Edge of Tomorrow


Viewed – 21 October 2014  Blu-ray

There’s something about Tom Cruise’s latest foray into blockbuster territory that feels like it’s late to the party.  Mech-suits – didn’t Avatar or Elysium do this already?  And don’t get me started on the Groundhog Day plot.  But I digress.  This has Cruise as a Major in the army who reports on the war against an alien race that has invaded earth.  On a routine visit to report on the latest onslaught, he suddenly gets shoehorned into battle against his will.  Only thing is once on the battlefield and seriously outnumbered by the enemy, Cruise (or Cage as his character is named) discovers that getting killed is only the start of the longest day of his life.  Along the way he meets up with war hero Emily Blunt who may just know why he’s repeating his day over and over again.

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Cruise is decent in not a particularly demanding role…he gets to shoot aliens a lot and look sort of awkward in his mechanised suit, but surrounded by a group of clichéd ‘grunts’ he stands out (despite an entertaining Bill Paxton).  Better is Blunt, one of the more interesting and has to be said bad-ass of the current female acting crop and her presence means this movie had echoes of Looper what with it’s time-paradox storyline.  It’s not as clever as that movie though and lacks any real depth to the characters or especially the aliens who just look like throwbacks to The Matrix’s sentinels.  More interesting is the repeating day plot-device which director Doug Liman plays with wonderfully and at times the getting-it-wrong moments are quite funny (Cruise daringly rolls under a passing tuck … with a resulting splat). 

I would have liked more of a love story-angle to Cruise & Blunt’s partnership (it’s certainly hinted at) and maybe some more detail on the aliens … and just why the day is repeating all the time left me saying … er, what was that again?   However, the movie makes up for such shortcomings with several superb action sequences (the beach stuff is like a futuristic Saving Private Ryan) and on a decent set up, with a big screen and surround sound…this packed a punch.  Just a shame it’s fairly basic characterisation and copy-cat ideas prevent it from being a classic.

Verdict:  3.5 / 5

Gone Girl


Viewed – 07 October 2014  Cinema

I wasn’t at first that fussed about this adaptation of the best selling novel, as I’m not the biggest Ben Affleck fan and usually any surrounding hype means I’ll generally not rush out to see.  Then I read a review and discovered one of my favourite directors was at the helm.namely David Fincher.  Forgiving his somewhat disappointing effort with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, generally Mr Fincher not put a foot wrong, with Fight Club and Seven being firm favourites.

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Ben plays a regular blue-collar guy who one morning arrives home to discover his beautiful wife (Rosamund Pike) has vanished, leaving in her wake evidence of a struggle.  Before long a media-circus surrounds her disappearance and Ben has to go on TV to seek out help in finding her, whilst all the time the public and the news scrutinize his every move.  Fincher’s expertise with a complex and investigation-heavy narrative makes this instantly absorbing and I was really pulled into the plight of Ben, his sister and the media attention.  Questions are raised and clues are discovered and like me you’ll have your own theories as the story progresses – but with the weight of the novel behind it, there’s more to this baby than meets the eye.  Affleck is very good in one of his more multi-layered roles and proved a lot more convincing than I’ve seen from him for a while.  Rosamund Pike is also first rate, even in flash back; beautiful, sexy and suitably vulnerable.

Towards the end some revelations seemed a tad rushed and there was a weird vibe to the final act that felt hard to roll with – was I meant to be amused or disturbed?  Also that ending left me with more questions than answers … probably not helped by some of the book’s event’s being glossed over (the stalker, the parents…).  However this remains a brilliantly acted and at times very powerful thriller with Fincher (helped immeasurably by Trent Reznor’s creepy score) very much back on form.

Verdict:  4 /5

Captain America: The Winter Soldier


Viewed – 05 September 2014  Blu-ray

I thought the last Captain America movie was the better of the several origin tales leading up to Marvel Avengers Assemble.  The World War II setting, the fact Steve Rogers goes from a wimpy rookie to a super soldier (and the special effect used to fool us…) as well as a great turn from Hugo Weaving as Red Skull all made for a top class piece of entertainment.  So you ask, where to go now ol’ cap is in the modern world?  Well how about an attack on s.h.i.e.l.d and a conspiracy where the agency he trusted suddenly turns on him?

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Scarlett Johansson is here as the sultry, bad-ass Black Widow and well, kicks all sorts of ass, despite a dodgy fake tan.  Oh and this time we get a lot more screen time with Samuel L. Jackson’s cool-as-ice Nick Fury, who gets his own actions scenes for a change.  Villainy is in the form of The Winter Soldier, a tough as nails enemy with a metal arm (!) who is every bit the match for Chris Evans’ increasingly llikeable Captain.  What follows are a series of bombastic encounters, a stand-out showdown on a freeway, very impressive effects, surprisingly vicious hand-to-hand combat (with some martial arts thrown in), and a keep you guessing plot.  Robert Redford plays one of the senior guys of s.h.i.e.l.d. but is looking his age, and Anthony Mackie is pretty cool as Falcon, even if he seems to come out of nowhere.

As a follow-up this packed quite punch in the action stakes and gave us some good character development with Captain America facing his past, and Nick Fury questioning his allegiance.  Chris Evans is still perfect and handles the action well, as does Johansson (prrr…).  A quality sequel, and made me thirsty for the next Avengers – surprising considering all this comic book stuff was starting to get a bit tired.

Verdict:  4 /5

The Raid 2


Viewed – 21 August 2014  Blu-ray

The first Raid movie was an eye-opener of an action-flick.  A raw, uncompromising and unflinching martial arts explosion in a very claustrophobic setting.  Impeccably choreographed and made a name for it’s star Iko Uwais, as well as director Gareth Evans – a Welshman, believe it or not.  This follow-up has rookie cop Rama being persuaded to go undercover against the mob organisation he roughed up (to put it mildly) in the first movie.  Soon he’s befriending the son of a local kingpin, whilst everyone begins to double cross one another, with Rama struggling to stay alive and not get his cover blown.

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The story is over-complicated and takes a bit of time to get going, but is filled with some interesting characters, especially the conflicted, power-hungry Uco (Arifin Putra).  But we’re not here for deep and meaningful characterisation, despite the scripts best efforts – we’re here for the action … and what can I say?  This is filled with some of the most violent and bone-crunching fights I have ever seen … big brawls featuring hammers to the jugular, baseball bats embedded in faces and goons being thrown, having their legs snapped and faces smashed left right and centre.  It’s very fast, and superbly filmed, edited and choreographed.  Gareth Evans certainly knows how to bleed every ounce of intensity and impact from every punch, kick and stabbing – and it’s pretty incredible.  Add to this stand-out sequences involving a duel hammer wielding girl on a subway train, and a brilliantly fast and brutal car chase – and this almost had it all.

The reliance on a twisting plot takes some of the energy away that the first movie had in spades, and every time it stopped to explain something or for more developments, I was just itching for the next confrontation.  Perhaps in it’s native language and with a lot of subtitles, I missed some of the finer details, which can happen … so I’ll let it off for the most part.  However as a full-on example of martial arts and well, action cinema without any boundaries (or subtlety) this once again nails it.  A great sequel.

Verdict:  4 /5

Bound


Viewed – 18 August 2014  Blu-ray

In the nineties, I remember this being one of my favourite thrillers.  A gangster’s mol plots to steal $2 million from her mobster boyfriend after hooking up with the alluring ex-con in the apartment next door, who just so happens to be a lesbian.  This atmosphere-heavy and stylish movie was heralded at it’s time for it’s arty approach to a lesbian storyline and it’s cool twisty-turny narrative, helped immeasurably by great turns from it’s three main stars; Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon and Joe Pantoliano.

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The 1996 debut movie from The Wackowskis, who went on to craft The Matrix movies amongst others, their obvious skill is aided by superb work from cinematographer Bill Pope who makes the camera as much of a character as the people in the story.  At it’s heart this is simply a sexy thriller (with a killer lesbian sex scene), two attractive, albeit stereotyped females (could Gershon’s character be any more clichéd?) and an unhinged mobster straight out of the mobster handbook.  That being said the script is full of clever structuring and interesting developments (the plotting of the stealing of the money is shown at the same time as it’s being executed).  Although dialogue that perhaps initially sounded cool, now years later comes off rather corny (“I have this image of you – inside of me – like a part of me” – groan).  Also Tilly’s Betty Boop voice grates quickly.  Thankfully then this is so rich in style and tension, much of that doesn’t matter as I enjoyed watching these girls get one over on the mob.  Towards the end, I’d have liked a final twist, as it seemed to conclude too ‘safely’ given the knowing awareness of the rest of the movie.  It’s been compared to the more serious works of The Coen Brothers such as Blood Simple, although I’d call it closer to the noir thrillers of John Dahl, as in The Last Seduction.  Still one of the cooler movies of the nineties.

The recently released Blu-ray from Arrow video is above average.  The movie itself is in good shape.  It’s subdued look, mostly consisting of greys and whites doesn’t dazzle in high def but there’s decent clarity during dark scenes and acceptable close up detail.  The music and dialogue on the other hand are both delivered affectively in a choice of DTS 5.1 or Dolby 2.0.  Extras-wise this is quite impressive, with several featurettes covering interviews with the cast as well as the crew.  Most valuable is an audio commentary, again from cast & crew, shedding plenty of light on the production.  Concluding this package is reversible sleeve artwork as well as a booklet and the movie on DVD as well.   Not too shabby!

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5