Movie-studio execs must’ve thought releasing a sad teenage romance and a big sci-fi action thriller on the same weekend meant they were targeting different audiences, but I don’t belong to any one group so I decided to see both. First up:
The Fault in Our Stars
Based on the mega-hit novel of the same name by John Green (which I haven’t read), adapted for the screen by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber.
Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is a 16-year-old living with thyroid cancer, which has spread to her lungs. She’s on an experimental drug that can keep her stabilized for an unknown amount of time, but she has to drag an oxygen tank with her (it’s like a rolling backpack) everywhere she goes.
In cancer support group, she meets Gus (Ansel Elgort), who’s been cancer-free for 18 months, though his lower right leg was amputated as part of treatment. Gus starts courting her, and even the cynical Hazel can’t help eventually falling for his charms. Their love affair has a ticking clock attached, but the two set out to make the best of the time they have together.
At one point, Hazel’s dad says, “We are not sentimental people,” and the movie’s tone mostly adheres to that statement. Woodley’s performance is clear-eyed (even if you don’t stay that way while watching her) and never asks for pity. She doesn’t wear a stitch of (detectable) makeup but Gus’s attraction to her is understandable—she has an easy grace and smarts to spare.
Gus’s cockiness is almost off-putting at first, and then he follows Hazel around with moony eyes, wearing his feelings on the outside. I don’t know if this is how he was written but the way Elgort plays him, Gus is like a puppy, and his chemistry with Hazel is more sweet and familial than romantic (and I say this without having seen Woodley and Elgort playing brother and sister in Divergent).
Memorable supporting turns come from Laura Dern as Hazel’s mother and Nat Wolff as Gus’s friend Isaac. The onion ninjas are also out in full force so be prepared for lots of eye leakage.
Nerd verdict: Moving Fault
Based on the Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, adapted by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth.
Giant aliens called Mimics are attacking Earth and Earth is losing the fight. Not that you can tell from the media coverage, because Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is spinning the situation like crazy, making the world think humans have a chance of winning, causing legions of people to join the United Defense Force (UDF), an international military.
Due to a disagreement with General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), Cage ends up on the front lines when the UDF invades an unnamed beach (I don’t think it’s a coincidence this movie opened on the 70th anniversary of D-Day).
As a paper pusher who’s never been battle-trained, Cage quickly bites the dust. But he wakes up with a chance to repeat the day. Over and over. And over. Until he destroys the Omega, which is like the aliens’ Death Star, or its control center. Think of it as a video game. If you die, you play it again until you stop getting killed and can move on to the next level and finish the game.
It’s amusing to see Cruise, well known for his daredevil stunts, start out as a sissy who doesn’t even know how to turn on the weapons in his metal armor. Before some of his deaths, knowing it’s coming, he’d whine, “Aw, maaan,” or “Son of a bitch!” He becomes more competent as the movie progresses, eventually turning into the intense action man he’s built his career on.
The revelation here is Emily Blunt as Rita, called the Angel of Verdun for her astonishing alien-killing skills on the battlefield in that French city. We already know Blunt can be funny and smart; now we know she can also be tough and buff. Some actors think being a badass involves snarling and chewing scenery. Blunt just embodies the spirit of a warrior, with her quiet confidence and steady eyes, and when she says, “I’m a soldier,” you believe her completely.
Director Doug Liman keeps a tight rein on the thrilling action scenes, and for a movie that involves lots of dying, it’s much less bloody than the typical video game. Something it doesn’t kill? Your brain cells.
Nerd verdict: Thrilling Edge
Photos: Fault/Twentieth Century Fox; Edge/Warner Bros.