Movie reviews: 'Edge of Tomorrow,' 'The Fault in Our Stars'

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"Edge of Tomorrow" (PG-13) ***1/2 (out of four)

Tom Cruise delivers his best performance in years in "Edge of Tomorrow," a cleverly plotted, mind-bending sci-fi thriller that breathes new life in the increasingly stale alien invasion genre.

Cruise stars as Maj. William Cage, a cowardly desk officer who recruits soldiers for an international coalition to fight off brutal alien invaders, even though he has never seen a day of combat himself. Cage's luck runs out, though, when he is suddenly thrust into a suicide mission against his brutal extraterrestrial enemies and is killed within minutes – only to instantly wake up to discover he's trapped within a mysterious time loop.

Through the help of Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), Cage learns how he can effectively "re-set" his day by dying. By kicking the bucket over and over again, Cage is also given the opportunity to relive the same battle over and over again, each time learning his enemies' moves while developing his own skills and proficiency. Ultimately, if he can alter destiny enough, the international force will win the war – so long as Cage doesn't stumble into the one circumstance where he will lose his power.

Director Doug Liman masterfully navigates his way through the complicated material of "Edge of Tomorrow," jumping back-and-forth between alternate time lines without being confusing. It's no doubt a tricky plot to execute, but one sci-fi fans will welcome because it's challenging to the brain cells. The visual effects are stunning, of course, but never lost in the mayhem is the film's fascinating storyline or unique characters. Cruise gains the most from the film with a welcome character arc where that turns him from weasel into warrior – the sort of portrayal we're not used to from the action star. But an even bigger surprise is just how funny the film is, albeit in a very dark way. Edgy but accessible, "Edge of Tomorrow" is perfect summer popcorn fare.

"The Fault in Our Stars" (PG-13) ***1/2 (out of four)

There are very few flaws in "The Fault in Our Stars," the highly anticipated big-screen adaptation of John Green's best-selling teen novel that takes head on the difficult subject matter of cancer. While the story doesn't pull any punches about the harsh realities of the disease, director Josh Boone expertly manages to triumphantly make "The Fault in Our Stars" a life-affirming movie, thanks mainly to his two brilliantly cast leads -- Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort -- and an impressive stable of supporting players.

Woodley and Elgort play Hazel and Gus, a pair of teens stricken with cancer who meet at a support group that includes teens dealing with different stages of the disease. Hazel, who has lived with terminal cancer and the devastating effect it had on her lungs for all of her teen life, pretty much keeps to herself – that is until she is surprisingly brought out of her protective shell by the charming and engaging Gus, who is not bound by the limits of his potentially short life.

While "The Fault in Our Stars" is billed as a teen romance, the narrative really encompasses much bigger themes, including the effects cancer has on its two leads and virtually everybody around them. Full of raw emotion and welcome humor to break the intensity, "The Fault in Our Stars" is bound to make a large part of its audience weep, yet without being cloying or manipulative. Ultimately, "The Fault in Our Stars" is must-see film that's not about dying, but living.

Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. He annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for BringMeTheNews, “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Twin Cities radio stations.

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