We Want Action: John Carter, Edge Of Tomorrow & Jack Ryan

john_carter_ver2 I’ve been pretty tired and/or busy lately. Between work and the kids, the days are pretty full and I get awfully sleepy by the time evenings roll around. This is a bummer for me because I like to stay up and watch movies at night, but that’s been more of a piecemeal process lately. However, I’m still trying to take in new films like this trio of more recent big screen offerings.

Let’s start with Andrew Stanton’s 2012 film John Carter from Disney. This adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ space traveler didn’t do so hot at the box office and I think I know why. First off, the well seemed to be pretty solidly poisoned before the movie even came out. I have no idea why that is, but I was heavily in the movie coverage thing for Spinoff when this film was coming out and there seemed to be a lot of pre-press about how it was going to fail. I don’t know why and this might sound conspiratorial, but it seemed to me like someone didn’t want the movie to do well and then it didn’t.

But, that’s not all. This isn’t an easy film to understand and, for me, that’s not a knock. You’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on and do a little thinking yourself to keep up with this tale. It’s not all laid out at your feet, which I appreciate because too many movies spell everything out so there’s absolutely no place for confusion. I don’t mind working for my entertainment and actually think better of the projects that make me get into that headspace.

This isn’t just a thinking person’s sci-fi action film, though. It looks rad. The aliens are fantastic and the action sequences are on point. I’ve read maybe a quarter or a third of ERB’s A Princess of Mars and it seemed like Stanton and company took what’s a fairly dry, clinical narrative and gave it a bit more heart which I appreciated (I actually stopped reading because that old school style of simply listing everything weird that’s happening gets real old for me real fast). All in all, I give this one a big thumb’s up and hope more people discover it at home. It’s too bad we’re not going to get more of this world…at least for a while.

edge of tomorrowAs I move on to talking about Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, I’m realizing that all three of these movies were adaptations. This one is probably the least well known because it’s a manga (which I haven’t read, for what it’s worth). Basically, aliens are invading earth and humanity uses mech suits to fight them off. Tom Cruise plays a self-serving PR guy who gets unceremoniously recruited to the front lines where he kills one of the creatures which gives him a kind of Groundhog Day-like ability to keep living the same day over and over again. He gets in contact with Blunt’s super soldier character who had a similar experience and starts training like crazy, dying constantly along the way.

The story has a pretty high concept and some specific rules about how you get and lose these powers, but again, I don’t mind learning these fairly outlandish details as they’re presented. I was much more interested in Blunt’s character than all that anyway. She’s such a cool, shrewd character who, in a way, knows what’s going on, but in another is completely in the dark because she has no idea how many times Cruise has come back and tried any number of alternative methods. While he’s falling for her over and over again, she’s basically meeting him for the first time every day (and killing him a number of those times).

So, if you can buy into some bonkers rules and like Tom Cruise evolving from brash douche to war hero, then give Edge Of Tomorrow (or as it was retitled upon home video release KILL. DIE. REPEAT.) a shot.

jack ryan shadow recruitFinally, let’s talk a bit about Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, based on the character seen in Tom Clancy’s novels. This particular story doesn’t come from one of those books, instead giving the CIA operative an updated origin story for the modern era starring Chris Pine. The idea here was to start a new franchise, but apparently the film didn’t do to well and those plans have been put on hold, but I thought this was a gripping thriller that kept my attention the whole time.

Ryan starts off as a finance wiz who joins the military after the events of 9-11. While serving, his helicopter gets blown up, but he survives to meet and fall for Keira Knightley in a hospital. While getting better Kevin Costner appears and offers him a job as a covert financial analyst for the CIA. He soon comes upon Kenneth Branagh, a Russian whose machinations include a massive terrorist attack that will topple the world economy.

As much as I love James Bond movies where our hero is super experienced in all things espionage, I kind of liked seeing someone like Ryan in his early days. He’s got the training and does okay when he gets attacked early on, but Pine also conveys how overwhelming some of these experiences are. It would have been cool to see his version of this character evolve over a series of films.

Of course, Jack Ryan has been in a series of movies like Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Sum Of All Fears. I don’t think I’ve seen any of those movies, so I wasn’t spending the whole run time comparing Pine to Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford or Ben Affleck which was cool, but I am interested in going back and check them out.

 

Quick Movie Review: Looper (2012)

looper_poster Much like with The Raid, I’d heard pretty much only good things about Rian Johnson’s Looper. The trailers I’d seen looked good and according to post-Cop Out Bruce Willis detractor Kevin Smith the movie was so good that it even made him like Willis again, so that definitely piqued my interest. Plus, who doesn’t love a good time travel movie? I’ve seen some really killer newer entries into the genre lately between Primer and Triangle (I wasn’t as big a fan of Timecrimes).

My wife and I watched this movie over the weekend and I was pretty taken aback by it, something I can’t say about most movies. There were some faulty bits that I’ll get to in a graph or two, but first, let’s talk about all the good stuff. This story is fantastic. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays an executioner in 2044 who works for mobsters in 2074 who have access to time travel tech. They have a hard time offing people in the future, so they transport people to the past where a Looper is waiting for them with a blunderbuss and blow the target away. Things go crazy in the film when JGL’s future self  (Willis) gets sent back without the usual restraints and winds up getting away. Willis is on a mission to save his life while JGL just wants to get his old life back. The craziness flows from there.

While I really dug the story, there some story elements that bothered me though. Why do Loopers have such silly guns? Sure a blunderbuss can blow a hole in an elephant, but why not train them to shoot a guy in the head or even use an automatic weapon? I only ask this question because it seems like this detail was added in for the sole purpose of giving JGL a weapon that’s basically useless at the very end of the film. Also, why are they called Loopers? JGL explains in voiceover that it’s because the mob will send the Looper’s future self back for the current Looper to kill, but isn’t that funny naming logic? You don’t name a guy for the last part of his job, do you? I still can’t tell if I have a problem with the telekinesis stuff or not. On one hand, you can just accept is as part of the world, a piece of information that’s put in place and paid off for at the end of the movie. On the other hand, it could be a kind of tacked-on bit of business that’s only there to turn a character who would normally be non-threatening into something you really have to worry about.

Even with the above complaints, I was really moved by this movie. First off, it’s a daring story that goes weird places you don’t expect your basic theater-fare to go. Bruce Willis also stars as a somewhat relatable character doing incredibly awful things to try and save his family. Plus, JGL absolutely kills in the film. He carries the intensity and rawness of his own character while also channelling Willis in ways that don’t seem cheap or hokey. Plus, he really rocks that prosthetic nose and begin to believe he’s almost a completely new person (I kept thinking he looked like Shia at times in the film). And man, that ending. I did not see it coming and it hit me in the gut like heavyweight punch. That’s something else you don’t see often.

If you’re like me and just about everyone I’ve talked to about this movie and want to learn more about Johnson’s life, creative process and experience making this film, check out Kevin Smith’s 2-part SmodCast/SmovieMakers podcast interview with the director (here and here) who also goes into detail on his previous efforts Brick and Brothers Bloom.

Quick Movie Review: The Five-Year Engagement (2012)

five year engagementI had pretty high hopes for The Five-Year Engagement. I’m a big Jason Segel fan from the Freaks & Geeks days. He co-wrote this film with director Nicholas Stoller, the guys behind one of my favorite recent movies, The Muppets. Plus, you’ve got a cast packed with hilarious people like Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, David Paymer, Dakota Johnson, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart and Brian Posehn, all actors and comedians I like a lot. And yet, I was definitely left wanting after watching The Five-Year Engagement.

The movie follows Segel and Emily Blunt from the time they get engaged through their titular five-year engagement. It’s not that either one of them has particularly cold feet, but that life gets in the way. Blunt’s sister (Brie) has a kid with and gets married to Pratt, then Blunt gets a new job that takes them to Ann Arbor, Michigan (which is only about 45 minutes from my home town of Toledo!). Segel, a chef, kind of loses his mind while Blunt goes on with her life and he’s there spinning his wheels, having left a really great job back in San Francisco. Then things get pretty bad and I won’t get into the ending right now.

I have two problems with the movie. First off, it’s 124 minutes long which is too damn long for a comedy. I’m fully in the “90-100 minute” camp when it comes to movies that are supposed to make me laugh. My other problem is that it’s really, really, really hard to make the dissolution of a relationship entertaining and funny. It’s the kind of plot that usually works better in indie dramas or romantic comedies and it could have worked better here if about 20 minutes of the film had been cut. I love Dakota Johnson in Ben & Kate, but her character here is so obviously terrible that she could have been almost completely excised without losing anything of substance.

Stoller and Segel did a somewhat similar kind of movie with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but the key difference here is that Segel didn’t stay with the girl who did bad stuff to him. You’ve got to see all the warts of this relationship (and there are some huge, seeping ones) and you’re still supposed to be charmed by and like these people. It’s like knowing too much about your best couple friends, it’s hard to look at them the same way.

However, SPOILERS, the damn movie won me back with that charming ending. I mean, I wasn’t surprised that they got hitched, but the way they went about it was pretty fantastic. It doesn’t necessarily win me back, but it was well done. Really, I’d like to see a non-director’s cut of this movie, with big chunks chopped out and re-presented for my viewing pleasure. However, if that does happen, the editor needs to leave that part where Brie and Blunt have a relationship conversation while doing Elmo and Cookie Monster voices. That was fantastic.