Edge of Tomorrow

tom-cruise-edge-creditmovietone

DIR: Doug Liman • WRI: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth • PRO: Jason Hoffs, Gregory Jacobs, Jeffrey Silver, Erwin Stoff • ED: James Herbert • DOP. Dion Beebe • DES: Oliver Scholl • MUS: Christophe Beck • CAST: Tom Cruise, Bill Paxton, Jeremy Piven, Lara Pulver

There’s an old Rich Hall routine that sums up every Tom Cruise movie as; Tom Cruise plays an X, a very good X, but has a crisis of confidence and then meets someone who will teach him to be a good X again. Little has changed.

Tom Cruise plays Cage, the face of the propaganda machine for the global war effort that’s badly losing a war with the Mimics; a race of tentacled aliens that almost seem to know what the humans are going to do before they do it. He’s a pretty good propagandist until he has his identity and rank removed by Brendan Gleeson and is tossed onto the frontlines with no combat experience. Soon though, he realises that he seems to be Groundhog Day-ing the big invasion day anytime he dies and only Emily Blunt as the stoic, impossibly-skilled, war-vet Rita, believes him. So Rita has to train him to be a good soldier so he can be pretty good at that too and save the day. Also, there are robot-suits in this film for little obvious reason outside of the fact that anything in proximity to the words Iron Man makes all of the money and any film that doesn’t look like a videogame simply won’t get green lit anymore.

Cast-wise; Emily Blunt is the standout, Cruise is impressively bearable, Bill Paxton is a huge amount of fun as the hard-ass sergeant that these films always have to have at least one of and Brendan Gleeson looks hilariously bored as General Plot Device. He has literally two proper scenes; the first is to justify demoting Cruise’s character and sending him into battle in order to cover his own ass (somehow) and thus set the story in motion, and the second is to give Blunt and Cruise the MacGuffin when they finally decide that they’ve been faffing about for long enough and should probably get act three started.

What’s truly impressive about the film is that it shows promising signs that the end might be in sight for the Holy War fought in the name of Christopher Nolan that has seen so many blockbusters’ sense of fun sacrificed at the alters of ‘realism’ and ‘grittiness’ (cough, Man of Steel, cough). The trailer gives the impression of a very dour and portentous war movie that happens to involve a time-travel gimmick, robot-suits and aliens. It’s pleasantly surprising then that this tonally ends up as more Run, Lola, Run than Source Code and embraces its sillier elements. The explanation of the time-travel is the key to this. Another film might contort itself into a tangled mess of exposition (see previous ‘cough’) in order to explain something like this ‘realistically’ but here it is explained in pretty simple terms, doesn’t bog the film down and things move on swiftly. Now, that’s not to say the explanation doesn’t immediately start raising endless questions in your head as soon as you begin to think about it too much but why bother? Just sit back and enjoy it; sometimes an alien with a biological affinity towards temporal transmogrification is just an alien with a biological affinity towards temporal transmogrification.

So in addition to the fun that is to be had at the sight of Tom Cruise being repeatedly beaten, crushed, run-over, shot, exploded and just generally killed over and over again, the screenplay manages to find (or rather, make use of) all the sardonic humour that just naturally comes with this situation. Both leads have a surprising amount of fun in the various montage sequences as the dull routine of repeated Tom-Cruise-icide takes hold. Blunt is tailor-made for the straight-faced delivery of pithy one-liners and exasperated sighs as she’s forced to shoot Cruise, yet again. Given the tone that the promotional materials present, these sections in particular were a great surprise.

Outside of this, the plot is on the whole interesting enough to keep your attention and the film is quite well-paced. Since you’re going to be seeing the same action scenes again and again, the film is smart enough to know when they’ve outstayed their welcome and to move onto the next stage. Said action scenes are decent, if a little grey and the CGI is quite good on the alien creatures even if you’ll never forget that what you’re looking at is very clearly CGI. It is a minor disappointment that they don’t make more of the WW2-parallels that are so apparent and in Cruise and Gleeson’s first scene together it seems like the film might almost be about to have an undercurrent of social commentary on war culture but this is sadly dropped quite quickly.

Aside from the god-awful ending, which is completely expected given the premise but still a massive cop-out nonetheless, the only other issue of note is the sound-design. Now this may only be a persistent issue with IMAX screenings but the sound is very piercing. The sound-design itself is fine but given how many times we’re going to see Tom Cruise shot in the head, close to the camera, said gunshot sound being as sharp and loud as it is begins to hurt after a while. See also: the aliens’ high-pitched screams, all the metallic objects that get crushed and the entire final sequence which takes place within an area filled with wrecked cars and all the eardrum-stabbing sounds of scraping metal and smashing glass that it entails.

Since peak blockbuster season is upon us and this is just one of the many films vying for attention at the moment, it’s definitely one of the better ones. A solid, fun action-film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, makes the most of its gimmick to give the film a great visual sense of flow and is only hampered by a few minor quibbles. It never reaches the same heights of delirious entertainment that, say, Godzilla’s final act does but it also doesn’t suffer from the long stretches of boredom that film was afflicted with. Perhaps it could be considered a little unambitious in that case but it’s consistently fun throughout.

Richard Drumm

12A(See IFCO for details)
113 mins

Edge of Tomorrow is released on 30th May 2014

Edge of Tomorrow– Official Website

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists – Film of the Week

shiver me timbers, etc

DIR: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt • WRI: Gideon Defoe • PRO: Julie Lockhart, Peter Lord, David Sproxton • DOP: Frank Passingham • DES: Norman Garwood • Cast: Hugh Grant, Brian Blessed, Jeremy Piven

Pirates – seriously, who knew? Scuttled in early Hollywood by the far more popular western, the pirate movie was left adrift for decades, coming into port every now and again only to find nary a piece of eight at the box office (cf. Polanski’s The Pirates (1986), Cutthroat Island (1995)). Then those Disney ride Johnny Depp vehicle movies came along and suddenly, after some 80 years, everyone was hungry for pirate movies. But while the box office exploded, there was little denying the quality of those films diminished rapidly, as they began to take themselves seriously.

Thankfully, here’s a pirate movie that doesn’t take anything seriously, especially not pirates!

Aardman Animations have proven themselves to be the world’s greatest producers of (mainstream) stop-motion animation through their Wallace & Gromit movies, Chicken Run and TV series such as Morph, Creature Comforts and Shaun the Sheep. Now teamed with distributors Sony (their relationship with DreamWorks ended after the disastrous digital animation Flushed Away), the Bristol-based masters have produced what is probably their greatest work yet, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists.

The family adventure is based on a series of comedy novels by Gideon Defoe, which are not exactly aimed at children, but have been translated here to appeal to pretty much anyone with eyes, ears and a sense of humour.

Set in the early 1800s, the story follows a pirate captain called The Pirate Captain, and his crew of similarly descriptively named misfits. What The Pirate Captain lacks in plundering success he makes up for in boundless enthusiasm and self-delusional egomania. Up against far superior competition for the “Pirate of the Year Award”, he is desperate for a get-rich-quick scheme when he boards the bootyless HMS Beagle and takes young scientist Charles Darwin captive.

Before he is fed to the sharks, Darwin informs The Pirate Captain that his precious parrot Polly, who is very clearly not a parrot, is in fact a dodo, and thus worth a fortune. And so the crew set sail for London, where the dread Queen Victoria keeps a careful lookout for pirates, whom she detests above all things.

The adventure that ensues is delightful; simple enough for kids to follow but with enough minor twists to keep adults from feeling like they’ve sailed these seas before. Thankfully, unlike the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, The Pirates! sticks to general pirate adventuring and doesn’t descend into supernatural nonsense.

The stop-motion is as wonderful as we have come to expect from Aardman; and then some. Eschewing traditional plasticine in favour of a more durable, and realistic-looking plastic, The Pirates! has texture and gloss that most live-action features fail to achieve nowadays. In the incredible digital worlds of Pixar and DreamWorks films, where everything has shape and gloss, nothing looks like you could really touch it if you could somehow get inside the movie. But here, with actual objects that actual artists have actually sculpted, the world looks as physically accessible as it does inviting. The divinity is in the detail however. Every scene is riddled with more visual gags than there is time to ingest – one character sports a Blue Peter badge in his hat; posters in London advertise ‘street urchin throwing contests’; the Swiss coat of arms has a giant corkscrew sticking out of it.

The voice talent on display is top notch. Hugh Grant returns to the grandeur of the mid-‘90s as The Pirate Captain, leaving you wondering why he hasn’t been in the recording studio since About a Boy. Sounding like only Hugh Grant can, his voice, like his best characters, sails through a vast array of emotions and delivers both quips and verbal faux pas with unexpected aplomb. David Tennant voices Darwin as a timid, socially awkward but also quite conniving little wretch, while Martin Freeman gets across the movie’s heart as the ship’s number two, Pirate With a Scarf. And as the villain, Imelda Staunton ups her game from Professor Umbridge to play the perfect queen bitch. Support comes from all sides with Brendan Gleeson and Brian Blessed chewing the microphone up and spitting out the chunks.

It’s impossible to get across just how funny this film is. Its visual gags conjure the heyday of The Simpsons. Musical queues range from The Clash to Flight of the Conchords. The dialogue borders on Pythonesque. When The Pirate Captain sees Darwin and his chimpanzee perform identical actions, he asks ‘Are you related?’ – a specious origin for The Origin of Species. The blatant yet unnoticed transvestite pirate, Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (sporting a large ginger beard that clashes with her blonde hair), is ripped from the best classical farce.

The Pirates! is action-packed, unpredictable and agreeably sweet, and two-and-a-half years in the making it looks simply fantastic. But it’s greatest success is in how gut-achingly funny it is. There are truly enough gags here to keep every person of every age laughing from start to finish – joke by joke per minute this could be the funniest film since Airplane!

And if that doesn’t sell you on seeing this over The Hunger Games, well you were lost to begin with.

David Neary

Rated G (see IFCO website for details)
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists is released on 23rd March 2012

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists – Official Website

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RocknRolla

RocknRolla
RocknRolla

DIR/WRI: Guy Ritchie • PRO: Steve Clark-Hall, Susan Downey, Guy Ritchie, Joel Silver • DOP: David Higgs • ED: James Herbert • DES: Richard Bridgland • CAST: Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton, Jeremy Piven, Ludacris, Tom Wilkinson

RocknRolla is Guy Ritchie’s hopeful return to the East End milieu and the commercial success of Lock, Stock and Snatch, and even though it’s not quite as good or as fresh as those films were, it’s good enough to make you want to pretend he hasn’t done anything in the meantime.

The film starts with a pretty funky credit sequence, followed by a lot of exposition, much of it in voiceover. It moves quite fast but still manages to be a bit dull (it’s basically about real estate), so the film takes a while to get its bearings. After that, it gets more entertaining. There’s not a lot of action, at least for a while, but when it comes it works well enough, and there’s plenty of humour in the meantime, which is probably the strong suit of the film.

In general, it’s solidly made, if a bit gloomy visually. The acting is decent, though Jeremy Piven and Jimi Mistry seem to struggle a bit, which is surprising because they’re usually good. The film is at least partly named after a rock star character who Ritchie seems to be very fond of, even giving him a nice payoff at the end, although aside from that, you really wouldn’t mistake him for a major character, especially in such a big cast. The only notable female role is played by Thandie Newton, and seems to go unnamed throughout the movie, though she doesn’t really need a name: she’s basically a generic devious, geezer-loving posh bird. But maybe this is understandable, as that is a convention of gangster movies, and aside from that the film tackles racism and homophobia in a well-intentioned way.

There are moments where it seems like a clever movie playing at being dumb, and others where it seems like a dumb movie trying to be clever. At times it feels a little over-written, and as if it’s trying a bit too hard, which would be a shame, because Guy Ritchie is a good enough writer/director that he doesn’t need to do that. In the end, while it’s not as good as his first two movies, it is a step in the right direction.

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