Jack Reacher (2012)

jack1I’ve never read a Jack Reacher story. There’s something like twenty books written in the series and I’m ignorant of all of them. I’ve opened this post by stating that, simply as a disclaimer that for fans of the novels, I’m likely wholly unworthy of writing this review. You see, I am fully aware that the character that author Lee Childs writes about in the books bears little similarity to Tom Cruise. The Jack Reacher in the books is a big bloke apparently. And Tom Cruise is hardly a big bloke. A friend of mine at work has read the books and has no time at all for the movie, has indeed warned me off it until now.

So anyway, I’ve finally gotten around to watching it, and free from any comparison with the character of the books, I must say I rather enjoyed the film. Tom Cruise is, well, Tom Cruise. Maybe a more restrained than usual Cruise but, yes, its Cruise. He is what he is. Ironically I don’t believe Cruise is the film’s problem performance-wise; I’d instead point the finger at Rosamund Pike, who is pretty woeful here as an attorney who hires Reacher to help solve a case. She’s just ‘off’ somehow; I didn’t believe in her at all, she just seemed ill-cast or ill-directed or something. She’s been very good in other films I have seen her in (most recently she was excellent in Gone Girl) but here she just doesn’t fit, somehow. I guess the controversial casting of Cruise in the title role deflected attention away from her because I honestly think she’s the one miss-step that the movie makes. Otherwise its a calmly effective action-thriller that is decidedly low-octane and down-to-earth. As far as Tom Cruise films go, think of it as an anti-Mission Impossible flick if you will. Which may not be a bad thing, I suppose it depends on how loud and explosive you prefer your action thrillers.

Indeed I would like to see a sequel, and feared that was a non-starter following the backlash from the Jack Reacher book fans,  but it seems another Tom Cruise-starring Jack Reacher film is on the cards. No doubt fans of the books are gnashing their teeth at the prospect but I’m rather looking forward to it.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

edge1The cover-art of the Blu-ray (and I presume the DVD, although I haven’t seen it) betrays the problem that this film seems to have had- is it Edge of Tomorrow or Live, Die, Repeat?  When a film’s identity, its very title, seems to have an air of doubt about it, you know the marketing boys are in trouble. Here’s a film that is a very enjoyable action blockbuster with a bit of intelligence and wit about it starring one of the biggest male stars on the planet, with favourable reviews and word-of-mouth, and yet it still somehow fails to live up to box-office expectations. As a product, its fine, so is the problem simply that it wasn’t sold very well?

The success of movies is always something of a crap-shoot. Some films have ‘hit’ all over them and make huge box-office, others have ‘hit’ all over them and sink without trace. The frustrating thing for film-fans is often the injustice of it. Good films fail (John Carter, Blade Runner etc) and bad movies (take your pick, but any Transformers movie is a good start) make obscene amounts of money. There just isn’t any reason to it. Some films capture the public’s attention, others don’t. Maybe the public are a tasteless ignorant horde of brain-dead morons who are suckers for loud spectacle.

Here’s the thing. They are usually very young. Its demographics. Going to the cinema is mostly a young person’s activity. Most people going to the cinema these days are a different generation to the one that grew up with Tom Cruise as a major star. For this generation, the names Sylvester Stallone or Arnold  Swarzenegger or Bruce Willis or, indeed, Tom Cruise, don’t carry the same street-cred or air of celluloid importance as they did (and still do) for, say my own age group (slipping towards age 50) or even  the age group before, now hitting their thirties. Is the problem simply that Tom Cruise’s status is beginning to wane, his name not quite able alone to sell an original IP with its own attendant problems regards marketing? I am always one to bemoan the number of superhero movies and remakes and sequels being made, but the perceived failure of movies like Edge of Tomorrow kind of reinforces the practices of Hollywood, the films that we usually get.

egde2I’m not going to suggest that Edge of Tomorrow is a great film. Its good, but nothing extraordinary. But of all this past summer’s ‘blockbusters’ that I have so far seen, its likely the best, and possibly the most, dare I say it, original (although that last point is with a few caveats, as it eventually seems to descend into a rehash of a Matrix movie by the end).

Its a weird film though. The basic premise is just plain daft. Aliens have invaded Earth and have taken over Europe and its up to the Brits to save the day. Its World War Two and the Normandy invasion all over again. Only in the near future. I admit that whole thing bugged me a bit; if this thing had been a kind of Steampunk alternate World War Two with advanced tech then that would have been fine, albeit too high-brow for the general film-going public (the irony is not lost on me considering how the film’s box-office turned out). As it is, it just feels wrong, the central proposition (even before we get to the time travel stuff) already on shaky ground. It may have worked against the Germans in the 1940s, but how do you keep a huge invasion force secret in the Information Age, particularly against space-faring aliens who can surely see what you are up to across the Channel?  How do us Brits, with our cut-down military and debt-ridden economy even marshal those invasion forces? How come the Yanks don’t just run the show? That said, while the central ideas may have been dubious, the presentation is quite convincing and impressive. The battle scenes are very good indeed, with some excellent action choreography, and it looks very cool- Saving Private Ryan in Exo-skeletons!

I have to admit I enjoyed the proposition that Tom Cruise is a coward more intent on selling this war than actually fighting in it. Reluctant heroes are much more interesting and it gives Cruise something a bit left-field for him. Once the action sets in he’s as capable as ever, but its certainly his quieter moments that I enjoyed the most. Meanwhile, Emily Blunt is something of a revelation. If this film doesn’t serve as some kind of audition for her eventual starring role in a Marvel Studios movie, well, there is no justice. She is just great as an action heroine, which somehow came as quite a surprise. She and Cruise also share some chemistry too. Its great casting.

edge3The funny thing about Edge of Tomorrow is that it has the structure of a video-game. Its really weird. Cruise re-lives the same day (the same video-game level) and changes his actions to get further and further into that level, each death causing a reset to that same checkpoint… it even looks like a FPS. Its like an alternate Tron or something. In some ways its the most authentic movie based on a video-game ever (except that, far as I know, it isn’t based on any video-game). Damned thing is, you’d think that would sell well. Go figure.

Its certainly a good movie and one I very much enjoyed. When it finished, my first thought was that I’d like to watch it again (rather ironic considering its own repetitive structure), which is not something I often think when watching new films these days.Sure its not perfect, and in truth its box-office wasn’t really all that bad (it was perceived as performing below expectations but it was certainly no Lone Ranger/John Carter failure). I think some longer character beats, and perhaps some examination on the impact reliving all  those events so many times would have on Cruise’s character psychologically…  but maybe that would have been a different movie.

Oblivion (2013)

oblivionposter1Well, first things first, I enjoyed this film a lot. I think its a good sci-fi movie, but with reservations that I’d like to get into in a moment. I would just like to warn readers that the following will be spoiler-ific so if you have not seen the film yet, please avoid what follows and come back later. You will enjoy the film more. What follows is aimed at people who have seen the film so please, if you do intend to see it go ahead, its a good film, you will likely enjoy it. But do come back and maybe let me know what you think.

Anyway, rather than wax lyrical about the film, I’d just like to submit a few cautionary comments about Oblivion.

First of all, the most pressing thing thats bugging me – was anyone in the slightest bit surprised by it? I mean, think about it a minute. When watching the film, did the film at any point actually surprise you? Did any of the ‘twists’ actually take you aback? Admit it, you second-guessed the film throughout? Because I did. I only ask because some comments on the web rate this as a ground-breaking and original story, and I’m wondering if I saw the same movie. Right at the very start, when Jack wakes up from dreams of a strange woman, I was already getting nervous,  distractedly thinking of Arnie waking up with same in Total Recall. And that’s another thing similar to Total Recall– Jack and Vicky having had their memories wiped- Jack forgetting his earlier, true ‘self’ recalls, yes, Total Recall again.

oblivion3 Actually, that whole ‘memory wipe for security reasons’ thing was something that really annoyed me from the start- when you think about it, it makes no sense whatsoever. In what way does it make the team better operatives not knowing anything about their past? Wouldn’t the unknown, unanswerable questions regards who they are and where they come from begin to impact on them? Why is Vicky so complacent and accepting of everything she is told? They have a photo of themselves in a kiss but cannot possibly remember when it was taken, as that is revealed near the film’s end and is part of their ‘erased’ past. I may seem picky about this but it has been bugging me more and more since I saw the film. It simply exists as a plot device to get away with the later ‘twist’ about who and what Jack and Vicky are, (and  mirrors that of Moon) regards them being unwitting clones. Besides which, how does anyone explain how when Jack rescues his wife from the crash-site that she doesn’t just leap into his arms declaring who she is and who he really is? It is established later that she has been floating in space since the incident revealed at the end of the film- as far as she is concerned, the sixty-years of war etc never happened and Jack is the same Jack she last saw when they began their original Nasa mission. Yes she may have been disorientated and dubious for awhile, but even if she accepts that Jack isn’t the same Jack she knew, surely she’d be screaming at him about who the hell he is, why he and Vicky both look the same as her (dead?) ship-mates did sixty years ago and what’s going on?

I think I would have preferred a slightly differently tuned start with Jack openly in love with Vicky and perhaps his dreams becoming triggered later by some event on the surface. I think that would have been more involving, seeing him begin to doubt his feelings and his purpose in life, and seeing his perfect/loving relationship with Vicky begin to fragment in front of us. The way the film is structured, Jack is already haunted by his dreams and already has set up his secret idyllic home behind Vicky’s back. He’s essentially halfway along on his journey/character arc already by the time the film opens.

There’s also a few other things that start to really wind me up the more I think about it. Just what the hell is that Alien pyramid thing and if it can travel through interstellar space why does it need a bunch of clones to engineer an invasion and monitor/repair the drones that are defending the Hydro-rigs?  Why not just arrive at Earth and dump a plague on the planet, wipe out humanity/all life and just take all the resources then? Jack and Vicky just accept the ‘fact’ of a colony on Titan without ever seeing it?  And most importantly, during the big reveal at the films end, if Jack’s Nasa ship is caught in a tractor beam, how come he can jettison the main crew section (who are are in cryogenic sleep) without that section also being caught in the same tractor beam? And er, exactly why are they in cryogenic sleep during the moment of First Encounter? Nasa sends ten or so astronauts/experts to investigate an alien anomaly and leaves the majority of them in bed at the Big Moment?  And where has that cast-off section been floating for nigh on sixty years? How does Morgan Freeman’s bunch know about it, track it and even know how to bring it back down to Earth?oblivion-poster2

Agh, nevermind. Hopefully none of this will bug me so much when I see the film again. But it really bugged me during the movie. Usually films unravel when you think back on them, but this one was unravelling even as I was watching it. Its such a damn shame because the premise is so intriguing.

One other thing- I also had a problem with the music score, which I know many viewers have enjoyed. I can understand why, its a fine score, but its another movies score, surely, and that movie was a Dark Knight movie? This distracted me several times during the film, when the score suddenly sounded like out-takes from The Dark Knight or Tron: Legacy. Its bad enough that the plot kept on reminding me of other movies, without the music doing the same. Maybe re-watching the film on blu-ray in a few months time I’ll be able to accept it, but so many moments during the film things just kept on pulling me out of it. Its also very heavy-handed the way the music is used and mixed. Early on when Vicky jumps in the swimming pool and Jack follows her in, the love music is so loud in the mix it just feels like a parody, it feels wrong.

oblivion2

But there certainly are many positives. The film looks astonishing. I love the clean, slick, ‘future designed by Apple’ look of the whole thing. It’s so very refreshing after all the dirty, gritty production-designs we have seen over the years, and I’m speaking as a huge fan of Alien and Blade Runner. Many of the visual effects are seamless. I especially appreciate the fact that its a self-contained story and that there is no need for an Oblivion 2; for once film-makers had the confidence to make a film that had a beginning middle and end without the need to leave room for a franchise. I do believe it at least attempts to be a serious, adult sci-fi movie, in a way that really does bring back memories of 1970s films like Silent Running, Solaris, maybe Omega Man even, which has got to be a Good Thing, and its certainly a very welcome change from the big dumb spectacles we usually get. Its certainly a much more successful piece of sci-fi than was, say, Prometheus last year. Maybe if it was longer, had set up the Jack/Vicky love affair, their routine existence more, before bringing on the dreams and the wife. Maybe tried to tell a more coherent story less hell-bent on mysteries and twists.

I do think Oblivion is a good movie. I can put up with the music score being so, well, generic because these days so many films scores are. I can put up with reminders of past sci-fi films because, well, sci-fi films have always been rather cannibalistic in how they use earlier movies. But I do take stock with some of the hype/praise about the film when its own logic doesn’t really work. Maybe I’m being overly critical? Oh well. It certainly looks fantastic…