Wednesday, May 15, 2013

OBLIVION - a dystopian utopia

Oblivion impressed me. It has all the hallmarks of great existentialist scifi even though it may tread the line of feeling too familiar. The acting was interesting, the set design— absolutely beautiful, the terse dialogue—appropriate, and the narrative—interesting and deep.

You may notice narrative arcs weaved in from Walle, Independence Day, Planet of the Apes etc but I don't believe this really takes anything away from the experience. Oblivion embraces classic scifi and builds it's own unique story. 

The special effects are downright awe inspiring. Extremely detailed, incredibly genuine looking—and most important—real feeling. You don't find yourself questioning the authenticity which is so vital in keeping yourself abreast and lost in the drama. I feel this way rarely because apparent computer effects are usually below par if you ask me , and many times contemporary effects barely touch the verisimilitude of great effects movies like Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park (Maybe this is just my poor memory?).  Some good ones in the past decade have been Serenity, Solaris, Sunshine and District 9—though far too few. (e.g. look in the previews at Elysium (Neil Blomkamp), Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron) and World War Z (Marc Forster)—clearly the first two have much more respect and patience for excellent effects than World War Z.  Special Effect Companies have a hard go if it in Hollywood, coming in and out of existence all too often, and therefore hard to recognize and keep track of continued outstanding effort. Anyway, shout out to the cinematographer, Claudio Miranda, Pixomondo and Digital Domain for excellence of craft. 

Another reason to see this movie is the new Dolby Atmos surround sound. This is not just another gimmick, it literally transformed my viewing experience. If you are lucky enough to be in close proximity to a theater that has this system installed be sure and not skimp. At AMC theaters it will be labeled ETX on the ticket. I live in NYC and only two theaters have the sound system installed, so it is not yet widespread. But wow I was literally blown away by how much more I was drawn into the action and scenery. Perhaps this could be the cause for my favorable bias toward the film, especially considering the mediocre reception by fans and critics alike.

One interesting aspect of contemplation the film introduced was the ephemera of memory. If a clone is the exact replica of you then—is it you? What does that even mean? Ray Kurzweil, the worlds leading futurist, states that once the clone is in a distinctly different medium (a new body) then subsequently it's memories will differ from yours and begin to be it's own unique being, however similar. Still, this is intriguing with the currently impossible technology that could be waiting for us in the not too distant future. Gene Cloning and modification that is. It brings up an interesting point that is stated clearly in Daniel Kahneman's (the nobel prize winning economist) new book, Thinking Fast and Slow. He says we have at least two selves, the remembering self and the experiencing self. Could it be that we take vacations more for our memories of them than the experience we encounter in the moment to moment temporality? Is memory—US, ME, I—who or what am I? How does this relate to Oblivion? Well, I can't say much more without saying too much. haha. Though, if your complete connectome (a working theory of brain dynamics, a bit like your genome—a neuronal thumbprint so to speak) is transferred to other working substrates (organic or inorganic) capable of consciousness—is it still you? This remains a fascinating and open question.

The director, Joseph Kosinski, was also responsible for TRON: Legacy. I liked it, but found it lacking somehow—many will feel the same way about Oblivion, I suspect. I think I'm just starting to embrace the guy's style and hence—I'm lovin it. His stories are nebulous and cryptic but this is a good thing for the thinking man. The excellent choice to use Daft Punk for TRON and M83 for Oblivion show how well electronic music is suited to these stories although, I could have used even more trancy dubstep shoe-gaze electro rock. 

I think Oblivion will receive more love as the decades roll on. Don't miss it in the theater.

I'm excited for TRON 2.

Recommended Viewing: TRON:Legacy - Planet Of The Apes (1968) - Walle 

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 8.5   -  The Fan: 8.8
             MetaCritic: 54
 Rotten Tomatoes: 56
                    IMDB: 7.2

A Few Quickies

MUD - Excellent - 8.2

An interesting tale of two young quasiantebellum boys that get caught up in the realities of unrequieted love, foolish familial honor and needless murder. A coming of age story yes, but pointed and very well made with moments of levity tossed in for good measure. A fantastic cast supports the well written script and superb direction.

PAIN & GAIN - Mediocre - 6.2

A new Michael Bay movie. Need I say more? Yes. Bay is usually unfairly criticized if you ask me—his movies are not all bad—I happen to really like The Rock, Bad Boys I and II and Armageddon. Yes, they are over the top and sometimes downright cheesy, but still highly enjoyable action films. The Transformer movies are not that good, but oh the hell well. Pain & Gain is Michael at his most electric but ends up zapping himself recursively over and over again. The movie's incessant alacrity to push forward makes you feel like you've been on a cocaine high for days that just won't let the fuck up. It's supremely irritating to sit through. The story is awesome—and generally I find Bay's blend of humor and action amusing as well as palatable, but this time nothing felt right. He's had an off few years.

EVIL DEAD - Good - 7.2

Who doesn't love the original? The remake does a decent job of paying homage while reigning in the horror we expect today with some hellish creativity. You will surely cringe many times and may even get actually frightened for a moment or two. Yet, I can't quite put a finger on it, but I didn't walk away in love—maybe horror movies are just getting boring. I don't think teen horror is dead but severely lacking in true originality. What's the last horror movie you saw that will ever be as memorable as say Nightmare On Elm Street?

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES - Somewhat Good - 6.7

I was really excited to see this movie being a fan of Blue Valentine and Ryan Gosling in general. Forlorn, I walked out of the theater rather disenchanted. The film was an attempt at triple narrative realization much like Innaritu's Amores Perros, Babel and 21 Grams, although, not randomly interspersed, but linearly connected story lines. I think I would have liked the first storyline as a complete movie and thus opted to cut the last two. Though, the third story was certainly necessary to wrap it up. Yet, it's like watching three movies in one with each one being fresh, trying to connect and like the characters from the get go. In other words, the film just feels dreadfully long and dull for large sections. Interesting idea, but for me, failed to meet the mark.

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