THE FAULT IN OUR STARS
The first words heard in the romantic tearjerker The Fault in Our Stars come from Shailene Woodley's cancer-stricken teen Hazel, who tells us, in voice-over narration, that Hollywood movies are never honest in their depiction of sad stories, and promises that when it comes to the sad story she's about to relate, "This is the truth." And in retrospect, the film lost me with those four little words, because almost nothing that happened over the next two-plus hours felt even close to true.
I know, I know: I'm a monster. Could anyone other than a monster, after all, fail to be touched by this adaptation of John Green's madly popular YA novel, which finds Hazel and fellow "cancer kid" Gus (Ansel Elgort) falling in love despite the continual threat of death? Wasn't I moved when the sardonic, clear-headed Hazel tried, in vain, to deny her feelings for the devoted, persistently cheerful Gus because she didn't want to hurt him? Didn't I weep like a baby when the pair found themselves in the Amsterdam attic where Anne Frank and her family hid, and began making out while their fellow tourists, listening to Anne's voice on a phonograph, nodded approvingly and applauded the teens' PDA?
Uh, no. Nor was I taken with the "truthful" meet-cute in which Hazel and Gus literally bump into one another, nor the "truthful" sit-comedy involving the kids' Jesus-freak counselor and Gus' ever-present unlit cigarette and horrible driving skills, nor Hazel's penchant for "truthful" dialogue such as "I'm a grenade, and one day, I'm gonna explode and obliterate everything in my wake." To be sure, it's nearly impossible to begrudge the affection that so many teen and tween girls feel for the Fault in Our Stars movie. Listening to them laugh and cry and swoon at the screening I attended (and yes, when Gus finally voiced his love for Hazel, I heard audible swooning), it was obvious that for the film's target demographic, director Josh Boone and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber had done their job and then some. But let's be clear: This is not the truth. This is a romantic fantasy about two perfect kids with perfect parents who deliver perfectly elocuted (i.e., perfectly false) sentiments until cancer inevitably ends their perfect love. That the film is sincere doesn't mean it's not also a crock.
Whatever. Let's just chalk it up to the movie being profoundly Not for Me. I was moved by a couple of moments with Laura Dern as Hazel's mom, and while, at this point, I'm thinking I may never get fully on board with Shailene Woodley - her much-admired "naturalism" always strikes me as completely practiced - she enacts her saintly character about as well as anyone could. Willem Dafoe does fine with a senseless role as a grizzled, alcoholic author. And although I found Elgort, who resembles a beefier Michael Cera, nearly insufferable with his one-smile-for-all-occasions blandness, at least his Gus had the good sense, on the plane ride to Amsterdam, to be watching Aliens, a movie I consider 10 times more engaging, honest, and legitimately emotional than The Fault in Our Stars. And that's the truth.
EDGE OF TOMORROW
A sci-fi thriller with the soul of a screwball comedy, director Doug Liman's Edge of Tomorrow casts Tom Cruise as a cowardly military flack who finds himself fighting a beachfront insurrection by tentacled marauders only to be killed, to wake up, and to find himself fighting them over and over again. In short, it's like Starship Troopers meets Saving Private Ryan meets Groundhog Day, and just about as much weird-ass fun as that description suggests. Visually dazzling and brilliantly edited though it is, my interest in the film waned as soon as Cruise's endless time/space loop stopped looping, and the movie turned into every routine summertime blockbuster that it had, to that point, been mercilessly satirizing. But there's no way I can dismiss the considerable pleasures of its first 90 minutes, with Cruise's character ve-e-ery gradually figuring out how he and Emily Blunt's warrior are to defeat the alien armada (ritual suicide plays a big part of it), and Cruise himself looser and flakier and funnier than he's been on-screen in nearly two decades. Whether unsuccessfully trying to blackmail Brendan Gleeson's unflappable general or attempting to match wits with Bill Paxton's grinning-sumbitch sergeant - or merely trudging along the beach in body armor that's clearly heavier than he is - Cruise is a master comedian here, and so lacking in his traditional vanity that he appears perfectly content to let Blunt emerge as the film's true ass-kicking hero. Edge of Tomorrow is for anyone who ever wanted to watch Jerry Maguire battle invaders from outer space, or anyone who ever wanted to watch Tom Cruise die on-screen 20 times in a row. I can't be the only one.