Edge of Tomorrow

eot1I have to tell you about this movie, it’s a breath of fresh air in a 2014 Summer of mostly dull movies. This one flies above the rest. It’s concept is not unique but if you see this movie, you’ll be talking about it for days. It’s a bit like Groundhog day in concept. By that I mean, the same way Bill Murray’s character has to keep reliving the same day over and over again until he gets it right. In this case, the conflict is fighting aliens, and scary ones at that.

We see a funny Tom Cruise for a change. I recently saw “Oblivion” and absolutely loved it. ALL YOU NEED IS KILLHe was the rough and tough sci-fi action hero. In “Edge of Tomorrow” it’s a lot of that but with laugh-a-minute deadpan humor thrown into the mix. Much of this humor consists of Emily Blunt beating him to a pulp to train him day after repeated day: hence the title “Edge of Tomorrow.” I liked this movie for many reasons and therefore highly recommend it. I am going to try and avoid spoilers on this blog because I know a lot of people like to leave the movie a mystery as they watch it unfold. Suffice it to say, the critics of all the major movie sites are saying the same thing I am.

One final note: This is not playing at the Cinemarks in the High Desert where I live. This is a crime! If you want to see it, I recommend heading to an AMC or Regal down the hill. I saw it with my wife at Ontario Mills Mall. Below you’ll see those high scores I was telling you about. Have you seen this film yet? What are your thoughts?

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Gravity

gravity-largeMovies about space always freak me out but documentaries showing real footage are worse! Gravity looks like both. I watched a documentary of the Hubble telescope a few years back and the space walking really had me taken aback. Imaging weightlessness. Now imagine momentum that doesn’t stop! In other words, in space if you start twirling, there is no resistance so you keep going at that same velocity. Gravity makes us all too aware of this law of physics. It also takes us on a terrifying journey to the satellites, unencumbered by the title.

Sandra Bullock is mystifying. She is dedicated to her tasks in space and that keeps us hopeful she may get home. Still, we are reminded by George Clooney and her failed attempts that the ship cannot re-enter the atmosphere. Without giving spoilers, I will say this is a movie you cannot turn your eyes away from. I had the notion it might be boring when I saw the previews: no way man. Besides stellar effects like you have never seen, This is a thriller, adventure, and drama experience. What’s more, it’s all done with only two characters! I highly recommend this flick.

Cyrus – 5/5

CyrusCyrus is a lot like the film Step Brothers except that it’s serious and the protagonist and antagonist are not family. It’s a simple little story about power and step-parenting. As I say that, please know that the character played by Jonah Hill is no child, he’s 22 years old. John C. Reilly’s character is the interloper. He begins dating a woman almost instantly after meeting her and he finds out he got more than he bargained for with Cyrus. There are indications that he and his mother, played by the beautiful and wondrous Marissa Tomei, are close in an almost unhealthy way. There is no incest but you can tell Cyrus controls his mom. Like many children in single parent situations, he doesn’t want to let her date. The intensity of Reilly and Hill is incredible. It’s not a family movie and when the issues of power are performed on screen, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or shake your head in ridicule. You can see Cyrus is frightened of losing his mom but the fear is just as evident in his mom and the new suitor. Cyrus is not a typical Hollywood comedy, it’s a look at people we know, or people like them anyway. At the parties and weddings, we are participants among the dialog. There is some romance here and it is a good film for date night but I romance is not the backbone. It is simply part of the backdrop. And there is the question of whether the romance is healthy.

Cyrus is entertaining because it starts with a simple premise and develops an amazing script through brilliant, talented actors. It’s not a “la la la” blockbuster film because it is different and simpler than those. I liked it though and I give it a perfect 5/5 because of the raw simple reasons I have stated. It delivers and fulfills what it aims to be: a people study. It’s one of the best movies I’ve watched this Summer. There are no expensive props or CGI. If you’re in the mood for some incredible acting that holds your interest to the credits, watch Cyrus.

The Sugarland Express – 4.5/5

SugarLand ExpressTwo things attracted me to this movie right off the bat: Steven Spielberg and Goldie Hawn. It was made in 1974, which makes it an “oldie.” Despite that, it has all the adventure of a modern cops and robbers flick. Looking at the corner conjures memories of Bonnie and Clyde and it is sort of like that. If Bonnie and Clyde were intelligent however, and I don’t recall if they were, the two films differ that way. Bonnie and Clyde is a movie that has stood the test of time and that may be due to it’s composition: a man and wife committing crimes in the name of a dream. In the Sugarland Express, Goldie Hawn and her inmate hubby played by William Atherton, bust him out of prison and are trying to regain custody of their child who has been taken by the state.

The 1970′s cars are so much fun. At one point, two “state of the art” cop cars dispatch to the pursuit and they must have been the envy of every cop back then. Now, they look a little like retro plastic models. There is an overabundance of chrome. Spielberg likely spared no expense putting those cars in there to attract the male audience of the day. You see a lot of bumbling activity by the cops. It reminds you how far we have come as a society where we have advanced tools like cell phones. All they had were CB radios back then.

Sugarland is a backward town and as the movie plays through in car chases and trickery by the suspects, you see evidence of that. It is a fun ride that is really never dull except for some parts right before they finally get to the location of their child. Some parts do feel like filler there. Notwithstanding, in the end you have a rollicking ride on the edge of your seat. Spielberg proved way back then he knew how to tell a story on film and take the viewer on an adventure. I give The Sugarland Express 4.5/5 stars. Almost perfect except for that expanse before they get to their child.

Divergent – 5/5 stars

Divergent-2014-Movie-Poster1Imagine a world where you were placed in a job that your genes dictated. That’s what happens in Divergent. This was a recent bestselling novel that has been adapted for the screen. If you like the Hunger Games you will like this movie. It’s a fight for independence from the opening scene, it’s a fight to not be typecast in your life. Those who control the “factions,” as the separate jobs/communities are called, seek out those whose minds do not fit into a specific category. These people are called “divergent.”

We’ve seen this in Logan’s Run and Hunger Games. It’s another rebellious youthful romance with a hell of a lot of adventure and suspense in between. Sarah tells me there is a trilogy and I can tell you they will be making a sequel soon. One of the high points of this film are its literal “high points.” Some scenes are filmed above a Ferris wheel and others atop giant skyscrapers. It feels like Spiderman only we know the climbers and jumpers are human … and it scares us.

I used to judge teen novels by logic, and I was miserable. I have ceased doing that and I am a much happier and healthier movie goer! This film is a winner, they achieved even more than Hunger Games in reaching out to the teen audience. Us older folks will see that and like it too. As a teen book made into a movie, it succeeds on every level with me.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman – 4/5 stars

mr-peabody-and-sherman-posterAnyone from Generation X (my generation I should add) is likely to remember Rocky and Bullwinkle on television where you’d hear Bullwinkle open by saying “Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.” That was the show we watched when our homework was done or after soccer games on Saturday. In the deeper recesses of our pop cultural memory, you find the sub-show inside that was the original Mr. Peabody & Sherman. It was sarcastic yet subdued. Perhaps the time gave it an air of university, peace, and love. Rod Serling? Beatniks? I don’t relly know how to explain it. The era was indefinable. In the show, the ingenious Mr. Peabody has “a boy,” the inverse of a boy having a dog. Yes, Mr. Peabody is a dog but he’s also a history buff, a professor, and a time traveler. This dog got it goin’ on! Still, you never get the impression that Mr. Peabody “loves” Sherman as his son. Trust me, I watched a bunch of old episodes on Youtube this morning and you don’t. Then there’s the new film. A somewhat different animal.

The film Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014) creates the duo well and we are given much adventure in the process. Unfortunately, for this viewer who came with high hopes, it fails to recreate the cult feel of the 1959 animated shorts. It’s sort of like that but set to Jimmy Neutron styled animation. They also make a huge deal out of Sherman being his “son.” This gets odd, even for me an adoptive father. I think they took that “new” slant on the time traveling story and made it the bedrock of the movie, It should never have been added. The feel of the old cartoons was enough to build without additions. Still, the animation is incredible. The kids of today will also get some historical references they may have not heard in their short lives. I took all three of my kids and they seemed to enjoy it beginning to end. For me as their dad, that says a lot about how I will rate a family movie. 4/5 Stars.

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (Documentary Review)


PussyRiot_APunkPrayer_PosterThe lives of three young women and why they became punk revolutionaries is the main idea of this “Pussy Riot: a Punk Prayer” documentary. It’s a real situation and a real “group” (instead of a band) that protests the Soviet Union through punk songs and performance art. They claim to be non-violent, which is good. In some of their protest situations they have been threatened and violence has been enacted against them. Three visionaries of the group: , , occupy the film’s content and their stories are inspiring or enraging depending on your political and moral point of view. I found these three women and their art hugely inspirational. I think we forget in America what freedom is and that at some point, it needs to be sacrificed for.

Pussy-RiotThese three women feel that Russia needs to get more progressive. By that I mean, women should be allowed to have a life with or without men. They also feel there should be a clear separation between church and state. More than anything, they detest the policies of Vladimir Putin, the current leader of the Soviet Union. Many of their songs decry his regime. I liked the open and forward thinking of the women but some of their techniques, such as the naming of their group and some past indiscretions on film, in my opionion are not as universally embraceable as they could be. I’m writing a review about their documentary but I cringe a little creating the title with the word “pussy” in it. Is there another way we could name this group without fanning the flames of the conservatives? I am no revolutionary but I might recommend to Pussy Riot a slightly more marketable and palatable approach to its persona.

o-PUSSY-RIOT-570-ukraineThese women spend at least 6 months in jail (I lost track after all the updates and frankly am too lazy to look up this significant particular). When they address the court or the press, it is breathtaking. They scribble tomes while behind bars and nearly every time they read their words, they are met with unguarded applause. These is something to these revolutionaries but the movie feels at times as if much of it is staged. If not staged, the movie sometimes feels like HBO camera crews are betting on a worldwide interest in a documentary. This to me is gauche. Not everything can be captured in a documentary. pussyriot02Would Johnny Rotten want to be followed by HBO? How about Ghandi? Hmmm, maybe? Having said that, this movie reminds me of the times I fought to be outside the “system.” So many people these days, especially our youth, accept their position playing video games and being bored. We don’t have to accept the role society gives us. We can break out and be original. It could start by protesting the things we dislike in society. I wonder if many American kids would risk going to jail to try and make the government change. I hope I would as a 44 year old and let’s hope more American kids get that message from Pussy Riot.

Riddick (Movie Review)

4.5/5 stars
riddickI saw Riddick today with my son and I must say: it rocked! It had all the fun elements of the first movie, Pitch Black, with less of the boring things that slowed The Chronicles of Riddick down last time (the second in the series). When the second film didn’t fare well in movies, many people probably thought that was the end for Vin Diesel’s Riddick character. To their surprise, it set records on DVD viewing and a third movie happened as a result.

The first half of the movie is full of cgi creatures and Riddick kicking ass. He is in survival mode and as a viewer you don’t just watch him, you feel you are among the action. He develops a friendship with a hyena-like pup that is truly touching, especially in the end when the pup is grown. We learn how smart Riddick is in this half. Some might argue this survival segment is too long but I was entertained the whole way through. Fans of special effects and action suspense will love this segment even if Riddick is the only actor we encounter here.

The second half brings us back to what we are familiar with: Riddick being pursued (unsuccessfully) by a group of people. Riddick of course evades the bounty hunter (who is killed in an especially grotesque yet original way) and the military hunters who prove no match for the survivalist Riddick. There are some scenes that lag in the second half which is why I didn’t give it a perfect Riddick 5/5. Some character development could have been better and the villain wasn’t a very good actor. Ironically, the less characters there were in the story, the stronger it was for me.

This movie is full of gadgets, weaponry, and creatures. In addition, we get Riddick at his best kicking ass and taking no prisoners. I wouldn’t blame the franchise if they made another. I’m a solid Riddick fan after this third installment.

Meek’s Cutoff (Movie Review)

4/5 stars
imagesIt’s great when you find a movie by a budding director because you know they haven’t sold out yet. Meek’s Cutoff is one of those movies, directed by Kelly Reichardt. This movie is close to a western but it lacks the John Wayne hero and Tombstone “shoot em up.” Because it is missing the conventions of a mainstream western, it’s tempting to write it off. On the other hand, when you look deeply into the simplicity of it, Meek’s Cutoff has a lot to say about being human. Because of that, I judge it on how well it reflects humanity in its characters and in the story. On that level, it fares well.

indexMichelle Williams is Emily. We see her in the first half of the movie taking orders from the men and in the latter half, all but taking control of the wagon train. Her transformation, or revelation, is important. It shows the importance of women on the trail and in mankind. Unfortunately women in 1845 were relegated to servitude and rarely took command of any larger decision-making. Who knows if they would have gone off course if Emily had the reins. Bruce Greenwood is Stephen Meek. He talks up a storm but can’t seem to deliver. The movie’s title tells us that he has some ownership of the direction they choose. For that alone he is an important character. He is ethnocentic, chauvanistic, and driven by greed. He feels like God is on his side and vice versa. It’s because of him that the Indian is tortured along the trail. If not for Emily, the Indian would have died early on in the film. I think we can all imagine the equivalent of Meek in our modern life.

images2Since I was an English major, I am trained to see symbols in everything. Having said that, I believe there are many symbolic elements in this film. One very strong one being the bird in the cage they are carrying with them on their journey. The bird represents the human being, wanting to escape the trappings of a cage. The keepers of the cage feed the bird and never allow it to escape. It is in essence free in its confinement. Religion is part of that confinement as is the prejudice against other races and by men against women. I hated the ending at first but later I played it back to examine it with a more open mind. I now like the way it leaves things open for the viewer. What would you do? Follow the Indian and accept the fate he has for you or go down your own path as an ignorant and starving person held by convention? Because this film portrays humanity accurately in a rural, quasi-western setting, I give it 5/5 stars.

Grown Ups 2 (Movie Review)

3.5/5 stars
grownups2The four-square poster reads: Sandler, James, Rock, Spade. This is probably because they are the biggest names. After them however you have a cast of thousands and everyone is funny. That sounds like the recipe for any Adam Sandler movie. Grown Ups 2 whips it out of the oven like a pie once again and I sure enjoyed my piece. It lags story-wise middle to the end but the event as a whole is enjoyable.  Besides, you don’t compare Sandler films to normal films. This one is somewhere toward the middle of Sandler’s stuff. One of the best performances comes from Shaq who plays a cop, the “little brother” of Tim Meadows’ character. His comic relief is genius. Taylor Lautner as the rival frat boy leader does some sidesplitting stuff.

You really can’t miss when your promise to the audience is simple and has been played out as far back as Happy Gilmore. This franchise has a lot more fart and puke stuff going on but we know that going in so we can laugh heartily. There’s some sexual stuff going on here as well that I know the males of the world will not complain about. Between the cheerleader car wash and the gay pilates leader, there is something for both straight and … well, you know what I’m talking about. 80′s music, fart jokes, drinking beer, and checking out large busted women are the hallmark of this movie franchise. I think they could produce another one and make a lot of money whether the critics liked it or not. You know how Hollywood is, they probably will. I had a blast watching this film, I recommend it for about age 13 and up (though all ages will like the farts).