Oblivion (2013)

Oblivion (2013)

Oblivion. It’s such a startlingly powerful sounding word isn’t it? But what image does it conjure up in your head? Think about it. For some, it’ll be the true definition of the word: the state of being unaware of what’s happening around you – to be oblivious, you might say. Others may take it as something akin to an abyss – an impenetrable mire, from which nothing can escape. Others still may actually conjure up images of a video game from several years ago starring some demons, portals and wizards. It’s amazing what imagery can be conjured up from a single word! But which of these descriptions actually sums up Oblivion, the latest Tom Cruise-manned vehicle? Does it carry the word well, or is it too destined to just fade into oblivion?

Oblivion... looks kinda icy!

Oblivion… looks kinda icy!

Quite a lofty introduction to a film review, don’t you think? But how well does the title describe the film? Well, Oblivion is the first of two big movies this season to talk about a post-apocalyptic Earth that’s being revisited for some reason or another (the other being Will Smith‘s After Earth). This time around, we’re told that an alien race appeared and destroyed our moon. This threw the whole world into disarray and caused a cataclysmic meltdown of society. But the aliens weren’t done there… no no, they then landed on Earth and tried to take over. They failed, but the Earth is a husk, grossly damaged by the subsequent use of nuclear bombs. Now, some years later in 2077, we follow Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) – an engineer who’s tasked with repairing security drones down on the surface of Earth. These drones are there to protect various other large vessels that are draining the Earth dry in order to generate power to be shipped off to Titan – one of Saturn’s moons… but things get a little weird for Jack, as he starts to remember some facts that were erased long ago…

Simply put, the film has a rich back story and a great lore. You can’t fault director / writer Joseph Kosinski for really thinking about his world! It goes without saying that the film looks absolutely incredible too. Kosinski‘s view of the future is bleak, but totally mesmerising. I wouldn’t quite say I was as hypnotised as I was with the visual splendour of some of Spring Breakers‘ scenes earlier in the week, but nevertheless it looked great. Even better in iMAX if you have the option for that too. So far, so good…

Oblivion (2013)

But what of the acting? Well, once again – it’s solid work. The core cast, which includes the aforementioned Tom Cruise, plus his co-guardian Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), the mysterious Beech (Morgan Freeman) and the newly-salvaged Julia (Olga Kurylenko) are all perfectly comfortable in their roles. It was nice to actually see Freeman in a role that’s not as typical as usual – he’s not playing the kind, older guy that helps out the hero of the film. Thank you! If anything it reminds me more of his role in Wanted – a film I’m not particularly keen on, but that’s what came up in my mind. As for Riseborough and Kurylenko? Solid performances, but I can’t say that their roles really sold their acting skills all that much. Tom Cruise however, is once again on great form doing exactly what Tom Cruise does. If you don’t like the guy’s acting, you probably won’t enjoy Oblivion, but if you do – you’re getting what you’d get in any modern era Cruise film… Once again, so far, so good – the film doesn’t spiral into an abyss yet.

But it does come a bit closer to that hole… You see, the film makers have made a great deal of fuss over the winding plot, replete with its twists and turns. The trouble with this is that I expect the twists to be a) semi-logical, and b) unexpected. I’d say the film has two, perhaps three big twists, which I’m of course not going to spoil here. But one of them is hinted at if you have even a basic grasp of planetary facts. Now, let’s not pigeon-hole me here – The Phage is not a physicist, an astronomer or anything even remotely close. I just seem to absorb random facts that I’ve heard over the years, a bit like Bradley Cooper‘s character in Limitless. This is one of those times where I instantly recall something about the moon of Titan, which doesn’t really stack up with the rest of the above narrative. If anyone’s curious as to what that is – drop a comment below and I’ll use my Cooper-esque recollection abilities for you.

Oblivion (2013)

That’s not all I have to say about these twists either. If you recall, in Side Effects I took umbrage with the fact that the main twist of that thriller was so out of left field that it seemed like the writers had somehow cheated you out of a proper plot. Well, we’re going back into the field on the left in Oblivion too. Whilst I’d already guessed what the “big” twist was, some of the minor ones were totally bonkers and got more and more surreal as they progressed, right up until the very end of the film. In fact, the end just made me feel a bit cold to it all… You’ll see what I mean. Damn, this is a hard movie to review without spoiling anything whatsoever! But I’m determined to not do it, lest I feel your wrath. Let’s just say that some of the twists once again made me think of Wanted… but for the wrong reasons.

Having said all that, Oblivion is a solid slice of sci-fi and is set in a beautiful world. It deserves praise for that alone. It’s just that I sensed the film was a bit too drawn out at points and down-right daft at others. Sure, this is sci-fi – I should expect some ludicrous ideas and premises because it’s the future. Hell, the guy has a pulse rifle and flies around in a cool looking jet whilst living in an apartment in the sky. I can buy all that. I just wasn’t sold on some of the other plot details. Whereas some seemed too obvious, I was just oblivious to why they were included (see what I did there?).

So, which of the definitions does Oblivion live up to? It’s certainly not destined to be thrown into an abyss, that’s for sure. It’s a solid film that deserves to be seen… but it also does seem a bit too “video game” like for my tastes. No, it didn’t feature any demons or wizards, but it did seem somewhat familiar, as most games do. You almost get the feeling that Oblivion is a Frankenstein sci-fi that welds together various other film plots to suit its own means. But if you’re oblivious to some of those other films then the film will be a lot more appealing. OK, I’ll stop using words beginning “oblivio…” now… Ob(li)viously, as it’s the end.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

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Thirteen of the Best for 2013

Gaze into the Phage's Ball...

Gaze into the Phage’s Ball…

Happy New Year one and all! We’ve all managed to survive the armageddon and hopefully survived the welcoming in of 2013 last night. So now you have just one question on your lips about the year ahead right? What are the best films of 2013! No? You’re telling me you want to know if you’ll get that promotion / girl / boy / revenge? Well, I’m afraid I’m just going to answer the query about some of the biggest films to come in 2013. Last week we had a retrospective look back at 2012 with the 1st Annual Phagee Awards and now, like Janus – the namesake of January, we’re going to look forward to what’s to come. So I’ve picked thirteen films for 2013 that should be on your radar. Whilst I hope they’re all going to be hits… I can guarantee they’ll be an interesting watch, for better – or worse.

1) 14th February: A Good Day To Die Hard

2013 Die Hard 5

Yes, Bruce Willis will once again be donning a dirty vest and reprising his role as the unluckiest man in the world: John McClane. We cannot wait for this film. Film Phage are massive fans of the others in the franchise, so we’re eager to see what happens in the fifth. Sure, Die Hard 4 can’t hold a candle to Die Hard: With A Vengeance, but it was still great fun and we’re hoping for more of the same. The only worry? Having John McClane Jr. (aka Jack McClane, aka Jai Courtney) running around with him. Whilst we’re sure Courtney will do an admirable job… we still wish it was Tom Hardy in that role. We can dream right?

2) 27th March: Trance

2013 Trance

This one’s coming in low and hard, because I don’t think many people even know that Danny Boyle‘s latest film will be hitting cinemas in the Spring. This is the guy that brought you Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours to name but four of his eclectic movies. Whilst he’s not released too many details, we know it has James McAvoy at its lead and deals with art, ripping off gangsters and hypnosis, which leads to a reality-bending story where you don’t know what’s real from what’s resulting from the trance. It all sounds ludicrously trippy and we’re looking forward to having our minds warped.

3) 12th April: Oblivion

2013 Oblivion

Whilst nerdy gamers worldwide may be rejoicing in the premise of a live action retelling of the Oblivion video game, that’s not the case. No, this is a post-apocalyptic film starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman. Whilst Cruise has been known to produce a dud once every so often, he’s a pretty bankable actor and only commits to promising films. This film puts Cruise as an engineer who returns to a war-ravaged Earth (we’ve been at war with aliens) and discovers a secret that turns the whole war on its head. Sure, Cruise has dabbled with aliens in the less-than-well-received War of the Worlds, but we’re excited by this. It has great potential.

4) 26th April: Iron Man 3

2013 Iron Man 3

Don’t tell me you couldn’t see this making my list? We’re massive Marvel fans at Film Phage and can’t wait for Robert Downey Jr. to don the red and yellow suit once more. Whilst it’s great to have Sir Ben Kingsley as a menacing Mandarin, we’re also very curious about Guy Pearce‘s role. If it’s true to the Extremis comic-book storyline then his character should have a nice meaty role. Pearce has impressed us in 2012 with his slimey performance in Lawless and we couldn’t help but like him in Lockout too. This could potentially be Downey Jr.‘s last outing as Iron Man in his own dedicated film, so we’re hoping that if it is – he goes out with a bang! We also get this a week before the US… which makes it even better.

5) 24th May: The Hangover Part III

2013 Hangover Part 3

The Hangover was a breath of fresh air for the comedy film world. It was rude, bombastic and totally absurd… it was great. So when Part II reared its head in 2011… well, we were all a bit disappointed. It was near enough a copy-and-paste of its predecessor. However, The Hangover Part III is promising to turn the concept on its head, with the guys (Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms) coming to the aid of Zach Galifianakis‘ Alan. At least, that’s what the rumours are indicating… we’ll see for sure come May.

6) 7th June: After Earth

2013 After Earth

When Will Smith releases a film, the world raises its head and takes notice. He, like Cruise, has released some dud movies, but he’s another incredibly bankable actor and generally has a fantastic number of releases under his belt. In After Earth we see him reunited on-screen with his son Jaden Smith, which is great… but isn’t the reason we’re excited about this. The film also marks the return of M. Night Shyamalan to the director’s chair some 3 years after the disaster that was The Last Airbender. All we really know is that it sees Big Willy crash land on a planet that’s not been inhabited by humans for 1000 years. We just hope that “the twist” isn’t that he’s time travelled and this IS Earth… A bit like Planet of the Apes, but without the damn dirty apes.

7) 14th June: Man of Steel

2013 Man of Steel

Although Batman’s done and dusted, Christopher Nolan‘s dabbling with the DC superheroes isn’t over. With Zack Snyder in the director’s chair, and Nolan as producer, we see the return of Superman. Whilst the trailers have been suitably vague, we’re excited to see what they’ll do with this franchise. Could it be the next Green Lantern, or will he be the new Dark Knight… or a Light Knight. With laser eyes, who can fly… and spin the world backwards. How they manage to ground such a ludicrously powerful hero will be interesting. Because as we know, all Hollywood cares about nowadays is making heroes “gritty” and “realistic”. We’ve high hopes for Henry Cavill though – he certainly looks the part, and with the main villain touted as Zod (another superpowered guy), we’re expecting fireworks.

8) 21st June: World War Z

2013 World War Z

This could be fantastic… but it could also be awful… This film worries us and excites us in equal measures. I’m a massive fan of Max Brooks’ original book by the same name. It’s utterly fantastic. But the Brad Pitt-led film deviates heavily from the concept of the book (an oral retelling of a war against a plague that turns people into zombies – told by the survivors). Instead, this film opts to follow Pitt -who works for the UN, during an onslaught in Pittsburgh. The trailer looks a bit of a mess, with the zombies somehow forming a tidal wave – they move like a liquid. An odd choice. I’d rather we saw the runners from 28 Days Later… but we’ll see how this turns out. We’re curious, to say the least.

9) 12th July: Monsters University

2013 Monsters University

Finally we get the follow up to 2001’s Monsters Inc., which is one of my favourite animated movies. We’re hoping that Monsters University goes beyond what was done back then and creates a truly funny and imaginative film. The original gang is back, so we can look forward to seeing Sully (John Goodman) and Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) in their University of Fear days. We know that they weren’t necessarily friends back then, so it’ll be an interesting plot. Let’s just hope the sequel / prequel is at least as good as the original so that it doesn’t sully (ha – that’s his name!) what was a great original film.

10) 26th July: The Wolverine

2013 The Wolverine

The most popular X-Man reappears on-screen this year – once again courtesy of Hugh Jackman. This one should be interesting. Apparently it’s going to skip over X-Men Origins: Wolverine and actually pick up from where X-Men: The Last Stand left off. Very interesting. Incidentally, it’s set in Japan and sees Logan coping with his losses and dealing with his life. Naturally, he’s going to have to pop those claws too to deal with some samurais. We’re also intrigued to see whether this somehow links in with 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which should feature Wolverine quite prominently. Hugh Jackman‘s signed on for it, so we shall see…

11) 20th September: Elysium

2013 Elysium

This is probably our most anticipated film on the list. Why? Because we’re seeing Neil Blomkamp returning as the writer and director. Who’s he? Only the guy behind District 9 – one of our favourite films. We’re still waiting on District 10 though – get on it Neil – we want to know what happened to Wikus! Why else should this be great? 1) the actors: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley, 2) the story: rich folks live on a spacecraft, poor folks live on the wrecked Earth… and Matt Damon‘s going to equalise it! We’re very, very excited.

12) ??th October: Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

2013 Sin City 2 A Dame To Kill For

2005’s Sin City was a beautiful piece of cinema. In every sense. It was pulpy, gritty and looked sublime. It was Robert Rodriguez at his best, adapting a great Max Miller story. Can he do it twice? Well we’ve got a hell of a lot of the cast back for events that are set just before the original film. That means Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Michael Madsen, Clive Owen etc. It’s a shame Bruce Willis doesn’t figure in this story, as his character was great. But hey – if we’ve got more of Mickey Rourke‘s Marv back up there smashing things, then we’re happy. It also features some bizarre cameos… Lady Gaga anyone?

13) 30th October: Thor: The Dark World

2013 Thor The Dark World

Rounding out our list of the thirteen most anticipated films is everyone’s favourite Norse God: Thor. Yes, Chris Hemsworth will be back at his ripped best and fighting a new evil… one that isn’t just Tom Hiddleston‘s Loki again! Hurrah! This time we’ll see him squaring off against Christopher Eccleston‘s Malekith in what should be a refreshing new angle – not all God vs. God again, or Thor landing on Earth in the middle of nowhere doing his best impression of Crocodile Dundee… minus “y’call that a knife?” routine. Oh, and again… UK beats the US release by one week. We may have lost the battle for Wreck-It Ralph, but we’ve not lost the war yet my friends.

And that’s it – just a selection of thirteen of our picks of films to watch in 2013. We’ve not even touched on the new Fast & The Furious movie, which again has Dwayne Johnson in it, so it should be pretty good. Then there’s Gangster Squad, the eventual release of Wreck-It Ralph, and Spielberg‘s Robopocalypse. But hey – it’s thirteen films for 2013… I’ll do more films next year. Probably fourteen. If the world doesn’t end this year either.

Jack Reacher (2012)

Jack Reacher (2012)

Have you ever had the experience of watching a film and almost instinctively knowing how it’ll progress? I’m not talking about a predictable film with a basic plot, but one where you’re “in” the movie and understand the character and how their actions will play out. This may happen because it’s about your day job. As a Phage, I just knew how my viral peers would act in Contagion – I knew every move that would happen before it did. Maybe you’re a clinically-diagnosed psychopath, which enabled you to see the progress of Seven Psychopaths like some kind of deranged oracle? Well, with Jack Reacher I too felt like I knew about a sniper’s motivations before they became apparent. Not because the film was predictable. Not because I’m actually an assassinating phage… But because I played a pretty similar video game recently.

Jack Reacher is the latest film directed by, and starring, Tom Cruise. It’s another of those oh-so-popular novel adaptations that you see so frequently nowadays. Cruise is Jack Reacher – a decorated war veteran who’s somewhat of a problem solver. The ultimate detective. So when a sniper goes on to assassinate five random people at a riverside in Pittsburgh and is subsequently arrested, he asks for Jack Reacher. Because it turns out the case is not as simply solved as one might at first presume.

Jack Reacher

So why did I feel like I knew some of the plot twists? Well, thanks to seeing countless films and playing video games that deal with a similar premise. Plus a good dose of common sense. That’s not to belittle the overarching plot at all, as it’s still interesting, it’s just that you can see some of the supposed “curveballs” coming at you from quite a distance. Only the unobservant viewer would be shocked by the unfolding revelations. Having said all that, it’s still a solid film.

One of the key assets of the movie is its lead actor: Tom Cruise. Cruise has recently hit a run of form and this easily trumps all his performances of the last five years. He’s broody, he’s intense and he’s witty. It’s this latest point that really hits home throughout the film. Cruise delivers some truly delicious lines throughout the film in a very dry, off-the-cough manner – all of which had the audience laughing as a whole. A great thing to witness in what can be a very serious film. Speaking of which, I couldn’t help but think back to the events in Newtown last week when I saw the opening gambit to the movie. It comes as no surprise that the US release has been delayed by the shooting, as it does cut close to the bone if you’re sensitive to such issues.

Jack Reacher (2012)

So whilst Cruise is on top form, can the same be said of the rest of the cast? Well, it’s a mixed bag. Sure, you have the talent of Robert Duvall and Helen Pike, who are both great. But to be honest, not all of the characters get the fleshing out they deserve; so they appear somewhat one dimensional. This is especially true of David Oyelowo‘s Detective Emerson and Jai Courtney‘s Charlie. Oyelowo‘s detective’s motives are transparently clear from start to end and Courtney‘s thuggish enforcer, Charlie, is just a simple thug. There’s no shock, no surprise, no nothing. He does exactly what you’d expect. I also can’t help but wonder if they cast someone hoping he’d be as good as Tom Hardy in the “menacing bruiser” role. He isn’t. I’ll be interested to see how Courtney acts as John McClane Jr. in A Good Day to Die Hard next year. He’s going to have his work cut out for him to match Willis there. And I’ll probably write that they should have cast Tom Hardy in that too.

Whilst he may look (slightly) like Tom Hardy... he most certainly is not Tom Hardy. Shame.

Whilst he may look (slightly) like Tom Hardy… he most certainly is not Tom Hardy. Shame.

Finally, I want to draw attention to the romantic sub-plot that so often plagues these types of films (spare The Bourne Identity). Director Christopher McQuarrie really knows how to handle sexual tension. It makes for a really refreshing “relationship” and makes the character of Jack Reacher all the more appealing. He’s a man who’s there to get the job done. Not one to waste his time being all soppy and loving.

Although Jack Reacher is a solid action / suspense film, it’s not going to set the world alight. I’m hopeful that we’ll see the character again on-screen in an almost inevitable sequel, much like we did with Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity. It’s clear that Tom Cruise enjoyed the role and I like the character as a whole. He just needs a more meaty task with a more sturdy supporting cast. And perhaps a more novel plot.

I’m pretty sure I could be Jack Reacher. After all, I’ve played a good few games and seen all the episodes of the BBC’s fabulous Sherlock series. I could combine the lethal reflexes I’ve learned with the intellect I’ve drawn from Benedict Cumberbach‘s Sherlock. Though in reality, I’m pretty sure that the only “skills” I’ll have gained are calloused thumbs from the gamepad and a knowledge of the script of the series. So if anyone’s hiring for a case where all I have to do is press a button and spew lines, then screw Reacher – hire The Phage!

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star