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David Poland

By David Poland

Review(s): June Boon


It’s an interesting moment. Three distinctly different movies released on two June weekends with somewhat overlapping demographic targets that happen to also be the best three studio movies of the summer so far. There will have been 14 films released on 1,000 or more screens this summer as of Friday. Fifteen if you include Captain America: The Winter Soldier as summer… which we probably should now. But that’s another column.


Edge of Tomorrow is a strong entry from Doug Liman, who is nine years away from his amazing run of Swingers, Go, The Bourne Identity, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. In terms of pure filmmaking, this is easily his most complete work. The visuals, though massive and CG-driven, are restrained. The situation is overwhelming, not the imagery.

The movie is much more sophisticated than the advertising, which may explain part of the problem with the domestic gross (though I expect word-of-mouth will generate a strong multiple). Cruise at first appears to be playing a Tom Cruise character. But the premise of the movie breaks him down. He is not a trained soldier and he sucks at it. The premise of the film—coming back from death over and over and over again—allows him to become a soldier… and a man. In that regard, the film is, indeed, a bit like Groundhog Day, but the “joke” of the idea isn’t that he is stuck, but that he has an opportunity to not only save his own life, but to save the world… very different stakes. And a very different film. (For the most part.)

The role was not an obvious one for Cruise. Unlike the other change-it-up roles that he’s played in recent years, this guy will never become “Tom Cruise.” Even when he improves as a fighter —a lot—it’s not that Eastwood beat when the hero finally looks toward the camera and you know that he cannot lose. Cruise’s growth here always feels tough… because he plays it that way. But it’s also the screenplay. Emily Blunt’s hero soldier is also not what she seems on the surface… and not just as a function of story. That is not to say that she becomes The Girl in the film. She is something other than we have seen on film before.

In terms of storytelling, The concept of repetition is quite brilliantly done. It never feels “that gag again?!”. This requires deft timing and some very smart filmmaking.

The problem with the movie – and it’s not the kind of problem that sinks the film, but simply reduces the level from “epic” to “solid” – comes when the gimmick goes away in the third act. One of the thing that really, really works about the first two acts is that the film isn’t trying to do too much. It doesn’t push to force you to have relationships with characters that won’t be key to the film. But when the central gimmick stops, the movie suddenly seeks to rely on those audience-character relationships that were not well established. And at that point, it’s really too late to make the connection. As a result, the film becomes a much more conventional mainstream action movie. Still good. Still handsome. Still well acted and made. Just not… GREAT. And great those first two acts were.

I have paid absolutely no attention to the production history of this film. Doug Liman has always been known to be brilliant… but also loose with budgets and schedules. As a result, he is making, this, his seventh film, for his sixth studio. But the film feels like a mature work from a mature, responsible filmmaker. Even what was game-changing about Bourne sometimes felt haphazard… that skittish-horse energy was great. But then Paul Greengrass came in and made Doug’s great ideas (which the studio fought and was wrong to fight) whole.

Edge of Tomorrow is a wonderful piece of filmmaking, it really reminds us how great this filmmaker can be, and I look forward to more from Liman. And it’s my favorite work from Cruise that isn’t a big, broad character (see: Tropic Thunder and Magnolia).


The Fault In Our Stars – This is not my genre. Except… it’s everybody’s genre. The great weepies in movie history reach beyond the narrow audience that usually contain them. Love Story was the biggest ever in 1970. The Notebook remains a cultural touchstone 10 years later (and it made Nicholas Sparks a genre). Ghost in 1990. An Officer and a Gentleman in 1982. All “surprises.” All blockbusters that became date movies as much as chick flicks.

The Fault In Our Stars reminded me so of Love Story… except here, our “Jenny” is not the only one who is ill. Our “Oliver” is dealing with illness as well. This time, “Jenny” is “Hazel” and “Oliver Barrett IV” is “Augustus.” And the end, while not specifically clear, in inevitable. But love means never having to say you’re sorry. And few things are more beautiful than love in the face of inevitable loss.

The director’s first film, Stuck In Love, barely got a release and I, for one, missed it entirely in its Toronto International Film Festival run in 2012… even with Jennifer Connelly as bait. But we’re going to see a lot of Josh Boone from now on. He is not a flourish guy. But he has made a movie loaded to the gills with intimate, genuine, beautiful performances. We’ve all seen a lot of Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe… but they feel almost reborn in this film. The perfect flaws of Shailene Woodley’s face are on intimate view, over and over again. And this Ansel Elgort kid… embarrassingly beautiful.

And then the words – thanks to Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and novelist John Green – start coming out of their mouths and they always feel full of the pain, fear, tension, and love of the situation, but never false. And what could be easier to hit a false note with than a girl who is dying and the people – ill and not – who surround her. It’s freakin’ minefield. But somehow, the mines never blow. And you never feel like you are watching/listening to filmmakers walking that field.

In the end, this is a classic uber-weepie. If you aren’t crying from the love story, you are crying from the pain of children and the parents watching them, or the small indignities they all suffer. You know that a traditional happy ending is not an option. But the pain is the pleasure.

Shailene Woodley breathes iconic life into this character in a way she hasn’t before. She wasn’t the lead in The Descendants. She was a strong #2 character in The Spectacular Now, but it really was the boy’s story. There is a lot going on around her in Divergent. But here, you see into this young woman’s soul – or you feel you do – in scene after scene after scene. You watch her considering what is happening around her, before she speaks or acts. And she makes it look effortless. Ali McGraw got an Oscar nomination. Rachel McAdams did not… Demi Moore did not… Debra Winger did.

Shai was not really chasing Jennifer Lawrence because she is so not Jennifer Lawrence. She is something else. And as J-Law has gotten opportunities to breathe life into her personal humanity, within characters, now Shai has gotten the same.

It’s a weepie. It can’t be something else… a genre more respected. But it does what it does quite perfectly.


22 Jump Street – Chris Miller & Phil Lord. Phil Lord & Chris Miller. What the fuck?

These guys have made 4 movies… hit, hit, mega-hit, big-ass hit.

What is their problem?!?!

As I sat in the theater laughing, laughing, and laughing at 22 Jump Street. I started thinking about how they make this work. Because they ain’t David Fincher. They have a couple of signature camera movies – I think – but they are pretty straight forward. (Yeah… we saw how Caroline Alda got cut out of the arrival at school and the pick-ups on the Sony lot in the Mexican sequence). And I think that is the trick.

They just decide what it is they are trying to do… and they do it.

Sounds easy, right? But when you watch as many movies as I do, you realize how hard that is.

Their screenplay ideas are not ornate… but they get incredibly complicated… and somehow don’t shake the audience loose. 22 Jump Street tells the audience dozens of times that this is just a more expensive version of the first film. And it is… but it isn’t. It is what happens when most big-laugh comedic directors hit it squarely.

One move that I found myself thinking about was hiring Jillian Bell. She plays a very funny roommate to a character in the film. And the obvious choice for the role? Rebel Wilson. Now, maybe they tried to get Rebel and she was unavailable or uninterested. But I am betting not. There were other “cranky college girls” who would would know from TV shows or wherever who could have been hired. But I think they invested in The New. And though you might recognize Jillian Bell, you will not know her name… until after seeing this movie. And that was right for the film.

On the flipside, they grabbed Peter Stormare for a minor role… but they have the taste to hire Stormare.

With all four films these guys have directed, I had no idea how they were possibly going to capture my imagination. (And that’s even with staring at a bunch of Lego Movie storyboards before they went into production.) And every time, they have grabbed me. And surprised me. And made me laugh. And shocked me with their fearless goofiness.

By the fourth time, you realize something really special is happening. (As though the grosses of Lego didn’t do that.)

There is not a lot of reviewing reviewing to do here. The budget is clearly higher. The camerawork is better. But it’s about the performances. Tatum & Hill have this down to an art (and Jonah is one of the story authors). Supporting cast is strong. Ice Cube gets a bit more to do and kills it. There are more fun cameos. But it’s really all about how these two build a joke on camera. They get it. They top it. Then they get the hell out before you get stop laughing.

For me, it’s the best wide-release film of the summer so far.

And you don’t have to wait until the end of the credits to enjoy extra fun. Don’t watch the credits… dare you!

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5 Responses to “Review(s): June Boon”

  1. Bulldog68 says:

    I hope we come down on the same side regarding 22 Jump Street Dave. The last time you raved so much was for ASM2 and boy did I disagree on that.

    Haven’t seen Fault, but agree on Edge of Tomorrow. It’s truly a solid film that is a tad shy of greatness, and one of the best cinematic experiences thus far this year.

  2. Bulldog68 says:

    Man it’s quiet in here. Anyway, anyone else realize that the box office will be ruled by Jonah Hill this week.

  3. Triple Option says:

    I’ll agree w/you, it was a different and unexpected role for Cruise. I have to admit, I had trouble at first buying him as the reluctant hero. Reluctant being a huge understatement. But he, or I guess I, grew into it. I was a bit reluctant to see it. I try to avoid trailers and various promo pieces in general because they give away too much but nothing suggested what a detailed story this would be. The humor was perfectly timed throughout. I didn’t see it in 3D but more films were on this plane I wouldn’t mind forking over a few extra bucks. Although, still, I hate supporting a money grab. Shouldn’t those damn projectors be paid off by now??

    Someone was asking me today about upcoming summer movies and I struggled to think of any. Sure, I have sort of a self induced lack of awareness but I still feel like premises or stars or directors or writers should be getting excited for more things. I’m definitely less likely to fork out the money to arbitrarily pop into a theater but it kinda feels like that’s the way it’s going to be for much of the summer.

    Didn’t read whole article yet but already feel the need to get clarification on you definition of a “summer movie.”

  4. Bitplayer says:

    I liked Edge but the ending made no sense and I had way less fun once Tom Cruise started acting like Tom Cruise. I liked it a lot better when he was reluctant and unsure. My GF liked it way more than I thought she would. She was shocked how much fun it was.

  5. Bulldog68 says:

    Saw Jump Street. In a case of bad timing that is no one fault they had a Maya Angelou joke and a Tracy Morgan joke. Just felt a bit awkward, that’s all.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon