Movie Review – Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth
Directed by Doug Liman

Groundhog Day didn’t invent the “living the same day over and over” trope, but it sure made the thing popular and part of the larger cultural conversation. Edge of Tomorrow takes this idea and overlays it onto a science fiction action film playing the concept for thrills over laughs, though it does have moments of humor. Tom Cruise stars as Major William Cage who is involved in the global effort to push back an alien invasion. Cage is part of media relations and uses his position to avoid combat on the front until the general overseeing the upcoming assault has him shipped off to fight alongside a unit. Cage gets dropped into the D-Day style assault on the northern French coast and is blasted with an unknown energy source before dying. He immediately wakes up 24 hours earlier and lives through the same day, again and again, eventually meeting war hero Rita Vrataski, who knows Cage’s condition all too well.

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Movie Review – Phoenix

Phoenix (2014)
Written Christian Petzold & Harun Farocki
Directed by Christian Petzold

The post-World War II period in Germany has proven to, when used as a setting, provide some of the most atmospheric and rich stories in cinema. You have this sliver of time after the defeat of the Nazis and before the nation was cleaved in half by the Cold War where society was attempting to redefine its identity in the wake of cultural horrors. There were survivors of the Holocaust re-entering Berlin, some with a desire to move past what that had experienced and others never forgetting which of their neighbors betrayed their trust. This is the landscape of mature, nuanced thrillers where each interaction can be dealt with a delicate touch, and shocking reveals are as gentle as a feather yet devastate people to their cores.

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Movie Review – Frank

Frank (2014)
Written by Jon Ronson & Peter Straughan
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson

When given an actor like Michael Fassbender, a man with a handsome leading actor face and square jaw, the last thing you would think to do is put him under a paper mache head for ¾ of your movie. In doing this though the filmmakers give Fassbender some freedoms he might not be afforded in more traditional roles in films that call on him to be a smoldering lover or a dashing hero. The character of Frank is a cipher, created by comedian and musician Chris Sievey. Sievey used Frank as a way to express the strangeness and absurdity he might have felt too nervous about showcasing with his face revealed. The film Frank, very different from the real world Frank, is a mentally ill man who is unable to see himself as a valuable person and hides in this mask, which he sees as the ideal form of a face.

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Movie Review – ’71

‘71 (2014)
Written by Gregory Burke
Directed by Yann Demange

In 1971, Northern Ireland was facing the height of the Troubles, a period where the people of that portion of the United Kingdom were in an all-out war with each other. These conflicts were based primarily on the divide between Catholic and Protestant but were based more on those who were loyal to the British throne and those who sought independence from the kingdom. The film ‘71 follows recruit Gary Hook who is thrown into the chaos of Northern Ireland with little understanding of the factions and nuance of relationships. He’s just there to do a job, supporting local police as they do residence searches for weapons caches. Things turn south quickly, and Gary finds himself trapped and wounded on the streets of Belfast. He’ll spend a night of terror, unsure of whom to trust and testing his mettle to survive.

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Movie Review – Mr. Turner

Mr. Turner (2014)
Written & Directed by Mike Leigh

I loved Mr. Turner! We’re in an age of the most cookie cutter formulaic biopic. Look at films like Bohemian Rhapsody, which follows a rigorous plot structure that doesn’t provide insight into its central figure. It’s not a new problem; it’s just so prevalent. Mr. Turner has no interest in exploring the early years of the English painter J.M.W. Turner, there’s no scene which shows him picking up a paintbrush for the first time as if guided by a divine hand. When we meet the main character, he’s in the last 25 years of his life, past a broken marriage where he doesn’t claim his two daughters, and whose only human connections are with his manager/father and an occasional tryst with his psoriasis riddled maid Hannah. This is not a pretty story but an honest one.

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Movie Review – Tangerine

Tangerine (2014)
Written by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch
Directed by Sean Baker

From the opening moments, you know you are in for a nonstop burst of energy in Tangerine. Much like Sin-Dee who refuses to smoke a joint because she only does uppers, this film has a continual momentum. This dynamic is aided by the technique of filmmaking on display, an iPhone with some apps and at times a Steadicam rig. That sense of rolling energy is supported by this incredibly new mode of making movies and with our two trans main characters. Sean Baker is doing something very experimental yet familiar, made apparent with his use of the old standard “Babes in Toyland.” Baker wants to blend the modern with the classic and create a new kind of film.

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Movie Review – Leviathan

Leviathan (2014)
Written by Andrey Zvyagintsev & Oleg Negin
Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev

In American cinema, there is a tradition of the plucky underdog who has all the odds stacked against him and still manages to come out on top. There is no such archetype in Russian films where the idea of a lone figure having the ability to overcome the bureaucratic power is laughable. Inspired by the bulldozer rampage of Marvin Heemeyer of Colorado, director Andrey Zvyagintsev reimagines that story through a Russian lens of powerlessness. Leviathan is such a searing pointed portrayal of modern Russia and its ugliness that Zvyagintsev, who had received government funds to help finance this film, caused the Ministry of Culture to rewrite their conditions on how a movie gets their support. Films must not “defile” the Russian culture, which is another way of saying they must support the party line and be propaganda.

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