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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Short Takes: Out of the Furnace, Kill Your Darlings and Drug War

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Out of the Furnace- This unremittingly bleak drama centers on deeply flawed brothers in Pittsburgh.  Russell (Christian Bale) is a heavy drinker who kills a woman and her kid drunk driving and lands in jail while his brother (Casey Affleck) serves several tours in Iraq.  Once he is out of jail, his brother goes missing after a series of increasingly brutal organized fistfights to pay off debt.

Director Scott Cooper makes no effort to give the audience a payoff.  The (plentiful) violence is treated as deeply troubling and is never without consequences.  Although a lot of the story is absurd and simplistic, there is an honest humanity that makes it surprisingly effective. Grade: C

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Kill Your Darlings- An uneven but thrilling attempt to capture Beat writers in the act of inventing themselves.  The story centers on Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) leaving a turbulent home life for an even more turbulent time at Columbia.  He is drawn to Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), and the two form the chaotic, and ultimately tragic, core of the movie.  Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster) also show up in drug-fueled flashes.

Kill Your Darlings treats the period with much affection, but director John Krokidas also injects crucial visual flare as well as modern music.  There is too much repetitive literary quoting underlining the theme over and over, but Krokidas brings an exhilaratingly reckless, chaotic vision to material that would otherwise seem stuffy and pretentious.  Grade: C+

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Drug War- One of the most intense and entertaining movies of the year.  Drug War is an action movie examination of China’s obscene drug policy.  Rather than overcrowd their prisons with drug offenders (like in America), people who possess more than a certain amount are just executed.

Johnnie To’s movie is about a meth dealer caught in between the police and those higher-up in the trade than him.  He offers to help the cops take down the others in exchange for prison time instead of a death sentence.  To creates organic, often breathtaking action sequences throughout, shaming most Hollywood releases on a fraction of the budget.  Grade: B+

REVIEW: Blue Is the Warmest Color

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Blue Is the Warmest Color
Directed by: Abdellatif Kechiche
Written by: Abdellatif Kechiche & Ghalia Lacroix (screenplay), Julie Maroh (graphic novel)
Starring: Adèle Exachopoulos, Léa Seydoux, Salim Kechiouche and Benjamin Siksou

A three-hour epic of writhing limbs and ferocious love, Blue Is the Warmest Color is without a doubt one of the most unforgettable and complicated movie-going experiences of year.  The performances are so raw, the young actresses so vulnerable in their portrayal of this intense relationship, that it nearly transcends some of its director’s problematic depictions of them.

Abdellatif Kechiche’s film deeply impressed this year’s Steven Spielberg-led Cannes jury, taking home the Palme d’Or but also sparking intense debate.  Julie Maroh, the writer of the graphic novel, said that while watching the sex scenes it became clear to her that there were no lesbians on the set.  She connected the way Kechiche shot those scenes to a later conversation in the film, where a man at a dinner party discusses how sacred and mystical the female orgasm is.

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REVIEW: Pariah

Pariah
Directed by: Dee Rees
Written by: Dee Rees (screenplay)
Starring: Adepero Oduye, Pernell Walker, Aasha Davis and Kim Wayans

Pariah is the remarkably honest if not groundbreaking first feature from writer/director Dee Rees, who adapted it from her own short film.  It charts the partial repression and eventual emergence of a young Brooklyn teenager’s (Adepero Oduye) lesbian sexual identity.  All of this takes place in a deeply religious, patriarchal African American household where girls are meant to be “girly” and where parents, especially the father (Charles Parnell), are not questioned.

It’s not the father, though, but the mother (Kim Wayans) who challenges and puts down Alike (pronounced Ah-lee-kay) the most.  Like in the more recent and more watered-down animated film Brave, Pariah pits mother/daughter against each other and lets the father largely remain peacekeeper.  The key difference, though, is that the peace is not kept.

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REVIEW: J. Edgar

J. Edgar
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Dustin Lance Black (screenplay)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench and Naomi Watts

Two men are fighting over a woman.  One declares that he may in fact be ready for a wife, while the other, in a fuming rage, declares that he cannot marry that woman.  He smashes some glasses and throws the first punch.  Not to be outdone, the other man fights back with all his strength, but to no avail.  The other man has him pinned to the ground.  And then they kiss.

That is the climax of J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial endeavor and the sliest genre subversion since his masterful acting/directing one-two punch in 2008’s Gran Torino.  He is of course filming the illusive FBI titan J. Edgar Hoover, who here is embodied by Leonardo DiCaprio in his finest screen performance.

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REVIEW: Howl

Howl
Directed by: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
Written by: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman (screenplay)
Starring: James Franco, David Strathairn, Jon Hamm, and Jeff Daniels

There’s a moment in Howl, an aesthetically pleasing rumination on the creation and subsequent censorship trial of the infamous poem by Allen Ginsberg, where one of the many expert witnesses called to the stand is asked to explain its meaning.  He remarks that you can’t be asked to translate poetry into prose.  So it goes for the rest of the movie, where co-directors and co-writers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman take the poetry of “Howl” and the prose of interviews and court trials surrounding it, and weave a film out of it.

Epstein and Friedman have an insistence  on historical accuracy from the beginning.  The filmmakers go above the call of the common “Based on a true story,” slogan and instead proclaim that all of the dialogue in this film was uttered by the people it’s attributed to.  They even go so far as to say that in that sense, it could be read like a documentary.  Once you get a glimpse of the finely arranged frames, the shifting color palettes, and the highly-stylized animation sequences, though, you’ll know it’s something else.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right
Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Written by: Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Mia Wasikowska

You usually watch a movie about the inner workings of the suburban American family expecting to see it deconstructed, but sitting through Lisa Cholodenko’s bracing, hilarious The Kids Are All Right you watch something strange: it being rebuilt.  Following an economic crisis and subsequent rethinking of what it means to be American, Kids comes at the perfect time.  It rethinks the nuclear family on the silver screen by doing the most daring thing: not mentioning it.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), the two moms at the center of the film, were each impregnated by the same sperm donor.  Now that their daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) has turned 18, her brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) pressures her to contact the donor (Mark Ruffalo).  They do, it’s awkward, and it almost tears the happy family apart.

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