Edge Of Tomorrow 3D ****

Edge-of-Tomorrow

Apocalyptic movies about the destruction of ‘selfish mankind’ are becoming ten-a-penny, where we’re getting quite used to seeing our famous city landmarks reduced to dark, gloomy ruins. It would be easy to knock Tom Cruise’s new action flick Edge Of Tomorrow by instantly placing it in that category. However, Cruise as been a little wiser in selecting this film than his other sci-fi efforts (Oblivion) as Edge of Tomorrow echoes Minority Report in clever concepts and time-bending antics. Plus we get to see our famous landmarks reduced to rubble again for good measure.

Earth’s defence forces are united and at war with aliens who have taken over Europe and are advancing on the British coastline. US Military officer Cage (Cruise) has been paramount in doing PR for the war effort but finds himself sent to the frontline to report on it by General Brigham (a grumpy Brendan Gleeson) for no apparent reason. Cage objects as he has never been in combat and tries to run but is arrested.

A bewildered Cage wakes up the next day at a base, stripped of his rank and reduced to Private status while being barked at by Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton – in usual combat fatigues). He is placed in the first wave going over to France to fight in what will be a slaughter. However, something happens to him on the battlefield, after witnessing the forces’ most decorated soldier, Rita (Emily Blunt), getting killed. The subsequent effect is every time Cage is killed he returns back to the same day, waking up at the barracks. What he must do is use his Groundhog Day scenario to save Rita and find a way to end the war – while not getting injured.

Think Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day (1993), but without groundhog Punxsutawney Phil and as much humour (yes, there are some funny moments throughout this in the most tense of situations), and war-film retro but alien-futuristic in nature. The joy of this action sci-fi film is it doesn’t start out with the usual hero figure drafted in to the save the day with unlimited knowledge on tap, rather a coward in Cage. In fact, his psyche is rather as you would imagine the average recruit to the D-Day landings in 1944 being – basically, terrified.

What develops over repeated planned scenarios is an elite fighter and a survivor in Cage who battles on to find the solution while wearing his heart on his sleeve. The most memorable aspect is not the usual big-gun-ho battles and Transformer-like aliens coming out of the sand dunes, but a very personal journey by Cage as he grows from strength to strength while trying to keep one step ahead of the time-travelling puzzle.

Cruise seems to have perfected the personable action hero. What helps him further in this respect is the intriguing casting of Emily Blunt opposite him – the most unlikely female action hero. Not so – Ms Blunt can run, fight and deliver vengeance like the best of them (move over mean-faced Michelle Rodriguez). It is perhaps that as Rita, she still possesses certain vulnerability as her public persona breaks down to reveal a more private one that keeps the flourishing relationship subplot so viable and alive. And yet the screenwriters keep us guessing with ‘will they, won’t they’, which with hindsight the result is more the kind of emotional experience one might encounter with the weight of saving humankind on one’s shoulders.

Edge Of Tomorrow is definitely a film to experience first-hand – delving into it more reveals too many biological touchpoints, while trying to explain it to others makes the plot sound shallow and samey. The ‘rebirth’ ending alone will have tongues wagging in heated debate, not since the days of Ripley’s fate in the Aliens saga. It’s certainly made its mark as an intelligent sci-fi Groundhog Day flick with the token action and alien presence for good measure, a surprise hit at the box office this week.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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X-Men: Days of Future Past ****

x-men

If you can’t get enough of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, you won’t be disappointed with the latest instalment from X-Men director Bryan Singer who places the clawed mutant in cerebral confinement for the sake of peace with humanity. It’s an intriguing and wildly energetic attempt at marrying two X-Men ‘generations’ while going full-tilt down the sci-fi route with a bit of time travel and cyborg terror and a memorable splash of The Matrix slow-mo moves. And all works, enough to blanket over some gapping wormholes in plot, more thanks to the magnetic cast who do a splendid job once again.

The Days Of Future Past begins with what’s left of bleak, battle-scarred, apocalyptic Planet Earth in 2023 (just think Terminator rip-off), where man and his cyborg machines are pitched against the last remaining mutants. Charles Xavier’s worse fears of a war between mutants and non-mutants are realised. But there is hope: on the joint decision of Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) who are united in 2023, Logan/Wolverine (Jackman) will return in mind to his body in 1973, around the time of the Paris peace talks that ended the Vietnam War.

Logan must find and stop Raven/Mystique’s (Jennifer Lawrence) deadly mission to kill the scientist, Dr Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), responsible for creating the prototype cyborgs crushing the mutants’ resistance in 2023. However, Wolverine has to convince the younger Prof X, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto, then Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) to bury the hatchet and unite in saving all mankind and mutant in the future.

The plot sounds a little convoluted, in terms of where we are along on the timeline – plus there is a head-scratching moment when you try to figure out why certain mutants are still alive when they quite obviously were dead in the future – there are many time parallels. That said the end goal is the same: save planet Earth for all, so Singer and team had a convincing common goal to work towards. To be fair, the initial time-travelling element is more amusing than mind-bending (for us), and there is a certain degree of good-natured campness to the 1970s era. Jackman aids this and is simply stellar once more as Logan/Wolverine, our stoic guide and witness.

McAvoy as Xavier and Fassbender as Lehnsherr give the sheer intensity fans are waiting for as they clash while ‘coming of mutant’ to deal with their own evolving powers and the implications of them. It’s a thrilling watch, as 2023 Wolverine tries dealing with them while also dealing with his own fragile mental state. Lawrence provides the nubile blue catalyst in scenes but has less screen-time than fans might have hoped for.

Still, as budding mutants go, it’s confident Peter, aka Quicksilver (Evan Peters) who gives the most exhilarating and memorable action performance in Matrix-esque style – great on an IMAX screen. Again, logically, if Quicksilver’s that speedy at prevention, surely he could have put stop to the whole future demise, without the tricky enlisting of arch enemies Xavier and Lehnsherr? But where’s the fun – or film – in that?

As baddies go, Dinklage’s anti-mutant scientist/arms dealer Trask may be diminutive in stature but packs an almighty punch in presence, without resorting to any pantomime. He is merely the pragmatic businessman offering a solution, while the real troublemakers are the mutants themselves, infighting. This is perhaps why the franchise works so well and this film hits the right note: the internal battle of being ‘special’ that can be a gift but also a curse: The mutants are ‘flawed’ like us and desperate to fit in. Nevertheless, Magneto’s stadium-raising moment does smack of outright showmanship that seems to go against this compelling theory – and Singer and co have the means to inject a little action indulgence and you can’t blame them for doing so.

There is still a question mark as to why such deep-seated mutant anger within the films’ storylines that feels a given but is never fully explored. If the filmmakers weren’t too busy tying us up in time-travelling knots, then Days Of Future Past could have been the perfect opportunity to do this as the mutants are trying to save the day. However, this film has more than enough going on to fully satisfy viewers, plus it’s a real buzz seeing the characters/actors together again on screen, however distracting the surroundings.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Godzilla 3D ****

godzilla

Marauding super monsters sent to remind Man that nature needs to take its course sometimes (and knock our cockiness down a few pegs) is the terrifying stuff of many an epic monster movie, as they wade through our cities like a toddler through LEGO structures. It’s easy to just repeat endless scenes of destruction and cause an assault on the eyes at the same time (Transformers, for example).

Godzilla (2014) has a ‘different’ take; one that has more significance and thought behind it, one that almost builds a character arc for the leading beast himself. Intriguingly, even though we don’t get to see Godzilla, one of the M.U.T.O. (massive, unidentified, terrestrial object) until a good 40 minutes in, standing tall in his full scaly glory, low-budget Monsters (2010) writer-director Gareth Edwards teases us with visual snippets to get a sense of every anatomical part of the beast in and out of water. The result is an exhilarating build-up – with not quite the storyline you initially expect (even though it’s the standard ‘saving the day and mankind’ variety).

The film begins in Japan, where scientist Joe Brody (Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston) who works at Janjira nuclear plant near Tokyo, picks up unusual tremors that don’t follow the usual pattern of an earthquake. His superiors are not keen to discuss. Brody suspects they and the Japanese government are hiding something bigger and more worrying, resulting in an accident that leads to personal tragedy. Returning 15 years later to the supposed radioactive site to follow through his theory, Brody gets arrested. His now adult son and US Army bomb expert, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) – who has a young family of his own back in the States – is asked to come and collect him. However, the pair uncovers more than they bargained for and mankind is under threat.

Edwards has put his special effects background to highly commendable use here, having honed his skills in the £250k Monsters that roused thrills in its suggestion of sinister monster activity, without visually showing everything. He does the same here, but wisely uses the far, far bigger budget, leading with the personal dramas of the main human characters to actually drive the story, rather than theirs being an after-thought while we wait for the next monster action scene. The best thing about Edwards’ version is he reverts back to the original production company, Toho Co.’s tale of linking global nuclear testing with covering up something bigger. Hence, Man’s arrogance at scientific superiority is challenged by nature; our punishment for that is the M.U.T.O.

Cranston is excellent as the obsessive, paranoid Brody; we get a real sense of his professional frustrations and personal pain. He’s also the man against the corporate machine, the non-conformist we all like to egg on to uncover the mystery. Where Godzilla feels like every other disaster movie is the inevitable US military might in force – as you might expect, considering where the film’s set. Even so, rather than all guns blazing – thought there are a lot, Edwards still manages to keep things focused on the personal angle, with Taylor-Johnson as Ford guiding us through his own familiar struggles while trying to save the West Coast. The schmaltzy ending is a given too. However, this can be forgiven because Edwards delivers on everything else.

As for the M.U.T.O.s, it’s like watching a nature programme rather than a ‘crashing n bashing’ action movie. We get a very real sense of how they function and reproduce and their objectives. At the end, we have an unlikely hero that is set to ride the wave of success on this obviously lucrative franchise from the open ending.

Godzilla (2014) is an epic monster movie reboot that looks great on an IMAX screen – though, again, it’s questionable whether 3D does anything of grander note in the apocalyptic-styled, gloomy design than add a bit of depth and more cost to the price of a ticket. Its focus on the characters’ personal journeys makes it far more satisfying. Better still, its monsters have a purpose other than providing target practice for the gun-ho military. There is even a sense of niggling injustice as man decides who is more important in the pecking order, stirring any animal welfare feelings in the process. Species verses species it is, but who has the right to decide who is more important in nature’s game? Yes, you can get more than a little philosophical after watching this, but don’t miss the start of greater things to come…

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Two faces Of January ****

two-faces-of-january

Novelist Patricia Highsmith gave us the murderer Tom Ripley, introduced to film buffs in the acclaimed 1999 film The Talented Mr Ripley, a charming psychopath played by Matt Damon. Now our curiosity is further pricked some 15 years later with the promise of another big-screen-adapted period psychological thriller set on some sunny Mediterranean shores, The Two faces Of January. The cast is the obvious draw here, with the promise of another fine performance from Oscar Isaac of Inside Llewyn Davis fame, as well as boasting heavyweights Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst.

The Two faces Of January is a story of tricksters and those in denial, centring on American con artist Chester MacFarland (Mortensen) who spots another in action with a wealthy foreign lady in Greek-American Rydal (Isaac). MacFarland befriends Rydal after he becomes slightly obsessed by his entrancing wife, Colette MacFarland (Dunst). Once MacFarland’s days are numbered after he is tracked down by a third party, the American entraps the younger Greek-American into a deadly plan of escape that leaves tragedy in its wake.

Sumptuously filmed in a vivid contrast, Film Noir fashion that really sets the tone, even in daylight scenes, debut writer-director Hossein Amini’s (Drive, The Wings of a Dove) engrossing love triangle is never what it seems: The true thoughts and goals of the three lead characters are forever up for grabs. This delicately balanced dalliance plus superb casting drives curiosity to the very end within a classy premise.

The powerhouse acting of Isaac opposite veteran Mortensen is electric, like watching two alpha males circling each other, planning their moves while keeping as much control and faux respect left to last the journey they are bound together to make. Ironically, there is a nurturing ‘father-son-like’ relationship that fizzes beneath the surface menace too, that comes to fruition at the very end. Dunst is as on form as in Melancholia, and an alluring sight of conflicting character as Colette – yet another performance for fans to enjoy.

The casting is therefore a done deal, but the real success of this thriller is screenwriter Amini’s remarkable directorial debut, showing as much nuance and style in directing as any budding Hitchcock. His tense moments are claustrophobic – even outdoors – and he stimulates foreboding in the slightest camera angle framing his leads, setting them out like chess pieces in a backdrop. His additional writing skill means none of the above feels bloated, script-wise. Each word is significant, as is its delivery.

There is some head scratching to be had as to Rydal’s real father’s identity and a link that feels like a significant subplot driver but is never fully explored. Whether intentionally left ambiguous, there is a pictorial pointer that may leave some wondering what they have missed as it ‘seems’ important in the state of play.

This intellectual minefield of passion, treachery and crushing defeat is the perfect psychological cocktail. Amini has worked magic with cast and production that The Two faces Of January is merely the start of exciting things to come.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Tarzan 3D **

tarzan-3d

‘The King of the Jungle’ and his man-ape antics are not deemed enough to keep the 2014 kid engaged, it seems. Well, that appears to be the case, with German company Constantin Films’ new take of Tarzan – all in 3D. For those who know the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ character, this animated Tarzan becomes emerged in an Avatar/Superman/Kingdom of the Crystal Skull/Jurassic Park/environmental campaign. Let’s just say he has more to contend with IN the jungle than Crocodile Dundee ever did out of it.

The story is pretty much the same; this time though, we get a bit of back-story into the boy who grows to become the ‘ape man’. Derek lives with his explorer/scientist father – and wealthy CEO of Greystoke Energies – and mother in the depths of the jungle until one day, the family decide to travel back home part of the way by helicopter. On the way, they make a cursed detour that will prove fatal for some.

Derek wakes to find himself alone in the jungle and gets ‘adopted’ by a female gorilla mourning a personal loss, as well as some of the rest of the primate group. Derek grows into Tarzan (voiced by Twilight’s Kellan Lutz). His simple life is eventually turned upside down by the arrival of the beautiful Jane Porter (voiced by Spencer Locke) and the current, unscrupulous CEO of his father’s old corporation, hell-bent on exploiting the natural and curiously strange resources. Tarzan must save Jane and the jungle life.

Not only is there a sinister nature to the facial animation of writer-director Reinhard Klooss’ Tarzan, but also, it’s clear – after you’ve adjusted to the 3D specs – this is a dubbed film from German to English when you concentrate on the characters’ speech in particular. In the current climate of perfectly formed Pixar films, this is a little too obvious and frankly unforgivable. The only saving grace is the immense detail of the surroundings that is awe-inspiring and really submerges you into the lush habitat. Hence, you feel Tarzan’s determination to save it.

There are some beautifully realised ape scenes that show Klooss and co have done their wildlife homework well, and studied the nature of primates in their environment – and not afraid to tackle serious subjects like death. Parents do not fear; it is done with kids in mind though, but there may be some explaining to do afterwards, more out of young curiosity.

The biggest issue this film has is it’s rammed with so many concepts, complete with a bizarre sci-fi angle that just feels ‘desperate’ on the creators’ part, as if kids would bored easily with just vine-swinging action. It seems to borrow a lot from other films too, so much so, it becomes very samey. By the time the kids hear the famous Tarzan call, they either a) have not registered it, or b) have no idea of the significance of this for this historic fictional character. That feels like a great waste – even after explaining the significance to unmoved, accompanying youngsters before the film began.

Tarzan 3D thus feels like a frustrating introduction for kids today, purely because Tarzan’s got too much on his plate in the story, distracting from our focus on him as an intriguing character. The love story alone would have been more powerful with maybe the ‘save the natural resources of our planet’ angle. But really, Tarzan in a sci-fi film? Still, here’s betting no one thought Indiana Jones would get entangled with aliens in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull so anything’s possible with access to special effects, however bonkers.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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