Has there been a better weekend for movies this year than this one? Friday offers more than enough for all tastes, temperaments and attention spans, from the saccharine (“The Fault in Our Stars”) and acidic (“Borgman”) to the crowd-pleasing (“Edge of Tomorrow”) and deeply disturbing (“The Sacrament”).
“Edge of Tomorrow” is not your ordinary Tom Cruise sci-fi mindbender. Doug Liman has a gift for off-center authenticity–even amid the orchestrated chaos of a major studio FX picture–and for finding moments on the fly that snap. His movies are hugely entertaining, often amusing, never predictable. In this case he is well-served by a brilliant script by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth (Liman’s “Fair Game” and “Jerusalem”), adapting Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel, which keeps us on the edge of surprise. And Cruise, 51, is perfectly cast as a Cage, a cocky Army flack who is a fish-out-of-water everyman sent to the front by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) in a last-ditch D-Day assault on an army of aliens threatening to destroy the Earth. When Cage stumbles onto the beach under intense assault, he combats one terrifying giant alien that covers him with goo–and suddenly wakes up to start his day all over. It doesn’t take long for Cage to turn into our fantasy gun-blasting action hero: with every go-round he gets smarter and more fierce, training with another star soldier (excellent Emily Blunt) who he comes to admire. No worries: the romance is not overdone.
Josh Boone’s four-hankie tragic romance based on social media star John Green’s bestselling Young Adult novel, “The Fault in Our Stars,” will be review proof. Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber of “(500) Days of Summer” fame faithfully adapted the book. This manipulatively fake studio movie is anchored and saved by star Shailene Woodley’s inability to be inauthentic. She is the real thing as Hazel, an 18-year-old thyroid cancer patient with weak lungs coping with being permanently ill–with breathlessness and death hovering around the corner. She is genuine and moving. In fact she is so strong that the Oscar nomination that eluded her for “The Descendants” may be in the offing.
Hungry for the most outrageously arty, challenging and brain-boggling film of the weekend? Head to Alex van Warmerdam’s malevolent and unforgivingly mysterious “Borgman,” a destructional-family thriller a la Michael Haneke and Yorgos Lanthimos that pivots on an unhappily married couple and their children, whose lives are disrupted by the arrival of a stranger from another world. More than most filmmakers his senior, Warmerdam convincingly creates an original, cinematic universe that can barely keep the chaos at bay.
Another poison-tainted treat this weekend is Gillian Robespierre’s “abortion rom-com” “Obvious Child,” a star-making vehicle for comedienne Jenny Slate, who plays a stand-up comic on a bender and facing a tough decision after a one-night-stand.
A truly disturbing, take-no-prisoners recreation of the Jonestown massacre, Ti West’s “The Sacrament” sets this year’s benchmark for terror, featuring, in its climactic moments, one of the great horror sequences ever filmed. West has been around the block since 2009’s “House of the Devil,” churning out one treacherous genre indie after another, but never has he flexed his cinematic muscles with such prowess — effectively bringing us back to a time in place that civilization would rather forget.
Borgman Dir. Alex van Warmerdam, Netherlands | Drafthouse Films | Cast: Jan Bijvoet, Hadewych Minis, Jeroen Perceval, Sara Hjort Ditlevsen | 81% Fresh | The Wrap: “In an era where there are very few truly surprising films, ‘Borgman’ is one of the rare movies that manages to find something entirely new to say, with original, oddly drawn characters.” | Our review
Obvious Child Dir. Gillian Robespierre, USA | A24 Films | Cast: Jenny Slate, Gaby Hoffmann, Jake Lacy, David Cross, Richard Kind | 87% Fresh | THR: “Raunchy humor laced with gradually revealed vulnerability makes for a winning combination in… a wildly funny and appealing female-centric comedy that launches very promising talent on both sides of the camera.” | Our review
The Sacrament Dir. Ti West, USA | Magnet | Cast: Amy Seimetz, Kentucker Audley, Joe Swanberg, Kate Lyn Sheil, AJ Bowen, Gene Jones | 69% Fresh | Variety: “Purists might insist isn’t horror in the strictest sense, though this slow-burning investigation of unseemly goings-on at a rural Christian commune is frightening in any genre language.”
Edge of Tomorrow Dir. Doug Liman, USA | Warner Bros. | Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Noah Taylor | 90% Fresh | Variety: “Tom Cruise stars in this cleverly crafted and propulsively executed sci-fi thriller about a soldier forced to relive the same day over and over again.” | Our review and roundup
The Fault in Our Stars Dir. Josh Boone, USA | 20th Century Fox | Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Willem Dafoe, Laura Dern | 71% Fresh | Deadspin: “Despite some deeply affecting moments, the film is so relentless, leaving nothing to chance by throwing every trick at you, that it ends up being exhausting.” | Our review and roundup
Test Dir. Chris Mason Johnson, USA | Variance Films | Cast: Scott Marlowe, Matthew Risch | 100% Fresh | Movie Mezzanine: “An evocative portrait of an in-between moment of history, one of the periods where no one is quite sure what’s going on and everything seems to be in question.” | Our interview with Chris Mason Johnson
The Case Against 8 Dirs. Bet Cotner & Ryan White, USA | HBO Documentary Films | 80% Fresh | Village Voice: “The best kind of popular history, a film that trembles with tears and hope, and I dare you to get through it without bawling some yourself.”
Ping Pong Summer Dir. Michael Tully, USA | Gravitas Ventures | Cast: Susan Sarandon, John Hannah, Lea Thompson, Amy Sedaris, Judah Friedlander | 64% Fresh | Time Out New York: “There are retro touches that children of the ’80s will smile at (remember smelling the liner notes of cassettes?). But ultimately, those are too few and far between.”