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Entries in Brendan Gleeson (3)

Thursday
Jun052014

Edge of Tomorrow

Last year’s “Oblivion” was one of the most underrated movies of the year and one of the most thought provoking science fiction movies in some time. While most science fiction films these days rely on explosive action (“Transformers”) or pseudo-philosophy (“Transcendence”), “Oblivion” had something interesting to say. Although it relied on some narrative genre tropes, it used those tropes to explore its themes in interesting ways. Tom Cruise’s newest science fiction film, “Edge of Tomorrow,” is the exact opposite. It has a cool story with some neat ideas, but the narrative doesn’t have any meaningful thematic context behind it. It’s still a stylish and entertaining movie, but it’s missing much of what makes the science fiction genre so interesting.

Cruise plays Major Cage, a media relations expert working for the military during the war against the Mimics, an alien race that arrived in Europe a few years back via meteor. Over the years, they have advanced across the continent and, with human resistance having little success, show no signs of stopping. Cage, despite not being a solider, is ordered onto the front line during an upcoming battle, one that could have devastating consequences for the human race if lost. While out there, he kills an “alpha,” one of the alien race’s leaders. Shortly after, he too perishes, but mysteriously wakes up in the previous day and finds himself reliving it all over again. Only one person knows what he’s going through, the Angel of Verdun herself, Rita (Emily Blunt), and with his help, she plans on stopping the Mimic invasion once and for all.

“Edge of Tomorrow” starts out on a low note. It introduces its story in a silly manner, complete with corny jokes that nearly all land with a thud and its characters come off as clichés, particularly Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton), who spouts off about the glories of war in a typical Southern accent. It even manages to treat the horrors of war and the sadness of death with a (perhaps unintended) humorous tone that makes you wonder just what in the world the filmmakers were thinking. When one soldier screams in joy at finally being on the battlefield, only to immediately get crushed by a crashing drop ship, there’s no other reaction to have but to laugh.

When the film does treat its characters like actual human beings and tries to wring some real emotion out of what they’re going through, it hardly resonates due to the nature of the story. The most glaring example comes when Rita dies in Cage’s arms, only for the day to be reset as Cage dies immediately after. Because of this, much of the action, which is already hard to watch due to excessive shaky cam, far too tight camera angles and quick movements of the aliens, has no real tension. Nothing is really at stake. We know that when they die, they will simply revert back to the previous day with superior knowledge that will allow them to not make the same mistake next time. With no real danger, there’s little to invest in.

“Edge of Tomorrow” still has a pretty neat story, even if it is just “Groundhog Day” with aliens, and its central character is interesting because he uses brain over brawn; he doesn’t find victory because he’s a battle hardened killing machine, but rather because he’s able to memorize and adapt to the aliens’ attacks through trial and error, that is until the last act at least, which abandons this different approach and transitions Cage into yet another indestructible action hero. But science fiction is interesting not simply because of its story or its characters, but rather from the way it uses them to tap into some deeper meaning. “Edge of Tomorrow,” while admittedly entertaining, is too thematically thin to be much more than a mild diversion.

Edge of Tomorrow receives 2.5/5

Friday
Apr272012

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Aardman Animations is like a less successful Pixar or Studio Ghibli. Like those two (at least until Pixar’s Cars 2), Aardman Animations has never released a bad film, but they generally aren’t as magical, wondrous or humorous as those studios’. Granted, they’ve only put out five movies to date, so the best may be yet to come, but they simply aren’t on the same level as those powerhouses. Their latest stop motion animation effort, The Pirates! Band of Misfits has more chuckles than outright laughs and more sight gags than a silent film, but it’s charming, clever and amusing, even if it seems tired at a mere 88 minutes.

The movie begins in London in 1837. The English Navy, as reported to Queen Victoria (voiced by Imelda Staunton), rules almost all of the oceans surrounding them, except for a small pirate controlled area in the West Indies. It’s an area that has more peg legs than actual people, where pirates convene to take part in the Pirate of the Year awards, presented by the Pirate King himself (voiced by Brian Blessed). One such pirate known only as the Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) has entered the contest and lost every year for the last 20 some odd years, but this year, he intends to nab the grand prize. This means gathering the largest amount of gold he can. After some unsuccessful looting attempts, he and his crew run into a ship guided by Charles Darwin (voiced by David Tennant). It’s at this unlikely moment that the Pirate Captain learns that his pet dodo (which he thought was a parrot) is very rare and worth a lot of money. If he follows Darwin, he’s guaranteed untold riches, so with his eyes on the Pirate of the Year prize, he sets off to claim his bounty.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is goofy, affable, fun and funny. It’s sporadic in all of those traits, but when it works, it’s something to behold. Clever spoken jokes followed by hilarious sight gags (like when the Pirate Captain hangs a hammock over an actual bed simply because he’s used to it) followed by inventive action scenes give the film a feeling of ingenuity, like some thought and care went into its production. Unfortunately, it’s also those moments that shed light on how weak other sections of the movie are. After some genuine moments of delight, it hits lulls, almost like a heart monitor with a constant stream of peaks and valleys. You’ll be laughing one moment and staring cold at the screen the next, but as far as its comedic prowess goes, The Pirates! Band of Misfits hits more than it misses.

Much of that is due to the approach the film takes to a group of people who are usually seen as ruthless and barbaric. Pirates both old and new are known for their indiscriminate violence against anyone they come across on the high seas, but the pirates in this movie are more or less kind, even when they’re forcing someone to walk the plank, and they come with real heart. The simple story about winning that award, which at first seems so trivial, is merely a tool to teach a valuable lesson to both the characters and the audience. It shows the unimportance of money and the true value of friends and family. It’s not a revelatory message, to be sure, but it’s one that is nevertheless worth hearing and certainly good for the young ones in the audience.

Where The Pirates! Band of Misfits suffers most is in its villainous portrayal of Charles Darwin and its casual, cynical approach to scientists “playing God,” (as cited in the Royal Society’s motto). Given the rampant ignorance many choose to embrace when confronting science, and Darwin’s evolutionary theory in particular, these choices seem dangerous. Then again, the film is so wacky that these issues are hardly issues at all and will most likely be overshadowed by the movie’s actual intent: to entertain. This isn’t a movie with an agenda (despite its flaccid stance on science and Darwin) and most people won’t see it as such. It’s a step up from Aardman Animations’ last film, Arthur Christmas, but it’s not the hit they need and are surely looking for. It’s simply good natured fun that the whole family can enjoy.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits receives 3.5/5

Friday
Mar122010

Green Zone

I have a philosophy of not judging movies based on what they're about. Whether I agree or disagree with the subject matter, I try to look at it on its own artistic merit. With that said, I'm only human and am naturally drawn to things that reinforce my beliefs. But sometimes, a movie arrives too late to the party to have any real significance and I find myself distanced from the message despite my agreeance with it. Such is the case with Green Zone.

The film takes place in the early days of the Iraq war, in March of 2003. Matt Damon plays Miller, a soldier in charge of finding weapons of mass destruction. Despite the intel that tells them where to go, he and his squad have come up empty handed multiple times. He begins to get frustrated going on these wild goose chases that are putting him and his men in danger only to find nothing, so he confronts Clark Poundstone, played by Greg Kinnear, head of Pentagon Special Intelligence, who assures him that the weapons are indeed out there and they will find them. Nevertheless, something seems fishy and he begins to suspect the war in Iraq was started unjustifiably. With the help of CIA chief Brown, played by Brendan Gleeson, he hopes to uncover the true reason he is there.

Iraq war movies are no strangers to the film community. Stop Loss, In the Valley of Elah, and the recent Best Picture Oscar winner The Hurt Locker all have explored the war in different ways, some delving into the manipulative ways our government can keep our soldiers active despite their military term ending while others have explored the affects war has on those fighting. They are focused, meaningful and bring up important issues that the public may not be aware about. Green Zone is the opposite. It's a two hour Bush bash with the oft-heard message, "America entered into Iraq on false pretenses," thanks to our inability to find WMD's. Anyone familiar with the goings-on of the world already knows we were unable to find the weapons, so this becomes little more than an exercise in the blame game that tries to remind us how we got involved to begin with. I feel much about this the way I did about the economic downturn. Some blamed President Clinton, some blamed President Bush, but whose fault it was seemed unnecessary to me. Let's just fix it.

The message, however important it may be, is too late to the game. Had this been released three or four years ago, its impact would be hard to ignore, but now it seems like a childish indictment of a man many conservatives have even come to dislike. It is necessary to know how we got to Iraq, what mistakes we made along the way and how we can avoid them in the future, but dwelling on how we got there isn't as important right now as focusing on how to get out.

Director Paul Greengrass, the man behind The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, directs this in a similar style, the nauseating 'can-you-not-hold-still-for-one-second?' shaky cam style. As solid as his film's are, he has a tendency to go a little overboard with it and by the end, I was queasy and my head was pounding. It felt like somebody had been chipping away at my skull with a chisel for two hours. There's a fine line between using the shaky cam technique for realism and overdoing it to the point where you remind your audience they're watching a movie. When you cut to a man typing at a computer and the camera is still shaking back and forth like its mounted on somebody's shoulder, it's doing the opposite of its intended purpose.

I have many a problem with Green Zone, but in the end I'm still going to give it my seal of approval. Regardless of its relentless shakes and the message arriving a few years too late, it's often exciting, always entertaining and Matt Damon, as usual, is rock solid as the lead, giving another award worthy performance. Unfortunately, it's too worried about further crippling Bush's reputation to be bothered with saying something relevant.

Green Zone receives 2.5/5