EDGE OF TOMORROW
Talk about underselling a product. The trailers would have you thinking “Edge Of Tomorrow” is a dull, humourless, predictable actioner with Tom Cruise as another heroic Alpha-Male. Almost none of this is accurate. I say almost because the film does become very formulaic in its 3rd act, and the Tom Cruise you expect does show up at that point. Until then, it’s like you’re watching a different — and better — movie than what was advertised. The biggest surprise and plus point of this film is its humour. What’s even more surprising is how most of the laughs come at the expense of Tom Cruise’s character Lt. Bill Cage, a smug, cowardly and incompetent wimp who has to be forced into action.
At least that’s how he starts off. Earth in the near future has been invaded by alien forces, and Cage is one of the countless soldiers drafted to fight them face-to-face. After getting killed on the battlefield, Cage finds that he is doomed to repeat the same day over and over again until he can break the cycle. That’s where the gags start kicking in, and Cage’s journey from zero to hero unfolds. Comparisons to “Starship Troopers” and “Groundhog Day” are inevitable, but also a little unfair, seeing as how this is actually an adaptation of the book “All You Need Is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. So you can argue that it’s an original work, if somewhat familiar. I can see why this role appealed to Cruise. It allows him to do something different, and this kind of clear character growth must be satisfying for any actor to play. And the nice thing is that it works BECAUSE Tom Cruise is playing it. Those who like Cruise as the hero type will enjoy the subversion, and those who dislike him (assuming they watch it at all) should get a kick out of seeing Cruise die repeatedly. A solid supporting cast, chiefly Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson, each bring a little something extra to further liven up the proceedings. Doug Liman directs the battle scenes with an intense you-are-there veracity, and the aliens are menacing, though a bit too reminiscent of the Sentinels in “The Matrix” trilogy.
If only they’d managed to keep this good thing going until the end. Alas, once we get past the “live-die-repeat” stuff, it’s like the film doesn’t quite know what it wants to be anymore, or where it wants to go from there. As a result, it heads into safe, well-worn… and disappointingly humdrum territory. Cruise is back in heroic Alpha-Male mode, and the final showdown with the Big Bad is something we’ve seen way too many times before, including in Cruise’s own “Oblivion”. Talk about Deja Vu. This is for the most part a fun movie, but unlike its protagonist it will not survive repeat viewings.
Since we’re on the subject of expectation versus reality, here’s another film that will divide people. If you have a strong affinity for the animated Disney classic “Sleeping Beauty” then you might have a serious issue with “Maleficent” on a conceptual level. You see, the titular villain isn’t really evil here. In fact, she is positioned as a misunderstood heroine who turns spiteful only because she was betrayed by her one true love. Yes, one of the most iconic baddies in Disney history has been reimagined as a wronged ex-girlfriend. Which makes the real baddie here the King — and this is where the revisionist history will sting purists the most. Honestly, I don’t think a sympathetic version of Maleficent is too much to take, as the same has been done before in stories like “Wicked”. But when you change a traditionally righteous character from the 1959 original into a raving mad, (literally) backstabbing bastard, it’s a very bitter pill to swallow. Understandably so. He is after all, Sleeping Beauty aka Aurora’s dad.
The other problem is that Mad King Stefan’s turn happens so abruptly it’s totally unbelievable. We’re told that he betrayed Maleficent out of greed and ambition, but we’re never shown any indication of his descent. All of a sudden he’s evil because the script requires him to. Sharlto Copley’s manic performance feeds into this problem although his choices as an actor are limited by the writing. This is a pretty one-dimensional character. This, plus the generally undercooked and sloppy characterisation (like the 3 fairy godmothers), make a strong case against the film’s right to exist. Not to mention the plot is so predictable it moves like it’s on rails, going exactly where you expect it to at every turn. Even the so-called twist at the end can be spotted a mile away, especially if you’ve seen Disney’s recent animated output.
But if — and this is a big if — you can overlook these flaws, then chances are you’ll be sufficiently entertained. To be honest, I enjoyed this film, warts and all. Angelina Jolie is the main reason for that. She is absolutely marvelous in the role, relishing every dryly venomous line delivery, every burning look or darkly regal pose she strikes. She’s clearly having a blast, and that magic she owns just leaps off the screen. And this is from someone who doesn’t even fancy Angelina Jolie all that much. I cannot deny her pure star magnetism here, and it’s not mere posturing either. Jolie puts in some real acting. The scene where she loses her wings is played so emotionally raw, it makes me wonder if she tapped into her real-life experiences with breast cancer. There’s also a confrontation between Aurora and Maleficent where Jolie captures guilt, sorrow and loss in a beautifully subtle manner. It’s quite moving. Elle Fanning manages to hold her own in her scenes with Jolie, no mean feat for any young actress. Her character could’ve been a little more fleshed out, but as is, her Aurora is a lovable and lovely presence onscreen. I also like Maleficent’s crow sidekick Diaval, who in keeping with the premise, is a sympathetic character too.
Director Robert Stromberg’s background is in visual effects, and it shows in the fantasy world of creatures and woodland vistas he presents so vividly. Sometimes, I get the feeling he’s more comfortable directing CG than his human cast. But a major portion of the appeal with these kinds of films lies in transporting us to a magical place, and on that front Stromberg succeeds. Despite the dark(ish) tone, this is Disney Lite, so don’t expect this to end up anywhere near classic status. It is however a bit of harmless, forgettable entertainment, and should give kids and the kid in you a warm & fuzzy feeling by the end of it.
All creative professionals have to deal with criticism in their daily work. But every artist deals with it differently. French painter Édouard Manet started putting naked women in his paintings as a ‘Screw you!’ to the stuffy conservatives of the time. Those paintings are today considered priceless masterpieces. Deeply religious Elvis Presley was accused by church leaders of being “morally insane” for his dance moves. Elvis joined the US army soon after, and the attackers piped down since to them this was proof of his moral fibre. Jon Favreau got savaged by critics for making the expensive dud “Cowboys & Aliens”. So he went and made a low-budget movie about the toll criticism takes on the artist and dealing with the aftermath. It is equal parts a retort to his critics, a mission statement of what he stands for, and a tribute to the creative spirit.
“Chef” is a deeply personal form of catharsis for Favreau, so much so that he not only wrote and directed it, he put himself in the titular role as well. This film is also the result of a filmmaker craving the freedom of doing his own thing and the fun of going back to basics, unrestrained by big studio interference and the pressure to deliver on a significant financial investment. All those things are directly paralleled in the film, with the food business replacing showbiz. For an indie production, Favreau sure has pulled together a stellar cast. And they’re all great in their roles, from Dustin Hoffman as a profit-over-art restaurant boss, Oliver Platt as a smug food critic whose nasty review sparks off a feud, John Leguizamo as a faithful cook, to an unusually subdued yet likable Sofia Vergara as the ex-wife. Even the bit players shine, like Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr in a glorified cameo (but man is he hilarious in it). As for Favreau himself, he puts in a hearty, sincere performance, just like the street food he ends up cooking after losing his job.
Speaking of the food, my oh my. The numerous scenes of meals (meats! pastas! sandwiches! desserts!) being lovingly prepared is the very definition of food porn and will have you positively salivating. Whatever you do, do not watch this when you’re hungry. Favreau was clearly hungry when he made this, in more ways than one. He’s all out to prove that he still very much has it in him to make a good movie. And he’s done it. “Chef” isn’t a big, showy film but that’s precisely its charm. It’s got a warm, gentle, and simple yet can-do vibe running throughout which makes it easy to enjoy. The only false note is in the somewhat defensive tone of Favreau’s message to critics. He makes a very strong issue of how damaging it is to rip apart something that people poured so much time and effort into. Yet that sidesteps the valid role that critics have in pointing out when something isn’t quite working. Favreau’s assumption is that the artist is always right when he is good at what he does and works hard at it, but the truth is that’s not always the case. Still, it’s a minor flaw in a film that’s largely a treat in every way. It’s a heartwarming family story, a good reminder to stay true to your passions, and a damn good appetite enhancer.