Saturday, July 5, 2014

Mini-Reviews: Edge of Tomorrow, Jersey Boys (Film)

I’m running behind in my reviews so far this summer so this might be a good time for some mini-reviews. Today we’ll be looking at two summer flicks, the science fiction “epic” City on the Edge of Forever Edge of Tomorrow and the Broadway hit Jersey Boys now turned into a film of the same name.

Two new reviews after the jump.



Edge of Tomorrow

A malevolent alien race, called “Mimics”, have invaded Earth and have conquered much of Europe. In response many nations join forces to create the United Defense Forces to combat the threat. For a long while the UDF performed poorly against the Mimics but things have been turning around lately since the emerging of Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), also known as the “Full Metal Bitch”, who killed hundreds of Mimics in her very first battle at Verdun. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), who by his own words is not really a soldier and is more of a PR guy, is ordered by UDF commander General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to cover the upcoming battle in France to help sell the war effort. Cage, clearly a coward, refuses and tries to blackmail the General but is subsequently arrested, stripped of rank and dumped on the front lines. Forced to fight on in the first wave Cage watches the battle unfold disastrously and his until is wiped out…including himself. As he dies screaming he suddenly wakes up and realizes it is the previous morning and the events of the previous two days have not yet happened. For some reason Cage is resetting time whenever he dies and must now find out why this is happening and if he can use this strange ability to stop the Mimics.

So this flick is actually based on a Japanese light novel called All You Need is Kill (which is probably one of the the most Japanese "in English" titles I’ve ever heard) written by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. As I mentioned back in my Summer Movie Preview I did not give a crap about this film. I didn’t know much about the plot but I knew I didn’t like Tom Cruise all that much so I wasn’t really all that interested in it. But the film had some good buzz so I decided to give it a chance. And you know what? Edge of Tomorrow has been the nicest surprise of the year for me so far. This flick is better than I would have ever thought and really more than it has any right to be.

She will f**king kill you. And she won't feel bad about it
It’s got a pretty good balance of action, tension and a bit of levity. I would hesitate to call this a smart movie but compered to typical Hollywood blockbusters it had some intelligence to it. It does things that most movies of its kind would not do and it’s a far better film for it. I love that the character of Rita Vrataski exists and really love the fact that she’s Cage’s badass mentor and not simply the hero’s girlfriend. Tom Cruise plays his part well though the character feels really miscast and I really feel it should have been played by a much younger actor and he should have been a fresh out of basic training rookie rather than a Major who has somehow managed to avoid any sort of combat in his career. Even so I was expecting a lot worse from Cruise but he held up his end of the bargain and you can’t really complain about that. I thought the slow evolution of Cage from chicken shit asshole to battle hardened and weary soldier was done well enough to keep me invested. Bill Paxton as Master Sergeant Farell is a pretty fun addition as well, I must say.

It’s kind of Groundhog’s Day meets Starship Troopers but it’s really more like a live action video game in that sense that when you die in a video game you start over from the beginning but when you do you, the player, remember where all the enemies are and all the patterns of attacks. The more you die the better at the game you get, which is exactly what happens here as Cage keeps looping and I loved that! I saw some people complaining that the film felt like a video game and those people didn’t seem to understand that that was clearly intentional. The original book was inspired by that concept from video games so it’s really goddamn appropriate for the film to reflect that.

As much as I liked the film it really loses steam in the third act where most of what made the movie very good and original up to that point starts getting a bit more pedestrian. This culminated with an ending that left me pretty wanting. It wasn’t as bad as it a lot of other Hollywood endings that seemingly betray the tone of the film in order to make the masses happy but it was close enough to make me leave the theater rolling my eyes. I also wished we had gotten to know the members of J Squad, the squad Cage is assigned to, since it turns out they become pretty important before the movie is over. I feel like thematically we should care about them by the time we get to that third act but we don’t because the movie gave us absolutely no reason to do so. I feel this is a fundamental mistake for filmmakers; the tension feels more urgent if we actually give a shit about the characters.

Is it me or is Hollywood all about power suits lately?
I liked the film but when I left the theater I had this feeling that it could have, and should have, done more. It felt like it was safer than I would have liked when it could have been one of the best science fiction films of the 21st Century so far. When I got home I did my research for this blog and looked up All You Need is Kill and, sure enough, it turns out that this flick took a lot of liberties with the book. Ignoring the changes to the main characters nationality (which is understandable considering it’s an American film) and age (which I don’t like but it worked well enough) the film mainly retains the basic plot and some of the characters but changes a ton of details including the ending, which changes the tone of the film and really the ramifications for the world. Now I see why they did this but, goddamn it, if they had drawn more from the source material we might have gotten the amazing science fiction film the first two acts set up for and had an arguably a very touching, tragic and memorable story but instead things kind of end with a whimper rather than a bang.

But the flick is still good despite what it could have done, and really if we’re going to judge a movie we should do so on its own merits and for a Summer Blockbuster Edge of Tomorrow is pretty darn good and certainly above average. Perhaps it was because my expectations were so low but I really enjoyed this movie and I actually look ford to seeing it again. It has all the makings of a decent action flick for movie goers who don’t like to think except they added aspects that will appeals to those of us who do; it’s the best of worlds, or as close to it as we’ll likely get form Hollywood during the summer. And with the new Bayformers flick now in theaters I suspect we’ll need to take as much as we can get.

I give Edge of Tomorrow 4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.


  
Pros 

-Good action

-Above average storytelling

-Really interesting plot device

- Rita Vrataski is a badass

Cons 

-Third act doesn’t really work out, storytelling wise

-Supporting cast are barely characters

-Has a  ho-hum ending


Jersey Boys (Film)

Jersey Boys is the story of Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young), Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) collectively known as the Four Seasons. The story follows Frankie as a teenager in Belleville, New Jersey who is a talented singer under the wing of the older Tommy and Nick. We see the boys as they originally form their musical act, achieve fame and fortune, and slowly implode under the weight of it all.

This is the latest from Clint Eastwood and while he’s something of a crazy old man these days who should probably not be allowed at political rallies anymore the guy sure is a versatile director. I’m not sure what made him decide to tackle a musical but I figure he’s earned the right to direct whatever the f**k he wants to at this point. So this is a Jukebox Music which is pretty much the worst kind of musical but as most of the music, while not original, was performed by the group that the film is about I don’t have the nagging animosity I’d usually have.

I liked this flick. It started off with a certain amount of lightheartedness you don’t usually see in biopics. The music is, unsurprisingly, very good and I think the actors do a good job recreating the tunes of the Four Seasons. I really liked the idea of having members of the group narrating the film one at a time, though I wish they had gone a little further with it. A major theme of the film is that a story can change depending on who’s telling it but there’s surprisingly little contrast between the speakers which sort of feels like a missed opportunity. I would have enjoyed seeing the same scene told in different ways by the different narrators with no indication which one is what really happened. What we got was a bit more subtlety, like Tommy coming off way better during his portion than he would later in the film, but I think this is a case where a story could use a little less disquiet.

As a struggling musician this movie hurts me
The film’s tone is a bet of a mess. Much like in Edge of Tomorrow the third act is where the film started to lose me. The film starts out pretty lighthearted and fun, which I really liked because that’s not something you see too often in a biopic like this but made sense considering it’s an adaptation of a Broadway musical. But the tone really takes a more serious turn by about the third act where things get downright depressing. Realistically if depressing shit happened in the real life story then it wouldn’t make sense to ignore or sugar coat it but the change in tone really screws up the flow of the film so maybe they shouldn’t have been such a happy-go-lucky ambiance to begin with. I suppose the tone of the film changes depending on who the narrator is which is cool on paper but I’m not certain it worked in practice.

A lot of secondary characters are useless and it’s kind of disappointing. For example Frankie’s wife Mary Delgado made a big splash in her initial scene but afterwards she’s little more than a reoccurring annoying voice and that seemed like a waste. I also wish the film spent more time developing Frankie’s relationship with his daughter before she falls into trouble later in the movie. In addition it’s weird that we spend zero time with the families of the other members aside from Frankie. Bob surely has a wife but hell if I know anything about her. Nick should have been given more to do, since he was part of the band.

I enjoyed Jersey Boys but when it comes down to it I’m not certain I’ll retain much of it aside from the music of the Four Seasons and, let’s face it, I don’t need this movie to do that when I can just go buy some old records. This film feels like things don’t quite click in the way that would have made it a classic movie musical. Lack of original music certainly doesn’t help. As I’d had never seen the original play it’s very possible that this is just the translation from one medium to the other which can be tricky. As it is I recommend catching the film while it’s in theaters but whether you want to add it to you collection will be up to you.

Frankie and, um, some broad that never impacts the plot again maybe?
I give Jersey Boys 3 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.


Pros 

-Good use of music by the Four Seasons 

-Can be genuinely fun 

-Pretty cool use of narrating… 

Cons 

-The tone of the film shifts in a frustrating way 

-Secondary characters could have further developed 

-As a Jukebox Musical I can’t really respect this flick

2 comments:

  1. I'm glad to hear that Edge of Tomorrow is good. I skipped out on seeing it because I'd like to read the book first, but it was a near thing. I'll add to my list for later.

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    1. If I haven't read the book beforehand I tend to watch the movie first since if I do the reverse I usually end up hating the movie. This is exactly why I haven't been able to really enjoy Game of Thrones.

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