‘Europa Report’

Film Review- ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (***1/2)

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"These online RPG things are getting a little equipment-heavy, don't you think?"
“These online RPG things are getting a little equipment-heavy, don’t you think?”

 

“Edge of Tomorrow”  ***1/2 (out of 5)

Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Noah Taylor

Written by: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, & John-Henry Butterworth (screenplay), based on the novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Directed by: Doug Liman

 

 **POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD**

Gamers around the world, rejoice.  The gaming culture has so permeated pop culture that a summer tent pole is calling itself a ‘science fiction’ film to mask what it actually is- a video game masquerading as a movie.  Never before have I seen anything that so closely parallels the video game experience like “Edge of Tomorrow”.  Even the poster, with the appropriate tagline of “Live. Die. Repeat” perfectly encapsulates the maddeningly disposable experience and challenge of completing a video game.  Does that mean the film is maddeningly disposable and challenging ?  Not necessarily- this is a very self-aware, fun film, with major action set pieces that have been wonderfully constructed.  Just don’t fool yourself into thinking this film is in any way a science fiction milestone, or a bastion of ‘new’ material.  It is what it is, and by that measure, accomplishes everything it sets out to be.

Tom Cruise stars as Major Tom Cruise (not a typo), a man with a pretend title for the United Defense Force (or something futuristic), as he has no interest in being a part of the ‘battle’ he is promoting.  His character is the familiar used car salesman behind the scenes of war, convincing the wealthy to write checks or buy war bonds, but never holding a rifle.  In a twist of fate, the general of the United Defense Force, Hamish from “Braveheart” (Brendan Gleeson), wants him to actually be a part of the battle against a race of nasty fluorescent alien octopi.  After all, he needs every able-bodied person he can find.  His strategy is like many military leaders before him- with great quantity comes great victory.  We know better as a trained film audience- the front lines are the sacrificial lambs, for which Tom Cruise is designated.

We also know as an audience that you can’t send Tom Cruise to the front lines, but General Hamish has not seen his movies.  Therefore, he sends Tom Cruise into battle, under the charge of Master Sergeant Bill Paxton and a rag-tag bunch of misfits.  He’s cursed at, made fun of, all of the things you wouldn’t expect to happen to Tom Cruise.  He is completely unfit for battle, but they throw him out there anyway, and he’s promptly annihilated by the enemy (more on them later).  The twist?  Despite his apparent death, he wakes up in the same spot, handcuffed and brought to attention by Master Sergeant Bill Paxton.

Have we seen this film before?  Certainly- it’s basically the same trick used by “Groundhog Day”, and it’s wonderful.  “Edge of Tomorrow” replaces Puxatawney, PA with the sandy beaches of France, and the sounds of Sonny & Cher with the barking of a drill sergeant.  Understand that this is not on purpose- this isn’t literally a re-envisioning of the Bill Murray classic, it just plays similarly.  I understood the idea of making Bill Murray’s character replay the same day over and over, but here, I’m confused.  The alien enemy (straight out of a ‘Metroid’ game), has ‘fused’ with Tom Cruise’s mind as a result of their “goo” mixing with his “goo”, causing him to repeat back to the same moment in front of the drill sergeant.

Why that particular moment?  We’re supposed to accept this without explanation or reason, but I’m neither sold on the logic, nor do I appreciate the lack of science behind the logic.  If they’re able to repeat a certain period of time, how much?  What are their limits?  Why do they have limits?  Why not just repeat the entire war?  These are questions a science fiction film would explore to create a further understanding, but this is not a science fiction film.

Again, that’s ok- for as I stated earlier, “Edge of Tomorrow” is simply a great deal of fun.  Tom Cruise even allows his Tom Cruise character to be out-Tom Cruise’d by Emily Blunt, who stars opposite him as ‘war hero’ Rita Vrataski.  Yes, Emily Blunt is an action figure here, conveniently sharing the same name as Andie MacDowell’s character in “Groundhog Day”.  She’s also in the same boat as Tom Cruise, having experienced something similar to his ‘repeat’ ability once before, and thus was able to turn the tide of a different battle.  Now she’s the symbol for victory, and Tom Cruise must convince her of what he’s experiencing every day so they might together find a loophole and defeat the alien octopus queen lotus (that’s the best way I can describe the ‘boss level’ creature).

Blunt, while hard to buy as a ‘leader’ in the traditional sense, certainly adds a level of sophistication to the role, which is basically written as a live action Lara Croft-type (I don’t know my video games as well as some of you, so fill in the blank, please).  As you can imagine, Tom Cruise begins to fancy Rita Vrataski as time passes, and makes decisions based on keeping her from harm.  It’s a sweet, if unnecessary sidebar to the film’s kinetic sensibility.

The hook for me in overcoming the story’s laissez-faire science is watching Tom Cruise deconstructed to the point where he becomes….US.  In a literal sense, he needs to die, over and over again, to memorize a battle, specific movements, and improve to perfection as a soldier the exact way we as gamers would play as his character.  Remember the lost days learning the ins and outs of up/up/down/down/left/right/left/right/b/a/start- and envision a film where Tom Cruise does this in a literal sense.  Tom Cruise becomes a walking, talking strategy guide.  Someone smarter than I (not difficult to do) should reference something philosophical and ‘meta’ in regards to this film.  It’s brilliant in that sense perhaps without intending to be.

Tom Cruise continues to make interesting, if not bold film choices.  From 2011’s vibrant franchise reinvention with “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” to the immensely enjoyable “Jack Reacher” and now with “Edge of Tomorrow”, he deserves credit for not allowing a specific perception of him to define his career.  Tom Cruise played Tom Cruise in video game.  Fantastic.  What’s next, a period romance?  I wouldn’t be surprised, nor would I anticipate failure.

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Mini Film Review- “Europa Report” (**)

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europa report

‘Europa Report’ (**)

Starring:  Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist, Embeth Davidtz, Daniel Wu, Christian Camargo, Karolina Wydra

Written by: Phillip Gelat

Directed by: Sebastian Cordero

For those that aren’t aware, Europa is a moon of Jupiter.  It’s more well-known than other terrestrial objects due to the proliferation of ice on its’ surface, combined with the possibility that life may have a way to exist underneath.  This movie explores, poorly, a scenario in which humans actually travel to this moon in hopes of discovering something significant.  This journey takes nearly two years to complete, and the toll it takes on the crew is investigated.  The film is shot in the popular ‘found footage’ style- I imagine the reason why is due to the lack of a sizeable production budget, thus the need to alter the script.  It’s possible that this is a better movie if the plot played out in a traditional sense, and not through a recording. 

Aside from the silly story device, there are other problems.  Somehow, even with a topic this fascinating and significant, this film cannot get past using worn sci-fi clichés to advance the plot and tie loose ends.  For the first time (that I’m aware of), we have a film that takes place on a MOON OF JUPITER, with the gas giant looming in the background, yet we only get to experience a slice of Europa on film.  Can you imagine the amazing vista the alien world of Europa would be?  The vast plains and valleys of ice?  I have imagined it many times over, but alas, this film either isn’t interested, or doesn’t have the capacity to mine the depths of wonder that Europa could offer.  Instead we have a few moments of real danger involving radiation and what amounts to a super-powered heat lamp disguising itself as a creature from “The Abyss”. 

I looked forward to seeing this, hoping that if nothing else, it would be polished enough to pass for something exciting and deep, like “Moon”, or a film that encapsulated the mystery of Jupiter like “2010: The Year We Make Contact” did. The original trailer, released earlier this year, was promising, and showcased Sharlto Copley (“District 9”) and Michael Nyqvist (the Swedish-language ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ movies), even though they’re in more of a supporting role here. However, a polished turd is still a turd.  We’re not talking about ‘SyFy’ bad, but this film is still completely underwhelming.  It doesn’t mean anything when it should mean something.

*note- The “found footage” style of movie needs to take a real long break from appearing, if ever again.  The story device was interesting the first few times, but it just keeps happening.  Anymore, it’s become an excuse to proliferate an idea as opposed to being the idea itself.  No more “Paranormal Activity” movies (too late), or “Cloverfield” spin-offs.  Please.