Trailer: “Edge of Tomorrow”

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Is it going to now become a rule of thumb for Tom Cruise to do the voice-over exposition whenever he’s in a Sci-Fi film? In “Oblivion” he said he was the mop-up crew… Now, he claims to be stuck in a Groundhog Day, where he’s forced to (as the film’s tagline goes) live, die and repeat, until he gets everything right.

II have to say that going by the visuals alone, “Edge of Tomorrow” (formerly known as “All you need is kill”, directed by Doug Liman) might be rather interesting. Based on a manga by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, it is supposed to be a Sci-Fi of the alien invasion variety, where a soldier (Tom Cruise) upon dying on his first day of battle discovers he’s stuck in a time loop and has to relive the last day of his life over and over again.However, with each single passing, he becomes a much better soldier…

At the minute, I’ll try to reserve judgement. Though, going by history alone, Tom Cruise lately doesn’t have a particularly strong record in delivering good quality entertainment. I din’t care much for “Jack Reacher” and rolled my eyes at “Oblivion”, but we’ll see soon enough. Meanwhile, enjoy the trailer.

“Edge of Tomorrow” opens on the 6th of June in the US and on the 30th of May in the UK.

 

The Sunday Rant

Right, so I thought I could use some venting. The years of indentured servitude one has to go through in order to become a scientist, all the while biting his tongue and pickling his emotions, have taught me that keeping things in can be at least referred to as unhealthy. So, as one might probably realize by now, I tend to rant. A lot. I like to think it’s therapeutic, but other than that I don’t really know.

Last week ended up being really interesting. I spent God knows how long waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with the greatest (so far) stink-bomb of the year – “Iron Man 3”, because I really wanted to see how it is received globally. It would seem that here in Europe we’re mostly good guys and instances of brutally spoiling this film for our fellow movie-goers across the pond were rather scarce; if you don’t count Youtube – that place is just full of butt-holes, but who am I to talk… I sincerely hoped “Iron Man 3” would bomb, but quite expectedly people loved it. The critics write sonnets about how fantastic it was and the box office revenue reflects the popular (sigh!) vote; and that scares me.

I mean, I can understand that people don’t want to step on anyone’s toes with this one, because the great Shane Black wrote the script for this piece of crap, but let’s face it: for the good of everyone around there should be no sanctity when it comes to art or entertainment. If Spielberg makes a s**t film – people should know, but it turns out that RDJ only needs flutter his eyelashes for everybody to fall hopelessly in love with Iron Man… Shame… And to think someone who brought us “Lethal Weapon” or “The Last Boy Scout” could contribute to this…

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who saw that (here’s a video rant from Peter Rallis), but still countless masses made Marvel and Disney think they’ve done it right, because the only thing that matters in here is money. They’ll make a lot of it with this one and I’ll bet you money right here and now that the PG-13 spirit of “Iron Man 3” will make its way to the next “Thor”, “Captain America” or the next “Avengers”. Who knows, maybe they all will feature little boys, Christmas themes and meaningless non-violent substitute for action. It’s not OK. If you want to see a good comic book movie – go and watch “The Crow” (I re-watched it last Sunday to wash the Iron Man off my brain). Actually, do it before they remake it in PG-13, because they are remaking it. Since R-rated movies are frowned upon, the teenagers moan and groan and people lose money, I’m afraid the remake might not be exactly dark.

Now, I could even try and come to terms with the superhero genre replacing the good old-fashioned action cinema, but if this is the way we’re headed – count me out. Now I’m literally dreading the release of “Thor 2”, “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Man of Steel”, because what if they suck as badly as “Iron Man 3” did? And I need my action films to feel normal. I was raised with them and can’t imagine the world without them…

And in that spirit, and following the raging disappointment Iron Man had caused, I caught up with two films that had slipped through my fingers: “Jack Reacher” and “End of Watch”. Now, I really appreciate the effort, because lately it is rather difficult to see something relatively original leave Hollywood. Well, maybe not exactly, because “Jack Reacher” was based on a novel if I remember correctly, but then again adapting literature is nowhere near as bad as plastering numbers on films or re-heating old noodles are. I desperately tried to like it and as a result I ended up even more frustrated with it than I originally was. Somebody needs to tell Tom Cruise it is time to go. I appreciate “Rain Man, “Jerry Maguire” or “Vanilla Sky”, but enough is enough. Tom just can’t create a believable character for crime/action film any more. It’s all Ethan Hunt over and over again and the attempted noir atmosphere just doesn’t sit very well with him. Between this, the last “Mission Impossible” and “Oblivion”, I think I’ve had enough of Tom Cruise in action films.

“End of Watch” on the other hand… Now that was something else. It was brutal, violent, gripping, maybe a bit heavy-handed with all the flag-waving and police self-apotheosis, but at least it stayed true to the values of action/crime cinema. Maybe the found-footage thing was a bit sketchy, but hey… Everybody vlogs now, so why not the Mexican gangs… So, just because I can swallow a fair bit of pathos before I get sick, I wasn’t bothered by the ‘serve-and-protect’ nonsense. The dialogues were nice, Jake Gyllenhaal was awesome, and most of all when bullets flew, people got hurt. So that’s a plus, because I hate when movies show battles or gunfights and everyone’s OK (which is exactly what I saw in “Iron Man 3”, and no – I do not intend to stop bashing it, it deserves it). Plus, the entirety of the film takes place in a car or in its direct surroundings, so clearly no-one needs to blow up oil rigs or destroy CG-made cities to keep the adrenaline up.

In fact, even “Crimson Tide” (that I happened to re-watch this week as well) proves that you can put your characters in a can and use no effects whatsoever in a film, for it to be gripping. Flag-wavy, but still gripping… But then, Denzel Washington sort of drives the movie on its own, which is yet another piece of evidence that we need character-driven action films and not this plastic colorful flashy bulls**t.

Speaking of plastic colorful flashy crap, Lovefilm sent me “Skyline” this week and I don’t really want to talk about it. I had it on my rental list for ages, because why the hell not and now I got it. What a pile of crap that was… It should be shown to people in film schools as a reminder that special effects are not enough and special effects guys rarely make good directors. Notable exceptions of the like of James Cameron can only prove the theory as a whole, because no theory is complete without exceptions. I shouldn’t even speak about “Skyline” any longer, because it might be mistaken for a review, but I’ll say only this: even though it tried to look like good modern sci-fi with all the bling what-not, but the appalling story and wooden acting can make any good film look mediocre… And a mediocre film look terrible… And a terrible film unwatchable… Therefore, just to make sure I still like Sci-fi I quickly re-watched “Sunshine” and “War of the Worlds” (with the latter additionally easing my Tom Cruise pain, but Spielberg can actually direct actors so that they look convincing, so I don’t know) and everyone was happy again.

Still, when was the last time I watched some genuinely good Sci-fi? As much as I’d like to say “Prometheus”, I couldn’t live with myself for doing that. All the nonsense that went on in that movie has most probably stretched the whole thing into a trilogy, which Ridley Scott will never finish (because he won’t have a clue, how to make it look kosher again) and hence “Prometheus” should be promptly disqualified. But anyway… Good Sci-fi… Maybe “Battle LA” could qualify even with the tonne of pathos it carried, but I think the last time I was literally blown away by a Sci-Fi film was the time I saw “District 9” – four years ago!

But there is a silver lining to that, because Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” hits theaters this summer, so at least I’ll have something to look forward to. And I can try to feel better about seeing “Star Trek” next weekend – hopefully it won’t suck.

Meanwhile, the Sunday rant slowly crept onto Monday territory and I think I can stop now. Maybe next week I’ll do something similar and I’ll see where it gets me.

Rant over.

“Oblivion” – That is where this movie belongs…

Either I have become increasingly cynical lately, or we’ve been having a profound problem with creativity in screenwriting in recent times. I realize I might have been rather critical when it comes to what I’ve recently seen in the cinema, but now I’m pretty sure that we’re just about scraping the bottom of the pot of creative ideas. Thus, every other movie that hits the screens seems to attempt to recycle ideas, dress them nicely and shove them down my throat without so much as a ‘how do you do’. I wrote before about that phenomenon and intend to do some more on the subject, but the way I see it, things are looking pretty grim. I know certain genres are sort of exempt from that trend (like horror, which I will get to in some time as well) because the apparent lack of freshness serves them well, but when it comes to Sci-Fi, a creative script is of a paramount importance for the movie to be successful.

Now, there are several kinds of Sci-Fi:

– instant genre-defining classics,

– good Sci-Fi that while not breaking new grounds offers an interesting take on things and/or is very visually pleasing,

– mediocre Sci-Fi that blatantly borrows and copies used up ideas and tries to sell them as new after having garnished them with something pretty,

– eye-stabbingly terrible Sci-Fi that is so poor that you really wish you hadn’t spent money on, as you fear you’d develop some sort of paranoid repulsion towards Sci-Fi in general.

Quite frankly, “Oblivion” fits right into the ‘mediocre’ pigeonhole, no doubt about it. It has a couple of things going for it, but generally speaking, my experience with “Oblivion” can be described with one word – indifference.

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First things first; if you saw the trailers to this film, you probably already know too much about the plot (it is one of the most mind-boggling cases of revealing too much about the plot in 2.5 minutes). Anyhow, imagine that in not too distant future the Earth is a wasteland. It was attacked by an alien race of Scavengers (or Scavs, as the protagonists refer to them romantically) who destroyed our Moon, let the nature weaken us by destroying our cities through tsunamis and the like, and then proceeded with a full-blown invasion. Worry not, though – we won the war, yet a Pyrrhic victory it was – the Earth post-war became uninhabitable, therefore the remnants of the human race fled to Titan (understandably so, as it is the closest object to Earth that contains water on its surface) leaving behind only a handful of technical teams. These are responsible for managing and security of energy-harvesting rigs that use water to produce fuel cells crucial for the survival of humans in its new extra-terrestrial home.

Right, so the Earth is a nuclear wasteland guarded by ping-pong ball-like drones and aforementioned tech teams who maintain the drones. This is where we meet Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), a technician paired with Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) who spends his days patrolling his grid, repairing drones, fighting the Scavs and visiting landmarks. By the way, I would like to point out that someone might be interested to have a look at the materials used to build well-recognizable monuments. It is not the first time I see The Washington Monument, or the Brooklyn Bridge to survive major apocalyptic events in movies. Maybe there’s something about the quality of these materials that could be utilized for our benefit; maybe we should start building everything from the materials used to erect landmarks – we’d be safe for eons… Sarcasm over.

 

Where was I? Ah, yes. Jack spends his days patrolling the grid and stuff, getting off-com to kick back in his little shed he built and subsequently filled with memorabilia collected from various iconic places, and admiring the world that is no more in anticipation for his departure to Titan (which by the way he feels reluctant about, for some reason). He spends the nights hanging out with Victoria naked in a swimming pool, eating ready-made food with futuristic silverware, dreaming about the past world he has never seen and talking to himself… I mean, to us – the viewers… A lot…

Jack’s routine is brutally severed when a series of unforeseen events transpire in close succession. First, a seemingly routine operation of repairing two failed drones gets Jack nearly abducted by the Scavs, who had captured one of said drones. Then, one of the harvesting rigs gets blown to pieces by the rebellious Scavs, and finally a strange object falls down from the sky (literally) whose contents will make Jack question everything he had ever known about the world – as the capsule that fell down from space carried humans in it.

This is just about enough that one can say about the plot of “Oblivion” without spoiling too much. After all, most of it is in the trailer. Ok, I should probably start off by applauding the visuals “Oblivion” is sporting. The landscapes are shot very well, the Earth looks nice and ravaged… Well, maybe not the Earth, but our civilization (or what’s left of it) is presented in a breath-taking manner. Also, the score complements the photography in a powerful way. In fact, now that I think about it, the music is the strongest card in “Oblivion’s” deck. Even when you take into account the fact that Joseph Kosinski did not venture far enough from his comfort zone that he set in “Tron – Legacy” when it comes to the style of photography and the atmosphere set by the score – “Oblivion” still remains a sensory delight. It’s simply nice to look at.

Other than that, it was really painful to watch as the plot unfolded to reveal old ideas one after another, chewed up and dressed up in fancy uniforms without even a shred of respect to the classics of Sci-Fi it borrows from. Tom Cruise could not carry the weight of his character, as I think he’ll never be seen as a hero. His character lacked charisma and I didn’t get to develop a connection with him – or maybe I didn’t want to, because – as I said – Cruise fails in playing a stellar hero character. On top of that, you can smell a badly written script from a mile away, when Tom Cruise needs to keep explaining s**t to you off-screen. Even “I am legend” was done better in that regard and Will Smith didn’t have anyone to talk to besides his dog. The movie is basically a string of monologues bundled together with mildly entertaining action in beautifully rendered settings. Someone should maybe inform the director that some facts can be either omitted altogether, as they do not bring anything to the table besides noise, while other can be explained without resorting to having Tom Cruise read me a bedtime story. Even if they had Morgan Freeman (who also stars in “Oblivion”, but I shall stop now before I say too much) read the off-screen remarks, the film as a whole would still remain a lost cause. I mean, if you need to explain things to me, be smart about it. If you need, you can shove it into a dialogue and pace it better. In fact, there is a dialogue just like that in “Oblivion”, but having sat through Cruise’s prior soliloquys, it almost seems redundant at this point. And it really could have been a better film than that. As it stands now, the film is anti-climactic, predictable and flat, and even the striking visuals, music and Morgan Freeman wouldn’t save it.

In summary, “Oblivion” was a disappointment. It almost seemed forced and by the end (and it is quite long) I really couldn’t wait for the credits to roll. Now that I think about it, it sure looks to me as if Joe Kosinski was approached by the producers after his debut “Tron – Legacy” hit the screens and was asked to make it once more. But different. With Tom Cruise. And Morgan Freeman. If you look at “Oblivion” having Kosinski’s debut in mind, you’d find way too many similarities for it to be considered coincidence. I realize that it might be Kosinski’s style that has crystallized here and we just need to deal with it, but I’m sure as hell, you shouldn’t stuff everything you have onto the same stencil. It makes “Oblivion” look more derivative than it originally was. In the end, the movie’s title ended up its doom. It is better for all of us if we simply forget “Oblivion” ever existed. On second thought, maybe we should keep it in our memory as a reminder that  Sci-Fi needs to be about more than just looks.