Obvious ‘Oblivion,’ vacuous ‘To the Wonder’

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FS, Contributing Writer

“Oblivion”

Screen shot 2013-04-23 at 12.40.24 AMTom Cruise plays the charming he-man again in Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion (wide release), a visually striking science-fiction epic hobbled by a languid pace and a derivative script.

In 2077, the earth is devastated and depopulated as the result of an alien invasion some sixty years earlier, which humans fended off with a full-scale nuclear response. After this Pyrrhic victory, virtually all earthlings were transported to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, as their new habitat. Only two—Jack (Cruise) and Vika (Andrea Riseborough)—were left behind, along with a passel of destructive drones. Their job is to defend huge rigs extracting energy from sea water for the Titan community from attack by ragtag alien bands still on the planet.

But just as their tour of duty is about to end, the couple is faced with serious complications. A mysterious spaceship crashes nearby, and Jack rescues its sole survivor—a beautiful woman who’s been haunting his dreams, despite the fact that his memory has supposedly been erased. And on one of his missions to the surface Jack is captured by a squadron of fighters he assumes to be alien guerillas—until he learns otherwise.

It wouldn’t be fair to reveal too much about what follows, since Kosinski intends the second half of his film to surprise and astonish. Unfortunately it doesn’t, because so many of the plot turns are familiar from previous pictures, from The Matrix and Total Recall to Wall-E.

That makes it possible to enjoy the last act of Oblivion by playing “Spot That Reference!” One can also drink in the sonorous tones of Morgan Freeman, who plays the sage leader of the guerillas, and look forward to an action sequence in which, through the magic of special effects, Cruise dispenses with a middleman and literally fights himself.

That’s just one of the impressive moments in a film awash with remarkable images. But eventually the eye candy isn’t enough, and the script’s borrowings grow increasingly annoying, especially since they’re accentuated by Kosinski’s lethargic pacing.

Oblivion isn’t terrible, but it is mediocre. If you’re intent on seeing it, though, be sure to look for an IMAX theatre. The big-screen format certainly plays to its strengths.

“To the Wonder” Screen shot 2013-04-23 at 12.37.56 AM

Terrence Malick is regarded by many as one of the current cinema’s great artists, and To the Wonder (Angelika) suggests that he believes the hype—to his detriment. His picture is a visually hysterical piece in which banal ideas are treated as though they were profound and served up in a self-consciously poetic style.

The subject of the film is the ebb and flow of relationships, something that’s prefigured in the tides that come in and then recede at the old Norman monastery of Mont Saint-Michel, which Malick’s lead couple visits to start the picture.

The two then come to Oklahoma, where their life together has ups and downs. These are represented by endless shots of the woman gamboling about in fields to suggest joy and equally repetitive footage of the couple prowling the halls of their house to indicate their pain.

Meanwhile the grim-faced local priest is walking the streets in the poorer sections of town, searching desperately for God and never finding Him.

Accompanied by reams of ponderous narration, To the Wonder is a highly artsy reverie about the difficulties of establishing connections, both human and divine. It’s incredibly pretentious and equally boring.

“Starbuck”

Screen shot 2013-04-23 at 12.38.08 AMStarbuck (Magnolia) is a French-Canadian comedy about redemption through parenthood. But the protagonist here is a loutish forty-something fellow who discovers that he’s fathered over five hundred children as a result of his numerous donations to a sperm bank in his younger days. And now many of them are suing to find out who he is.

The picture wants to be funny and touching, but instead it’s alternately coarse and maudlin—as well as vaguely unpleasant.

 

 

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