Short Takes: Edge of Tomorrow, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Only Lovers Left Alive & More

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Edge of Tomorrow- This Tom Cruise action vehicle, directed by Doug Liman, is an occasionally thrilling summer spectacle.  Cruise plays Cage, a military talking head who is thrust into a world of combat that he isn’t prepared for.  The movie utilizes Normandy invasion imagery to ground its sci-fi trappings.  Cage is a man doomed to repeat the same beach invasion every time he is killed in combat.  He and Rita (a terrific Emily Blunt) are tasked with stopping the aliens from massacring everyone on Earth, restarting their mission every time Cage dies.

Liman keeps Cage’s repeating day varied, but occasionally indulges in redundant beach combat sequences.  The movie doesn’t develop its romance subplot well enough to create a satisfying payoff at the end, but Cruise and Blunt are reliably strong screen presences so it still sort of works.  Grade: C

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X-Men: Days of Future Past- The latest installment in the X-Men franchise is a convoluted, occasionally thrilling mess.  The script seems more obsessed with giving every veteran thespian their due instead of maintaining a cohesive narrative.  Bryan Singer views this as an exciting challenge, creating action sequences that are alternately funny and disturbing while packing in as many mutants as possible.

Days of Future Past revolves around three male leads (Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) and one woman in scaly blue body paint (Jennifer Lawrence).  Wolverine (Jackman) is sent back in time by the older X-Men of the future to rally the young Magneto (Fassbender) and Professor Xavier (McAvoy) together to prevent an event that leads to a mutant holocaust.  Singer effectively renders their powers in relation to one another and in relation to the often horrified human population.  Cameras flash and crowds flee as Mystique (Lawrence) crashes through a window and out into public view for the first time.  The attempts to merge two versions of the X-Men world make moments like that feel like a brief glimpse into a better movie. Grade: C+

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Only Lovers Left Alive- Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive is an exquisite, effortlessly cool ode to vampires, Detroit, Tangier and letting yourself be surprised.  At its center are Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), fanged lovers who have been married since the 1800s.  When we first see them they are thousands of miles apart, united by the slow-burning electric guitar hum on Adam’s turntable and Jarmusch’s rhythmic cutting.  As the vinyl spins, so too does the camera, adding a gentle zoom on the vampires as they’re positioned motionless in their respective cities.

There’s life, if not much speed, to their performances as well as the rest of the movie.  The eeirie stillness of Swinton and Hiddleston is crucial.  Their porcelain features highlight their darkened, darting eyes, giving them both an inner life that adds immensely to the movie’s fluorescent other-worldness.  Mia Wasikowska, who plays Eve’s unbearable sister, creates a jolt of chaos in the movie’s second half that both frustrates Adam and helps awaken him from his depressive funk.  Jarmusch’s vampires are artistic geniuses despairing at the simple-mindedness of us modern “zombies.”  However, as this gorgeous, hypnotic movie shows, we also still have the ability to surprise and even move them.  Grade: A-

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Belle- Amma Asante’s drama about a mixed race woman growing up stifled by Britain’s racist aristocratic doctrines runs into a common period piece problem: the performers are too comfortable letting the costumes and the immaculate settings do all the work.  There are impassioned speeches about the moral travesties of slavery that sadly are mostly spoken by white men. There are longing glances and secret embraces at dinner gatherings that largely fail to accelerate the movie’s pulse.  Once Dido Belle Lindsay (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is left with her great uncle (Tom Wilkinson), the story becomes a redundant, stagnant exercise in humiliation brought on by “The Rules.” The script is so focused on portraying romance and suffering that it doesn’t convey Belle and the other characters’ inner lives.

The most engaging element of Belle is how Asante tells her main character’s story in relation to artwork.  A painting of Dido Belle Lindsay and her cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) is one of the chief inspirations of the film.  Unlike the many other paintings Belle gazes upon, she is not subservient in hers because of the color of her skin.  Sadly, the movie only half-awakens her consciousness before completely tossing it aside for a big romantic finish.  Grade: C

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Stranger by the Lake- This sexy, deceptively simple thriller from Alain Guiraudie revolves around a gay cruising spot at a secluded French lake.  Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) falls under the seductive allure of a murderer, whose startling crime is filmed at a much farther remove than the movie’s many, varied sex scenes.  Stranger by the Lake fuses all human activity to the wild, and Guiraudie never leaves the lake and its surrounding woods.  Men blow each other in the bushes and have sex in the dirt, sand and water.

This lake and its surrounding wilderness conceals them and their endless sexual appetites from the rest of the world, until the killing draws in a cautionary detective to deter Franck from his potentially fatal attraction. In the film’s final act, Guiraudie transforms his paradise from Grindr Beach into a place of frightening, dangerous emptiness.  Grade: B

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