Weekend Viewing Roundup – OBLIVION Review

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Photo courtesy of StarTribune.com

The weekend is coming to a close as I’m writing this, hope y’all had a nice one… especially in the weather department. It’s really the kind of “Spring” that does NOT add an extra spring in your step, unless you want to slip on ice and fall over into a puddle 😦

I mean, just look at this photo from a couple of days ago!! THAT’s the reason I couldn’t see Mud last Thursday! And this is the kind of stuff we could expect for this week, courtesy of our local meteorologist at the Star Tribune:

A rain/snow mix tomorrow evening – but temperatures boomerang to near 70F by Saturday afternoon, maybe even a few severe T-storms late Sunday? Something for the entire family.

[sigh]

Anyway, I did see quite a few new films this past week, five to be exact:

Disconnect, Unfinished Song (both reviews are up), Caesar Must Die, I, Anna and Oblivion. Stay tuned for the reviews of the other two, but now, here’s my thoughts on…

OBLIVION

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Post-apocalyptic science fiction films are a dime a dozen and there seems to be no shortage of it. Even before the start of this film, there are trailers for a couple of them (After Earth, Elysium) and the world we live in is almost always depicted in a state of doom, with humanity facing extinction with the rest of well, what’s left of our universe.

OBLIVION begins with a voice over exposition courtesy of Jack Harper (starring the virtually ageless mega star Tom Cruise) who now lives in a high tower above the earth, Tower 49, which looks like a very expensive high rise penthouse, complete with built-in swimming pool underneath. Not a bad living quarter for a ‘mop-up crew,’ that’s what Jack refers to himself and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). They’re only two weeks away on completing their mission of drones repair on earth before they could join the entire remaining human population in their new home in Titan. Now, you’d think he’d be excited for that but Jack still can’t let go of earth & his earthly house by the lake, and he’s also still haunted by his memory of a woman from 60 years ago as they walk up to the Empire State Building [is this like the only romantic rendezvous place for New Yorkers in the movies??].

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Well, what do you know. On a routine mission, Jack ended up meeting that very woman who was in one of the delta-sleep pods that crash landed on earth as Jack was relaxing by the lake. Now, the arrival of ‘Julia’ who claims to be his wife, and then later meeting a group of human survivors hiding underground, led by cigar-smokin’ Morgan Freeman, Jack’s life quickly begins to unravel as he discovers just who his true identity is. He starts to question the things we’ve also been curious about from the start, and the last half of the film follows Jack in that journey of self-discovery… and more.

Now, all of this is intriguing stuff and director Joseph Kosinski builds this film with so many beautiful vistas and cool-looking robots to mesmerize us, but the plot leaves way more questions than the film could even begin to answer. Now, I don’t want to discuss ’em here without revealing a bunch of spoilers, but let’s just say I have similar questions as this guy in Film School Rejects post. Well, I don’t really care about ‘why was Beech [Freeman’s character] is always wearing sunglasses’ but the rest are definitely valid plot holes issues. I feel that my beef with Kosinski’s first film, Tron Legacy, where it’s mostly style over substance, also applies to this one. The one advantage is that this one he has a far more charismatic protagonist than Garrett Hedlund (more on that latter). But similarly, Kosinski seems far more concerned with building cool looking stuff than he is about crafting a real ‘meaty’ story that goes beyond a mere ‘intriguing concept.’

That said, I still find this film entertaining and I’ve got to admit I was wowed by the visuals. Everything from the bluish-hued barren landscape of earth in ruins, to the ultra sleek sky tower and Jack’s collapsible Bubbleship [apparently the design was a hybrid of a jet fighter and a Bell 47 helicopter – per We Are Movie Geeks], there are visual eye candy aplenty for the sci-fi geek in all of us. I saw this in 2D which was perfectly fine, but I bet this film would look pretty stunning on IMAX.

The pace is pretty good and I never find myself bored in the entire two hours. I also think there’s a balance of quiet moments and full-throttle action, which makes it more effective when it does happen. The aircraft chase with the drones in the narrow canyons remind me too much of so many other sci-fis, most notably The Phantom Menace. But then again, this film borrow a lot of sci-fi concepts from other films so I shouldn’t be surprised by that. Despite all the plot holes though, I’ve got to give props to the filmmaker for at least attempting to inject some humanity into the story.

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As I’ve alluded to earlier, Tom Cruise is still more than capable to carry this film. I don’t think Jack Harper would make my top 10 Tom Cruise roles, but still he’s very watchable. Some of the flying sequences made me think of this movie as Top Gun meets Minority Report, it’s amazing Cruise still looks pretty much the same as he was in Top Gun which was released 27 years ago!! One of Cruise strengths is that he is believable in the action as well as the more emotional scenes. Interestingly enough, the part of him reminiscing on earth—recalling his old days of watching baseball, playing sports in his back yard and listening to old records—are more effective than the ‘romantic’ scenes of him and his female co-stars however. I don’t exactly know why that is, though I give Cruise some credit for not looking creepy romancing actresses nearly half his age!

Speaking of the actresses, I was impressed with Andrea Riseborough once again (she was also in Disconnect), she’s truly a star on the rise [pardon the pun] with a chameleon-like ability. I don’t think Olga Kurylenko is as versatile, but she actually impresses me more here than she did in Quantum of Solace. She has an earthy and mysterious quality about her and though she is stunningly beautiful, she doesn’t come across as flighty. Morgan Freeman of course adds gravitas to his role, Beech is the kind of ‘cool but eternally wise’ character he’s played in so many films that it probably doesn’t require much effort on his part. Hunky Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau also has a small part as Freeman’s cohort, but I think he’s more capable than that.

Final Thoughts: I don’t think Oblivion will be a sci-fi classic. I appreciate it for what it is, which is popcorn entertainment, but not profound enough to be memorable. I don’t mind watching it again down the road though, even if it’s just to gawk at the marvelous visuals. It’s the kind of escapist entertainment that’s tailored to maximize Cruise’s massive star power. The film’s box office prowess will prove that Cruise’s certainly still got it.
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Three and a half stars out of Five

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Well, what did you think of this film? Did you enjoy this more than I did?

Top 10 favorite Tom Cruise’s film/performance … and vote for your own top 3

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When people ask me who’s my favorite actor, I would always say without hesitation that Tom Cruise is my favorite. Then people would ask why or say that’s gotta tough liking Cruise. I respond back and say, why is that? He’s one of the most prolific leading men working in Hollywood today. But ever since the couch jumping incident on The Opera Show and his interview with Matt Lauer a few years back, it’s very fashionable to dislike him now. People tend to forget that many of his films in the 80s, 90s and early part 2000s were event films. In fact, studio would always release in films in either the prime summer or holidays season. Sure his box office power is not what it used to be now but he’s one of the few actors in Hollywood who can still convince any studio big wigs to green light a film if he’s involved in it. It took several years before Jack Reacher made it to the big screen and the reason why was because Cruise had agreed to star in it. In an interview with Reacher’s author, Jim Grant, he and the film’s producers tried many years without any luck to get the first Jack Reacher film into the cinemas. Finally Cruise got a hold of the script, he liked it and convinced Paramount to invest in the film.

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I feel Cruise never gave less than 100% in all of his films, even the bad ones, I thought he tried his best to give the film some life and that’s why I really like him as an actor. A good example was Knight & Day, a dreadful film but you can tell Cruise really tried hard to save that movie. You can’t say that to a lot of actors in his age group nowadays (Mr. Willis are you listening?) With his new film, Oblivion, opening later this week, I’ve decided to come up with my ten favorite films he starred in. I’ve seen all of his films except two, Rock of the Ages and Lions for Lambs. The criteria for this list doesn’t have anything to do with box office numbers or Oscar nominations but let’s face it, most of these films were either huge of office hits or received many Oscar nominations.

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10. Jack Reacher in Jack Reacher

I went into this movie with no expectations what so ever and was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it. Yes Cruise’s not the Jack Reacher fans of the book wanted but I thought he was great in the role and without him, the film would’ve been just another average action thriller. (Note: I haven’t read any of the Jack Reacher books so I can’t comment on how good or bad Cruise was compare to his character from the novels.)

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9. Dr. William Hartford in Eyes Wide Shut

This may have been the most un-Tom Cruise role he’d ever played. His character is someone who’s obsessed with sex and well the whole film was about sex. My favorite part in the film is when his wife told him she had a fantasy about having sex with another man and would leave him and their daughter just to be with this man. The expression on Cruise’s face was pretty darn accurate of how a man would feel if his wife/girlfriend would confess something like that to him.

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8. Charlie Babbitt in Rain Man

I think this is the role he’s born to play. A young selfish, arrogant and all around douchebag. The film came out during the prime of his career and it made over $170mil at the box office! I highly doubt the film would’ve made that much without him, yes Dustin Hoffman was still a big named star back then but I don’t believe the film would’ve been as successful without Cruise.

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7. Mitch McDeere in The Firm

Another film I believe wouldn’t have been as successful if not for Cruise’s involvement. The film was based on a hugely popular novel by John Grisham. When the film version was announced and Cruise got the lead role, Grisham was not too happy about it. In the book, McDeere was a tall, blonde and blued eyes; someone how looks more like Matthew McConaughey. Of course when the film came out and was a box office gold, Grisham changed his tone a bit and said Cruise did a great job.

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6. Lt. Daniel Kaffee in A Few Good Men

Okay I don’t like to repeat myself but without Cruise, this film wouldn’t have earned more than $140mil at the box office. No doubt the film’s a great court room drama and his scene with Jack Nicholson was truly a classic scene. But I guaranteed if the lead role was played by someone else, the movie wouldn’t have a huge hit.

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5. Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder

This film was one of most highly anticipated summer flicks of 1990 and unfortunately it tanked at the box office. It’s Cruise’s first box office disappointment but I still thought he’s great in the role. I used to watch this film constantly when I was younger, I just love those racing scenes and car crashes. I know it’s a silly movie and very cheesy but it’s a reunion of the crew of Top Gun, directed by Tony Scott and produced by the powerful team of Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson.

A little fun fact, the crew was also set to reunite again in the late 90s for Enemy of the State but because Cruise was stuck shooting Eyes Wide Shut with Kubrick, he had to back out. It’s too bad that he never got to do a movie with Tony Scott again.

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4. Stefen Djordjevic in All the Right Moves

High school drama was a quite popular genre back in the 80s and here Cruise played a high football star who’s desperate to leave his hometown. The writing and directing weren’t that great but I thought Cruise carried the entire movie even though he’s so young. I particularly like the scene when his team just loss a heartbreaking game and his confrontation with his coach played by Craig T. Nelson was quite excellent. If you’re a fan of Cruise, I highly you seek this movie out if you’ve never seen it.

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3. Ethan Hunt in all of the Mission: Impossible films

One of the most popular franchises in films and I felt Cruise always gave his best even for action genre. I mean who’s crazy enough to climb the tallest building the world without a stunt double? I don’t think many actors would do that. After the disappointment box office of the third film, many thought the franchise was dead but Cruise was smart enough to bring in Brad Bird to re-energize the franchise and M:I-4 was a big success. I’m looking forward to the fifth film.

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2. Jerry Maguire in Jerry Maguire

Another role that he’s born to play, an arrogant sport agent who’s all about the money. But I think the chemistry between him and Renee Zellweger that mad this film a fun watch. Of course who can forget the “Show me the money!” scene with Cuba Gooding Jr.

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1. Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July

I think Cruise should’ve won an Oscar for his performance in this film. It’s powerful and great performance, I don’t remember who were the other actors he was up against in that year’s Oscar but I thought he got robbed. I hope he’ll get to play a role like this again soon and maybe he’ll finally get that Oscar statue that he truly deserves.

– Post by Ted S.


Ruth’s note:

I agree with most of Ted’s picks here, but my top ten would definitely include these roles that aren’t on Ted’s list:

  • Vincent, Collateral
  • Chief John Anderton, Minority Report
  • Nathan Algren, The Last Samurai

Those are our favorite Tom Cruise’s films/performances, do share yours in the comments section. Of course if you’re a Cruise hater, then feel free to trash his films too. 🙂


Now your turn! Pick three of YOUR favorite Tom Cruise roles out of over three dozens of his feature films!