Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars, Edge of Tomorrow Reviews

The Fault in Our Stars
Dir. Josh Boone

Based on the best-selling novel by John Green and with a screenplay from (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, The Fault in Our Stars is this summer's seemingly big "chick" movie (last year it was The Heat, before that Magic Mike).  Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort star as two teens with cancer, who end up falling deeply in love despite their respective conditions (Woodley needs a breathing apparatus and Elgort has an amputated leg).  Playing to the "Notebook crowd," the film is often sickeningly sentimental, but the strong leads and supporting cast - including Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, and Mike Birbiglia - along with a witty (but hokey) script, make this a solid movie that is likely to bring overly emotional audience members to tears.

Woodley is great in the lead here as Hazel Grace Lancaster; it's her central performance that holds the movie together and she really works.  Though it might be a stretch to say an Oscar nom may come her way, I think there's one speech she makes towards the end (no spoilers) that would definitely be a dream for any actor to have on their reel.  Elgort is, although a perfectly charming, likable guy with good chemistry between himself and Woodley, is a little too "perfect," making him feel more like a "type" than a living, breathing person.  He knows all the right lines to say to the girl, knows all the right moves, showers her in his affection and perfectly timed dates, and aside from his condition, appears to be the "perfect guy."  In their first meeting together, Elgort just has to look at Woodley and smile to effectively "woo" her; maybe it's just me but I thought he swept in too easily, and I felt a general sense of discomfort whenever he was "working his BF magic" on Hazel. What made The Spectacular Now one of my favorite films of last year (also starring Woodley) was that the male lead was much more rough around the edges and the story dealt with major issues like alcoholism and family troubles head-on and realistically, instead of being overly sentimental or "Hollywood" with its characters and story.

I haven't read the book, so I can't report on the differences from page to screen, but I would assume most of my problems with the movie being too schmaltzy with its subject matter while not being specific or critical enough with its characters came more from John Green than Neustadter and Weber.  Woodley, aside from her condition, has no real defining character traits other than "girl." Her parents, her friends, her boyfriend, doctors: they are more or less generalizations, placeholders for the audience to put themselves into.  Overall I enjoyed the film for what it was, I found it to be an effective movie (I heard a chorus of sniffles around me as the film progressed signaling to me its power), just not necessarily my kind of thing.  

Rating: B-

Edge of Tomorrow
Dir. Doug Liman
Watch Trailer

Taking a cue from Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow features Tom Cruise re-living the same day over and over again.  And this particular day is a real bitch: D-day.  Aliens are attacking and holding down France, and Cruise, a recruiter-turned-soldier with no previous combat training, is on the front lines, decked out in a mech-suit and heavy artillery he has no idea how to handle.  The battle doesn't turn out well for Cruise, but he soon wakes up in the same spot as he did that morning in boot camp.  Thus sets the stage for this summer action film so derivative it shouldn't have worked.  "Borrowing" elements from The Matrix, Inception, even Call of Duty, my expectations weren't exactly sky high.  Besides Ghost Protocol, Tom Cruise's track record as of late hasn't been great, but like Rise of the Planet of the Apes a couple summers ago, Edge of Tomorrow totally took me off guard, and may very well be one of my favorite films (so far) this year.

What makes the film work so well is its surprisingly fantastic script from Christopher McQuarrie (based on the novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka) and direction from The Bourne Identity director, Doug Liman.  The film is not only thrilling visually, but it's also hilarious.  Because Cruise is in a way, invulnerable to death - as he "resets" every time he dies - some of his little "accidents" were even funnier than the random out-of-nowhere gags in A Million Ways to Die in the West.  Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt make for a great team, and their interplay together is fantastic (Blunt being the best warrior on the battlefield, Cruise being the "newbie").  I loved that they didn't go for the straight "love interest" angle and actually made them focus on the problems at hand rather than have these two hot Hollywood actors go at it for the box office's sake.  This is an extremely well-crafted summer blockbuster that really balanced the hard sci-fi with a nice human touch.

The first major action scene in the film is absolutely brilliant.  The way the camera follows Cruise in the midst of pure chaos was exhilarating, especially since you know he is an unskilled soldier (fumbling with his 'safety' as missles whiz by similarly to Saving Private Ryan).  But as he dies and "resets" to the previous day, he gets another shot at progressing further on the battleground, much like a video game.  But what sounds like an idea that could get old real fast, is actually toyed with in dozens of brilliant ways in this film (to both comedic and tragic effects).  Every edit in this movie means something, as the plot jumps forward and back in time, and the entire film felt like one kinetic, well-crafted thrill ride.  I'm being general to avoid spoilers, but in short I loved this movie.  Though aesthetically it's an amalgamation of all the sci-fi that's come before it, Edge of Tomorrow is an absolute blast.

Rating: A-

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