Edge Of Tomorrow (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: June 6, 2014
Director: Doug Liman

Earth is under attack by a mysterious and aggressive alien race and the world’s armies need all the help they can get. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is forced into combat against his will, having never seen a fighting day in his life. During his first battle, Cage dies within mere minutes – but then awakens, alive again,  to find that he is stuck in a “time loop” where any death finds him awakening at the start of the day. With the help of the “Full Metal Bitch” aka Rita (Emily Blunt), Cage must figure out what his new found abilities mean and how he can use them to defeat the alien menace.

If you’ve ever read any of my reviews, you know I’m not a huge Tom Cruise fan. I like him well enough in a few movies (Legend, Vanilla Sky, Tropic Thunder, The Last Samurai, Magnolia) but he just sort of never stayed on my “I’m-excited-to-see-this-actor-perform” radar. One of my former co-workers really hated the guy (because he hates Scientologists) but another co-worker was/is obsessed with him and told me to see this film. I’m glad I did see it, because it was a decent romp of a science fiction action flick – sort of like Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers.

One of my favorite Tom Cruise films was Vanilla Sky and the reason for this is because he played against type. In Vanilla Sky, he played a self-obsessed, whiny, insecure rich guy. In Edge of Tomorrow, he plays a cowardly, frightened military officer. It’s better to see Cruise in these types of roles, at least in my opinion. It shows that he’s willing to put aside his leading man ego at least part of the time, and the man can act.

Emily Blunt really was the “Full Metal Bitch” in this film. I would say that she was much more of a badass than Tom Cruise, even. She just has that deadpan stare sometimes that is somehow both sexy and intimidating. The film is only so long, but I think that they should’ve slipped in more of her story somewhere because she was a pretty interesting character. I mean, look at her:

 

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Another unexpected surprise was Bill Paxton. You can never have enough Bill Paxton. He’s not in the film much, but does a decent job as an overbearing drill sergeant.

As far as other aspects of the film go – the aliens were pretty cool, although it can be hard to wrap your head around a race of beings who can control time. That’s pretty crazy. Still, they looked scary and awesome and most of the special effects were well done so there weren’t a lot of “unbelievable” scenes in which the CGI failed.

All in all, Edge Of Tomorrow (aka Live, Die, Repeat) will definitely fill an afternoon with decent science fiction action. There are films which are much better, but you could also do much, much worse.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Edge of Tomorrow

 

How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release: June 13, 2014
Director: Jean DeBlois

Five years have gone by on the Viking island of Berk since the heroic deeds of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless resulted in the once-feared beasts becoming allies and pets. During a training flight to help train Toothless to maneuver better, Hiccup discovers a sect of dragon hunters who are led by the insane Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who has a desire to subjugate dragons at any cost, including all-out war.  Add that to pressures from his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) to take on the throne and the appearance of a mysterious dragon rider who steals dragons in the night and young Hiccup certainly has his hands full.

This is obviously a sequel and I loved How To Train Your Dragon so much that it was out of the question for me to miss this movie. I haven’t read the books by Cressida Cowell, but I hope to check them out soon.

The animation, as always, was fantastic. Toothless has never been cuter and there were some new things to look at in the form of new armor, new weapons and new dragons. All the old cast has returned including the aforementioned Hiccup and Stoick, and aside from the sinister Drago there are a handful of new characters as well.

The best part of this film is that it has more complexity to it than the original. In the last one, both Hiccup and Toothless were younger. Though it’s only five years that have gone by, the characters have grown. As a result, the mood of this sequel is a bit darker than the previous entry. There are darker themes and concepts and I think it provides a richer film experience. The relationships between characters have also grown, with Stoick becoming warmer toward Hiccup as well as Astrid and Hiccup being more mature in their romantic relationship – which is not overdone and sappy but you can still tell how much they care for one another. Hiccup’s mother is introduced, as well – which provides for a new dynamic between Hiccup and his parents. (Not giving anything away…it’s in the trailer.)

There were a couple of things I felt could have been improved, but they are sort of trifling. It was a bit too long for my tastes, and the pacing felt chunky at times but mostly because of all the interwoven narratives happening simultaneously. I took my young nephew and he sort of needed to get up and move around before the movie had ended, so watch out if you bring the kiddos. It may be too long for them to sit still. However, with all the cool dragons flying around on screen it’s hard for anyone to not be captivated.

Overall it was a great film and a sequel that I believe is mostly superior to the original, which is rare in many cases. It’s fun, it’s rich, it’s exciting. It’s definitely an adventure.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For How To Train Your Dragon 2

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Original Theatrical Release: April 4, 2014
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) struggles with the morality issues that accompany the new world he’s awakened to. He finds the United States Government takes a back seat to the power of S.H.I.E.L.D. and he wonders if he should continue the fight or step away from the underhanded dealings of his new employers. However, after Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is targeted by a mysterious assassin known only as The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Rogers must team up with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to get to the bottom of the new assassin’s identity and motives before it’s too late.

This film was an excellent sequel to the first film, Captain America: The First Avenger and a nice follow up to events in The Avengers.

Action, action, action – there was a ton of it here and since the film wasn’t primarily set in the 1940’s, we really get to see how Cap handles modern day threats….and he sure looks cool doing it.

Anthony Mackie gives an impressive performance as Sam Wilson/Falcon, and he pretty much stole the show as far as I’m concerned. I hope he shows up for Avengers 2! He’s that cool. Sebastian Stan also impressed with his portrayal of Winter Soldier, who provides a great antagonist to Cap and his team. Scarlett Johansson, of course, sizzled as Black Widow. She’s been doing a great job in that role. And on top of all that we get to see ROBERT REDFORD in a Marvel film? What? That’s so cool! One curious omission was Hawkeye. Where the heck was he in this film? As a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. I would’ve thought he’d be called in for all this governmental hullaballoo.

There was a lot of focus on Hydra in this film, so it was nice to re-touch on where they ended up in the modern world after the events in World War II.

This is a great film overall,  so go see it and make sure to stay for the extra scenes after the credits. There are a couple of teaser after-credits shorts, so make sure to stay for ’em all if you want to get all the tasty Cap morsels you can for your money. This film should tide everyone over until Guardians of the Galaxy comes out – I’m beyond excited for that movie to drop on us.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Following close on the heels of the previous installment, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), the adventure picks up as Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) and the dwarves – led by the king-to-be; Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) finally find themselves close to Erebor, which they must reclaim from the terrifying dragon, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).

After Journey, I honestly didn’t have much hope for the second installment. While the first film was “ok” – it felt bloated and it was pretty boring overall, even though Jackson tried to spice things up by throwing bits from The Lord of the Rings in there. Thankfully, they amped up the action in this middle chapter (which makes total sense because the content in the film covers the middle, and most exciting, part of the book). This is a good thing in many ways, but I honestly felt like they could have summed up the first film with only a few scenes included in this second film (that was almost three hours as it was, I’ll give you that) and tacked it on, rather than Jackson making three films out of the book (which people seem to despise). This second installment really only covers five chapters worth of material, so the development still feels a bit thin in the big picture – just when the steam starts gathering, the film ends.

The other side of this is that Jackson introduced a new character, Tauriel, (Evangeline Lilly) in order to “expand the world of the Elves” and to create another female character in a mostly male-dominated character cast – which has been proven to be pretty controversial.

To be clear: I love Tauriel. Evangeline Lilly is great to look at, is very dynamic and kick-ass, and although her acting style hasn’t seemed to change much since her days on Lost, she brings another dynamic to the stuffy ways of the Elves. If you’re a Tolkien purist, you’re going to probably hate Tauriel – but in terms of cinematic enjoyment, she is the epitome. The true adaptation was lost in the first film, anyway, with lots of different aspects that Jackson introduced. As a separate entity that still pays homage to the original, I believe this film and the Tauriel character succeeds.

Still, the movie could have been a little shorter and on a side note: did Orlando Bloom look kind of puffy and weird in this film, or was that just me? Also, keep an eye out in Lake Town to see if you can spot Stephen Colbert! Yup. He’s in it!

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) lives a charmed life, despite being born with a lower I.Q. than most – as well as a physical deformity of the spine which forces him to wear corrective leg braces. Gump’s mother (Sally Field) pushes and encourages him enough that he eventually sets out on his own and ends up witnessing lots of events in recent history that have shaped the world. On his journey of self, he chases love – in the form of Jenny Curran (Robin Wright), his childhood friend and crush – and also experiences war, happiness, loss and the gamut of the human experience, proving that despite his setbacks, Gump is wiser than most of us can say we are.

I remember seeing this back around the time it first came out, and I remember being blown away. So, I figured I’d revisit it, since it’s on Netflix, and to tell you the truth – Forrest Gump holds up pretty well over time.

Forrest Gump, the character, is one of Tom Hanks’ better roles. I’m no Hanks hater by any means, but he has a particular style that doesn’t lend to camouflaging his own personality. When I see him in films, I have a hard time separating film Hanks from real-life Hanks that I’ve seen. In Forrest Gump, this isn’t a problem.

Much like Billy Bob Thornton’s role in Slingblade, this is one of those times where you wonder if they’d have been able to make a film like this nowadays. There are some questionable messages in the film that critics would pounce on in present times, but for the time it was made it was a nice reflection on the Baby Boomer generation.

The movie is based, of course, on the novel of the same name by Winston Groom from 1986, although in the book, Forrest Gump is a pretty different character. Also, there are a few different events in the book that never made it to the movie version – like when Forrest went to space (would’ve been strange to see Hanks in space in Forrest Gump as well as in Apollo 13, amirite?!)

The only thing that didn’t really hold up too well was when it showed footage of Forrest in the old newsreels and footage from things and events that Forrest was privy to witnessing as history in the film progressed. You could really notice it. Other than that, though, the cinematography was great and the pacing of the film was really well done.

If you haven’t seen this one yet – do. It’s a classic.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Call Of Duty: Ghosts (PS3 – 2013)

Call Of Duty: Ghosts (PS3 - 2013)

In Call of Duty: Ghosts, players take control of Logan Walker (most of the time, anyway) in a world where the United States has been reduced to a third-world power after an attack by a satellite super weapon called Odin destroyed much of the infrastructure of the former government and economy. In a last ditch effort to survive, a legendary unit of special forces members with the code name Ghosts have banded together to try to take back control from their oppressors. As Logan, you are joined by your dog Riley, older brother David and father Elias ten years after the attacks and operate in secret, hoping to win the war once and for all.

I’ve long been a fan of this game series, but while most of the time I’ve been sort of excited once a new installment has come out, I kind of felt like stopping after Black Ops II due to lack of innovation and the multiplayer feeling unbalanced. To my surprise, there were some pleasant twists to this tenth entry in the series, at least enough to keep me playing for now.

First of all, the story mode was pretty engaging. It’s smooth, if short, and feels like you’re watching an action flick most of the way through. There are some nice cinematic “I am awesome” moments that make you truly feel that you’re accomplishing something great. The innovative side of using Riley, the dog, to silently dispatch enemies (in a pleasing, visceral way) in lieu of sneaking around by yourself constantly is a nice touch – but it wasn’t as innovative as I think it could’ve been. I think it would’ve been awesome if you could do co-op in story mode with one player as Logan and the other as either David or Riley depending on needs. Missed opportunity! One other bad thing is that the developers copy/pasted the ending from Modern Warfare 2 onto the beginning mission of Ghosts (which can be seen HERE), which is reason to give this title pause; What are we really buying when we get this game? A recycled money-grabbing installment of the same old thing?

Aside from the story mode (and the lifting from MW2) there ARE a couple of reasons to play this game – Extinction Mode, which is sort of like survival mode but you fight against aliens with a customizable load out and also is co-op (sort of like Zombies mode from the Treyarch games).

On top of that, there is the normal multiplayer mode that most people will no doubt get the game for, although some of the maps are too large for normal death matches and others feel too similar to others we’ve done before.

Infected Mode is a nice touch, with one random player spawning with an infection and “turning” other players until everyone is infected.

Squad Mode, too, is fun in that you get to build up a squad which will autonomously battle without you and you can see how they measure up on the leaderboards.

In my opinion, this installment could have been a lot better but what we have is an okay shooter with enough touches to entertain for another year or so before the next installment comes out. It’s far from perfect, but it’s still fun.

JOE Rating: ★★★