With just two weeks to go, Jack's partner is eager to wrap things up and leave a now desolate Earth.
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OK. OK. Two reviews in less than six months seems like I'm developing a man crush on Mr. Tom Cruise but, I promise you it's just a coincidence. I'm just using this movie review as a test of PostHaven's new blogging platform. (no really…with Posterous shutting down it is a valid exercise.)
I was looking forward to this movie, having followed the trailers and featurettes on the bubbleship and how they shot the skytower, via the internet and other media outlets. Regardless of what you think of the film, one thing is for certain - in DC at least - the combination of marketing and paid off. Tom Cruise can still open a big movie weekend. In the Washington DC metro area it was hard to find a ticket, shows were sold out through midnight on Saturday and I was lucky enough to snag one for the IMAX presentation.
Usually I'm not a fan of 3D or IMAX but in the case of Oblivion, this is exactly what the movie needed. Amazing in its scope, you get a feel for the sky tower, the empty landscapes and the results of an Earth wasted by elemental change as a result of a devastated moon. The first half of the movie is pristine. We are introduced to Jack Harper (Cruise), a drone tech with a full complement of science fiction toys: the impossibly clean bubbleship with a 270 degree view of the world, a next gen motorcycle and the requisite pulse weapon. Jack along with his "teammate" and operator Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are the mop up crew. With only two weeks left in their rotation before they return to the Mothership. The Mothership headed for Titan, one of Saturn's moons.
They're leaving Earth, along with the rest of humanity, because even though they won the war with the long gone aliens, the Earth is no longer fit to support life. They're there to repair drones who are protecting giant ships meant to harvest the last of Earths resources before the Titan trip.
Yet Jack, who keeps having memories of a past prior to the invasion, can't help but think perhaps they're wrong, perhaps they're meant to stay on Earth for just a little longer.
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The last half of the movie devolves into echoes of other movies you might have seen before, if you're a big fan of science fiction. I'll leave those 5-6 movies unnamed because they would give away key plot points. This doesn't make the movie any less enjoyable because of the rush of emotion in the second half of the movie. As Jack Harper, Cruise is equal parts stoic and lonely individual looking to connect. As Victoria, Andrea Riseborough does credit to her classical stage acting background by living the part of a "team member", lover, spouse (it's never spelled out in the movie) - who is torn between her feelings for Jack and her desire to leave the planet.
The aforementioned BubbleShip and SkyTower. (all the comforts of home)
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Though Oblivion was based on producer/director Joseph Kosinski's unpublished graphic novel of the same name, you will undoubtably leave the movie knowing he was heavily influenced by works that came before. In many ways that's all right -- as it doesn't diminish the enjoyment of the movie. If anything, it makes you want to view the movies you think influenced Kosinski -- to see if your hypothesis is correct. Keep in mind there are only seven plots (some say 12) in storytelling so in the bigger scheme of things -- it's often how you tell a story and to whom that determines success and resonance.
For me Oblivion marks the kickoff of the Summer Movie season, and it can only get better. Grab some popcorn, get smack dab in the middle of that IMAX screen and soak it all in.
Returning from four weeks of vacation spent overseas in Southeast Asia, on a visit home to Laos, I was jonesing for a catch-up weekend on all the first movies I had missed while I was MIA. The obvious selection for my first reinsertion into the U.S. pop-culture machine should have been the new James Bond flick, Skyfall. However, the new movie Jack reacher just seemed too compelling. I was pleasantly surprised by my last minute pivot. (Future posts will eventually cover the Southeast Asia adventure — I promise).
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Check your movie critic hat at the door upon entering the theater and you'll be treated to a solid and entertaining two hours and 11 minutes. If you're familiar with the Lee Child thrillers, on which the Jack Reacher movie has been fashioned, you'll spend a little time getting over the fact that Tom Cruise is not the Jack Reacher from the novels. Cruise does an outstanding job of portraying Jack Reacher. By the end of the first act, any reservations you may have had regarding the fact that he's not six foot five, brawny or blond – is replaced by the fact that Cruise truly inhabits the character of Jack Reacher. Unbending, stoic and morally unconfused, Cruise's version of Jack Reacher is without scruples when it comes to seeing that justice is served (versus what is right or wrong based on proof). Audiences will gravitate to him because he sees the world in black and white with few if any shades of gray.
He's a modern day Dirty Harry without the magnum, the Terminator without the mechanical directive, the Punisher without the comic book affectations.
Critics will complain that the plot, as it unfolds, makes it obvious to cinephiles exactly what is going on — and if you're an attentive movie watcher you'll realize that part is true. The movie has less to do with keeping the audience in the dark and more to do with keeping them guessing how the Jack Reacher character will resolve the problem(s) at hand.
Here's where all the joy in Jack Reacher comes to a head — women will swoon (like the women in the movie) for Reacher and men will gravitate towards his level of control. On this latter point, it's a level of control that allows Reacher to drop off the grid, untethering himself from the indignity of modern life, the binds of mortgage payments and the demands of a wired life. A quote from the actual book explains how he got to be this way, "I was in the machine. My whole life. Then the machine coughed and spat me out. So I thought, OK, if I'm out, I'm out. All the way out. I was a little angry and it was probably an immature reaction. But I got used to it.”
In essence, Jack Reacher is his own man, living life on his own terms.
Armed with a military background that gives him the chops to back up his understated bravado Jack Reacher, as played by Cruise, is the antithesis of the Arnold Schwarzenegger era action hero. Jack Reacher's first line of defense is intellect, which prevents him from responding to every obstacle with a catchphrase and a hail of bullets fired from an automatic weapon.
Everyone involved with this movie seemingly brought their "A" game, with top billed cast turning in solid performances. Director Christopher McQuarrie ( Usual Suspects) also brings his formidable talents to the project and it shows - from sound design, music and cinematography the all the work is impeccable.
I'm sure studio execs are holding their breath, waiting on weekly box office totals, to see if this will be a breakout hit. Waiting to see if this movie will provide them with a franchise with a wealth of source material. At last count, Lee Childs has had at least 16 Jack Reacher books published. And for pure fun the Reacher novels are easily the best thriller series going. Let us hope this movie, based on the novel "One Shot", is the first of many more to come.
"You think this can last? There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us."
Observations On All Things Dark Knight (Again)
When an audience claps in appreciation at a movie, not just at the end but also during key parts of the movie, you know the director has done his job well. This is especially true if there is no one associated with the movie present at the screening and the audience is sober. In many cases, it is a reaction to building tension that is finally alleviated or when a character so disliked in the movie — gets their comeuppance. Sitting in a packed theater last night, where many remained seated through the credits, you would be right to assume that Christopher Nolan has a crowd pleaser on his hands.One can surmise that Nolan, having filled the coffers of Warner Bros. many times over, was given carte blanche to fulfill his vision of the Batman mythos. Though at times it seemed like the movie was getting too big to be contained, Nolan does an expert job of wrapping up the trilogy, answering open questions and tying up loose ends in a satisfying way for Batman fanboys and the casual viewer alike. This is a feat that is more daunting than we realize because when the first movie in the trilogy Batman Begins debuted, Nolan had yet to map out the story arc for all three films.There will be many who will dissect The Dark Knight Rises, much like they did its predecessor, nit-picking at details and lamenting in extended anti-TDK/Nolan diatribes. Some of these reviews are so scathing, one has to think that the authors just might revel in the negative comments generated by their contrarian views. They of course are not entirely wrong. But, no matter, most of us do not take notes or dissect a movie as we are watching it. We do as was intended and we allow it to wash over us. We experience the film as a whole. Only after the experience will we giddily turn to ask our fellow movie goers and ask, “What did think?!!” In the case of this movie, we most likely did not bother to listen before we blurted out our own opinion laced with superlatives. Nolan has gone the full distance and brought us a final installment of the Dark Knight Trilogy that informs us about our own state as a people, connects us in shared emotions and entertains the “muther-effing” heck out of us. It’s also the first movie this summer that I knew I wanted to pay to see twice. (Which I’m secretly hoping to do right now. Even as I type this review on an iPad having ditched church for the matinee showing — God forgive me.)
THE STORY:(No Spoilers I Promise, Just Set-Up) Christopher Nolan has developed a narrative strung so tight, even fanboys will be caught off guard when all the twists, turns and pieces click into place. This is not because we all aren’t familiar with the details from decades of Batman comics but, because you really do experience The Dark Knight Rises as a movie and not just another “superhero” movie. (BTW You don’t need to see Parts 1 and 2 to enjoy this movie but, it might be wise lest the person you’re sitting next to threaten bodily harm if you ask one more question about a character or incident from the previous movies.)We pick-up the story in The Dark Knight Rises eight years after the last film. Gotham is prosperous and almost crime-free due to lies built upon the legacy of the late District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). It is a lie kept in place by the silence of police Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) who knows it was Harvey Dent and not the Batman who perpetrated the murders at the end of the previous movie. Portrayed as a martyr, Harvey Dent has his name tacked onto a bill, legislation that put thousands of criminals behind bars without the possibility of parole. In an increasingly safe Gotham, Commissioner Gordon and Batman are considered relics, veterans in a war long over. Gotham, having no further use for a masked vigilante, pushes Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) into a Howard Hughes-like seclusion. The bat signal gathers dust.But it’s always most calm before the storm. In the shadows lurks a new villain, Bane (Tom Hardy) with ties to Bruce Wayne’s past, who intends to fulfill the dreams of his mentor and destroy Gotham City — long seen as a corrupt modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, worthy of obliteration. Because of Bane’s plans, which preaches revolution under the guise of political reform and cleansing, some people start clamoring for the return of the Dark Knight. Out of shape, out of practice and out of the loop, Bruce Wayne has a long way to go before he do justice to the cape and cowl. Does Batman’s presence matter in a world that has moved on without him? To tell you anymore would be criminal, as giving away key details would ruin your enjoyment of the film.
Anne Hathaway, who plays Selena Kyle aka CatWoman, turns in a heroic performance. Her version of CatWoman embodies all the qualities that would be appealing to a man used to roaming the city in black body armor and a cowl. Hathaway’s performance transcends Michele Pfeiffers turn in the Tim Burton helmed original and obliterates Halle Berry’s turn in the Razzie winning movie. Selena Kyle is a renowned master thief. Hathaway plays her as an independent and resourceful woman with no need to be rescued nor desire to play the damsel in distress. Those distressed by early PR photos of the CatWoman costume will be glad to know that her outfit, despite the four-inch heels, looks the way it does because of function. In action sequences within The Dark Knight Rises it becomes clear why production designers took this tact — after all CatWoman spends more time kicking-ass and no time playing sexual dominatrix. Hathaway truly becomes her character, convincingly slipping in between the villain/anti-hero enigma that is Selena Kyle.Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is an inspired choice to play John Blake. Blake is a young police officer with instincts beyond his years and an intelligence to see the dichotomy of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Levitt plays the character with all the necessary conviction to illustrate the idealism that was once a cornerstone of Batman’s crime-fighting mantra. It is Blake in contrast with Wayne that we begin to understand just how much Batman has strayed from his original mission. This leads us to wonder if the future of Gotham belongs in the hands and hope of a younger generation.As Bane, Tom Hardy turns in an understated but, effective performance. This is remarkable because his emoting must be done primarily though his eyes and his actions. At times he is hard to understand because his character wears a respirator that feeds him pain killers but, Hardy’s performance gets across the gist of his intentions even if the dialogue is muffled.Nolan brings back a host of old friends, family, bit-players and nemesis in flashbacks and present day interactions. Comfortable in their roles, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Christian Bale focus on moving the story forward and pulling on our heartstrings. Even Bale’s “Batman Voice” has become less gruff and is a bit more understated.CONCLUSION:Equal parts detective story, action-movie spectacle and noir-enhanced superhero narrative, Nolan injects us in a world fully formed and realized with enough realism that we suspend disbelief for a few hours and indulge in the fantasy of what we could do to fight crime — had we billions of dollars, extensive training and all those fabulous gadgets.
Watch your back Christopher Nolan, Joss Whedon's coming up your six. The Avengers, the latest live-action offering from Marvel shows us it's possible to make a decent ensemble movie — we just need to STFU and work as a team.
I was looking forward to the Avengers movie as I was reading through the reviews on Letterboxd.com. Most of these reviews were from the rest of the world and I hoped I would not be disappointed — it just premiered in the US today.
It should be noted that no other studio, outside of Marvel, could have pulled off this feat. I'm talking less about the Avengers movie itself and more about Marvel starting their own studio and taking control of their intellectual property. Who better than a comics publishing giant could understand the needs of their own fans?
With premiere properties like Spiderman licensed to Sony, X-men and the Fantastic Four to Fox (and a host of other characters licensed to Lionsgate, New Line and Columbia) it seemed like the right time to venture out on their own. Marvel wanted to do this before making a movie, like The Avengers, would be hampered by lawyers and licensing deals. So Avi Arad and company bet the farm, staking their survival on the success or failure of the first Iron Man movie and the reboot of the Hulk. The latter being the version with Edward Norton. Lucky for us, that bet payed off.
Which brings us to Joss Whedon, the man entrusted with the mythos of The Avengers. I'm sure the Hollywood suits had their doubts but, found Whedon uniquely qualified to do the one thing that has plagued many failed super-hero movies - tell a good narrative without giving in to excessive exposition, back-story or cramming in too many heroes and villains. It doesn't hurt that Whedon's street cred includes a stint writing the Eisner Award winning X-Men series for Marvel.
We assume with millions to be made in licensing, the studio execs would insist Whedon to do things their way - the better to sell the myriad of merchandise that accompanies such spandex-wearing spectacle. Yet what we see on screen is quite the contrary. Joss Whedon has pulled off a masterpiece of summertime goodness that will appeal to the kid in all of us. For someone who grew up on the comic book rations Marvel, it is immensely satisfying to see what used to exist as drawings by Jack Kirby, John Buscema and George Perez (among others) come to life in a live-action movie that is respectful of the source material.
Whedon does more than make these characters come alive, he embodies them in the Walt Kelly (Pogo) catch phrase, "We have met the enemy and he is us."
Because what is the Avengers but, a story about a dysfunctional family? This is how we are able to relate to the characters. We all have dysfunctional families with different members playing the roles of (Avengers roll call!) the father figure (Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury), the self-righteous hero (Chris Evans as Captain America), the egotistical brother (Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/ Iron Man), the mediator/peacekeeper (Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk), the outgoing and responsible sister (Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow), the entitled 'holier than thou' brother (Chris Hemsworth as Thor) and the enforcer (Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye).
So off we go on a cross-country road trip, dysfunctions and all, crammed into the family station wagon (the S.H.E.I.L.D flying fortress) bickering about who has to sit in the middle. Only when we are united against a single and common enemy (Tom Hiddelston as Loki) do we get our act together, repress our respective egos and begin to act like a family.
Don't worry if some of the arcane fan-boy musings in this review have you scratching your head - all will be explained in the movie. Just sit back in the cool darkness, feed yourself that delicious 'movie' popcorn and let this blockbuster wash over you. You'll not only have a good time, you'll leave the theater thinking, "I must own this on DVD when it comes out."
Because surely there will be a directors cut as well as loads of extras...
Be sure to sit through the end credits to see not one but two media stingers (extra scenes).