Tag Archives: 5 Things You Need to Know

5 Things You Need to Know: EDGE OF TOMORROW

As always, when I see a movie in theaters, I will (attempt to) write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About…


1) My Edge of Tomorrow cinematic experience was easily the most fun I have had in a movie theater since the awestruck majesty of GravityComing on the heals of the depressing and disheartening redundancy of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, my continued movie theater patronage was at stake. Edge of Tomorrow was exhilarating with a purpose, expertly navigating an otherworldly premise (an ultimate reset button in a futuristic Groundhog Day scenario) with logic, consistency, and justifiable rules. Yes, it couldn’t happen, but at the same time, it all seemed to make sense (so, the anti-X-Men: Days of Future Past). Unabashedly humorous and intentionally staying away from a funereal mythology, Edge of Tomorrow reminded me of all that can be fun about an original action/science fiction picture and how more such highly original concepts (thank goodness for Christopher Nolan, Inception, and the overwhelming promise of Interstellar) should be made. Please.

2) It is no surprise that at the forefront of this temporary reversal of cinematic fortune is a performer who over the years has consistently been the reason to spend the extra dollars to see a movie in theaters: the man born Thomas Cruise Mapother IV. At the youngest age 51 (52 next month) in recorded history, Tom Cruise remains ever the magnetic force of nature. His onscreen draw and appeal, imbedded in his fearless commitment to character and story, to passionate determination, to performing his own stunts, and to maintaining the illusion that he is taller than 5′ 5”, crackles and sparks with classic Tom Cruise luster in Edge of Tomorrow. He is having a great time and exuberantly invites the audience to ride shotgun on the ride.

3) As this movie’s female counterpoint to the scene-chewing dominance of a Tom Cruise performance, Emily Blunt fits into her role with an “I don’t really care what you think, so I am going to do what I want whenever I want” command. She pitch matches every Cruise energetic burst with a powered punch of her own. Their strategic and plotted co-dependence appreciatively stays largely out of “will they get together?” trope zone. The goal is to survive, save lives, destroy the alien insurrection, and then, if possible, save each other. Blunt is just as her name suggests without losing an iota of likability (she had this going for her in Looper as well).

4) Thank you to Edge of Tomorrow for recognizing that action humor has a place in a dystopian destruction movie. Despite my love of his work, the Nolan-nification of storytelling has largely yield worlds of morose melancholy. In Edge of Tomorrow, although the world is in the roughest of shape, the movie does not lose sight of how both the audience and the players within the story have to laugh a little at the challenging circumstances. Doug Liman’s editing and quick hitting cuts pop and spark moments of joyous levity that force an audible audience response usually in the form of laughter, if not a inhabited smile.

5) The Edge of Tomorrow is a movie that feels like both a relic of the golden era of the non-superhero summer action movie (this is a great thing by the way) and a fresh and perfectly executed piece of modern audience entertainment. It moves with a pulse, with a swagger, and with the confident smile that has marked much of the career of its top-billed movie star. It is a movie star’s movie and easily one of the best ways to be entertained this summer.

5 Things You Need To Know: Summer Movie Edition Part I – NEIGHBORS, GODZILLA, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

With the summer movie semester well into the summer session, the time has finally come to comment on some of what I have seen. This edition will feature Neighbors, Godzilla, and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

As always, when I see a movie in theaters, I will (attempt to) write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About…

NEIGHBORSRose Byrne and Seth Rogen

1) Although I hated Neighbors and most of my Neigbors viewing experience, I recognize its relative success as a modern, pushing-the-envelope comedic summer romp.

2) Zac Efron’s body and physical persona may be the closest thing I have ever seen on screen to a Greek God and he and the filmmakers seem to both know and celebrate this.

3) Ike Barinholtz has a brand of comedic timing on The Mindy Project that he brings to his supporting role in The Neighbors. As on The Mindy Project, he is both sometimes hilarious and sometimes far too many steps over the top.

4) I was pleasantly surprised by the chemistry between Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as an oddly-coupled set of new parents. They both were willing to go there – with each other, with other co-stars (particularly the surprisingly fantastic Efron), and with the hyperbole of the plotted circumstances.

5) Neighbors is a movie that delivers a full filling of disgusting raunch and was frequently too much out of control partying for me to take. If this kind of thing is your jam, Neighbors is an escapist escapade, but if you are at a place in your life in which you are ready to settle down with a spouse and kids, be warned.

GODZILLAElizabeth Olsen

1) Godzilla‘s relative CGI and monster reveal procrastination fuels its suspenseful success. Like summer blockbuster heavyweights like Jaws and Jurassic Park (both under the helm of Steven Spielberg the Magnificent), we earn the climactic curtain pull-back.

2) Bryan Cranston is good at acting – sure, see: Breaking Bad. But also, see: Godzilla.

3) Director Gareth Edwards has recently been attached to helm an “untitled Star Wars project.” With operation total secrecy expertly and indefinitely locked in the bag on everything Star Wars movies related, one secret did recently get out: a future Star Wars movie may be even luckier to have Gareth Edwards as its director than Gareth Edwards is lucky to be able to direct a Star Wars movie. If Godzilla’s promise is any indication, this is an outstanding choice.

4) I am not sure when it is going to come and Godzilla is certainly not it (this is by no means a bad thing – the character performance stakes are just a little lower in a movie about a fictionalized monster), but I have a strong premonition that Elizabeth Olsen is going to have an iconic film performance at some point in her career. She has something undeniably unique and compelling going on as an actor and with the right character/director/writer combination may have the talent to deliver something really special.

5) Godzilla is a movie that executes its mission (a summer escape, a chance to see cool looking monsters that destroy things, a platform for  Bryan Cranston to reinvent himself post Walter White) with a confidence, artistry, and intrigue not often reserved for the modern summer blockbuster. Although littered with characters built from traditional stock and a little darker (as in lighting and mood) than necessary, Godzilla entertains (and decimates property and other monsters in its path!) most responsibly.


1) My X-Men movie journey is very similar to my at-large X-Men journey. Throughout my life, X-Men has always been a franchise, a concept, and a group of action figures to play with that I enjoy and indulge in on extended breaks from Batman. Although they adequately fill the gaps during forced vacations from Gotham City, rarely do Professor Xavier’s crew of mutant super outcasts stand tall against Batman’s human awesomeness. With Batman and Robin and director Joel Schumacher defecating on Batman, the moviegoing experience, and human decency in 1997the X-Men had been handed their cinematic window to makes some dents in Batman’s armored nipples. Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) was a passable franchise welcoming (this does not include anything to do with the mistreatment of Halle Berry’s Storm character nor the CGI budget limitations that make its production value seem much closer to a movie released in 1990). X2 (2003) was a revelatory leap forward and stands up well to this day (the bigger budget and everything to do with Nightcrawler were significant contributors). By the time the inferior and belabored X-Men: The Last Stand rolled out in 2006, Christopher Nolan had just given Batman an exceptional new cinematic restart (Batman Begins in 2005), and the X-Men franchise had to re-mutate again. One attempted genetic experiment was resoundingly anti-climatic – besides the estate of Hugh Jackman, I am not sure there are too many people who have benefitted in any way from the Wolverine movies (their complete lack of pop cultural impact is really telling). 2011’s X-Men: First Class had the opposite effect. Set in 1962 and infused with a nostalgic charm by director Matthew Vaughn, First Class expertly told the X-Men origin story of young Professor Xavier and Magneto through the brilliant chemically balanced performances of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender (although a little too miscast as Raven/Mystique, it never hurts to have Jennifer Lawrence on your team). If First Class rebooted and restarted the X-Men mythos in the best of ways, X-Men: Days of Future Past was an opportunity to tie the two X-Men time periods (and actors thereof) into one elegant through-story. The resulting movie, again with Bryan Singer at the helm and again buttressed between two Batman movie franchises, conveniently resets the events of the past movies by creating an entirely new history (popular deceased characters can now have new life in future movies), but unfortunately works to both cheapen what was good about the original three movies and the goodwill brought on by X-Men: First Class. Time travel is the trickiest of fantasy tropes. Mind-blowing is palatable if there is some restraint (this is why I am so stoked for Interstellar and why Inception worked so well – thanks again Christopher Nolan). X-Men: Days of Future Past does not show as much restraint as it could (everything seems awfully convenient, especially the premise that Jackman’s Wolverine is the perfect candidate to take the journey) and the result is a lot of sloppy and imprecise filmmaking (the anti-Usual Suspects).

2) I am thrilled for Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s onscreen chemistry and offscreen professional and personal relationship that has grown from their time together on the first movies, but after seeing Fassbender and McAvoy again do their young Erik and Charles thing, there is nothing quite like it. I could sit and watch these two play a board game together or model vintage fashion and it would be mesmerizing (it’s a good thing because these opportunities come up throughout DoFP).

3) If you have seen any of Peter Dinklage’s work on Game of Thrones, you immediately recognize two things – he is a superior actor and you want to see him perform more. I thought that Dr. Bolivar Trask, the sentinel’s Dr. Frankenstein lobbyist, would be the perfect dichotomized bad guy for Dinklage’s talents to shine. Sadly, Trask is written poorly and without a desired amount of ethical and psychological depth. Dinklage is wonderful so not all is disappointing, but this is a lost opportunity to showcase the full extent of Dinklage’s brilliance.

4) For her second straight movie release (I see you, American Hustle), Jennifer Lawrence has played a part she was not born to play. The weight of her movie superstardom and talent may even at times be more of a detriment than of a benefit. You know she is capable of such incredible things, so when her Raven character is given such choppy dialogue and inconsequential and confusing motives, you are left feeling as blue her full-body suit.

5) X-Men: Days of Future Past is a movie with epic, interstellar storytelling ambition that too often feels grounded to Earth. It is too many things all at once such that what it really needs to be – thoughtful, provocative, compelling – fails to fully develop. The future scenes are action-sequence pleasure, but of little care or consequence. The past scenes from the 70s are fogged by a blurry dedication to external realism over internal truth.

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: 12 Years a Slave

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 


  1. 12 Years a Slave, the critically-applauded and a more than safe wager to be a 2014 Oscar night power player, is at times as excruciating to watch as anything I have ever seen on film. Steve McQueen’s historical biopic of the harrowing kidnapping and dozen year enslavement of Samuel Northup, a free black man from Saratoga Springs, NY in the wrong place (Washington D. C., or more accurately, the United States for the first century of our existence) at the wrong time (in mid-nineteenth century America or when money-grubbing kidnappers are afoot), shoots the moments of slavery’s ugliest manifestations (of which there are an infinite number) as though time stood still. Each shot of a beating, raping, or lynching feels several minutes longer than we asked for. The message is clear: slavery is unthinkably horrific and 12 Years a Slave is prepared to leave the viewer with this message steadfastly imbedded for years to come.

  2. In a similar thread, there is a scene that depicts the lynching of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s (a courageous and career defining performance) Samuel Northup that is halted by the conflated magnanimity and cruelty of Michael Fassbender’s plantation slaveowner. Although Fassbender’s disturbed Mr. Epps saves Northup’s life, Northup is left hanging, feet tip-toeing the ground of survival from sunlight to darkness. If there is a set of images that you will remember from this cinematic achievement, it is the aftermath of this lynching: Northrup is alive, but fighting for life, with normalcy surrounding him. Fellow slaves go about their “chores” and plantation hands go about their business while Northup waits for someone to cut him down. I looked around the theater (both curious and in need of a break myself) to see the majority of my fellow moviegoers covering their eyes with a “let me know when it is all over” aversion. I have rarely experienced a communal viewing experience that was as revolting and off-putting to watch. In this one scene, McQueen delivers the most striking 12 Years A Slave anti-slavery pronouncement.

  3. The acting in 12 Years a Slave is so superb across the board that I foresee it may affect how I view certain actors in future performances. Ralph Fiennes impeccable and chilling performance as a Nazi in Schindler’s List has made it difficult, now twenty years since, to see him as anything but an evil villain (his casting as Voldermort was always an easy sell). I anticipate that I will be able to shake Michael Fassbender’s Mr. Epps because he has already had a plethora of defining character portrayals (how much longer do we have to wait for X-Men: Days of Future Past?). Paul Giamatti, one of the best character actors in the business, has enough of a diversified track record to allow his slave auctioneer to be quickly shaken. Unfortunately, I fear that Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood didn’t help) and Sarah Paulson (nor did her performance in Deadwood), two of the most evil of offenders over the course of the picture, may be much harder to shake from their 12 Years a Slave roles. I am not sure I will ever be able to see them the same way.

  4. 12 Years a Slave is a masterwork, will be a career-defining picture for all of those involved (especially Ejiofor and McQueen), and will be the toast of the 2014 Oscars. However, my strongest critique is that the picture focuses a little too much on the horrors of slavery rather than on the compelling and informative story of Samuel Northup. Northup’s pre-enslavement period is rushed to auction (Quvenzhané Wallis, we hardly knew you!) before we have time to understand the richness of identity and profundity of this man’s day to day existence. By the time Northup finds his long coveted freedom, it feels like a long two hours since we saw him entertaining Taran Killam. The outcome is a more universal anti-slavery story when a more personal telling of the Samuel Northup story would have created a slightly more unique movie experience.

  5. 12 Years a Slave is a motion picture that will sit next to Roots as one of the two definitive cinematic depictions of American slavery. Its prolific form is only matched by its unyielding, unrelenting, and unafraid delivery of this horrific stain on this nation’s history.