OBLIVION

Science Fiction is a genre that is in my blood. I am definitely someone who has seen it all, in some form. I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and many other shows and movies with my parents. If there was a sci-fi show on at the time, most likely I was watching it with my mom. I’ve seen thousands of shows and movies, grabbed up many a comic book, etc. The reason I mention this is because I’ve seen it all. All the twists and plot devices you can think of. Which brings me to this review.

The world of Oblivion is Earth. The year is 2077. The planet was ravaged 60 years ago in a war with an alien race known simply as the Scavs. The film opens showing us most of the destruction in the former U.S. while the main character describes what happened. Even though we won the war and forced the invaders out, the Earth has been damaged beyond repair. Vast radioactive wastelands and devastating destruction have forced us to leave. Tom Cruise plays Jack Harper, one of two people left on the planet. Along-side Victoria, his partner and wife, they act as a repair team for a fleet of orb-like drones meant to kill any remaining Scavs and protect the last of the huge machines that convert sea water into energy for The Tet, a massive space station orbiting Earth that houses the rest of the human race. Jack and Victoria, played by the statuesque Andrea Riseborough, have two weeks left on Earth. Once all of the Earth’s oceans have been converted into energy they can join the rest of humanity on The Tet. From there they will travel to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, to live happily ever after.

Jack has some secrets though. Although having his memory wiped upon starting his job, he keeps dreaming about a woman he doesn’t know in a time he can’t possibly have seen. His dreams have him walking through New York City before the war; a time in which he wasn’t even born yet. On top of that, it seems like he isn’t as enthusiastic to leave Earth as his wife is…and he has some personal reasons behind that.

One day during a routine trip to repair some of the drones he comes across a rogue signal coming from what’s left of the Empire State Building. When Victoria translates it, they realize there’s something bigger than their job at stake. Soon after a ship crashes holding human survivors; they’re the only humans Jack and Victoria have seen since everyone boarded The Tet, one of which being the woman of his dreams. From here the plot takes twists and turns at breakneck speed until we learn the truth behind everything.

I read a few reviews of this film before seeing it and the one thing that everyone seemed to take from it was that a lot of the plot points are very similar to a lot of other sci-fi tales…to a point of ripping off or just not being very original. They’re not totally wrong, but they’re not right either. Mainly because some of the films it’s been compared to (Wall-E, Moon) were created after writer/director Joseph Kosinski wrote the original graphic novel/screenplay for Oblivion, which he started in 2005. However, it’s also reminiscent of a lot of the sci-fi movies of the 60’s and 70’s. I really didn’t mind having plot points or twists that were familiar and throughout the film most really were not predictable. Usually with films like this I like to enjoy it as it comes at me and refuse to figure out anything before it plays out. There may have been one or two things that I figured out anyway, but for the most part each new turn was a surprise which made me happy, even if some happened to be similar to something from a past story. It didn’t stop me from enjoying this film thoroughly. And I definitely did not guess the final outcome.

Being the director of the highly successful TRON: Legacy, Kosinski was finally able to make his story from before he made it in Hollywood. On that note, don’t go looking for the graphic novel, it was never published. I don’t even like that the credits listed it as being based on one.

The look of the film is familiar in some areas, but not all. I’m still a fan of the contrast between the stark, crisp, clean, white technology and gritty, rough, post-apocalyptic Earth. I loved the look of Jack’s ship, his home (The Tower), the human machinery and The Tet. Whether the frame was filled with effects shots or not, this film is beautifully shot. A lot of it is clearly taken from Kosinski’s original concept drawings and framed the way a comic book would be. It’s a wonderful blend of that style and classical science fiction. One of my absolute favorite things about the whole movie were the drones. These fantastic floating orbs are armed with four powerful cannons, cameras and scanners and they “speak” in this outstanding tonal language that really brought them to life. They became characters in their own right and I really think they’re one of the best parts of the film, digital characters done right. The sound effects and soundtrack were another highlight. The sound of Jack’s airship, the drones, weaponry and machinery all had a life to them and seeing this film presented in IMAX truly added to the experience. You felt and were immersed in the world around you. The hum of the engines was in your chest and the booming sounds of the water machines and The Tet tore through you as if you were standing right before them. The score was expertly composed and performed by French electronic/shoegaze band M83. This is the second time Kosinski used a musical group for a film’s score (famously and ingeniously using Daft Punk for TRON) and at this point I don’t think he should stop for his future ventures. He clearly has an ear for it and has a wonderful outcome each time. There’s action: shootouts and Star Wars-esque dog-fights (in a canyon no less), there’s some thrills, scares, beauty, humor and heart – all characteristics that, to me, make a great sci-fi epic.

The cast is rounded out by Olga Kurylenko as the mysterious human survivor – Julia, Morgan Freeman and Game of Throne‘s Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. At 124 minutes it’s a solid run time without going on too long. If a lot of the reviews missed one thing about this film, it was the point of it: it wasn’t supposed to be anything more than what it is. A great sci-fi action flick. And yet, it’s still better than most that try to do the same. It may be filled with stuff you’ve seen before in some form, but it has a lot of heart and the twists will definitely keep you guessing. I’m glad Joseph Kosinski was finally able to make this; he’s living the dream that so many people have had and he’s clearly having fun doing it and has a definite love for sci-fi and fellow fans of the genre. It could be said that its biggest weakness may be it’s familiarity but that’s not such a bad thing.

B+

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The Lords of Salem Are Waiting For You

I’ve been strangely intrigued by The Lords of Salem ever since first seeing the disjointed trailers. Gave some info, but only a little, like any good trailer should do. Feeling the same as most people, to me, Rob Zombie’s films are very hit or miss. Sometimes within one film we get a mixed bag of quality. Almost like Zombie had no idea what he wanted to do with the movie and just threw in whatever came to mind on that particular day. I felt that way about House of 1000 Corpses, but when he made it’s follow-up, The Devil’s Rejects, it seemed like he had finally started to come into his own as a director. Paying heavy homage to the redneck horror flicks of the 70’s; which I could appreciate as a fan of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. As much as I am a fan of Devil’s Rejects, I still wanted to see him stand on his own two legs and do something that was truly his. Instead we got a somewhat decent, brutal remake of John Carpenter’s classic Halloween and a terribly awful sequel Halloween 2 (which I still really believe to be a middle finger to Dimension Films for making him do a sequel after he so clearly only wanted one film made). It seemed like he was afraid to step out of the shadow of what had come before.

Fast forward to 2013 and we get The Lords of Salem. Which is definitely Rob Zombie’s most original and possibly best film. The film opens with flashbacks to the era of the Salem Witch Trials. There’s a small coven pledging their allegiance to the Prince of Darkness and there’s a goat and weird s*** goes down and it had some of the weaker qualities of Zombie’s past ventures, but my interest was piqued, for sure.

Moving along to present day, Sheri Moon Zombie plays Heidi LaRoq, a rock radio DJ in Salem, Mass with a penchant for 70’s garb and watching old black and white movies in her apartment with her dog Troy. One night when closing up the station with her co-hosts, (played genuinely by Dawn of the Dead‘s Ken Foree and character actor Jeff Daniel Phillips; who, with his long hair and beard looks very much like Zombie himself) the receptionist tells Heidi that a weird package was left for her. Inside a strange wooden box with odd carvings is a record with creepy music that you would never want to put on after a hard night’s work. As the music plays we get flashes of the witches and Heidi looks to be getting the worst headache ever. She goes to bed and visions of hellions dance in her head. Taking place over six days the movie sends us on the downward spiral of creepiness and evil that Heidi is dragged through. I was very much pulled into the mystery and learning why Heidi has been chosen out of all the people in Salem.

When I first heard about this, I definitely wanted to say, “Why Rob? Why cast your wife in a lead role in every single movie you direct? And this isn’t to say that I disliked her in the other roles, but c’mon pal, give someone else a chance.” In Corpse/Rejects her character “Baby” was extremely annoying. I know this was the point; she played a raving lunatic pretty well, but there’s that. She was good in Halloween, but to me she just wasn’t right as Deborah Myers. Something was off. In Lords of Salem, Sheri Moon has gotten the best role of her short career. She’s a protagonist that we actually care about, even if she’s a little kooky. She’s a normal person that most people can relate to in some way; we don’t want her hurt when and if the evil is unleashed. I liked her a lot in this movie, her acting was good, she fit the part completely. Plus I really dug her in glasses, not sure what the dreads were about, but I digress.

Overall the movie itself is very reminiscent of the 1970s-80s films of Dario Argento: with the modern witchcraft plot and it’s pacing – Roman Polanski: for it’s Rosemary’s Baby subtle wickedness and sense of doom – John Carpenter: for the nod to The Fog‘s ‘not all is well in this sleepy town’ style. There is even a touch of Stanley Kubrick throughout. From the way certain shots are framed and that strange mix of Victorian and Art Deco, to geometric and sterile rooms and luminescent, rectangle nightstands and wall art that could have been found in Alex DeLarge’s bedroom. All of this in one film, but it blends together wonderfully. No single characteristic overpowering another. It works, it all works. Now you may be thinking, “Hey didn’t you say earlier that you would prefer it if Zombie would do something that was totally his? And stopped riding the wave of paralleling and imitation?” Yes. And I still feel that way. And while Lords does pay homage to classic horror styles, I refuse to categorize it as a ripoff or say it’s derivative of any other film. Some may see it as he’s still on the same path, but I see it as something new. I feel like it may be getting mixed reviews because it does have some of that old school slow-burning horror movie pacing and today’s audiences just can’t handle it. To be completely honest, this moves like a rocket compared to some of Argento’s films.

There are definitely moments where one may have the thought “What in the hell am I watching?” It’s ok, I went there too, but only a couple times. I absolutely loved the way this film was shot, especially everything that takes place in Heidi’s apartment building. It all has that wonderful vibe of a growing terror. The still that I used for the featured image above is from one of my favorite shots in the whole movie. The door to abandoned apartment #5 (where we just know that evil is brewing) slowly opens and Heidi is compelled to enter. All she finds inside is a red neon cross on the wall humming with sense of hostility and she slowly walks towards it, drawn to it. Outstanding shot.

Anyway! The cast is filled out with veterans of horror and science fiction: Dee Wallace, Bruce Davison, Meg Foster, Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn, Maria Conchita Alonso, Andrew Prine, Michael Berryman, Sid Haig (blink and you’ll miss him) and many, many others are strewn throughout. All pull their weight in the film, making an excellent web of characters and plot. Along side Sheri Moon, Bruce Davison is a standout as author and museum curator Francis Matthias.

There’s rock music, crazy, interesting and realistic characters, witches, denizens of hell, spirits, crack smoking, death, minimal blood and old lady boobs. Lots and lots of old lady boobs. So there really is something for everyone in The Lords of Salem. I had a few gripes with the end, but it’s ok, it was enough. At one point I thought the credits were going to roll and we’d be left with absolutely no explanation. In my head I was screaming, “No! No! Do not end it like this! I’ll be so pissed!” Thankfully it did not end there.

Today’s cynical youth may not get it and leave confused or not go at all (which may explain why I was the youngest person in the theater). Fans of the classics may prefer to sit home and watch those instead. I think a lot of that attitude is unfair to this movie, but what can ya do? I enjoyed Rob Zombie’s latest project a whole lot and this is the first time I’ve actually been anxious to see what he does next.

B+

Her

My girlfriend (jokingly) always asks why I never write about her on Facebook or anywhere….and now that I’ve started this blog and have been posting pretty regularly; she again asked why I don’t write about her. So here it is. Her post. And she doesn’t actually want this.

I knew of Nicole Elizabeth Sutherland in high school. I was on the stage crew, she was in the band. I was friends with a lot of the drama kids and band kids. So we knew each other. Sort of. I graduated 2004, she graduated 2005. Fast forward to December 2006. We officially met at a mutual friend’s Christmas Eve Eve party. We got to talking and immediately hit it off. I had been single about a year after a 5 year relationship and wasn’t looking for anything serious just yet, but I asked her out anyway. Had our first date on the 28th of that month and after 3 dates had decided we were meant to be together. Now after nearly 6 years and 4 months of the best relationship I’ve ever been in, (along with it’s own ups and downs) I can say that we are meant to be together. Just how I felt when we first met. She’s my favorite. We balance each other out, when I’m crazy, she reels me in. When she’s too uptight or stressed I help her chill the f*$& out. She’s a history teacher and has been an integral part of me finding my love for teaching.

We’ve had issues of our own, like any couple, but I have never been so happy or comfortable with someone. And the good so far out-weights any of the bad that no issue has ever kept us down. 

I wish I could do our relationship justice in this post, but I never could. She’s my best friend, she’s my whole world. We spend as much time together as possible. We’ve traveled to tropical islands, gone on road trips and have done mini-vacations and they were all perfect trips that I wouldn’t have wanted to share with anyone else. We had our first try at living together at college and I loved every minute of it. That was one of the first times I knew that it was meant to be.

People that don’t know me may see this as a sappy excuse for writing about my girlfriend; people that do know me will see this as a sort of joke by posting about my girlfriend when she doesn’t actually want me to. But in all seriousness, I love her more than anything and I’ve never been shy to express it. I have no problem posting about her on here for the whole of the internet to stumble upon.

She’s my everything and I love spending every day with her.

42

It’s a beautiful, sunny, 55 degree April day. Perfect day for a baseball game, or at least going to see a movie about a baseball legend anyway. Just left the theater after seeing “42”, the new film chronicling the beginning of Jackie Robinson’s career. From his start with the Kansas City Monarchs Baseball Club, to the minor leagues with the Dodgers affiliate, the Montreal Royals, to being the star rookie of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Some people may see this as just another sports film or biopic that is trying to start Oscar buzz nearly a full year before next year’s Academy Awards, but I don’t agree with that. This was a truly great sports film, love story, human drama.

Leading the cast is a relative unknown, Chadwick Boseman, who portrays Jackie as if he were the man himself. And while Boseman has been acting and starring in television and films for 10 years this is his first true breakout role. Alongside him is Nicole Behari, playing Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s wife and still living widow. Another unknown who’s mostly worked in independent or little-seen films, but I can tell you that I hope her career booms after this movie. She was something to behold here. Beautiful, strong and always beyond supportive of her husband, she brought Rachel to the screen like I’m sure no other could. She even looked almost exactly like the real woman. Finishing out the leading trifecta is Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the Dodgers General Manager at the time, most famously known for being the one to break the color barrier in the Major League Baseball by hiring Robinson. He truly channels Rickey to a point that I forgot who I was watching in the role from time to time. From his looks, to his mannerisms, to his down-pat impersonation of Rickey’s well-known gruff voice. There are so many people in this cast that I can’t praise them all individually, but trust me they all did a fantastic job here.

One of the things I liked most about the cast is the fact that it was made of mostly unknown faces with only a few famous actors throughout. It was clear to me that they cared more about the right performances than just getting a lineup of big names in a movie that really could have been mediocre Oscar-bait.

This was a beautifully shot film that blended excellent cinematography with subtle digital effects to bring the United States of the mid-40’s to life. Superbly written and directed by Brian Helgeland, another name that many may not know, but he’s written and directed some great Hollywood dramas. And 42 could be destined to be the next great American sports classic.

With the real Rachel Robinson as a consultant on the film we get a better inside look at conversations and scenarios that played out that normally would have been turned into standard Hollywood dramatic exaggerations. And nothing in this film seems forced or exaggerated, which was a great relief to me. It feels like we’re getting to step into a time machine and see how it all really happened.

We see the serious ups and downs of being the first black MLB player. We see the darkest moments and the most uplifting moments. Really great performances across the board and it was wonderful seeing these actors bring so many legends back to life. Another treat was seeing legendary footage or photographs re-created for the movie down to the finest detail.

I was hit with the full range of emotions while watching this. I laughed out loud, I teared up, I got angry and I was inspired to the point where I wanted to stand, cheer and clap in the theater. We even get to see some of the lives he touched as rookie. Some are first-hand interactons and some he would probably never know about. There’s even a scene that really shook me in which a young boy is at one of the games with his father. They’re talking about famed Dodger short-stop Pee Wee Reese (played perfectly by Lucas Black) and whether or not he’ll have multiple runs that day. The game starts and Robinson steps out onto the field and some of the crowd starts yelling for him to leave (insert racist rants here), the camera pans down the line of angry people until we hit the boy’s father who is surprisingly a part of it. It’s shocking to see. Even though we don’t know this man, we saw him for about 30 seconds before this, it’s shocking because he’s in such a good mood – enjoying a game with his son and then he does a complete 180 by angrily shouting racial slurs. The son is just as shocked as we are, quietly seeing this change in his dad, but then joins in… It is a very sad thing to see. The whole scene really just shows that racism is taught, not born. The only bit of hope we see is that the kid really doesn’t seem to feel right about joining in, he does it for a short time, but looks miserable doing so. He was definitely looking to have fun at a baseball game with his dad, not yell terrible things at a player on their favorite team.

At 2 hrs and 8 mins, it’s a solid film. Not overly long and not too short. It covers about 2 years and a lot happens in those 2 years, but we’re not drowned in useless scenes or factoids. The pacing is well done, but there are so many things that happen, that sometimes I was unsure of how they could end the movie, but no worries it’s done exactly the way it should be.

Overall this was a truly great film. It hit all the right notes. It’s never preachy or overbearing. It doesn’t try to elevate Robinson to something he wasn’t. He was just a guy who wanted to play baseball and knew the only way to do that was to take the blows, mostly verbal, sometimes physical, and just keep on going. It’s a good movie about a good man who became a legend.

A-

Elysium

I loved Blomkamp’s work on District 9. It was a beautiful, gritty sci-fi world and while I hope he makes a sequel to it, this right here shows that he still has what it takes to be one of the top directors working right now. I wouldn’t care if he never left the genre. This kinda got me jonesin’ for him to helm a Mass Effect movie. Looks great. I’m sure it will be fantastic.

In the year 2154, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined planet. The people of Earth are desperate to escape the crime and poverty that is now rampant throughout the land. The only man with the chance to bring equality to these worlds is Max (Matt Damon), an ordinary guy in desperate need to get to Elysium. With his life hanging in the balance, he reluctantly takes on a dangerous mission – one that pits him against Elysium’s Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her hard-line forces – but if he succeeds, he could save not only his own life, but millions of people on Earth as well.