Charlie Wilson’s War (2008)

charliewilson1With Aaron Sorkin’s script as a road map, Charlie Wilson is a character that Mike Nichols can truly have fun with. You can easily see him getting an undue amount of delight in this man who was able to do such a momentous thing while simultaneously walking on the wild side. It had to be a good story to warrant the director’s cinematic swan song.

It’s a film that’s surprisingly overflowing with talent, headlined by the big three: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. However, Amy Adams, a young Emily Blunt, and even the old veteran Ned Beatty pop up. Hanks is the undisputed star and Hoffman is the other standout among all the other players. Most of the female roles feel decidedly unsubstantial which is not too surprising given Wilson’s lifestyle. However, Charlie Wilson’s War also is a necessary piece of storytelling because it attempts to understand a period of history that for some reason is often absent from film. From 1980 to ’88 during the Carter and Reagan administrations, a lot happened — even as Dan Rather remained through it all.

charliewilson2In the opening moments, it becomes obvious that Charlie Wilson is not so much an easily corruptible representative as he is a sexed-up man who enjoys charming female company. He’s “Good Time Charlie” for good reason. He surrounds himself with pretty young things, doesn’t mind playing around a bit, and even has a cocaine charge hanging over him after a potentially objectionable night in Vegas. In fact, the attorney looking into his case is, interestingly enough, one Rudy Giuliani.

But the one thing that he had driving him was the desire to end the Soviets total obliteration of Afghanistan with their helicopters, and so he tried to spearhead the most extraordinary of covert wars which ultimately had considerable consequences. His keen ally Joanne Herring (Roberts) is resolute to get support for the oppressed people of the Middle East because it’s a religious issue. Meanwhile, CIA officer Gust Avrakos (Hoffman) battles with him over acquiring more funding. Although he’s not necessarily a great man, people like Charlie and it serves him well.

This film is fascinating, in a sense, for the implications it had for the cultural moment in which it came out. Could Charlie Wilson and Joanne Herring have had any idea that these weapons used to fight the Soviets might have fallen into the wrong hands — the hands that orchestrated 9/11? That’s certainly a big jump and perhaps an utterly unwarranted presumption, but it’s a thought that nevertheless creeps into a skeptical mind. If nothing more it suggests that all history is so intertwined and interconnected. You cannot talk about the roots of the Cold War without starting with Word War II beforehand or you cannot attempt to get at the War on Terror without acknowledging the waning years of the Cold War that preceded it.

It’s troubling in a sense that we turned these things into a righteous war. Though it is understandable to want to do what is right, and oftentimes God is used to justify certain actions, it gets difficult when there is far greater ambiguity. It’s not always as easy as good vs. evil. We are all besmirched by greed, corruption, and the like. There’s no simple way to get around this fact, even bringing to mind Bob Dylan’s classic indictment “God on our Side” right about now.

This film carries those same undertones of religion and God that feel misguided since politicians and whoever else utilize him as their ultimate justification — their ace in the hole. Gus ironically feels the most honest for his general disdain for the practice. The war against the Soviets and the War on Terrorism are undoubtedly far more complicated matters, just as a discussion of God is a complex issue in its own right. Like the famed fable of the Zen Master, all we can really say is “We’ll see.” It takes a wise person to acknowledge they don’t know the end of the story, just like they don’t know all the answers to the big questions. They can only try their best to understand what will happen and act in the most sagacious way possible.

3.5/5 Stars

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)


Time loops are fun. Scratch that. They’re fun to think about and to watch as an audience in the comfort of an armchair, but they get old real fast for movie characters. Just ask public affairs officer-turned-time looper William Cage (Tom Cruise).

He’s an indolent former advertising agent who wants no part of the actual fighting that is taking place in Europe with a mysterious alien army of so-called Mimics. In his attempts to avoid combat, he ends up handcuffed, stripped of his rank of Major, and shipped off to a base at Heathrow. His worst nightmare is becoming reality as he is quickly thrown into the front lines where he is headed to face the enemy without any training. He is an absolute pitiful mess and his platoon mates spare him no mercy. After all, he’s a sniveling complainer.

He’s just as incompetent on the battlefield, and it becomes obvious he’s not going to last long (There’s potential for a very short movie). But before he gets killed by one of the aliens, its blood covers him. Did you get that? Although seemingly insignificant the whole film soon hinges on this fact.

Where does he wake up? No not hell or heaven, but back at Heathrow airport, handcuffs and all, with a superior yelling at him yet again. He’s back in this nightmare once more and it continues for the rest of the film.

Honestly, Edge of Tomorrow is an awful name for this film. The tagline Live. Die. Repeat. is a little closer. At least it gets at the heart of what this sci-fi tale is about. In a similar vein as Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, Cage first gets acclimated to his new ability to experience a moment in time. He learns how to manipulate and navigate it to help himself, but as would be expected it gets tiresome and monotonous. With great power comes great responsibility, difficulty, and fatigue.

Live. Die. Repeat. Live. Die. Repeat. Slowly but surely Cage makes it farther and father against the mimics joining forces with famed soldier Rita Vrataski who is the poster girl for this noble war (Emily Blunt). Her early advice, “Come find me when you wake up,” is the strangest of greetings, but it starts the ball rolling. In a world where humanity is continually walking into an ambush, they are the only two who comprehend what is happening. Vrataski knows because she used to have Cage’s ability but lost it, so he is the new hope. Live. Die. Repeat. Live. Die. Repeat. She shapes him into a more efficient fighter over numerous time loops and gives him more insight into their enemy. He’s getting sick and tired of getting killed too. Live. Die. Repeat. etc.

He starts seeing visions of the Omega (the nucleus of the mimic), but they soon realize that the mimic is leading them on. Live. Die. Repeat. By this point, Cage has gone through so much with Vrataski and he cannot bear to see her continually dying. They finally locate the whereabouts of the Omega but after numerous failures, they finally run out of second chances. Cage loses his ability to loop, like Vrataski before him, needing a blood transfusion to pull through. Live or Die. No repeat this time.

Thus, begins their descent into the throes of their foe towards the Louvre where the Omega is. However, this time Cage convinces his squad to help and they prove their worth. An alpha comes after Cage and Vrataski as he blows up the Omega with a pack of grenades. There’s an instant of doubt, an uneasy feeling. Live. Die. Repeat…

Except now Major William Cage is back on the helicopter. No stripping of rank, no orders to the front lines, and with a newly weakened enemy. The nightmare is over so it seems and Cage is twice the man he was before. Only one thing matters. You guessed it. He goes looking for Sergeant Vrataski and sure enough there she is where he always found her before. She greets him with the same curtness as he smiles knowingly and most definitely with relief. For the last time or the first, depending on how you see it.

Quick cut to credits and “Love Me Again” by John Newman and it’s all over. It’s an ending that we hate as an audience, but it is the right one. As far as modern sci-fi films go, this one reminded me a bit of Source Code and Looper. Similarly, once you bought into the premise and invested in the setup, it proved to be a smart and entertaining ride.

Tom Cruise proved he can still do action movies and Emily Blunt carried the film with a toughness that would have made Ellen Ripley proud. This may be summer blockbuster material, but it’s also a worthwhile trip that takes us for a loop. Awful pun intended.

4/5 Stars