Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

“Fascinating Concept and Unexpectedly Poignant” 8/10

Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) has never been involved in combat when he suddenly finds himself fighting on the front line against an alien army and being killed.  However, he mysteriously awakens to relive the same day again, over and over.  With the help of warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) he begins to learn about the alien enemy and is able to memorise how the day plays out, each repetition and death bringing him closer to defeating the aliens and saving humanity.

I was drawn to this film by the concept, which I thought was fascinating, the idea of reliving the same day over and over, not only learning from your mistakes and being able to correct them, but also exploring a vast ocean of possibilities for every action that is changed.  I didn’t expect the film to go any deeper than that in terms of a greater meaning, but was pleasantly surprised.  It introduces its ideas as the great solution I’m sure most people have considered, how great it would be if you could relive a certain day or period of your life and change your mistakes, and then slowly started to peel away the perfect façade and show the truth – no matter how many times Cage lives that one day and no matter how many errors he corrects, there is always something right around the corner to trip him up again.  I felt that it shed a lot of light on the frustrations of the human condition – that deep down we are all perfectionists who live with regrets and dream of the chance to change them.  In the final half hour of the film there is a real unexpected poignancy to the story that jumps out of the midst of Tom Cruise in his typical character, tough and determined, always the perfect blend of the underdog and the hero.  I think I would have enjoyed the film if it had simply consisted of that but I was impressed at the thought that had actually gone into what is a fascinating base line for a story.

The special effects in the film are decent and I liked the jumpy nature of the scenes, complementing the jumpiness of Cage’s day loop, and despite the vast majority of the film being of the exact same day it does a terrific job of making each scene different each time he experiences it again whilst keeping the underlying frustration of the repetition, which was really key for such a film.  It held my interest the whole way through and makes a neat job of linking all the key scenes and keeping to a timeline that is really easy to keep up with.  Tom Cruise is well versed in the role he adopts in this but that’s not a criticism, I thought he was very convincing and gave the film a strong performance, although he was often outshone by Emily Blunt who’s character Rita is probably one of the strongest female leads I’ve seen in a film of this genre and she gave a really commendable performance, offering a subtle balance of tough yet vulnerable that so many sci fi films often get wrong.  Their two characters complemented each other perfectly, changing and evolving over the course of the story as they influence one another, and given that they are in the entire film with very little in the way of more minor characters to boost them up I think the depth of the characters was excellent and the pairing of Cruise and Blunt was the right choice for this film.

Edge of Tomorrow is fast paced and clever, with a fascinating concept that is also unexpectedly poignant and strong main leads.  I went in expecting to be entertained and I left also with some deeper thoughts about the ever-interesting human condition.  If you like your sci fi films to be smart as well as strong then definitely give this one a shot.

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Cloud Atlas (2012)

“Deep, Clever and Fascinating Story, Stick With It” 8/10

Cloud Atlas explores the lives of several “souls” over the course of centuries to see how their past lives impact their future lives and how they can be changed and shaped by their circumstances and the current state of the world that they live in.  The film takes us full circle, from centuries ago more primitive lifestyles, to present day, right through to the high-tech future and right back to our primitive forms again, and shows us each “souls” journey through time.

The first time I watched this film, I gave up half way through.  It was overly complex and short, each character offering only a snippet of their story before they were replaced by another character’s half-story, and they never quite seemed to link up.  I didn’t feel like I could sense any promise of something good and so switched off, turning my attention to the fact that it may be better as a book and considering reading that instead.  Two days later I had completely changed my mind, having had time to think over the story and the message, and watched it right through, and I wasn’t disappointed with the second half.  The film is certainly confusing and disjointed, but you just need to stick with it.  It takes a long time to get off the ground but when it does you realise how clever and profound the story is, how important each of those half-stories of characters are, and it all starts to join together, making more and more sense with every new scene.

Each of the main actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Ben Wishaw to name but a few) has several characters that the portray, some recognisable as themselves, some utterly unrecognisable, and each actor characters are all part of the same “soul”, which is what makes it so clever to watch once it eventually becomes apparent that this is the case.  The story is just so cleverly written and it’s really enjoyable to watch the actors play each different character, showing off their capabilities.  If I had to pick the strongest link I would say Tom Hanks, who I think is a really brilliant actor who is capable of playing a variety of roles, particularly the reluctant hero, and I think he was absolutely suited to such a film where he could display his acting range with a wide selection of varying roles.

Cloud Atlas may be somewhat confusing and very slow-burning in the beginning but the plot really is something quite special and rare, exploring a concept that is practically undiscovered.  It is a deep, clever and fascinating story, stick with it and you’ll grasp its sentiment.  I am in no doubt that I will now explore the book as well.

Sunshine (2007)

“A Thought-Provoking and Hard-Hitting Look at Humanity” 10/10

 

In 2057, the sun is dying and the planet is in jeopardy, and so a team of astronauts make a second attempt at a dangerous mission to revive the sun.  Facing nothing but adversity along the way the team must overcome all the odds as they are humanity’s last hope for survival.

 

I still feel a little in shock at this film.  It takes such an honest, hard-hitting look at humanity, placing the viewer straight into the difficult lives of the astronauts and constantly throwing a series of increasingly tough decisions and scenarios – it makes you question every decision they make, and then question yourself.  I’ve never thought more seriously about the idea of sacrifice for the greater good than whilst being put into the shoes of the characters.  Don’t be put off by this though – it’s thought-provoking only so long as you let it be.  Knowing this was a Danny Boyle film I had high hopes for the directorial styling of this film and it lived up to my expectations.  He manages to simultaneously create the feeling of confinement and eternal empty space, and throws in some really trippy snapshot scenes that give a terrifying edge of madness as the film progresses.  Visually it is very convincing (and apparently also factually as the film’s science advisor was Dr Brian Cox), in particular the CGI shots of the sun, which is interestingly portrayed both astronomically and more religiously, a nice nod to the Greek myth of Icarus (who flew too close to the sun), that lends its name to the space shuttle.

 

The casting is pretty strong which is necessary to clash each of these flawed characters and drive their individual motivations on the mission.  The most notable performances came from Cillian Murphy, the determined but hesitant hero; Chris Evans, the tough and hard-hitting voice of reason (a somewhat unfamiliar role to him but one that he carries off impeccably, as I usually find with his work); and Rose Byrne, the compassionate and slightly vulnerable one who offers a last-ditch attempt to prove that humanity isn’t completely doomed to selfishness.  However the performances from the other actors (Michelle Yeoh, Troy Garity, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong and Cliff Curtis) all brought that little something different to each argument and scenario that made you think.

 

Sunshine is a thought-provoking and hard-hitting look at humanity that will have you questioning yourself about how you would make decisions in a life or death situation to save a world that is not so unrealistic from what the future could be like.  This one definitely stays with you long after it’s over.

Gravity (2013)

“Visually Mind-Blowing” 10/10

 

After winning seven Oscars this year I couldn’t wait to see what the buzz was surrounding Gravity. It blew my mind. It is engineered so well that everything about it is incredible.

The visuals are probably this film’s most prominent feature – given that the scenes of space and the Earth have been created almost entirely using CGI it is a breath-taking and strangely immersive setting, giving a real sense of emptiness that is heavily contrasted with the restricted space shuttle scenes. Alfonso Cuaron truly deserved his Oscar for Best Achievement in Directing. Running a close second is the acting – Sandra Bullock and George Clooney hold the film entirely, being the only two actors featured in it, and that really adds something to the feeling of perpetual emptiness and solitude associated with space itself. Bullock is the real star of the show here, the simplistic but effective story centres on her and she portrays a vulnerable, relatable character in this film incredibly convincingly and with many complex elements. I’ve seen a few other films that she has been in and I was impressed at her ability to really branch out in this film and offer such a strong performance. George Clooney does well as Bullock’s astronaut partner with a calming and authoritative character that is just as likeable as Bullock’s.

As I mentioned above, the story itself is fairly simplistic although it offers a deep insight into the lives of Clooney and Bullock’s characters; but it’s so effective, almost giving the impression of time having no meaning out in space (the pace of the film reminded me of Jim Jarmusch’s wonderful Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)).

Gravity is visually stunning and beautifully acted, keeping you on the edge of your seat and drawing you in to the fascinating unknown that is space. Watch it in HD on a good size-screen for a truly immersive and effective experience, you won’t be disappointed.