Oblivion (2013)

OblivionOblivion

Release Date: April 19, 2013

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko

Runtime: 126 min

Tagline: Earth Is a Memory Worth Fighting For

Jack (Tom Cruise) is one of the last drone repairmen remaining on Earth. All other survivors have evacuated, after a decades-long war with an alien race, where now the only threat are the Scavs remaining on Earth. After a disturbing find, Jack begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.

At the end of it all, it remains a moderate disappointment and there’s much to be desired, especially in the story department.

The movie has a lot of good going for it. The characters are intriguing, where they make us ask who some of them really are. The characters of Julia and also Beech, portrayed by Olga Kurylenko and Morgan Freeman, respectively, are the charcters wrapped in the most mystery. Sally (Melissa Leo) is the head honcho up in space at the station, the Tet, who basically delivers and authenticates orders. Victoria (Andrea Risenborough) is on the mission with Jack, and she monitors him while he’s on missions to fix drones. Her philosophy is strictly business during the day, and fun in the evening. Jack often maintains that business mindset while on missions, even though he tends to go off monitor and do his own thing because he is very curious and is searching for meaning. He still believes Earth is his home, while Victoria cannot wait to go to the Tet and join the others. Jack’s search for meaning gives the film a solid narrative and makes it an effective character sci-fi drama, where all the dots are connected in the end. He has to find his way through basic man vs. man conflicts, man vs. technology conflicts, and most of all, man vs. self conflicts, as he is haunted by his own memories. The cast that portrays these characters is also top-notch.

The other highlight of the movie are the solid action sequences, the breathtaking landscapes and fantastic cinematography. This will be one of the most beautiful science fiction films to hit theatres this year, and is the nicest sci-fi to look at since last year’s Prometheus. It’s stunning when the camera is sailing over Iceland or when Cruise is just flying about; and that magnificent cinematography is the film’s strongest aspect. It’s one of the most gorgeous post-apocalyptic films you might ever see. The film also has a great score, and the technological gadgets are sh-weet.

The concept of Jack not really knowing his true self is portrayed well because sometimes we all lose our real sense of identity. It’s very frustrating when we really don’t know, so it’s realistic because he really has no idea of it, and it’s made even harder as he’s trying to hang onto any of his own humanity that remains.

The movie’s main problem is the storyline. The narrative all makes an admirable U-turn by the end of it all, but its road there can be hard to follow. Especially if you over-think it during. (You’d be thinking about the previous scene when a new, sometimes more complex scene is going on.) It’s also one of those sci-fi flicks that’ll be easier to understand on second or third viewing. The story also makes us question who the true villains are: Those on Earth (the Scavs, who look a bit too much like the antagonists from Predator), or whoever else is keeping secrets?

The story is intriguing but it loses its pacing and its initial great spark in the middle act. It aspires to be something grandiose in scale with its complex storyline, but comes out to be not as original as it could be and quite familiar because of all of its homages. The writers’ ambitions get in the film’s own way. The thing is, with all of its plot twists and turns, it feels like it’s striving to be something out of an M. Night Shyamalan or Christopher Nolan handbook. The twists aren’t as magnificent as something Nolan or Shyamalan could think of, because it feels like it’s striving to find the next new masterful twist that will never be forgotten. You might not be able to see them coming from the beginning of the movie, but many times during, you might be able to predict the basics of what will happen next a minute in advance.

This disappointing sci-fi feature will only receive a half-hearted recommendation; there’s just too much to be desired. There are effectively thrilling action sequences, breathtakingly beautiful cinematography, intriguing characters; but because of the highly ambitious storyline, the end product is an entertaining action movie, an intriguing sci-fi character drama, but a thinly-written mystery.

67/100

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Life of Pi (2012)

Life of Pi

Release Date: November 21, 2012

Director: Ang Lee

Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall

Runtime: 127 min

If 1997’s Titanic won eleven Oscars, this should get twelve.

Based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, this is an incredible story of adventure and discovery, centering on Pi Patel, the curious son of a zoo keeper. He and his family hail from Pondicherry, India, but they want to move to Canada to seek a better life. They hitch a ride on a large cargo ship that is destined to sink. After a shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift on a 26-foot lifeboat accompanied by an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena and a fearsome Bengal Tiger called Richard Parker.

The film starts out with a beautiful opening sequence with multiple animals running all over the screen, as if they are running off of Noah’s Ark. Then from there, it gets right into the story.

An older Pi tells his life story to a writer through flashbacks and reflection. Since an older Pi is telling the story, there’s no question of whether or not he survives or not. The story is not about that question, it is about how he survives. Irfan Khan (that one Indian guy from Slumdog Millionaire and The Amazing Spider-Man) portrays the older Pi, while the younger Pi is portrayed magnificently by acting newcomer Suraj Sharma. Like Dev Patel’s film debut in Slumdog Millionaire, this is a great and promising start to a career. We, the audience, have the pleasure to watch a star being born. The only other really known actor (to the Western World, at least) is Rafe Spall (Anonymous, Prometheus, Hot Fuzz), who portrays the writer who may just sell Pi’s life story.

Pi’s story is a very interesting one. We see him grow up as a very curious boy that gets mocked at school because of his name (he gets called Pissing for a short period of time because his real name is Piscine). He is also a young boy of self-discovery who is interested in Hinduism, Catholicism and Muslim beliefs. He doesn’t know who he is quite yet, a feeling all of us experience when we are young. When Pi and his animal friends set adrift to the center of the Pacific Ocean because of the unfortunate shipwreck, the majority of the animals don’t last very long. They say their hello’s, and then soon enough the quick good bye’s come around and Pi and Richard Parker are the two remaining beings. They start off as sort of how an only child might feel if an adopted child is brought home, they both are skeptical of each other, and because of that they must keep their distance. Over time, the bond grows, and Pi and Parker become beings that must rely on each other. This transition is quite beautiful. Who said a man’s best friend can only be a dog?

The measure of faith that Pi possesses is inspirational, and brings some great themes of religion and hope to the feature. The CGI effects are great and the visuals are magnificent. The hailing of this being the next Avatar is quite accurate (in regards to the visual beauty, only). The story is about as great as Slumdog Millionaire, and the shipwreck sequence is both thrilling and terrifying, comparable to both White Squall and Titanic.

This film is not fit for the faint of heart. The shipwreck sequence is exciting and terrifying and very intense. There are also many sequences involving the tiger and other aspects. The viewer knows that the tiger is in the lifeboat, but we do not know where exactly he is, or when he will jump out and roar. This really brings on the conflict of man vs. carnivore. Other conflicts are: man vs. nature, and man vs. self (oh, and man vs. CGI; ha, ha). Both Pi and Richard must fight against waves and crazy storms. Pi struggles with his own faith and wicked hunger.

Life of Pi is a near-perfect film that gets its pacing thrown off at the ending. The ending raises questions of all the events that have preceeded it, and it adds a great sense of ambiguity. Nonetheless, it is very thought-provoking.

Life of Pi is a visually beautiful film, it’s surprisingly funny, it has a great story, great direction, wonderful cinematography, great conflicts and relationships, and it has many aspects of it that can be magnificent, terrifying, thought-provoking and saddening. The actors bring it all to the table, and short list of performers carry the film very well. This is one of the best films of the year that will be a large Oscar contender. If you’re going to see this, see it in its full 3D glory.

90/100