30 for 30: Rodman: For Better or Worse

Release: Tuesday, September 10, 2019 (ESPN)

→ESPN 

Directed by: Todd Kapostasy

Love him, hate him or indifferent to him you can’t really get away with saying you don’t know who Dennis Rodman is. Few American athletes have received the attention that the former so-called “Bad Boy” has. How much of that has been self-inflicted and how much of it has been healthy is the big question driving this documentary from Emmy-winning director Todd Kapostasy. Rodman’s lived so large and tabloid-friendly he may not even really need a documentary on his life but here goes this anyway.

Rodman: For Better or Worse assumes the shape of a typical cause-and-effect narrative, but it’s also a trip down memory lane by way of rockstar Keith Richards. How Rodman managed to survive his partying days, much less talk to us now coherently, is something of a miracle. Living in the fast lane has taken a toll, and that’s no revelation. Yet there are details about his most unlikely journey from scrawny, un-athletic teen to homeless person to NBA superstar and eventual teammate of Michael Jordan you can’t help but be wowed by.

Because the subject is so colorful, passionate, annoying, impulsive, repulsive — in a word, iconoclastic — Kapostasy feels compelled to spice up the presentation style. Unfortunately a lot of that is to a detrimental effect. He brings in Jamie Foxx to do some seriously distracting fourth-wall-breaking narration and the director further embellishes with a number of cheesy tableaus, all of which is meant to complement and reflect the Rodman persona. What’s more effective is the core interview which takes place in an empty auditorium, which feels something more than an accident in terms of the symbolism.

Rodman, now 58, is seated in a lonely chair center-stage, back turned to where a crowd would be sitting. As he fiddles with his lip ring and utters a series of “umm”s and “uh”s there’s often a heavy silence, like he’s still trying to figure out what went wrong. The crowds and groupies and good times are gone and have been for some time, and so has his considerable wealth. He gave away a lot of his money to people he knew weren’t real friends, doing so in order to keep that part of his identity (“Generous Dennis”) alive for as long as possible. Yet his greatest debt owed is time — to his ex-wives, to his children he’s never really known. Rodman comes across most honest when addressing how he’s not been a good dad. Still, it’s weird hearing the words “it kinda sucked” when describing the experience of becoming a father.

Kapostasy could have scaled down the saga as merely another example of just how unhealthy and fleeting fame is but he recognizes that there is far more to the story than just his tumultuous years in the NBA spotlight. For Better or Worse is divided into three major movements: his childhood, the rise to fame and then the falling away from it and his post-retirement shenanigans, like the time he befriended North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, an episode that Rodman kind of waves away as being “in the past,” and is as cringe-inducing now as it was when his drunken rantings abroad made him the target of vicious (and deserved) criticism.

The documentary is arguably at its most bizarre and fascinating when it revisits a period of transience before he made himself eligible for the 1986 Draft. He spent some time in a small town in Oklahoma, pushing past the misery of his hometown of Oak Cliff (an impoverished suburb of Dallas) — a hell he vowed never to return to. That’s not entirely surprising. His childhood wasn’t exactly a happy time; his father (named Philander, no less) walked out on the family at an early stage. His relationship with his mama was strained, and only grew more so when she threw him out of the house in an attempt to get him to take responsibility for himself. His high school days were marked by bullying and un-athleticism. Team sports at that time did not have a great deal of love for him.

After barely surviving high school his pituitary went into overdrive, giving him a foot of vertical in about a year — thus making him feel like an alien in his own body. Yet as he physically grew he remained emotionally underdeveloped. He tells us how in his early twenties he met his first true friend in Byrne Rich, a 12-year-old from small-town Oklahoma, during a summer basketball camp who was struggling with extreme introversion himself after fatally shooting his best friend in a hunting accident. What he does not tell you however, is that as of 2013 he fell out of contact with the Rich’s — a farming family who took him in when he was struggling, a family Rodman came to call a surrogate — for reasons completely unknown to them and to us all.

The bulk of the middle section focuses on the rise of both the athlete and the “Bad Boy” alter ego. A wide range of guests contribute their experiences being around him, covering him as journalists, being his teammate, his coach, his bodyguard. Throughout the film it’s strange how the subject feels like a passenger and not the driver, but we nonetheless get some insight from a lot of well-qualified people. While Shirley, his mother, addresses what drove Rodman into his shell at a young age (and she doesn’t mince words when describing just how painfully shy and needy her son was), others provide context for the bigger picture, how his turbulent upbringing and emotional immaturity made him ill-equipped to deal with the harsher realities of the business of the NBA. His love of basketball gave birth to a unique court presence that created a fandom all its own, which in turn created a kind of confirmation bias for what little he valued about himself — his ability to entertain and make others happy.

Despite how the film swells with melancholy, especially as it dives into the retirement phase, the experience isn’t a four-quarter beatdown of his character. Interviewees speak just as often to Rodman’s “sweetness” as they do his foibles. Former Detroit Piston Isaiah Thomas in particular has nothing but fond memories of his time playing with a teammate who gave his heart and soul to the team and the game. Even Michael Jordan is impressed with his dedication to the team after nights of throwing down 30+ shots (of top-shelf tequila, that is). No matter how familiar some of the archived footage is, it serves to remind how much of a force Rodman was as a player. His hustle on the court was virtually unmatched. He came into his own not just as a vital cog in some big-time NBA machines (notably the “Bad Boy” Pistons who won back-to-back titles in ’89 and ’90 and the indomitable Chicago Bulls of the ’90s) but as one of the most effective defenders and rebounders in league history.

For Better or Worse is definitely more about the journey than the destination. The conclusion feels empty, almost incomplete, and that’s through no fault of Kapostasy. The expensive designer shades Rodman is flashing can’t mask the pain he is in. “You’d think one of the ten most recognizable people would be happy, right?” The silence that follows is indeed awkward. The question is painfully rhetorical. If he can’t answer it, expecting anyone else to do so — or asking a documentary crew who do a good job of sorting through facts and fiction to make something up — is even crazier than his own life story.

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Recommendation: Fandom is no barrier to entry for this 30 for 30. It’s important to note that Todd Kapostasy does a good job of suspending judgment in his approach, making sure all voices are heard — i.e. the women he left behind to raise his own children. The documentary proves how he’s a tough guy to sympathize with, yet at the same time he’s someone for whom you often do feel sympathy. That’s a crazy dichotomy, and even if you don’t like him at all there is no denying he is a fascinating, unique individual. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 102 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.espnfrontrow.com; http://www.sling.com

A Quiet Place

Release: Friday, April 6, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Bryan Woods; Scott Beck; John Krasinski

Directed by: John Krasinski

As a relatively newly minted father himself, actor-director-Scranton prankster John Krasinski seems to be sharing with us in his horror debut something deeply personal, an epiphany that has struck him, like it might another parent, as horrifying: There will eventually come a day when your children need you and you just can’t be there for them. Whether that is by way of natural order or unfortunate circumstance, it is an inevitability. It is this deep-seated yet commonly-held fear of failure that has given birth to A Quiet Place.

For a filmmaker who has confessed to generally avoiding consuming scary films, Krasinski seems scary natural at the craft. I was going to try and omit the horror label in my review — I find A Quiet Place more an acutely distressing survivalist thriller than a bona fide SCARY MOVIE — but then I had an epiphany of my own. Scary movie, survival thriller, those are semantics and phooey on them. A Quiet Place is just a good movie period, a delicious and consistent batter of chilling supernatural thrills and heartbreaking human drama, and a strong credit to a résumé that has heretofore touted lovable goofballs and hopeless romantics. That we learn through some rather nerve-shredding trials just how much of a family man Krasinski really is is a bonus.

His film, an original story first conceived in 2013 by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck which he later reworked himself, tells of a young family trying to maintain some sense of normalcy in their lives in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by terrifying creatures that hunt by sound. Krasinski stars as head of household and de facto frontiersman Lee Abbott, and in a bit of potentially gimmicky casting that quickly proves to be anything but, he casts his real wife Emily Blunt in the role of his tough-as-nails (pun not intended) on-screen wife Evelyn. Lee and Evelyn have three kids in tow, each played magnificently by the young actors — little Beau (Cade Woodward), middle child Marcus (Noah Jupe) and eldest Regan (deaf actress Millicent Simmonds).

In the aftermath of some unexplained catastrophe life is now governed by one simple but vitally important rule — keep as quiet as possible at all times. This is more a family policy as we don’t meet very many strangers, but we can assume the same applies to anyone who doesn’t wish to get eviscerated at 100 miles an hour. We can infer from an opening title card that it is the couple’s resourcefulness and determination that has enabled the family to navigate a strange and oppressive world for at least three months. Like the Abbotts’ daily routine, A Quiet Place is an exercise in restraint, and I was reminded immediately of this concept of rule-abiding and extreme isolation that was intensely focused upon in Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes At Night — incidentally one of those modern titles that has encouraged Krasinski to give horror another chance.

A Quiet Place opens up at the pace of spilt molasses as compared to the chaos in which it concludes, but these first scenes are crucial in earning our sympathy. Krasinski’s meticulous planning is on full display as we are taken on a guided tour through the detritus of their humble community while the group endures a hair-raising tiptoeing from their farmhouse-cum-fortress to gather essential supplies. Credit the writing how a lack of detail with regards to the big picture actually enhances the experience while in smaller moments and individual scenes the complete opposite holds true — detail is everything. The gravel paths, color-coded Christmas lights, dinners and game nights on soft surfaces are little bits of consideration that generally offset Krasinski’s clumsier spells as director (his foreshadowing is pretty on-the-nose, for example).

Like the aforementioned primitive thriller of yesteryear, A Quiet Place relies heavily upon its technical department to evoke mood. Krasinski differentiates himself by doubling down on aural stimulation, nearly gutting the screenplay entirely of spoken dialogue and having his characters communicate largely through sign language and simple gesticulations. This isn’t a technique employed just to give agency to Simmonds’ character, whose deafness eventually becomes vital to the plot, but it is a matter of practicality that brings attention to all the ways in which we take verbal communication for granted.

Admittedly, the brilliant sound design is likely what audiences will leave the theater talking about more than anything. It makes sense. Like Mike Flanagan’s Hush, a home invasion thriller that debated whether an immunity to sound works to one’s advantage in situations that require heightened sensory awareness, silence becomes a character unto itself in A Quiet Place. Yet it becomes something more than just a theme park attraction. Here, silence comes in different forms — as punishment meted out by a frustrated child to their parents whose rules they perceive to be unfair; as the result of a physical condition that could well be the deciding factor in whether a character lives or dies; as the gut-wrenching aftermath of something or somebody lost.

The premise doesn’t boil down to much beyond good guys outwitting (or flat-out avoiding) their nameless and faceless opponents in a stripped-down, neo-western setting. That is unfairly reductive to the point of being inaccurate, though. A Quiet Place offers a road map for nervous new parents who are trying to figure things out for the first time and find themselves struggling more often than succeeding. It is part coming-of-age for Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds, part-labor of love for a filmmaker who has come to appreciate the unique entertainment value of the genre, and a thrilling, surprisingly emotional adventure for the rest of us.

Recommendation: John Krasinski’s family values are things I came to admire in A Quiet Place. More pleasantly surprising to me was that he doesn’t smash you over the head with his sense of scruples. That element is absolutely there but in my view he isn’t asking anyone to side with him. In fact the whole point of the exercise is to challenge us and to make us question what we would do as parents in this situation. What would we do similarly? What would we do differently? And all-around strong performances from an innately likable cast only solidify A Quiet Place as a must-see film for fans of John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 90 mins.

Quoted: “I love you. I’ve always loved you.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Hell or High Water

'Hell or High Water' movie poster

Release: Friday, August 12, 2016 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Taylor Sheridan

Directed by: David Mackenzie

The day after you’ve watched something is probably not the time to proclaim that thing an instant classic. It would be wise to allow the infatuation phase to run its course before declaring your undying love for your partner. Unfortunately for me, I trade in hyperbole and sensationalist journalism so I have a very hard time calming down when I see something as enjoyable and well-crafted as David Mackenzie’s hybrid post-modern western/heist thriller.

Contrasted against a fairly weak summer slate of cinematic offerings, perhaps Hell or High Water is destined for a spot on the top shelf it might not have earned in another year but there’s no denying this is a film crafted with care and precision and featuring some of the year’s most enjoyable (read: believable) performances in a leading trio featuring Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges as surly West Texans caught in a fascinating, morally complex game of cat-and-mouse (okay, cops-and-robbers if you want to be more accurate).

Two brothers — the divorced Toby (Pine) and ex-con Tanner (Foster) — set into motion a master plan to save their family’s farm from foreclosure by relieving a string of Texas Midland Bank branches of large sums of cash. These are the very banks that have been slowly but surely milking the Howard clan dry for decades. Despite their efficiency and a knack for finding new getaway vehicles, they soon find themselves on Marcus Hamilton (Bridges)’s radar, a local ranger on the verge of a long-overdue retirement. He’s hungry for one last chase and strings along for the ride his half-Mexican, half-Native American partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham).

All goes according to plan until the brothers Howard hit a bank in Post, where the locals aren’t so submissive, despite Tanner’s best efforts to terrorize. (An unsettling yet frequently amusing psychopathy renders his criminal history entirely unsurprising. In this world there aren’t good cops/bad cops, there are good robbers/bad robbers and Tanner is decidedly more the latter.) Unprepared for resistance, they find themselves scrambling to escape a bloody scene that turns a once-righteous deed into an unintended murdering spree. All the while the rangers remain only a half-step behind, distracted only by the fact Marcus is fated for a rocking chair and greener pastures come the end of the week. The two narratives, compelling in their own right, eventually coalesce into a spectacular, oft unpredictable showdown that eschews traditional heroics and villainous archetypes. Think No Country For Old Men meets Robin Hood.

In a film filled with stellar acting turns, Pine’s quasi-transformative, ski-mask-wearing thief might just outshine the rest as his bedraggled countenance bears the brunt of the film’s moral quandary. Toby’s obligations to family — a financially struggling ex-wife and two teen boys — trump any obligation to abide by the law of this crumbling wasteland, a place where old granny’s fixin’ to blow ya off the front porch with her 12-gauge just for trespassin’. (That particular scene doesn’t happen but you can imagine it happening.) A place where the hustle and bustle of cities like New York and L.A. may as well be happening on another planet. Captain Kirk Pine finds much room for personal growth in a script that believes in full-bodied characters and thoughtful story development. His devotion to his sons may justify a few smooth robberies, but does it justify the violence later on? How far should a person go to protect the ones they love?

Hell or High Water isn’t simply a case of an amateur robbery gone awry, although there is very much an element of bumbled professionalism at play. Think of these guys more as skilled amateurs, dabbling in the art of robbing from the corrupt and redistributing to those who are destitute. What inspires their actions is very much an indictment of corporate America and how that unstoppable locomotive frequently flattens any poor sod who happens to be standing on the tracks (i.e. anyone who has been unfortunate enough to put their trust in banks who consistently loan money, their money, to others who can’t possibly afford to repay the debt). Indeed, if you wish to dig deeper into these scenes juxtaposed against a rugged, wildly unpredictable American west, you’ll find hints of Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes as well. The pain. The outrage. Tension’s palpable, manifested especially in Toby’s final confrontation with a ranger who thinks he has him figured out.

Hell or High Water is impeccably performed, a reality reinforced by the brilliance of Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay, one that allows the entire cast to put their best cowboy boot forward. Even bit-parts such as a stubborn waitress who refuses to hand over her $200 tip as evidence because she has a roof to keep over her and her daughter’s heads and an elderly local who ain’t threatened by “thugs” become precious commodities. Bridges doesn’t really need the pampering but he’s par excellence. Amidst a rather bleak mise-en-scène, Sheridan finds ways to wring out a kind of naturalistic, borderline farcical sense of humor that assures levity while never distracting from the more shocking drama that awaits in a climactic stand-off. A bickering repartee between two sheriffs drives the entertainment value sky-high, while Foster runs away with his role and in all the best ways.

You might describe the portrait as stereotypical of the image non-locals have already painted in their mind of a place they perceive to be backwards and lawless. This place is hostile and the people tough, resilient and pretty stand-offish. But the film isn’t  so reductive as to parody life in these parts. It focuses upon real people living out real lives in the only way they know how, desperate to make something work in a nation described in the Pledge of Allegiance as undivided, with liberty and justice for all. The ever-captivating mystery invites us to form our own opinions of these people and communities. And suffice it to say, and while difficult at times, it’s best to reserve judgment until the very end.

My judgment is thus: Hell or High Water is one of the most enjoyable, entertaining and satisfying films 2016 has to offer. By turns nostalgic for a bygone period in cinema — that of the classic John Wayne shoot-em-up — and hungry to forge new frontiers with a riveting story that, while not categorically unpredictable, explores boundaries few films bother exploring anymore. It’s a grand adventure, something that will undoubtedly offer up something new to discover upon repeat viewings. This is how you make movies, folks.

Jeff Bridges in 'Hell or High Water'

Recommendation: Hell or High Water, an uncommonly (and unexpectedly) solid bit of modern western action, refuses to stoop to the lowest common denominator of reducing drama to bloody gunfights and cheesy quips. It’s a heist film executed almost to perfection. Fans of the cast are sure to love it, particularly Pine who continues to show he has more talent than just fulfilling an iconic leadership role on the U.S.S. Enterprise. This is undoubtedly his best work yet, slurry southern drawl and all. And I hate to keep making Star Trek comparisons, but on an entertainment scale, Pine’s misadventures here are far worthier of your time. This goes beyond where many modern westerns have gone before. Two Roger Ebert thumbs up.

Rated: R

Running Time: 102 mins.

Quoted: ” . . . go f**k yourself.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

McFarland USA

mcfarland-usa-poster

Release: Friday, February 20, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Christopher Cleveland; Bettina Gilois; Grant Thompson

Directed by: Niki Caro

Is this the part where I openly admit to becoming teary-eyed watching a Disney film? Or is that just way too honest?

. . . . . hello . . . ? Guys . . . . . . ?

Ah well, whatever. Good chance I’m just talking to myself now, but nonetheless it’s nice being reminded of how many ways movies can offer surprises. Family-friendly McFarland USA is the most recent example, transcending mediocrity while still relying on shopworn techniques to construct its story, one that is as wholesome as it is sensational given its drawing upon real life events.

Kevin Costner is a disgraced high school football coach named Jim White who finds himself having to relocate his family to Nowheresville — er, excuse me, that’s McFarland, a tiny Californian town few maps have ever bothered mentioning — as he seeks another coaching job at a high school that’s predominantly Hispanic. Although hired because of his football résumé Jim suggests to the school’s principal, much to the chagrin of Assistant Coach Jenks (Chris Ellis), that McFarland High start up a cross country running team. He sees in several members of the squad some serious talent, but talent that’s more useful off the gridiron. Having no experience coaching track or cross country before Jim’s chances of finding success are pretty apparent from the get-go, but it’s not until he manages to corral seven young boys, including the unstoppable Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts) that a real opportunity begins to present itself.

McFarland USA begs comparisons to the inferiorly budgeted and marketed Spare Parts, a production featuring George Lopez that shines a light upon four young Latino high school students possessing brilliant minds but lacking the financial and societal support needed for their potential to be fully realized. Trade intellect for athleticism, Arizona for California and a talk-show host for a seasoned action star and you get the latest effort from director Niki Caro. The drama at times mirrors that of the kids of Carl Hayden High, in particular a scene in which Jim White drives his rapidly rising young star athletes to the beach so they can have their first glimpse of the ocean. It should be said that this sequence is handled with much more grace and passion but it’s difficult shaking that feeling of déjà vu if you’ve sat through both films.

But where Spare Parts had the difficult task of selling audiences on the magnitude of the motivation required for these immigrant youths to compete in something as obscure as an underwater robotics competition, McFarland USA embraces its broader audience appeal by crafting a sense of warm community and fictionalizing a rallying cry behind an upstart sports team. Cross country running makes for an interesting twist on an all-too-eager-to-inspire genre. At the risk of scribbling out yet another cliché, we’ve been beaten over the head more than enough times with the pressures, heartbreaks and pitfalls of football stardom. As an avid sports fan, I say this not because my goal is to mislead anyone but because it’s simply true: football dramas are far too easy to find.

It’s also no secret Disney prefers creating cinema that values community-building rather than the destruction thereof, and McFarland USA continues in that tradition. As the Whites transition from minority status in a town where no one’s a stranger to another, to becoming the reason McFarland begins receiving recognition amongst the more affluent surrounding suburbs there is a surprising amount of satisfaction gained in experiencing the growth, both personal and communal. Jim goes from being jokingly nick-named ‘Blanco’ to being revered as Coach as a series of growing pains galvanizes the group over the fall of 1987.

Added to this, Caro’s ability to homogenize these two cultures cohabiting within the Californian border. We see Jim’s eldest daughter Julie (Morgan Saylor) entering into young womanhood upon her 15th birthday during an extended vignette that serves as a highlight of the film when her father throws her a “quinceañera,” and her burgeoning romance with Thomas (arguably the best runner) furthers the notion that this family is not likely to abandon McFarland, even if Jim may have better job prospects on the horizon given his remarkable achievements. The respect between both groups is something that helps to balance out the film’s fixation on competition during the race day events.

There’s nothing truly original about McFarland USA, and yet the film excels in delivering entertainment and packaging an inspirational true story unlike many mainstream sports dramas have in recent memory. Anchored by wonderful performances from Costner and Bello in tandem and visually enhanced by a vibrant Disney color palette — this is a beautifully shot film, with particular emphasis on the landscapes during the races as well as the costume design — you might find yourself every now and then counting cliches but at the end you shouldn’t be too surprised to find yourself secretly cheering.

gohippitygohumpters

3-0Recommendation: McFarland USA relies on some old-hat filmmaking techniques but that doesn’t distract from the pure enjoyment of watching this town come together. There is so much to like about this one that anything less than a solid recommendation just wouldn’t be fair. Any fan of Kevin Costner shouldn’t pass this one up, either.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 129 mins.

Quoted: “That’s not Danny Diaz. . !”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Edge of Tomorrow

edge_of_tomorrow_ver11

Release: Friday, June 6, 2014

[Theater]

Pinch me, I must be dreaming (over and over again).

This cannot possibly be the summer blockbuster whose early previews seemed to indicate (perhaps warn us cynics of) the coming of merely yet another summer bust. From the outset the odds seemed stacked against this film, a sci fi romp whose gritty-gray trailers made the thing look less original than a robotic compulsion to try and be grimmer than the last doomsday flick.

For all intents and purposes, everyone’s favorite scientologist was poised to star in the Oblivion of 2014 — not exactly a death sentence for such an iconic career, but the deflating sounds of a balloon losing air are really becoming audible now. Even if this recent romp went belly-up for Tom Cruise, at least there would still be something to ogle at (or that’s what one tends to think whenever a woman is paired alongside Cruise, but then you meet Emily Blunt, and, well. She’s not that gal.) Breathtaking backdrops always do their best to compensate for whatever else of the movie audiences have a hard time taking seriously or even engaging in, be it the dialogue coming out of actors’ mouths or the script conveyed through their characters’ actions.

It seems as if Doug Liman’s the last man to receive the memo about the list of cliches Cruise’s career has been constructed out of. After mumbling “to hell with this,” he tossed the list out the metaphorical window and defiantly directed Edge of Tomorrow, a film about a group of worldwide soldiers uniting to save the world from total destruction. It’s a summer blockbuster film that is as far from average as you might get. As such, it is probably not possible for the Academy to even consider something as gigantic as a movie like this for any category — and truthfully, this isn’t quite that good — but this entry is just that one step closer. Action packed and perhaps stuffed even thicker with moments of refreshing and hilarious self-awareness, this epic adventure film about fighting for humanity’s right to live on is one of the biggest surprises of 2014.

Major William Cage (Cruise) may be the catalyst for filmgoers’ collective “oh my god, no way!” This is a role so unlike Cruise, a man whose honor, he feels, should be proven enough because he’s earned the high-ranking title of officer and whose contributions to the war should also be considered enough because he has a desk job and shiny cuff links. His whiny officer is given a major gut-check time when he’s brought before General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) and ordered to the front lines in the first wave of what appears to be humanity’s last stand against an alien creature — known as ‘the mimics’ — on the French beaches.

A parody of Saving Private Ryan this is not, but there are obvious references, and not to mention, it’s release date is more than convenient, coming on the 70th anniversary of the infamous D-Day invasion of Normandy. The drama that unfolds, on a visual spectrum, reaches blindingly brilliant. This might even be a film that could properly support the 3-D technology, though that experience is less than necessary. A standard format will immerse most of the senses in the same compelling way. From the moment Cage’s mission officially gets underway as he plummets from a crashing aircraft, we are into the thick of it. He’s still trying to figure out who’s going to answer for this grave mistake of sending him into battle. We are trying to figure out how any of this can possibly work out for the better.

And so begins a beautiful relationship between Cruise and Edge of Tomorrow‘s global audience. What we don’t expect next is the very thing that is waiting around the corner for us. This is true of Cruise’s latest performance and of the script itself. A routine cycle of living for a few moments, quickly getting killed off and re-spawning once more doesn’t seem like a recipe for hilarity, and yet the writers have a field day with this. There’s even a joke or two about suicide somewhere along the way, and even these fail to register as offensive. Meanwhile, Cruise does his best to not break the fourth wall in any of his major fight scenes. Not once does he turn to the camera, hair blowing back epically in the wind of the destruction and loss of life around him, with the fortitude to whisper to us all (just once): “this is all a bit ridiculous, isn’t it?”

Unfortunately he never comes right out and says it but his performance, especially when measured up against a great dramatic turn from Emily Blunt, certainly is suggestive. Perhaps that’s more the work of brilliant writing from it’s four writers and direction from Liman. I don’t really care upon whom I should heap more praise, though; it’s the fact that the collective effort that went into this film — a film sitting smack-dab in the middle of the year, mind you — seems to have figured out a different policy for entertaining mass audiences. It neither panders to viewers nor does it have such a high-concept plot so as to come off condescending.

Fast-paced, funny and constantly engaging — not to mention, bolstered by some of the coolest aliens this side of Men in Black — Edge of Tomorrow is blockbuster filmmaking as it should be. The way the narrative develops is far from perfect, as the climactic final thirty minutes take to somewhat secure ground compared to the film’s refreshingly extemporaneous tone earlier on; however, I refer you to the previous line as to why slight slip-ups are not going to spell the end of the world.

emily-blunt-poed-at-tom-croooooze

3-5

Recommendation: Critics and audiences agree: Edge of Tomorrow surprised the shit out of us. This is a real treat. Again, it could be argued there has been too much anti-Tom Cruise/scientology sentiment going around that perhaps cast a very unfavorable light upon his newest outing. Or it could be I, personally, am just becoming very cynical the more movies I watch, and it very well could be that this was always going to be a great movie from the start. I would like to read the book now. Yes please.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 113 mins.

Quoted: “On your feet, maggot!”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The 86th Academy Awards Afterparty: Will there be pizza?

Despite my fascination with film, I consistently have never really cared for the awards ceremonies as I’ve always seen them as rather trifling procedures. The night of Sunday, March 2 barely amounts to more than a shallow beauty pageant. The proceedings inside L.A.’s famed Dolby Theater are in effect an incredibly expensive circus in which wealthy people converge on a single venue to watch their extremely well-off colleagues accepting gold statues as a way of validating that their work was actually experienced by more than just the people in that stuffy little room.

And don’t even get me started on the actual reporting on the event beforehand. Christ, the quality of the news on the Red Carpet makes a mockery of journalism to the highest degree. There isn’t an apology to be found or heard. Ever. Cameras (and conversations) prefer to be aimed towards fashion trends, intentionally converting performers into walking billboards for the young and impressionable. People aren’t really people in these moments. But that’s okay. . . .I guess. After all, these centers of attention are the same folks who gave us those great moments in the films we liked over the past year. Now it’s fun seeing Jennifer Lawrence stumble all over her real-life awkwardness. Or how about seeing sworn on-screen enemies pal-ing around together over a drink? That’s the stuff that causes the warm, fuzzy feeling in your tummy to grow intensely, apparently.

In spite of my ranting, the end-of-the-film-year presentation is actually greatly entertaining to watch. Why is that, you ask, understandably now confused.

Perhaps its partly because of the phenomenon of the fourth wall still protecting these successful and talented individuals from the claws of the public. We have a right to see our favorite action hero star stripped of his/her dramatic veil so we can get a better look into that person’s mind and see how they do what they do so well. Harrison Ford struggling to look sober during this year’s Oscars is one such insight that might well cause an obsession-fueled Twitter thread. Then there was Ellen Degeneres doing something as mundane as delivering pizza to certain members in the first few rows of the audience while Brad Pitt humbled himself by serving plates and napkins that caused us to nearly soil our pants from laughter.

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They aren’t on the silver screen at the moment, yet the likes of Amy Adams, Chris Hemsworth, the aforementioned Lawrence who can’t seem to catch a break from intentional or unintentional public embarrassment as Degeneres appeared to roast her before kicking off the ceremony this year, or a legend like Robert DeNiro — they all still possess a mystique we can never hope to chip away completely because they are in some way, shape or form still performing for us, the humble viewers. They give possibly the most honest performances of their lives before these particular cameras, but we will never get to be at the Oscar afterparty with them when they all shed the burden of the pretense and of the pomp and circumstance. And, possibly their clothes, too.

As a person who loves film I have been notorious for either accidentally or purposefully avoiding these sorts of events because a great majority of the time I either vehemently disagree with the ultimate selections or I just have no comment on what is going on at the time. There’s also that little issue I have with the false emotion surrounding it all. But nevermind that for a bit. This year I watched the Oscars from start to finish, even tapping into the Red Carpet action (which I will probably never do again, based on the intro paragraphs above). But with a few staggeringly honest acceptance speeches delivered by gold statue recipients, my faith in what these people are doing with their lives has been reinvigorated.

There were obviously the requisite number of speeches that dragged on for far too long, some that became dangerously close to sounding arrogant, and some that were borderline unintelligible. But thanks to highlights in Jared Leto (who took the stage for his snagging of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar), Lupita Nyong’o (with her remarkable work in 12 Years a Slave garnering her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar) and the potentially crowd favorite Matthew McConaughey (the McConaissance can now be officially acknowledged following his Best Actor prize) this year’s Oscars offered up strong doses of humanity and humility, a display of appreciation that extends to those who have spent any amount of time paying attention to them — that includes us bloggers! There comes that warm, fuzzy feeling again. . .

Dedicating three hours to watching the awards ceremony proves that this movie-watching business is indeed an addiction. It is equal parts exciting and frustrating knowing that famous names are to receive even greater plaudits than they have already earned in being cast into money-making machines. Such is the nature of their jobs. Everyone should save themselves a pat on the back for me. Especially Mr. McConaughey. I say good for him.


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Photo credits: google images