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Out in Theaters: ‘IN THE HEART OF THE SEA’

Chris Hemsworth was a rare find for Thor because he seems like a man beamed out of another dimension. The lacy lexicon of Marvel’s quasi-Shakespearean tragedy boasts Hemsworth’s Australian-cum-Nobleman accent, one with an ethereally hard-to-place, far, far away quality to it. When Hemsworth is smashed down to Earth and asked to perform New England for Ron Howard’s not-quite-Moby-Dick Moby Dick story he musters a punishing take on a Nantucket accent that turns the r’s in ah’s (that is when he remembers he’s supposed to be mussing up his voice at all.) Read More

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Out in Theaters: EDGE OF TOMORROW

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Since all the Groundhog Dog jokes have already risen, seen their shadow and retreated into the proverbial internet hole, let’s just settle with calling Edge of Tomorrow a slightly derivative but monstrously enjoyable blockbuster. In a time where any project commanding a budget north of 100 million dollars is either dumbed down to the broadest of international audiences or stuffed with pew-pewing superheroes, witnessing this brand of thinking man’s blockbuster illicits nothing short of a deep sigh of relief. It might not have the layers of Inception or the majesty of Avatar but its fleet-footed cadence, wily comic timing and crackerjack combat spectacles makes for one ace summer tentpole.

Adapted from Hiroshi Sakurazaka‘s popular Japanese manga “All You Need is Kill” (which once shared its name with this film adaptation), Edge sees an alien force invading Europe by way of asteroid-as-shuttle-ship that collides with Earth’s most tested continent. A discord of international new clips cue us into the ensuing chaos breaking loose like hounds of hell off Satan’s leash. As the world rallies to a united cause of defeating this unthinkably strategic force, the odds may never be in their favor.

However the Earthling forces attempt to smite their spindly-armed enemies in this David versus octo-predator Golliath combat ring, human advances are always halted with alarming precision by the preternaturally calculating Mimics. It’s like their adversaries know their every move before they even make them. Let the stank of foreshadow waft over you. Humanity is promptly six miles up shit creek with no paddle, advancing towards a waterfall that plummets towards pee-icicles and their opponents are snickering on the sidelines. Consider the apocalypse uncanceled; mankind faces imminent extinction. But not if Tom Cruise has anything to say about it (*guitar solo*). Still, it takes him a while to get to the point of Earth’s savior.

At first, Cage (Cruise) is nothing but a trumped up army lackey; a cheery filter for CNN-friendly update blurbs, a Buzzfeed of combat propaganda. He’s the door-to-door salesman of joining the army, the Uncle Sam of “We Want You (In a Mech Suit!).” But when he responds to orders to personally cover the front line of the new war effort with a not-so-cunning retort of blackmail, Cage winds up on the receiving end of handcuffs, stripped of his rank and thrown in with the underdog grunts of J Squad. His pissing contest ended with a definitive bitch slap and a lingering mushroom stamp, Cage has all but received a death sentence, which is quickly proffered up on the battlefield. But not before he gets a fat stream of inky alien blood all up in his grills. But this ain’t just any ol’ alien blood, this is Mimic blood; magical, time-traveling Mimic blood.

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Cage dies (a particularly unpleasant death, I would add) and wakes up at the beginning of the day; handcuffed, confused and forced to leap into battle and die all over again. Begin his sentencing to ’93 Bill Murray antics except with more aliens and the pants-shitting knowledge that death is but a pre-destined misstep away. Let’s just say Cage wouldn’t be happily singing along to “Time Warp.”

But as the film transitions into this temporal stasis, director Doug Liman really hits his groove. In repetition, he finds opportunities to impress, integrating elements of comic mistiming in with increasingly impressive combat sequences. As Cage is forced to re-live the experiences of the same day over and over again, Liman is able to weave in moments of comic relief just as naturally as the beautifully choreographed – and often equally amusing – action sequences.

And like any time travel film ought, Liman manages to not take the affairs too seriously, pausing every now and then to fulfill audience skepticism by having Cage fail epically. Seeing Cruise poorly time an escape under a bus and getting chewed to road kill or aping that he doesn’t have a broken leg so he’s not forced to repeat the day by taking a slug to the noggin doesn’t take us out of the moment so much as cement us in it. Memory is imperfect and it’s grossly satisfying to see slight miscalculations lead to the day reboot we become so familiar with.

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As we’ve come to expect, Cruise takes to the mantle of unlikely action hero with gallant aplomb. I mean, the man’s a professional. Step back and watch him work. Though Cage may lack definition as he blooms from green amateur into an improbable hero, his budding relationship with decorated veteran Rita (Emily Blunt) gives us something extra to cheer for. Blunt, for all her yoga-body beauty, is no ingénue. She’s a certifiably hardened BAMF, and goes by the somewhat uncomplimentary tag of “Full Metal Bitch.” With a handle like that (set with a sly tip-of-the-hat to Kubrick) assume that even in a robo-suit, you wouldn’t want to spar with her.  

With a screenplay that might have turned into the brainchild of sub-committee (Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth are all credited screenwriters), it’s a wonder that the plot is as airtight as it is. Sure, there’s elements that may not stand up to the test of vehement scrutiny (particularly the somewhat indecipherable ending bits) but the yarn is engrossing enough and staged with just the right amount of ludicrous maneuvering to allow us to overlook them without much complaint. After all, seeing Cruise and Blunt strapped into mech suits and storming a nest of whirling dervish is all you really need. Well, that and kill.

B+

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Sundance Review: CALVARY

“Calvary”
Directed by John Michael McDonagh
Starring Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Marie-Josée Croze
Ireland/United Kingdom
100 Mins

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A preist struggling with his faith and desperate for purpose in the murk of fog-blanketed, 21st century Ireland receives a death threat from an abused alter boy from his past. He has one week and then will be gunned down at the beach, he is told, so he’s got just enough time to get his affairs in order. Although Brendan Gleeson‘s Father James Lavelle may have never touched a fly, much less an alter boy, that’s exactly why this abusee wants to strike out at him, “I want to hurt someone good. Someone who has never hurt anyone.” With exact knowledge of who this man is, Father James chooses not to turn him in, instead he’ll try to change the man. While this selfless choice might inevitably lead to his demise, it’s the only righteous path that his Catholic worldview and personal pathos allow for.

Decidedly more serious and bleak than his debut effort, the well-received The Guard, John Michael McDonagh treads in a whole new direction, though remaining in the lavish playground of his native Ireland. While The Guard allowed Gleeson a chance to flex his comedic muscles playing a racist, half-witted police officer with a semi-solid set of morals, Calvary gives him ample room to breathe as a dramatist.

Knowing he only has seven days to live, we see Father James amble through the five stages of grief and Gleeson is rapturous through it all. At first, he goes about his daily life as if nothing has changed, humming from the threat but keeping it wrangled to the back of his mind. Soon, he’ll begin to strike out at those close to him, embodying the anger of a man watching his life tick away. Onto bargaining – he cuts deals with local elite alongside God – depression – his ancient history with the bottle begins to resurface – and finally the cool serenity of acceptance.

Offering Gleeson a chance to shift masks like a Jungian headcase, Calvary is a showcase of acting prowess but also has a rich beating heart in the rich texture of landscape and the girth of questionable characters that surround Father James’ final days. He may know the identity of his to-be killer but that’s never a fact we’re privy to. As we’re watching, each character, big and small, seems to carry an ulterior motive and McDonagh cranks the suspicion so high that we wouldn’t blink if the perp was Father’s James own daughter (Kelly Reilly).

Though sundry moments of muted comic relief courtesy of the increasingly reliable Chris O’Dowd seek to remind us that even in tragedy, life carries on, Calvary is an intrepid and deeply somber drama, soaring from Gleeson’s dynamic performance. With the capacity to leave us hanging our heads  in despair, McDonagh looks past the low hanging fruit and aims for something infinitely more powerful and soulfully infectious, a modern stance on what it truly means to sacrifice.

B+

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