Thursday, July 10, 2014

Movie Reviews: The Fault in Our Stars, Edge of Tomorrow, ...

The Fault in Our Stars: There are movies, especially young adult movies, that, after watching them, I immediately want to find and read the book. This is not one of those movies.

Girl with cancer (she drags an oxygen tank around with her) meets boy with cancer (he has already lost a leg) and his friend (who is going blind). Will their personal demons and illnesses allow them to find happiness?

TFiOS is a decent movie, but it's by no means great. The acting is fine and it's poignant. The characters are flat, but not unbearably unrealistic, though the script doesn't reveal enough about them to tell. Mostly they are just too good and perky. The exception is the one character who is drunk and mean.

It was all so flat, neat, and uncomplicated that it was hard to get into. The only really true moment was in the denouement when our heroine faced the mean guy and, rather than resolve anything with him, left the situation unresolved and messy. That was real, and thus involving.

The directing was ok ... maybe; the movie was cloying and highly sentimental (too much lingering on smiles and tears and long sentences of young love with beautiful characters). And really, the whole thing was fairly predictable. Even if the movie didn't so closely follow My Sister's Keeper, it was obvious who was going to die and when. But the movie shies away even from that; it just passes over it: "And eight days later [character] died and so I went to [character]'s funeral".

The freedom given to the two characters to travel on an airplane with an oxygen tank and with the likelihood of spontaneous lung collapse seemed far fetched, as did them walking around Amsterdam alone and drunk or unescorted into the house of a strange man (they don't speak Dutch). My biggest problem is that the Holocaust is used as a metaphor for the character's personal battle with cancer, and the Anne Frank House is used as the backdrop for a romantic meeting between the two main characters. Both of which were offensive.

Edge of Tomorrow: EoT gives us (unfortunately) a whole lot of Tom Cruise, who, while capable of action sequences, seems to hog the camera in any action movie in which he appears. Every one of his action movies is: Tom grunts, Tom runs, Tom fights, Tom falls, Tom grins, etc etc, and every one of his performances is exactly the same as every other one. He portrays no actual personality other than his own. This is unfortunate, since he promisingly gave us a good many real characters at the start of his career in films like The Color of Money, Born on the Fourth of July, Risky Business, Rain Man, and others. I am very bored of Tom Cruise as Tom Cruise.

EoT also (fortunately) gives us another spunky female action protagonist, Emily Blunt, in a role that departs from her usual choices. She doesn't have much more personality than Tom does, but at least that's a refreshing change for her.

Earth has been invaded by incredibly prescient and tenacious aliens who are rapidly going to kill all humans. One woman was suddenly able to kill 300 baddies in a battle, and, spurred on by her success, humans are grouping for a final battle. A guy who has been helping on the media side is suddenly thrust into the attack force against his will, only a day after landing in basic training against his will. He dies quickly, but reawakens at the start of basic training again and lives the day over, and over, etc. He has to find out why, and what he can do to win the war.

People have compared this to Groundhog Day, but really it is more like Source Code, since it is not so much about personal redemption but about getting thrown repeatedly into an unwanted violent situation.

The action is about the same as other recent sci fi flicks, but the story is kind of interesting. It seemed to me that there were a whole lot of holes in the plot, or perhaps explanations left out of the source material. A quick perusal online after watching the film thankfully pointed to the latter, and really it wasn't too bad (not like a lot of other recent crappy showings like Elysium and Oblivion). And I concede that, notwithstanding what I wrote above, Tom's one dimensional character transforms over the course of the movie (from a ditz to a soldier).

Directing and effects are good. Can't say it's important, but it's entertaining for a popcorn movie.

We Bought a Zoo: A movie I saw on the plane back from the US, this is a light kids movie. A guy who misses his wife, together with his kids who miss their mother, leave their job and social circle and move to a house on which property is also a large dilapidated safari like zoo. The zoo comes with a variety of employees paid by the state (or they were, anyway). The zoo is in danger of being shut down unless it is brought up to code. The head keeper is a cute woman, who initially crosses heads with the guy, but of course, eventually ...

The son has issues, and these also have to be worked out, between son and father, and between son and one of the employees who is, coincidentally, a girl about his age. They initially cross heads, but of course, eventually ...

And will the zoo succeed or be closed by the overzealous and critical zoo inspector before it can open and make money?

Right. We don't even get to see much of the animals. Cameron Crowe has made some amazing movies; this one is kind of dull.

Adult World: I watched this because I thought "How bad can a John Cusack movie be?" Well, it wouldn't have been a bad movie if it were a John Cusack movie, i.e. if the movie had focused on the Cusack character and his struggles and transformations. But it wasn't and didn't. Instead, the movie focused on this twerp of a young adult woman who majored in poetry and is so insipidly unworldly, and so boneheadedly childish, that it was painful to watch. She refuses to do anything useful except spend money entering poetry competitions and submissions to poetry journals, and she runs away from home after being called childish. Eventually she lands a job at an adult store, whose seediness is entirely glossed over and instead is populated and frequented by colorful characters.

The movie makes a whole lot of bad decisions. It starts you with her staging her suicide, which she does in the hopes of being made famous after her death like Sylvia Plath; mid-scene we flash back a year. There is so much wrong with that opening scene that it is hard to know where to begin. There follows many more scenes that don't work, including one where she stalks and forces her way into her favorite author's house (he happens to live nearby), and he takes her on as a maid and protege instead of calling the police. I got about halfway through and gave up, totally uninterested at making it back to the opening scene and the obvious self-realization she will surely attain in order to have a happy ending.

In truth, any one of the other characters would have made a more enjoyable focus.