Weekly Mini-reviews: “Edge of Tomorrow,” “T.S. Spivet,” “They Came Together,” “Duck Soup”

June 23- 29, 2014
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Duck Soup | Leo McCarey | 2014 |  ★★★½

I had never seen anything with the Marx brothers and I thought that this film considered by any two be one of the masterpieces of cinema was as good place as any to start. At first I wondered what the fuzz was all about as the story is hardly there and the initial verbal gags were OK at best. But once the physical gags started to happen I saw why it holds its place in history. The first ones just come out of nowhere, and from then on they are relentless. The one involving a mirror especially  had me grasping for breath. There lies the strength of the film. Thanks to its well directed and choreographed slapstick and some hilarious musical numbers it will forever stay in my mind.  I couldn’t ask much more out of a film l Ike this.

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Edge of Tomorrow | Doug Liman | 2014 | ★★★½

Edge of Tomorrow is the biggest surprise of the Summer so far. First, the title change to the current one from the more intriguing All You Need is Kill, told me that they weren’t confident enough in the product and they needed a generic title to sell it to audiences. Also, the marketing made it loot like yet another bland, unnecessarily dark action film. Thankfully, the final product just turned out to be yet another case of mismarketing. Though based on a novel that borrows from several other science-fiction properties, the film feels like it is the most original film of its genre in years. The gimmick of having Tom Cruise’s character reset the day if he gets killed is used in very creative ways and is given a legitimate reason for existing. Also, it’s one of the few recent blockbusters that actually feels like it has high stakes and made me care for what was happening on the screen. Most of this had to do with how the characters were written. Cruise’s “Cage” although a high ranking officer in the Army, starts out being a coward and throughout the film struggles to become a flawed, reluctant hero. Emily Blunt’s “Rita” (her best role since The Devil Wears Prada), starts out being the best soldier around, the poster girl for the war against the alien force that’s attacking earth, and she never ceases to be that, even when the man comes in and it’s time to be the hero. She is there from the beginning, not supporting him, but fighting right along with the hero, never becoming a damsel in distress. Perhaps the best thing about it, though, is how funny it could be. Although the filmmakers treat the material seriously, they never forget that laughs and moments of light banter are required for a film to be entertaining. I have a few problems with the film, mainly with how poorly lit and shot the climax was, it’s a fantastic film that you should try to catch in theaters. If you don’t you’ll regret it.

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They Came Together | David Wain | 2014 | ★½

They Came Together is led by Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler, two of the best and most likable comedic actors working right now. They are then supported by some other funny TV people like Bill Hader, Max Greenfield, and Cobie Smulders. It’s a good cast that would generally make a good comedy. Shame it had to be this one. It’s biggest problem is that it’s spoofing the romantic comedy, a sub-genre that hasn’t been relevant for a while now. But then that would be fine if it had a great script to subvert the genre, but it doesn’t. The bits of comedy that work are the more out-there ones that have absolutely nothing to do with the romantic comedy. The rest, however, plays out like a lazy attempt at making a Wayan brothers film. Also, for a film that is only 83 minutes long, it drags on and on, probably thanks to the lack of energy behind the scenes. A huge wasted opportunity.

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The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet | Jean-Pierre Jeunet | 2014 | ★★★¼

“The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet” by Rief Larsen, the books upon this film is based, is one of my favorites. It’s prose is a joy to read, and the story is quirky, heartwarming, and has an undercurrent of melancholy throughout. However, when I first heard that Jean-Pierre Jeunet was going to turn it into a film I was worried. A film adaptation of this books would require a filmmaker who was visually adventurous, but wouldn’t overdo the quirkiness as the books is mostly grounded in reality, and in my mind, based on Amelie and Micmacs (I don’t remember much of A Very Long Engagement), he wouldn’t be able to keep the film grounded. However, I still anticipated the film simply because I love the story. Thankfully, my fears were mostly unfounded.

I did have my problems with the first act as the narration and montages are overtly quirky, and the ranch is too ornate. However, Jeunet seemed to know that he had to subdue his usual style a bit, and with the acoustic score and a welcome lack of dutch angles and fish-eye lenses, he captures the “Old American West” feeling perfectly. Once we leave the ranch and T.S. Sets out on his adventure, it gets even better. In these sections (the second act and part of the third), due to a lack of different settings, he is forced to focus on the feeling of melancholy that T.S. feels throughout and the loneliness that he feels once he gets to Washington D.C. and he is treated like an anomaly, which only made the big emotional moment work even more. However, during the last 20 minutes, Jeunet and co-writer  Guillaume Laurant go off-book and try to sneak in a political message, and here Jeunet returns to his usual cinematic tricks, and it almost ruins the film. Ultimately film ends in a nice note, and the rest of the film (with its gorgeous visuals) is strong enough to forgive the story detour.


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