REVIEW: Edge of Tomorrow

7 06 2014

It would have been all too easy to write off “Edge of Tomorrow” with a few jokes about familiarity.  Given the nature of its plot, which involves Tom Cruise’s character doomed to relive the same day until he can defeat an invading alien force, I would not have been surprised if I felt a frustration tantamount to his character.  That is to say, I expected to feel like I was caught reliving a hackneyed story until I reached the point of insanity.

But to my surprise, director Doug Liman finds a way to make “Edge of Tomorrow” feel fresh and exciting even though it isn’t reinventing the blockbuster wheel.  It takes the film a little while to find its footing after a sped-through expository opening sequence and a fairly standard beginning of the time travel process.  Once Emily Blunt enters the picture as a gritty soldier who once suffered a similar “Groundhog Day”-esque affliction, though, things start to get a little more intriguing.

That’s mainly due to the smart script by Christopher McQuarrie, the Oscar-winning writer of “The Usual Suspects,” with the help of Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, who penned Liman’s underrated “Fair Game.”  While their screenplay might not be nearly as cerebral as Duncan Jones’ superb 2011 time travel thriller “Source Code,” it certainly shows the signs of real effort to be clever.  They avoid falling into obvious traps of the sub-genre and find some nice moments for Cruise and Blunt to play on the path less traveled.

Credit is due to Liman as well for finding creative ways to present and re-present events that have to be repeated.  It’s often beat into filmmakers to show something rather than tell it.  Liman finds a two-handed approach to work just fine, however, and “Edge of Tomorrow” feels invigoratingly as a result since each section feels a little different from the one before it.

This does contribute to making the film slightly uneven, but even so, it’s one of the better big-budget blockbusters I’ve seen in a while.  If there was one I had to sit through again and again, there could be worse than this.  Like Cruise’s character in the film, I could probably find new ways to improve it each time though.  B2halfstars

REVIEW: Fair Game

8 11 2010

It’s really a shame that we live in such a polarize political climate that we rush to affiliate any movie about current events with a political ideology.  Because “Fair Game” tells the story of a woman and her husband who did their jobs and were led to be skeptical of the Bush administration based on their information, it has been labeled a liberal movie.

Yet what makes “Fair Game” one of the best movies I’ve seen this year is the fact that it is a politically conscious movie but not necessarily politically charged.  It’s a movie that reminds us that the truth has no political affiliation, and it reaffirms the very American responsibility to stand up and voice our discontent when we see the government failing in its duties.  Naomi Watt’s Valerie Plame Wilson does this in spite of one of the worst political climates for dissent in our history, and it’s a rousing profile in courage that will reinforce your sense of patriotic duty.

How is it possible for the story of a woman who dared to question the authority and logic of President George W. Bush to be patriotic?  At first glance, the movie seems to be painting an incredibly cynical and unflattering portrait of the government.  Without remorse, they ruin Plame’s career by outing her as a covert CIA agent.  Under the leadership of Scooter Libby, the office of the Vice-President takes steps to discredit her and leave her without support to face the most powerful institution in the country.

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Oscar Moment: “Fair Game”

19 10 2010

How ready is America to embrace a movie that is pretty deprecating to our sense of patriotism?  Doug Liman’s “Fair Game” will certainly show us if the bomb that was this March’s “Green Zone” was an anomaly or indicative of what to expect for movies about American involvement in Iraq.  (Interestingly enough, both movies share a connection to the Bourne franchise through their directors – Liman took on the first installment in that series, and Paul Greengrass helmed the second and third movies before making “Green Zone.”)

The movie will probably make its two biggest power plays in the lead acting categories with two performances from prestige actors.  Naomi Watts, who plays CIA spy Valerie Plame, was been nominated for Best Actress in 2003, and Sean Penn, who plays her husband, has won the prize twice.  Both stand decent chances, but it’s a tight year in both fields, and they could easily get squeezed out.

With firmly established pack leaders like Annette Bening and Natalie Portman, Best Actress will surely be a tough field to crack for Watts.  She’s strayed away from Oscar-type roles since her 2003 nomination for “21 Grams” save some mild buzz for “King Kong” in 2005.  Watts is well-liked but hardly beloved; however,she has gotten a fair amount of buzz from the movie being shown at Cannes and other festivals; Guy Lodge of In Contention remarked: “Naomi Watts is ideally cast as Plame, really warming to her character as she becomes more imperiled.”  Jeff Wells at Hollywood Experience was a whole lot more supportive:

“… I think this may be her finest performance yet. I think the reason I feel that way is because her role in this film as Valerie Plame is a truly challenging role because NOCs (Non-official cover – government intelligence operatives who assume covert roles in organizations without official ties to their government) are wallflowers by nature and are usually understated and quiet. They want be the least interesting person in the room and want to learn about you without you learning about them.”

I don’t think Sean Penn could win again just because of the virtual cap off at two Oscar wins.  Three would put him at Jack Nicholson status, but even Jack received his Oscar with eight and twelve year gaps.  A win for “Fair Game” would make three wins in seven years for Penn, which is, needless to say, a little excessive.  But Meryl Streep has been nominated a whopping 11 times since her last win, so a nomination is by no means out of the question.  He clearly has the respect and the praise to get him there (Sasha Stone of Awards Daily raved “he has so much charisma, such cinematic force one can hardly wrap one’s mind around it”), but it’s a pretty tight field as is.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get edged out by first-time nominees like Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco or one-time nominees like Colin Firth and Mark Wahlberg.

For the movie to have a shot at Best Picture, there needs to be some big buzz building around the opening to carry it through the season.  It received mostly positive marks from its Cannes debut, but no one was jumping out of their seat in excitement.  Emerging from the Bush era, “Fair Game” takes a look at how far we were willing to let the government take our freedom in exchange for security – and the victims of such policies.  It’s not a sympathetic look at America, and neither was last year’s Best Picture winner “The Hurt Locker.”  Are the politics of Oscar entering an era of confronting harsh realities?

It will need either an audience (which doesn’t seem too likely given the reception for other Iraq movies) or some strong critical allies to overcome what looks to be a fairly lackluster reception.  It’s hard to get a best Picture nomination when you draw a remark like this from a major trade: “Greeted with solid applause and a smattering of boos after its first press screening, ‘Fair Game’ has an enjoyable opening hour before disintegrating into melodramatic hooey” (that would be Manohla Darghis of The New York Times).

The movie’s chances could be hurt by fledgling studio Summit Entertainment.  As Kris Tapley of In Contention put it, “I’m curious to see how the studio will handle a campaign that doesn’t unfold serendipitously, as ‘The Hurt Locker’ seemed to do last year.”  The campaign will need to be big and brassy to keep interest going for four months on this movie.  Precursors are going to have to mention it frequently if it wants to nab a spot in the bottom 5 of Best Picture.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Actress (Watts)

OTHER POTENTIAL NOMINATIONS: Best Actor (Penn), Best Adapted Screenplay