Edge of Tomorrow

June 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton
Directed by: Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”)
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”), Jez Butterworth (“Fair Game”) and John-Henry Butterworth (“Fair Game”)

Okay, sure, “Edge of Tomorrow” looks like a sci-fi spin on “Groundhog Day” and yeah, that’s the premise in a nutshell. When you have a guy reliving the same day over and over and over again, the Bill Murray classic is instantly top of mind. But more so than that, though, the film is a mildly satirical, exceedingly clever adventure featuring the most accessible and likeable performance by Tom Cruise that we’ve seen in years.

As a TV-friendly officer charged with selling a land war with aliens to the world, Cruise’s Major William Cage is ordered to the front lines with a camera crew to record the great victory over the so-called Mimics. When Cage resists, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) cooks up a conspiracy to bust him down to private. Cage is assigned to J-Squad under Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton) where no one cares if he lives or dies. The next day, after some hasty training and brutal hazing, Cage suits up in his futuristic exo-skeletal armor and is dropped in the middle of a massacre with the rest of the infantry. Cage manages to survive the firefight long enough to come face to face with an “Alpha,” one of the rarer Mimics, only to be burned to death by its blood. Immediately upon dying, though, Cage awakes to relive the previous day, destined to fight and die again. This happens over and over and over, with Cage improving his skills every re-lived day with the help of military superstar Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the one person who understands what he’s going through.

“Groundhog Day” memories aside, “Edge of Tomorrow” brings a fresh and funny perspective to what, on the surface, looks like another futuristic snoozer on par with last year’s “Oblivion,” also featuring Cruise. Director Doug Liman never leans too heavily on the overarching gimmick, instead using the days Cage relives that we don’t see to move the narrative forward. When we think we’re seeing progress toward the goal of defeating the Mimics, Rita slowly discovers she and Cage have been in this situation dozens—if not hundreds—of times before. You absolutely feel Cage’s frustration, doubly so if you grew up playing video games without save features in the ‘80s, when a lengthy quest could come to a maddening end just to leave you back at the very beginning. Like Cage, all you’re left with is the accumulated knowledge of what you went through. And, like lots of ‘80s video games, “Edge of Tomorrow” falters near the end, foregoing creativity for mindless action. But truthfully, getting there is all the fun.

Million Dollar Arm

May 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Bill Paxton
Directed by: Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”)
Written by: Tom McCarthy (“Win Win”)

More than any other major North American sports league, Major League Baseball has truly gone international.  Last season, more than a quarter of the league’s players on opening day rosters were born outside of the United States, representing 15 countries.  As the game continues to expand, areas of the world once considered a new baseball frontier like the Dominican Republic are a fixture of any scout’s itinerary.  Just as “Moneyball” showed the competitive edge that can be gained from tapping into a market inefficiency, “Million Dollar Arm” shows how creative strategies and unconventional thinking can continue to mine talent from unexpected places.

As a last ditch effort to save his sports agency, agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) comes up with a reality TV show idea with the intent of converting cricket players to major league pitchers. When the two players from India are selected (Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma) they embark on an unlikely journey to earn a professional contract.

From early on in the film, it is clear the cast is one of the strong points of the film. Despite playing the lead on a massively popular TV show (“Mad Men”), this is one of the first leading film roles for Hamm. It’s a good performance, albeit one that doesn’t require much other than occupying a lot of screen time, which he does quite capably. Nonetheless, he is charismatic enough to make his role worthwhile. As actors with little recognition to American audiences, Mittal and Sharma, are able to capture elements of culture shock without overdoing it.

With such a brilliant past output, it makes sense that Disney would hire such a talented screenwriter in Thomas McCarthy. Unfortunately, McCarthy’s writing is stifled and slightly generic. That isn’t to say it is bad, but it does go through the motions and hits every expected narrative and emotional arc you’d expect from a Disney movie, which makes it more of a by-the-numbers sports film than something truly special.

Though there isn’t a terrible amount of it, director Craig Gillespie does a good job of building a convincing world of baseball and constructing the pitching montages and an even better job of photographing the streets of India. By the sometimes desolate and cramped living spaces, Gillespie does a great job of showing the cultural differences that go both ways.

At its core, “Million Dollar Arm,” like many other underdog sports films, is about pursuing a dream against all odds. As a film, it doesn’t do any one thing particularly well, but rather a decent job at several things. While many of the notes are certainly familiar, none of them are false and the film does a solid job of developing emotional investment. It’s far too long and there is nothing particularly unique or imaginative about it, but for a family sports movie, you could do a lot worse.

2 Guns

August 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Bill Paxton
Directed by: Baltasar Kormakur (“Contraband”)
Written by: Blake Masters (debut)

When thinking about actor/director teams of recent memory, duos like Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, or the late Tony Scott and Denzel Washington come to mind. One that might not be at the forefront of people’s minds is the duo of Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur and Mark Wahlberg. Reteaming for the second time in as many years (Kormakur directed last year’s “Contraband,” a remake of an Icelandic film in which Kormakur actually starred in), “2 Guns” sets out to put the duo on the map as a new formidable team.

With their true identities unknown to each other, Undercover DEA Agent Bobby Trench (Denzel Washington) and undercover naval intelligence officer Marcus Stigman (Mark Wahlberg) try to infiltrate a drug cartel and take the other down with them. Both find themselves being chased down by Stigman’s crooked Naval bosses and an angry CIA agent (Bill Paxton) who they mistakenly stole the money from. Together they must team up to track down the money, which was taken from them, and stay alive.

Though not straying too far from characters seen in recent films like “Ted,” this is the kind of role and film Wahlberg does best. Throughout the film, Wahlberg uses his natural humor and is able to effortlessly put entire scenes on his back. In Washington’s case, it almost feels like he’s just along for the ride. It isn’t to say that his performance is lackluster, but it’s the kind that seems to be the norm for Washington these days. Besides the two leads, Paxton plays a deliciously evil Southern villain to a tee. He is a blast to watch. All his lines, including the hilarious ones, are delivered with total perfection. You can clearly tell Paxton is eating up the role.

What “2 Guns” really succeeds at is hammering down a consistent and loose tone. Jokes have a constant presence and are utilized in appropriate times. In fact, “2 Guns” packs some legitimately big laughs and one-liners with Wahlberg being the culprit in most cases. Even when some lines toe the line of absurdity, the film has a certain self-awareness that makes what’s happening or being said fun, rather than corny. While Kormakur is certainly capable of staging an action sequence, these scenes in particular are probably the weakest point of the film.

The plot itself becomes over-complicated in the third act with plenty of plot twists and double-crossing. Still, the film never loses its sense of a good time.  At its core, the driving force behind “2 Guns” is the performances of its actors, chiefly Wahlberg and Paxton. Even with all the gunfire, bloodshed, and explosions (and dumb title aside), at the end of the day, the successful pairing of Wahlberg and Washington is what makes it worthwhile.