Oblivion Review (Kirk Haviland)

 

oblivion-movie-directed by Joseph KosinskiOblivion

Starring: Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Zoe Bell, Melissa Leo and Morgan Freeman

Written by Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt

Directed by Joseph Kosinski

New in theaters this week is the new Science Fiction action/thriller from the director of Tron: Legacy starring Tom Cruise, Oblivion. The first of many apocalyptic earth films to be unleashed in theaters this year, this summer’s After Earth and fall’s Snowpiercer still to come; Oblivion is a beautiful looking epic that despite a small cast is very grand in scale. The question is will the film be original enough to outshine its competition?

oblivion-movie-72077: Jack Harper (Cruise) serves as a security repairmen stationed on an evacuated Earth with his partner Victoria (Riseborough) who monitors his action from their own command center. Part of a massive operation to extract vital resources after decades of war with a terrifying alien threat who still scavenges what’s left of our planet, Jack’s mission is almost complete. In a matter of two weeks, he and Victoria will join the remaining survivors on a lunar colony far from the war-torn world he has long called home. Jack’s soaring existence is brought crashing down though after he rescues a beautiful stranger named Julia (Kurylenko) from a downed spacecraft. Drawn to Jack through a connection that transcends logic, Julia’s arrival triggers a chain of events that forces him to question everything he thought he knew.

oblivion-movie-clip-julia-wakes-up-in-the-skytowerOblivion is the blended offspring of “Prometheus” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”, with copious amounts of “Independence Day” and “Moon” also in the mix. The film features all the gorgeous imagery of Ridley Scott’s epic from last year mixed with a literal interpretation of HAL from 2001 and a ‘mothership’ straight out of Independence Day. The first hour of the film, while establishing our breathtaking setting, does not feature a lot of action or plot as it is used for world and character building almost exclusively. The second hour marks the arrival of Julia and the film shifts dramatically to a more intense action piece. The film features more than one area where the story could have finished but continues past these on its way to the eventual ending,

oblivion moragnCruise is decent here in typical Cruise ‘good guy’ fashion, closely resembling his “Minority Report” John Anderton mixed with a bit of his “War of the Worlds” Ray Ferrier. Point is we’ve seen this performance from Cruise before and its good enough without pushing any boundaries. The real star of the film may be Riseborough and her performance as Victoria. Riseborough maintains a meticulous, calm and by the book outside veneer, but the audience cannot help but feel an underlying menace in her tone and actions. Kurylenko is decent, and other than the occasional appearance of Melissa Leo via a video com and Morgan Freeman appearing as a survivor, the rest of the cast is merely window dressing as most have next to no dialogue.

tom-cruise-oblivion-wallpapers-9The film has a lot of green screen CGI vistas mixed with some real locations to create some stunning visuals. The setting is captivating, with devastated cities and barren wastelands surrounding the planet to Jack`s own ‘garden of Eden’ type getaway, the camera gives the audience plenty of lush imagery to watch as the film proceeds. The effects and stunt work is also very well done as the ships and drones Jack work with and the home that Jack and Victoria live in feel very tangible. The setting and surroundings are by far the biggest reasons for audiences to experience the film in the grand scale that a movie theater provides.

oblivion-movie-stills-8-of-201Oblivion is a pure joy visually to watch, but the story is a smorgasbord of other films that have come before. Borrowing liberally from other material, Oblivion plays all of it straight up without any nods to the audience that they may have seen this material before, which may have helped play off the `déjà vu` nature of the viewing experience. Still the stunning visuals on display here make the film worthy of a recommend.

Movie Junkie TO

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To The Wonder Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

To The Wonder

Starring Olga Kurylenko, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem

Written and directed by Terrence Malick

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The debate-engendering reception of Terrence Malick’s films continues with his new movie To The Wonder. The festival crowd like the ones in TIFF (including Dustin) and Vencie hated it, Roger Ebert loved it. I see both sides. Since there are more detractors against this new movie than fans, it’s tempting to play the devil’s advocate.

To The Wonder makes for an interesting companion piece to Malick’s earlier work in The Tree of Life. The latter coherently shows the conflict between nature and grace. The former works like an opened door. The characters dizzyingly pirouette into the endless possibilities of nature and its duplicitous, volatile and corruptible qualities. We get the title from the words of our protagonist Marina, a happy Russian-born Parisian. She embraces nature and new experiences, falling in love in Mont St. Michel with a journalist named Neil (Ben Affleck), eventually deciding to move to Oklahoma and bring her young daughter with her. But Malick eventually sledgehammers her optimism.

Marina could have easily ended up as a madwoman trapped in an alienating relationship and country. Neil is equally powerless, endlessly investigating environmental pollution caused by exurban infrastructure, and it doesn’t help that half of the people he’s interviewing are uncooperative and afraid of scandal and change. His on-and-off lover Jane (Rachel McAdams, unfortunately playing the least developed character of the four) might have to sell her ranch to pay for its debts. Their parish priest, Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) is distant, unable to find God’s transcendent love in the helpless faces of his community’s welfare class. They might be as normal and practically nameless as Malick’s other characters but here he approaches these on such a personal focus.

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If anything, what Malick does best here is finding a new way to capture loneliness. And not the cuddly kind where we watch someone express his brooding pathos through mundane tasks. The depictions of these characters are devoid of intimacy, an approach that could have been so exhausting had it not felt as daring.

Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography help engender this tone. Malick’s subjects feel like boulders captured through low or high angles, panning like the camera was a bumblebee. His close-ups are invasive, his long shots occasionally blocked by nature or man-made fortresses. The characters turn their backs to the camera, they converse in places that are surprisingly not easy from which to eavesdrop. There’s also an epistolary method to the script. The characters speak more clearly to themselves or to their lost God than they do to each other, their alienation clouding their attempts towards interpersonal contact.

Malick toes the line between depicting frustration and offering a frustrating product itself. And as strange as this might sound, even in times that the movie makes me hate myself, I respected how Malick can deliver such raw and genuine emotions.

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Magic City Season 1 Blu-Ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

Magic City Season 1 Blu-Ray Review

Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Olga Kurylenko, Steven Strait, Jessica Marais, Christian Cooke, Yul Vazquez, Taylor Blackwell, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Elena Satine, Michael Rispoli, Kelly Lynch and Danny Huston.

Series created by Mitch Glazer

New this week from Starz Network and Anchor Bay Entertainment comes the first season of the acclaimed series Magic City. The lavishly conceived and staged production set in 1959 Miami Beach is a crime ridden gangster drama with a gloss and charm set to draw you in and make you stay a while. Producer Mitch Glazer used recollections, both fantasy and fact, to craft this series based on the Miami Beach he knew growing up. But does Magic City hold up with the quality of other contemporary cable shows?

As Ike Evans (Morgan) rings in the New Year, with the Chairman of the board himself Frank Sinatra crooning in the Grand Ballroom at his luxurious Miramar Playa Hotel, Castro’s rebels seize Havana just 200 miles offshore.  Miami is turbulent but the Kennedys, the mob and the CIA all hold court here. Evans must deal with the Mob, his complicated family and a city in the midst of dramatic change. Ike is the King of the beach and the Miramar is his crown jewel, but everything comes at a price. To finance his dream, Ike sold his soul to mob boss Ben “The Butcher” Diamond (Huston). Ike’s wife Vera (Kurylenko) and his three kids, Stevie (Strait), Danny (Cooke) and Lauren (Blackwell), all think he’s an honorable man, but he can’t break his pact with the devil. In fact, nothing at the Miramar Playa is what it seems. The days are sunny but the nights are full of intrigue, excess and bad decisions that come with a price. As Ike’s world threatens to implode, he fights for his family, and the Miramar Playa, in Magic City.

The strength of Magic City is the layered universe it has created. The main plot playing out is the struggle of Ike to stay afloat and ahead of the Mob and a Bulldog District Attorney determined to go through Ike to Ben Diamond. But all around this we get the sub plots of Stevie getting involved with the “most wrong woman possible” played by Marais, The D.A. trying to pit the ambitious Danny against his family with the promise of a prestigious Assistant D.A. position once out of school. Also, a call girl by the name of Judi Silver (Satine) who manages to be in the wrong place at the wrong time many times over, Ike’s General Manager Vic (Vazquez) tries to liberate his wife who is trapped in Castro’s embargoed Cuba and Ike’s new bride Eva tries to prove to everyone that she does have a place in the business and the family. These storylines bleed and thread themselves throughout the fabric of the main story and enrich the final product as a whole.

Morgan is fantastic as Ike, he carries an old school swagger and charm about him that just oozes onscreen, and his charisma is a perfect fit for Ike. I’ve been listening to people tout Strait as a talent to watch ever since 2005’s Undiscovered and Sky High, but this may be the first time I have started to agree with them. His Stevie makes bad decision after bad decision, but you see that even he knows he is making the wrong decisions he is smart enough to realize them for what they are, though his nature prevents him from passing on temptations. Olga Kurylenko is a bit of a revelation here. I’m not sure I have ever seen her so confident and in charge of herself onscreen. She seems to have melted into Eva effortlessly and the show is all together better not because of her sex appeal but her acting ability. You can tell Huston loves being the scenery chewing, cigar chomping mobster for whom violence is reactionary and without remorse.

The other star of the film is the Miramar Playa. Meticulously planned and executed to resemble the posh and opulent hotels of Miami Beach’s yesteryear. You can tell that creator Glazer has spent hours upon hours of research on the setting, making sure everything is just right. From the pool to the Atlantis Bar, complete with windows into the bottom of the pool outside, where naked women often casually swim by, the lobby, and Ike’s suite and office,  no detail is too small to be out of place and the show often takes minute rest stops in plot to emphasize these details. The amount of smoking going on here could give Mad Men a run for its money and ashtrays, as the late 50s would dictate, are everywhere.

Where Magic City loses its luster a bit is in the dialogue, which at times goes too far into Soap Opera territory, and a couple of side stories involving an ex of Eva and a burglar and his clumsy ransom demands. The actor portraying the cat burglar is pretty awful and the role of Cliff, Eva’s ex, forces actor Steven Brand to try and execute the duality of a charmer with impure intentions towards Ike’s wife, something he does not quite pull off.

The Blu-Ray comes equipped with a good handful of special features. Six behind the scenes featurettes that explore the cars, style and music of Magic City as well as other Starz specials about the creation of the series and the history behind it. The Starz Studio feature is a 15 minute behind the scenes piece with plenty of info about the series and its creation. The rest of the features are two to five minute segments about various aspects of the production.

Magic City may not be one the best shows on TV…yet, but it’s addictive as the nicotine, narcotics, booze and women who inhabit it. Magic City is a strong recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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TIFF 2012 – To The Wonder Review (Dustin SanVido)

To The Wonder (2012)

Starring Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, and Rachel McAdams

Written and Directed by Terrence Malick

Films that dare to transcend the laws of conventional narrative and structure to become much more a piece of art are somewhat of a mixed bag for me. I applaud filmmakers who aspire to create a cinematic poem, love letter, or reflection/meditation and who are willing to sacrifice traditional story techniques to try something different. Terrance Malick is just such a filmmaker as his latest film is certainly much more a love letter or poem than anything else. The Tree of Life certainly fit that bill, and although I enjoyed that film for its ideas and subtext, I could not say the same for his latest.

To The Wonder is billed as a drama involving an American man finding love and marriage in Europe, who then to the USA and reconnects with a past romance while his marriage deteriorates. I have just summarized nearly everything that the narrative has to offer, there isn’t much else to it in terms of plot. Throw in a side-plot involving a priest and his loss of faith and you’ve learned the entire plot in two sentences.

Also there is little to zero dialogue between characters in the film. Instead the majority of the script is spoken by the actors as voice-over, and more frustrating is Malick’s decision to write these thoughts as if they were poems rather than expository dialogue. This decision proves costly as the four main characters of the story just aren’t very interesting to begin with, and too many times the actors are frolicking around the camera in open fields, empty houses and supermarkets with little to do. And at a runtime of one hour and fifty minutes, believe me, you really start to feel that runtime about 25 minutes in.

It’s difficult to comment on the acting as I never really felt the actors were asked to do anything besides emoting, staring, and again frolicking. This is not a slight on the acting at all; I believe this is exactly what Malick asked of his actors, and they seem to adhere to that respectfully. So it’s not really fair for me to go one way or the other as far as performances. I will say that no one was distracting to the story, but no one stood out either. It’s worth noting that for a film that features Rachel McAdams character in the poster as well as sharing top-billing, I expected to see much more of her as she couldn’t have been in the film for more than fifteen to twenty minutes, and that’s stretching it.

That’s not to say there’s nothing to enjoy in the film as Malick has again proven himself a true visual auteur. If he ever decided to hang up his directing hat permanently, he could slide into photography and be just as successful, if not more. That being said, To the Wonder is a visually gorgeous film, what with the majority of the film set in front of a backdrop of beautiful natural landscapes, sunrises and sunsets. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki should be praised for finding subtle beauty in the strangest places including boxes squared off in an empty house and a simple shopping cart ride through a department store.

In short, as is the case with much of his work for me, I was only interested during To the Wonder with what visuals the director would reveal next and little else. I believe Malick’s films are often exercises in patience and time and one must be willing to possess a great deal of these in order to wholly appreciate his work and discover the many cinematic riches that lie beneath. While I acknowledge his mastery of the cinematic landscape, especially in his prior work, I was simply unengaged for the majority of his latest. And it doesn’t help that I learned right before the screening that Rachel Weisz’s performance, an actress I adore, had been completely edited from the film. I’ve come to learn that like so many other lost performances in his prior work, this is something that Malick likes to do in all his films. And just like Gary Oldman’s performance that was removed from The Thin Red Line, To the Wonder leaves me with a feeling of what might’ve been had the director bucked his own trend of directing choices and nuances.

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TIFF 2012 – Seven Psychopaths Review (Matt Hodgson)

2012 Toronto International Film Festival

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Starring Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, and Christopher Walken

Directed by Martin McDonagh

Note: I had some concerns during Dredd 3D regarding the large number of seats (225 or so) that had been reserved for VIPs and therefore were withheld from paying customers, but I was happy to see that the higher profile Seven Psychopaths screening had about half that amount reserved. This seemed much more reasonable and respectful to ticket holders.

Last night I was back in line for the second of ten straight nights at the Ryerson theatre for Midnight Madness (MM), the Toronto International Film Festival’s midnight program, which has historically featured some of the most frightening and action-action packed movies currently making the festival circuit rounds. MM is in the business of premiering movies these days, and the first night was no exception. Dredd 3d (previously screened at San Diego Comic Con) started the madness, and definitely delivered plenty of action that gorehounds will lap up. Also, I’m sure MM will fill the horror quota in no time (tonight’s No One Lives perhaps). However, Midnight Madness is not just about the scares and the thrills; every now and then we get a dark comedy. And occassionally the Midnight Madness crowd keep some A-list celebrities up until the wee hours of the morning. Last night was such an occasion, as Martin McDonagh’s new film, Seven Psychopaths, screened with nearly the whole cast in tow. If you’re familiar with McDonagh’s last film, In Bruges, and you’ve heard of Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, and a little known actor named Christopher Walken, then you know why the fans were out in droves last night for Seven Psychopaths.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The movie tells the story of Marty (Farrell), a struggling screenwriter who has been working on his new project, also called Seven Psychopaths, for quite some time. He’s got the title, now he just needs all the little bits that go on the paper. To cope with the stress of writer’s block Marty has begun to hit the bottle, nightly and hard. This has lead to a number of misunderstandings between Marty and others due to Marty’s newly discovered propensity to blackout. Thanks to his drinking problem, Marty’s relationship with his girlfriend Kaya (Cornish) may be beyond salvation, but he’s still very lucky to have friend like Billy (Rockwell). When Billy isn’t working with Hans (Walken), stealing dogs then returning them for a reward, he’s trying to help Marty finish his script, maybe even co-write it with him. Unfortunately, thanks to some bad decisions from Billy, Marty finds himself in a midst of gathering of psychopaths, headlined by the blood thirsty Charlie (Harrelson). Marty might not make it out of this psychopath party alive, but on the other hand, maybe he’ll get some real life inspiration for his script. Pro or con, good situation or bad situation – it all depends on his perspective.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

Seven Psychopaths is a very difficult movie to review. McDonagh really had his work cut out for him after the critical success of In Bruges. Despite Seven Psychopaths being about an entirely new cast of characters, fans (including myself) will have difficulty evaluating Psychopaths completely independently of McDonagh’s 2008 hit. There are too many similarities: killers with guns, bloody violence, snappy dialogue, and very serious human moments to occasionally ground crazy characters or ridiculous situations. Psychopaths suffers from some inconsistent plotting and dialogue. It opens with a very entertaining Tarantino-like dialogue scene regarding the shooting of eyeballs, but there aren’t many other occasions where the dialogue reaches this high level. Also, the central plot involving the completion of Marty’s script seems anything but important. This zany cast of characters could have found themselves together for any number of reasons and it could have happened with minimal changes to the script. The way it is, it’s really hard to buy into Marty’s writing dilemma when the completion of his script seems like a secondary problem or a side-story at best. Finally, a legitimate side-story about a Vietnamese Psycho may be interesting, but feels incredibly disjointed when viewed in the context of the entire film. Fortunately, the characters and performances are quite good and provide plenty of entertainment throughout the movie.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

If you’re a Colin Farrell fan, then you will probably like him in Psychopaths. Ditto for Walken. However, the real standout of Seven Psychopaths is the absolutely scene stealing performance turned in by Sam Rockwell. Rockwell’s Billy should be absolutely despicable given that he is nothing but a dog thief, amongst other things, but Rockwell gives the character a charisma that the rest of the cast just can’t match. Rockwell has already proven himself to be a very good actor (Moon, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), but after this standout performance in Psychopaths I expect Rockwell’s star to continue to rise. Harrelson also deserves mention as his near-heartless villain with a soft spot for his little Shih Tzu is equally parts unnerving and funny.

I feel quite strongly that the uneven writing in Seven Psychopaths prevented it from being a great movie, but luckily the performances within are quite entertaining, particularly Rockwell’s. It may not be the next In Bruges, but Seven Psychopaths may be worth checking out for fans of dark comedies.

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