Friday, 12 April 2013

Oblivion 2013

A friend recently asked, very rhetorically, 'When was the last time Cruise made a bad film?' and my honest answer was that I can't remember. It took a viewing of Oblivion today for it to come rushing back to me - it was 2005, when he bored me to death with War of the Worlds.

Oblivion is set in 2077, which we are told is 60 years after aliens ("scavengers") attacked and lost a war against Earth. But to win the war, humans used their nuclear weapons, which caused the end of the world as we know it, and the survivors had to move to Titan, one of Saturn's moons. Small units are still sent to Earth to continue with the excavation of natural resources - and Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), along with partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), are one such unit, coming to the end of their term on Earth and about to return 'home' to Titan. But Jack is plagued with memories of a life on Earth he simply could not have experienced, and a woman (Olga Kurylenko) he could not have known.

When an unknown shuttle suddenly falls out of the sky and on to a site nearby, Jack goes to investigate and comes face to face with the mystery woman of his dreams. Suddenly, he questions all the 'truths' he knows about his life...and the more he learns, the less real everything becomes.

The biggest problem with Oblivion is that almost every scene and idea seems like a lift from another film. The first quarter showcases the isolation of the two main characters' existence - and I was reminded heavily of Solaris (2002), WALL-E (2008) and Moon (2009). In fact, as the story unravels, it takes up so many of the themes already explored in Moon, that the impact is completely blunted. Then there is the guerrilla army that shows up later in the film - and everything, from their costumes to their stance, screamed a mix of post-apocalyptic images already seen in films like Reign of Fire (2002), Total Recall (2012) and Dredd (2012). Add to that, Tom Cruise on a bike (very inspired by his first shot in Days of Thunder 1990) and Tom Cruise flying planes (Top Gun 1986), and nostalgia hits you hard! Of course, after a while I could hardly concentrate on the film I was watching, as reference after reference came to mind. Unfortunately, when I started getting especially bored and annoyed by the plot, memories of War of the Worlds hit me - and it was all downhill from there.

Despite all the criticism I can level at the writing and directing of the film (both credited to Joseph Kosinski, by the way - and he also wrote the graphic novel on which the script is based), the visuals are beyond reproach. The art direction for the protagonists' living quarters is stunning and the cinematography, whether it is for the outdoors or for close-ups, is arresting and beautiful.

I can't even blame the acting. Tom Cruise is perfect in the role. Everything from his confidence to his confusion is portrayed convincingly. He keeps me hooked for at least half the film, without complaint. Andrea Riseborough complements him perfectly - and her expressions, especially in the scene where she is covering for the man she loves, are excellent. And though Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau (he really seems to have walked off of the sets of Game of Thrones, by mistake) don't add anything to the canvas, they don't take anything away either.

Yet, the film simply fails to connect with the viewer. As the plot thickens, it also seems to be stretched pointlessly. The story is so old and so oft-repeated, with nothing really new said in this offering, that I don't understand why this film was made in the first place. In fact, I spent half my time thinking that something unexpected is about to happen, because everything I see is all too obvious - and surely there must be more to it than this. Alas, there wasn't much more and the final 20 minutes were much worse than I anticipated.

I hate to say this, but despite the visual treats and Tom Cruise's undeniable star quality, this film has little else to offer. And as I walked out of the cinema, I realised that I have quite possibly wasted two hours of my life.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Ranthology 2013 - Part:Two

Stoker (2013) - I don't have the words to describe this film. It is a sensation so dark...and delicious...that words are just not enough.  It is a twisted tale of a family with secrets, and on the cards is passion, lust, pleasure and murder...and lots of it all! Park Chan-wook, whose Oldboy (2003) remains one of the most fascinating Asian films ever made, has surpassed his own genius, by taking an idea so simple and presenting it on the most beautiful canvas. Every shot is painstakingly put together...and the entire experience is simply gorgeous. There is a transition shot of hair being combed that turns into a field, that is flawless. Some kooky details (a character who cooks, but never eats; a spider that keeps flitting about; a strangely tanned look, while every one else is as pale as can be) keep the audience hooked, but explanations are never offered...or needed. The ambience is romantic, the costumes are from a bygone era, and every scene has the charms of noir. Nicole Kidman is sensuous, Matthew Goode is electric and Mia Wasikowska, sublime. Stoker is definitely my favourite film of this year, so far. It is a ride that must be taken!

The Paperboy (2012) - Matthew McConnaughey's now made it his business to not be known as the guy who can't keep his shirt on, and instead be taken seriously as an actor. Based on a novel, The Paperboy, is a sweaty, dirty, very violent film - thematically and actually. Set in the '60s, it is a tale of two investigative journalists, Ward and Yardley (Matthew McConnaughey and David Oyelowo), who are out to prove the innocence of convicted murderer, Hillary (John Cusack). On this journey are Hillary's penpal, Charlotte (Nicole Kidman), who has fallen in love with Hillary even though she has never met him; Ward's younger brother, Jack (Zac Efron); and Jack's family maid, Anita (Macy Gray). As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that almost none of the characters are what they seem, and the film gets darker and murkier with each scene. I am sure I did not like the film at all, because it is trashy and almost sickening, but in that, it is a huge success. The actors have done an extraordinary job, whether it is Kidman or Cusack, McConnaughey or Oyelowo, Gray or even Efron. Every one of them has delivered an award-worthy performance and the film crackles all the way through. But the story, coming of age, or what ever it is meant to be, is just a little bit too much for my sensibilities. Still, I recommend it because it is quite an experience.

Compliance (2012) - What an uncomfortable film to sit through! And yet, what a compelling watch! Based on a number on true incidents, this is the story of unquestioning obedience to authority. A fast-food-joint employee is subjected to sexual and psychological abuse, when her manager receives a phone call from a man proclaiming to be a police officer, who says that the young girl has stolen from a customer. The plot is bizarre and unbelievable - it is almost fantastical and obviously not possible that good, decent folk would sink to such depths just because someone told them to. Except the story is very closely based on the actual events that took place in 2004, in Kentucky. So, not only is this possible, it actually happened. The acting is top-notch and the film is very well-made. Highly recommended, despite its disturbing nature.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - I fell asleep in the cinema, it is that boring.

Arbitrage (2012) - Richard Gere's best turn in years, this film is about a rich businessman, Robert Miller, with a perfect family and a successful business, who seems to have it all. Bubbling underneath the perfection is the minor accounts fraud he has committed to make his business look plumper than it is, and the mistress he has on the side. The cracks deepen, the slope gets slippery, one mistake leads to another - till there is nowhere left for him to run or hide. Despite Miller's flawed personality and major crimes, the audience can't help but identify with him and hope that he gets away scot-free. Brilliantly written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, this film is part drama, part suspense thriller and part black comedy. Both Gere and Susan Sarandon (who plays his wife) deliver perfect performances and it is a treat watching the story unravel. Do watch!

Frankenweenie (2012) - Tim Burton's dark, twisted mind applied to a dark, twisted children's story. Very enjoyable!

Hotel Transylvania (2012) - It tries too hard to be cute, pulls in all the possible gothic and otherwise supernatural characters, and really falls flat on its face. Maybe watch it if you're really bored on a Sunday and have no other DVDs...but otherwise it's quite a bore.

Trance (2013) - A plot so obvious that it literally takes 10 minutes to figure out what's what, and when the 'reveal' finally happens at the end of the film, the attached details are so ludicrous and nonsensical, that the entire pleasure of watching the film gets diluted. Still, the thrill of the thriller is well-paced, and the film is well-directed (Danny Boyle) and well-edited (Jon Harris). Shame about the story, though! James McAvoy is satisfactory, Rosario Dawson is convincing and Vincent Cassel is extremely charming. Worth watching on a weekend when it shows up on television channels; otherwise can be easily missed.

GI Joe: Retaliation (2013) - A film boasting a cast of Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis should have had some great action, lots of cheesy one-liners and lots of fun. Instead, this one can't decide whether it takes itself seriously or not, and is in turn so boring and bad, that it is just bad. Also, Channing Tatum seems to be making a career out of doing cameo appearances. What a waste of some seriously good casting! Avoid, unless you are a 3D-action-junkie and there's nothing else to watch.