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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

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If I wasn’t already in the minority thinking that Peter Jackson was right to turn J. R. R Tolkien’s beloved, timeless classic “The Hobbit” into three films. I definitely asserted myself as an outcast raving over how formidable Jackson’s first outing “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was and how it placed the forthcoming flicks on impeccable footing. Now, we’re a year down the road, and I feel no different about it. It’s been a year between chapters, that’s a long wait, especially for an enthusiast such as myself, but the second chapter of this soon-to-be epic trilogy is finally upon us and I’ve stayed true to my fanboy title. Rushing, nervously and excitedly to my nearest theatre late Thursday night to behold the first showing of Jackson’s next masterpiece, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” in IMAX 3D, and not just for Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” teaser either…that’s just a bonus. How’d I feel about the film, you ask…let’s just say, I wasn’t disappointed…

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Now, I know what you’re all thinking, “this guy is supremely biased” and you’re not wrong in concluding that. You may choose to skip my review for a more neutral, honest take and I won’t hold any blame against you. But before you do, consider this. The hard truth of it is, if you can’t enjoy this, you’re probably not a fan of Jackson’s LOTR universe to being with and shouldn’t be judging it in the first place…and I never cheat my readers out of the truth and honesty. If the “The Desolation of Smaug” had flopped, believe me, I’d be the first to let you know. Thankfully however, this isn’t the case. It’s a definite improvement in nearly every aspect while also capitalizing on the errors of its predecessor, not that there were many to begin with. And despite having similar themes, Jackson is able to make the content seem fairly new and exciting. He captures a lot of the magic that made his LOTR trilogy so superlative and successful, which is, quite frankly, the most reassuring aspect for the upcoming finale and is all any good-hearted fan could ask for.

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There’s a lot here that is reminiscent of the LOTR trilogy, but it’ll never be the LOTR, so let’s just get that comparison out of you head right now! If there’s one thing holding back “The Hobbit” trilogy, it’s no fault of its creators, rather, the viewers simply expecting LOTR all over again. That’ll never happen! Honestly, I consider the LOTR trilogy to be cinema’s greatest achievement. I know a lot of you will fight me on that, but that’s just how I feel. Nothing will ever live up to that comparison, so stop holding this series against it. The source material for both series differ greatly, I can’t stress that enough. If you’ve read the series, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to. “The Hobbit” is directed to younger readers, it’s more cliched, nostalgic, simple. I wouldn’t go as far as to recommend completely cleansing your thoughts of any relation to the LOTR, simply because you’d miss out on a few awesome easter eggs and shout-outs to the original trilogy. That being said, the less you stack up Jackson’s two trilogies, the greater your experience will be.

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It may end on a bit of a cliff-hanger, which hampers most middle films, but if anything, it only really sets its hooks in deeper. A nagging, stinging, aching anticipation for next year’s finale that is proves useless to try and shake. Nonetheless, let’s stick to what’s available to us now. There’s a lot of new faces presented in this sequel, but of course there’s only one newcomer on everybody’s mind. There’s no question that the highlight of “The Desolation of Smaug” is of course, Smaug himself. It’s all any die-hard Tolkien fanatic has been waiting for since the series was first announced. You’ll be waiting till roughly the last forty minutes of the film’s nearly three hour runtime for Smaug to finally appear, but when he does, you’ll find yourself watching one of the greatest cinematic achievements of 2013.

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Apart from this greedy fire-breather, Orlando Bloom’s Legolas draws a substantial amount of excitement. Jumping weightless amongst the striking scenery of Middle Earth (provided by the always breathtaking New Zealand which Jackson once again utilizes to full effect) and dismissing countless foes. He might be a little more edgy than you remember, but a thrill to watch nonetheless. Luke Evans’ Bard really was a pleasant surprise. Gritty, emotional, and whole-heartedly invested, Evans truly added another complex, impressive layer to this fantastical spectacle. The final addition, Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel still reigned supreme, for me at least. Rarely have I ever become smitten with someone so striking who could also beat me to a bloody pulp at the drop of a hat. A quick shout-out to the cast of dwarves who’ve finally been allowed to expand their emotional range. The serious tone really allows them to show off their depth instead of trotting around uttering witty, cliched catchphrases.

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Smaug is played by the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch, who, aside from giving voice to this monstrous dragon, also provides the facial expressions and movements, much like that of Andy Serkis’s Gollum. Emerging from a baffling pile of riches, it’s the dark, malicious, egotistical voice that first strikes fear into your gut as Smaug himself dances amongst the shadows. Then, when the big reveal hits, you’ll find yourself struggling to pick your jaw off the sticky cinema floor. Agile, gargantuan, and devilishly clever, Cumberbatch’s Smaug is, without question, the biggest “wow” moment of the year. As for Martin Freeman, he’s still the only young Bilbo for me. His reluctant courage and comical movements are inspiring and hilarious. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who could successfully deliver just one of those facets. Sadly, Gandalf takes a bit of a back seat on this one, but it’s Ian McKellan, it’s the role he was born to play. So those brief moments he’s present are just as rewarding and nostalgic.

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“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is another magnificent entry into Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth. The visuals are as superlative as ever. Whether it’s Smaug, the bewildering, gloomy Mirkwood and Laketown, or panoramic shots of Middle Earth, Jackson never seems to lose his form. The progression of the story isn’t a strain to endure and keeps the viewer glued with heart-racing action and genuine emotion. The dialogue doesn’t feel so contrived and each character is given more than enough importance to thrive. It still doesn’t rank with the best the LOTR trilogy has to offer, but it isn’t a steep decline either. “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” will undoubtedly stand the test of time and is a terrific set-up for next year’s big finale.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: 9 out of 10.

Pacific Rim (2013)

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Although it may ask the viewer to acquiesce a fair amount of inconsistencies and genre cliches. “Pacific Rim” ultimately rewards its audience with jaw-dropping visuals, bone-shattering action, and evoking genuine childlike wonder. It is somewhat of a let down that we are treated to only a small taste of what makes Guillermo Del Toro the revered visionary he is today. Nonetheless, without the aforementioned creator working behind the scenes. “Pacific Rim” would have undoubtedly fallen victim to the bombastic, over-driven destruction that has plagued and doomed countless others in the genre. While I didn’t expect the catchy slogan “Go big or go extinct” to be the film’s structural criteria. Luckily for Del Toro and crew, you can’t get much bigger than 250 foot robot assassins piloted by humans duking it out with genetically-engineered alien war-machines in an intergalactic battle. Powered by Del Toro’s youthful inspiration and wide-eyed ambition, “Pacific Rim” is literally a summer smash.

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In the near future, extraterrestrials dubbed “Kaiju” enter through a portal in a crevasse deep beneath the Pacific Ocean and begin destroying Earth’s major cities. To combat these monsters, humans create massive weapons known as “Jaegers” which are humanoid fighting machines that stand roughly 250 feet tall. These “Jaegers” are controlled by two pilots simultaneously through a neural link that allows each co-pilot access to inner thoughts, memories, and reactions. Soon, the human race begin to take the upper-hand, but are quickly knocked back down by bigger, more complex “Kaiju” and must find a way to close the portal between worlds.

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Similar to J.J Abrams “Super 8,” Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” was conceived upon childhood nostalgia and a yearning to rebirth the creature feature. Having rekindled a long-dormant fascination with classical foreign monster films. Del Toro and crew set out to instill that feeling of childish giddiness into a generation who’ve been rotted with endless pedestrian and vapid blockbusters. And as far as big-budget action-thrillers go, you’ll find none better than “Pacific Rim.” Establishing new heroes with timeless qualities that get the job done or die trying, a slew of immense, godly fighting robots equipped with inventive, resourceful weapons, and a plethora of monstrous, grotesque extraterrestrials. It might be a tad predictable, even stereotypical. Yet, “Pacific Rim” is a breath of fresh, rejuvenating air into a faltering genre that was failing to inspire and bewilder.

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It’s easy to see that in any other filmmakers hands, at least a majority of them, “Pacific Rim” would have faced a rather swift extinction so to speak. That being said, it would have been nice to see Del Toro infuse a bit more of what makes his previous releases so compelling. While there are tiny bits of his repertoire sprinkled throughout “Pacific Rim’s” rather modest (roughly) two-hour runtime (only when stacked up against the films scale). One can’t help but feel that it lacked his ambience and atmosphere, the unwavering human element. Undoubtedly, we are subjected to the brilliant diversity and growth of Del Toro as a filmmaker and it is astounding to say the least. I just can’t help but conclude that “Pacific Rim” would have been infinitely better if Del Toro took an extra half-hour, added his usual artistic detail and firmly grounded this flick. However, it’s still one hell of a ride.

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Now, inevitably, more than a few will draw comparisons between “Pacific Rim” and the “Transformers” franchise, amongst other big-budget action blunders. But don’t mistake my clamouring for typical Del Toro as a sign of skeletal, visual, and sympathetic weakness. It’s actually quite the opposite. What sets “Pacific Rim” apart from these brain-dead blockbusters is its strength in the aforementioned categories. I’m simply stating that Del Toro could have done it better, it’s still phenomenal in every sense of the word. The visuals are stunning, Oscar worthy and the story’s progressive form, formidable characters, and connectivity is sturdy enough to stand on its own. “Pacific Rim” is essentially pleasing to all cinematic senses. If you find yourself unable to enjoy it, odds are your inner-child suffocated under your pretentiousness a while ago.

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As for the film itself, you’ll find no shortage of witty humour, deceptively charismatic and humanized characters, and of course gargantuan battle weapons built by two rival races deconstructing one another using any means necessary. Still, what makes “Pacific Rim” so utterly admirable and atypical is its ability to separate from what is slowly becoming a modern convention. Amongst the abundance of comic book films that depict superheroes struggling with their own mortality and moral obligation. “Pacific Rim” reinstates the solidified, courageous, head-held-high heroes who live and feed off of the battle, albeit somewhat cockily. Not to mention, Del Toro and crew make excellent use of the underdog premise and play it out flawlessly. However, most importantly, “Pacific Rim” portrays belief in humanity, something cinema has gotten away from.

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Now, not just anyone can control these immense Jaegers or understand the Kaiju and that’s why “Pacific Rim” has such a diverse, talented, and somewhat obscure cast. Starring Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Charlie Hunnam, and Rinko Kikuchi, this crew of tenacious, at times ruthless individuals is not to be trifled with.

Out of everyone cast in this film, Charlie Day struck me as an odd, risky choice. Having only seen the actor in various comedies, a high-profile role in a serious action-flick seemed like the last place he’d be effective. Well, I was wrong. He does a fantastic job providing some much-needed comic relief and even surprised me with his capabilities a few times. Idris Elba is as intimidating as ever and continues to be one of the most underrated actors currently in cinema. Adding his usual style, suave, and dramatic flare to a rather limiting role. Ron Perlman, although sparsely used, still manages to steal every scene he’s in and he’s as hypnotic as ever. Carlie Hunnam definitely stole the show, for me anyway, and that’s due in large part to his chemistry with Rinko Kikuchi. The two really know how to give and take, while remaining independent enough to stand-out on their own.

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One of the most decedent pieces of eye-candy I’ve ever witnessed, “Pacific Rim” is exactly what you thought it’d be…loads of fun.

Pacific Rim: 8 out of 10.

Upstream Color (2013)

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Staggeringly beautiful and disconcertingly haunting right down to the microscopic level. Upstream Colour is a delicate, interwoven fabric that, much like everything in existence, has an intricate, atomic balance at its core to upkeep in order for it to flourish. If there is even a slight miscue, the film in its entirety would implode. Yet astoundingly, Upstream Colour strikes an unparalleled equilibrium between its content that ranges from severely bizarre, decidedly violent, and remorselessly disheartening. Written, directed, and produced by Shane Carruth, who follows up his first full-length feature Primer with something equally as confusing. And even though it may not be as obscure, it is certainly as innovative and brilliant. Upstream Colour is overwhelmingly melancholic for the majority, but if you can stand it, the reward is unlike anything else you’ve every felt while watching a film.

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PLOT: SPOILERS!

Kris (Seimetz) is abducted by the Thief (Thiago Martins) and infected with a worm, which is used to brainwash her.  After the Thief successfully completes his transgressions, he hands Kris over to the Sampler (Andrew Sensenig), who transfers the worm into a pig. The transfer of this worm establishes a connection between Kris and the pig and allows the Sampler to witness the victims experiences. Essentially, each time the Sampler approaches a pig, he can see what is going on in that persons life. The Sampler uses these experiences to create music which he sells through his record company. When a pig needs to be discarded, it is tossed into a lake. The Orchid Mother (Kathy Carruth) and Orchid Daughter (Meredith Burke) collect the orchids which have been latched onto by the worm from the deceased pig. When Kris meets Jeff (Shane Carruth), the two strike up a loving relationship, but soon uncover dark secrets about one another.

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Shane Carruth’s evolution from Primer to Upstream Colour is unbelievably remarkable and unprecedented. Anything that was somewhat amiss in his directorial debut has been touched-up and perfected. Not only has he ditched the incoherency, shadiness, and lack of emotional integrity that remotely plagued Primer. Carruth has infused a sense of awe and wonderment that was vacant throughout his debut, as well as adding the significance of empathy. Carruth has always had the intellect, intrigue, and drive to accomplish riveting and vivid filmmaking. Nevertheless, now that he has merged his craft with the heart and sentimentality needed to spawn truly complete pictures. Carruth’s growth has made him an up-and-coming force to be reckoned with, regardless if you respect his films or not.

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It is exceedingly difficult to capture the transcendent, disturbing, atmospheric, sociopathic Upstream Colour in mere words. A similar problem fell upon  Primer, as it frustrated and isolated countless viewers. With Upstream Colour, even more so than Primer. Carruth’s idealistic and resourceful search for honesty and truth in fictional settings has left myself and many others speechless. Not to say that time travel, inter-species splicing, or multi-brain connectivity will never exist. Simply put, as of the moment, these futuristic ideals are radical and irrational. Regardless, Carruth’s ability to birth these unique, futuristic irregularities is unrivalled as of the moment and inadvertently makes him one of the most forward-thinking, original, and creatively outstanding individuals in cinema today.

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Aside from relying heavily on the shocking and passionate nature of Carruth’s script. Upstream Colour found itself a very favourable and capable lead in Amy Seimetz. She showcases extreme diversity and talent stretching her emotional capabilities to an unmatched extent. Watching her performance, one can’t help but feel bewildered and exhausted. It’s unnerving to see how calm and composed she remains throughout despite, or perhaps in spite of the events she has withstood. Seimetz’s co-star who also happens to be Shane Carruth who pulls multiple duties once again matches up adequately. I don’t have an issue with Carruth acting in his own pictures. That being said, his performances in his first two outings have been passable. Nonetheless, for his future films, I would suggest investing in more experienced and accomplished actors, or at least lessons. It should greatly enhance the effectiveness of his masterful direction and unmatched ability to concoct abstract and beautiful stories.

Decidedly visceral, highly hallucinogenic, and utterly mesmerizing. Carruth’s Upstream Color is rooted with outstanding performances and firm direction.

Upstream Color: 9 out of 10.

A Field in England (2013)

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One can deduce the decidedly plain warning issued at the beginning of the film as mere tactics, even go as far as to mock its triviality, but cinephile or not… you truly have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. Ben Wheatley’s “A Field in England” is a hallucinogenic, achromatic, and visceral yarn. A pulsating thriller oozing with disturbing content and vivid, genuinely stomach-churning visuals. However, Wheatley’s third film in as many years isn’t all observation and no substance, far from it. A viewer’s opinion regarding what took place in “A Field in England” and what it all meant is a lot like a snowlike…as in no two are alike… The film’s extremely diverse influences and varying motivations are what make it like no other film you’ve ever experienced. There isn’t much viewers will agree upon after watching “A Field in England” except that Ben Wheatley is indeed the most intriguing, terrifying filmmaker in cinema today.

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During the English Civil War in the 17th century, Whitehead (Shearsmith) flees from the battlefield and his strict master. Down in the dirt, he meet Cutler (Pope) who is holding two travellers captive, Jacob (Ferdinando) and Friend (Glover). Upon being abducted by Cutler as well, Whitehead and the group journey across a field to find O’Neill (Smiley). Having Found O’Neill, the group is forced to help him and Cutler find a treasure buried somewhere in the field. Being subdued by hallucinogenic mushrooms and forced to work, the group soon begins to succumb to their own thoughts and mental instability.

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“A Field in England’s” obscurity and surrealistic texture evoke an array of mental and physical reactions that more often than not feel brought on subliminally and are best left uncontrolled. It’s a complex blend of dark humour, thought-provoking characters, and brash imagery that result in a mystifying adventure that isn’t for the faint of heart. Never has a film generated such an unsettling, yet resplendent contrast full of infuriating, dynamic, and poetic sequences that are enough to drive one insane for the film’s entirety. Not only does “A Field in England” render the viewer helpless throughout, it lingers, almost unwelcome until you’re able to comprehend and conclude. It’s thick, tonal consistency, horrific mood, and unbearably trippy scenes are so vibrant, entrancing, and unnerving, it’s tough to label it within a single genre or anything known to man.

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Driven by the bonds formed amongst the shady individuals who each search and yearn for a fortuitous intervention they have no legitimate reason to believe exists, whether it’s buried treasure or religion. “A Field in England” is a taut character study that doubles as a hypnotic allegory at the beginning of the western world. Whether you chose to look at it from a certain perspective or not is entirely at your discretion. Seeing as the film has en endless amount of interpretations, each valid take is as valuable as the next. I’ve yet to come across any two individuals who’ve witnessed the film and agree on an explanation. Treading somewhere between folklore, socio-political, and historical relevance. “A Field in England” is an intricate mishmash of importance and insignificance. To be honest, I’ve still not made up my mind as to what I think this film is about, perhaps I never will. I’ve watched it a few times now and I love the fact that I’m constantly dissecting, analyzing, and surmising.

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Aside from the film’s obvious abstractness, it’s refreshing to see Wheatley step out of his comfort zone. While his initial releases seemed to be centred more or less in his genre wheelhouse. “A Field in England” is Wheatley at his most unrestrained and brilliantly showcases his growth. Without question, this is his most controversial and complete offering to date. While it may not be as decidedly vicious or magnificently gory as his previous offerings. “A Field in England” is much more psychologically perplexing, dramatically sensational, and is a visual feast unlike anything you’ve ever seen. And of course it contains some Wheatley trademarks such as excessively detailed gore, genuinely disturbing sequences, and utterly compelling characters. In my opinion, Wheatley’s work both behind the camera and on paper has never been better.

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While “A Field in England” is sure to be memorable for its stroboscopic, symmetrical, bizarre hallucinogenic trips, in addition to truly frightening scenes such as Whitehead emerging from the tent and so on. The performances of “A Field in England’s” entire ensemble are equally mind-blowing. Which kind of makes the entire film satirically ironic. As striking and monumental as the film is, there is a small part of me that wishes I could forget it. Starring Michael Smiley, Reece Shearsmith, Ryan Pope, Richard Glover, and Peter Ferdinando. “A Field in England” finds itself a cast who are up to the task of heading into the farthest reaches of their psyches, not knowing if they will return.

Without question, Shearsmith’s performance is phenomenal, from start to finish. Although, from the get go, Shearsmith dives head first into chaos and compassion, he ascends slowly to a gradual realization of this world’s true intentions. A ghostly, unbalanced, nerve-grinding portrayal that is not to be missed. Richard Glover does a fantastic job providing comic relief. However, his dramatic moments are something to marvel, honestly atmospheric. Michael Smiley gives a truly haunting portrayal of a stoic antagonist filled with all the wrong intentions and hateful greed. Ryan Pope is intimidating to say the least, and while it may not last, it trails off into something better. As for Peter Ferdinando, I feel he garners the least notice, but deserves better. His role is severely important and the performance he infuses into it is nothing short of spectacular.

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Disturbing, beautiful, and down-right insane. Ben Wheatley’s “A Field in England” is an acquired taste and a must see. And although I highly recommend it, odds are more than a few of you will dislike it, but a majority of you will despite it, along with me as well.

A Field in England: 8.5 out of 10.

Europa Report (2013)

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Purposely and decidedly more science than fiction. “Europa Report” blends documentary style filmmaking with dramatic flare to spawn a tense, beautiful, and intelligent thriller that is truly beyond this world. Easily one of the most smart, accurate, and awe-inspiring films of the genre. “Europa Report” matches recent sci-fi hits like Danny Boyle’s”Sunshine” and Duncan Jones “Moon” stride for stride. While it may not be as charismatic or cinematic, it more than makes up for it with authenticity, astounding visuals, and futuristic probability. Directed by Sebastian Cordero, who does an amazing job capturing the stillness and immensity of space with a minimal budget. “Europa Report” may not be the taut character study or twisty adventure many expected. Nonetheless, it is a veritable gaze into the act of discovery, the soul of humanity, and the unpredictability of our infinite universe, its past, present and future.

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Six astronauts embark on a privately funded mission to one of Jupiter’s moons called Europa in search of extraterrestrial life. Europa is an ice covered moon who’s surface constantly shifts. It is believed that under it’s surface, Europa is home to vast and deep ocean. After experiencing a terrible technical failure en route and barely making it to Europa in one piece, the crew begins their research. What they discover and what it results in, no one, not even our bests scientists could have predicted.

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Without question, the most impressive aspect of “Europa Report” is its genuine portrayal of space and physics. In addition, the branches of cosmology and astronomy throughout “Europa Report” are equally as fascinating and valid. The film deals more specifically with the plausibility of and search for extraterrestrial life. It doesn’t trifle with the over-the-top, violent way big-budget blockbusters falsely abuse and portray alien life forms.  Whether it is the simplicity of weightlessness, the intricacy of surface textures, the colours of cosmic bodies, and everything in between. “Europa Report’s” material is legitimate and its imagery, credible to say the least.

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Magnify the subtle movements of Europa 1’s crew, or at times, the lack there of, and it becomes apparent that the attention to detail and an honest portrayal  is of great value to the film and its makers. Floating in the blackness of the vacuum or the lack of resistance inside the ship, everything down to the tiniest detail is honed to perfection. Not to mention the attention paid to the consistency, appearance, and forms of Jupiter, Europa, and other celestial bodies. Every facet of our galaxy and its material is showcased with the utmost care and precision. Even more compelling and realistic is the detail in the ship, its travels, and the forces working against it. Its interior, exterior, and experiences are conveyed masterfully.

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Granted, the story of Europa 1, its adventures, and its six astronauts is somewhat simple. Yet, its mission, objectives, and the earnestness of its crew are as enthralling and endearing as they come. The cast does a remarkable job capturing and exuding the wonder of witnessing space and the yearning for its exploration. Admittedly, it would prove difficult for any filmmaker to showcase emotion with cinematic strength while trying to remain authentic, let alone doing so only being able to utilize found-footage tactics. Yes, “Europa Report” is a found-footage film, but trust me, it isn’t what you think, but I digress… Sebastian Cordero’s ability to take this simple story and its characters and make it so stellar and entrancing is outstanding. His work behind the camera is phenomenal. Everything terrific about this film has so much to do with Cordero. This man has a bright future ahead of him.

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Many feel the need to discredit and discontinue found-footage from cinema, and rightfully so. Between the over-saturation and hackneyed attempts slapped together in short amounts of time, who can blame them? Yet, there is still hope. Who’d have thunk that in 2013 a grisly sequel and an indie sci-fi thriller would come along to rescue and revive the sub-genre. Horror anthology “V/H/S 2” and docu-drama “Europa Report” are existing proof that found-footage films are still relevant and utterly effective, when done right. “Europa Report” gives its own unique twist to the sub-genre and takes full advantage of the premise. This is found-footage done right.

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Although thus far I’ve given a lot of the credit to Cordero and crew, and with good reason. “Europa Report’s” cast has just as much to do with the films success and effectiveness. Featuring Sharlto Copley (District 9), Michael Nyqvist (Millennium Series), Karolina Wydra (Crazy, Stupid, Love), Christian Camargo (The Hurt Locker), Anamaria Marinca, and Daniel Wu. “Europa Report’s” characters are ably portrayed by thoroughly competent actors. Each individual bursts with a heartfelt and honest desire to bring the mission to fruition. While it may be for their own cosmological reasons and aspirations. They still perform and sacrifice everything they’ve got for one another. Their eyes gleam with innocence and awe, it is truly bewildering.

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Scientifically accurate, visually resplendent, and utterly inspirational. “Europa Report” is brilliantly put together and performed with on the grandest of scales with great attention, care, and drive by everyone involved.

Europa Report: 8.5 out of 10.

Man of Steel (2013)

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Adding much needed depth and humanity to such an illustrious character, who’s storied and intricate history is as delicate as it is powerful. “Man of Steel” has the action, heart, and nostalgia to satisfy both fanboys and newcomers alike. While it may prove to be too bombastic and interwoven for a few critics and harsh naysayers. This polarization is nothing new to the Superman franchise. Nonetheless, “Man of Steel” is a revival with such exuberance, precision and emotion, that it is nearly impossible to resist its charms. However, having been built-up, collated, and magnified with significant importance and anticipation for close to two years. “Man of Steel” was arguably set-up to disappoint and sadly but inevitably, for some this is the case. Regardless, for die-hards, cinephiles, and inner-children everywhere, including myself. “Man of Steel” was well worth the wait and is a fresh, honest, and mesmerizing take on the world’s most famous superhero.

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Krypton and its inhabitants face imminent destruction due to an unstable core. To protect their new-born child, Jor-El (Crowe) and his wife Lara launch a spacecraft carrying their son Kal-El (Cavill) to Earth, in order to secure the fate of their race. Upon arriving at Earth, Kal is found and taken care of by his adopted parents Jonathan (Costner) and Martha (Lane) Kent, who rename Kal, Clark. Because of Clark’s Kryptonian physiology, he inherits superhuman abilities on Earth. Soon, Clark and the entire population of Earth are under attack from another native of Krypton.

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Written by the immensely successful “Dark Knight” trilogy scribe’s David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan. Who make sure that “Man of Steel” contains all the wonder and amazement of the cosmic superhero’s intergalactic existence, in addition to the grounded and elemental nurturing that fortified the batman re-imagining. “Man of Steel” has all the makings of another fortuitous endeavour, not only for “DC comics,” but all involved. Nolan, who also produced the flick, oversaw most of the film’s creation and was essentially present for the ideal’s birth from Goyer’s mind. Although, clearly stating that he would not direct another Batman film, or superhero film of any kind, Goyer and company had to look elsewhere for someone to helm this reboot. After a slew of high-profile names fell to the wayside, it was visionary filmmaker Zack Snyder who was officially picked to take the reigns.

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Upon witnessing the triumphant boom of the Marvel franchise into multiple blockbusters and countless tangents. DC, simply put, had their work cut out for them. Looking to Christopher Nolan for a spark that would ignite a similar explosion, DC completely entrusted him with their future prosperity…and while it is decidedly easier to simplify Batman with a modern, realistic twist. It is near impossible to humanize and ground a hero who was born amongst the stars and soars through space. Be that as it may, with “Man of Steel,” Goyer and Nolan have managed to transform Superman into a dark and brooding character with a heart and mind just as strong as his physical capabilities. All in all, Nolan has been, and will continue to be the catalyst and made sure that the continuation of DC films not only goes smoothly and successfully, but will continue to thrive.

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Having director Zach Snyder’s keen eye for detail and jaw-dropping flare coordinating with Nolan and Goyer’s taste for believability, soul, and consciousness makes “Man of Steel” the most unique and honest take on the superhero to ever hit the big screen. The film has an exquisite blend of fast-paced action, atmospheric imagery, and heartfelt relationships that never cease resonating. Snyder’s vision for “Man of Steel” brilliantly collaborates with Hans Zimmer’s epic, melancholic soundtrack, Nolan and Goyer’s disheartening, but bewildering script making the finished product truly something to behold. If you let critical skepticism, minor blemishes, and transitional inconsistencies tarnish the films reputation or influence your opinion, this might not be the picture for you. Take my word for it, set aside the hype and reviews, appreciate this breathtaking rebirth for what it is.

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Obviously, without a cast to perfectly animate these features and hard work, the film would utterly falter, luckily, this is not the case. “Man of Steel” stars Henry Cavill in the title role, Amy Adams as the beautiful but brainy Lois Lane and acting heavyweight Michael Shannon as the blood-boiling villain, General Zod. The film’s supporting cast is equally as impressive, if not more so. Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne and the surprising Antje Traue solidify what is an outstanding ensemble.

It’s been a while since Kevin Costner has blown any of his co-stars out of the water. Yet, aside from Cavill and Shannon, Costner is without question the most sublime and really reminds us all of his staggering talent. Diane Lane and Russell Crowe aren’t far behind, preparing Clark for the brash and brutal reality of the world’s he is now apart of. The two are formidable in their supporting roles and add another layer of brilliance to an already astounding story. As for Fishburne, who is his usual, intimidating self. One can’t help but feel letdown by his standard performance, however, his role was extremely limited. If I’m being completely honest, I had never seen Antje Traue in a film prior to “Man of Steel,” but now that I have, I am smitten. She really captures the fearless mentality of Faora and if i might add, looks quite good doing so.

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Out of the three leads, I’d say that Amy Adams is the most underwhelming. Albeit, that is in comparison to Michael Shannon and Henry Cavill, so a case can be made that it’s more of a compliment than an insult. Yes, she is sweet, cute, and calm in the face of danger. I’m not implying she performed horribly, I’m stating that Lois Lane in general was somewhat underwhelming. Which should be the case considering “Man of Steel” is dealing with the origin story of the man himself, not her. The severely underrated and tragically underused Michael Shannon finally gets his due as a ruthless, violent, determined villain who’s primary goal is to guarantee the safety of his people. One can tell that Shannon has always had this dark, primal catharsis waiting to be unleashed deep down inside. Now, finally, Shannon has burst into the mainstream and will hopefully stay there. Shannon delivers a powerhouse performance.

Henry Cavill is Superman: the body, the hair, the voice, everything. I don’t know how else to put it. His acting is superlative, he clearly got in incredible shape for the picture, so he obviously invested heavily in the role. Everything about his emotional range, mannerisms, even the way the suit fits him is enough to send chills down your spine.

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“Man of Steel” offers a never-ending series of heart-racing action seqeucnes that look anything but contrived or inauthentic. One thing on everyones mind prior to the film was how Cavill would look while flying, and thankfully, these segments look dignified. Snyder should gain a stronger fan-base with “Man of Steel” considering his preceding films left audiences divided to say the least. For those Superman enthusiasts, be sure to look out for a few easter-eggs throughout the film. They’re sort of like subtle nods to the audience, a way of saying thank you and we appreciate you.

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For the record, I’m overjoyed that I’m struggling to convey how I feel about “Man of Steel” in this review. As with every film that is or eventually becomes an all-time favourite of mine, I have a hard time dissecting them. I think it’s because I can never quite put my finger on what I love about them. It’s just a reaction, a series of euphoric shocks to my brain. I write excessively trying to unveil the root of my fascination, but never can, that’s why this review and all others like it are so long. I think this is the best way to describe how I feel about “Man of Steel.”

Man of Steel: 8.5 out of 10.

Primer (2004)

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Extremely obscure, complex, and compacted. Primer is an enlightening, thought-provoking thriller about the wonders of time travel and the inevitable consequences that accompany it. Managing to stick it out till the end shouldn’t be an issue considering its relatively short running time. However, don’t get too down on yourself if you can’t make it through half of the film. Considering Primer’s intricate, easily confusing, and dense story. It would be miraculous if one could watch unfazed and without being overwhelmed, let alone understanding the plot in a single go-around. Regardless of how discombobulating Primer is. Director and Writer Shane Carruth authentically portrays discovery for what it usually is: accidental, stupefying, and utterly uncontrollable. Remaining grounded and vulnerable while earning an individuality deprived of any commonality with other sci-fi flicks. Primer is an underrated gem and unlike its characters, will never be duplicated.

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During their free time, four men work in a suburban garage building and selling products to pay for their side-projects. When Aaron (Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) stumble upon something that they cannot explain. They begin a series of tests and start building new, bigger prototypes. Once they are finally able to comprehend what is happening, their tests become more elaborate and the results, astounding. Soon, everything they once knew is discredited and their friendship begins to falter.

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Although Primer’s budget was limited and coincidentally so were the visual options available to its creators…granted, the cast and crew did the best with what they had available to them and what they conjured up is a beautiful and unforgettable journey. Yet, one can’t help but feel that the story and film in general could have benefited from a bit more showmanship. Not to make it easier on the eyes, more so, on the brain. If the viewer could decipher between characters and timelines more simply, Primer’s complexity wouldn’t be so unfathomable. Nonetheless, Primer is an astounding cinematic achievement and goes to show that you don’t need a big budget or high-profile actors to spawn something of merit. Carruth and company have created something truly unique using their intelligence and drive, something that is missing from the majority of cinema today.

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Carruth’s ideals really test the extent of our understanding and morality regarding tremendous gifts like intelligence and discovery. While his characters might not always make the best choices. The beauty of Primer is that it’s easy for the viewer to insert themselves in the predicament and make decisions based upon their own personal motivations and values.

The emotional variety, or lack there of, illustrated by Primer’s cast may leave a lot to the viewers imagination. It can be argued that it is primarily due to the numerous clones and timelines. Regardless, Carruth’s ingenious, elaborate, and brilliant story more than makes up for Primer’s seemingly dehumanized cast and visual repetitiveness. Make no mistake, Primer isn’t here to look pretty, you’re here to let its ingenuity and intellect broaden and relentlessly stretch your mind.

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Primer: 8 out of 10. (Honestly, as my understanding of the film progresses, the rating may alter. I still need at least a couple of more viewings to fully comprehend Primer).

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

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It may not be as innovative or complex as its predecessor. Yet, Star Trek Into Darkness bursts forth with a renewed source of ambition and on the shoulders of the Enterprise’s crew, successfully tackles nostalgia with a fresh, brooding twist. Capturing the wonder of space, jaw-dropping action sequences, and spectacular performances from the entire cast. Abrams and company follow up 2009’s franchise resurrection with another inconceivably epic entry into the Star Trek universe. Playing out the mystery and anticipation to full effect, Star Trek Into Darkness is bigger, louder, and surprisingly more heartfelt. Blending the perfect amount of sentiment, hilarity, and bone-snapping (reference) hand-to-hand combat, Star Trek Into Darkness doesn’t miss a beat. If the time since 2009’s smash hit has left a bit of a void in your life. Star Trek Into Darkness is sure to satisfy your Trekkie addiction, die-hard enthusiast or not.

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Upon returning from a mission, the crew of the Enterprise isn’t allowed much time to rest as rogue Starfleet agent turned terrorist, John Harrison (Cumberbatch) bombs a Starfleet base in London. When Harrison flees Earth and retreats to a distant planet, Kirk (Pine) and the Enterprise are commissioned to hunt him down using any means necessary. Eventually finding Harrison on a abandoned planet, the Enterprise and its crew is attacked. Barely escaping with their lives, the crew is soon face to face with Harrison and a slew of difficult decisions that Kirk and company struggle to make.

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While the primary goal of 2009’s Star Trek was to reintroduce this timeless sci-fi tale to the modern viewer, by and large. Nonetheless, the reboot was more of a rebirthing for the exceedingly long-running saga (not that I am complaining). Now, with Into Darkness, Abrams is definitely paying more of an homage to the original series that seems to set its sights on appeasing the fans of old, like myself. Coincidentally, Star Trek Into Darkness deals with more mature content as its predecessor felt more directed into pleasing a wider variety of viewers. To the dismay of Trekkies all over the world, Abrams decided to keep the villain’s identity heavily under wraps. If you happened to watch any publicity for the film, such as late night talk shows, you’d know that this secret was as vigilantly guarded as some nuclear missile silos. That being said, I fully agree with the decision as it significantly affects the storyline.

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Regardless of the fact that Into Darkness isn’t as encompassing to the rules and regulations of physics and space, particularly bending them as 2009’s entry so brilliantly did. Into Darkness fixates more on the universe created by the original series and exploiting our fascination with it, as lovingly as one can. Now, dealing with these facets is sure to alienate those unfamiliar with their origin. However, it should initiate a sense of eagerness to explore Star Trek’s storied history for those who don’t have the knowledge and gives a chance for those who do an excuse to revisit.

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Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of Into Darkness is the story’s growth even though there has been a four year absence. When the film begins, the audience becomes aware. We are somewhere down the road now, we’ve missed something and there is this yearning to catch up. To see the empire that is Star Trek move forward and evolve is refreshingly reassuring. J. J. Abrams  singles out each member of the Enterprise’s crew, giving more scree time to each individual and digging deeper into the emotions and heart that drives them, even Cumberbatch’s character.

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In addition to the original crew that consists of Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, and Simon Pegg. Into Darkness adds Alice Eve, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Peter Weller to StarFleet…Even though each actor brings their own charisma, motivations, and vulnerability to their individual roles, there is no denying that there is only three leads amongst them, Pine, Cumberbatch, and Quinto. That being said, like any good starship, Into Darkness would be rendered useless without its crew, and this crew substantially upped their game.

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Cho, Saldana, and Pegg are all fortunate recipients of increased screen time and added emotional character depth. Cho grows into a firm and steady stance, earning respect and parting ways with his comical errors from 2009’s Star Trek. Pegg and Saldana’s roles, or lack there of in Star Trek has been dealt with. Taking full advantage of the emotional intensity in their roles to showcase their diverse talents. While Greenwood’s role is somewhat diminished, he arguably gives a stronger performance. Yelchin and Urban’s importance remain unchanged except for the addition of a plethora of one liners you can’t help but laugh at. As for the new recruits, Eve and Weller make for interesting and formidable additions. Eve’s role, ripe with potent sexiness and cute arguments with Spock, is so much more. Playing the sweet, intelligent love interest of Kirk, Eve takes no nonsense. Finally, Weller’s objective remained a mirage throughout Into Darkness’s publicity, but storms in with chaotic indifference. As brash and toxic as ever, Weller is quite the surprise.

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As masterful, endearing, and exhilarating the supporting casts performances may be. Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pine, and Zachary Quinto are light-years ahead. Let’s star with Pine, who’s face now permanently comes to mind when anyone mentions the name Kirk. Undoubtedly, Into Darkness contains Pine’s most involved, mature, heavy-hearted, and overall best performance to date. I can think of no one better to have taken over the chair. Quinto is quite the anomaly. He so elegantly, actually perfectly captures the essence that is Spock. His heartless, emotionless, and vastly superior intellect are mere surface qualities and Quinto knows this well, diving so deep into his soul that it leaves his exterior vacant. Now, where to begin with the immaculate Benedict Cumberbatch. I don’t think it is possibly for this man to do any wrong. With every role, he completely immerses himself and disappears into his characters skin, Into Darkness is no exception. Exuding every emotion necessary with pin-point precision, Cumberbatch gives one of the best villain performances in cinematic history.

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Flawlessly acted, impeccably directed, and visually spectacular. The sheer immensity and heart of Star Trek Into Darkness is enough to give you shivers.

Star Trek Into Darkness: 9 out of 10.

The Great Gatsby (2013)

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Although it may lose track of its source material, feel ostentatious and overly feign. The Great Gatsby’s breathtaking visuals, captivating performances, and superb direction are enough to rescue it from becoming a complete disaster. No doubt those who’ve read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s timeless novel, like myself, will have a harder time appreciating Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation than those not familiar with the text. However, if you’re able to separate from it and Fitzgerald’s unparalleled take on decadence, the American dream, and idealism. You’ll find that regardless of its primary focus on cynicism and extravagance, Luhrmann’s rendition isn’t all vanity and indifference. Sporting an array of high-profile actors and a substantial amount of glam and glitter. The Great Gatsby is a party you weren’t invited to, yet can’t help but enjoy.

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Nick Carraway (McGuire) is a Yale graduate and a veteran of the first World War. Also a depressed alcoholic, Nick visits a psychiatrist and continually talks about a man named Gatsby. When Nick begins to struggle describing Gatsby, his doctor suggests writing his memories down. Recalling events beginning in 1922, Nick describes how his relationship with Mr. Gatsby came to be. Taking a job as a bond salesman in New York, Nick rents out a small house on Long Island in the village of West Egg. Soon after, Nick travels across the bay to visit his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan) and her husband Tom (Edgerton). Afterwords, Tom and Nick go to an apartment which Tom keeps for his affair with Myrtle (Isla Fisher), George’s (Clarke) wife. Later on, Nick receives a party invitation from his mysterious neighbour Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio). As more time passes, Nick and Mr. Gatsby grow close. Soon, Jay has an unusual request for Nick and what follows is a gripping tale of love and loss.

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It is certainly frustrating to watch Luhrmann’s portrayal of the Roaring Twenties without the consequence and disintegration that Fitzgerald so elegantly masked. That being said, if Luhrmann’s discarding of social politics is inadvertent or not, there is no denying that he poignantly and potently captures the surface story of distanced lovers. While it may not provide, nor portray the downfall of the American dream. This adaptation of The Great Gatsby does brush a certain element that made the original text so relatable and distinguished. Luhrmann absorbs Fitzgerald’s relentless facet of reckless and uninhibited youth. While overall it may miss the mark on the underlying themes. The Great Gatsby does hit some of Fitzgerald’s plot points dead on and proves to be a worthy adaptation.

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Starring the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Toby McGuire, Joel Edgerton, and Jason Clarke. The Great Gatsby definitely has the eccentric, ecstatic, enthusiastic cast to illuminate the decadence and excess of the rich, wayward youth. Their dialogue and phantasmic appearances may appear to lack authenticity, but I assure you it’s accurate. Though everyone and everything seems staged, it never dwindles The Great Gatsby’s brightness.

Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t miss a beat in his accurate take on the eloquent and mysterious Jay Gatsby. Even though it’s not as formidable as his other, more impeccable roles, it’s certainly as memorable, old sport. Joel Edgerton, arguably only outdone by DiCaprio, exudes the diabolical deviance that plagues Tom Buchanan’s warped mind. Popping up for only a few minutes at a time, it’s difficult to judge Clarke’s performance. However, in limited time, Clarke’s role is significant and he, typically, makes good use of his screen time. As for McGuire, in the lead role caught between friendship and morals, there is nothing to nitpick over. Finally, the spellbinding Carey Mulligan gives another weightless, enduring performance.

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Setting aside the power of its performances, the absence of social-political themes, and the plausibility of certain viewers likeness of it. The real strength of The Great Gatsby lies within its costume and set designs. However one may feel towards Luhrmann’s adaptation, there is no ignoring the entrancing beauty of the visuals. Accompanied by an odd mixture of classical and current music, the striking sets and Luhrmann’s direction form a sedating toxin that weaves through the viewers veins.

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With each passing day, the more it grows on me. The highest praise I can give at the moment is that, The Great Gatsby is near impossible not to enjoy. Set aside the literary comparisons and take it for what it is.

The Great Gatsby: 7 out of 10.

Oblivion (2013)

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Depending too heavily on the CGI to rescue its faults and scavenging a few too many plot points from other science fiction films. Oblivion’s bloated budget and excessive storyline dismantle any hope for resuscitation and disengage the audience to a point of pity. Even though at times Oblivion seems to be saved from becoming another meaningless entry into an over saturated genre. The forced and fabricated acting, with the exception of Andrea Risebourough, is too artificial, much like the numerous drones and futuristic machines zooming sporadically around Oblivion’s desolate Earth. Directed by TRON: Legacy’s Joseph Kosinski and featuring Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, and the aforementioned Andrea Risebourough. Oblivion has the accomplished, visionary crew to undertake its cosmic mission, but doesn’t have the essential resources to get more than a few feet off the ground.

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In the year 2077, Jack Harper (Cruise) and Victoria (Riseborough) are a team assigned to Earth for drone repair. Jack travels down to the surface for the repairs while Victoria monitors him from above. The drones are used to eliminate any remaining Scavs on Earth after the war. The human race was at war with the alien species after they destroyed the moon, causing multiple natural disasters which wiped out a large chunk of the population. Humanity was forced to use nuclear weapons. Humanity won the war, but lost the planet. The remaining population now lives on Titan, a moon of Saturn, while a few remain on the spaceship TET orbiting Earth. When Jack is attending to a routine repair, an unidentified object crashes into Earth. When he searches the wreckage, he makes a startling discover that shatters his perceived notion of what is real and sets out on a mission to discover the truth.

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Let’s begin with the positives of Oblivion, even if they are scarce. Surprisingly, Oblivion is full of lacklustre performances from the likes of Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, and Olga Kurylenko. With their film history, you wouldn’t expect it. I anticipated more from them, especially Kurylenko after seeing her recently in To the Wonder. However, Andrea Risebourough is the only bright spot amongst the mediocrity. Her calm and composed nature is elegantly emotionless, robot like. She radiates, exudes those few moments before a storm. As long as she isn’t disturbed or have her routine interrupted, she’ll continue to glow, seductively. Yet, when the fabric of her apocalyptic world comes undone, she destroys what’s blocking the path. To be honest, she’s probably the reason I didn’t walk out of the theatre, I think that is the highest praise I can give. With Cruise and Freeman, you know what you’re getting. We take the good with the bad from them because the good is worth it. Unfortunately however, Oblivion is the bad.

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Aside from the heavenly performance by Risebourough. The only other positive Oblivion has to offer is its top of the line CGI. Which shouldn’t really be a positive at all. It should be afore gone conclusion that with its budget, Oblivion should produce unparalleled computer generated imagery. But, for the sake of this review, lets pretend that it’s a miraculous feat. I’d also like to applaud Kosinski and crew for trying to inject as much emotion and humanity into the film that they could muster. They didn’t fail miserably. Again, the issue stems from the unnatural dialogue. There is no flow to it, it simply isn’t fluid enough. The scene that resonated with me the most is when Risebourough, naked, seduces Cruise into the pool and the two begin to entangle themselves beneath the surface. I find it quite ironic that in a film that suffers greatly from its overly complex story, the most entrancing scene is also the most simple.

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Now for the lacklustre. In summary, the dialogue is too scripted, not at all realistic and it causes great disconnect with the viewers. How can one empathize with what is happening when it is painfully clear that you’re watching a performance.This coincides with the storyline and characters being abhorrently predictable. Moving right along, Oblivion steals too many plot points from other, successful sci-fi films such as Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, etc…This contributes to the predictability of the film because we’ve seen it all before. It was actually infuriating watching Oblivion’s plot continue to pile useless addition after useless addition of unnecessary twists and turns from past films of the genre.

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Despite its stunning CGI and a lovely performance from Andrea Risebourough. Oblivion’s lack of originality and unbelievable characters are the reason it falters.

Oblivion: 5.5 out of 10.