The Valdosta Daily Times
“Oblivion” (Science Fiction: 2 hours, 5 minutes)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and Melissa Leo
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Rated: PG-13 (Violence, strong language, brief nudity and some sensuality)
Movie Review: During the 1970s, an explosion of science-fiction films debuted. A few notables are “Solaris” (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972), “Soylent Green” (Richard Fleischer, 1973), “Alien” (Ridley Scott, 1979) and “Star Wars” (George Lucas, 1977). Clearly, the science-fiction films of that decade influenced Joseph Kosinski.
Those films presented a mystery and suspense as well new technology that may exist in the future. These three concepts made these science-fiction productions enjoyable to a variety of audiences. More important, those films required some higher thinking unlike modern films that rely too much on computer-generated imagery and other visual and special effects.
“Oblivion” is from the graphic novel by Joseph Kosinski and Arvid Nelson. Joseph Kosinski is director, co-writer and co-producer of this science-fiction treat that has brilliant visual elements helmed by cinematographer Claudio Miranda (“Life of Pi,” 2012).
This screenplay’s setting is the year 2077. Sixty years earlier, aliens known as Scavengers, “scavs,” for short, attacked Earth. During war, Scavengers destroyed the moon, causing tectonic disturbance. To defeat the extraterrestrials, the people of Earth used nuclear weapons. This act of last resort left Earth a contaminated planet unable to support life.
Technician #49 Jack Harper (Cruise, whose performance is reminiscent of his “Vanilla Sky” one) and his communications officer and lover, Victoria (Riseborough), are now two of the last few humans stationed on the planet. The rest of humanity live on Saturn’s moon, Titan, and a massive tetrahedral space station called the Tet that orbits Earth. Jack and Victoria remain on Earth to extract the planet’s remaining resources, mainly Earth’s water supply. They also keep a multitude of heavily armed patrol drones operational to protect machines harvesting Earth’s remaining resources from the Scavs. Their only contact is via video conferencing with Sally (Leo), the commander of the Tet.
Their job appears easy until Jack begins having memories of Julia (Kurylenko), a woman he does not know. Matters become very complicated when a crashed space vessel, the Odyssey, reveals Julia as one of its survivors. Even more, an enigmatic Malcolm Beech (Freeman), leader of an underground stronghold of humans, claims Jack is living a lie, and matters on Earth are not as they appear.
“Oblivion” has enough transpiring that some may feel oblivious. The plot is like a mix of “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “The Matrix” (1999), numerous episodes of television’s “The Twilight Zone” and “Planet of the Apes” (1968). Yet “Oblivion” is unlike any of those films; it finds its own originality. If one stays with this film, its many plots quickly merge to form a quality science-fiction screenplay that prevails.
The film keeps a clear intent by introducing viewers to its many points of interest slowly. The focus gradually allows clues and added information to come along after digesting previous elements first.
This allows time to get to know the cast and weave subplots together. This is especially good since characters are dynamic in their own manner. An example of how the film takes its time to develop is the introduction of major players. Freeman and Kurylenko do not enter a scene until well into this film. Freeman debuts about 55 minutes into the runtime.
This is where Kosinski and co-writers score. They ease you into their story. This is good, considering much exists to ponder. A set of small mysteries combined to form one good mystery.
The great flaw is that it packs much into one screenplay. Enough richly engaging material exists that this film could have been made into two films.
Like or hate Cruise, he is a world-known star who plays in good movies mostly. He works as Jack Harper, a man looking for answers. His scenes with Riseborough and Kurylenko are intriguing. He nicely works opposite them in differing ways. His relationship with Riseborough is inviting yet cold in a manner that something seems not quite correct. This adds to the intrigue. Enter Kurylenko. Cruise’s relationship with her is like meeting a long-lost relative. His relationship with these women is a key part of the story.
One of moviedom’s best actors is the Academy Award-winning Freeman, who manages to remake himself for movies. Here, he is the film’s wisdom. He delivers the needed background to close gaps in the story. Leo, another Oscar recipient for her role in “The Fighter” (2010), is also effective as the commander of the Tet. Audiences can only see her on a video screen the entire movie, but her presence still resonates. She greets Cruise and Riseborough’s characters at the beginning of each day with, “How y’all doin’ this lovely morning.”
Freeman and Leo appear to enjoy their roles. Their characters are secondary characters, but the talented actors make them noteworthy elements.
“Oblivion” is a thought-provoking film. It makes one question if a character’s view of reality is true. In this sense, movie observers are as disillusioned as Cruise’s Jack Harper. Like him, audiences must piece together clues to confirm reality. This is fun, if you value intellect in cinema. Many of those clues do not come together until the end, so like life, the end is unknown until it is present. From this void, “Oblivion” delivers a compelling cinematic experience.
Grade: B+ (Awareness made sound.)
“Home Run” (Sports Drama/Religion: 1 hour, 53 minutes)
Starring: Scott Elrod, James Devoti, Dorian Brown and Vivica A. Fox
Director: David Boyd
Rated: PG-13 (Thematic material, alcoholism, crude humor and some violence)
Movie Review: Cory Brand (Elrod) is a pro-baseball player. He is an all-star player, but his alcohol drinking and temper are constants that cause trouble. Cory is fighting many demons, mainly from his childhood. He and his brother, Clay (Devoti), an Oklahoma district attorney, were abused by their alcoholic father. Cory, the oldest of the two, is now battling alcoholism and anger-management issues. After a DUI incident, Helene (Fox), Cory’s agent, sends him to his small hometown in Oklahoma for recovery. There, he must coach a Little League team as a publicity stunt to revamp his image. He also finds life and faith again through a Christian recovery program.
Until recently, Boyd was directing television series such as “Friday Night Lights” and “The Walking Dead.” “Home Run” marks his directorial debut for the big screen.
While nothing powerful, this drama does provide an interesting character, Cory, as played earnestly by a handsome Elrod. Boyd directs with an easy style that works for audiences wanting easy entertainment.
This is a film about finding a new life through Christian faith. Therefore, this is a message film. It is meant to deliver a message to its observers.
Often, these religious films are meant for a particular audience. In the past, this genre of film has been met with some overly unnecessary criticism. Often when speaking with moviegoers, they remark that these movies are lacking in multiple aspects. The earlier Christian-based films did concentrate a little too much on the message rather than cinematic substance: plot, acting, cinematography and other technical aspects. However, these films’ producers were more concerned about spreading “The Word,” rather than appealing to broad audiences. This did hurt them when trying to appeal to broader audiences.
“Home Run,” like other faith-based films, does what it is supposed to do — delivers a message while sacrificing cinematic moments for safe Christian material. Yet “Home Run” does provide plenty of strong moments that make it worth it. It is light material that is easy to sit through. It also provides a very straight-forward message about love, finding faith and forgiveness. On that, it does its job.
Grade: B- (It manages to reach the home plate.)