Oblivion: an unconvincing mish-mash of science-fiction past and present

oblivion

Oblivion boasts a charismatic star and a good band of techy’s… but the script is awful and the director is even worse.  The result? A science-fiction film so dull and unimaginative, you almost feel bad for the bags of money spent on special effects (which are, admittedly, pretty darn impressive, but not nearly enough to be the film’s saving grace).

The year is 2077 and Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is a drone technician living far above the clouds in Tower 49 with his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). They are the last humans left on Earth after it was destroyed by an alien race called the ‘Scavs’. The rest of the human population are on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Jack and Victoria have been left on Earth to work in the Tower and fix up malfunctioning drones – essentially tying up lose ends before they, also, relocate to Titan.

My main problem with this post-apocalyptic tale is that it borrows too much from previous films. Way too much. It reference’s everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) to Star Wars (1977), Total Recall (1990) to I Am Legend (2007). Cruise’s own Top Gun (1986) is also given an embarrassingly obvious nod.

Consequently, almost nothing about this film rings true. The relationships between the three main characters are clunky and devoid of emotion and the plot twist towards the end is neither surprising nor stirring.

It’s as if Director Joseph Kosinski was given a handwritten checklist (probably scrawled on the back of a Tesco’s receipt) of what a sci-film must contain and expects us to be satisfied by lumping all these ‘must-haves’ into the same film.

Having said that, it has to be noted that Claudio Miranda’s cinematography is indeed breath-taking and the 80’s synth-style score by M83 is both amusing and inviting. Neither accolades are reasons to actually go and see this disastrous film, but credit where it’s due.

Overall, though Oblivion is amazing to look at, it ultimately leaves you bored and unimpressed. Only two things could make this movie better – different director, or a Morgan Freeman voice-over. The former is an unfortunate reality, but the latter could always be fixed in post-production. Lets start a petition shall we?!

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Looper: Keeping it simple

Back in 2006, writer/director Rian Johnson made an exceptional début with Brick, a low-budget thriller set in a southern California high school featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a teenage private eye.

Six years later, with the disappointingly mediocre The Brothers Bloom proving but a minor bump in the road, Johnson is back on course with Gordon-Levitt in time-travelling action flick Looper.

The term ‘Looper’ refers to a hitman who kills people sent back in time from the future (so that there is no dead body as evidence). The term is apt because the assassins operate under the knowledge that they will eventually have to ‘close their loop’ by killing their future selves.

The film centres on a particularly efficient Looper called Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is saving up enough money for a retirement in Paris. His plans are shattered, however, when he fails to close his loop allowing his future self (Bruce Willis) to get the better of him.

Throughout the film, writer/director Johnson cleverly evades the complications that come with time travel. Willis’s character even states, “I don’t want to talk about time travel shit.” Viewers who want to see a true science fiction film may be disappointed by this (the time machine, resembling an old-fashioned scuba diver mask, is also rather lackluster), but the film proves to be perfectly entertaining and well-made overall.

Cinematographically, the film is a work of art. Motifs like close-ups of cigarette smoke and ticking clocks are intricately placed, the camera work while Gordon-Levitt is on an acid trip is breathtaking, and the details necessary to maintain consistency between the future and current Joe are painstakingly accurate. In a diner scene, for example, we see a newly injured, bandaged ear on Gordon-Levitt… and a newly disfigured ear on Willis.

Another near flawless aspect is the casting. Veterans Bruce Willis and Jeff Daniels bring their usual prowess to the screen, while Paul Dano and Emily Blunt successfully transform into roles unlike any they have played before.

The main acting highlight, however, comes in the form of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who supposedly spent hours in make-up having prosthetics applied so that he would look more like Bruce Willis. Though his contrived voice and strangely perfect eyebrows are distracting at first, he is able to capitalize on the disguise and adopt a convincing tough guy persona.

Overall, Looper is the proof we needed that originality hasn’t died in Hollywood. It also reinforces the fact that Sci-fi movies can be smart (Gattaca), imaginative (2001: A Space Odyssey), or just plain exciting (Dredd).

With Looper, we get the pleasure of a sci-fi film that does all three, and does them masterfully.

Total Recall: slicker but soulless

Film Jam

By Kelly O’Brien

The latest movie remake to spring out of Hollywood in recent months, Total Recall boasts an all-star cast of Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel and Bryan Cranston. While this reboot, besed on the 1966 short story by Philip K. Dick, retains the original title from the cult classic 1990 Arnie movie, it seems to have borrowed pretty much everything else from the most successful action/sci-fi movies of the past decade. In other words, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

Directed by Len Wiseman of the Underworld films, Total Recall is not only fast-paced and adrenaline-pumping, it’s astonishingly well-made. On paper, it’s a box office smash of epic proportions. In reality, however, it’s just another in a long line of technically impressive yet ultimately forgettable action films.

In a dystopian future, the majority of earth’s landmass has been devastated by chemical warfare. Only two habitable areas remain…

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