Friday, April 26, 2013
The beginning is the weakest part of Oblivion, but luckily the opening voice over doesn't continue into the main meat of the film. The year is 2077. Sixty years ago, the earth was ravaged and the moon destroyed and chaos with a group of beings called "Scavs" (I thought it was "Scabs" until reading about the film after the fact) has left the Earth in an uninhabitable nuclear wasteland. Cruise's Jack Harper is a technician, one of the few humans tasked with working on the barren Earth. The rest of the human population have migrated to giant space station called the "Tet" and are working their way to colonizing Saturn's moon, Titan.
Harper and his work partner/lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) live in a glass station above the clouds, and every morning they check in with Sally (Melissa Leo, speaking in a stereotypical southern delivery), the mission control supervisor on the Tet, and Cruise jets down to Earth's surface, seemingly as routine as clocking in at the mill. He quickly moves around and repairs the drones that monitor the area, circular balls armed with powerful machine guns that shoot any creature that comes close to the "resource extraction machines", these massive triangular buildings that suck up the remainders of Earth's seawater for certain minerals and valuable substances. Back at the sleek, future IKEA-furnished glass tower, Victoria communicates back to the Tet about how well the mission is going.
When watching the trailer for Oblivion, it seemingly depicts too much of the story, showing Cruise getting captured and tied up in front of a scuzzy Morgan Freeman. But luckily it's a bit misleading: Oblivion holds plenty of surprises, and although none of them are particularly original to the science fiction genre, they still pack an enthralling punch in the film. When taking the engineer job, much of Jack's memory had to be erased, so when certain places or feelings start to become familiar, Harper has some serious deja vu that starts impeding on his ability to perform his job at an "effective" level. I will say that one actor's presence put a smile to my face, just because it's nice for him to gain some notoriety: Game Of Thrones' Jaime Lannister himself (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). But Cruise is a tough actor to judge: he's become such a star, such an entity above himself, that it's amazingly difficult to see him as a character in a specific movie instead of "Tom Cruise", one of the most famous actors of all time. But he performs admirably here. Though his story is familiar, Cruise portrays Harper with enough wonder and excitement to feel for Jack Reac...I mean Harper.
Two other important things: Oblivion looks and sounds wonderful. Kosinski's Tron: Legacy didn't really hold my attention, but that was due more to a story that I couldn't have cared less about than Kosinski's direction. In fact, it was impressive: his ability to insert visual effects into the story fares much better than many modern directors. It helps having an Oscar-winning cinematographer in Claudio Miranda (whose shots in last year's gorgeous Life of Pi were breathtaking) for this film. Every action scene is clear, concise and completely hold your attention. M83--a musical artist that I've never been too interested in--also provides a pulsing score that takes some of the best aspects of other pivotal composers (much like Oblivion takes from important sci-fi allegories) and mashes them into an ear-titillating sci-fi-actioneer soundtrack.
Yeah, it's a lot of praise. But let's not get too ahead of ourselves. The detriments of Oblivion do detract from the experience, but not enough to keep you from liking it. The story (and specifically the script)--as stated previously--doesn't contain much in the way or originality or ingenuity. Some of the dialogue is laughable (specifically one situation, where Cruise remembers the last Super Bowl with a fake, cheering crowd) and I could have done without the voice-overs. But the spectacle and excitement of the film is surprising. Earth as a wasteland has been done before, and it will be done more this summer in the not-so-good-looking After Earth (starring Will Smith and his son) and the incredibly-good-looking Elysium (starring Matt Damon). But Oblivion stands tall in its own right, with stellar visuals and plenty of exciting situations that plant you on the edge of your seat. (B+)
Saturday, April 13, 2013
The Place Beyond the Pines is a movie told in three distinct acts, and that's what makes it so peculiar. Not that I'll spoil anything major, because it's best to go into this sprawling film with no idea of the plot or situations. We first meet Luke (Ryan Gosling) in a tracking shot as he walks to perform one of his death-defying motorcycle stunts. Covered in tattoos and showing his typical intense stare, one might think that this is Drive 2.0, with Gosling playing a man of few words but capable of ferocious violence. Pines is more complex than that, though. Luke strikes up a one-night-stand with Romina (Eva Mendes), and when his traveling carnival comes back into town a year later, he learns that he has an infant son. So he quits his job and becomes friends with Robin (Ben Mendelsohn, who was so great in last year's Killing Them Softly), a local mechanic who convinces Luke that a good way to provide for his new family would be to rob local banks, skillfully speeding away on his bike at 100 miles an hour. Gosling's performance is another great one. He's the spark in almost any film that he acts in, and even more so in Pines: he's the catalyst that keeps your eyes glued to the screen.
Soon enough, Luke--drawing attention from his bank robberies--crosses paths with rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), and it's here that the film shifts its focus to its second distinct act. Bradley Cooper does a fine job with Cross, a timid cop who realizes that he's the middle of mass corruption and double-crossing in the police department. Ray Liotta pops up with his usual thuggish and grimy officer of the law (that's not a detriment; this man is always entertaining). The Place Beyond the Pines was actually filmed a few months before Bradley Copper's Oscar-nominated performance in The Silver Linings Playbook, and it's not hard to see. He does an admirable job here, but he looks younger and has less confidence than in last year's wonderful film.
The Place Beyond the Pines is a big jumble: it has many aspects that brings goosebumps to your skin and a few that make you roll your eyes and check the time. It's a film that is 140 minutes long that at times feels too short and at times feels too long. It also begs the question of whether or not its chronological order of scenes wouldn't have been more interesting mixed up, ala Pulp Fiction or something of similar fashion. But still, the question arises again: can you fault Derek Cianfrance's over-ambitiousness in this film about fathers and sons and life's connections? The answer is No. The Place Beyond the Pines is a totally admirable attempt at an epic story, one with plenty of faults that are mild annoyances instead of major displeasure. (B+)
Monday, April 8, 2013
The studios were smart to release this film at festivals before the actual wide release: it built up a word of mouth about the no-holds-barred barf-worthy moments so horror geeks around the country were well aware and were willing to shell out the inflating price of a movie ticket (the shocking red-band trailer helped, too). But I can't help from feeling disappointed when expecting something shocking when it comes to American horror films. They never match their French counterparts (check out Martyrs or Inside if you want some real terrifying and cringe-worthy moments). But this film definitely tries its best. Huge needles in scenes with eyeballs, electric meat cutters slicing into forearms, projectile bloody puke coming out of many orifices--these are the tools that first-time director Fede Alvarez uses to create this disturbing world.
The plot is similar to the original in the sense that five friends (two of them are siblings) travel to a remote cabin, where they discover an old book in the basement underneath the carcasses of dead and rotten house animals. I could go through the names of the characters, but it's not particularly necessary: most of the time, they are strictly the meat to be thrown into this movie's grinder. A few words of this ancient, human-skin bound book are uttered by one of five, and demonic forces begin to gather around the cabin, starting with a forest-vine rape that mimics the original.
After watching the red-band preview that was circulating the web for weeks in advance, I knew that Evil Dead would be pretty gruesome. But watching that two minute clip was a mistake: it gave away some of the more hideous set-ups of the film (for instance, the one in the picture above). I wish that I had never watched it. But there lies the problem with certain horror films, ones that are produced mainly to try and give you an upset stomach: once you're desensitized to its graphic depictions of a group of friends in a shanty-like cabin getting sliced and diced, you're left with bad acting and a story that was told better back in 1981. (B-)