Edge of Tomorrow (2014) Tom Cruise at His . . . Weakest?

Edge of Tomorrow

Why did I even bother watching Edge of Tomorrow? I had a feeling I wouldn’t like it and I was right. The story as such isn’t bad, though.

A US military officer, Tom Cruise, is brought to London to help in a war against aliens. He clashes with the British commanding officer and while he didn’t want to go into combat, as he’s inexperienced, he wakes up, handcuffed, ready to be shipped to occupied France to fight a powerful enemy. The first episodes are a mix of comedy and action and that’s why I started disliking the movie from the beginning. I’m not sure there really was a need to play it like this. It set the tone wrong as, ultimately, this isn’t another Tropic Thunder and, in spite of the initial groundhog day feel, it would have worked better if it had been darker.

Our officer is shipped to France, in spite of his protests, and finds himself battling the enemy in heavy armour and gear. Next to him on the battle field is the war hero Angel of Verdun (Emily Blunt), a highly trained fighter. She’s killed while he shoots one of the aliens.

And then he wakes up handcuffed again and the story seems to start from scratch.

Since I like some military sci-fi, I think I might have liked this, if there hadn’t been any comedic acting at all. Was that Tom Cruise’s choice, I wonder? It think it’s too bad because when you subtract that you have an action-packed, edgy, dark sci-fi adventure with a great finale.

I liked that it used imagery and battles of former wars – Verdun – D-Day landing etc. That gave it an almost creepy, and certainly chilling element.

The Edge of Tomorrow isn’t bad, it’s just not consistent. The mood’s a huge mess, in my opinion. It should have been consistently dark. It’s still watchable but not Tom Cruise’s best performance. I’d even say it was the weakest I’ve ever seen. At least Emily Blunt’s surprisingly at home in this role. Nonetheless, if you like action-packed Sci-Fi, you might enjoy it.

The trailer is one of those that makes you expect a very different movie.

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Valkyrie (2008) Operation Valkyrie or The Last Attempt to Assassinate Hitler

I suppose it wasn’t in Eichmann‘s favour that I re-watched Valkyrie just before I saw Eichmann. I would say I liked Valkyrie even better the second time. I’m sure it is a movie which aims at entertaining and plays on emotions but at least that is very well done and Tom Cruise is outstanding in this movie. I do have huge problems with the man Tom Cruise but I can’t help admiring the actor.

The movie opens in North Africa in 1942. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) is far from content with the regime and openly utters his criticism. Before retreating with his troops he gets under attack and loses his right hand, an eye and two fingers on the left hand.

Some time later, back in Berlin, after a painful recovery, he is recruited by a group of high German officers and politicians who want to overthrow the regime. They think it is of the highest importance to do something in order to let the world see that there were not only Nazis in Germany.  The way to go according to these men is to assassinate Hitler. Preferably together with Himmler. After several failed attempts they recruit von Stauffenberg. He seems to be the only one to be able to come up with a plan and to see it through.

Assassinating Hitler isn’t enough. At the same time the group needs to assure that the Army is on their side. The idea von Stauffeberg comes up with is ingenious and based on adapting “Operation Valkyrie” to their own needs.  The amended Operation Valkyrie would enable them to seize control of Berlin after the assassination of the Führer.

As this movie is based on historical facts, I don’t suppose it is a spoiler to say that they failed. The plan was cunning, the execution well done but bad luck and bad timing prevented a success. All the men participating in the coup were executed.  This is one of those movies during which we hope against all hope and constantly wonder why it didn’t work.

Just like Sophie Scholl, Valkyrie manages to show what courageous and unselfish people are capable of doing.

The movie Eichmann illustrates very well that a fascinating topic doesn’t guarantee a good movie. Even though Valkyrie is a US-German co-production it’s pure Hollywood but it’s very well acted and gripping despite the fact that we know the outcome.

The way the story is told and the cast makes this such a good movie. Apart from Tom Cruise, the actors worth mentioning are Kenneth Branagh as Major-General Henning von Tresckow, Bill Nighy as General Freidrich Olbricht, Thomas Kretschmann as Major Otto Ernst Remer and Carice van Houten as Nina von Stauffenberg. The only bad choice was David Bamber as Hitler. I think he’s the worst Hitler I’ve ever seen.

Valkyrie is based on a great story and very well told. While it’s not flawless, it’s still a must-see.

Lions for Lambs (2007)

I watched a lot of war movies before I started this blog. Unfortunately I cannot review them anymore after a while that’s why I have to re-watch a lot of them, also some that I didn’t really like the first time. Lions for Lambs is one of them. I can’t really say I didn’t like it. I watched it and forgot it the moment I turned off the TV.

I’m reading an interesting book at the moment. It hasn’t been translated but I add the full title for my German readers. The book is called “Antikriegsfilm – Zur Ästhetik, Geschichte und Theorie einer filmhistorischen Praxis” and it’s as dry as the title makes it sound. It’s an academic analysis of anti-war movies and I will write more about it soon. In any case, Lions for Lambs is mentioned as one of the typical modern – meaning post 9/11 – anti-war movies. The movie isn’t analysed as the book focusses on combat movies but it’s mentioned and since I had the DVD I watched it again.

I found it more interesting this time but still consider it to be a failed movie. It has an idea but no real story and in order to cover that up, Redford (he is the director as well) chose to tell three parallel stories. Obviously none of them on its own would have made a whole movie and together it’s a patchwork circling around the same theme: Is it justified to go to war in order to maintain peace?

The movie moves back and forth between three different stories. One focusses on cocky senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) who wants to convince journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) that it makes sense to send troops to Afghanistan and that this time they will win the war. He says that he has certain information that there is an entry route from Iraq, crossing Iran, into Afghanistan. Roth is a very clever journalist and has soon found out that what he wants her to write is pure propaganda. She thinks she should write an entirely different piece instead.

While these two are discussing, a Harvard professor of political science (Robert Redford) tries to motivate his most promising student. He tells him about two other students he had, two people from underprivileged families, who finally signed up to assure their university fees will get paid. Lack of money and misguided idealism made them take a hasty decision.

While they all discuss, the two former students have just been shot down over Afghanistan. They were part of the troops sent by senator Irving. They hit the ground alive but are soon surrounded by enemy troops and spend the rest of the movie not making a difference but fighting for their lives.

All the people in the three stories are trying to make up their minds about extremely important questions and decisions. The story that worked best for me and which I really enjoyed is the one between Tom Cruise’s and Meryl Streep’s character. They are such excellent actors, it’s a joy to watch them.

The biggest problem of Lions for Lambs is that its intentions are far better than its execution. Still, if you want to see a movie that shows the different arguments, pro and contra military intervention, and if you don’t mind that it is very wordy, you might like it.

The Last Samurai (2003) An Epic Tale

Take an American and put him into an exotic decor. Most of the time that goes very wrong. Occasionally it doesn’t and what comes out is an entertaining guilty pleasure like The Last Samurai, a movie midway between The Last of the Mohicans and Memoirs of a Geisha. Although it is not at the same level of Glory, one of my Top 10 war movies and Edward Zwick’s masterpiece, Last of the Samurai is equally beautiful.

Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is a hardened, disillusioned and alcoholic veteran of the Civil War. Touring as special attraction with some sort of circus, he has clearly seen better days. He is haunted by what he saw in the war, the killings of the Indians, the battles. While in this sorry state, he is approached  by some Americans who want to hire him as military advisor for a newly established Imperial Japanese Army. If it pays good money, he would probably sell his mother, so he doesn’t hesitate long and follows the men to Japan.

The army consists mainly of peasants with no experience whatsoever in warfare. Despite their not being ready, one of the emperor’s advisors wants Algren to lead them to battle against rebellious Samurai who do not want to accept the changing of the times.

The moment when they are surrounded by these warriors in their incredible armour, it’s obvious they will lose the fight. In the chaos and mayhem that follows, Algren who has been severely wounded is taken prisoner by the Samurai and brought to their village high up in the mountains.

The landscapes and images are extremely beautiful, the ways of the Samurai seem mysterious and we can easily understand that Algren is fascinated. The moment he arrives in the village – and not only because the woman who takes care of him is very beautiful – he tries to immerse himself in the culture and the rituals of this ancient tradition.

In the months that he spends with them he learns their ways of living and fighting and becomes the friend of the their leader Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe). When the imperial army attacks, he fights with him until the last.

I enjoyed the final battle and seeing the battle formations, it reminded me a bit of Waterloo.

I was surprised that I liked this movie I had thought it would be tacky but it is really not bad at all. Plus I have a thing for the Samurai armour. It’s one of the most beautiful armour in history. And their weapons are also quite fascinating, they didn’t use firearms.

It’s a very visual movie, with a good story. In other words, excellent entertainment.

Tom Cruise’s War Movies

This post could also have been a quiz. How many war movies or/and war related movies starring Tom Cruise do you know? I have counted 9. That seems quite a lot. Although I’m not exactly a Tom Cruise fan but he is very good in some of the movies below.

Valkyrie (2008) This is a must-see movie based on a true event. Cruise plays von Stauffenberg, the man who attempted to assassinate Hitler. Too bad it didn’t work. It’s suspenseful despite that we know the outcome, interesting and tragic.

Tropic Thunder (2008) Bad taste and hilarious, in this movie nothing is sacred. A parody of war movies (especially Vietnam/Platoon), the film industry and a few other things. Cruise is extremely funny in this. He’s the ruthless greedy producer who is willing to send a film crew to certain death if success is guaranteed. (Here is my review)

Lions for Lambs (2007) Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in a movie that has been called great by many. I have seen it but remember zero. I think because it didn’t have a good story line, just a fairly good idea. Here is the IMdB blurb: “Injuries sustained by two Army ranger behind enemy lines in Afghanistan set off a sequence of events involving a congressman, a journalist and a professor.”

War of the Worlds (US 2005) Yes, this is stretching the genre a little bit and I haven’t seen it. No clue whether it is any good. It’s not my type of movie. Here’s another IMdB blurb: “As Earth is invaded by alien tripod fighting machines, one family fights for survival.”

Last Samurai (2003) I just watched this, so the review is upcoming. Very beautiful movie starring Tom Cruise as hardened Civil War veteran who is hired to teach combat techniques to Japanese soldiers. (See my review)

A Few Good Men (1992) This is one of my favourite guilty pleasures. A gripping court-room drama with a great cast: Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland and Jack Nicholson.

Born on the 4th of July (1989) Based on Ron Kovic’s memoir. Cruise gives an outstanding performance of Kovic who volunteered to go to Vietnam, came home as a cripple and joins the Anti-Vietnam movement.

Top Gun (1986) Action and romance about aspiring fighter pilots in an elite US flying school.  A really corny movie but the favourite guilty pleasure of many.

Taps (1981) Story of some military cadets who want to save their academy at any price.

My favourite Tom Cruise movie regardless of the genre is Magnolia but my favourite Tom Cruise war movie is Valkyrie. I really liked the movie and his performance in it a great deal. And I liked him in A Few Good Men.

Which one is your favourite?

Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder (2008) Hilarious or Bad Taste?

Before I knew what  Tropic Thunder was all about I saw it mentioned a few times on people’s Top 10 Favourite war movies lists. Aha?  And then I saw several really angry and infuriated reviews. Definitely a movie that polarizes. Those who love it think it’s genius, those who hate it think it is hateful, despicable, in bad taste and politically incorrect.

I actually think it is extremely funny. It’s a huge piss take and quite multilayered. Yes, it is vulgar and there is a lot of foul language and swearing but it has to be like that. That is part of the parody. There is a lot of swearing in some war movies, especially in the boot camp parts, so that had to be a theme.

Tropic Thunder foremost makes fun of the US Vietnam war movies (I guess there aren’t many others anyway), of the macho type gung-ho flicks à la Rambo as well as of the great movies like Platoon. These movies, as good as some of them are, live to a certain extent of stereotypes and stereotypes are great material for parodies.

The most important part in the movie however is the acting. The actors are absolutely outstanding. Ben Stiller playing a retard, Jack Black a dumb-ass comedy star, Nick Nolte as Vietnam vet gone writer, Robert Downey Jr as black Sgt and Tom Cruise as Jewish businessman who wants to make money, money, money.

There is nothing sacred in  this movie. Not the death scene from Platoon, nor the Vietnam vets who write books, nor the poor little Vietcong, black soldiers, handicapped people, you name it…

But despite all the piss taking and fun it has a story to offer.

In the middle of the Vietnamese forest a film crew tries to shoot the memoirs of a Vietnam vet. The shooting and acting isn’t going well and finally the vet suggests that the actors should be left on their own in the middle of the forest where they would have to fight for their survival. Unfortunately they land on the territory of a Vietnamese drug gang and things turn very nasty.

Tropic Thunder is a parody of the Vietnam war movie subgenre but also of film business in general.  Every element that is part of a Vietnam war movie, including the drugs, the swearing and the 60s music are made fun of.

Many people loved it for its special effects and an equal amount of people hated it for the special effects.

All in all its an exaggeration, a caricature, a parody and in outrageously bad taste but really funny.

If you don’t want to watch the whole movie, watch at least Tom Cruise dancing.