Oblivion (2013)


They Lied to You.  It’s Time to Learn the Truth.

Oblivion (2013)When I went to the theaters to catch Star Trek, I had no reservations.  Today’s movie was less so.  I had seen the commercials for this movie and had an inkling of interest in the movie, but never enough that it would be the reason for me to make the trip to the theater.  Attaching it to a movie I wanted to see more made it much more palatable.  And I think it’s odd that I had no interest in this movie because I loved the game I assume it was based on.  In fact, I’ve loved the whole Elder Scrolls series.  I don’t know why they skipped past Daggerfall and Morrowind, but I’m still suspicious of how this game could be turned into a movie.  Do they just ignore all the side quests?  Otherwise, it would be way too long.  Well, we’ll find out as I review Oblivion, based on a graphic novel by Joseph Kosinski, written for the screen by William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek, and Michael Arndt, directed by Joseph Kosinski, and starring Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, and Zoë Bell.

It’s the future so Earth is having a bad couple of days.  In 2017 the Earth was destroyed in a battle with some invading aliens when we decided to drop some nukes all over this bitch.  The surviving humans moved to a colony on Saturn’s moon Titan, with a few sticking around to repair survey drones to keep the remaining aliens (called “Scavs”) from destroying the fusion power stations that power the colony.  Two such humans are Tech 49 Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his partner Victoria “Vic” Olsen (Andrea Riseborough), Jack’s navigator who sits on her butt while he does all the work and chats with their weirdo mission Commander Sally (Melissa Leo).  Things are going smoothly and Jack and Vic are preparing to end their stay on Earth when Jack stumbles across a radio tower that summons a pre-invasion American spacecraft back to Earth, containing a sexy astronaut named Julia (Olga Kurylenko) that Jack has been having dreams about (but who hasn’t been?), as well as some secrets that will rock the foundation of Jack’s world.

My low expectations for this movie allowed it to exceed my expectations.  It didn’t blow any minds, but the story was solid, the look was great, and the performances all worked for me.  The biggest problem I had with the movie is that it had nothing to do with the game it took its name from.  No Daedra or anything!  What the movie is similar to is the Matrix, various post-apocalyptic movies, and Independence Day.  We fuck up the planet like a child breaking a toy so no one else can play with it.  Never really makes sense.  Man apparently has the resources to build a space station to escape on, but we’re so stubborn about not giving up our planet that we’ll destroy it first.  Either we win or everyone loses.  On the other hand, I could kind of see us doing that.  The story can kind of be slow going throughout, having not a whole lot going on other than watching Jack fix robots and having little hints at the larger story be revealed slowly.  I started getting bored around the halfway point, especially when it was going pretty heavy on the relationship stuff.  Julia showing up creates a love triangle between her, Jack, and Victoria that they really drained for all it was worth, and it wasn’t worth a whole lot to me.  The only thing it got out of me was a laugh at how much ‘splaining Jack was going to have to do to the two ladies.  ::SPOILER ALERT::  Then the movie turns into Independence Day because the big plan is to fly yourself into the mothership and blow up.  Not the greatest plan to be sure, but I’m sure Jack took solace in the fact that he had plenty of spares if his plan didn’t work out.  But I don’t know how that even got close to working in the first place.  Sally is a super smart computer intelligence, but she can’t figure out that something is amiss when Tech 49 rides up in Tech 52’s ship, even though they shouldn’t know each other exist?  The numbers are written on his shirt and the ship.  Infants and monkeys can tell if two things don’t match.  ::END SPOILERS::

The movie does very well with its look.  Everything is visually well-realized.  It looks dystopian while still being pretty beautiful and spectacular.  It shows a lot of imagination in the designs of everything, from the fusion plants to the ship that Jack flies to the tower he lives in.  A dystopian movie is always able to solicit a bit of a reaction by showing familiar landmarks like the Empire State Building buried up to the top floor in sand.  The action is fairly rare in the movie, but most of it is good.  I liked the fight between Jack and the Scavs in the library because the look of it reminded me of Gears of War, with 80% less raspiness.

I was not surprised by the quality of the performances in the movie so much as I was surprised by the quality of the actors they got.  I only knew one of them going into the movie, but I knew he was good.  The ones I didn’t know were in the movie were also as good as they usually are, but I didn’t know they were in it.  Tom Cruise is the only person I knew would be here, and he typically brings some quality.  I didn’t know who Andrea Riseborough was, but she was also pretty good.  I had no idea that Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, and the Kingslayer himself, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, were in this movie, but they tend to be good as well.  Kurylenko helped make it easy for me to relate to Tom Cruise in this movie because I dream of Kurylenko too.  Who wouldn’t?  Morgan Freeman’s appearance was a bit bothersome to me at first, but only because he came off as a bad guy in the movie.  I don’t like Morgan Freeman as a bad guy.  He’s a great actor with a lot of range, but he’s just so likeable.  That was one of the main problems I had with the movie Wanted.  That and it being entirely mediocre.  Melissa Leo also did a good job.  Her role didn’t seem to require much out of her as she was just vaguely robotic, but also somehow bitchy.  And she got much more bitchy by the end.  They should’ve called her HAL-E from the way she looked at the end.  That’s not a WALL-E reference, but a HAL reference, just so we’re clear.  The only performances I really took issue with were those damned surveyor drones.  Those things were ungrateful pricks.

Oblivion was a fine enough movie, but perhaps not fine enough to inspire me to recommend that you see it in theaters.  The story was okay, but nothing spectacular and a little slow moving.  But the visual style and the performances were all impressive.  I could get behind recommending this movie as a rental eventually, but for the time being you can do without.  Oblivion gets “We won the war, but they destroyed half the planet” out of “Classic game.”

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Tron: Legacy (2010)


Your Old Man’s About to Knock on the Sky and Listen to the Sound

I’ve been harboring a hankering to watch this movie again for a while.  I believe I initially saw the movie in theaters, and then I purchased the special edition BluRays when they came out, and I’ve probably seen the movie some three times by now.  But I haven’t reviewed it yet.  When I started reviewing movies, this one was in my mind as one I was looking to get to at some point, but it wasn’t until Fabian recommended it that I actually bothered to get around to it.  I felt it necessary to knock out the original movie yesterday, and today we get into Tron: Legacy, written by Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis, directed by Joseph Kosinski and John Lasseter, and starring Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, Anis Cheurfa, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Michael Sheen, Beau Garrett, Cillian Murphy, Jeffrey Nordling, and Daft Punk.

Not too long after the events of the first Tron film, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) goes missing.  His son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), does not take it that well.  20 years later, he’s ENCOM’s primary shareholder, but has no interest in running his father’s company.  He instead prefers to play a prank on the company every year, like releasing their new operating system to the world for free.  His father’s longtime friend, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), comes to him to investigate a mysterious page he’s received from Flynn’s arcade, even though the place has been abandoned and the phone lines shut off for many years.  Sam goes to check it out and finds his father’s hidden office and, while messing around on the computer there, activates the laser that transported his father into the Grid years ago.  Now in the Grid, he’s instantly captured and put into the games, having to fight for his digital life by throwing Frisbee’s at other guys, eventually losing to a program called Rinzler (Anis Cheurfa).  Rinzler takes Sam to someone that appears to be his father, but actually turns out to be a program his father created called CLU (played by Jeff Bridges and computers).  CLU then attempts to kill Sam on the light cycle tracks, but he’s rescued in the nick of time by Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who takes Sam to see his real father.  Then shit starts to get hairy.

I really like this movie, and I’m not sure why I’m apparently one of the few.  This movie was poorly received, and I get the feeling like people’s nostalgia and love for the original movie probably hindered their ability to appreciate this movie.  Having no particular affection for the original, I found this to be a pretty great and enjoyable movie.  And I’m not sure why the fans of the original seemed to take so much issue with this when it appeared to me that the writers had a great affection for the original.  They threw a lot of things in the movie that were big nods to the original movie, like repeating the joke about the big door, the look and style of Flynn’s arcade, the little handheld device Flynn was messing with in the first movie, and a couple other hidden Easter eggs.  And, when compared to the original Tron, the story here was much better.  Unlike the first movie, there was actually an emotional connection developed in the story for the characters.  You had Sam’s desertion issues, Flynn regretting what happened himself, Quorra being the last of her kind, etc.  The first movie didn’t even seem to take the idea that they could write interesting and flawed characters into consideration.  And the overall story of the movie has much more on the line than one guy wanting to get his comeuppance by proving that he made the games that made ENCOM famous.  They were saving the world, man!  This is not to say that I found the story of this movie to be perfect, of course.  Just superior to the original.  I admit that I did not understand what they were talking about with the ISO’s.  They were some sort of aberration in the Grid that somehow held the potential to resolve various mysteries in science, religion, and medicine.  …How?  They’re just some kind of randomly occurring program.  Is this the same kind of thing like giving a room full of monkeys some typewriters and waiting for them to write Shakespeare?  My best guess is that the writers wanted to keep up the religious overtones they had laid out in the movie (with things like Flynn coming off as God, but God that loves weed or something) and wanted them to represent miracles, but also not bothering to try to define anything about it because they couldn’t figure it out.  Well, CLU gets all threatened by the chosen people of the Grid and gets his genocide on with them, making him basically bio-digital Hitler, man.  I still wonder what would happen, in the minds of the writers, if someone like Quorra got out into the world.  What would that mean?  Would she still have the potential to inexplicably solve the world’s problems, or would she just be some girl that gets locked up because she’d seem crazy because she grew up in a computer?  Either way, I found the conclusion of this movie much more satisfying, though slightly depressing as well.  Whereas the other Tron movie just ended with a guy landing a helicopter on top of a building, this ending has loss, sacrifice, but also an uplifting and somewhat happy ending.

Much like the original, the look of this movie elevates it above its own station.  At least SOME parts of it do.  The movie captures the style of the first movie, but advances it to fit the world as it is today.  With today’s technology, it would’ve been really easy to have the look of the game simply duplicate the original Tron, but that wouldn’t make sense.  The look of that movie was made to look like the video games available at the time, most of which are just slightly more graphically advanced that Pong.  With the state of video games today, this movie needed to look much better, and it does.  It also reflects the change in the system since CLU took over, coming off a lot darker in tone while still being cool and stylized, just as it was in the original.  It’s probably slightly less stylized because it didn’t originate a lot of the look, but it’s cooler because it’s dark and metal.  Like Mastodon.  Of course, there is a problem with the look and it’s one that was talked about frequently when the movie came out: young Jeff Bridges.  You could tell that they tried really hard to make that work.  They did facial captures from Bridges so that the computer could replicate the performance, they used facial captures from Bridges in Against All Odds to get the look and the age right, and they had a stunt double duplicate Bridges’ performance so that nothing was left out.  And it looks like young Jeff Bridges … kinda.  It suffers from the Uncanny Valley thing that the Polar Express suffers from.  It’s so close to being human, but still obviously not, and comes off as a little unsettling.  You know what doesn’t?  The four Siren cyber broads!  But one could argue that they were just four hot chicks in skintight clothes.  The action in this movie was far superior to the stuff in Tron.  The memory disk battles were exciting and well-choreographed.  The light cycles looked awesome and the animation of the light cycle battle was exciting and cool, and they no longer had to travel in straight lines.  There’s even an awesome airship battle.  So much better than Jai A-Die that they played in the first movie.  And the thing I respected most about the movie is how they handled the fact that things were going to die in this but it’s a Disney movie.  Instead of blood, the characters bled bits and disintegrated, leaving some crushed up glass in a pile on the floor.  This looked cool and allowed them to do badass things like shooting a character through the face, leaving a big gaping hole, but as something that kids could watch.  Another thing worth mentioning about this is the music by Daft Punk.  I’m typically the exact opposite of a techno fan, and that doesn’t usually change very much for the typical DJ music, but I enjoyed the score that they put together for this movie.  It elevated the feeling of the scene, and techno was really the only kind of music you could use in this setting.

I don’t have a problem with any of the performances in this movie.  I feel sorry to say that Jeff Bridges gives another performance that’s very similar to The Dude in this movie.  Flynn was vaguely Dude-esque in the original Tron, but in this one – with all the talk about bio-digital jazz and knocking on the sky to see how well it held the room together or some shit – he really reminded me of the Jeff Bridges performances I’ve seen before, or sometimes a Ninja Turtle.  His performance of CLU wasn’t particularly Dude-esque, but I’m beginning to feel bad about this.  I really like Jeff Bridges as an actor, but I just keep reviewing movies that he chose to act Dude-y in.  Because of that, I’m going to review True Grit tomorrow.  There’s no way I could call Rooster Cogburn similar to the Dude.  Garrett Hedlund didn’t really impress or disappoint.  I really liked Olivia Wilde’s Quorra character though.  It’s not the most revolutionary character for a girl to be cute, innocent, and naïve, but it’s a likeable character type.  And she’s hot, so she’s got that going for her.  I had thought myself so clever for saying that Michael Sheen’s Zuse character reminded me of David Bowie, but Wikipedia tells me that he based his performance on him.  Well fuck you too, Wikipedia!  I also really liked Anis Cheurfa as Rinzler.  His face was never seen and he didn’t need to act, but the capoeira fighting style was pretty awesome to watch.

Tron: Legacy is a really cool movie, and far superior to the original as far as I’m concerned.  Unlike the original, there is actual depth in the story, some emotional impact, and the action is much more interesting.  The original Tron only had the looking going for it, and this movie keeps that going and looks much better, though perhaps slightly less of an accomplishment in the style category.  I definitely recommend watching Tron: Legacy, and I think the only reason you might want to bother watching the original is because it helps you understand this movie.  Tron: Legacy gets “Bio-digital jazz, man” out of “You’re messing with my Zen thing, man.”

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