Jurassic World

Jurassic-World-poster

2015

Amblin Entertainment/Legendary Pictures/Universal Pictures

Directed by Colin Trevorrow

Produced by Frank Marshall/Patrick Crowley

Screenplay by Rick Jaffa/Amanda Silver/ Derek Connolly/Colin Trevorrow

Story by Rick Jaffa/Amanda Silver

Based on characters created by Michael Crichton

I’m going to step up on my soapbox here for just two minutes to give my $1.25 worth on some of the BMW I’ve heard/read about JURASSIC WORLD. If you’re not interested in me pontificating then please feel free to drop on down three paragraphs and read the review. I won’t be offended, I assure you.

Here’s the first thing: I’ve read reviews complaining about the lack of characterization and the predictable plot. You don’t go to a movie like JURASSIC WORLD looking for deep and meaningful characterizations. If they are there then that’s a bonus, sure. But if you pay your money and go in specifically for that then you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment and got nobody to blame but yourself. And as for the predictable plot….I mean, really? Aren’t all four of the movies in the “Jurassic Park” series basically the same movie?  They play out like this: People go to island full of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs break loose. People lose their minds and run around screaming. Dinosaurs chase people. People get et. Predictable? Sure is. Half a billion bucks worth of predictable at the box office, baby. And that ain’t dinosaur poop.

And here’s the second thing: the complaints about the lack of scientific accuracy. Sigh. Really? JURASSIC WORLD is a monster movie, plain and simple. It aspires to do nothing more than be an entertaining summer spectacular that gives you a thrill ride for two hours. It is not supposed to be a documentary.

But at the same time, it’s not entirely brain dead. If you pay attention I think you’ll see that JURASSIC WORLD, while itself being a summer blockbuster movie makes a statement about summer blockbuster movies and how audiences are constantly demanding for summer movies to be bigger and louder with more stunts and even more explosions. I have no idea if the writers and director directly intended for that to be in there and if they did, it’s a wonderfully subversive element to add in there. Okay, time for me to step off my soapbox and get to the review.

Brothers Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins) are packed off to stay with their aunt Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) while their parents work out some marital problems. It’s not as much of a bad deal at this may seem seeing as how Aunt Claire is the Operations Manager of Jurassic World, a dinosaur theme park located on Isla Nublar (cue the John Williams theme song) Claire is much too busy trying to woo potential investors with the lure of bigger and better dinosaur attractions. Dinosaurs genetically modified by the park’s Chief Geneticist, Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) And his latest one is a doozy. He calls it Indominus Rex and it’s a biological killing machine as he used the DNA of half a dozen predatory dinosaurs to create the thing.

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The Indominus Rex proves to be a lot more intelligent than anyone ever thought it could be as it manages to escape it’s enclosure and begins slaughtering its way across the island, killing humans and other dinosaurs alike as it makes its way straight to the park where the real feast awaits.  It up to Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and his hunting pack of Velociraptors to track down the Indominus Rex and stop it before it busts into the park.

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We’re not talking about a plot that you have to burn up brain cells thinking about. We’ve got Vincent D’Onofrio as Hoskins, the head of Security Operations who has some nebulous hair-brained idea that he can weaponize the Velociraptors for military use but he’s not the real bad guy here. He’s more of an annoyance. It’s Indominus Rex that is the true villain as it demonstrates a scary feral intelligence that gives it an unpredictability factor that goes off the charts.

Chris Pratt really impressed me here as he didn’t just fall back on doing a version of his Star-Lord/Peter Quill character from “Guardians of The Galaxy” Owen Grady is his own character in his own right and a lot of that had to do with the character’s body language. Since Grady’s hand signals, his stance and arm gestures are his way of communicating with the raptors he tends to stand absolutely still when talking with humans, not using his hands to emphasize his speech at all as most of us do. But when he’s with the raptors, his gestures and movements are very animated. It’s a small thing, I know. But to me it said a lot about the character and how he sees the raptors and his relationship to them.

I honestly don’t know if I liked Bryce Dallas Howard’s performance or not. She doesn’t have much chemistry with Pratt and she seemed to be going back and forth as if she herself wasn’t sure if her character was supposed to be the movie’s comedy relief or not. But she’s right there in the middle of the action along with Pratt and she has some pretty good lines in the scenes where Claire and Owen are in the jungle looking for her lost nephews.

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I would never have guessed that Colin Trevorrow had this kind of action movie in him based on “Safety Not Guaranteed” which is a completely different type of science fiction movie and one I heartily recommend. He does an absolutely terrific job of channeling Steven Spielberg here, swiping shots from the first two “Jurassic Park” movies left and right. It’s an impressive directing job. He knows how to keep the plot moving and how to invest us in his characters and care about what happens to them.

The bottom line is this: you want to go to see JURASSIC WORLD because in the words of Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and um, screaming.”

And that’s all it is. Enjoy.

124 Minutes

PG-13

Mad Max: Fury Road

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Warner Bros./Kennedy-Miller-Mitchell/Village Roadshow Pictures

2015

Directed by George Miller

Produced by Doug Mitchell/George Miller/P.J Voeten

Written by George Miller/Brendan McCarthy/Nico Lathouris

With all the deserved praise that he’s been getting for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, nobody seems to have mentioned that George Miller has revived a time honored movie tradition that has been forgotten in our age of reboot fever: he just simply recast a new actor to play Max Rockatansky aka Mad Max.  He didn’t reboot the series or felt that he had to explain why Max hasn’t aged in the thirty years between this movie and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” In fact, through some subtle visual clues such as Tom Hardy wearing the same jacket and leg brace that Mel Gibson did in the three previous Mad Max adventures, Miller lets us know this is the same guy. Hardy even gets to briefly drive the iconic black V8 Interceptor.

But he doesn’t feel the need to work some kind of jiggery pokery as to why Mad Max is now Tom Hardy and not Mel Gibson. He simply presents MAD MAX: FURY ROAD as another adventure of his signature character. You can take it or leave it. And in fact, that attitude runs throughout the entire movie. It’s a perfect example of that old adage: “Show. Don’t Tell.” Miller doesn’t waste our time having his characters stand around mouthing meaningless exposition, explaining things to each other that they already know or filling us in on the background of this visually deranged world. Miller’s attitude seems to be: “Here’s the characters. Here’s the situation. Now sit back and watch the damn movie.”

Mad Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by the soldiers of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who holds sway over a hoard of worshippers due to his control of an unlimited supply of water in the middle of a desert wasteland somewhere in Australia. Immortan Joe has used the water to create an oasis where he lives with his private army, known as The War Boys and his Five Wives. They are all women of exceptional beauty he uses strictly for breeding.

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Max is kept alive and used an an unwilling blood donor for Nux (Nicholas Hoult). While trying to figure out a way to escape, Joe’s right-hand woman Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) helps The Five Wives do just that very thing, hijacking the heavily armored War Rig. She intends to take them to The Green Place where she grew up. Once he discovers his wives are gone, Immortan Joe takes off after Furiosa with not only his War Boys but the armies of Gas Town and The Bullet Farm as well. Nux joins the pursuit with Max strapped to the front of his car and during that pursuit Max manages to escape and joins up with Furiosa and The Five Wives.

And that’s really all you need to know about the movie. What you’re getting is a two-hour epic car chase that is like a deliriously demented “Smokey and The Bandit” on acid. This is one of those movies that I watch in genuine amazement that nobody got killed working on this thing. It’s even more of an impressive achievement when you realize that most of the stunts and effects were done practically, at George Miller’s insistence. The use of CGI was used only when absolutely necessary and it’s actually Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron performing most of their stunts.

And speaking of Charlize Theron, she’s absolutely astounding here. The only other movie I can recall where she de-glamorized herself to this degree was “Monster.” Her role as Furiosa isn’t as dramatically daring as that of Aileen Wuronos but it’s no less captivating as she’s the best female action hero since Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens.” Yes, she’s that badass. Easily the equal of Tom Hardy’s Mad Max. They’re both warriors and survivors and come to respect each other because of their respective abilities to stay alive in this insane world. There’s no phony tacked on romance between them. They don’t have time for that bullshit. There’s only time to stay alive and ahead of the three armies chasing after them trying to kill them.

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Just on a purely visual level MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is brilliant. The vehicles on display are bizarre and just plain wacko. The Doof Wagon has to be seen to be believed. It’s a stage on wheels with six drummers banging away on drums while a guitarist swings back and forth on bungee cords playing heavy metal on a flame throwing guitar to Immortan Joe’s War Boys as they charge into battle.

Taking into account that he’s 70 years old, the imaginative visual power and energy of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is nothing less than astounding. Miller throws ideas and concepts up on screen for a couple of minutes that other filmmakers would make whole movies out of. You’d expect this kind of movie from a younger director, eager to show off what he can do.

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And maybe that makes all the difference. George Miller already knows what he can do. He did it before with “Mad Max” and with “The Road Warrior” which revolutionized the modern action movie. And he does it again with MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop procrastinating. It’s definitely one of the best movies of the year and next to “Avengers: Age of Ultron” a Must See for the Summer of 2015. Enjoy.

Rated R

120 Minutes

 

Jupiter Ascending

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2015

Village Roadshow Pictures/Anarchos Productions/Warner Bros./Roadshow Entertainment

Written and Directed by The Wachowskis

Produced by Grant Hill and The Wachowskis

When it comes to The Wachowskis I think it’s only fair to tell you that their track record with me has been up and down. I really liked “Bound” but thought that “Cloud Atlas” was just okay. To be honest with you, I had to watch that one three times before I got it and even now I’m still not sure. “Speed Racer” I consider a magnificent masterpiece. As a confirmed “Speed Racer” addict ever since I was a kid I feel like The Wachowskis made “Speed Racer” just for me, that’s how perfect a translation from animation to live action I feel it is. Matter of fact, just talking about it gets me so hyped just thinking about it I’m gonna go watch my Blu-Ray of “Speed Racer” just as soon as I finish this review.

And as for “The Matrix” trilogy of films…they’re okay, but I’ve never been as wild about it as I’m sure many of you reading this were/are. They’re solid action films, sure. An exceptional visual style, sure. Outrageous action sequences, absolutely.  But if you’re a fan of science fiction movies, books, Marvel comics and Honk Kong martial arts/action movies for any period of time longer than ten years then nothing in any of “The Matrix” movies was new to you. What I give those movies a lot of credit for is being the first multi-racial science fiction trilogy.

Which brings us to JUPITER ASCENDING. Where would I put it in the Wachowski filmology? Let’s get the obligatory plot summary out of the way and then we’ll get to that, okay?

Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is an illegal Russian immigrant living and working with her family in Chicago. Along with her mother and aunt she cleans the houses of the wealthy and fantasizes about what it must be like to be so rich and live in such luxury. She sees no future in trying to rise above her station in life until she’s rescued from alien bounty hunters by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) Caine is himself a genetically modified warrior who explains to her that she is the genetic reincarnation of The Matriarch of The House of Abrasax. As such, she is not only galactic royalty but the owner of the planet Earth.

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Caine takes her off Earth and into deep space where Jupiter runs into a bewildering and astounding variety of alien and humanoid races, including her genetic children: Balem (Eddie Redmayne) Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth). All of them are scheming and plotting to get control of The House of Abrasax, which seeded life on Earth millennia ago to finance the family business which is immortality, plain and simple. Jupiter is the pivotal piece in the galactic chess game being played by her treacherous genetic offspring as they each seek to manipulate her for their own ends. Balem hasn’t got time for that felgercarb, though. He’d rather just kill Jupiter and get it over with. Good thing that Caine is there to thwart him at every turn, backed up by his former partner/mentor Stinger Apini (Sean Bean).

I have greatly simplified the plot because believe me, it is a lot more complicated than that. The Wachowskis have gone to a lot of trouble to establish this universe and I give them the highest of credit for it. They aren’t content to simply swipe from “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” in the creation of their universe. Everything looks absolutely incredible. The technology, the architecture (one spaceship looks like a flying Vatican) the fashion…JUPITER ASCENDING’s universe is one of the most complete, detailed and fully realized I’ve seen on film in a long time. The only movie I can think of that comes close is “The Fifth Element”. And indeed, there were moments when JUPITER ASCENDING had the same vibe as that movie.

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But the movie suffers from having two miscast leads who have zero chemistry together. Channing Tatum should have taken his cue on how to act in this kind of movie from Sean Bean. Mr. Bean knows he’s in a B-movie Space Opera with an A-movie budget and plays it accordingly. Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis play it as if this thing were written by Tennessee Williams. Tatum in particular is about as interesting as a tree stump. Considering that he’s got this badass pair of funky anti-gravity boots that let him skate on air and Errol Flynn all over the place, he goes through the whole movie as if he’s got the universe’s worst job. I watched his performance and all I could think of was how Chris Pratt’s committed performance was so integral to the overall fun and success of “Guardians of The Galaxy”. In contrast, Tatum looks he can’t wait to get out this movie and go make another “Jump Street” sequel.

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And I guess that is my main problem with JUPITER ASCENDING. For all the astounding visuals and outrageous action sequences, nobody in this movie looks like they had fun making it and there’s not much fun in watching it. It’s spectacular to look at, yes it most certainly is. But it’s a movie you can wait on for the Blu-Ray or Netflix.

127 minutes

Rated PG-13

Lucy

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2014

Universal Pictures

Written and Directed by Luc Besson

Produced by Virginie Silla

I know quite a few people who have said that they’re not going to go see LUCY because it’s “scientifically inaccurate.” You see, the plot of the movie hinges upon the long held belief that human beings only use 10% of their brain capacity and that if we ever gained conscious control of our entire brain then the results would be unimaginable. It could be that we would possess godlike abilities such as telekinesis, telepathy, matter reconstruction, time travel, levitation. The 10% thing has long been debunked as myth and I can’t understand why just because LUCY uses it as a MacGuffin that would keep anyone from seeing it. After all, it’s scientifically inaccurate that a high school student can get bitten by a radioactive spider and suddenly gain the ability to climb walls but that didn’t stop people from enjoying Spider-Man movies. It’s scientifically inaccurate that there are hundreds of alien races so close to humanity that they can breathe our atmosphere, mate with us and in general are configured much like humans but that didn’t stop people from enjoying the various Star Trek movies and television series.

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Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is going to school in Taiwan and after a night of wild partying with her new boyfriend of a week is tricked by him into delivering a locked briefcase to Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik) a Korean crimelord. The briefcase contains a package of CPH4, a synthetic superdrug that increases brain function. Lucy is drafted into being a drug mule and the package is sewed into her abdomen. There are three other mules, all with identical packages inside their abdomens, heading for different European cities where they will be met by Mr. Jang’s people and the packages removed.

But due to a vicious assault, Lucy’s package leaks and releases CPH4 into her system. It begins expanding her brain functions and she finds herself with greatly enhanced physical capabilities and mental abilities such as telekinesis, telepathy and total control over electronic devices. Due to her now hypergenius status, Lucy realizes she needs the other three packages to continue to expand her capabilities and elevate herself to the next stage of human evolution.

She contacts Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) whose research into higher brain functions may be able to help her. And she enlists the aid of a French policeman, Captain Del Rio (Amr Waked) to find and capture the other mules. In the meantime, Mr. Jang is not far behind as he still wants his merchandise and Lucy’s head as well. And he’s bringing an army to get both.

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Now despite what you may have seen in the trailers, LUCY isn’t as much of an action film as you might think. Oh, sure there are gun fights and car chases but this isn’t start-to-finish-punch-punchy-run-run-kiss-kiss-bang-bang which you certainly have a right to expect from Luc Besson. LUCY actually spends quite a bit of its short running time speculating on neuroscience, biology, evolution, philosophy and metaphysics as Lucy struggles to understand what is happening to her and what she will do with her new found knowledge before she ascends to another level of existence.

It’s a lot of fun watching Scarlett Johansson turn from a giddy party girl into Dr. Manhattan from “Watchmen” with a splash of V’ger from “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” added for flavor. As her intelligence and her powers increase, she loses more and more of her emotions but Scarlett Johansson still makes us care for this poor girl who certainly didn’t ask for this to happen to her but desperately wants to do the right thing before she becomes too omnipotent to care.

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Morgan Freeman quite frankly made me crack up because I have never before seen an actor who plainly knows that his one and only function in the movie is to provide plot exposition do it which such gusto. For most of the movie, Freeman is explaining to us what’s happening and what’s going happen and damn if he doesn’t do it in an entertaining manner.

LUCY is a movie that thankfully doesn’t take itself seriously and if you go into it with that attitude that it should be Serious Science Fiction then you’ll be robbing yourself of a solidly made, entertaining thriller than is full of enthusiasm and fun. Luc Besson has yet to make a movie that disappoints me and LUCY is no exception.

Rated R

90 minutes

The Final Programme

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1973

Anglo-EMI Film Distributors Ltd./MGM-EMI Distributors Ltd./New World Pictures

Directed and Written by Robert Fuest

Produced by Sandy Liberson

Based on the novel by Michael Moorcock

I discovered Michael Moorcock during the late 1970’s. I was in High School and it was right about then that I got turned onto Sword and Sorcery thanks to John Aiken, a guy who I hung out with a lot back then as we went to the same high school and shared a love of comic books and fantastic fiction. Thanks to Marvel Comics “Conan The Barbarian” I discovered Robert E. Howard and it was John who handed me a copy of “Elric of Melnibone” and said that if I liked Howard then I would love this guy.

And John was right. I devoured Moorcock the same way I devoured Howard. And after I read all the Elric stuff I went on to read Corum and the Hawkmoon books, which I still think would beat the snot out of the “Lord of The Rings” movies if they were done right. In fact I loved everything Moorcock wrote until I hit the Jerry Cornelius books.

Jerry Cornelius is a character who appeared in a long series of novels and anthologies written by Moorcock from the 1960’s up until as recently as 2008. The first novel “The Final Programme” which is based on the movie we’re talking about now is for me the most accessible one. It’s also the most fun to read as for the first half it’s a modern retelling of a significant part of “Elric of Melnibone” with Jerry Cornelius as Elric, his brother Frank as Yrykoon and their sister Catherine as Cymoril. In the later novels I simply couldn’t get into what Moorcock was talking about as Jerry Cornelius became not a character but an avatar for Moorcock to explore his own opinions and thoughts on social issues. The Jerry Cornelius books became more about social satire and philosophy than anything else. Forget about the action adventure we were promised in the first book.

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THE FINAL PROGRAMME follows the first half of the book pretty closely. Jerry Cornelius (Jon Finch) superspy, adventurer and Nobel Prize winning physicist is summoned to attend the funeral of his father. At the funeral Jerry is approached by a consortium of scientists led by the enigmatic Miss Brunner (Jenny Runacre) who need a microfilm Jerry’s father had. The microfilm has the secret of “The Final Programme” a genetic code that will create a new being, a messiah that will lead mankind out of the end of the world that is soon to come.

Jerry really isn’t interested in all that. He just wants to get his sister Catherine (Sarah Douglas) away from the sinister clutches of his insane brother Frank (Derrick O’Connor) Frank has Catherine captive in the Cornelius ancestral castle which is protected by all sorts of lethal booby traps that can only be navigated by a member of the Cornelius family. Turns out that Frank has the microfilm and that sets off a worldwide chase after Frank. Eventually Jerry gets hold of the microfilm and turns it over to Miss Brunner and her scientists. But then he finds he’s in even greater danger as Miss Brunner considers him prime genetic material for the creation of her new messiah.

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The main reason to watch THE FINAL PROGRAMME is the direction of Robert Fuest who not only worked on “The Avengers” but directed “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” “Dr. Phibes Rises Again” as well as “And Soon The Darkness.” He throws in a lot of eye candy and wacky set pieces such as a vertical chessboard on a door. The only way to open the door is to move the pieces in the same manner as a famous chess game. If you don’t… There’s a scene in a club that is a giant pinball game where scantily clad girls and patrons are inside clear plastic balls.

final-programme-5Jon Finch is actually quite good as Jerry Cornelius and I wish he’d been given a better script to work with. He plays Jerry as a cynical superhero and it’s a lot of fun to see him run around with his needle gun in his black suit, gloves and frilly shirt nemesising evildoers when the script lets him do so. Jenny Runacre’s Miss Brunner is a character that shows a lot of promise in that she appears to be some sort of vampire that feeds upon the lifeforce of her lovers, male or female. But this is just another promising plot element that is left unexplained. Still, Miss Runacre commits herself to her character and that’s all I can ask from any actor.

Should you see THE FINAL PROGRAMME? Since it’s available to see on YouTube for free (and I’ve provided the link below) I would say Yes. Especially if you’re a fan of the work of Robert Fuest. The movie has some wonderful set designs and the energy of the actors can carry you past the dull parts as everybody in this one gives it their all. Mind you, it’s not a good movie and that ending is nothing less than than a slap in the face to the viewers who have committed their time to this movie. Still, it’s eccentric enough that I can recommend it to those of you who are Michael Moorcock fans like me who may be curious enough to check out what is the best known adaptation of his work to date. Enjoy.

Rated R

81 Minutes

Edge Of Tomorrow

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2014

Warner Brothers Pictures

Directed by Doug Limon

Produced by Erwin Stoff

Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth

Based on “All You Need Is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

After all these years Hollywood has finally managed to do it. They’ve made a video game movie that actually is entertaining to watch and is clever enough that most people who watch it won’t even realize they’re watching a video game movie. But make no mistake; that’s exactly what EDGE OF TOMORROW is. Whenever the hero dies, his life is reset back to a starting point and he has to start all over again. But each time he gets a little further as he gains more knowledge and experience. And there are different levels where he has to accomplish certain tasks before he can move onto the next level.

The story begins in the fifth year of a vicious war humanity is waging against an alien race called Mimics. All of Earth’s armies have combined into the United Defense Force and it’s the job of a slick public relations officer, Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) to keep the propaganda machine well oiled. He’s assigned by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to provide on the spot coverage from the front line during Operation Downfall, an all-out invasion of Europe, which is entirely under Mimic control. Cage is no combat soldier and foolishly tries to blackmail the General to get out of the assignment. Brigham promptly has Cage arrested, stripped of his rank and thrown to the tender mercy of Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton) and his squad of misfits.

Cage and the squad land on the beaches of Normandy and are quickly wiped out by the hordes of Mimics who have apparently been waiting for them. Cage doesn’t last five minutes but is covered in the blood of an Alpha Mimic and it’s this that “resets” him every time he dies. Every time Cage gets killed he immediately wakes up on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport on the morning of the day before Operation Downfall.

Now it doesn’t take Cage long to figure out what has happened and of course he can get no one to believe him. No one except Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) known as “The Angel of Verdun” due to her spectacular victory there where she slaughtered hundreds of Mimics by herself while wearing a Jacket.  Jackets are armored exoskeletons that effectively turn a soldier into a walking tank. It would do that for Cage if he could only figure out how to turn the damn thing on.

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Turns out that Rita once had the ability to “reset” as well and it was this ability that allowed her to kill so many Mimics at Verdun. Before she lost her ability she learned of The Omega Mimic which is the consciousness that controls all the other Mimics and can also reset time. Rita agrees to train Cage so that he can survive long enough to get them to The Omega Mimic and destroy it.

Once you get the gimmick behind the time loop, you can sit back and relax and just enjoy the mayhem. Cage gets progressively better at using his Jacket and since he remembers when and how he and Rita get killed in the previous life he’s able to use that knowledge to avoid getting killed the same way twice and get closer and closer to his goal. You’d think that a movie about a time loop would be repetitive but there’s some really funny moments thrown in to break up the grimness of the story. And I wonder if Rita isn’t a statement on video game players who have no patience with the game they’re playing when they can’t advance as when she gets frustrated she simply kills Cage to “reset” everything and start all over.

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The Mimics aren’t terribly clever enemies. Looking like great big whirling balls of tentacles they’re simply here to fulfill what every video game needs: something to shoot at. Don’t go in expecting a lot of characterization here either. We’re told exactly what we need to know about the characters, no more and no less. I did like how Tom Cruise wasn’t playing his usual gung ho Man Of Action who jumps into the fray with fearless abandon. Will Cage is a coward, straight up and he’s not in the least bit ashamed to admit it. He has to grow and develop into being a hero and Cruise sells it well.

It’s always fun to see Bill Paxton, no matter what and Emily Blunt does a more than capable job backing up Tom Cruise. So how does EDGE OF TOMORROW measure up against the other science fiction/action movies Tom Cruise has done? It’s light years ahead of “War of The Worlds” and “Oblivion” but doesn’t come close to touching “Minority Report” It’s an undemanding movie that does exactly what it’s designed to do: provide you with 113 minutes of spectacular action. It’s also a lot smarter than I expected and a lot more fun as well. It’s the best video game you’re going to see at the movies this summer. Enjoy.

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113 minutes

PG-13

 

 

 

Riddick

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RIDDICK

2013

Universal Pictures/Entertainment One

Written and Directed by David Twohy

Produced by Vin Diesel, Ted Field and Samantha Vincent

Based on characters created by Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat

When we pick up on RIDDICK it is five years after the events of “The Chronicles of Riddick” and he has learned what many a king before him has learned: it is easier to seize a crown than hold it. You may remember that at the end of that movie, Riddick slew The Lord Marshall (Colm Feore) and thereby himself ascended to the throne of The Lord Marshall, leading The Necromongers, religious fanatics who either convert or destroy entire planetary populations. “The Chronicles of Riddick” left us on quite a cliffhanger wondering what the most dangerous man in the galaxy would do with his own army.

Turns out not much at all. Riddick is double-crossed by Commander Vaako (Karl Urban) who tricks Riddick into going to a desolate planet that may or may not be Riddick’s homeworld of Furya. Riddick is left to die on that planet. A fate that he himself thinks he deserves because in those five years he allowed himself to get soft, to lose his edge. As this is a hostile planet full of hideously dangerous lifeforms that appear to do nothing but eat anything and everything, Riddick sees this as the perfect opportunity to get back the edge he’s lost, strip away the surface veneer of civilization and return to what he once was: the perfect killing machine.

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I can’t help but wonder if after the ambitiously baroque excess of “The Chronicles of Riddick” David Twohy and Vin Diesel sat down to plot out this story and themselves wondered if they had lost their edge as well. Maybe they had taken Riddick too far from the character they had established with such overwhelming success in “Pitch Black.” Maybe they felt they had to pull Riddick back to his roots and for that reason RIDDICK plays out a lot like “Pitch Black 2.0” in the third act.

And for the record, I like “The Chronicles of Riddick” a lot. I approve of an ambitious failure much more than a play-it-safe success. The only problem I have with that movie is that it’s actually two movies in one. Once Riddick leaves Helion Prime and gets to Crematoria it’s an entirely different movie with its own supporting cast of characters that have nothing to do with the cast back on Helion Prime. That’s not to say it’s not exciting stuff to watch and if you haven’t seen “The Chronicles of Riddick” yet then consider that your homework assignment for the weekend. But let’s get back to RIDDICK.

Riddick is enjoying his life on this godforsaken planet, regaining his killing edge but the real test is to come when two separate groups of mercenary bounty hunters show up to capture Riddick dead or alive. One group is led by Boss Johns (Matthew Noble) the father of William Johns (Cole Hauser) from “Pitch Black.” He wants answers from Riddick as to his son’s fate. The other group is led by Santana (Jordi Molla) who simply wants Riddick’s head. The cat-and-mouse game of blood between Riddick and the mercenaries quickly develops into an all-out war for survival when the humans are attacked by a horde of savage monsters and must work together to stay alive long enough to get off the planet.

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RIDDICK doesn’t add anything to the mythology of Richard B. Riddick and his universe the way “The Chronicles of Riddick” did and to me it feels like a movie whose only purpose is to re-establish Riddick as the character he was in “Pitch Black” before sending him off on further adventures. I hope so as I’m looking for a proper resolution of the Necromonger storyline in the next Riddick movie as there is still a lot of potential there to be explored.

The acting in RIDDICK is nothing to write home about but neither is it anything to sneer at either. It’s the type of acting that serves the need of the story. No more and no less. Jordi Molla walks off with the acting honors here. Santana is a delightfully goofy character that wouldn’t be out of place in a spaghetti western. Fans of Katee Sackhoff require nothing of her except to stand around looking hot, talk plenty of shit and beat the piss outta guys and so they will be more than satisfied with her performance here.

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As for Vin Diesel himself, he slips back into Riddick’s skin with no problem and he again reminds us that when he wants to, Vin Diesel can act really well. I loved the first half hour or so of the movie which shows Riddick on his own, learning how to survive on the planet. I would have loved it more without the voiceovers but I appreciated the reminder that Riddick isn’t a thug or an ignorant killer. He’s actually very intelligent and perceptive with an inner life he shows to nobody.

So should you see RIDDICK? Yes. Even though to me it feels like a placeholder and not a complete movie. It feels to me like a warm-up before Twohy and Diesel tell a Riddick story that they really care about. It’s not a terrific nail-biter like “Pitch Black” or a pulse-pounding planet-hopping space opera like “The Chronicles of Riddick” but it’s an honest and respectably entertaining entry in the series with hopefully more to come. Enjoy.

118 minutes

Rated R