, behind Maleficent in 2nd place, and The Fault in Our Stars which made $48M.

According to budgetary estimates on IMDB, TFIOS cost $12M to produce, and EoT cost $178M. So far EoT grossed almost $95M, but still tails behind its wretched usurper (TFIOS) at nearly $120M.

EoT is making up for it overseas, but the statistics speak for themselves: American moviegoers reward bad dromantic quirkedies over well-crafted science fiction.

This disappoints me.

Anyway, back to the film.

A common criticism regards the title. I’ve heard four separate voices speak out about it. But there’s a trend: Nobody ever suggests a better one, or explains why it’s poor.

It’s certainly better than the title of the novel the screenplay’s adapted from, “All You Need is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.

Perhaps ‘Precipice of Yesterday’ is better? ‘Threshold of Today’ is definitely a downgrade.

Now. If the argument regards the title’s inadequacy in capturing the attention of the American viewing audience, I’m listening. It’s got to be more than just, “Edge of Tomorrow is a bad title.”

Tom Cruise never gets enough credit. He stars (as two different characters named ‘Jack,’ ironically) in two great movies from last year, Oblivion and Jack Reacher. He’s acted in at least fifteen fantastic films (and no, this doesn’t include Jerry Maguire) most of which he’s the leading role.

Quick T.C. top five: Rain Man (1988), Magnolia (1999), Minority Report (2002), Risky Business (1983) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

He’s one of our finest, most accomplished actors working today. You can add yet another fantastic film to the list and consider him adequately credited.

Emily Blunt’s acting is perfect, but we don’t get enough combat out of her.

Although she’s often wielding an awesome futuristic sword, she doesn’t dispatch many mimics with it. Probably due to the unfortunate PG-13 rating.

There’s a shot of Blunt as she gets up out of a yoga pose. As enjoyable as it is, it happens three or four times and it’s one too many.

Another undesirable moment occurs when Nance (played by Charlotte Riley) uses the phrase, “Could I trouble you for a glass of shut the hell up?”

It’s a jarring cliché and her phrasing’s not realistic. She’d choose a stronger curse word.

As irksome as it is, one can argue it’s a nod to the Nursing Home Orderly played by Ben Stiller in Happy Gilmore. This interpretation’s a stretch, but it’s preferable.

All in all, these are small scratches on a fresh finish; unworthy of dwelling upon.

What’s worthy of dwell is the ending. (Beware, a spoiler follows.)

Something doesn’t add up. According to screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie the filmmakers only solidified the ending while shooting was underway. Some of the backlash responds to the ‘happiness’ of the movie’s conclusion.

I’m more concerned with the pre-established rules of the fictive universe, and how the time reset could work in such a way on the mimics’ final day. There’s no precedent to suggest the time interval would increase upon the aliens’ destruction.

Again, this is neither here nor there.

Whichever way you slice it, Edge of Tomorrow is terrific.

I can’t wait for Edge of the Day After Tomorrow, where the mimics rise again and develop flight capabilities. Let’s get Blunt in jet-propelled boots, and give her a second sword, just in case.

One Hour Photo (R)

8 Stars

Oftentimes the culprit of misinterpretation is expectation.

I don’t care how burly, I’d grapple with a coal miner if I overheard spoiled details regarding The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.

Trailers are fun and all that, but time and again my theory’s proven: The less you know before seeing a film, the better.

One Hour Photo’s no exception.

Expect the unexpected.

Avoiding all synopses, an accurate prediction regarding a narrative arc is near impossible.

Since it’s a dramatic thriller, sinister behavior’s a sure thing. Perhaps you’ll find surrealistic mystery confusedly orbiting the central conflict.

Other than that, Fun Tower Koto unfolds in an unanticipated manner. Therefore, it’s difficult to draw correlatives without spoiling.

It’s written and directed by Mark Romanek; as of yet, the first in his two-feature career. The other is Never Let Me Go, released eight years later in 2010. I’ve never seen it and can’t speak to its quality, but judging by the current topic of discussion, it’s probably stylistic, clean-cut and quietly smart.

People seem to forget Robin Williams’s range as an acting talent. Aside from the voice of Genie in Aladdin, amongst a slew of other impressive roles, his achievements are featured prominently in Good Will Hunting and What Dreams May Come.

In Sun Power Moto Williams stars as Seymour “Sy” Parrish, a photo booth attendant with a suspicious proclivity.

As a viewer, the knot of tension is a toiling veil, billowing from the menacing compulsions presumably lurking beneath Sy’s well-meaning façade.

Connie Nielsen turns in an excellent performance as Nina Yorkin, a frequent customer of the one-hour photo development lab. Nielsen’s had a long career in the film-biz. Unfortunately at first glance, her cinematic history seems unremarkable.

Her most noteworthy role is that of Lucilla, Commodus’s sister in Gladiator. Now that you think about it, she’s very good in that, yes yes?

See how easily the notion’s misplaced?

Nielsen’s acting chops really shine through here, but her performance is easily forgettable in the midst of a confusing tale, daunting subject material and a powerhouse protagonist.

On a final note regarding casting, Gary Cole plays Bill Owens, the manager of Savmart. He’s excellent as (ironically) an antagonizing boss, but one of a much different sort than Lumbergh in Office Space. His motivations are varied, complicated and sympathetic.

Sy’s workplace is a satirical version of Wal-Mart located in a suburban mall, but the setting’s of minimal concern.

[Side Note: If you can find me a Wal-Mart that’s half as clean, organized or well-staffed as this Savmart, I’d…well, I’d never believe you.]

In Run Sour Risotto the scenery, the geological location, and the exact timeframe are almost inconsequential. The only necessary contextual reference is the plot’s unfolding upon the cusp of digital photography. Sy’s occupational necessity teeters on irrelevance.

There are two types of people that will enjoy this movie: Film buffs and psychology scholars. As a piece of commercial art, it’s impossible to ignore the story’s merit.

This is a tight, well-crafted ninety-five minute film. Priority lies with painting a clear picture of a character coping with a contemporary existential crisis, not with polishing the narrative veneer. Although the story’s told completely, it’s very dissimilar to traditional processes of character transformation.

But, should you see it?

Why not?

You may not enjoy it but it’s a visually gripping tale of moral ambiguity and establishes a relevant window into a particular lifestyle of modern insecurity.

So from now until the end of my review, I will be less careful about spoilers.

Smart subtlety and several fantastic sequences make for the most riveting visual imagery.

In particular the photo development process is masterfully shot and edited beautifully. The sequence shimmers as a fountain plume of knowledge, and a cornucopia of succulent eye candy.

Speaking of ocular capability, the disturbing nightmare remains a mystery to me. The scene’s certainly there for a reason; I simply can’t discern the purpose at present. But Romanek’s first feature’s such a sterile and meticulous craft I don’t need to revisit the material. Its purposeful placement is fairly supposed.

Nuance glimmers in the details, after all.

And that’s what I like about this movie; the hint of fairy dust twinkling amidst shadowy corners.

During an early moment, Nina comforts her son Jake (played by Dylan Smith) who voices concerns about Sy’s loneliness. Lying on his bed, Nina reassures him by suggesting they close their eyes and generate good thoughts on the photo attendant’s behalf.

While the scene unfolds, Jake fiddles with an ‘expanding sphere’ toy, and it resonates thematically with the larger narrative. As the boy expands and contracts the plastic mechanical star, their positive energy’s injected into the metaphysical ether. Isolated from Sy’s physical presence, the pair still generates good will for him, when nobody else is.

The cosmic microcosm resonates with the later discussion of Deepak Chopra and the expanding/contracting of the universe.

The character of Jake is of superior significance than he seems at first glance. So along with the previous example, another revelatory moment takes place when Sy walks the boy home from soccer practice.

In this scene, Nina’s son illustrates a mature level of even-handedness most adults can’t muster. Without a trace of judgment, Jake accepts Sy’s gesture of friendship. The boy welcomes the attendant’s company, just like he would a schoolmate.

Now. In the grand scheme, the moment before they part ways is crucial. Subjective audience members are acutely aware of the danger in Jake’s actions because of potential instability in Sy’s mental faculties. Stepping back and ignoring that bias reveals no immorality or cause for suspicion in the protagonist’s actions.

Up until Sy offers the action figure, he hasn’t technically committed a moral transgression. But Jake’s refusal of the gift draws a line in the existential sand. The boy’s commitment to honesty is of significantly less concern than the alternative implications.

In a way, this choice to decline is the catalyst allowing Sy’s ultimate redemption. The film culminates in a realm of moral obscurity; perhaps otherwise, that wouldn’t be the case.

The action figure represents an unspoken power shift. Instead of being two human beings standing on equal footing; Sy tempts the boy with an unachievable material gain. You might call it ‘forbidden fruit.’ No matter what the phrasing, a ‘gift’ still represents a tangible exchange.

And I’d also argue it shows Sy at his weakest. Luckily for him, Jake makes the correct decision on both their behalves.

A refined detail is the framed mirror with the reminder to ‘Check Your Smile’ in the Savmart locker room.

Even the means of self-evaluation, the lens through which Sy can inspect himself, lies in the shadow cast by the judgmental puppeteers of higher-tiered society.

There is one misleading scene and it’s probably the strongest sequence in the entire film. The reveal at the culmination of Sy’s mental fantasy is truly unnerving. In this veiled depiction, the filmmaker builds tension like a circus carpenter installing a tightrope.

I never do this but I’m going to cheat by parroting the conclusion of another reviewer.

Because, hey, it’s succinct.

Elaine Cassel concludes,“Movies could play a more productive role in explaining psychopathology if the sources of twisted behavior were explained realistically and compassionately, as they are here. One Hour Photo is a rewarding study of abnormal behavior and one that psychology students should appreciate, if not enjoy. It leaves us wondering, and caring, now that we know what’s wrong with Sy, what will happen to Sy.”

Brief, yeah?

Hopefully that clears up any remaining confusion.

I still can’t explain the unsettling nightmare.

But maybe I don’t need to understand.

Obscurity can keep some details.

Mulholland Drive (R)

8 Stars

This blue box has no bow.

Yes, my Proverbial Audience, if you watch Mulholland Drive, expect no packaged narratives.

It’s been about an hour, and the thought wheels are still rolling on this one, which is always a good sign.

There’s only one question to ask.

Are you willing to take the half hour afterward to find out what you saw?

If the answer’s no, rethink this one.

That being said, there are probably fans out there who’ve never looked into interpretations of the plot. I couldn’t live with myself, but there must be.

I’m alluding to the disjointed narrative woven through David Lynch’s writing and directing. His use of different shooting styles and camera angles is pretty amazing.

For some reason it has a very 90’s feel to it, despite its theatrical release in 2001.

The film runs a little too long and is thoroughly confusing. It’s not ‘intentional obfuscation for the sole purpose of confusing the audience.’ That’s misleading, and I don’t think it happens all that often.

For years, I would have argued the pointlessness in the ending of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I still contend that it’s an overall bore, and the dull slog is not worth the thoughtful and rather brilliant implications of the ending. It’s perplexing as all get out, but now that I’ve read about what Stanley was going for, I can appreciate the virtue of his intent.

Although I’m not a big fan of Blue Velvet, I appreciate what Lynch tries to do in his movies.

Even after understanding the common interpretations of the plot, there still remains a feeling like something’s missing. It’s very similar to how I felt after Blue Velvet, but my preference lies with Mulholland Drive.

MD was originally conceived as a television show, and this is where much of the plot falls apart. Lynch had to compact a narrative intended for an entire season into a feature film. Many question whether the final film can be classified as a complete narrative.

I wish I could answer that question. I’m not sure and have done too much research already. Perhaps I’ll get back on that some day.

I had to have the answer, and felt satisfied by it. I’m not necessarily ecstatic about the explanation but it works, and it’s fine; an original idea at the very least. I found the plot development compelling regardless.

Hey, I got a thing for elaborate high-stakes storytelling. I find it thought provoking and puzzling. I enjoy the whirlwind of disjointed moments, the coil and release of the tension spring.

I adore the chase for comprehension, the errant cuts, the inexplicable in the real, the terror and indecision. Keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat certainly counts for something.

Mulholland, I find, is reminiscent of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts from 1993. Except not nearly as boring.

It gives off a bit of a Pulp Fiction vibe (particularly in terms of the disjointed narrative).

I’m also reminded of Sharon Stone’s character in Basic Instinct with Laura Harring’s role as Rita. They’re both portraits of the typical femme fatale who sexually prey on their victims.

Naomi Watts is great in MD; she’s playing a difficult role here and executes it convincingly. Really, I mean, this is some tough stuff!

Overall, I enjoy Mulholland Drive. It’s ghostly, ethereal and compelling. The material’s gritty and tense, but befuddling.

Despite the incomplete narrative, Lynch offers his audience a thought provoking experience unlike any other.

Nonetheless, the story is mysterious and enticing, and if you like movies it’s worth a shot.

I’m finishing this review the following morning, and still thinking about it.

What does that say about the film as a whole?

Prisoners (R)

9 Stars

Suspense get you going? Dig thrills, do ya?

This flick’s got plenty of both.

I really enjoyed this film about kidnapping, and encouraged my parents to watch it about a week ago. I moseyed in about two-thirds the way through the film, when Hugh Jackman’s wielding a claw hammer and quivering with fury.

“What the hell are we watching?” my Dad asked from the edge of his seat.

“Yeah I know, it’s great, right!”

Love that sink scene. Think about how the theme of imprisonment relates to each character. How informed each party is, and in turn, the motivations that result.

Just from that little suggestion, you can tell you’re in for a quality picture.

For those who haven’t seen Prisoners: If you like great movies see this film.

Here’s what ‘great’ means. It means ‘great enough.’ If you leave Prisoners feeling genuine hatred, you’re being overly critical.

So check it out, but be careful of the spoilers below.

Hugh Jackman may be the best actor currently working in Hollywood. I’m biased because he’s been my number one favorite since X-Men (2000), but my dude’s quickly climbing the charts. He’s so prolific nowadays.

I’ve seen most his catalogue (except for Australia) and I stand by Swordfish and Van Helsing as great movies. I’ll argue to the death for either. I have no idea why their Rotten Tomatoes percentages are in the twenties. Baffles me, truly.

Anyway, my point is, Hugh Jackman delivers a spectacular performance as Keller Dover in this film. Keller’s a wildly compelling character with complex motivations.

Further acting prowess is displayed by his character’s wife, Gracie Dover, played by Maria Bello, who steers a powerful teary-eyed scene.

Viola Davis plays Nancy Birch, and also carries a tense scene without muttering a word of dialogue. She just delivers a long, dead stare.

Terrence Howard’s not my favorite, but he does a decent enough job here. I suppose I avoid giving him too much credit because I’ve heard some not so nice things about him.

He’s the second actor credited for Iron Man, after R.D.J. himself. And he was replaced by another black actor, Don Cheadle, after demanding too much money for the second installment in the series.

I didn’t even notice until well after 3.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki has a wildly compelling discussion with a priest, and ties together the film in a pleasing way. Jake’s rather talented, I feel like I don’t see enough of him.

Detective Loki’s shirt is always buttoned to his chin but he’s never wearing a tie, which drove me nuts until someone pointed out the tattoo on his neck. The only plot hole is the scene in which Gyllenhaal opens the trunks full of snakes. His character isn’t the type to leave the lids ajar, allowing the serpents’ escape.

Before moving on, I must mention that David Dastmalchian delivers as a more capable deranged man than the role he plays in The Dark Knight. He’s a solid actor, and I bet we’ll see more from him in the future.

Lot of powerful gazing goes on in this film. From Viola D.’s deadpan, to the stare-down between Jake and Paul Dano, you get some strong gawks. When Dano signs his release from prison, it gives me the chills.

By the way, P.D.’s phenomenal in this film. So creepy. The dog-walking scene’ll make your spine crawl.

An easily avoidable thought to take away from Prisoners is that Paul Dano’s character is, ultimately, the worst victim of all.

But that’s a reality on which I’d prefer not to dwell.

World War Z (PG-13)

10 Stars

Are they ever going to explain what happened during World Wars ‘A’ through ‘Y’?

Typically, I don’t watch movies more than once.

Probably because I’m anti-contrarian.

It’s why people think I’m a hero.

I’m kidding, but I generally avoid repeated viewings.

You might think this strange, but there are still plenty of winners waiting in my unseen ether.

This inventive new take on the zombie apocalypse grips you within the first ten minutes, and never relents.

Wawazee is one of my top five films of 2013.

I’m nearly positive the opening shot is in homage to Dawn of the Dead, but apparently am the only one who’s noticed.

Sure, the CGI’s not immaculate, but that’s nitpickery.

The pacing may slow down at moments, but even the dreamy Brad Pitt (as Gerry Lane) needs the occasional breather. But it doesn’t slow for me; I care throughout the snappy action and all the space between.

Besides. With such a well-rounded narrative unfolding around Mr. Pitt’s international adventures, the audience needs reminding that these great action scenes, take place within a well-thought-out story.

Anyhow. This film has the second best rating: PG-13.

It’s rare to find a movie that veils this deficiency so adequately.

The supporting cast is excellent. There are several characters you grow to love by the end of the film. Although none from Gerry’s immediate family, come to think of it.

Don’t be a square and turn your nose up at WWZ.

It’s not ‘just another zombie movie.’

It’s a wonderful film.

But spoilers follow; so if you haven’t seen it yet, tear your gaze from this wildly compelling review!

World War Z takes place in several settings across the Earth. Bradley’s pit stops begin after fleeing with his family from Philadelphia to Newark, NJ. Then he journeys alone onto Jerusalem, Wales and finally reunites with his family back in Nova Scotia.

The only real criticism I have is that even after two viewings, I’m not 100% certain why the Jurgen Warmbrunn (played by Ludi Boeken) character’s necessary to the plot.

More specifically, I’m confused about how his position as the ’12th’ man (or the one who must always disagree) on the Israeli council relates to the greater conflict. But honestly, I really don’t care; I’m sure there’s a reason I’m just not seeing.

I won’t go too in depth about the cast, but I think Daniella Kertesz’s performance as Segen, is spectacular.

Not to get too abstract here, but the scene where Gerry severs Segen’s hand, is one of those ‘magical cinematic moments.’ My best description of this emotional swell is ‘breathtaking,’ cliché as it is. But watching that scene I feel extreme tension, elation and a deep appreciation for the writing; all within a short moment.

James Badge Dale as Captain Speke delivers an exceptional performance as well. It gets a little dusty in the theater when his character says goodbye.

The scenes in the apartment complex, the two separate calamities on different runways, the chase through the streets of Jerusalem, the plane crash, the World Health Organization; all are so, so good.

By the way, I hear there’s going to be a sequel?

If so, you can count me in.

But we better find out about the other twenty-five World Wars.

Side Effects (R)

10 Stars

The word you’re looking for is ‘Captivation.’

It’s the concept everyone forgets when trying to articulate their reaction to a film.

But it’s the sole unifying factor for the viewing masses. It may be the single collective pursuit, the only aspect of movie-going everyone can agree upon.

We all seek captivation.

And Steven Soderbergh delivers it on a pallet-jack.

Side Effects is #3 on my ‘Best Films of 2013’ list.

It doesn’t get any better than this all-star cast. Rooney Mara and Catherine Zeta-Jones are two of my favorite actresses, and they both pull off stellar performances.

I know it’s been said before, but CZJ ages like wine.

And Rooney Mara, sheesh, that little firecracker can act.

Need it even be mentioned Channing Tatum and Jude Law were great as always?

The plot is not only timely, intricate and moving, it’s exhilarating. The characters are compelling, and the central conflicts are rather complex. It’s tough to say who makes the right or wrong decisions, and the ending pays off all the mystery and suspense in a satisfying manner.

It’ll keep you on the edge of your seat. And also raises questions about the evils of psychology, especially when intertwined with the business world.

This is a fantastic movie, and didn’t get its due last award season.

See this film! But if you haven’t, watch out, I’m going to spoil some things below.

I watched G.I. Joe: Retaliation a day before Side Effects, and this turned out to be a good thing. I was definitely not expecting the twist about a third the way thru.

To be honest, I think I was sadder to see him go the second time. Give me CT in a big starring role one of these days.

But speaking of sadness: I must be honest. When I’m watching a movie with a buddy and it gets the waterworks running, I can do a pretty good job of containing the outbreak.

Twice I was gotten by Miss Mara. When Roon-Dawg almost steps on the train tracks, and when she can’t contain herself at the party because her depression is so severe – I draw some sharp breaths.

Those two moments were so moving, and then to have her character do a complete turn around by the end; that’s some masterful filmmaking.

And how about that ending, huh?

What it should not do is detract from Mara’s portrayal of someone who is clinically depressed. She delivers a moving performance that deserves particular respect because our perception of her character undergoes several transformations.

All in all, the spectacular ending ties off what already was a spectacular movie, with a shiny new ribbon.

Can’t wait to see what Soderbergh takes on next!