Oblivion

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It was about six or seven years ago, that the Vampire Bat landed on a game, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and he landed on his broken tooth which made him as addicted to it, as Count Dracula is to his coffin. This sequel to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and the predecessor of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim had shocked him in a good way, like no other game had before, and his wish was to write a review on it, giving it 100/100 along with Mass Effect, for providing him with that world, his second life where he actually lived, died, resurrected and got beheaded/shot on the head – well, he loved these two games so much that he finished it, as he wanted to that right from the beginning with no rest. For years, the Vampire Bat wished for the movie adaptations of these two, especially of the first one which was his mythical/fantasy world of chivalry compared to the inter-star battles and interactions of the second. But he has been disappointed for long, and here what he get is a movie of the same name as the Oblivion game, with a setting similar to the Mass Effect game. No, the movie doesn’t resemble both of these in story or theme; but this coming together of the elements of these two games is what came to the mind of this nocturnal soul when the first time he saw the movie poster, and he wouldn’t have dared not to share it.

The awesomeness of these two games are clearly visible in this movie though, but not in a way which has similarities. In those games, we could travel anywhere, but coming into the movie, it is a limited world which follows an alien invasion which nearly destroyed the Earth. After the devastation of moon which caused horrible natural disasters including earthquakes, tsunamis and terrible climatic variations. The land is left uninhabitable with the mankind being transported to their new habitat. Former Marine commander Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is a drone mechanic who repairs flying machines with advanced weaponry used for defence against alien lifeforms, and is also one of the last few humans stationed on the dying planet with his co-worker Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) living in a baseless tower-like structure thousands of feet above the Earth, but she is still no Rapunzel, and neither is he her prince or adventurer, something which shall be revealed later. Most of their memories are erased, and the knowledge about their past stays locked at the moment. For now, their relationship would seem to reveal that they are in love and might have been even married.

They are part of an operation to clean up the remaining forces of the alien invasion who are referred to as scavengers and also extract the planet’s remaining resources and are due to join the rest of humanity on Saturn’s moon Titan. Jack and Victoria maintain contact with civilization through a video link with their commander, whom they recognize as Sally (Melissa Leo) who is their symbol of hope and salvation, an escape from a world which is almost a wasteland and surrounded by radio active areas. Jack suffers from dreams which are more like flashbacks, having images of New York before the alien invasion and an unknown beautiful woman (Olga Kurylenko). Meanwhile, Jack rescues an unknown woman from a crashed spaceship as she was encased in a sleeping capsule, in a state of hibernation/hypersleep, and she turns out as the woman from his dreams. But they are captured by a group of humans led by Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman) who reveals to him that there are no aliens on the planet and it is the humans who are hunted by the drones. He requests Jack to reprogram one of the captured drones. But Jack refuses. Malcolm then tells Jack to visit the radio active areas which are restricted to him, and there all his doubts will be cleared.

With a spoiler alert, this paragraph shall proceed. It is revealed that the mystery woman is Jack’s wife, Julia who was with Jack and Victoria when they approached the alien ship, before Jack sending her and the other crew of the ship who are in hypersleep, into the space by detaching the backside of the ship, keeping them away from the aliens. Later it is found out that Jack and Victoria are cloned and there is a large number of clones of both, and they were not born, but grown – a reminder of The Matrix and The Daybreakers, I guess. Their supposed to be passionate relationship is also a product of these alien method of growth and one photo of them together. The alien shown here is more of a super computer, may be sent by the possible original aliens, masters of technology. This monolithic structure is clearly logical in its talks and even uses the images known to the originals of the clones so that they could be made to believe and obey. It creates a little dystopia to the group of two, or the groups of two to be exact. They are actually oppressed and are made to fight against their own race by naming them scavenger aliens. But, thanks to the imperfection of the humans, the imperfect cloning technology of the aliens and also a possible divine providence, Jack becomes somewhat the original again and leads the fight against his former employers. The solution would surely be much better than using a computer virus in Independence Day style.

The mystery starts and ends with Tom Cruise’s Jack – may be brings something from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall. We have had so many Jacks, from Jack Reacher to Jack the Giant Slayer, Jack Frost, Jack Sparrow, Jack and Jill etc. Here, this one is more of a thinker and a lover of nature, which makes Thomas Babington Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome catch his attention, and he has quite a good collection of books including Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, which he has kept in a small house in the middle of greenery unaffected by the destruction that has gone around for years. He is no parrot and this poetic imagination and love for literature makes him different, and may be he evolved thus after his cloning and erasing of memory. How can one not remember what happened in the movie The Island? Such a thing is perfectly applicable to an alien technology. Well, there is no limit for fiction, and if too many limits are placed, it would lose its right to be called fiction. It would become closer to reality, which would still spawn the question, who’s reality? Now that would be something better left untouched. This is another one of Tom Cruise’s memorable characters for sure, even as he may not be the perfect protagonist, and even if he may be many, numbering in millions. He seems to have fitted into the character with ease.

Jack’s should be existential. He should have been that confused in that wasteland, and also when he had realized that he was just a clone or a copy of someone else. There was that redundant identity crisis and those dreams which seemed to perpetuate nothing. His life gets more and more absurd every time he tries to get answers, as all the answers lead to him finally being a random copy. He had waited for salvation, the firmament which awaited him in the moon of Saturn, but that too is crushed. Now what would remain for him to end as a nihilist, but he has the last fight on his list, as he decides to help the human rebels, and in that process, even sacrifice himself. It is through that loss of life, that the Earth could be redeemed. But who needs an alien invasion to destroy the planet, and considering what is done to it, who might be the aliens? Some are alien to the planet and also to their fellow human beings, and in that case, aren’t these aliens with a powerful inverted pyramid computer better as they keep the human race alive? There is the oppression factor, but is that so much of an oppression considering what humans have done to their own kind for centuries and still continue to do the same in a worse manner even while calling themselves modern and technologically advanced?

Morgan Freeman is as solid as ever, and the two women, Olga Kurylenko and Andrea Riseborough goes through their sequences as the characters themselves. The former is the emotional lover and the latter the passionate lover. Still, their roles are limited despite the screen presence. Another thing is that the CGI and the special effects out-did the beautiful women. As Jack “wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills” in his mosquito-like helicopter (like that futuristic helicopter they called Raptor in Unreal Tournament 2004), the visually stunning world is brought to light. There is destruction clearly visible, and the signs of the civilization included destroyed buildings, ships and bridges half submerged in sand, never-ceasing smoke from some areas and so on. There are gaps leading to somewhat an abyss between a group of buildings held together by soil or may be in their own centre – a path to Hades and Persephone, half-destroyed structures which look like different things all together, as well as whatever is underground and underwater. To add to it, there is the beautiful area of nature with the small house. Oblivion is an experience, and a lesson to mankind, as well as a reminder of the power of art and literature – rooted on that creativity which is more important than logic, for science can win brutal battles, but to win the war, you need art and literature, as they heal the soul better and people need their wounds to heal and their scars to fade after a major disaster.

Release date: 13th April 2013
Running time: 124 minutes
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Zoë Bell, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

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@ Cemetery Watch
✠The Vampire Bat.

Amen

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There are few movies which the Vampire Bat would watch a few thousand times other than the horror flicks and the Malayalam movies of the 1980s. The end of this movie was that moment when the Vampire Bat actually felt the same – that moment when he was light enough to fly. It was the moment this bat felt that he was that feather which felt the wind lifting one’s self towards the starry sky. It is not exactly the feeling he had after watching Celluloid, as it is more comparable to that status where he was, after watching Pranchiyettan and the Saint. This rarely happens to the Vampire Bat, for this one has the status of being the second. With its visual beauty of nature, it is comparable to Ordinary, as this one highlights the backwaters while the Kunchako starrer had concentrated on the hills, mountains and the related greenery with fog. There is thunder, dark clouds, water bodies in its maximum body – how can one person do justice to this movie with a subjective review is a question which might remain answered; but what would an objective review do other than being too scientific and technical? This soul would keep closer to the former as possible, and in that way find himself in the process. Here, we have the story of an ancient church parish and the people, a love story and a band’s struggle for survival. The whole story can be read better from the beautiful characterization rather than as a plot.

Swati Reddy as Sosanna – such a character and so much of wonder in that performance! I can’t remember seeing such a female character on screen in any Malayalam movie. One has to wonder who she really is! The first guess would be that of a Keralite Juliet who comes out to the balcony (here, as the house is more of a traditional style, looking through the window) listening to the divine music by the artist that is Solomon (Fahadh Fazil). Well, they don’t die and so lets leave the tragic side of Romeo and Juliet behind. They can still have the title in the name of divine love, but on second thoughts, Sosanna is more of Rapunzel, imprisoned in a tower by the evil ones; her use of frying pan even bring the memory of the newer Rapunzel of Tangled (please avoid the hair details). Her character is the centre, around which the whole movie is built, even if our heroes get more screentime. Each and every second of her presence indicates something which is to happen, and the whole divinity rests on herself and the music. She, the angel in white dress, the absence of black and greyness. She is complexity in simplicity – all in one; more than one simple village damsel – lovable and admirable with all her positives and negatives.

She is no different from the Rapunzel of Tangled on most of the occasions – she pushes the kapyar into water and asks her lover if he wants to be the Father in a church or her children’s father; she pours chicken curry over a gunda and hits him with a frying pan; she eats “naranga mittayi” with that happiness which William Wordsworth might have felt after seeing Daffodils; she uses paper rockets as love letters; she reads only from Solomon’s Song of Songs when asked to read the Bible; she talks about love in a cemetery (the Vampire Bat’s recommndation for this one) – the saga continues for Sosanna is not the weaker one to be subdued; for she is the frying pan fighter striking fear in the minds of the most powerful gundas. She is the passionate lover, the advisor, the fighter, the damsel in distress and still in lesser distress than her lover who is the man in distress. She is our blessed damozel; of this world and not the other, not the one Dante Gabriel Rossetti pictured in heaven, but the one person who continues to bless this movie with her presence. How can one not consider this one as a non-animated character at any stage? The words describe less and the scenes visualize more.

Fahadh Faasil as Solomon – he has done it again, and I might end up using this same sentence for the same actor for so many occasions that I would lose count of it. This is not brilliance unexpected, and I would always keep the expectations high on one actor. Fahadh in that Christ costume for the festival was something which made divinity come down from heaven. All the jokes related to his character and Sosanna are so genuine and wonderful – or even beautiful, if jokes could be termed “beautiful” with all its aspects. Here is a character of simplicity, lack of self-confidence and unparallel love. He is the new Romeo in many aspects, and he is the Jack of his ever-sinking Titanic that is a life of poverty which can only be made to be of any hope by getting himself into the music band sponsored by the local parish church. This character’s life surely is a divine comedy as it is subtitled, as the title character travels through his own inferno, purgatorio & finally the paradiso achieved by his merit. He is our own Dante Alighieri. Hell, purgatory, and heaven – they are all in this world for Solomon, the ultimate underdog. If Sosanna is more of an unpredictable character than her lover, Solomon steals the show by being predictable and still rising to the occasion. This might be Fahadh’s best performance ever, even as I am sure that I will be forced to say that again on another occasion.

Indrajith Sukumaran as Father Vincent Vattolli – always been in my list of favourite actors, and I am short of words for talking about this one – no do not bring me the dictionary, for I have word substitutes working for me. He is the exact opposite of the Vicar Father Abraham Ottaplakal (Joy Mathew). While the former tries to save the band, unite the two lovers and keep the church as the ancient structure, the latter tries to dismantle the band, separate the two lovers and rebuild the church. Both have brought the levels to new heights as one becomes so likable and the other detestable – the two characters are played with such perfection that one can’t resist believing them as what they are. There are times when one has to wonder how close to evil and away from the neutrality of the beginning, the Vicar happens to be as the second half progresses. The big paradox here is that the revolutionary new entrant is the stronger believer and the traditional, orthodox Vicar is the lesser believer who has his own agenda. Their church at Kumaramkari is not just a simple old structure, as they say that the legend is that Saint George had made Tipu Sultan’s attempt to raze the church a failure. This belief is what runs in the veins of the parishers and this is where Father Vattolli has reached – this is also where Father Ottaplakal makes his own decisions with no divine intervention; not a desired situation for sure. But there is more to Father Vattoli than it would seem to be, as the end twist would create that dream climax.

Saint George and the church are more like characters in the movie, but more shall not be talked about that divinity. Kalabhavan Mani’s Looyi pappan is a very powerful character throughout the movie; someone who fails to accept defeat – the man who wins the war even as he loses most of the battles. He seeks redemption after the death of his best friend who was the soul of the band – a music band which has been continuously on the losing side for a long time after the tragedy. Rachana Narayanankutty as Solomon’s sister and Natasha Sahgal was Father Vattoli’s admirer, joins the cast’s beautiful performance. Makarand Deshpande’s nemesis character is immensely powerful and Sunil Sukhada’s Kapyar works in more than one way. Lijo Jose Pellissery has given the viewers an early Easter gift, and it might be the best in the theatres right now. What else could be said about such a performance? But it is surely not free from the slightest of negatives – even among the best of jokes, lie the totally unnecessary, ridiculous jokes which tends to take away some of its beauty. But they could be avoided and the movie could be continued to be watched as the divine comedy as it is, for there is more to it than just the usual stuff. No, this is not the typical new generation either – for this is typical divinity, if one could call it so.

This exuberance is magic, and that is just to give the movie its due. But the truth is much better; for exuberance is just a word and so is magic. Amen is something which has dropped from the firmament, not like the fallen angel Lucifer, but as the medium of divinity which the world of the upper level has provided us with. Can you find faults within the story? If yes, isn’t there the flurry of intelligence and brilliance to cover them all? That would be a clear yes for an answer. No, the movie still doesn’t pretend, and it never needed to. It never needed to wear a mask like Annayum Rasoolum; a mask of goodness and reality which that one dragging movie has been wearing! But this one wears its own skin as a mask – no fake faces to cover its simplicity. Everyone has been incredibly good at what they were doing with this movie, both outside and inside – even the songs and the movie posters have contributed in such a way as to make this movie one of its kind – something which can lead and not follow; bring that thunder of wonderful change. I felt the magic realism and dream visions as well as its re-assertion of faith, belief and hope with divine intervention. Oh beauty of a movie, thy name is Amen – anything else would be so inappropriate right now. If I am to die after watching a movie, this might be one of them worth dying for!

Release date: 22nd March 2013
Running time: 160 minutes (estimate)
Directed by: Lijo Jose Pellissery
Starring: Fahadh Faasil, Indrajith Sukumaran, Swati Reddy, Rachana Narayanankutty, Natasha Sahgal, Joy Mathew, Kalabhavan Mani, Makarand Deshpande, Sunil Sukhada

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@ Cemetery Watch
✠The Vampire Bat.

Oz the Great and Powerful

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L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz almost had the status of a fairy tale even as it was more of a children’s novel which came later. May be this belief was strengthened more by those children’s books which placed the story with Cindrella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Goldilocks, Red Riding Hood and the rest of the team with goodness and happy endings. The story of the adventures of a young girl named Dorothy Gale in the magical land of Oz was not read separated from Alice in Wonderland at that time. A scarecrow, a rusted tin woodman and a cowardly lion had made faithful companions not only to Dorothy, but also to many readers. There were three witches then, and when we come into the movie, we will have three too. The 1902 stage play and the 1939 film adaptation can wait for now though, as Oz the Great and Powerful has come up, and serves to be a kind of prequel to the real story which has been read and liked for such a long time. Thus it serves as a source of exile before the exile, if not an escape into to a world of fantasy which preceded Dorothy getting lost. The magical land of Oz not only provides a world of witches, wizards and talking animals, it is also the ultimate point of escapism which this movie makes sure of.

Welcome to the movie and the world of Oscar Diggs, the magician who calls himself the great and powerful even as he is mostly a trickster and a fraud. As a con artist and a circus magician, he hasn’t really earned much, and never did he reach anywhere near his ambition which stays close to someone like Thomas Alva Edison. But all of these would change when he is sucked into a cyclone with the balloon in which he was travelling, while finding a way to escape from the trouble which he caused by himself. But as the balloon breaks apart and he faces death, Oscar wishes for another chance and promises God that if he survives the situation which is so close to death, he will transform himself and become a good man. The scene until this was shown in black and white, as if to reflect his own colourless life. But as he reaches the magical land of Oz in his wrecked balloon, the screen changes into colour as if his whole life has been painted with the beauty of different attractive colours. The land of magic and sorcery comes to the scene and the world of treachery and lies make way for the colourful spectacle of Oz to which our own Oz has entered by accident.

The first one whom he meets is the witch Theodora who explains to him that he is supposed to be a great and powerful wizard by the name of Oz supposed to descend from the sky, save the land of Oz, and become their new king. They encounter Finley, a flying monkey whom Oscar saves. Finley pledges a life debt to Oscar and promises to serve him in whichever way possible. Another witch and Theodora’s sister Evanora guards the throne of the dead king. She sends Oz to steal and destroy another witch Gilda’s wand after which he would be given the throne and all the riches of Oz. Oscar and Finley travel to the Forbidden Forest to find and steal the wand from the witch, and on the way, they save a little girl made of porcelain. At the location, they find Gilda and comes up against a revelation which changes the direction of the story. The illusions and delusions of the world of witches would become more clear. The roles would be interchanged and the twist of fate takes a leap over the minds of the characters. It is at this point that the real action begins.

James Franco’s Oz is surely not a wizard, but a magician and a man of tricks. He never convinces the audience that he has become a role-model until the final stages of the movie. Dorothy Gale wouldn’t have had a good time with that Oz of the first half of the movie. Still, his change is slow and mostly unpredictable. He continues his methods of tricking and seducing, along with his pessimistic hope – something of the strangest character for such a long time. He wishes to get that treasure at the end of any rainbow, in this case – a kingdom and its unlimited riches. Still, to put this character into the dungeon reserved for the evil – that might not be fair, but if there is a place in between, a grey world for the intermediate ones, that would serve justice in a better way. His inclination was never towards pure evil, and it changes for somewhat evil to good, even as he can never be said to reach a status of pure good. But how many of the people of Oz would reach that status would be a question to talk about. There are times when Oz is more like another John Carter, but my fear about the possibility of watching some random movie named something like “Aliens vs Witches/Wizards” would keep my mouth shut.

The eternal conflict between good and evil continues in the land of Oz as anywhere else and so will one’s personal struggle with lies/greed and truth/morality. The black and white beginning, as it passes away begins the world which is a wonderland. The wonder starts and ends with the three witches, Theodora, Evanora, and Glinda – even Macbeth had three witches for sure, but this case is different. The fact is that one of them is pure good, another one pure evil and the remaining one, neither here or there until she is forced to take a stand supported by her emotions. Didn’t we have the three fates in mythology? Well, these three might have worked with the same title for our hero. Well, even the wizard of Oz needs and origin in a world where even Wolverine has his own origins as a movie. One has to feel that it is perfectly timed, to release after Hensel and Gretel as well as Jack the Giant Slayer. The movie has risen over these two and has developed another children’s story into a world of unexplainable beauty. Thus the justice has been done to the original Oz.

One has to say that Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams, as the three witches controls the movie. Among them, Rachel Weisz creates that much needed magic which has powered the movie beyond its original strength. The character of Mila’s witch might be the strangest, and it is the one witch who is more unpredictable than the rest, but still not creating that impact which it should have. Finley the Flying Monkey provides the laughter element with his dialogues, and when he talks about monkeys, bananas and stereotypes, there is not a soul in the theatre who didn’t laugh. Almost all the lighter moments has the monkey somewhere around. The china girl made of porcelain also adds to it. She is the second true friend whom Oz makes in his new world. She is more like a little kid made of flesh and bones rather than a talking miracle. The combination of these two with the protagonist takes the movie to another level of good combination.

No, there is no messing up of the classic, even as flaws exist. The land of natural wonders in 3D which is so unnatural – when helped by the beautiful CGI creates an unforgettable experience for the audience. It might not be easy to remember the special effects used in such a good manner for a long time. May be only Avatar 2 could make me say the same thing again. With the characters who are never flat, and the plot which never loses its steam, Oz the Great and Powerful establishes itself as a worthy prequel which would make Dorothy Gale proud and asking for more prequels over prequel. It establishes with the help of the new technology that there is no place like Oz. Alice had gone to a wonderland, but it was not Oz, and that was surely a big miss for her. The battle between goodness and evil shall continue as none of the witches not the wizard meets the end as the movie finishes. The door for a sequel is thus kept open with the evil ones fleeing the scene, thus creating hope for evil even through a happy ending – and we shall wait for what is to come.

Release date: 8th March 2013
Running time: 130 minutes
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Abigail Spencer, Bruce Campbell, Tim Holmes, Zach Braff, Joey King

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@ Cemetery Watch
✠The Vampire Bat.