Movie Review ~ Oblivion

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A veteran assigned to extract Earth’s remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.

Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 124 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  I’ll start this review with an admission of bias: I really like futuristic sci-fi films set in a dystopian climate.  From Prometheus to Moon to 2001: A Space Odyssey to 2010: The Year We Make Contact, I just really respond to the chilliness of the whole genre.  So it’s no surprise that early trailers for Oblivion caught my eye and I made it a point to see this film on the biggest screen possible to immerse myself in the world created by director Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) and screenwriters Karl Gajdusek, Michael DeBruyn (who adapted Kosinski original graphic novel)

A lot of people had issues with Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy feeling that it was a meal that looked good but offered no sustenance.  I can see where those detractors were coming from but found that film to be better than its predecessor decades earlier.  Kosinski wisely knows how to use current technology to make a future world look sleek and believable and though Oblivion isn’t as all tech consuming as Tron: Legacy was it’s still a strong entry into the sci-fi genre.

Plot-wise, there’s not a lot here that you haven’t seen before if you’re a fan of science fiction of any kind.  The notion of a future world suffering the after effects of a war with an alien race has been done to death from the truly great films to the very awful direct to television offerings.  What sets this one apart, though, is a focus on stronger character development, impressive visual effects,  and a crack cast that knows exactly what kind of movie they are operating in.

Star Tom Cruise is having a nice renaissance after several years of being the punch line to a never-ending onslaught of couch jumping jokes.  Though he started 2012 strong with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, his next two films didn’t catch fire like everyone had hoped…though to be fair Rock of Ages was a nightmare film with Cruise the only saving grace.  December’s Jack Reacher was vastly underrated and should have been a bigger hit. Oblivion has put Crusie back into a fighting spirit and for good reason…it’s a role tailor made for the action star and it gives him a chance to kick butt while showing a lighter side too.

He’s supported ably by two strong females.  Andrea Riseborough may be my new star to watch…after turning up in Madonna’s directorial debut W/E, she delivered a layered performance in Disconnect and her role here as Cruise’s partner in work and love is nicely complex. We’re never quite sure what side she’s on and even when we think we’ve figured it out, the film throws some nice twists in to keep us guessing.  Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) plays a character with secrets I shan’t give away but proves to be more than a woman that Cruise has to merely save.

Don’t be deceived by ads (or the above poster) that show Morgan Freeman playing a main role in the film.  While he does hold some significance his screen time is severely limited, ending up being more of a cameo appearance than anything.  Melissa Leo is one of the most earnest actresses out there so one should watch her performance here carefully…after the film is over her restraint is quite telling.

Seen in an IMAX theater, Oblivion has a lot of sound and fury…signifying something.  It’s a booming picture with amazing visuals and a sound design seemingly meant to test the sound proofing on any theater (as the credits were rolling I was almost out the door to the theater and could still hear the film playing).  The soundtrack by M83 is electronic heavy (I originally though Tron: Legacy composers Daft Punk had been tapped again for the soundtrack) and works nicely into the action.

This is a film that really should be seen first in the theater for the visuals alone.  It’s not going to revolutionize the sci-fi genre, nor does it really aim to.  It’s a compact re-tread of the best parts of other films that works more than it probably should.  I know the film has its nay-sayers and I completely see where they’d be coming from – but the film experience that I had was very rewarding and very unexpectedly entertaining.

Movie Review ~ Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

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The Facts:
Synopsis: A nine-year-old amateur inventor, Francophile, and pacifist searches New York City for the lock that matches a mysterious key left behind by his father, who died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Stars: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Zoe Caldwell, Viola Davis, Max Von Sydow

Director: Stephen Daldry

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 129 minutes

Random Crew Highlight:  Matchmove – Justin Maynard

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  The loss of a parent, at any age, is an indescribable feeling that is nearly impossible to put into words.  Until you experience it there is no way to communicate what the world looks like after – it can never be the same and your job now is to find that “new normal” to get your through the days, weeks, months, years without your loved one.  Losing a cherished parent as a developing child and the strange journey the child begins is just the jumping off point of this adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2006 novel of the same name.

Jumping back and forth in the span of a year, we follow Oskar Schell (Horn) as he navigates life without his trusted father (Hanks) who perished in the World Trade Center.  It’s clear from the outset that Oskar has emotional challenges his parents and grandmother are accustomed to, support, and acknowledge.  The film never says but it is s implied Oskar is slightly autistic or has a mild case of Asperger’s Syndrome which causes him to be introverted to most outside of his core family.  Clearly brilliant with a wonderful imagination, Oskar is well-spoken and acutely aware of how others see him.  His father champions his sense of adventure and the two are shown as best friends.  Bullock is clearly the second favorite parent, making her parental role that much more difficult when mother and son find themselves needing to rely on the other.

A year after the event, a random discovery propels Oskar on an adventure that will push him out of his comfort zone and re-introduce him to city that is still in mourning itself.  While some directors may have felt the urge to make NYC itself another character, Daldry instead uses the city as a playground for his huge cast to operate off of.  It’s a wise choice as the people Oskar meets nearly leap off the screen, making for an effective experience as an audience member.

Horn is remarkable as young Oskar, a tough role for any actor worth his salt.  There’s such a fine line in playing the inner workings of a child with emotions that are muted but come out loud and clear when challenged and Horn deftly conveys all of this with power and conviction.  Watching the trailer I felt like his character would be grating and maudlin but it’s the exact opposite.  He’s so much better than the preview showed him to be and he’s perfectly cast here.  This is Horn’s first movie role…he was discovered after he won a hefty sum on Jeopardy! and I can’t imagine child actor in Hollywood now being better for this.

Hanks and Bullock have smaller roles than the ads would have you believe…with Hanks’ contribution being a glorified cameo.  His time onscreen is just right…enough to make you feel his presence when it is missed by characters onscreen.  In Bullock’s first role since her Oscar-winning turn in The Blind Side, she plays it nice and reserved which only adds to the impact of her final scenes with Horn in the movie.

Von Sydow is at a career best here as The Renter – a mysterious man living nearby with his own set of secrets and journey to go on.  Early Oscar buzz for him is well justified playing a mute and never speaking a word the entire film.  He conveys so much about what he’s feeling and processing through his eyes and body language that dialogue would be superfluous.  Caldwell has a few good moments as Oskar’s grandmother as does John Goodman in a blink and you missed it role as a doorman.

Singling out Davis and Jeffrey Wright for a moment I gotta say what these two do with their material is nothing short of amazing.  It’s clear Davis is going to have a long and well-rewarded career.  With limited screen time she hits the ground running and the way she enters the film may make you forget you haven’t met her previously…it’s a wonder.  Wright’s impact touches down at another point in the film too good to reveal here.

Including this, in the past 11 years Daldry has directed four films and been nominated for an Academy Award for all three previous efforts.  There’s a reason for that.  He has a eye for composition, an ear for dialogue, and an attention to what provokes a reaction in an audience.  That’s not to say the movie is manipulative because it isn’t.  Yes, there are moments where it gets awfully intense but they spring from real feelings and situations that we are reacting to.

The film has gotten a mixed reception from certain critics and I’m struggling to see why.  I think any movie that has to do with an aspect of 9/11 is scrutinized for sensitivity.  I’ve read that Daldry worked carefully with survivors to ensure that he was telling the right story and their support for the film has been noted.  This is not a movie about 9/11…please be clear.  The events that leave Oskar without a dad could be replaced by any number of random acts of violence, disease, or despair…  The movie is ultimately about healing and the setting adds to that impact – within a city that is mending itself, Oskar seeks answers that might just help to heal more than his broken heart.