‘Edge of Tomorrow’ sits on graves of yesterday

A fusillade of bullets rained down on incoming soldiers, shrouding the beach in blood, debris and smoke.

“What the hell,” says a soldier. “They’re not even supposed to know we’re coming.”

“This is a slaughterhouse,” says another.

If you’ve lived through the battle of Normandy (or seen Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”), this scene from Doug Liman’s sci-fi action thriller “Edge of Tomorrow” will seem familiar. More than 160,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy for Operation Neptune on June 6, 1944. More than 9,000 soldiers were killed or wounded.

“Edge of Tomorrow,” which was released on the 70th anniversary of D-Day earlier this month, stars U.S. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a U.S. army mouthpiece who’s recruited millions to fight an alien invasion.

Cage thinks this makes him immune to the front lines, but when he reports to his commanding officer, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), Major Cage is sent to the beaches of France to fight alongside every other poor soldiers drafted in the first wave of Operation Downfall.

There he meets Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton), who spouts recycled inspirational maxims like “War is the great redeemer,” “There is no courage without fear,” and “The world only expects one thing from us — that we will win.” (Gen. Eisenhower once said regarding D-Day, “We will accept nothing less than full victory.”)

But these Normandy landings, although familiar, are different from those in 1944. Soldiers drop down from the sky. Pulsating robotic aliens bury their tentacles through the sand. Flames swallow everything and everyone dies.

Everyone including Major Cage. Only when Cage dies, he respawns as if he’s living in a video game — waking up on the day before battle and reliving the same events.

“Edge of Tomorrow” reunites Liman with screenplay writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (the three worked together on “Fair Game.”) and writer Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects,” “Jack the Giant Slayer”). It’s based on a work of fiction (Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s Japanese novel “All You Need Is Kill”), but holds a strain of authenticity. A platoon is punished for one soldier’s mishaps. And as much as they might hate each other, they have each others’ backs in battle. The rest though, could be dismissed as an elaborate exhibition of Scientology.

The Church of Scientology teaches that people are immortal; by auditing, people re-experience traumatic events from their past in order to free themselves.

New Jersey native Major Cage literally relives his past, stuck in an endless time loop where he dies over and over. His auditor, veteran soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), shared Cage’s special ability and mentors him. Nicknamed the “Angel of Verdun,” she’s killed hundreds of aliens in her full metal suit.

It’s not hard to see why Cruise, described as “the public face of the church,” was attracted to this film. He could have been talking about Scientology when he says, “What I’m about to tell you sounds crazy, but it’s true and you have to listen to me.” (He had a version of this conversation with Today Show’s Matt Lauer.)

Cruise’s charismatic here though. So’s Blunt. You feel sorry for the couple as they go through their “50 First Dates,” but they’re strong and resilient soldiers. Cage evolves from a potential army deserter to a one-man gun show. Rita’s would rather die than abandon her country. These are yesterday’s soldiers — the 160,000 who fearlessly protected us from the edge of tomorrow so that we could enjoy our freedoms today.

 “Edge of Tomorrow” was directed by Doug Liman and written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and Christopher McQuarrie.


’22 Jump Street,’ more of the same

“22 Jump Street” isn’t a very good movie. But it doesn’t promise to be anything other than exactly its predecessor: the 2012 buddy-cop comedy hit, “21 Jump Street.”

Screenplay writers Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman (along with story creators Bacall and Jonah Hill and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) know that sequels and remakes aren’t as good as the original. And “21 Jump Street” — which starred Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as young undercover cops infiltrating a high school drug bust — is a reboot of Stephen J. Cannell and Patrick Hasburgh’s 1987 to 1991 television series starring Johnny Depp as undercover Officer Tom Hanson.

That self awareness, though, makes the movie. “22 Jump Street” is at it’s best when pokes fun at itself.

“No one gave a shit about the ‘Jump Street’ reboot, but you got lucky,” said Deputy Chief Hardy (played by “Parks and Recreation’s” Nick Offerman). “Do the same thing as last time and everyone’s happy.”

That’s why, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are back in the same worn-out roles, using the same undercover identities: brothers Dennis and Brad McQuaid. This time, they’re also college roomies at MC State, searching for the source of WHY-PHY (“Work Hard, Yes; Party Hard, Yes”), the drug that killed a college student.

Hill and Tatum resume their awkward bromance, but college tests their high school fling. Jenko begins an easy friendship with star quarterback Zook (Wyatt Hawn Russell). Schmidt bonds with art student Maya (Amber Stevens), Captain Dickson’s (Ice Cube) daughter.

The two break it off and get back together, even seeing a psychiatrist (Marc Evan Jackson) to discuss their relationship. Jenko claims Schmidt’s too clingy and weighing him down. Schmidt’s afraid of being alone. Bacall, Uziel and Rothman skillfully incorporate double entendres into this farce, capitalizing on Hill and Tatum’s chemistry and physical appearances. Hill’s the short, jealous, submissive partner while Tatum’s the gentleman — even offering to pay for Schmidt’s cab as he leaves a party early.

Directed by Lord and Miller (the duo who also brought you “The Lego Movie” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”), “22 Jump Street” is the product of a successful formulaic franchise (The first film made $35 million dollars during its opening weekend. The sequel made more than $60 million.). But even as you pay for their sequel, you don’t feel ripped off for seeing the same exact movie — not when you’re in on the joke.

“22 Jump Street” is directed by Christopher Miller and Phil Lord and written by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman.

Magnificent ‘Maleficent’

Fractured fairy tales often recycle the same tropes (look at “Frozen” or “Jack the Giant Slayer”), but Robert Stromberg’s “Maleficent” is a beautiful, new rendition of an age-old story.

Written by Linda Woolverton (who worked on half a dozen Disney movies including “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Alice In Wonderland”), “Maleficent” does with “Sleeping Beauty” what Gregory Maguire did with “The Wizard of Oz.” Woolverton re-imagines the story from the villain’s perspective.

Maleficent (played by Isobelle Molloy, Ella Purnell and the magnificent Angelina Jolie) is a good, peaceful fairy, who guards and protects the magical land of Moors. She falls in love with a human boy (Michael Higgins and Jackson Bews) who becomes a greedy man (Sharlto Copley) that rules the human kingdom.

King Stefan rapes Maleficent to earn his title. And thus, Maleficent becomes Charles Dickens’ Miss. Havisham from “Great Expectations” — the jilted old woman in her wedding dress. Her “Estella” on men is her magic. So she curses Stefan’s only daughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning), to an endless sleep upon her 16th birthday.

Stromberg — an Academy Award winning visual effects artist whose credits include  “The Hunger Games,“Life of Pi”, “Avatar” and “Alice in Wonderland” — makes a stunning directorial debut with “Maleficent.” The scenes in the Moors are heavenly — full of vibrant colors and creatures. He (along with more than 500 visual effects artists) shows off Jolie’s high cheekbones, piercing eyes and plump lips.

Jolie, herself, is radiant in this role — vengeful and glowing with wicked glee as she gifts Princess Aurora. But this Maleficent is also forgiving and fierce; sweet and savage; motherly and mischievous. She saves a raven whom she turns into a man (Sam Riley). And she’s not too different from Khaleesi from George R.R. Martin’s epic “Game of Thrones” saga.

Though Maleficent’s certainly ethereal, she’s more humane than her human counterparts. Copley’s character longs for a seat on the Iron Throne; his obsession with the crown rivals those playing in the “Game of Thrones.” All would be well, of course, if he’d give Maleficent her dragons.

“Maleficent” was directed by Robert Stromberg and written by Linda Woolverton. The movies based on Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty,” Charles Perrault’s “La Belle au bois dormant” and Jacob and Wilheim Grimm’s “La Briar Rose.”

The fault in Season 2 of ‘Orange Is the New Black’

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings,” Cassius tells Brutus in William Shakespeare’s play, “Julius Ceasar.” That, too, seems to be a recurring theme in Season 2 of writer Jenji Kohan’s “Orange Is the New Black.”

The 13-episode second season of the highly anticipated prison drama — based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison” — was released for streaming on Netflix last Friday.

After serving months in the Litchfield Correctional Facility for her association with her former drug-dealing girlfriend, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is transferred to a Chicago prison, where she awaits trial.

Her new bunkmate’s (Rebecca Drysdale) an astrology nut who believes destiny’s in the stars. “Typically, people in prison are led astray by a powerful outside force,” she tells Piper.

But these women dug their own graves.

Kohan’s episodes feature flashbacks into the lives of the Litchfield inmates. There’s Miss. Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat) — a terminally ill cancer patient who used to rob banks; Sister Ingalls (Beth Fowler) — an ex-communicated Catholic nun known for her activism; and Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson (Danielle Brooks) — an orphan whose closest person to a mother is Vee (Lorraine Toussaint), a conniving criminal who’s back in jail.

But even if these woman are underlings, their faces and voices aren’t forgotten. We fall in love with Kohan’s characters — played by a wonderfully diverse and talented ensemble cast. It’s a smart, calculated formula. Kohan can seamlessly introduce and kill off new characters like George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thones.” And while we curse the injustice, we’ll still be binge-watching.

So it’s no coincidence, of course, that Season 2 of “Orange Is New Black” was released the same day as the film adaptation of John Green’s teen cancer novel, “The Fault in Our Stars.” Kohan (who also created Showtime’s “Weeds”) fills her script with pop culture references — from World of Warcraft to Mr. Miyagi from “The Karate Kid.”  One of the inmates is even reading “The Fault In Our Stars.”

Like Green’s story, Kohan’s is hauntingly beautiful — filled with hope and heartbreak. Because no matter where the fault lies, prison’s supposed to be unjust.

“Orange Is the New Black” was written and created by Jenji Kohan.

‘Muppets Most Wanted’: the unwanted sequel

I really wanted to like the “Muppets Most Wanted” — the direct sequel to the 2011 “The Muppets” revival. But the most entertaining part of the most recent Muppets movie — the 7th sequel to the original 1979 motion picture (adds Dr. Bunsen Honeydew) — was its self-aware opening song.

“And everyone knows the sequels never quite as good,” sings the cast, consisting of the familiar faces of Kermit the Frog (voiced by Steve Whitmore), Fozzie the Bear (Eric Jacobson), Gonzo the Great (Dave Goelz) and more.

The plot may be overdone, but its decent enough. It follows Kermit and friends on their world tour. Ricky Gervais plays Dominic Badguy — a scheming producer and accomplice to evil frog Constantine (“Sesame Street” voice actor Matt Vogel). Dominic and Constantine use the touring muppet show as their alibi to their thefts across Europe. It helps that Kermit looks exactly like Constantine, so Constantine switches places with Kermit — becoming head of the muppets while Kermit gets mistakenly locked up in the Siberian equivalent of Sing Sing with warden Nadya (Tina Fey).

Like director James Bobin’s “The Muppets” (2011), “Muppets Most Wanted” pays homage to the original Jim Henson films (in some scenes we see Constantine watching the old Jim Henson clips while he tries to learn and replicate Kermit’s vocal patterns). The new film even follows the familiar formula of “The Muppets Take Manhattan” (1984): an obvious diabolical villain character, Kermit’s distance and reunion with his friends, the frog and pig wedding, the cameo appearances from celebrities (this time including Lady Gaga, Tom Hiddleston and Usher). The plot of the 1984 film even gets mentioned in “Muppets Most Wanted.”

“It’s about getting The Muppets back together again to stop an evil oil baron from demolishing the old studio,” says Fozzie Bear.

Still, “Muppets Most Wanted” feels like its trying too hard. It feels as phony as Tina Fey’s stereotypical Russian accent (though, at least the Russian accents give voice actors a forgivable excuse for sounding a tad off). The gags are repeated, but they’re nowhere near as avant-garde as what Henson created in the late ’70s to ’80s films.

But even if this muppet movie — written by Bobin and Nicholas Stoller — feels forced, the muppets are a relatively lucrative business for Disney (who bought the franchise in 2004). And we can be sure this won’t be their last act.

“Muppets Most Wanted” was directed by James Bobin and written by Bobin and Nicholas Stoller.

‘Neighbors’: a non-stop party

Remember Joel Schumacher’s 1985 Razzle Award-winning coming-of-age film “St. Elmo’s Fire”? The New York Times’ Janet Maslin wrote, “Its characters are old enough to enjoy the first flushes of prosperity, but still sufficiently youthful to keep their self-absorption intact. But soon enough, they will be forced to give up their late-night carousing at a favorite bar and move on to more responsible lives. In the film’s terms, which are distinctly limited, this will mean finding a more sedate hangout and learning to go there for brunch.”

That, too, is the basic premise of Nicholas Stoller’s comedy, “Neighbors.” Written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, “Neighbors” stars new parents, Mac (Seth Rogan) and Kelly Radner (Rose Bryne). They’re convinced that they’re the “cool” parents — who can take care of their baby and go to all-night ragers.

“Just because we have a house and a baby doesn’t mean we’re old people,” says Kelly.

“We can have fun and a baby,” adds Mac.

But when the Delta Psi Beta boys (with leading men Zac Efron as fraternity president Teddy Sanders and Dave Franco as VP Pete) move next door (they burned down their last frat house), Mac and Kelly learn that they actually prefer brunch at farmer’s markets and making themed baby calendars and going to bed at (gasp!) 10 o’clock.

Like last summer’s comedy hit “This is the End,” half of the appeal of “Neighbors” are the the surprise celebrity cameos. Andy Samberg’s (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Saturday Night Live”) featured as the toga party founder in a Delta Psi Beta flashback. Lisa Kudrow (“Friends”) plays the university’s dean. Adam DeVine (“Pitch Perfect,” “Modern Family”) invents beer pong. Jake Johnson’s (“New Girl”) the creator of the “Boot & Bally” — a maneuver where you drink until you throw up, which you drink again (Sadly, the “True American” isn’t one of the party games mentioned). Even Steve Carrell makes an appearance in the film as “The Office’s” Michael Scott. “Bros before hoes,” he says in front of a Dunder Mifflin sign.

At times, “Neighbors” feels like an audition reel for “Saturday Night Live’s” Lorne Michaels.  Zac Efron and Seth Rogan duel with their opposing Batman impersonations (Efron’s Christian Bale while Rogan’s Michael Keaton). Efron and Franco impersonate Robert De Niro. Ike Barinholtz (“The Mindy Project”) pulls a mean Ray Romano and Barack Obama. And Australian actress Rose Byrne plays a spot-on Anne Hathaway.

The comedy, though, is the spoonful of sugar that helps us swallow some of the film’s tougher storylines. Teddy’s graduating from college life. Pete’s a child of divorce. Everyone has to grow up — which is hard to do.

Like Rob Lowe’s character in “St. Elmo’s Fire,” Efron’s Teddy gets by with his good looks — batting his baby blues and strutting around half naked in front of an Abercrombie & Fitch store. He’s the Peter Pan who will never grow up — who can’t function outside his 4/20 parties and all-night keggers. The kind of alpha male who gets left behind when everyone moves on.

Before “Neighbors” shines that harsh light on reality, though, Stoller’s film extolls the hedonistic lifestyle with a number of highly stylized party anthems (including Theophilus London’s “Girls Girls $,” Icona Pop’s “All Night,” Fergie’s “London Bridge” and Kei$ha’s “Die Young”).

The fun lasts 96 minutes and is infectious: a non-stop party full of your favorite people — who just happen to be super-talented celebrities from TV and film.  And while this party isn’t at James Franco’s house (this time) — at least you can get in with the price of a movie ticket.

TRIGGER WARNING: “Neighbors” contains rape and gun jokes.

“Neighbors” was directed by Nicholas Stoller and written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien.