Sunday, April 28, 2013

Summer movies I want to see, kind of want to see, and don’t want to see...Part 1/May 2013

By Steve Crum

As a film critic, I am supposed to view a film objectively. But I’m an opinionated, elderly human, filled with years of pent-up dislikes and preferences--explainable and unexplainable. Excuse me for baring my soul, exposing my prejudices, and parsing movies before viewing them. 

That said, if I had to pay to see summer movies, instead of screening them for free, I would avoid these bitter-to-my-taste film factors: coming-of-age/teen romance-sex “comedies”; animation; martial arts; anything Seth Rogen; sequels, particular the 5th or more; slasher horror; and zombies. Yes, I usually swim upstream instead of mainstream. 

Of 109 summer releases, my list happens to include 29 titles. Opening dates, in parenthesis, are subject to change. The May sampling:

To See
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS [May 17] 
Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are back as Kirk and Spock, respectively, battling mass terrorism. (A terrorist is currently the villain of choice in the entertainment media, reflecting reality.) The real plus here is the return of director J. J. Abrams. 
NOW YOU SEE ME [May 31]
An FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) chases magicians who are robbing banks. Tricky thieves, indeed. Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson are among the illusionists. This is a thriller, not a comedy. 

So-So's
IRON MAN 3 [May 3]
At this writing, I have not seen it, but scuttlebutt says this take has more action derring-do and laughs than IM2. The iron guy battles Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin, a super terrorist. 
THE GREAT GATSBY [May 10]
I am a so-so fan of Fitzgerald’s novel, and disliked Robert Redford’s 1974 adaptation, so this Baz (Moulin Rouge) Luhrmann version has nominal appeal. Add Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire as attractions. AND it’s in 3-D (?). My question: When is the 1949 version, reputedly superior to the ‘74 take, going to be released on DVD? It stars Alan Ladd. 

No-No’s
BLACK ROCK [May 17]
Three young ladies are sexually assaulted during a camping trip on a Maine island. So they unite as lethal revengers to attack, maim, and destroy. It sounds like The River Wild Meets Deliverance. Kate Bosworth is featured. 
BEFORE MIDNIGHT [May 24]
Since I dislike Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), why should I clamor to see this episode in the life of two talky lovers, again played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy? Please, nothing after this Before!
THE HANGOVER PART III [May 24]
Getting drunk, either in public or on a movie screen, is never funny for yours truly. This installment follows the hapless men-children on a knee-slapping, barf-filled journey that includes the accidental decapitation of a giraffe. Now, THAT’S entertainment. 
FAST & FURIOUS 6 [May 24]
I am neither a fan of cars nor Vin Diesel, so multiplying this dislike by six only accelerates the issue and fuels the fire. That’s the brakes. 
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PART 2, covering selected June releases, coming soon...
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Until then, here is the sobering trailer to The Hangover, Part III: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96TelFMZwHc

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tom Cruise fans might enjoy ‘Oblivion,’ all others beware

By Steve Crum

An infrequent discussion topic, when I was in the Army, concerned being stationed in a lonely, faraway place like the Arctic. “But the good thing is you’d get isolation pay,”someone would always comment. In the sci-fi thriller Oblivion, central character Commander Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) definitely qualifies for isolation pay. But there is no talk of any kind of payment, even though his job location isolates him. That includes his assistant and soul mate, Victoria Olsen, played by Andrea Riseborough. Jack and Victoria have not seen another human, face-to-face, for a long time.

Not to mention, but I will, the audience’s isolation. Viewers of Oblivion deserve a refund just for withstanding the movie’s 125 minutes of shattering blasts, explosions, and soundtrack music drum crashes. Oblivion is a visual treat, however, from futuristic flying machines to stark landscapes. It looks good, particularly on an IMAX screen, but the flick is ultimately style over substance. Involving it is not. 

And that is too bad, particularly because the 50-year-old Tom Cruise, still a virile, dashing action-romantic star, will attract many unsuspecting patrons to this film. His laser gun-toting Earth protectorate, Jack Harper, is also a superb pilot who repairs large, globe-like drones. They are killing machines, lethal flying robots that patrol what is left of Earth. Oh yes, our good ol’ planet in 2077 has been decimated after a world war. Even the moon is a casualty with chunks missing.

Jack, aka Tech 49, has spent a never divulged number of years patrolling his part of the planet, repairing drones, and obliterating any Scavs lurking about. Scavs, slang for scavengers, are enemy beings presumed to be threats to Earth’s struggling existence. They certainly look Goth-evil, sporting dark clothing and Predator heads. It is later revealed the Scavs have a humanity basis, which has to be referenced at spoiler risk, since Scav leader Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman) emerges. Oblivion’s trailer already reveals the very human looking Freeman character. 

At plot core is the tenuous relationship between Jack and Victoria. Her lifestyle, besides sleeping with Jack and daily nude swims, is as a communications officer who checks in daily, via table-flat computer, with a rather sinister control central lady, Sally (Melissa Leo). Victoria also tracks all of Jack’s flights, lending help by spotting Scavs who tend to live in caves and underground. Jack and Victoria are short-timers, since their duty time is soon ending, and they will return “home.” 

Their routine existence is disrupted when a spacecraft with humans aboard crashes, and Jack rescues Julie (Olga Kurylenko). Factor in resulting jealousy, deception, and revelation involving Scavs, drones, Jack and Julia, Jack and Victoria, and--awk--reproduction. Four writers, led by director Joseph Kosinski, had their hands on the screenplay, and it shows. The slowly paced script rambles on and on, and is rather bland, particularly the cliched conclusion. Overall, the movie plays like a fairly good Twilight Zone episode, but padded to fill two hours. 

Oblivion rests in the same cocoon as Tree or Life  and last year’s Cloud Atlas: glitzy, high tech movies that amount to nothing more than pseudo-intellectual nonsense. Stirring in ingredients like cloning and a federal government literally controlling citizens’ lives pander to conspiracy theorists big time. 

In actuality, Oblivion is much to do about...very little.
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GRADE on a scale of A to F: C-
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This trailer for Oblivion will give you an idea of what I mean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmIIgE7eSak