Category Archives: Movies

Captain Marvel vs. The League of Evil Whining Man-babies– oh, and a review

Wherein there are minor spoilers.  Really, I don’t know how you can do it otherwise….

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In the toxic fever-swamp that is sci-fi/comic book fandom these days, it only takes one innocent remark to set off a tsunami of stupid.  So it was with Brie Larson, star of Captain Marvel, when she expressed a wish for more diversity in movie reviews.  This rather innocuous remark triggered a host of crying man-babies, mostly from the right of fandom, talking about how Larson was against men and how the film should be boycotted and how it was going to tank at the box-office and take the MCU and Marvel and Disney and maybe the planet with it.  To a large extent these are the same trolls that then intentionally set out to sabotage the Rotten Tomatoes ratings for the film as a way to poison the well, long before any of them had ever seen the movie.

Ha, ha, ha.

Even with an anticipated drop-off for the second weekend, Captain Marvel should easily make its money back in the very near future, considering that, as of today, Box Office Mojo shows it with a world-wide total earnings of about $550 million.   So much for that.

The sad thing is that this sort of whining political stupidity has become something of the new normal in fandom.  Between the Sad Puppies and Gamergate and the wholly unhinged reaction in some quarters to the The Last Jedi, blah, blah, blah, fans who just want to connect with good, enjoyable content have to negotiate a festering landscape populated by entirely unreasonable trolls who see left-wing, anti-man conspiracies everywhere.  These goombahs, of course, are merely a specific thread of the greater alt-right narrative distorting our public discourse and popular culture at the moment.  You wish you could just ignore them, but that’s rather like trying to ignore someone flicking a cigarette lighter in a room filled with flammable gas.  At some point you need to yell, “Knock it off!”, if only for your personal survival.

Whew– enough of that.  I would like to say a few words about the movie itself.  Somewhat at the risk of setting off more swamp-gas flares, but you can’t let the trolls silence you, either.

So, the 4-1-1, the bottom line, the skinny– Captain Marvel is a good movie.  Not a great movie, not Infinity War, or War and Peace, or Citizen Kane.  It’s a good, mid-rank Marvel movie that accomplishes the main thing it sets out to do– establish the character of Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel and help us understand why she’s going to be very, very important in Avengers: End Game  (yeah, new trailer, yippee! Ahem.).

It does so by starting out pretty much in media res, with Carol (called ‘Vers’) already on the Kree homeworld of Hala, already a part of the the Kree Starforce, but troubled by dreams of a possible former life she doesn’t remember.  From there she ends up the captive of a group of Skrulls, perpetual enemies of the Kree, and is taken to Earth, where she attempts to track down the Skrull infiltrators, while connecting with early editions of Nick Fury and Shield, who help her begin to piece together her past.  This leads her to a rather startling discovery that causes her to question what she has been told, and who she can trust.

On the whole, this story line works, but the first time I saw the film I thought its first half was off in terms of tone.  Danvers is not nearly as much a fish out of water on the primitive Earth of 1995 as I thought she should have been, and her relationship with Fury is a little too easygoing for a pair of people, one of whom is a spy and the other an ‘alien’ warrior, who have just met.  I was a little concerned that the movie wasn’t going to fulfill the minimum necessary requirements to make Carol the hero she needs to be for the final confrontation with Thanos in End Game.

But then there came a rather nifty mid-film twist, Carol gets her lost history filled in, and she realizes that she has been lied to and manipulated for the six years she has been gone from Earth.  This sets up a really satisfying climactic confrontation  in which Carol realizes her full power, and makes her the hero she needs to be.  By the way, do not skip out on the mid and post-credit scenes.  The mid-credit snippet is almost worth the price of admission by itself.

So, a slow start, but the film picks up and finishes pretty strong.  It doesn’t hit every note I would have preferred, and I would have handled the first half differently, but they aren’t paying little old (emphasis on the ‘old’) me to direct these films.  Which is, admittedly, probably a good thing.  Captain Marvel is not Infinity War, but neither is it Thor: The Dark World.  Which I still liked, but it did have issues.  Not all MCU movies are created equal, and I’m just fine with that.

There is one aspect of the film, however, that positively disappointed me– the way Fury loses his eye.  Lame.  Sorry, I was expecting more.

But, on the whole, go see the film.  It’s good, and it’s really about as solid a prologue for End Game as we could hope for.  I am really looking forward to seeing Brie Larson as Captain Marvel in that film, in ensemble with all the other great characters of the MCU, as they bring this story line to a thundering conclusion.  We live in glorious times, despite the trolls.

Later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Okay, I gotta do this– a quick and dirty review of “Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse”

 

Good film, see it.

Okay, maybe not that quick and dirty.  But first, as always….

***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS

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Okay, full disclosure– as a Marvel fan(atic) I am embarrassed to admit that this film wasn’t really even on my radar until about two weeks ago, when I finally noticed the trailer on YouTube.  I vaguely remember hearing something about it back when, but I don’t pay attention to a lot of animation these days because so much of it is dreadful.  The upshot is that I was trundling along, mostly minding my own misery, in what I thought was the gray wasteland between Infinity War and Captain Marvel, when suddenly, boom!, this trailer smacks me right between the eyes– and suddenly the wasteland looked a little less gray.

Okay, a lot less.

Another disclosure– I have not kept up very well with the ever-expanding Marvel comic book multiverse in recent years.  In fact, the only comic I have purchased with regularity since about 2000 has been Rat Queens, and even that has tailed off lately.  I was vaguely aware of Miles Morales as an alternate Spider-man, but I was totally unaware that Gwen Stacy had been given her own turn as Spider-woman, and the idea caught me by surprise and thrilled me to death.  Yeah, I’m one of those romantic cupcakes who never got over Gwen’s death in the comic book, blah, blah, blah, so sue me.  It’s enough to say that the moment I saw the trailer, quite aside from all the other fascinating tidbits it offered, I was instantly on-board and ready to investigate this movie.

And, boy, am I glad I did.  Basically Miles Morales’ origin story as Spider-man in his reality, the movie also manages to weld together other Spideys from other realities into a coherent story about loss, friendship, love and becoming who you need to become, all in the face of a villain (a version of Kingpin far removed from Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of the character in Netflix’s Daredevil) who is maniacal, but possessed of an understandable, if misguided, motivation.  I often feel animated films skimp characterization, but this time, nope.  This movie is chiefly about character, and it is so very well written that I don’t think I detected a false note anywhere.

At the same time, on another level, it leaves me flummoxed.  How can one film be so serious and silly at the same time, often with the same characters in the same scene?  I mean, it has a cartoon (think Looney Tunes) Spidey pig hitting villains over the head with a giant mallet, and not only does it work in the midst of a completely intense battle, people in the theater I was in cheered.  Somehow the writers  (Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman) manage to blend pathos, off-the-wall humor, asides that very nearly break the fourth wall, intense struggle and loss and battles in which it is not at all clear all the good guys are going to survive, into a seamless whole in which the contrasting tones not only do not jar us out of our suspension of disbelief, they reinforce and invigorate each other.  It leaves me scratching my head.  I don’t know how they did it, but I like it.

Part of that off-the-wall/serious hybridization is the sheer look of the movie, which is bright, highly-colored, sharp and full of elements drawn directly from comic-books, such as little (or not so little) internal dialogue balloons, which might have seemed pretentious, or flat-out stupid, in other hands, but which work here.  I usually prefer my movies straight-forward and realistic, even my animation, but somehow this time around the comic-book elements worked.  Again, it is a mystery to me how, but I’m just going to go with it.

Other online reviewers have already pointed out that Spider-verse accomplishes what Justice League could not do last year– kick-start a superhero franchise in one fell swoop, and I won’t belabor a point that’s not original with me.  More incisive observers than I will have to parse out why one super-hero kick-start works, and another doesn’t.  All I know is, me like Spider-verseJustice League, ugh.

And now, in no particular order, some random notes–

  1. One of the big reveals in the movie, not at all hinted at in the trailer, was this universe’s Doc Ock, who is a woman, Dr. Oliva Octavius.  Her gender does nothing to reduce her menace.
  2. Having said that, I’m worried that I find this Doc Ock kinda, well, hot.  I guess I like intellectual women…?
  3. I like this universe’s Aunt May, too, although not for the same reasons.  All-too-often the Aunt May of the comic-books was Peter’s supportive mother figure.  This Aunt May is that, but a damn sight more, too.
  4. When Gwen Stacy is on the screen I can’t take my eyes off her.  Not because the character is pretty (although she is– and, no, I’m not being creepy), but because I get pretty badly verklempt about Gwen most days (Emma Stone in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, by the way, broke my heart all over again), and so I can’t get enough of a Gwen Stacy who is alive and kicking ass.  I will stand in line for her movie, if and when it comes out.  And I don’t think I’m the only one.
  5. The only downside of this film for me is perhaps the fact that I have now had the theme song of the original animated series stuck in my head for five days.  Ow….
  6. I mentioned that all the characters are well-drawn, but Miles, of course, takes center-stage, and I have hand out kudos again to the writers who crafted a kid who is utterly believable as a particular kid, with all the usual kid worries, suddenly caught up in things that grown men and women would have trouble dealing with.  This, of course, has been the whole theme of Spider-man since its inception, and Lord and Rothman’s take on it is excellent.

I don’t think I’m going to say much more, although there are things I haven’t revealed about the story, despite my spoiler warnings.  I will sum up by saying that I am pleased to discover, in an age of over-hype and media campaigns that would put the planning for D-Day to shame, we can still be surprised by a film that comes out of nowhere and knocks us on our butts.  And, yeah, the wait for Captain Marvel and Avengers: End Game is now just a little more tolerable.

See this movie.

‘Nuff said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rogue One– A review

Let’s get this out of the way first–

***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***

So, I held off seeing Rogue One for two whole weeks for several reasons– I hate opening night crowds, I’ve spent the last two weeks helping support a family member who’s been in the hospital, and because, being the spoiler-whore I am, I knew it ended on what might possibly be a real downer, and I knew that I didn’t need any extra downers in my life at the moment.

At least regarding the last item I needn’t have worried.  Rogue One does end with all the good guys, including leads Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), dying in a terminal shootout/holocaust with the Empire on the planet Scarif, but it’s the sort of massacre that appeals to me, where the heroes have won although they give their lives in the attempt.  In this instance, they have secured the plans to the Death Star of Episode IV- A New Hope and transmitted them to the rebels, which means that the end of Rogue One is meant to segue directly into the opening of Episode IV, with perhaps the lapse of only a few minutes story time.

The film, in my quite biased opinion, does most everything pretty well.  It has a darker, grittier tone than most of the other Star Wars films; the Empire has the galaxy by the throat and is about to permanently tighten its grip.  The rebel Alliance is on the run, fractured and riven by divisions and conflicting counsels.  You’re not entirely sure who the good guys are; Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera is the paranoid leader of a splinter group too radical for the other rebels, and some Alliance members are willing do things in the name of the Rebellion that are morally dodgy, at best; Cassian, for example, summarily kills an informant in the first moments of the film to keep him out of Imperial hands.

The story bounces from world to world, shifting between Rebel and Imperial viewpoints, as the rebels get wind of the Death Star and desperately try to find clues as to its weaknesses.  Rook, defecting, delivers a message from Jyn’s father, Galen Erso, an engineer the Empire has forced to work on the Death Star, who has built a vulnerability into its structure.  In the end, Jyn and Cassian lead a desperate group of volunteers to the planet Scarif, where the plans for the Death Star are kept.  There ensues one hellacious ground and space battle, as the Rebel fleet joins in and Jyn, Cassian and the droid K2SO try to get the plans.  In the end, the plans are secured and transmitted to the rebels just before the Death Star nukes the Empire’s own base in a vain attempt to keep the information safe.

All the flim’s performances are good, but it’s some of the supporting characters who are the best.  Jyn and Cassian are not quite as engaging or sympathetic as we might want; on the other hand, you find yourself rooting pretty hard for the blind Force monk Chirrut Îmwe (Donny Yen) and his buddy Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang); the defecting Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) is someone we watch become a hero in his own right as he overcomes his fear.  The reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, is fun, light-years away from the obsequious C3PO, and has his own hero moment toward the end of the film.

All-in-all, the film captures the desperate struggle of the rebels against the overwhelming power of the Empire.  ‘Rag-tag’ is pretty apt for these guys, who only agree on a united course of action when it is forced on them.  The battles are solid action pieces, and the power of the Death Star, even when only employed on low power against individual targets on planet surfaces, is jaw-dropping.

There are problems.  The connection the end of the film makes with the beginning of A New Hope is less than perfect in terms of continuity.  In Episode IV  when Leia confronts Vader for the first time she pretends that her ship is on a diplomatic mission; Rogue One’s ending makes that pretense unsustainable (or even nonsensical), as her ship is shown detaching from the crippled rebel flagship and fleeing, as Vader watches.  Episode IV’s screen-crawl states the rebels have won their first victory against the Empire; if the battle over Scarif is a rebel victory it sure looks Pyrrhic;  all of the ground forces were lost, and what looked to be a good portion of the space fleet– not a good way to start a civil war.

And then there are the CGI images for the Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia.  Personally I think I was able to suspend my disbelief enough that they didn’t throw me, but they were odd, particularly Leia’s; for the brief moment we see her face, she kinda looks like an anime Kewpie Doll.  It’s strange how the images turned out, especially as a lot of effort was expended to get them right, particularly Tarkin’s (Peter Cushing).

On the whole, though, the film works, and works well.  This may be the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back.  Certainly it leaves the prequels and The Force Awakens in the dust.  This is the first of a projected set of “anthology” films about different characters and situations in the extended cinematic Star Wars universe that are not part of the main trilogies.  As this expansion proceeds, we are liable to get both good and bad films .  Rogue One, thankfully, starts the anthology off right.

 

 

Carrie Fisher, 1956 – 2016

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© Lucasfilm Ltd.

This just sucks.

I’m with Anna….

John Scalzi said it best.

She and I were not far apart in age, and I am feeling my mortality now.  The great thing about Carrie, though, was how much she accomplished while she was here.  We should all do half as much.

RIP, Carrie.

Two films looming huge on my horizon, I mean, HUGE!….

Oh, boy, oh, boy, oh, boy—

I mean, holy frack, just this little peek left me alternately giggling and gibbering with delight.  If all else fails, I have at least one reason to live until May next year.

On a completely different note–

This movie wasn’t even on my radar until I spotted its trailer on IMDB.  Oh, my God, what a grim looking tale, perhaps worse, on a personal scale,than the imagined alternate future in Days of Future Past.  Here’s the premise from Wikipedia

Set in 2024, Logan and Professor Charles Xavier must cope with the loss of the X-Men at the hands of a corporation led by Nathaniel Essex. With Logan’s healing abilities slowly fading and Xavier’s Alzheimer’s hampering his memory, Logan must defeat Essex with the help of a young girl named Laura Kinney, a female clone of Wolverine.

There could be some weeping involved here.  Just saying.  Oh, and whoever put this trailer to Johnny Cash’s Hurt— genius.

According to the Wikipedia article this should be Hugh Jackman’s last outing as Wolverine, not surprising as he’s been playing the character for about fifteen years.  Not sure anybody can take over after Jackman, but then I said the same thing about the Joker after Heath Ledger, and then Jared Leto came along.

All the same, it looks as if Marvel/Disney is ringing down the curtain on this incarnation of the X-Men, and Wolverine.  An era is passing.  I have no idea what comes after this, particularly as there are so many different alternate versions of the team in the comics, and, of course, Disney has shown it is not bound by previously established canon with the new Star Wars movies.  However, at the very least, they have my attention.

 

Five awesome movie scenes

My personal taste in film runs largely, although not exclusively, to the epic and the heroic, with largely dollops of the tragic and the sort of romance in which true loves die happy because they’re together. After I see films like Les Miserables they generally have to carry me out on a stretcher (it’s not just the film, of course– the stage production does the same thing to me, and I’ve seen it live three times. My daughter finds it soo embarrassing that her father has to bring a full box of kleenex with him to the theater).

Individual movie scenes that kill me with epicness have certain common attributes– a desperate struggle against long odds, someone you want to see succeed (or at least survive) and the ticking clock of looming disaster. Usually for maximum effect you need some really effective music. For extra points, throw in children in jeopardy.

Here’s five scenes from five very different films I find really riveting. NOTE: inevitably each of these scenes involve spoilers. Be warned.

1. From the 2009 J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek, the opening scene in which James Kirk’s father sacrifices himself to save his wife and soon-to-be-born son–

This is a wonderfully effective scene, scoring high because it’s basically a father defending his family and sacrificing himself to save them.  Does me in every time.

2. From Captain America: The First Avenger, here is the climactic scene where Cap (Chris Evans) has to intentionally crash the Hydra flying wing into the Arctic ice-cap to save New York City, while talking on the radio with his true love, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).

Cap must not only sacrifice his own life in this scene, but also his chance for happiness with Peggy, which brings a poignancy to the interchange between them, and which has continued to resonant through the subsequent Captain America and Avenger films.

3. From the 1993 film Gettysburg, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s downhill bayonet charge at Little Round Top, which by itself just might have saved the Union–

Whether Chamberlain actually saved the Union is a matter of debate, but he knew his position was vital (the utter left flank of the Union Army), and he and his men held the position with incredible courage and endurance.

4. From the 1964 film Zulu, the famous ‘Men of Harlech’ scene–

Unfortunately, unlike Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s charge at Little Round Top, this scene never happened, at least as far the singing is concerned.  But the film captures the spirit of the true story of a tiny force who held off an overwhelming enemy through grit and good tactics.

5. From Return of the Jedi— a fan edit/compilation of the climactic confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader, with the Emperor egging them on. Most particularly, watch the section from 3:17 to 3:53 and listen to the soundtrack .  Those thirty-six seconds have more tragic drama in them than many movies have in their entire running time.

The interesting aspect of this scene is that Luke is trying to save not only Anakin Skywalker from the dark side, but also his sister, and, ultimately, himself– and, in the end, he does it by not fighting.  A nice twist on the classic climactic confrontation between the hero and the villain.

Each of these scenes contain attributes I hope my own writing at least occasionally captures.  I like stories and films in which something genuine is at stake, and the protagonists have to give of themselves to protect or rescue it.  In one way or another, I’m not sure why you would make a movie that did not have this sort of tension at its core, but they get made (e.g., in my biased opinion, American Hustle).  But I try not to dwell on such creations– there are plenty of films out there that spark my imagination and touch my heart.  I focus on them.

Later.

 

Three upcoming movies that have my attention

Now that we’re past the hysteria and hoopla around Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I thought I would share some thoughts on three upcoming movies that have grabbed my attention.  In no particular order–

Suicide Squad

Okay, I am at least interested–

Harley Quinn and Deadshot and the Joker (in what may be an even more freakish interpretation, by Jared Leto, than Heath Ledger’s) all in one film– and with Batman (Ben Affleck), too.  It looks like a full house of crazies.

Of course, it is entirely possible that for me Bohemian Rhapsody and Freddie Mercury are affecting my emotional reaction to this trailer.  You could put Bohemian Rhapsody on a video of a dripping faucet and I’d watch it.

Interestingly, the Comic-con trailer for this same movie has a completely different feel, taking a much more serious and dramatic– maybe even tragic– tone.  The producers might want to figure out their marketing approach to this product.  Remember what happened to John Carter.  Just saying.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

If this film maintains the serious tone of Man of Steel, it will hit the ground– or the screen– with an excellent head-start, as far as I’m concerned.  That approach was one of the best things about Man of Steel, lifting me up and over some irritating flaws in the story logic.  I’ve never been a big fan of the Justice League, but the trio of Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman is intrinsically interesting.  I will be interested in seeing how the film handles the initial conflict between Superman and Batman (rather a traditional element in their respective origin stories) and how their friendship then grows to form the League’s foundation.  And, I have to admit, Wonder Woman’s reveal in this trailer is pretty fun.

Captain America: Civil War

Of these three movies, this is the one I am the most jazzed about.  I have become a serious fan of Captain America as portrayed by Chris Evans in Marvel’s Captain America and Avengers movies.  The whole series of interconnected films that comprise the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a creative stroke of genius, in my biased opinion, the brainchild of fans in positions of power, such as Kevin Feige (and now DC is playing serious catch-up with Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad).  It is a great storytelling gimmick and should pay dividends for Marvel and Disney for years to come, even if the quality of the individual films varies (Age of Ultron, for example).

I was never a great fan of Captain America in the comics (for years I was obsessed with the X-Men), but Chris Evans’ portrayal of Cap as a decent regular guy who acquires extraordinary powers and then must cope with being displaced in time is one of the best and most consistent character arcs in the whole MCU.  As long as Evans plays the role I will be watching with interest.

On the flip-side, there are upcoming movies that are not particularly on my must-see list–

X-Men: Apocalypse– Despite my deep and long-lasting affection for the X-Men, I’ve found the last several movies disappointing, despite the presence of great actors like Jennifer Lawrence.  After Days of Future Past apparently rebooted the series I have some hope, but I’m going to approach Apocalypse with caution.

Deadpool– hmm…no.  Not a fan, despite the presence of certain X-Men.  Sorry. (Oh, and the trailer’s kinda gory, fyi).

Warcraft– really uncertain about this one, and rather severely disappointed by the look of the trailer.  The live action and the CGI characters do not look as if they were matched up very well. I’ve been waiting for a World of Warcraft movie, and now that it’s here it looks…kinda lame, actually.  Dang.

Gods of Egypt– please.  Overwrought CGI and some sort of battle of the gods that looks like a cheap video-game. No, thank you.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows– oh, hell no.

 

 

 

 

“Edge of Tomorrow”- a review of pros and cons…or an old man’s picky rant….

When the Tom Cruise action vehicle Edge of Tomorrow opened last year, I was in no rush to see it. I’m not a big Tom Cruise fan, and word-of-mouth seemed to indicate the film wasn’t particularly well-executed. It subsequently did not perform very well at the box-office, and the film more-or-less dropped off my radar.

Fast-forward to this week. While browsing the DVD shelves of the public library I came across a copy of the movie. I thought what the heck, it worked for John Carter, and checked it out.

And I am glad I did, because that meant I didn’t have to pay for the movie.

Actually, that’s not wholly fair. The movie has some very good parts– quite a number, in fact. The problem seems to be that they are more than counter-balanced by things I consider net negatives. So much so, in fact, that I am dispensing with my normal review format and presenting my thoughts as pros and cons, which will allow me to praise the good bits and descant upon the bad.

But before we begin–

SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***

Pro: The premise is interesting– an alien race has invaded the Earth, overrunning most of Europe. The remaining nations of humanity band together to crush the aliens, inspired by an apparent initial victory. A major assault from England to France is planned. Unfortunately, the aliens have other plans.

Con: Tom Cruise’s character, Cage, an American officer who is basically just a PR front man. He is also an abject coward who literally tries to run away from battle. Perhaps this con is a little unfair, because it’s clear that we are meant to despise Cage, and so appreciate his redemption. Perhaps I would have bought it more readily if someone other than Cruise had played the role.

The assault goes badly, badly wrong. During the battle, Cage manages to kill a rare sort of alien. Bathed in the creature’s blood, he dies and finds himself returned to the previous day, fully aware of what has happened. He then loops through the same day, dying over and over again, as he slowly realizes he has to find a way to break the time-loop and beat the aliens.

Pro: Emily Blunt as Rita, a hardened soldier whose performance in the first human victory is held up as a major inspiration. She hides a secret, though– for a time she was also trapped in a time loop, like Cage. In the process she discovered that this is an ability the aliens possess, which they use to their advantage. Unless she and Cage can use that ability, now passed on to Cage, to figure out the hiding place of the Omega– the ruling hive mind of the invaders– and destroy it, the aliens will win. Blunt is one of the movie’s very brightest spots. She could have carried the film all by herself (hello, Hollywood, get a clue…).

Con: Tom Cruise. I mentioned this already, right?

Pro: You get to see Tom Cruise die over and over again.

Con: Unfortunately, you have to watch Emily Blunt die over and over again as well, which is a whole other basket of squirmy aliens.

Pro: Bill Paxton, as a loquacious master sergeant. Master Sergeant Farell is cheerfully poetic, in a blood-thirsty way. Paxton was obviously having a lot of fun with this role.

Con: Brits doing American accents. Why is it some, often very fine, British actors just can’t do ‘Murican? It puzzles the crap out of me, especially when they’re trying to do a Southern accent. Nails on a blackboard would be sweet by comparison.

Pro: I liked the powered exo-skeletons the soldiers are equipped with. They look very much like what I think a first-generation powered battle mechanism would look like.

Con: I hated the powered exo-skeletons the soldiers are equipped with, precisely because they resemble first-generation devices. It’s a story logic thingie– yeah, you can mounted an array of weapons on them, but they are slow and clunky (moving in them the soldiers look like they’ve just come down with a sudden misery in the bowels), and I would think that they would be more of a hindrance than an asset in an assault situation.

Con: Why in the name of heated Cheez Whiz are the Earthlings assaulting across what I presume are the beaches of France in the first place, as if it were 1944 all over again? Exactly where the enemy would have their strongest defenses (closest to the English advance bases)? Haven’t these people heard of “vertical envelopment” and “hitting them where they ain’t”?

I will now pause for a moment to dilate upon one of my pet peeves– the fact that too many people in Hollywood have no frigging clue how the military works. Everything from strategy down to nitpicking details like saluting and haircuts gets screwed up. For the love of Almighty God, even Vanessa Redgrave, who’s like the Mount Rushmore of British actors, absolutely flubbed her salute of Ralph Fiennes in Coriolanus. As for Edge of Tomorrow, was the director (Doug Liman) too scared of Tom Cruise to make him get a military haircut? Whatever the reason, Cruise’s shaggy thatch bugged me through the whole movie.

Okay, mini-rant over. Having said that–

Pro: the action in the assault, which we see over and over again as Cruise’s character relives it, is just as frantic and confused and horrible as a massive assault going wrong would be.

Con: the fact that we see nothing– I mean, nothing— from the aliens’ point-of-view. There is no communication between the besieged Earthlings and the invaders. We have no understanding of what the aliens are about or why they are doing what they are doing. Even Independence Day did a better job of that, with the telepathic interplay between the President and the alien prisoner (and, strange as it is, I enjoyed Independence Day more than I did Edge of Tomorrow, despite the former film’s horrifying and obvious cinematic flaws. Funny how that works…). The aliens in Edge of Tomorrow are just there as a monolithic threat. They are not characters in the story. For me, this is a net negative.

Pro: the production values of the movie are excellent, and, as far as it goes, Liman’s handling of the Groundhog Day/time loop plot device is pretty deft. Cage and Rita struggle with it and are forced to change directions a couple of times as they figure out the aliens and what has to be done.

Con: having said that, I kept expecting the revelation of an additional plot layer to the movie, perhaps a treasonous collaboration between Earthlings and aliens, perhaps something going on with the Earth forces commander, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson). One or two plot points didn’t quite click, such as Brigham’s insistence on sending Cage, a useless PR man, into combat. It was almost as if Brigham had some darker purpose, some motive for getting rid of Cage, but no additional plot twist ever made sense of that action. I kept waiting for another shoe to drop, and it never did. Director’s cut…?

Con: the biggest one of all, the frustrating, story-negating ending. At the climax, when Rita has distracted the aliens at the cost of her own life, so that Cage can dive into the deep pool in the lower stories of the Louvre and blow up the Omega, if looks as if humanity has been saved by the sacrifice of both our heroes. But apparently, as Cage is drifting in the water, the last moments of his life flickering away, he is enveloped by the Omega’s blood/ichor/Super Sauce, and thereby time-looped back to a point in time before Brigham orders him into combat, but with the benefit that the aliens have still been wiped out by the death of Omega. Victory bells are ringing, humanity is saved, the suicidal assault doesn’t happen, and Rita can leave the military behind, go into acting and play Queen Victoria and the Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods, and all is right with the world.

Which really, really grates on me. The problem with this ending is that it is, effectively, a story in which nothing changes, or, to put it another way, in which there is no necessary sacrifice that brings about the resolution. At the very least I expected Cage or Rita to die heroically and stay dead, despite the time-loop, as the price to be paid for saving humanity. As it is, there is no net death or sacrifice, and the victory seems empty as a result. The only real change is that Cage is no longer a cowardly bean-bag, but for me that’s not enough to sustain an entire movie. To me the movie’s happy ending feels false and unearned. Almost by itself it kills the movie for me.

So, in sum, Edge of Tomorrow is a movie that does a lot of things right, but which left me dissatisfied. Now, it appears many critics disagree with me, so it is entirely possible that I am just too damn picky. Certainly, if a director’s cut ever comes out I would be willing to revisit the movie and take a fresh look at it.

Especially if they CGI in a proper haircut for Cruise….

Later.

Pixar’s “Inside Out”– a brief review….

This past weekend I saw Pixar’s Inside Out

**SOME MILD SPOILERS– NOT REALLY BAD AT ALL, BY MY STANDARDS**

Sometimes I see a film and it takes me some time to integrate what I have seen. Such is the case with Inside Out— there is a lot going here, and I needed a few days to figure it out. Snap judgments are not my strong suit.

Part of the problem is that this sort of allegorical adventure has never been quite my cup of tea– perhaps not surprising in someone who thinks Aliens is close to the acme of film-making. Inside Out reminds me a bit of Alice in Wonderland, another allegorical fantasy I have never really cottoned to.

That’s probably unfair, as Alice in Wonderland was probably not at all an influence on director Peter Docter. Inside Out has a lot in common with his previous work (Monsters, Inc., Up, etc.), in that it is inventive, funny and fast-paced (in fact, pay attention, because some important stuff goes by pretty quickly), with many little touches that bring the film to life (the Mind Workers are a hoot). But it also has the sort of emotional depth we saw most particularly in the silent prologue of Up— a wisdom about the ups-and-downs of life and how things don’t always work out the way you expect.

The central allegory of the movie is that five core emotions– Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear, and Sadness, all personified in the movie by different characters– represent the controlling aspects of our mind and personality. The movie mostly occurs in the mind of 11-year-old Riley Anderson (although we get often hilarious glimpses inside the heads of other people along the way), who has just moved from Minnesota to San Francisco with her parents, and who is not happy about the change. The problem is that Joy, who has largely been the emotion in charge all of Riley’s life, doesn’t want to allow Sadness to play a role in this transition– and thereupon hangs the tale, as Riley’s emotions fall in to conflict, things become discombobulated, and Sadness and Joy are accidentally thrown out of “Headquarters” (Riley’s consciousness). They then have to undertake an epic journey through Riley’s personality and memories to get back to Headquarters. In the end, balance is restored as Riley’s emotions are reintegrated with deeper empathy and a restored sense of self– even though the emotions are puzzled by the big, red button on their new control console that reads “PUBERTY” (as obvious a set up for a sequel as Darth Vader’s escape at the end of A New Hope).

I will not spoil the movie more than that. I have a few quibbles about one or two pieces of business in the film, but they are just that, quibbles. Suffice to say that it is imaginative, funny and loaded with insights into how human beings are put together, how we grow and become fully realized individuals. Personally, I am looking forward to see it again, and soon. Recommended.

Jurassic World– Oh my GOD, didn’t these people see the first three films!?

I went to see Jurassic World today–

SPOILERS****SPOILERS****SPOILERS****SPOILERS****SPOILERS***

I held off seeing it the first week because I didn’t want to be crushed in the mob that broke the record for a first weekend opening, and because of a certain amount of caution based on what appeared to be mixed reviews. Reports that the action was well-handled in general, though, enticed me into the theater today.

The movie is explicitly a sequel to the original Jurassic Park series, and there are numerous references in the film to John Hammond and the first attempt at a dinosaur park. The original visitor center, or its ruins, play a prominent role in the action of the movie’s mid-section. Along with the references to the events of the previous movies, though, comes the looming shadow of the casualties of the previous attempts to wrangle dinos.

As in the previous films, the action takes place on a Central American island, Isla Nublar, which has to be Spanish for “Island of Niblets”. In typical movie fashion, the corporation that owns the park, InGen, is up to no good, using the high-tech park as a front for an evil genetic engineering project. The park’s chief operation officer, the job-obsessed Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), is unaware of this agenda as she prepares to debut a new, hybrid dinosaur called Indominus rex, a bid to keep park attendance and revenues high (note: no surprise, this is a very bad idea). She is too busy to greet her two nephews, Zach and Gray, who have been sent to the park while their parents work through a divorce. Unsurprisingly, when all hell breaks loose, Zach and Gray will be the MacGuffins in need of rescue.

Meanwhile, Owen (Chris Pratt), is working in another location of the island on a project involving four velociraptors, with whom he has established himself as their pack “alpha”. InGen honcho Hoskins reveals the project is aimed at weaponizing the velociraptors, an idea Owen resents.

Before he can do anything about it, though, Claire comes to him. She has concerns regarding the new hybrid’s enclosure and she wants his assessment of its safety. The two of them have history, but their differing styles (corporate button-down vs. motorcycle-riding dinosaur-whisperer) killed their first attempt to connect.

Owen goes to Indominus’ enclosure, but it appears that the hybrid has escaped. Owen and two park workers enter what they think is an empty enclosure, but it’s a ruse– the wily critter has tricked them within reach of its claws. Mayhem ensues– Owen survives (by employing a hasty but rather nifty bit of animal psychology), but Indominus escapes.

The rest of the movie is basically InGen’s increasingly desperate attempts to first contain, and then to kill, Indominus, which, in the typical manner of action movies, goes from bad to awful to disastrous to absolutely catastrophic. Everything the park officials and InGen do just makes the situation worse. The body count mounts, while shady InGen operatives remove embryos of other genetically modified critters from the park in order to keep their illicit weapons project alive (and probably set up the next movie).

I won’t spoil much more of the film, especially the twist in the final, epic battle with Indominus. In many ways it is basic action movie stuff, with a corporation as the villain (zeitgeist, anybody?), deploying surly flunkies who bump against the colors-outside-lines hero, and the love interest who learns to value the lives of her nephews over her job and re-connects with the hero. The other emotional turns in the film are pretty standard, as well, such as the parents’ divorce and the older brother not really paying attention to the dino-obsessed younger, until Indominus tries to chomp down on them, whereupon the two re-bond in the effort to avoid becoming lunch.

Having said that, in general the movie works pretty well. The action kept me engaged. For me the critical test of an action movie is whether I, at any point, start to disbelieve the action– if I start to say “wait a minute, that’s lame/overblown/unbelievable…”, then the flick, for me, is doomed. I am happy to report that I had no such moments– given the movie’s premises and setup, the action flowed pretty logically and believably from one disaster to the next. Once or twice I questioned why a character zigged instead of zagged, but the only aspect of the film that really challenged my suspension of disbelief was Claire’s ability to run cross-country in high heels.

It helps that Chris Pratt is basically believable as Owen– he seems comfortable in the role, a working guy who just happens to work with dinosaurs. Pratt is funny when it’s called for and does his hero thing without posturing. In the wake of Guardians of the Galaxy and now this film, he’s well on his way to joining a select band of brothers in my favorite movie actors clubhouse (and, yeah, I can see him in the fedora).

It also helps that Indominus was, for me, truly huge and menacing. When it bursts out of its enclosure, or the forest in pursuit of the brothers, the tiny, helpless primate in me wanted to climb a tree. This movie, like the first Jurassic Park, would not work without a sufficiently terrible lizard. Indominus fits the bill.

On the whole, I give the film three and a half frozen dino embryos– it doesn’t carry the impact of the first movie (and how many sequels do? Aside from Aliens, I mean), but it stands on its own as a pretty good action film, and heads-and-shoulders above the second and third Jurassic Park movies. Recommended.

Note: I don’t usual do back-to-back reviews of current movies, but I am already down to see Inside Out tomorrow, and if the reviews are any indication, I will probably have something to say about it. Stay tuned.