Edge of Tomorrow (a.k.a. Live, Die, Repeat)

Edge of Tomorrow_

3Star

by Ken B.

Edge of Tomorrow is an electrically paced blockbuster, entertaining and light but not intellectually barren. The script is tight, funny, and moves quickly with its very odd timeline (it’s like a messed up Groundhog Day), the acting is reliably good from the well rounded cast, the visuals are outstanding, and the direction is usually pretty stable. And most importantly for a summer action movie, it’s fun. It definitely achieves great levels of entertainment, enough to take it through the occasional narrative rough spot.

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Oblivion

Oblivion_

2Star

by Ken B.

Oblivion is a movie that spends 124 minutes with a very nice look and using good actors, but ultimately muddles around in the story department and manages to kill your interest multiple times. There is plenty to admire, but also much to be disappointed with. It is a simultaneously enjoyable and regrettable experience. The film is set in 2077, when a large interplanetary war has obliterated much of the world and destroyed the moon. Most surviving humans are relocated to Saturn’s moon Titan, on a large base called Tet. Tet commands the humans left on Earth, who maintain drones to keep the attackers, known as Scavs (as in scavengers) at bay. One of them is Jack (Tom Cruise), who lives in a large base named Tower 49 with his partner (both professional and domestic) Vika (Andrea Riseborough). While Jack is out working in the dangerous uninhabited remains of land, Vika works back at Tower 49, keeping in constant contact with both Jack and a representative for Tet (Melissa Leo), making sure that everything is in order.  Continue reading

Jack Reacher — Review

Jack Reacher_

1-5Star

by Ken B.

On one of the top levels of a Pittsburgh parking garage, a van drives up. A quarter is placed in the parking meter. Thirty minutes are now available, but that amount of time won’t be needed. Out comes a sniper. He loads the gun, points it at the street across the way and kills five people at the outskirts of PNC Park. This is the opening sequence of Jack Reacher. While intriguing on paper, it more or less plays out like an episode of your everyday cop show. That’s an indicator of the film that will follow. It’s painstakingly tedious: monotony occasionally broken by an action scene to wake the viewer out of their boredom induced slumber. Even those are weirdly univolving and listless. It’s competently framed and edited, but that’s hardly worthy compensation for the 130 minutes this movie occupies.

The main suspect (Joseph Sikora) is now in a coma after a bad run in with some inmates in a prison van. He’s represented by Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), the head of the law firm just unlucky enough to get the case. Helen is the daughter of the district attorney (Richard Jenkins). Before the attack, the man had requested the services of a man named Jack Reacher. It took a while to figure out who this even was; Reacher was essentially a ghost, with virtually no trail, except for occasional withdrawals from a bank account, sustained from his military career. Jack (Tom Cruise) eventually saves the police the pursuit and comes to them, offering to work on the case. What follows leads to the unraveling of a far bigger event.

Aside from a few select moments, there’s no real joy to be had watching Jack Reacher. A lot of it is gloomy and dark. While such an ideal can be a good thing for this kind of movie, and typically is, it doesn’t work here. There’s just something not right about the way the movie operates, and therefore it’s more likely to be off-putting than applicably brooding. Maybe it’s how Jack Reacher sometimes spits out one liners like there’s no tomorrow, where the crime that the movie is based around is about the seemingly random sniping of five people in broad daylight (it also added a bit of unintentional creepiness back when it hit theaters, considering that this film was released in the U.S. exactly one week after the Sandy Hook shooting).

But there are good things. I mentioned the technical aspects, which add limited interest to the bigger action set pieces, but the acting is not to be entirely discredited. Cruise has a mostly cool, slick, confident demeanor in the title role. Robert Duvall is good in a supporting role late in the film. Werner Herzog (!) has a pretty interesting role later on as well, and David Oyelowo has a solid dynamic with Cruise as a detective initially suspicious of Reacher.

Despite the few commendable qualities, Christopher McQuarrie’s adaptation of Lee Child’s 2005 novel is a miserable film that left me feeling similarly. Its pointlessness seems nearly self aware at times, going through plot development sullenly and perfunctorily, just waiting for the next scene where Tom Cruise beats up some bad guys. It’s a game of staring at the events onscreen blankly, never feeling like anything more than a witness that has little clue or care of what’s going on. There’s going to be a sequel, they say. Oh.

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Jack Reacher

Top Gun – Review

TopGun_cap

25Star

by Ken B.

Top Gun. Because, you know, 1986.

In all seriousness, this isn’t a very good movie. Take away the mildly entertaining plot execution and the spectacular flying sequences and you see a somewhat coherent story with mediocre to moderate acting and a once enjoyable soundtrack repeated way too many times for its own good. However, similar to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, it’s remembered fondly because in the end, it’s there to please us on an ephemeral level. If only the extra step had been taken to make it even more satisfying, I would have been much more likely to give a full recommendation.

Pete Mitchell (TOM CRUISE), better known by his call sign “Maverick”, is a hotshot (the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker parody of this was called Hot Shots) pilot who is called with his colleague “Goose” (ANTHONY EDWARDS) to attend the U.S. Navy’s Fighter Weapons School, an exclusive five-week program where the best Navy fighters are sent for more extensive training. The group of pilots fight for the top spot, with Maverick’s most frequent opponent in that respect being “Iceman” Kasansky (VAL KILMER).

Maverick’s a bit of an eccentric flyer – you wonder why a person like him would be a pilot in the heavily disciplined military. The answer is his father, also pilot whose plane was shot down during the Vietnam War, although Maverick never had accepted this story as truth. He never really knew his dad, and yet everything he does in the Navy as a fighter pilot is subtly underwritten by this preservation of respect. Supporting him through this competitive and dangerous environment is not only Goose, but a woman, Charlie (KELLY McGILLIS), whom Maverick meets at a bar one night. The next day he finds out she works as an instucter for the Fighter Weapons School (called Top Gun) with “top secret clearance” at the Pentagon.

The script by Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr. is concerned with only a few things – giving Tom Cruise one-liners and charismatic opportunities, big aerial shows and shots of maneuvers, and the occasional explosion. While it’s commendable that this 109 minute movie never really loses steam, there’s an unavoidable feeling that a more interesting film with emotional payoff and hides behind an exceedingly basic background.

When it comes to the question of whether it succeeds on those merits, the answer is yes. While some might argue that this should automatically require me to award Top Gun a higher rating, the star ratings are based on my overall recommendation of a movie, and I can’t with good conscience recommend a movie that has such a style over substance attitude. In a truly good movie, the latter should be primary to the former (I understand that co-producer Jerry Bruckheimer would disagree with me on this). As a movie that documents Tom Cruise’s rise to prominence, a highlight of the idyllic mid-1980s blockbuster, and a gung-ho American attitude of the time echoed in other idyllic mid-1980s blockbusters (i.e. Red Dawn, Rocky IV, although perhaps not as obvious on a direct level as the movies I’ve just mentioned), Top Gun also works. If you watch it, know that the moments of true feeling are not nonexistent, but few and far between.

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