Review: “Oblivion”

Oblivion

Tom Cruise is back at it again in one of the first science fiction films of the year.

Sixty years after a war leaves the earth in ruins, technician Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is one of two humans left on the planet for drone maintenance. After completing his tour of duty, Jack and his partner/wife, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), will leave Earth to join the rest of humanity on one of Jupiter’s moons. Of course, the pair aren’t really alone, as there is an army of Scavs (short for scavengers) lying in wait beneath the Earth’s surface.

As anyone who’s seen the trailer knows, not everything from Cruise’s opening monologue can be entirely trusted, though. Something about the war between mankind and an alien race is a little too fishy (bum bum buuuuuummm). There are several twists in this sci-fi tale, some are much more obvious than others.

One of the most interesting things about science fiction is the concept of world-building. While the laws of earth are pretty well known to us today, stories like “Oblivion” allow filmmakers to begin a new world with new features and limitations. This is why the first half of sci-fi films are so very interesting (“Looper”). Sadly the second half of these films often don’t match the excitement of their beginnings.

As for this film’s beginning, director Joseph Kosinski does an excellent job of creating a post-apocalyptic landscape 60 years in the future. From the barren wasteland to Jack’s castle in the sky, the visuals are exactly what an audience should dream for in a film such as this. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that “Oblivion” has amazing visuals and a captivating score, as Kosinski’s first film, “Tron: Legacy,” was widely praised for both. Much like that film, however, the director’s latest outing does fall flat in a few areas.

There is a great divide in theater audiences between those who like to have every detail of a film’s universe at their disposal and others who prefer to think for themselves and leave things open to interpretation. The first group could have a few problems with this film, but I promise that most of their questions will be taken care of by the time the credits roll. “Oblivion” can be a little agonizing at times with how minimal its answers to important questions are, but the film’s final act does well enough in explaining certain events.

The main criticism this film will receive is that its script could use another draft. As previously stated, the film does adequately answer most of the questions it raises over its 126-minute runtime, but some aspects of the story are shrugged off quicker than they should be.

Aside from these complaints, “Oblivion” is one of the best sci-fi outings released in recent memory. It’s design and concepts are breathtaking and Tom Cruise is at a very enjoyable level of Cruise-iness. Even the few action scenes that are in the film are well done.

Whether or not you’ve been looking forward to the film, it’s really your only option until “Iron Man 3” hits theaters on May 3rd, so why not give it a chance?

Grade: B

Happy viewing.

Advertisements

Review: “42”

42

It only seems appropriate to write a review for “42” the day after the MLB’s Jackie Robinson Day, so here goes nothing.

For those not too keen on baseball, Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) was the first African American baseball player to make it out of the negro leagues and into major league baseball. On top of his great athleticism, he was able to join the Brooklyn Dodgers through the help of baseball executive Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford). Considering it was 1945 when Robinson joined the Montreal Royals, you can imagine how well a black man was welcomed into white baseball.

Although the film is mostly about Robinson, the color barrier itself is more of the topic the film wants to express. As the early line in the film goes, “I don’t know who he is. I don’t know where he is. But he’s coming.” The black man’s appearance in professional sports was an inevitable event. All that was needed was the right man to step forward and be first.

The challenges Robinson faces in the film are very believable given the time period and based on the accounts given by those that lived during the time, the film is quite honest about the degree of hatred he faced on and off the field. The people screaming vulgarities from the stands and the more subtle inequality seems so far removed from today’s world that the film almost comes across as stereotypical. It’s certainly a sign of how far the country has come, though we may have far to go.

Going into the film, I had never seen a performance by Chadwick Boseman. Now that I’ve seen his portrayal of Robinson, I don’t plan on missing another one. For an actor known mostly as guest characters on shows like “Fringe” and “Justified,” Boseman was surprisingly authentic as the ballplayer. On top of the usual pressure faced from playing a historical figure, Robinson is written in the film as more of a reserved role (mostly due to Rickey’s request that Robinson keep his cool around racists). Perhaps Boseman can help Hollywood fill the ever-present void of black mainstream actors.

Robinson and Boseman may technically be the stars of the film, but Harrison Ford is by far the most enjoyable aspect of “42.” The veteran actor sports a slick haircut and big cigar for most of the film, often giving speeches that sound more like sermons. Robinson may stay calm and collected, but nobody’s keeping the baritone-voiced Rickey from speaking his mind. Ford almost chews the scenery a little too much, but I would consider him the year’s first Best Supporting Actor contender.

Sports movies often fall into the trap of becoming overly cheesy by force feeding the audience inspirational messages, but this film avoids this by focusing more on the story of Robinson than his team reaching an unbelievable goal. While dodging this bullet, though, the film loses some of its luster by stepping away from the magic.

When it comes to films about sports, baseball is often king. From classics like “The Natural” to comedies along the lines of “Major League” and others, there is a great collection to be found. Despite being a well put together film, I’m not sure where “42” fits into that collection. It’s funny, not hilarious. Dramatic, but not gripping. It’s just a pretty good movie (and that’s perfectly okay).

“42” plays as more of a history lesson than powerful filmmaking, but it’s an enjoyable time that teaches a new generation about one of the best, and most important, athletes in American history.

Grade: B

Happy viewing.

Review: “Olympus Has Fallen”

Olympus-Has-Fallen

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if “Air Force One” and “Die Hard” had a love child together? Probably not, but with “Olympus Has Fallen,” no one ever has to.

After the First Lady (Ashley Judd) is killed in a car accident, Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) quits his security detail for an easier job in the Treasury department. Banning must return to action, though, when a terrorist group takes over the White House and holds the president (Aaron Eckhart) hostage.

Upon seeing the trailer for “Olympus Has Fallen,” you know exactly what kind of movie it is: a tornado of bullets, explosions and patriotic tough-guy lines. You only hope that there isn’t anything too outlandish to spoil a fun 2 hours (more on that later).

The North Koreans continue their current reign of trying to replace the Cold War Russians by attacking the White House with suicide bombers, delivery trucks-turned-turrets and a giant (presumably stolen) US military plane. While it all seems fairly well thought out at the time, the plan really only makes “movie sense.” Practicality aside, the first stage of the attack on our nation’s capital feels a little distasteful with innocent tourists and DC residents being mowed down by heavy machine guns and falling monuments. If director Antoine Fuqua was aiming for a sick feeling in the audience’s stomach (like the sniper sequence in last year’s “Jack Reacher”), he probably should have made it look less like a standard action sequence.

Once the terrorists are in control of the White House, the film really just turns into “Die Hard,” as Butler’s “I Want to Be John McClane” Banning gets trapped inside after the intitial attack. Armed with his military experience and a bluetooth connection to acting-president Martin Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), the former Service agent attempts to take down the enemy one combatant at a time. Unfortunately, Kang (Rick Yune) and his fellow terrorists are nowhere near as interesting as Hans, Karl and the rest of the Nakatomi Plaza crew. Then again, this is a genre that all too often thinks more about ways to dispatch villains than develop them as characters.

Though the film does borrow heavily from “Die Hard” and other staples of the action genre, there are a few good moments here and there that are both original and noteworthy. First, there really aren’t THAT many movies out there that show life inside the White House and Secret Service, so every scene related to that life (whether exaggerated or not) is interesting. Second, Gerard Butler, who finally sheds his Scottish accent for a role, pulls off a few good wisecracks and is as competent an action actor as ever.

Expectations should always be taken into account when watching a film for the first time. Like I said before, after watching the trailer for “Olympus Has Fallen” (or even looking at the poster), you should have a general idea of whether it’s your kind of movie or not. The plot holes and inaccuracies are easy to spot, but there’s also a lot of fun to be had watching the country’s enemies getting taken out with Hollywood precision.

Grade: C+

Happy viewing.