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.

 

Trailer Time: Jack Ryan: Shadow One & Escape Plan

The timing is pretty crummy for this first Jack Ryan: Shadow One trailer to hit so close to author Tom Clancy’s recent passing, but it’s still nice to celebrate the man’s work which had been so influential. This first trailer from the Year One type film stars Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branagh who also stars as the bad guy. The film opens on December 25th.

Escape Plan, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, now has TV spots that seem to be playing in fairly regular rotation. Better yet, they do a pretty solid job of explaining the film in greater detail than we’d seen previously. This one bows on October 18th.

 

Christmas Stories: Miracle On 34th Street (1947) & Love Actually (2003)

While decorating our tree and cleaning up, Em and I watched a few classic Christmas movies, one an old classic in the form of the original Miracle On 34th Street and a new classic Love Actually.

Did you know that Warner Bros. actually had so little faith in Miracle On 34th Street that they released it in the spring and tried to avoid advertising the fact that the movie takes places at Christmas (hence this poster instead of one of the more Santa-themed ones you might be familiar with). That’s crazy, right? They apparently thought it would be too schmaltzy. And actually so did I. My folks gave me this movie on DVD back when I first moved to NY and I’ll be honest, I never watched it until this weekend, though I had seen it when I was younger. But, considering we’d already watched White Christmas, Holiday Inn and a few other favorites, we landed on Miracle because Em had never seen it. In the end we were both pleasantly surprised. See, the idea is that a man claiming to be Santa replaces a drunk “Santa” in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and ends up working in the main store as Santa. Maureen O’Hara hires him and her daughter (Natalie Wood) comes to form a friendship with the man even though she doesn’t believe he’s Santa (or in anything non-logical, she’s like mini Vulcan thanks to her mom’s programming). Of course, as you might expect, the man claiming to be Santa has his sanity called into question and visits with a crappy jerk who’s not even really a psychiatrist, who, eventually drives Santa crazy enough that he knocks the jerk in the head with his cane. Somehow, this gets him institutionalized, so O’Hara’s neighbor/love interest (played by John Payne) represents him as a lawyer and eventually SPOILER WARNING proves that he’s Santa thanks to some delivered mail.

Like I said, I thought it would be too ooey gooey, but the film is really well done. I think it’s balanced with Christmas spirit and real world doubt, kind of like The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (it’s not as weird of a comparison as you might think). I also really enjoyed Wood’s performance and was shocked to read the she died in 1981 after falling off a boat that her husband Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken were in. It’s really too bad. So, give Miracle a shot, have a good time and enjoy some fantastic performances.

Though if you’re looking for a real rollercoaster of a Christmas movie, I can’t recommend Love Actually more as it is one of my favorites of the last 10 years (along with Elf). Love Actually is one of those movies that has a ton of big time British actors (Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, and plenty of others) with several stories interacting with each other in all kinds of ways you don’t necessarily notice on the first viewing. I’m not going to get into all the stories, but Grant plays the Prime Minister who falls in love with one of his assistants and Neeson tries to help his son get the girl of his dreams even after his wife (and the kid’s mom) dies prematurely. What I love about Love Actually, is not only does it cover the gamut of emotions you might feel around the holidays, but it’s intricately put together. I’ve seen this movie probably around 5 or 6 times and I’m always recognizing new things and connections between characters that I didn’t catch the last time around. I also like it because it reminds me of a really good Nick Hornby book (and not just because it’s British), but because there isn’t a single character that feels like a one-trick pony.

I did have a little trouble this time around with Laura Linney’s character. See, she’s American and plays as such. Her character arc involves her finally going out with this guy she’s been crushing on forever, but she’s also taking care of her mentally handicapped brother who continually takes precedence over everything else. And by “taking care of” I mean, he’s in an institution that lets him call her at all hours of the day. Aside from not believing that she’d kick the super-hot dude out of bed, I also don’t get why her mentally handicapped American brother is with her in England? There are plenty of plausible explanations, but I do wish it would have been addressed because it nags at me (or at least it did this time around). But, that’s a pretty minor nitpick and I still really have a good time watching this one every year.

Another thing about this movie that I enjoy is the fact that every year it seems like I recognize someone in it that I didn’t the year before. The last time it was Martin Freeman (a.k.a. Tim from the British Office), this time it was  January Jones playing one of the American girls that a British dude meets in a bar. See, he figured that he’d score like crazy in the States so he just bought a ticket and flew out. He went to the first bar the cab found and lucked out finding not one but four hot chicks who all sleep together and invite him to stay over. Good job, man!

So, as you can probably tell from this brief description, this movie has a lot going on. Everyone I’ve handed it to has loved it and I think you will too. Just give it a shot tough guy!