Edge of Tomorrow

A few months back, Tom Cruise starred in Oblivion, which was a collection of science fiction ideas arranged precariously in a single plot alongside beautiful production design.  I liked it a lot but it seems to have left a lukewarm impression on most viewers. Undeterred, Tom now appears in Edge of Tomorrow, which is a collection of science fiction ideas arranged precariously in a single plot alongside beautiful production design. If this proves anything, it’s that Tom Cruise isn’t afraid of repeating himself in a bid to get things exactly right.

Corporal Hudson lives

Corporal Hudson lives

In a not-at-all contrived way, that brings me to the plot of Edge of Tomorrow. Our hero is a smug Army PR man who is forced by an unlikely bit of logic to join an assault on the Normandy beaches to fight off alien tentacled hordes.  (The movie was released on D-Day in the UK, and surely I can’t be alone in wondering if this oddball tribute might be viewed as a bit tasteless by the few remaining veterans of that day?) Regardless, this is Hollywood, so Tom concentrates vainly on trying to weasel out, before being given one day to train. This wouldn’t be too bad if he was getting used to a firing a gun, but the weapon of choice is a full-body armoured suit with rocket launchers and lots of heavy bits attached. To add to his pain, Bill Paxton plays the sergeant responsible for knocking him into shape. Now this is a really smart bit of casting, not only echoing Paxton’s legendary scenes in Aliens, but also undercutting the military jargon and gung-ho attitude taken as de-facto these days. Paxton seems to be having a bit of a career renaissance and this part plays to his strengths perfectly, going from bull-headed wisecracks to complete puzzlement and adding some much-needed humour to the movie.

After training, Cruise is pitched into a Saving Private Ryan type calamity alongside a bunch of stereotypes of assorted nationalities, and is summarily killed, before waking up in a Groundhog Day situation, repeating the same disaster over and over again until he learns from his experiences, drops the smooth veneer and figures out a way to kills the Boss Alien.

You’ll have noticed two things: first, that Tom is playing a smug jerk (and does it really well), thus preempting the often-heard criticism from people who can’t tell reality from fiction. Second, the movie is choosing its influences from a wider range of genres than Oblivion, giving it a chance to appeal to more mainstream audiences. The movie’s also clever enouugh to style itself as a video game, and this gives a warm glow to anyone under 55 who is used to returning to the last saved game with monotonous regularity.

ALL YOU NEED IS KILL

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The whole first half of the movie is as entertaining as anything you’ll see this year, keeping the plot flying along and sanitising the slightly morbid central idea with clever dialogue and black humour. Emily Blunt also appears as a battlefield heroine and the only person who believes Tom mainly because she’s had the same experience. I’ve never really like her before but she’s terrific here, which is just as well as the whole love story aspect could have killed the movie off.  And I was dreading being stuck in an other time loop with an acrtress as wooden as Andie MacDowell.

The only mis-step the movie takes is trying to give Cruise an ultimate aim, and dressing it up in some gibberish about Alpha aliens and Omega aliens. The exposition just leads to a lot of head-scratching and nice visual effects before you get the ending you might have been expecting anyway. Especially if you notice Doug Liman is directing,  as the end titles are a clone of his Bourne Identity ones.

Trivia: Doug Liman's father was chief counsel for the Senate's investigation of the Iran-Contra Affair
Liman’s other previous excursions into action movies have left me cold (especially Mr. and Mrs . Smith and Jumper), but here he has the sense to keep it moving along before anyone has time to say ‘wait a minute…’.  Christopher McQuarrie turns out his best script since The Usual Suspects.

Apart from the slightly formulaic last 20 minutes, and the twisted London geography,  my only other complaint is that there really should be more gore in a movie with this much death.  I don’t think it was omitted to keep the whole thing light and breezy, so presumably the commercially necessary 12A certificate is the foreseeable future of big-budget action movies.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★★☆

 

Assault on Precinct 13

After making Dark Star at college, Carpenter made his first real movie in 1976 with Assault on Precinct 13.  It’s a homage/tribute/rip-off of his favourite movies, in particular Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, combining the deliberate pace and group ethic of the former with the nightmare menace and explicit violence of the latter. And some dialogue from Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon A Time in the West for good measure.

AssaultOnPrecinct13_quad_UK-1-500x371Assault took 2 years to reach the UK, possibly due to an early unpleasant scene, but became the big success of the 1978 London Film Festival, and then a huge hit on theatrical distribution before anyone in the US had even heard of John Carpenter.

As usual, Carpenter directs, edits (under the pdeudonym of John T. Chance, aka John Wayne’s character in Rio Bravo) and does the music, and this enables him to dictate the mood and pace of his movie. Fortunately he’s on top form in all three departments –  the rhythmic buzzing soundtrack is a particular favourite, and was immediately seized upon by the early electronic music pioneers.

The main reason Assault works so well is that Carpenter is confident of his own decision-making, and drags you along ruthlessly. He has the good sense to commit a horrible atrocity early in the movie, convincing the audience that he’s really not very nice, masking the fact that this is really quite a loving and affectionate tribute to earlier times, when men would do their duty and women would back them up whatever it cost. It also establishes a tense atmosphere which helps to get past some of the longeurs – what my old English teacher would regard as ‘character-building’ if Carpenter was not constructing his characters out of cardboard.

Darwin Joston as Napoleon Wilson

Austin Stoker is tasked with keeping a straight face as the hero on his first day in a new job and does it perfectly, while Darwin Joston walks off with every scene as convicted killer and wisecracking anti-hero Napoleon Wilson. Laurie Zimmer also styles her performance on Hawks’ strong women, and Tony Burton overacts madly as Wilson’s fellow convict.

By the end, nerves are frayed and sets are wrecked in a hail of bullets, but the over-riding impression is that this is really a comedy and thriller combined to better effect than ever before, leaving you with a big smile.  A perfect movie.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★★★

Moon

Sam Rockwell, for years a favourite character actor, finally gets to step into the spotlight in this clever and carefully made throwback to SF’s golden age.  Or at least my idea of its golden age – Moon would have been right at home in the time of Silent Running and Soylent Green.  Like those movies, it belies its low budget by clever production design and a focus on character and story. (Yes, I am blaming George Lucas for spoiling it all)

There's only one Sam Rockwell

There’s only one Sam Rockwell

Rockwell seizes the opportunity and gets to show an unsuspected range of acting ability, anchoring the plot in reality just when it looks like floating away.  He plays Sam Bell, an astronaut separated from his family and on a 3-year solo lunar mission to send energy supplies back to Earth.  Funny how the last bit of that sentence seems the most unlikely bit but it seemed to work at the time. Rockwell’s only companion is the moonbase computer voiced by Kevin Spacey in a suitably reassuring way that can’t help appearing a bit sinister.

OK, Duncan Jones is/was Zowie Bowie, but he can hardly be blamed for that. And he wisely resists any Space Oddity in-jokes.
After setting the scene well, and just when we start to share in Sam’s boredom, there’s an accident and all his assumptions, and ours, are ruined. It’s a clever plot twist that also adds a lot of depth to Rockwell’s performance, and you’ll just have to see it to find out what I’m trying to avoid spoiling. IT also gives us an emotional final act that’s a bit unexpected given the deliberate pacing of the movie up to then.

It’s a confident and accomplished first feature from Duncan Jones, proving that anyone can make it in our brave new egalitarian world. 

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★½☆

 

The Paperboy

Wow. Sometimes you see a movie and it’s hard to know where to start.  There are several scenes which would normally only be seen in low-budget exploitation movies, and here those scenes are given the full commitment of the likes of Nicole Kidman, Jolhn Cusack and Matthew McConaughey.  Normally I’d be fully behind this sort… Read more »

Frozen

Frozen is a surprisingly effective thriller from director Adam Green, previously responsible for more goofy horror outings such as Hatchet .

The premise here is that three students on a ski-ing holiday try to fit in one last ride at the end of the day, and end up marooned on a ski-lift with no-one around.

Pitch Perfect

This could be a whole new direction for the site, reviewing rom-coms and frothy comedies… Pitch Perfect was the inaugural movie of a new workplace cultural society, and as such deserves treating with a bit of respect. So the good points first: Elizabeth Banks. OK, she’s on auto-pilot throughout and you could remove all but… Read more »

True Grit

Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld takes the central role of Mattie in the Coens’ new adaptation of the classic Charles Portis novel True Grit, as a young girl searching for her father’s killers. Jeff Bridges gets the eye-catching role (ouch) of Reuben ‘Rooster’ Cogburn, aged gun-hand, and Matt Damon plays the dandy Texas Ranger LaBeouf, dragged along with Rooster in Maddie’s quest.

Chopping Mall

Chopping Mall appeared during the home video boom of the mid-80s, and I have fond memories of this movie and lots of its contemporaries. All those articles in Fangoria and Starburst were suddenly given life by the availability of the movies in your own home, and drinking several pints of beer before watching didn’t do the movies any harm either. Well at the risk of sounding like a country song, some things are better as a memory…

The Hunting Party

There are very few movies with a reputation as bad as that of The Hunting Party. It’s mean-spirited, gory and not afraid to offend its audience, and those are just the positive things…

Vanishing on 7th Street

Vanishing on 7th Street is the latest movie from Brad Anderson, who has had a mixed career since his breakthrough with Session 9. It’s a Twilight Zone-style story, also owing a bit to the old Stephen King novella The Langoliers (filmed indifferently for TV by Tom Holland in 1995). A few random characters are isolated by darkness encroaching on their everyday environments in Detroit.