See It Instead: Edge of Tomorrow
Sometimes a movie comes along and makes you aware of an itch you never knew you had. Perhaps a review piqued your interest, or you’d rather stay in and pay yourself $10 for a small popcorn and watch a movie on the cheap. Perhaps you’re valiantly struggling through your queue on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and need a wise, cultured voice to direct you to where the real movie viewing gold is hiding amidst the terrible movies starring washed up actors. Well, look no further. See It Instead is here to take today’s new releases and guide you to what you should really be watching.
The Edge of Tomorrow
We are now on the edge of another Tom Cruise summer action flick that comes out tomorrow…hence the title. I love movies that explain themselves.
Actually, this latest romp from the little engine that could (not stop making movies) seems to be the least awful offering from our Thetan-free hero in a long while. The first trailer seemed positively spell-binding: Cruise is a rather frightened and useless soldier in a losing battle between humanity and a mysterious alien menace, and is forced to relive the last day of humanity (and his own death) countless times due to an unexplained mechanism. So we get to see Tom splattered, shot, blown up, crushed, mangled, and every other delicious manner of unfortunate demise. If they just stopped there, I bet they’d sell a billion tickets. At least Katie Holmes would see it a dozen times…BA ZING!
The trailer goes on to show that a mysterious uber-warrior played by Emily Blunt uses this never ending cycle to whip Cruise into a lean, mean, killing machine. All in all, a strong female lead taking point and saving a clueless male character is a refreshing departure for the apocalyptic movie genre, which I strongly endorsed…until watching the second trailer which hints that, nope, Tom is the one taking the initiative to become a super-hero and actually saves her countless times. Boo, hiss, boo. Try again Hollywood, you were so close.
So unless you think watching Cruise die horribly for the first half of the film is worth the price of admission (pro-tip: It is) you could call it a life and watch these 3 movies instead.
The Serious Pick: 12 Monkeys (1995)
Terry Gilliam‘s most main-stream flick, 12 Monkeys is still weirder than most of Tim Burton‘s most eclectic stuff. Hell, it’s weirder than watching Edward Scissor Hands backwards…while listening to the audio track of Batman Returns. The plot centers around James Cole (Bruce Willis,) a prisoner in an underground facility where the remnants of humanity desperately hide from a viral plague that has ravaged the surface world of the future. He is selected for his tough yet docile temperament, and his ability to spot trifling details amid chaos, for an experimental time travel mission. Using the refuse of a once thriving human civilization, Cole is sent back to discover the cause of the plague, and to hopefully help discover a cure before the world goes to shit.
The mission is almost instantly botched, and Cole is incarcerated in a mental institution in the wrong year, alongside raving eco-lunatic and spoiled rich boy Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt,) while both are under the care of kind-hearted psychiatrist, Dr. Railly (Madeline Stowe.) From here, Cole is whipped back and forth through time by the increasingly angry and incompetent scientists from the future. His body is brutalized by the experience, and his mind slowly begins to unravel. Only a vague memory from his youth about a couple being shot in an Airport remains firmly fixed in his mind as he starts to question his mission and his sanity.
Tackling issues of time travel, memory, destiny, and sanity, Gilliam’s film is a visual treat packed with superior performances. Inspired by a short French film, Le Jetee, and incorporating strands from Hitchcock, existential literature, pop-culture, and even the Marx Brothers, this film merits multiple viewings, and rewards fans with layers of subtlety.
The Lighthearted Pick: Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
A gripping tale of about the nature of life, death, time, and morality, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey continues the coming of age story of the most excellent Bill S. Preston, esquire, and his companion Ted (Theodore) Logan. Again aided by their aging mentor, Rufus (George Carlin) the pair of San Dimas musicians must foil an attempt on their lives…which has already succeeded. Bill and Ted trek through the afterlife, hoping to discover a method to change their present deadness in order to ensure their future excellence. Heavy.
The sequel to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Bogus Journey is the superior film. While the first was light and fun, using time travel to drop historical figures into comedic situations, the second movie really identifies itself as a reflection, and satire, of the teen genre typified by John Hughes’ films such as The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and more broadly of the whole late 80’s popular culture. Bill and Ted go from typical to archetypical, allowing their antics to be both comedy and cultural critique. Celebrity, music, New-Age spirituality, authority, and parental disdain for teen rebellion all are treated (and made fun of) in this clever romp through time and space. Even questions of causality and predestination are given a whirl. Though the second film focuses more on the afterlife than time travel, it’s in Bogus Journey that the script is confident enough in the humor to question the absurdity of time travel as a movie trope, and as a mechanism on the whole.
If you want a sharp and hilarious venture through heaven and hell, saddle up with the most triumphant pair in history. And remember: Don’t fear the Reaper.
The Unconventional Pick: The Lathe of Heaven (1980 and 2002)
Based upon the work of Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven has seen two movie adaptations. Both deal in deep considerations of cause and effect, authority, and the legitimacy of ends justifying means. I would heartily recommend watching both, but as the 1980’s version is only available in questionable quality online (or for a cheap 250$ on EBay!) I will point you instead to the 2002 version.
The most recent, starring Lukas Haas and James Caan, is the more focused of the two (though you could argue that what you gain in tight pacing and tense plotting, you lose in world buildig and in the film jettisoning some of the wilder sci-fi elements of the novel and early film version.) The story involves a young man in a repressive, authoritarian society who has been sentenced to court-ordered therapy for abusing sleeping aids. The young man tells his therapist that he is using the drugs because if he dreams, those dreams re-make the world. As he is the only one unaffected, he must watch every day as the world around him shifts wildly, alone. Caan, the therapist, an expert in dreams, diagnoses him as schizophrenic, but out of curiosity’s sake, attempts to guide Haas into a dream that will improve Caan’s stifled ambitions at becoming a leading psychologist. It works, though since Caan cannot remember the previous version of the world, he is slow to catch on that his sessions with Haas have slowly made him rich, famous, and powerful. He has some inkling that his life mirrors his wildest dreams, and his suggestions become more ambitious: he uses Haas to engineer a perfect society, free from wants, conflict, and the demons that haunt humanity’s psyche. This results in chaos of various stripes. A young case-worker, played by Lisa Bonet, becomes concerned with Haas’ deteriorating mind, and intervenes. Can the two set the world back to normal (and what form of normal is even desirable?) before Caan manages to completely unmake humanity?
Comparing the two, the first film is rich with sci-fi answers to age-old questions, and is much more sardonic with its answers to deep philosophical questions. The 2002 version jettisons much of the sci-fi trappings in order to focus on the characters of Haas and Caan, and to explore human nature in a more grounded (and bleak) manner. The film is staid and grim, but beautifully so, and the acting is quite good (especially for a movie made for television.) The source material is fecund with ideas and insights, and if a third version (hopefully with a full budget) were to be made, I could easily see it being as different from the first two, as they are from each other. Much like Haas’ dreams, this work has unlimited potential to explore.