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Wednesday, October 01, 2014         

MOVIE REVIEW


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Major Tom makes grade

Cruise gets help from Morgan Freeman and others in fleshing out a science-fiction saga

By McClatchy News Services

POSTED:


Oblivion" is the Frankenstein's monster of science-fiction movies.

Stitched together from spare bits of other, often better films — "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Mad Max," "Silent Running," "WALL-E," "Moon," "Solaris," "Total Recall," "The Matrix" and "Prometheus," just to name a few — it stumbles awkwardly in story and plot, shuffling toward the predictable explosions and fireballs of the final act. Yet, despite all that, "Oblivion" is surprisingly well-acted and so beautiful to look at that what at first seems like a cinematic monster is actually a handsomely compelling creation.

‘OBLIVION’
Rated: PG-13
***
Opens today

That's a little hard to believe considering that director-co-writer Joseph Kosinski's only previous feature is the dreadful "TRON: Legacy," or that star Tom Cruise, who's in virtually every scene, is at his Cruise-iest here — running, jumping, flexing, showering, inspiring envy from every other 50-year-old man on the planet. But somehow "Oblivion" transcends what could have been fatal flaws.

In the near future, Earth has been nearly destroyed by a battle with mineral-hungry aliens called "scavs" (short for "scavengers"). The humans won, but the planet is toast, so most of what's left of humanity has been transported to a terr­aformed Titan, one of Saturn's moons.

Jack (Cruise), Victoria (Andrea Riseborough, "Disconnect") and a small army of flying drones are left behind as a cleanup crew, hunting down any remaining scavs and generally keeping an eye on things. Everything is hunky-dory — Victoria is excitedly counting the days till they, too, can move to Titan — until Cruise stumbles across a group of ragtag humans living underground, led by the wise and able Beech (Morgan Freeman). They upend Jack's perfect world, telling him that the official history he has been told all this time is a lie.

If the subsequent twists and turns sometimes verge on the ridiculous, viewers can take refuge in the film's sheer epic scope. Shot in Iceland with cinematography by Claudio Miranda (who won an Oscar for "Life of Pi"), "Oblivion" paints a world of gorgeous desolation. The pulsing yet soaring electronic score by French indie-dance act M83 and composer Joseph Trapanese adds to the sense of breathtaking sweep.

Kosinski, working from a script based on a graphic novel he co-authored, manages the near-impossible: He somewhat humanizes Cruise over the course of the 126-minute running time. But it's Riseborough, playing a woman in love with Jack who also feels him slipping away as he falls further down the rabbit hole of truth, who gives the sleek "Oblivion" a sense of soul.

On the downside, Freeman, Olga Kurylenko as a love interest and especially "Game of Thrones" star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (so great in 2011's "Headhunters") as Beech's right-hand man are criminally underused.

By the end, audiences may grow weary of things going boom. But there's one final twist that brings things back to Earth, literally. This Frankenstein's monster may not have as many brains as Kosinski might imagine, but it definitely has a heart.

———

Cary Darling, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

 

ALSO OPENING TODAY

For complete movie listings and schedules, see today's TGIF.

‘Girl Rising’
***
In this twist on the social-issue documentary, stories about the cause of girls’ education across the globe are acted out and adapted by writers from their own countries. A raft of actresses (Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington, Selena Gomez and more) supply in-your-head narration in tones that are intimate and defiant, but not pitying. Though some of the writers inject a force of metaphor and strength of voice, no one would confuse the movie with a short-story collection. But it’s more ambitious and effective at blunting cynicism than most consciousness-raising efforts. — Nicholas Rapold, New York Times Rated PG-13. At Dole Cannery Stadium 18

‘The Lords of Salem’
Horror maestro Rob Zombie returns with the nightmarish tale of a radio station deejay in Salem, Mass., who thinks she’s experiencing flashbacks of the town’s violent past through the sounds on a mysterious vinyl record. Rated R. At Ward Stadium 16 and Dole Cannery Stadium 18 (Review not available)

‘The Lost Medallion’
In this faith-based film, a visitor to a foster home tells the kids a story of two teenage friends who uncover a medallion and then accidentally transport themselves back in time. Rated PG. At Dole Cannery Stadium 18 (Review not available)

———

Star-Advertiser staff






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