RIORI Redux: Joseph Kosinki’s “Oblivion” Revisited


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The Players…

Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko and Andrea Riseborough, with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo and Zoe Bell.


The Story…

Earth. It used to be a nice place to live. Commander Jack Harper thinks so, especially now he’s stuck planetside salvaging scrapped tech and maintaining the automated defensive drones. An alien invasion took it’s toll on Earth, so everybody save Jack and his partner jumped ship and sailed off to Titan to begin new lives. Well, Jack’s stuck with his old one, indefinitely. Then one day a crippled starship enters his territory. Its sole occupant, a mysterious woman, leads Harper to discover some unknown, shocking truths about humankind’s legacy beyond broken cities and mechanized battlebots.


The Rant…

Have you noticed lately that Tom Cruise’s roles lean towards the action hero type? The guy’s fifty-one. Can we say “mid-life crisis?” From the Mission: Impossible franchise to Jack Reacher to Oblivion, it may be now safe to say that his Top Gun days are well over. Best be sure to tell Tom this factoid. It’s time to retire into Forrest Gump territory. And that role gave Tom Hanks street cred. Ironic huh? Like the star of the Fast & Furious franchise going up in an auto-shaped ball of flame?

What, too soon?

And isn’t Morgan Freeman in every movie nowadays? I mean, other than schilling for Visa, hosting Through The Wormhole on the Science Channel, and (as an aside) portraying his best role, Easy Reader from The Electric Company, (that dates me) the guy’s been f*cking everywhere. Maine prisons. Rubbing elbows with rogue spies. Trundling bitchy Miss Daisy down to the Piggly Wiggly. Surviving cancer with Jack Nicholson. Off to Vegas with other geriatrics. Now he’s on post-apocalyptic Earth. Guy gets around faster than a rabbit with herpes.

(PS: I wrote the above before even watching the movie. I’m assuming my pontificating holds up some…)

…I was wrong. Anywho…

Oblivion is an odd duck of a comic-book movie adaptation. What makes it odd is that, first of all, it was based on a comic. I didn’t know that. Did you? Really? Huh. Goes to show what I know. Secondly, I haven’t seen so much philosophizing about identity within a sci-fi film since the original Star Wars trilogy. I don’t say this as derisive, though it may come across that way.

The plot Oblivion is a thin one, but it tries to come across as much thicker than it is. The movie’s motif borrows from countless sci-fi psychodramas, from Blade Runner to Solaris to…to the Solaris remake with George Clooney. Oblivion has less to do with creating new worlds and more about proclaiming identity. It’s character drama. The concept of who you are in a given time under certain circumstances. Are you really sure of who you are and what those circumstances are? Are you lost? Is it the déjà vu all over again scenario? I don’t know, and film did not provide any easy answers.

What it did provide was a visually clean farscape. Not ostentatious, with a lot of smart CGI. You know how most of today’s sci-fi films want to bludgeon you over the head with digitally rendered whatsits and foreign locales off-world with nary a modicum of subtlety? Right, Oblivion doesn’t do that. Instead it offers up a very real, one could say prescient view of a ravaged planet Earth. Did I mention the cinematography (including the CGI enhancement) is breathtaking. I won’t lie to you. Most of Oblivion is pretty damn beautiful.

There was a bit more original drama than I had expected for a lifted plot. Actually, this movie is more a melodrama wrapped up in the guise of a sci-fi flick. There’s a good amount of play and tension against the characters, not unlike a relatively well-wrtten soap opera arc. And like your daytime dramas, there is plenty of intrigue and weird plot loops tossed about. It’s tricky to give a clear explanation about what Oblivion is really about because, 1) it’s near impossible without dumping spoilers all over you, and; 2) it’s not exactly clear what Oblivion is trying to say. Don’t get me wrong. The film is interesting. It’s also obtuse as hell, and can make for a confusing viewing experience. But it’s sci-fi, only when it’s not, and when it’s not…um, it’s something else. Stop yelling at me.

This was a confusing review to write, and it shows. Mostly because I didn’t know where to stand on this film. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good. It was rather confusing as if the film couldn’t make up its mind. It sure as sh*t met The Standard considering its lousy turnout at the box office. Is that a reflection on this movie? Kinda. I don’t know. All I can say for sure is that Oblivion was pretty.


Rant Redux (2019)

I’ve been noticing lately that in addition to commenting, editing, twisting and rationalizing the reasons why my earliest installments need some tweaking, I’ve found myself inadvertently correcting other stuff. Like the list of the players for the particular hack job I’m trying to suture. After the story, who is telling it is the most vital part of the movie, kinda like a Greek chorus; the cast and the director serve that need, following by the scenarist (however the poor drudge who wrote the damned script seldom gets any recognition save the dog and pony show every February). All together form the foundation for a movie, and the rest (eg: costuming, soundtrack, CGI effects, riders, etc) are in essence eyewash.

Why am I telling you this? For the first part, me noticing errors and fixing them are the meat of why I’ve been revising these sandwiches. If the cast and creative crew are indeed the vital signs of a winning or faltering movie I gotta give credit where credit is due (despite the cracks about Cruise’s midlife crisis cum action hero, he did a good job here, as well as most of his John McClane-esque roles). That and it’s the easy part of doing this crap.

The second part is that I am truly, truly sorry for this installment—even more regretful hoodwink that was Silver Linings PlaybookOblivion‘s rambled and rambled and was held aloft by some pretty righteous bullsh*t. Truth be finally told, I was way too messed up to even pay attention to the second and third acts, and here’s why:

My then wife for months was suffering from an incessant cough. She smoked quite a bit so that was no surprise. I smoked, too. But it was this angry, raspy cough that sounded like she was going to puke up her lungs. She wisely saw a doctor and had some tests done. Weeks later when she delivered my the preliminary results it was on my night off (late at night) when she dropped the science on me.

COPD was the verdict. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Your lungs betray you and gradually refuse to do their job. You suffocate on the carbon dioxide you have difficulty expelling. The disease invites an unholy host of terrible maladies, and in the endgame COPD is what kills you. From my understanding and her explanation she was living on borrowed time.

My first reaction was angst. I pressed her for info getting increasingly agitated with every vague detail, drinking all the while, meantime Oblivion (oddly accurate) was rolling on the BD player. I was bawling, screaming “It’s not fair” and fuming with rage and alcohol. I was so torqued I snatched a hatchet from the tool shed and contemplated trashing my own car. I didn’t though, through my whiskey-addled haze I thought of my insurance premiums and it would be expensive to cover my own vandalism. It’s weird what sticks in your conscience when yer pished.

So then what? Grief, fear, crying jag, booze. The wife had went to bed, understandable scared of the diagnosis (and me too, I guess). I was left alone stalking the living room, Oblivion still on pause. Grabbing at a stone, I crashed back down deciding to “watch” the movie. The remaining notes on my pad were blind chicken scratch. Not that I cared. I just needed something that felt normal then and there.

Write drunk, edit sober. Doesn’t really work for movie reviews, since you must have your faculties about you. Big shocker but I only recalled bits and pieces of the end of the movie and the early rant shows that? Did it sound like a lot of BS to you? Bingo! You’ve just won a prize: my bittersweet honesty. You’re welcome and sorry again.

On the brighter side, later on my wife’s diagnosis was reduced to severe asthma, a precursor to COPD but was treated and cleared up after a year or so.

Don’t smoke, kids. And don’t drink and pass judgement on mediocre movies that don’t make much sense. Even when sober.

*ahem*

So after wiping a fresh bar towel across my blurred memory of Oblivion I took to task to giving it a second chance. The movie’s title did it justice to my mental state back then. It’s amazing what one can take away from a Tom Cruise movie with the suspension of disbelief and not under the influence of whiskey. Beer maybe, but not whiskey. What? You think I’m nuts? This was a Tom Cruise movie! You need to numb yourself for most of his filmography. You can’t handle the truth.

You know the expression about a thing being “greater than the sum of its parts?” An example of this is Star Wars: A New Hope. If you take it apart and scrutinize the film (as millions of mouth-breathers do every hour), the thing is riddled with flaws, inconsistencies and a lot of flubs (not to mention the last scene lifted from the ultimate Nazi agitprop film Triumph Of The Will. Dubious at best, nerf herders). But despite those flaws—or perhaps even because of them—A New Hope is a lot of fun. It’s not a great movie, stuck with all the claptrap of comic book sci-fi trappings; a popcorn movie to be sure, but I like popcorn, especially on a lazy Saturday afternoon with no hangover to nurse. The movie has a homespun charm than can’t be denied, and that scrappiness elevates, if not buoys the entire franchise (even most Rebels can forgive the questionable prequels for stretching the plots and defying internal logic…no they didn’t). It’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Oblivion is the direct opposite. It’s entertaining, but only based so on the cool parts the movie culls from. Imagine all the noteworthy S/F films in Hollywood canon, if not doctrine from the past 50 years. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet Of The Apes, Silent Running, The Matrix, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, ET: The Extra-Terrestrial and, yes the Star Wars saga. Oblivion treats films of that ilk like the salad bar at Old Country Buffet. Picks at what looks good despite what might be best for you. But it’s from the salad bar! Yep, and Oblivion is cottage cheese drenched in French dressing. It may not suit all tastes, but it comforting for many. Then again so is hanging out with John Barleycorn.

Post-apocalypse survival. AI run amok. Nuclear holocaust. Alien invaders. Screwed up history. Mind warps. All present in Oblivion. I once (read: infinitely) applied the saw attached to the blues to describe how a niche film genre works. Say it with me now and you’ll get a cookie: it’s not the notes, but how they are played. John Lee Hooker made millions by this precept. And why not? It works, both in music and cinema. It works…but it can get tiresome. You can only listen to “Boogie Chillin'” so many times trying to eradicate that memory trapped in the murky mire that was The Blues Brothers (don’t forget the Cheez-Wiz, boy).

Oblivion borrows a little from all the above films and tropes and essentially does the “greater than…” idiom in reverse. It felt like director Kosinki (probably bummed his Tron reboot didn’t fly) went through a sci-fi flea market and picked out all the goodies he knew would work in his next effort. Ir did, just not in the way he might have hoped. We understand the three-act structure of plays and films, and there are sub-acts—scenes—that add light and shade to the plot as it moves merrily down the lane. Scenes should never be abrupt, or at least without exposition; they are not chapters. After Kosinksi cobbled together his movie from multiple dips at the golden sci-fi movie spring you can practically see the stitching as the movie moves from chapter to chapter, not scene to scene. At least I was correct in my original opinion: no segue so no sense. Jarring. Abrupt. And yet so familiar…with good reason.

Hey folks, you’ve seen Oblivion already, even if you haven’t. If you’ve seen 2001, you’ve seen Oblivion. I’ve you’ve seen The Matrix, you’ve seen Oblivion. Hell, if you’ve seen The Day After, Galaxy Express 999 or the freakin’ Manchurian Candidate (either one) you’ve seen Oblivion. You’ve just watched a sorta incoherent s/f rip-off from the best cliches of that genre for the past half century. And Kosinski did so with such verve. Naked and shameless. I have to respect that much. I’m not sure if Kosinki can play blues guitar, but I’m pretty sure he’s an Elmore James fan.

The story may be stale, but the movie was a treat for the eyes. Can’t be ignored. The ruined Earth of Oblivion looks like how our planet should after climate change, nuclear war and our natural satellite reduced to powder. The visual of Cruise on patrol walking over a sand dune covering half of the Empire State Building’s observation deck is telling. Startling. The buildings once straddling the Venetian canals are now the cliffs serving as waterfalls into endless basins. Yankee Stadium is a crater akin to the Moon’s Copernicus. Kosinksi succeeded in turning Mother Earth into an alien planet. I couldn’t deny that one bit.

And you know what else? This may be a jump, but Cruise’s Harper pining for an Earth he never knew, perfect in his mind, and suffusing his mountain retreat with some very old skool tech…It suits the mood, without a whit of irony. Especially balanced against the ominous 21st Century tech Harper is ostensibly planet side to service. We have two choices here: Harper relaxing to a hi-fi that was made before even was born grooving to “Midnight Rider” (why not?), or chasing down or being chased by sentient, well-armed drones that resemble albino TIE fighters with HAL 9000’s unblinking red eye. Which toothpaste would you choose? Interesting as this dichotomy was, it still reflects the salad bar thinking. Sure, cool dynamic, but that and a lot of other things in the movie might seem awesome ultimately boils down the the audience being unfamiliar with another movie.

In the endgame, I’m not a snob. With a clear eye I was entertained by Oblivion. But that was it. Any epic message to bestow on my brow was not there. It’s all a rip-ff, sure, but it was a decent, pretty rip-off. An okay time-waster even you see the ending miles ahead of time.

And if you didn’t see anything coming, you are either, a) drunk as a skunk playing funk aboard a junk, or; b) Oblivion is your first foray in s/f movies.

I recommend the drunk part first. And lock up that woodshed.


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? A mild rent it. Entertaining but only filler. ‘Ware any s/f movie implying epic proportions only to land in a crock of French dressing.


Next Installment…

We return with another wobbly, half-baked subterfuge in your humble blogger twisting the Standard to their own evil ends using the first Pacific Rim movie as bait.

Mwa ha ha.


 

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 53: Louis Leterrier’s “Now You See Me” (2013)


Now You See Me


The Players…

Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco, with Mélanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine.


The Story…

Taking a cue from Robin Hood, master magician J Daniel Atlas and his troupe of illusionists specialize in robbing from the rich—eg: banks to big to fail—and giving to the poor—erm, their audiences. And all the while trying to outwit the FBI agents determined to bring them down and all their hocus pocus.


The Rant…

“The world wants to be deceived.”

PT Barnum said that. To a large extent Hollywood took his notion and ran with it. Occasionally too far.

Saving my trademark salivating and snarling for…well, later, let’s take a practical look into the Hollywood entertainment complex and its machinations. Hollywood is based on deception. For real. En toto. They create stories that are (mostly) fabrications and flights of fancy. Actors are really nothing more than well-trained, well-paid liars. All that CGI sh*t you cream in your jeans over in The Force Awakens? Not there, Luke. Never was. Use the Force somewhere else. Oh yeah, that trick ain’t real neither. Sorry to pop your balloon.

Movies are nothing but two things: entertainment and deception. One might preclude the other, then again…well, later. And boy howdy, do we movie audiences f*cking love to be deceived. We have to be. We want to be. How else could one explain away the jillions of dollars the moviemakers toss around like so many platinum frisbees? All that cheddar better get recouped somehow. Hopefully with a winning hit (which are fast becoming few and far between these days) that’ll perpetuate the movie magic machine. Even a craptastic Adam Sandler flick—which may be a redundancy—that “tanks” still invites enough interest in the great, popcorn-dappled masses to get on Fandango for the advance release of Billy Madison 2: The College Years.

Slow down. That one doesn’t exist. Yet.

As Barnum put it, we want to have the wool pulled over our eyes. We pay our fee, walk into the theatre/rent that disc/stream that movie, suspend our beliefs and off we go into a 100-minute storytime wonderland with a cool plot, nifty acting and/or the occasional dinosaur rampage. All three if you’re lucky. Most of the time, we wanna go catch the pictures for fun and escape. Escape from our boring dinosaur-less lives and be deceived that Chris Pratt can really run that fast. It’s all in fun, it’s all a lie and that’s how we want it. So does Hollywood, so bless (and often curse) them for their tentpole endeavors and finally giving Ryan Reynolds a suitable role exploiting his sophomoric acting chops.

All of that was praise. I think.

As deemed by this blog, a great deal of movie fans drop down a lot of cash annually to be deceived. Often they walk away hoodwinked. These two things are not one and the same. You’ve heard me enough times bemoan the fact that Tinsel Town is nothing but money grubbing, more cash for less art and all of us sheep dutifully march into the lion’s den blindfolded wearing overalls made of pork. A significant amount of the time this is true, but it never stops the (disgruntled) patrons from coming back for more. Why?

Because the lies that are the movies are so much more interesting, sometimes engaging than our daily slog. After a hard, long week at your job, be it fighting fires, shipping out goodies from the local Amazon warehouse or putting spindles in boxes all the while cursing your high school guidance counselor, going out Friday and catching a flick is always a good tonic. We all can’t vault off to the Bahamas, but we can watch Batman duke it out with Superman. In a certain light the latter is far better. The Bahamas actually exist. Come to think of it why has “dinner and a movie” been the go to date for generations? Because it works. Dinner and a show. Comfort. One part real and the other a lie. Balance, and don’t we need more of that in our fractured lives?

Of course. Moviegoers embrace the lie because the alternative is the timeclock. Barnum knew this. Hollywood knows this. Hell, you know this. It’s the reason why we go see sequels. It’s why ILM exists, and spends its largesse on community projects. It’s why Brad Pitt makes more per film than the GDP of Belize. We need these lies, if only to counterbalance the truths of our unglamorous lives. It’s mental survival in a sense.

To wrap up this kooky, little intro let me tug on your coat a bit again about how we need the lie, the deception of movies. When I was a teen I got hip to James Bond movies. That’s some escapism there, my friend. Action, exotic locales, hot babes, cool tech, funny one-liners, villians you love to hate, nutty world domination plots and our suave 007 at the heart of all the madness. Whenever I felt crummy, I popped a Bond film into the player. Every time I believed the lie, from Connery to Moore to even Craig today and away I went. Bond got to do all this cool sh*t while driving a flash car that sported a flamethrower, kung fu-ing the girl would would later he’d be smooching and literally getting away with murder. He had a license to kill! Later on me and my married friends wondered where we could acquire such a license.

Kidding. Sorta. But again about the deception, next to nothing in the Bond films was/is very plausible (checked in on that license thing on the Black Internet. Zilch, but I now own the prototype Juno probe. Took what I could get), but that’s the point. The utter outlandishness of the films enhanced my need for cinematic lying. These days I’m not as impressionable, but the lie still works on me. As it does you. And thank heavens for it.

Now then, onto this week’s lie. And watch my hands as they never leave my wrists…


Prestidigitation. Know what that means? Sleight of hand. And that means? Legerdemain. Um, and that?

Fast fingers. Quick on your feet. Slick. Knowingly practical at deception. In other words, it’s how magicians make a living. Foolin’ ya.

J Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) is a master of this deceitful craft. As are his ex Henley (Fisher), a glammy escape artist, Merritt (Harrelson), a self-described mentalist (whatever that is) and Jack (Franco) the greatest pickpocket since the Artful Dodger. Together they tout their act as The Four Horsemen, and are Vegas-level magicians extraordinare.

Lately, despite their sold out shows, Atlas and crew have an itch they can’t scratch. It’s not the next big act to pluck. They need a bigger rush. Make their theatrics more…homespun. Sure, they can hypnotize, mesmerize, spin and twirl, but card tricks and chained to the tracks can only go so far in the shock and awe department. Atlas thinks it’s high time to bring his circus to the masses, minus tickets.

Fast forward. On multiple occasions, and around the globe, the moneychangers find their vaults raided if not emptied. And for every one of the Horseman’s shows, audience members suddenly find themselves in the black, as if by…well, you know.

FBI agent Rhodes (Ruffalo) and his team do not take kindly to a bunch of high-end birthday party entertainers robbing millions and pissing it away on strangers. How can this be happening? How can this be real? And why the hell ex-magician cum Penn And Teller clone Thad Bradley (Freeman) constantly hounding Rhodes on misdirection?

Could it be the Four Horseman’s crimes aren’t truly crimes? Is there more than meets the eye? What’s up with the Robin Hood gimmick? Where the f*ck did all that money go? Will Bradley ever leave Rhodes alone?

All of this and maybe if Rhodes is able to unlock the mystery…


I like magic tricks. I like going “Huh” and “Whoa!” and “How’d he do that?”

Last year at Bethlehem, PA’s Musikfest while waiting for a show to start, me, the wifey and the kid happened upon a street performer, one of many many. He was a magician/comedian/contortionist who looked like Screech and dressed like Richard Simmons. His jokes went that way, too. Regardless of his endearing, self-deprecating schtick the guy did demonstrate some great tricks. Some were explicable (like uncurling himself from a toilet seat, which had to hurt) and some weren’t (like swallowing and entire, fully inflated ballon with nary a pop). We three were delighted, and came back the next night to see him perform again. Alas, he had moved on.

Sigh.

Which I how I ended up not liking Now You See Me much. It’s endgame was not “Cool!” and more like “What the hell?” Then I scratched my head, and not because of the nits.

*blogger now considers taking the cards so close to his chest and tossing them into the Cuisinart for good*

Don’t misunderstand me. For the first act I found Now exciting and fun. Sure, it was in a fast and loose, cheap kinda fun, but it was about rogue magicians! What’s not to dig?

Well, trying to keep up such a pace—or with such a pace—got rather exhausting. You know how when you see a magician perform and you’re hyper-vigilant in your gaze? You wanna catch him in the act and always fail? That’s how I felt watching Now‘s progression. At first, the movie’s rapid fire pacing was easy to follow. I thank the music. But over the next hour-plus I felt that either I should be part of the ADHD Millenial generation or in need of a Red Bull injection to my femoral artery. Both maybe. I know I claim by this movie buff that pacing either makes or breaks a picture. With Now, I never felt so dizzy or exhausted by such breakneck speed of plot. In reflection, the film’s whirlwind pace might’ve played into the entire subterfuge schtick of the alpha plot. I’d like to believe that. Until I can stop my head from spinning long enough to maybe accept this idea, get me a bucket.

That was my only real significant grievance (but not the last) with Now; the sh*t came down so fast and furious I had precious little time to digest what was happening. I like a little wiggle room with my movies to, I don’t know, absorb and appreciate what I’m watching. Didn’t get breathing room with Now. I know director Leterrier made his mark in frenetic action films (and I dug his Incredible Hulk flick pretty good), but I think his manic delivery was his undoing here. We got a film about magic tricks wrapped around a mystery with a chewy center involving revenge. It’s all a mystery, and we need some oxygen to search out the damned mystery’s clues. Not gonna happen here. Gotta give Gen Z the Pop Rocks enema before selfie number 17 in front of the soda machine in the lobby gets on Snapchat.

Call me bitter. I dare you.

Anyway. As cool as the concept was, and the hook had me I realized at the 45-minute mark that Now‘s plot made little sense. The Four Horsemen’s shows were both stage and show and had an urgency to create financial ruin for those who invited it. Fine. Why? There was a warped Maguffin dropped at the film’s outset, but so little was offered it made this guy confused for too long watching this movie. Again, I assume it might have had something to do with the underlying “not is all that is seems” theme. I still was rendered unsure. It’s a sweet paradox, makes you think too much.

The other day at work my boss was trying to bamboozle a co-worker with the classic “Schrodinger’s Cat” riddle. After confusing the other guy he asked me, “Hey, is the cat over here or over there?”

I answered yes. I think I won a prize. The tickets stopped rolling in for a full minute.

This wonky example pretty much describes the plot progression of Now. Is the movie good? Yes, until it’s not. And when it’s not, recall when it was good and hang on to that until the film’s not good again. It’ll approach sense in the next scene. I need an Advil. Another Red Bull might help, too.

What was the best part of Now was our ensemble cast. I’ve been trying to steer clear of waxing rhapsodic about a flick’s acting for the past few installments, I know. But we got us an ensemble cast here, littered with myriad talents that have no sane reason for being in a movie together. So cut me slack at bit, please? Thanks.

So then, I’ll break a promise. Does Eisenberg have to play skittish in all his roles? Some sort of contractual obligation? Despite or thanks to his signature twichiness Eisenberg’s delivery as Atlas was prime magician role incarnate. Smartass and always knowing the game was afoot three paces ago (mostly because it was his footprints). His Atlas was also not very likable. Sleazy and very obvious in being into his gig to only serve his own ends. As much as I enjoy magicians, they are a shady lot. Atlas was shady, but also a bit more than cocky. Ostensibly he was the villain in Now‘s rogues’ gallery, and I must admit that a greasy adversary does a good crime caper make.

Lesser can be said of Fisher and James’ little bro. Both were mostly wallpaper. Henley’s job was to look good (which she did) and Jack’s job was to be raffish (and look good, which he did. Don’t judge me). I understood the need for a team of tricksters to pull off their heists. We gotta have various facets of a hive mind to better understand—despite the difficulty—the motives behind the crime. Sure, plenty of crime capers have involved a single mastermind…wait, they don’t. There’s always a holy host of miscreants shouting at each other to establish motive and possible outcome (usually bad). Think Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects or even Heist. Myriad weirdoes wending and winding around each other to find their quarry as well as accusing each other about who scored said quarry before the other guys did. Fisher and Franco were merely distractions, and possibly elements of the whole misdirection theme of the movie. Maybe. Mostly I found the two superfluous, and nowhere approaching Mr Pink.

Harrelson was me. Moving on.

Lastly the pinion on which Now spins, Mark Ruffalo’s Dylan Rhodes (a name that irked me for some reason). I’ve never seen the guy ham it up so much as I did here. It was tough to divorce myself from his  performance in Zodiac‘s Det Tocchi to let in the manic agent Rhodes. Right to the quick Ruffalo’s Captain Kirk-like scenery chewing was unlike anything I saw the guy do before in any of his roles. It was rather annoying, yet compelling. Again the misdirection thing, which came to an abrupt resolution in a fast, forced, final fifteen minutes (pretty good alliteration there, huh?) was likely the reason for Ruffalo to act so damned crazy. I got tired of his determined cop schtick right quick since it was made up of a dozen different determined cop schticks I’ve seen over the years. Then again, maybe the guy was just having some fun. But at my expense and winnowing attention span.

The rest of Now, since the meat of the show has been flayed, dribbles down into tedium. The fast paced first act? Well the next few were so jacked up on the Mountain Dew I had precious little time to enjoy the stunts, tricks and Fisher’s low cut blouses. I kept feeling like I was falling behind, misdirection theme be damned. When watching a magician pull their trade there has to be a small space left to breathe, you know, to absorb and then appreciate the trick. Rampant collateral damage and warp-speed editing can throttle you. Did with me. Cough.

And in defiance of Now‘s lightspeed pacing, the movie began to feel stretching. There was a lot of info dump at work, and over the course of two hours no matter how quick the action was there felt like a great deal of plot development was both rushed (to maintain the film’s rapid fire action) and sluggish (to reflect for a little to long via exposition, to keep the audience in the know). If Now was supposed to be a kinda Robin Hood tale then for what end? You can’t just rob and pillage for the sake of the story and expect to hang up abruptly to consider why. It got jarring towards the end, and ultimately made for an exhausting viewing experience. In sum, regardless of the quick pacing Now ended up stretching. It became a slow crawl to get to the heart of the “real” story, whatever it was.

Now, Now‘s biggest crime in my opinion is what has been used prior in other, more satisfying crime capers (eg: again The Usual SuspectsSe7en and to a degree Fight Club): explaining the motives as well as the tricks used against you to f*ck with your head. You don’t just explain eeverything. At least in one, lethal does. Now tries to make up for all its trickery in a rapid clip expo that should’ve taken a half an hour in maybe, oh, twenty seconds. That deal completely undid the f*cking entirety of the movie’s raison d’etre. If this was a film about deceiving the deceived, wouldn’t it have been more fair to let in a little light here and there so that us brave few that still have a Twitter-less attention span could deduce what might have been happening? Maybe then a full explanation about the past few of your precious little 90 minutes would be necessary. Me? I like to come to my own conclusions on my own time. Makes for a more satisfying movie watching experience. I graduated from spoon fed Gerber at least since senior year.

Damn. Here was a movie I should’ve liked. Instead I got fed tedium and fatigue. A fast paced movie nonetheless! Now had a lot to offer and enjoy, but after watching it I felt wasted and in need of Vivarin and some thumbing through Houdini’s bio with a highlighter with the crew of Hardball at my defense. Put plainly a movie about magic should not hoodwink the audience by waiting for the sleight of hand to. Take. It. Down. A few. Notches.

Now sleep!


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Trickery can only go far, even within Hollywood deception. The Four Horsemen used their magic to make money disappear? Where’d my 100 minutes go, huh?


Stray Observations…

  • “Too many French people in that room.”
  • Strangest post-Katrina fund raiser I’ve ever seen.
  • “I like squirrels. I’m not a frat guy.” Sounds like a confession to me.
  • That’s how I take my coffee, plus three sugars.
  • They had to kiss.

Next Installment…

A trip to London could be a new chance at love for Last Chance Harvey.


RIORI Vol 3, Installment 28: Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone” (2007)

 


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The Players…

Casey Affleck, Ed Harris, Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Freeman (here again), with John Ashton, Amy Ryan, Amy Madigan and Titus Welliver.


The Story…

When an innocent gets kidnapped, it’s always news. When it’s a poor, white girl? Good Lord, send out the tanks. But what if the child “needed” to be kidnapped? Had to be taken out of a dangerous situation?

PI Pat Kenzie might’ve taken the time to ask these questions. Instead he got pulled into this circumstance already. Against his will, against heavy odds of cracking the case, and soon against the wall.


The Rant…

After my last, extremely goofy installment, I’m gonna try to play it straight (okay, straighter) this time out. Besides, this week’s scrutiny is over a serious movie, so I’ll try to leave out a lot of the pretzel logic. That and I’ve never been much for Steely Dan anyway.

Ahem.

Never been much of an Affleck fan. At least not Ben.

If you’ve been alive since the 90s, Ben’s star had been gradually—and then meteorically—on the rise. With somewhat good reason. Despite being straightforward and kinda derivative, Ben and his buddy Matt Damon’s breakthrough script for Good Will Hunting opened the  floodgates to increasingly better gigs. Profitable if merely artistically. Keep in mind though, Ben got his Oscar for writing not acting (and I don’t see such rewards towards that in the foreseeable future. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong some century).

It’s easy to slag on Ben the actor. He’s had precious few roles that earned some respect beyond just his scribbling. Really. Victim by proxy to a stink palm only goes so far to engender an actor’s respectability. Nor does playing a blind superhero dancing on seesaws with his future wife. Or running in J.Lo’s circle period. Even when does a serviceable, even good job with the roles he’s been given (e.g.: Dazed And Confused, Chasing Amy, Hollywoodland, et al) Ben’s repeatedly drawn the short stick regarding career enhancement via thespian. Let’s hope his finger-crossing turn as Batman might not go tits up. Unsure on many fronts (hard to get Daredevil’s playground scene out of my head). But he’s dogged. Keeps on trying. Gotta respect that.

Still not a fan, though.

On the other side of the camera, however, Ben has shown promise. Even considering the mediocre script behind Hunting, his directing acumen has been increasing in leaps and bounds. I’ve been as surprised as you have. Both The Town and especially Argo (which won Best Pic, BTW) were pretty good films. Satisfying. Not necessarily excellent, but there’s a short list of prominent—let alone good—films directed by faces usually in front of the camera. Ordinary People by Redford. Dances With Wolves (for good or for ill) by Costner. Unforgiven  by Eastwood. Pretty short list there. Kinda surprising in some respects that Ben earned membership into that club. I’m not put off by that.

His acting, however? We’ll just let that go for now, okay?

His l’il bro, on the other hand, I’ve found quite interesting. Blame or thank Hunting for this. In a sense, that was Casey Affleck’s breakout role. All 15 minutes of it (not a cliche, I timed it. Don’t ask why). For all the fluff in Hunting—good fluff, to be fair—there was one scene where Casey held the camera. If you’ve seen the movie you know what I’m talking about. The bar scene, the one about the cop car. Right, that. One of the best shaggy dog stories I’ve ever heard in a movie, and Casey delivered it in a classic, “you talkin’ to me?” accent via Bahstun. Wicked pissa.

I’ve been in moments like that. You’ve been in moments like that. The wiseass, Spanky-esque wingman with the tales to tell and too many pints too fast. The term “relatable” regarding characters has been bandied about so much it has ceased to carry much weight, even though I’ve used it here at RIORI one too many hundred times. I’ve been slow to learn—and am still learning—that making a character relatable on screen in tough. You can have the everyman, as in every role Redford has ever done. You can have the beleaguered, humorous guy, as in every role Steve Martin has done. You can have the assh*le—in a good way—like Pacino’s entire CV (c’mon, Tony Montana was a doosh, but folks still love him). What I’m saying is being a relatable character in a movie requires moxie. Doubt that? Well, if you think about it Travis Bickle is a relatable character. Right you scum?

I’m not trying to overplay my hand here, but Casey’s camera grab didn’t feel like a fluke. It felt to me more like an introduction. It didn’t end there, nor really start there either. Casey had the Ocean’s 11 series, Out Of The Furnace, Interstellar. Character roles, malleable, chameleon-like, something his big brother isn’t as good at pulling off with much conviction (not to beat Ben up, but he did star in not one but two Michael Bay travesties. Wait, is that redundant?). Read: Casey might direct someday, too. As well pen a few scripts. So the guy’s been busy even (almost) living in the shadow of his award-winning, smarmy big bro. Casey’s been on the rise.

Not sure if he ever carried a movie, though. You know, as the lead.

I recently found out he had…


There’s been a kidnapping.

Madeline McCready. Four years old. A good girl, pretty, sweet. Scooped out of a run-down South Boston neighborhood amongst many run-down neighborhoods. The case has either baffled the police, or too much red tape is keeping the investigation mired. The hell of it is that there are precious few clues, no obvious motive, not even a real ransom demand. The kid’s just…gone.

Private investigator Patrick Kenzie (Affleck) is an expert in such matters. Missing persons in general, lost children in specific. He and his “partner” Angie (Monaghan) usually keep away from high profile cases like the McCready kidnapping. But he’s local, as little Maddy’s Aunt Bea (Madigan) learns, and she and her distraught brother Lionel (Welliver), frustrated with the cops dragging their feet seek Pat out. He reluctantly takes the case after meeting the “distraught,” coked-up mother Helene (Ryan), an odious creature if there ever was one. Pat wonders if Maddy is better off elsewhere than with the failure that is Helene.

Despite the police commissioner himself, Jack Doyle (Freeman) spearheading the search, Pat’s getting little cooperation from the cops in finding Maddy, save grizzled, experienced Lt Remy Brussant (Harris). Remy appears to have a personal agendum regarding the kidnapping. And the child’s immediate family is dodgy with even raising a finger to find Maddy, as if almost protecting her from Helene despite the awful crime.

Pat finds himself getting bounced and bombarded about Southie’s underbelly in trying to get a crack in the case. And no one is helping. It feels like finding Maddy is an afterthought against not finding her.

After all the headaches, it looks like to Kenize that the kid is nothing but…gone…


One could make the argument that Gone Baby Gone is Ben Affleck’s bid for critical respect on his own feet, minus Damon. This is also his debut as a director, as well as employing overt nepotism. I only mention this because, well, if you’re a first time director it would be plenty handy to have your lead be someone you’d be quite familiar with. A family member would be a good choice. Okay, it didn’t work with Sofia in the third Godfather movie. Then again, almost nothing worked there. But there’s the case for the Carradines, the Howards and the Sutherlands. Hell, I think some of those folks have actually worked together. Mostly positive results there. I’m no expert mind you, but I’ve seen one on TV.

With Baby, director Ben was pretty shrewd in casting in his baby bro Casey as the fulcrum upon which the script balances. Casey’s performance as Pat pleasantly surprised me based on his drunken bit part in Hunting. I know, it was probably the first time you saw Casey in action also. But the swaggering boozehound morphed into a cagey PI—quite well, BTW—was an unexpected turn. The fact it worked wasn’t necessarily shocking, but oddly refreshing. I didn’t fancy Casey for the emotive type sans ham. Granted, Ben knew how to pull Casey’s strings, but it’s probably safe to assume the guy was willing. Both made it work.

This was a very character-driven film. Very. Good thing all of the cast was interesting. To explain, when the casting call went out, “local color” responded. The kidnapping case was nothing more than wallpaper for the cast to keep pasting up. I know. All dramas play that way, but I can’t immediately recall any recent drama where the almighty Maguffin is so shoved aside to let balls-to-the-wall characterization carry everything. So much so that—in Baby‘s case anyway—the plot element gets sidelined to baffle the audience as to what the f*ck is going on. I guess that’s what makes for a good mystery-drama. One gets the impression within all this story everybody wants something from someone for nothing. All of Baby is nothing bit one big personal agendum, and the audience is relentlessly pummeled by this. It’s all good.

There’s a significant flaw in executing a crime drama/mystery thriller: replay value. How can one make a film like Baby captivating over a second viewing even though you know how it ends? Sharp characterization. We got it here. Boom. Like I said. This being an uber-character driven film, I gotta tackle all facets (or try to) of our beloved family, the good and the warts. Hey, my prerogative and duty. I do this so you don’t have to, like wiping. But seriously, and beyond ragged Pat, we got a holy host of live ones to nail up.

First off, however, is a complaint. Right, right. Bitch, bitch. Gonna go here first and sweep the crumbs under the mat. I saw Baby with the wifey. We enjoyed it with a cringe, but throughout the film I had a nagging feeling. So much of one I had to bother her halfway through the movie. Hit pause, turned around and asked about Angie. I commented that Monaghan seemed too fragile to handle the gig she had. She felt out of place. The woman’s comment (and she nailed it)? She’s seemed an afterthought. She was. Baby is an man’s, man’s, man’s, man’s world. All our male leads tear it up, and lonely Monaghan gets lost in the shuffle. Even Ryan’s harridan Helene has more testosterone than Angie. Maybe her frailty was there as a steam valve for all the relentless tension, but being wispy throughout didn’t do much in that regard.

Other than Monaghan’s miscasting, the rest of the actors were excellent. I’ve already given a high five to Casey, but the rest of our crew was just as notable. Hats off to (Ed) Harris—a little Led Zep pun there. We need to lay off the serious now and again—he’s always solid. His Remy is a relishing role. He really chews it up, almost to the point of hamminess but delivered so convincingly you just end up rolling with it. Harris’ skill as an actor is “selling it.” No matter how engaging, how silly, how dependable he can be his characters always sell. Even his Bud in The Abyss (my favorite Cameron movie. Don’t judge me). Without a whit of irony. His Remy is no different. And what’s cool is his Remy is sketchy. His is a con artist ready to con (or in some cases here re-con) any poor soul like Pat into a sense of righteousness in whatever it takes to get the job done. Kinda chilling if you think about it. In short, you gotta respect Ed Harris.

Funny Harris being second fiddle really. Again, barring Monaghan, the second tier was also expertly cast. For instance, I don’t know if Ryan got a nod towards any movie noms, but if not she should have for her sleaze in Baby. Her Helene was odious. Talk about deadbeat dads? What about monstrous moms? The assh*ole, absentee dad is a well-worn trope. Now I ask you, tell me a tale in the world of celluloid of a notable c*nt of a mom after Mommy Dearest?

*counting fingers*

Ryan’s Helene was hellacious. Her character was a high school PSA for birth control. Oh God, if after seeing Baby with Ryan skulking about and you wouldn’t seek a condom, maybe a scalpel? Yer a f*ckin retard. Her turn was that good. Good in the sense of awful. It takes a pretty talented actress to make you want a shower after seeing her perform. See Angie? That’s how it’s done. Yuk.

*time for an intermission, and you are welcome*

If you saw my snarky parenthetical reference in The Players meme up top (and I’m sure you did) Morgan Freeman showed up. For the past I don’t know how many years, Freeman’s been the go to guy for…well, everything. I’m guessing that based on prior installments, as well as my vitriol against the banal and repetitive. I’m gonna slag Freeman’s overexposure for all it’s worth, right?

Not necessarily.

I’ve been pretty straightforward with this installment. I pride myself on being a loony. Occasionally I rein it in. But I feel I’d be remiss in sharing with the lot of y’all a personal twist on this trip out. Never to fear, it involves Red Ellis. It also involves Eazy Reader.

Presently, as I write/edit this installment—as I do with almost all my screeds here at RIORI—I have a soundtrack busting out of my iTunes library. Been listening to the Irish punk band Stiff Little Fingers. I don’t care if you’ve ever heard of them. No snobbery here. However regarding Freeman’s movie career, and in keeping with the time-out we’re in here, my digital library serves as an analog towards Freeman’s prolific/overexposed FaceTime. Again, Eazy Reader.

I know I’m rambling, but so does Freeman’s career. Ever see Brubaker? Hole in one. Consider this a trip to the snack bar. Let’s let it get away for a punch. Remember to lower the seats.

Ever since Freeman earned Academy respect with Million Dollar Baby, the guy has been in almost every single American film since 2004. Regardless of genre, demand or soundtrack, Freeman has dotted the Is and crossed the Ts in The Bucket List, Oblivion, The Lego Movie, Last Vegas, Wanted, Invictus, Born To Be Wild, RED, Dolphin Tale, Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, Olympus Has Fallen, Dolphin Tale TWO, Lucy, Ted 2, LONDON Has Fallen

You catching my drift? The guy’s a great actor, but can we say overexposed? What’s next? The Larry Bird Story starring Morgan Freeman? Maybe.

A few things. First, maybe the guy is just in demand for his versatility and loves to act. Second, the man’s getting up there in years and perhaps wants to pack as much thespian punch as he can before the clock runs down. Third, he’s been following the Nic Cage law of diminishing returns and just can’t turn down a script no matter how career threatening it may prove to be. I repeat: Dolphin Tale 2.

Whatever it is that drives the man, his Jack Doyle—though delivered with the usual Freeman gravitas, sincerity and sensibility—is a waste of his talent. Here Freeman is nothing more than a glorified cameo, seemingly only around to give the big reveal. I hated that. An actor of Freeman’s caliber (but may be quickly becoming a bore. Ha!) should do more than just give face time in an otherwise compelling mystery. What I’m getting at here is any actor could’ve played Doyle. Even Ed Harris. Morgan’s been stretching himself thin for a while now, and his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role in Baby is a good example of that. Too bad. Freeman is a graceful actor. It’s probably why he’s so popular/in demand, although his fans might not realize that.

Back to normal.

Like a lot of crime dramas, atmosphere and overall feel are crucial to setting the pace of the movie. I’m not talking pace pace here (although we get nice and thick with Baby‘s even pace), I’m talking about dragging it out just enough to 1) create intrigue and; 2) enhance both tension and the need to make the audience scratch their collective skulls. What’s going on here? That’s what a decent police procedural should ask you.

Baby does this in spades. It was edgy in a very good way. That’s a term oft overused in most crime dramas. It’s not here. Even with some stilted dialogue—though not totally off-putting—grimy stereotypes galore and a lotta hypocrisy throughout, Baby is overall interesting in how the “real” investigation gets underway (even if that was not until the third act). Some might find a million cliches and jillion other movies being tagged here, it’s not about the notes, but how you play ’em as I like to scream to the rafters. Often. A lot.

Here’s an example: it felt like Taxi Driver was a major influence on this production, but done with taste. At least half the scenes were shot in the demimonde, buttering the tension all over the place. All poor lighting and angular camera work. We also enter into Rashomon territory; who’s version of the truth is the truth? Baby keeps you asking, almost frustratingly so. This could just be overspill from the source novel, but I wasn’t so sure. At any rate, it kept me a-scratchin’, and that’s what made Baby good. A mystery should keep you wondering. Like Hitchcock said, “Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” Any perceived lameness of script (even though the final act was indeed hurried) can be overcome by skillfully squeezing the audience’s scrotum by way of acting, atmosphere or even a keening note from the soundtrack. Dusky characterization, rough cinematography and/or glaring lighting—which were great here, BTW—can still blur the corners. If a movie’s good, watch it and damn the torpedoes. Suffer.

That being said Baby was a tough movie to get through overall. That’s a complement. The hard sh*t you want—need—to remember. The plot, the content, the difficult (but memorable) characters. All that jive. I think Ben might be onto something with this whole directing bit. Working with his kid bro seems fruitful, too. Perhaps there’s enough juice getting brewed to perhaps excuse Jersey Girl. That and maybe Tower Heist. Could be possibilities abound.

“Yeah. One or two.”


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. It’s a solid caper, directed by an actor I cannot stand starring his little bro as a baby-faced, Southie, wizened detective hell-bent on finding lost children. I still liked it. Deal. Argo was pretty okay, also. I cheated on my taxes, too. And I still like Oasis, okay?


Stray Observations…

  • “It’s not that, Lionel.” “What is it then?” “She’s a c*nt!” Looks like Family Feud is written all over this one.
  • Harris’ hairpiece is terrible. You can’t take such a thing seriously. The actor’s been bald for the better part of his storied career and has done fine without wigs. He wouldn’t’ve gotten that award for Pollock if he sported a ‘fro, right?
  • If a newcomer to America came up to me and asked, “What is white trash?” I’d hand him a copy of this movie.
  • “You are an abomination.”
  • “And get that sausage off my lawn!” Gotta use that. At least once.
  • I thought Taggert retired by the third film?
  • “It was an accident…”
  • “Murder’s a sin.” “Depends on who you do it to.”
  • Best drinking scene I’ve ever seen on film. At least to my immediate whiskey-addled memory. I think there was something in Raiders…(passes out)
  • “That’s not an ‘if’ you wanna bring into your life.”
  • Casey’s eyes in the big reveal is cunning.
  • Confession scene one: Bea calls the media. What else would she do?
  • “…I love children.”

Next Installment…

James Franco? Kate Hudson? They’s Good People. But them Yanks just gotta be careful ’bout rooms to let, true guv?


RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 13: Richard Kosinski’s “Oblivion” (2013)


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The Players…

Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko and Andrea Riseborough.


The Story…

Earth. It used to be a nice place to live. Commander Jack Harper thinks so, especially now he’s stuck planetside salvaging scrapped tech and maintaining the automated defensive drones. An alien invasion took it’s toll on Earth, so everybody save Jack and his partner jumped ship and sailed off to Titan to begin new lives. Well, Jack’s stuck with his old one, indefinitely. Then one day a crippled starship enters his territory. Its sole occupant, a mysterious woman, leads Harper to discover some unknown, shocking truths about humankind’s legacy beyond broken cities and mechanized battlebots.


The Rant…

Have you noticed lately that Tom Cruise’s roles lean towards the action hero type? The guy’s fifty-one. Can we say “mid-life crisis?” From the Mission: Impossible franchise to Jack Reacher to Oblivion, it may be now safe to say that his Top Gun days are well over. Best be sure to tell Tom this factoid. It’s time to retire into Forrest Gump territory. And that role gave Tom Hanks street cred. Ironic huh? Like the star of the Fast & Furious franchise going up in an auto-shaped ball of flame?

What, too soon?

And isn’t Morgan Freeman in every movie nowadays? I mean, other than schilling for Visa, hosting Through The Wormhole on the Science Channel, and (as an aside) portraying his best role, Easy Reader from The Electric Company, (that dates me) the guy’s been f*cking everywhere. Maine prisons. Rubbing elbows with rogue spies. Trundling bitchy Miss Daisy down to the Piggly Wiggly. Surviving cancer with Jack Nicholson. Off to Vegas with other geriatrics. Now he’s on post-apocalyptic Earth. Guy gets around faster than a rabbit with herpes.

(PS: I wrote the above before even watching the movie. I’m assuming my pontificating holds up some…)

…I was wrong. Anywho…

Oblivion is an odd duck of a comic-book movie adaptation. What makes it odd is that, first of all, it was based on a comic. I didn’t know that. Did you? Really? Huh. Goes to show what I know. Secondly, I haven’t seen so much philosophizing about identity within a sci-fi film since the original Star Wars trilogy. I don’t say this as derisive, though it may come across that way…


Tom Cruise stars as Jack 49, who is more or less as a garbage man in Oblivion. He is one of two humans that were left behind on Earth. Left behind? That’s right. Aliens called Scavengers (or “Scavs” for short) invaded our planet, destroyed the Moon (which in turn destroyed most of the ecosystem. You know, groundswells, upheavals, climate change, the usual stuff of sci-fi nightmares) and the surviving rest of humanity has jumped ship and headed off to Titan, one Saturn’s moons. Jack’s more or less all alone, save his eye in the sky Victoria (Riseborough), maintaining thousands of sentient robotic drones to monitor the planet and keeps eyes out for surviving alien hordes. As he puts it, picking up the waste, sifting through the dross for whatever valuable resources that could be recycled for the Titan mission.

One day, on a routine patrol, a large starship crash-lands on the planet, bearing some human survivors, which the drones promptly dispatch with great efficiency. Jack, alarmed at the wanton killing comes to rescue, but is only able to save one survivor. A woman, who looks oddly familiar.

So more or less begins our whirlwind adventure on a barren Earth with a futuristic trash man, the diaspora from an alien war, a human “stowaway” and a planet lousy with patrol drones and remaining Scavs who with to do us harm.

Oh. Really…?


The plot Oblivion is a thin one, but it tries to come across as much thicker than it is. The movie’s motif borrows from countless sci-fi psychodramas, from Blade Runner to Solaris to…to the Solaris remake with George Clooney. Oblivion has less to do with creating new worlds and more about proclaiming identity. It’s character drama. The concept of who you are in a given time under certain circumstances. Are you really sure of who you are and what those circumstances are? Are you lost? Is it the déjà vu all over again scenario? I don’t know, and film did not provide any easy answers.

What it did provide was a visually clean farscape. Not ostentatious, with a lot of smart CGI. You know how most of today’s sci-fi films want to bludgeon you over the head with digitally rendered whatsits and foreign locales off-world with nary a modicum of subtlety? Right, Oblivion doesn’t do that. Instead it offers up a very real, one could say prescient view of a ravaged planet Earth. Did I mention the cinematography (including the CGI enhancement) is breathtaking. I won’t lie to you. Most of Oblivion is pretty damn beautiful.

There was a bit more original drama than I had expected for a lifted plot. Actually, this movie is more a melodrama wrapped up in the guise of a sci-fi flick. There’s a good amount of play and tension against the characters, not unlike a relatively well-wrtten soap opera arc. And like your daytime dramas, there is plenty of intrigue and weird plot loops tossed about. It’s tricky to give a clear explanation about what Oblivion is really about because, 1) it’s near impossible without dumping spoilers all over you, and; 2) it’s not exactly clear what Oblivion is trying to say. Don’t get me wrong. The film is interesting. It’s also obtuse as hell, and can make for a confusing viewing experience. But it’s sci-fi, only when it’s not, and when it’s not…um, it’s something else. Stop yelling at me.

This was a confusing review to write, and it shows. Mostly because I didn’t know where to stand on this film. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good. It was rather confusing as if the film couldn’t make up its mind. It sure as sh*t met The Standard considering its lousy turnout at the box office. Is that a reflection on this movie? Kinda. I don’t know. All I can say for sure is that Oblivion was pretty.


The Verdict…

Rant it or relent it? I don’t know about this one. You need to come up with your own opinions about it, so I guess rent it and cook up some.


Stray Observations…

  • The crashed ship looks a lot like an overweight relic from the Mercury Program. A nod to the then, last defunct endeavor humanity launched into space?
  • The sunglasses thing. Meta for Top Gun?
  • “Are you okay?” “No.”…”Are we gonna die?” “No. Maybe.” Life in a nutshell.
  • Ever been the observation deck at the Empire State? With those quarter binocs, you can really see forever. Nice touch with view of WTC One. The tragedy was not lost on Kosinski. To him, an apple.
  • “Our job is not to remember. Remember?”
  • My grandma had a crush on Tom Cruise. Always found that endearing, especially with an octogenarian.
  • “Dream of us.”

Next Installment…

Idris Elba and crew defend the Pacific Rim from monsters with—what else?—giant robots. Desperate times and all that.