Monday, December 22, 2014

2014 at the Movies: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Near the end of Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), Caesar (Roddy McDowall) vanquishes the insurrectionist, Aldo (Claude Akin) and simultaneously reinforces Ape Law, paradoxically the edict that “ape shall not kill ape.” 

Meanwhile, Caesar’s human adviser, MacDonald (Austin Stoker) notes that by confronting the notion that laws must occasionally be bent and values re-examined, the apes have irrevocably joined “the human race.”

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) is a vibrant, moving, beautifully-dramatized series entry that very much concerns the same reckoning. 

The new film revolves around Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) fall from grace or innocence, and the lesson that apes are not superior to man merely because of their nature. The world is not always a case of us vs. them, good vs. bad.  Caesar learns this in the film, though with great difficulty.

In addition to being a rock-solid remake of (and improvement over…) Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the new film -- in the best tradition of the long-lived franchise -- features a powerful subtext and social critique. 

In this case, much of the new film revolves around the very quality that is damaging our nation so grievously today: tribalism

And in gazing at the pitfalls of tribalism, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes asks explicitly (in its very dialogue) about something else. 

It asks about strength, and what that word truly means.

Does strength stem from superior numbers? From family?  From racial unity?  From the barrel of a gun?  

Does strength come from an irrational refusal to compromise with those who don’t see the world precisely as you do?  

When faced with facts that disprove your world-view, do you double-down anyway, in hopes of being seen as "resolute?" Or do you adjust to facts and go a different way?

Instead of these answers, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes suggests another definition of strength. Strength can, perhaps, emerge from an understanding that your tribe has made a mistake. Strength, in some cases, is all about having the guts to do something about an injustice you have played a role in creating.

In terms of the film, this is the chaotic terrain that Caesar must navigate, and there are no easy answers, and no guarantees that his answers are the right ones, either.  The humans and apes by-and-large double down on hatred and distrust, and the film's climax reveals exactly where that kind of thinking leads.  This is not an empty lesson in America of today, where we have become divided by labels like liberal and conservative that, in the final analysis, don't even adequately describe our beliefs.

A serious-minded, carefully-structured morality play, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes also daringly eschews all the bells-and-whistles we have come to expect from modern summer blockbusters. For instance, there are no action scenes in the film that exist just to wow us or bowl us over. 

Furthermore, there is no gimmicky “surprise” final shot in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that attempts to up-stage the famous Statue of Liberty ending of the 1968 original.  The film ends as it begins, with extreme close-ups of a leader’s intelligent eyes as he carries the weight of his people, and the future, on his shoulders.  These book-end images place emphasis exactly where it should be: on Caesar’s learning curve as a rational leader, family man (or ape), and guardian of moral values in an uncertain world.

Most delightfully, there is no fan service to speak of in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, no moments that make us reckon with the existence of a larger franchise, or franchise history. Not a soul jokingly quotes famous Charlton Heston dialogue or plays with Statue of Liberty toys.   

Instead, director Matt Reeves lands us smack-dab in the planet of the apes, and tells us a great, involving, heart-wrenching story while we are there.

In the process, he’s given audiences the best Apes movie in a generation.

“Who the hell else am I going to blame?”

Ten years after the Simian Flu wipes out most of humanity, Caesar (Serkis) leads a society of intelligent apes in the safety and beauty of Muir Woods.  A father to a new-born son and a teen, Blue Eyes, Caesar and his friends, including Koba, Rocket and  Maurice, have established new laws to guide the primates, including the edict that ape shall not kill ape.

One day, in the woods, Blue Eyes and another ape, Ash, encounter a human, Carver.  The human immediately draws a gun and shoots Ash, though the ape survives.  Caesar orders Carver and his human cohorts, including Malcolm (Jason Clarke), Ellie (Keri Russell) and Malcolm’s boy, Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to return to their home, and never to return to the forest, the realm of the apes.

But the incident has already set in motion a series of events that can’t be undone.  Distrustful of humans, Koba begins to form an insurrection against Caesar, recruiting even the leader’s own son, Blue Eyes.

And back in San Francisco, the leader of the human colony, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) prepares for war with the apes.  His people need to generate electricity using a dam in ape territory, and rather than see humanity fall back into the Dark Ages, Dreyfus is willing to kill to keep the lights on.

Malcolm and Caesar work together to help the human city maintain its power, but dark forces on both sides of the tribal divide plot to break the fragile peace.

“War has begun.”

Firstly, there can be no doubt that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a remake of Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973).  Events and some specific characters are different, it is true, but in terms of spirit and intent, the two films boast many connections.

Both films, for example, reveal Caesar’s Ape civilization at an early stage of existence in the middle of a picturesque forest.  

In the Ape worlds of both Dawn and Battle the apes are depicted learning written language on the equivalent of chalk boards. More than that, they are learning a new law, which in both films is that, explicitly, “ape shall not kill ape.”

Similarly, both Battle and Dawn involve the march of the generations. 

In both films, we see that Caesar is a husband and a father. In Battle, his son is murdered by an insurrectionist, Aldo, and that is nearly the case, as well, in Dawn. Uniquely, the son of Caesar character is also visually associated with guns in both pictures.  

In Battle, we see young Cornelius playing a childhood game with a stick.  He pretends it is a gun, and make-believe “shoots” a human opponent.  

In Dawn, Caesar’s boy, Blue Eyes, picks up a real gun, and goes to war, though ultimately he regrets his actions.

Significantly, both films also find Caesar returning to the ruins of an old (human) city and unearthing there the wisdom of his father.  

In Battle for the Planet of the Apes, Caesar sees film-reel footage of Cornelius, who warns him that the world will end in bloodshed if the militarism and anti-human beliefs of ape culture are not put down.  

In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar returns to the San Francisco home we saw in the previous film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and watches recorded images from his own childhood.  He sees that Will Rodman (James Franco) loved him…and gave him a home.  This footage reminds him of a fact he once knew: not all humans are bad.

In both cases, the (dead) father provides the wisdom that Caesar needs to help him choose sides, and avoid unnecessary blood-shed. 

Many of the story beats in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes also follow those featured in Battle. 

For example, in both stories there is an inter-species war (ape vs. man) that “good” apes (like Caesar, Virgil, and Maurice and Rocket) don’t wish to undertake.  Apes and humans fight, but the war is expressly against the will of this group, who argue instead for peace.

Secondly, both films also feature an insurrection in the fragile, protean ape culture, led by a war-like ape that steals machine guns from an armory. 

In Battle, that ape was a gorilla, Aldo.  In Dawn, it’s Koba.  

In Battle, Aldo steals from the Ape armory, which is guarded by Caesar’s "conscience," a kindly old ape named Mandemus (Lew Ayres).  

In Dawn, Koba robs from the humans and takes their guns.

In terms of specific set pieces and theme, both films also end with a literal fall, one visually representing a fall from innocence. Aldo falls to his death from a high tree branch in Battle, after combating Caesar. Koba falls to his death from a high skyscraper scaffold after combating Caesar in Dawn. 

The setting has changed subtly in the battle, but the nature of the setting -- the highest branch that apes always seek out, so-to-speak -- and the conclusion (a fall from grace…) serve as the metaphorical and physical climax of both Ape pictures.

The fall from grace plays out in another way too. 

In both films, Caesar is forced to kill an ape that he trusted, in direct contravention of the law that ape shall not kill ape.  Yet he does so, ironically, to assure the continuance of ape culture and ape law. Thus his people -- in both films -- must reckon with a complicated nuance or shade of gray. The law must sometimes be bent or broken to save it for future generations. Values must periodically be hauled out and re-examined. In this case -- and only sometimes -- to save civilization, an ape must kill an ape, alas.

The notion of tribalism overwhelming reason is a consistent leitmotif in the film.

For example, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and his human cohorts risk everything for...electricity. They have decided, at some point, that electricity equates to civilization in their eyes, and they are not willing to step-down from that belief.  

No matter what. 

The humans could use torches or fires to light the night-time of San Francisco, but instead they cling to a delusion. They want things exactly the way they used to be....even though the Old World is now completely dead. They thus cling to a convention or tradition not because it makes sense in the present, but because it made sense in the past. They can't adjust to the present, and rather than do so, will kill to preserve a tradition that they cherish.

The same humans then double-down over this need for electricity. When faced with a challenge in acquiring it, they don't re-examine their beliefs. Instead, they decide it is valid to start a war and take it by force, killing many innocents on both sides in the process.  

Similarly, humans like Carver blame the apes for Simian Flu, successfully marginalizing them as enemies of humanity when that isn't precisely the case. When Carver is pointed to the facts by Ellie: that the apes were experimented on by humans, and that humans created the Simian Flu, Carver -- like others -- doubles-down on his ignorance and refuses to acknowledge the unpleasant truth.

Importantly, Koba also doubles-down on hatred and false beliefs. Even though situations have changed dramatically in ten years, he can see humans only as the monsters who tortured and abused him. He is now free of that captivity and safe, and human civilization has fallen to ruin, but he doesn't let such facts interfere with his consuming hatred for an "enemy."

In reckoning with such notions, Dawn operates on a plateau of moral and storytelling complexity well beyond its impressive predecessor. In Rise, it is easy for Caesar and his ape army to hate humans, for they have come to know humans only as sadistic and cruel. 

Caesar’s learning curve is much more difficult in Dawn, as he deals with the fact that it is an ape, not a human, who endangers the future of ape society. Life is rarely so simple as tribalism makes it out to be. There are villains and heroes among "us" and among "them."

If Rise is about Caesar taking control of his life, Dawn is about Caesar realizing that life is far more complex than he had understood. But he is ultimately a strong leader (and a great character) because he takes responsibility for his actions and mistakes, specifically for trusting Koba instead of realizing that apes too can "double down" on violent tendencies and beliefs.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes examines the tribal mind-set well, without ever seeming preachy. Koba gains adherents by suggesting, explicitly, that Caesar loves humans more than he loves apes. This is not even close to being a true statement, and yet when apes see Caesar cooperating with humans, Koba’s words gain a certain level of surface legitimacy. 

In point of fact, Caesar is merely attempting to prevent bloodshed, because he knows how it will ultimately end: with many deaths among “us” and “them.”  But to some apes, he has become weak. Why give aid and comfort to the enemy?

On the flip-side, why not help someone who could one day be a trusted friend?

Ultimately, we see that it is Koba who is the weaker individual, because he cannot look past his own grievances and stereotyped views of humans to see that the men around him --Malcolm, Ellie and Alexander -- want only what the apes want: to survive.  Instead, he looks at them as being part of a tribe that he hates, and so writes them off without a second look.

Again, the message is one worth repeating.  Liberal or conservative, Christian or atheist, straight or gay, black or white, male or female, ape or man, we all love our children and all want to live happy lives in freedom. Why do we have to demonize each other when we have in common such important traits?

One nice aspect of the film is that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes treats human beings and apes as, essentially, mirror images, and no one side emerges as more villainous, thus making a point about tribalism that transcends partisan politics. 

Dreyfus cannot see the apes as anything more than mere animals, and so, like Koba, bases his decisions on faulty, out-dated information. In some way, then, the film suggests that the worst tribal instincts occur when we believe things of other people that perhaps once were true, but may no longer be so. We must examine such "truth" for ourselves, and see if it holds up. We must constantly adapt to reality, instead of trying to construct reality out of old, mistaken precepts.

In both cases, intelligent beings resort to tribal identities and loyalties rather than to reading the facts, and the results are disastrous for a planet already in dire straits. 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes also reveals what happens when toxic tribalism meets gun-ownership...and the results aren’t pretty.  

At the risk of wading into controversy, it’s difficult to deny the fact that the carnage in this film would have been much less significant without all the fire-arms. In this case, guns only make a tense situation that much more horrible and bloody. Guns don’t really protect anybody in the film, or make a single outcome more positive. Contrarily, they render every confrontation more dangerous by a multiplicative factor. When both sides are acting irrationally and with extreme violence, how, precisely, do you discern who the "good guy with a gun" happens to be?

What you're really doing in a situation like this is basing your judgment on a biased pre-conceived notion, choosing the side of someone who happens to dress or otherwise look like you do. And that too is a resort to tribalism instead of rationality and reason.

On another subject entirely, with Rise of the Planet of the Apes I worried some about the plot device of Simian Flu wiping out humanity, instead of humanity wiping out himself in a nuclear war, as was the case in the original 1968 film.  

How could apes hate man so much after 2000 years unless man had acted in such a rash, horrible, planet-destroying way?

To my delight, Dawn provides the answer. 

It suggests that even in an end-of-the-world scenario, apes and man can’t put down their tribalism long enough to talk, to logically reason out a lasting peace for both.  Generations may pass, but hatred lives on.

Since we are long out of the Cold War at this juncture in our history, and the kind of irrational tribalism featured in the film is getting scary and murderous in real life right now, I appreciate the re-boot saga’s focus on that problem. 

In 2014, we can readily extrapolate a post-apocalyptic future whereinn tribalism is all that's left of civilization. Separate tribes, huddled in fear, lashing out at anything different or new, the person with the biggest cache of guns dictating what is defined as strength, and what is seen as weakness.

Finally, I must note  that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is beautifully-shot, but I was especially impressed by the moments in the last act, wherein the titular orange dawn arrives at last. Caesar braces for a war he doesn’t want against people he doesn’t hate, with soldiers he doesn't want to see die. Malcolm, behind him, seems to recede into shadow...until he disappears into blackness.  

This is the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes indeed, but visually, it is also the Total Eclipse of Mankind.  Malcolm -- the good man -- disappears into shadow, darkness, and history as a new force, a new tribe rises.

What happens when a leader less wise than Caesar takes the reigns of ape culture?  What will that "new" tribe be like then?

I suspect we will learn the answer to such questions in future Ape movies, and I very much like the notion that this version of the story exists in the same universe as the first five films. This tale could be interpreted as the rise of the apes before the time travel interference of Milo, Zira and Cornelius, and their son, who “becomes” Caesar in that time line.  

This is how the ape revolution began the first time, and Rise and Dawn depict the events that led to the world Taylor found in the original 1968 film. His ship then returned to the present (in Escape) and altered that history, changing everything. 

What we are seeing, then, in Rise and Dawn plays like “unaltered” ape history, a chronology in which man causes his own downfall (through irresponsible science first, and then tribalism), and apes rise. 

Perhaps, even at some point, desperate humans will launch nukes in a last-ditch effort to prove their "strength" in the face of an ape culture on the rise, thus creating the Forbidden Zone. Who knows?  A clever writer can square the circle in any number of ways and get us right back to Chuck Heston paddling for shore on that picturesque dead lake.

But in the final analysis, it doesn’t really matter, I suppose, how Dawn of the Planet of the Apes fits in with a forty-year old continuity. What matters instead is that this film speaks powerfully to us in the here and now as cogently as the 1968 original did to audiences of its day.

Back then, we thought we would blow each other up in a nuclear war. Today, our contentious tribalism is the danger looming on on the horizon, threatening to tear down what so many have worked so long and hard to build and protect.

And if that happens, says Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, our own worst human instincts will have made monkeys out of all of us.

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Christmas

‘Tis the season to be jolly…

Christmas is a spiritual holiday in the Christian faith, celebrating the birth of Jesus.

In modern American culture, Christmas is more than that broad religious description entails as well.

Christmas is a time of forgiveness, and a time of redemption. It is a season of second chances, unexplained grace, and fellowship with loved ones. 

Christmas is a time of the year represented by many symbols, including that great gift-giver, Santa Claus, the Nativity, Christmas trees, and even snow-fall.

The “Christmas episode” is a mainstay of cult television too. Throughout history, many series feature a holiday-themed story that can be rerun across the years.

One of the most famous Christmas stories is “Night of the Meek” on The Twilight Zone (1959 – 1964). In this tale, a drunk man, played by Art Carney, through a night of strife and redemption ascends to the positions of Santa Claus.  The story was remade for the 1980s version of The Twilight Zone as well.

On Millennium (1996 – 1999), the second season episode “Midnight of the Century” is also a tale for the season, and concerns, explicitly family, particularly Frank Black’s (Lance Henriksen) family.  This episode introduces Darren McGavin as Frank’s father. While Frank plans a Christmas for his daughter, Jordan (Brittany Tiplady), he also remembers holidays from his childhood.

On Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003), the episode “Amends” concerns the topic of forgiveness and redemption as it pertains to Angel (David Boreanaz), the vampire with a soul. The First Evil (a villain who would recur in the seventh season) taunts Angel with the presence of all the people he has killed over the years, including Jenny Calendar. Buffy helps Angel, and at the end of the episode, an unexpected snowfall in Sunnydale acts as a kind of cleansing or catharsis for him.

The X-Files (1993 – 2002) also features a Christmas episode, “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas,” in which Scully and Mulder enter a haunted house and meet two ghosts (Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner), who help them contextualize their own relationship in a new way.  The episode ends with Scully and Mulder exchanging presents in Mulder’s apartment.

Other series, such as The Six-Million Dollar Man (1973 – 1978), and even Doctor Who (2005 - ) have featured Christmas stories that explicitly reference Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

The Cult-TV Faces of: Christmas

Identified by Hugh: The Twilight Zone: "Night of the Meek"


Identified by SGB: The Six Million Dollar Man: "A Bionic Christmas Carol"

Identified by Hugh: Mystery Science Theater 3000

Identified by Hugh: Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

Identified by SGB: Star Trek Voyager: "Death Wish"

Identified by Hugh: The X-Files: "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas."

Identified by Terri Wilson: Millennium: "Midnight of the Century"


Identified by Hugh: Supernatural


Identified by Hugh: Grimm
Identified by Hugh: The Vampire Diaries
Identified by Hugh: Arrow

Identified by Hugh: Doctor Who

Sunday, December 21, 2014

All I Want for Christmas Countdown #4: The Black Hole Toys (1979; Mego)

At Flashbak: Have a Merry Scary Christmas: 5 Cult-TV Christmas Episodes to Terrorize Your Holiday

My newest article at Flashbak looks at Christmas episodes of horror TV series.

Here's a snippet (and the url: )

"If you’re looking for a little terror in your holidays -- a brand that even a visit from the in-laws can’t provide -- you may want to consider viewing these memorable episodes from horror TV history.

There are many great Christmas themed tales in horror-TV history, from The Twilight Zone’s (1959 – 1964) “Night of the Meek” to Night Gallery’s (1969 – 1973) “The Messiah on Mott Street.”  In fact, the best Christmas-themed story of all might very well be Millennium’s (1996 – 1999) “Midnight of the Century.”

But the subject here isn’t a heart-warming tale of the season, but pure holiday terror.  With that thought in mind, here are five creepy-as-hell Christmas stories.

Happy Holidays!"

Advert Artwork: The Black Hole Edition

2014 at the Movies: Edge of Tomorrow

Since the couch-jumping drama on Oprah nearly a decade ago, movie star Tom Cruise has drawn much flak from the mainstream and Internet press.  
And yet, objectively, one should also recognize that Cruise has consistently lent his considerable power, influence and resources to the science fiction genre.
Specifically, since 2002 Cruise has headlined four sequel-less, non-franchise-oriented genre pictures: Minority Report (2002), War of the Worlds (2005), Oblivion (2013) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014).
Even depending on vicissitudes of personal taste, you may agree that at least three of those titles are modern-day genre masterpieces. 
We just may disagree on which three...
Another way to put this is that while today’s studios and stars have gone gaga over endless and incestuous superhero sequels and YA franchises in cinematic form, Cruise has purposefully and meaningfully committed his resources to top-of-the-line adult genre imaginings.
Cruise’s newest effort, Edge of Tomorrow (2014) failed rather dramatically at the box office this weekend, and yet it is, by my estimation, just such a modern masterpiece. It is this summer’s John Carter (2012): a science fiction effort of exuberance, intelligence, humanity, and tremendous artistry.  It is an enormously entertaining film and more.
Yet for reasons that likely have nothing to do with the Doug Liman film -- and much to do with the demands of modern mainstream audiences -- it has not yet caught fire as it should.  To me, that fact suggests that the American box office is perhaps hopelessly broken, a place where only “brand name” sequels, prequels, re-boots and remakes can thrive.
For Edge of Tomorrow isn’t just an enjoyable sci-fi film, it is perhaps the best “altered states” or “mind-fuck”-type science fiction venture since The Matrix (1999).
And if audiences aren’t interested in seeing something so good, so powerfully-wrought…the question must become: why?
But hopefully it isn’t too late for strong word of mouth to get out about Edge of Tomorrow, and if you haven’t seen it yet…go.
Edge of Tomorrow proves triumphant on three creative or artistic fronts. 
First, it honors our collective past by remembering D-Day, and the way that allies across the globe gathered to defeat a threat to our very freedom. 
Much of Edge of Tomorrow’s action concerns an Information Age version of the landing at Normandy that occurred on June 6, 1944, seventy years ago to the date of the film’s release.  This allusion to the past asks modern audiences to remember a time when people were united in a worthwhile cause, not divided by petty differences.
Secondly, Edge of Tomorrow dynamically concerns communication, and tags effective communication as the very thing that can save a world at war.
The film’s central conflict pits an alien hive-mind -- essentially one brain -- against the individual minds of diverse humanity.  By constructing this comparison, the film (based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need is Kill) raises significant questions about how humans relate, and more aptly, how they could better relate.
Thirdly, and perhaps most impressively, Edge of Tomorrow more closely approximates the act of playing a video game than any other film yet created.
Old school film critics like to complain vociferously when any movie looks too much like a “video game,” of course, but in the last several years, we have seen just how much video games have come into their own as an art form.  They are now a crucial aspect of modern pop culture. 
Edge of Tomorrow pinpoints valid, pro-social reasons for the format’s existence, and thus speaks to a future in which, I suspect, film and games will grow more closely related than ever before.
I have seen critics describe this film as a kind of sci-fi version of Groundhog’s Day (1993), but Edge of Tomorrow is inventive in a manner all its own. For example, the film plays lightly with the established Tom Cruise persona, and gives the actor his best role since War of the Worlds, where he played a deadbeat Dad trying to make good.  The film is also exciting to a degree we haven’t seen in some time…an action film in which the action looks and feels real, and in which the suspense becomes almost unbearable because we have become so invested in the protagonists’ cause (and their continued survival).

In Edge of Tomorrow, Earth has been invaded by terrifying, hostile aliens known as Mimics.  The vast majority of Europe has fallen to these conquering extra-terrestrials, but the nations of the world, thanks to the introduction of a new fighting technology -- exoskeleton suits called jackets -- are on the verge of winning the war.
Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a PR flack for the war cause, and is responsible for recruiting hundreds if not thousands of young soldiers to the cause.  But when General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) orders Cage to the front to film the landing of invasion forces at Normandy, Cage has an outbreak of cowardice.  He is not a soldier, and he refuses to fight.  When Brigham won’t back down, he tries to blackmail his superior officer.
Brigham promptly has Cage arrested and sent to the front…as a deserter. 
After one night of basic training with a group called J-Squad, Cage is then dropped onto the beaches of France during the first moments of the invasion.  The bad news is that the Mimics were expecting this move, and meet the invading armies with lethal force.
On the battlefield, Cage encounters a war hero “The Angel of Verdun,” Rita (Emily Blunt), but sees her die in a blaze of glory.  And when he is attacked by a larger-than-normal Mimic, Cage sees the alien blood splattered on his face. 
Then, he dies…
…Only to awake and have the same last day to “do over.”
Cage tries to determine what is happening to him, and relives the day several times, attempting different avenues of escape from the beach.  All fail.
Now Cage must learn about Rita – a person who knows something about his plight -- and figure out not only how to survive the day, but defeat the aliens in the process.
In particular, Cage learns that the Mimics are a hive mind, and that the alien general, called an Omega, is hidden far from the front.  Rita trains Cage to survive the battle on the beach, and find and destroy the Omega, but all that must happen in one day, or the Mimic invasion succeeds and humanity dies.

There’s an old song with lyrics that go “what a difference a day makes,” and Edge of Tomorrow concerns, literally, making the most of one twenty-four hour period.  

If Cage -- a man literally “caged” by fate -- can make allies, gain territory and defeat one enemy, the Omega, he will save the planet. 

If not, mankind will die.

That’s a tall order for any one individual, and fortunately Cage develops some key allies during the film.  His one constant ally is Rita, and I admire how the film visualizes this “Angel of Verdun” as the “glue” in Cage’s stream of endless do-overs and resets.

Specifically, Rita meets Cage while physically training.  We see her stretched out on the floor in a yoga position, a Vinyasa position. 

The vinyasa is a move in yoga that “interlinks postures to form a continuous flow” (per Wikipedia) and creates a ‘movement meditation that reveals all forms as being impermanent.” 

This is very much Rita’s role in Cage’s odyssey, which is why -- no doubt -- we get to see (the splendid...) vinyasa again and again in the march of Cage’s days. 

The vinyasa pose visually implies that Rita is the crucial linkage that allows Cage to move forward.  She is the one who knows what he is going through, because she has possessed the same “gift” or curse he now possesses.  She is also the one who introduces Cage to deeper knowledge about the Mimics, particularly the Omega. 

And finally, Rita is the person who convinces those in J-Squad that Cage is telling the truth about his strange experience, and not just some lunatic.  She is the linkage which not only makes Cage’s journey possible, but ultimately successful.  She reveals the “impermanence” of his efforts, and forms “the continuous flow” of his days, helping him progress.

Because Cage gets just one day to save the world, and is therefore allowed only a limited range of options, he must become the world’s greatest, most economical communicator.  As a former communications student myself, I appreciate this aspect of the film.  Cage very quickly learns how to avoid conflict, and say just the right thing at the right moment.  We see Cage’s trial and error first, and then watch as he aces social situations and hones his communication -- his messaging -- to crystal clarity and sharpness.

Essentially, Cage’s only strength rests with his choice in words. He is not a soldier. He is not trained in combat.  He has no power in the world into which he is thrust.  Communication becomes his spear, or his sword.  The film becomes a delightful dance as Cage must navigate his way through situations using only his ability to effectively communicate.

This proves an ironic and interesting commentary, because Cage is, essentially, a PR flak. He’s a good-looking guy who goes in front of the camera to “sell” the war in hopes of enlisting the young.  He does so based on his charisma and good-lucks. 

But suddenly -- and in a twist worthy of Rod Serling -- this shill for the military, this PR hack, must save the real world, not merely sell a product.  Suddenly, all of his powers of persuasion must be used to remain alive, and accomplish a pro-social goal. 

The philosopher Aristotle believed that rhetoric had to reflect the true nature of the speaker, and not just be an artfully constructed con job.  Therefore, you could “know” a person by his words, by his very arguments, by his cause. 

Again, this is very much the journey that Cage undertakes in the film.  He must convince others – through his words and rhetoric -- of his legitimacy, of his “gift.”

Viewed from one perspective, Edge of Tomorrow is all about answering one question.; how do convince people that you’ve never met before today that you are trustworthy, and more than that, worthy of leading them into battle, and possibly to their deaths?

To get to that place, Cage needs to go from “selling” a message, to internalizing and becoming the message himself.  I admired how the film sees Cage thinking on his feet, figuring out precisely how to say the right thing in any given situation, sitting across from any given personality.  He’s not always successful, but I believe the message is simply that it is effective communication, not weapons of mass destruction, that can wars, or change the world.

Furthermore, I loved that Edge of Tomorrow takes a shill, a coward, and a deserter, and grants him redemption.  As much as I love The Matrix, I am deeply fatigued with all the Hollywood stories featuring a “Chosen One” destined for greatness. 

What about us unlucky, un-chosen ones? Is it possible for us to be heroes too?

In Edge of Tomorrow, Cage acquires his gift through an accident, through a weird twist of fate, not by the auspices of some pre-determined or grand destiny.  And then, delightfully, he must live up to the gift that fate has handed him. The film is not about being pre-destined for greatness. Instead, it is about playing the hand you are dealt, and striving to succeed anyway.

The deliberate comparison to D-Day that the film forges -- creating a visual, futuristic corollary for the visceral beach scene you might remember from Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998) -- seems to fit well with the film’s musing about human nature.

The visuals remind us that humanity -- when working together-- has accomplished amazing things in the past.  Seventy years ago, during the Allied effort to liberate Europe, ten thousand men died.  They did so because they believed the message, simply, that they were fighting for the survival of the free world.  The cause succeeded, even though so many patriots lost their lives on those beaches, and the course of history was changed.

Edge of Tomorrow is very much concerned with the same idea, of people acting by choice as a unified force for good.  And again, this is a deliberate comparison to the Mimics, invading hordes that operate as one by nature, not by conscious selection.  This fact of alien biology makes the war all the harder for the humans.  For Mimics, working together is literally second nature.  For humans of different political, religious and ethnic stripes, it’s more like herding cats. 

And Cage is able to do that herding (for the most part) because of the friend he has in Rita, and because the “do overs” grant him the opportunity to understand what people want, and communicate with them effectively and economically on that particular basis.

All these ideas combine admirably with the video game-like nature of the film’s core structure.  Cage dies again and again, then resets and must start over.  This act of dying and getting a second, third, fourth, and fifth chance reflects the gaming process to a remarkable degree.  In video games, your avatar dies, and you then start again and your avatar gets a little further.  You die again, and then you inch forward even more. 
Eventually, through these fits and starts, you accomplish your goal, which is the game’s completion. 

Accordingly, Edge of Tomorrow very amusingly accounts for the fact that in some game resets are very brief and unsuccessful, and all the knowledge you gained leading up to your death doesn’t necessarily get used. 

For instance, at one point, Cage is treated to an almost instant, involuntary do-over when he tries to save a fellow soldier’s life, and gets crushed by a falling transport plane instead.  We’ve all had the experience in which a video game sortie goes wrong in the first few minutes (or seconds), and we don’t get to top our previous threshold.

Likewise, the film is structured a bit like a typical survival video game, with particular “arenas” that need to get defeated before the player can progress to the next level.  Mysteries must be solved and battles must be won before matriculation can occur. 

The stages or levels here might be termed, “The beach,” “the parking lot,” “the farmhouse,” and “the dam.”  

And then of course, there’s the boss battle at the Louvre, in which a more dangerous enemy -- the Omega -- must be brought down so the game can be won.

What’s the point of structuring a film in this video-game friendly fashion?  Well, a generation is coming up that doesn’t view video games as the terrible “addictive” things that many of our parents worried about.  In fact, I know I am grateful for the fact that my seven year old son plays some (age-appropriate) video games, like Minecraft because they hone his thinking, his reflexes, and encourage patience.  A good gamer -- much like Cage in Edge of Tomorrow -- demonstrates flexibility, imagination, and tenacity.

The same skills that get us through a video game get us through the hazards of life, essentially.  Games make us think about pursuing different options. They make us imagine new answers and new avenues.  And they reward discipline and patience. 

And if you quit, you don’t win, either in life or in video games.  The only difference is that in life there are (good) cheat codes.

Edge of Tomorrow is very intriguing in the way it ties these three elements -- our historic past at D-Day, efficacy in communication, and video games -- into a coherent and artistic argument about human nature. 

Through these three aspects of the film we see man’s capacity, in the past, to join in common cause.  We see, in the present, his ability to bridge gulfs and bring people together.  And through the video games, we see what could be the future of warfare. 

And really, are flexibility, imagination, and tenacity so different from the qualities those brave men had on those beaches 70 years ago?  The video game concept crystallizes these qualities but they have always been humanity’s greatest virtues.

As we move into the unbound future, those qualities will be reflected in different ways. Warfare will be different.  Space travel too.  We will learn from our failures as much as we learn from our victories, and that, in some crucial way, seems to be a key leitmotif of Edge of Tomorrow.  One brilliant moment in the film sees Cage attempt to escape from basic training by rolling under a truck.  He times it just right…he thinks.

But the scene plays out in an unconventional way that elicits laughter and also provokes thought. He doesn’t time it right at all, and the results are terminal.

Imagine how much we could achieve -- and how much we could learn -- if we could relive every day a hundred a times?

That idea represents more than enough intellectual fodder for a great science fiction movie, but Edge of Tomorrow takes that idea and runs with it, connecting it to a video-game savvy generation, and the need for common cause unity in broaching world events and global crises.

I’m certain that entertainment reporters are wasting ink (or keystrokes, I suppose) right now about how Edge of Tomorrow is a bomb, and about the downfall of Tom Cruise as a marketable star.

Well, I hope that this review can rewrite that narrative, at least a little, because Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t merely repeat old victories in the genre, it treads new ground in the same way that The Matrix did in 1999, and is a stimulating, engaging summer movie of the highest order.

Like I said, go see it.  And then experience some déjà vu and see it again.