Only the Brave (2017)

brave1Sometimes, expectations are everything: Only the Brave is a frustrating film. Oh, its sincere enough, and a noble attempt at telling its true story with respect and surprising restraint- this isn’t the huge Hollywood effects spectacle that might be expected. It just doesn’t, sadly, ignite (sic). Its such a strange thing- competently staged and with a really great cast (Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly)… actually, maybe that cast is the problem, maybe its just too good a cast, with too much cinematic baggage behind them that carries all sorts of expectations in itself.

I was surprised to see that it was directed by Joseph Kosinski,  of Tron: Legacy and Oblivion fame, as that in itself would suggest a big, spectacular and horrifying canvas would be put up on the screen but Kosinski seems to deliberately play against those expectations. Its just a different sort of movie than his previous films might suggest. Yeah, there’s those confounded expectations again.

But it isn’t an intimate character-driven piece either, possibly because those big-name actors, or that visually-adept director, aren’t exactly an arthouse cinema bunch. Its therefore caught somewhere in-between, and so intent on treating the real events and people caught up in them with proper due respect that the film just… exists, without really saying anything.

It reminds me rather a great deal of The 33, another film based on true events that impacted on a reasonably large group. While Only the Brave mostly centers upon Josh Brolin’s character, it also tries to flesh out the rest of  the Granite Mountain Hotshots that he leads in the firefighting, and like The 33, the film suffers from not having enough time, or perhaps the script isn’t finely honed enough, to do so many characters justice.

I don’t know, its really a strange one. Its a good film, but it just lacks that essential spark, if you’ll forgive one more fire metaphor. I’m tempted to suggest the issue may lie with the score, funnily enough. I just find myself thinking of the film Glory, and James Horner’s magnificent score. Sure the music and the film were perhaps overly manipulative but the combination of film and music involved me, made me feel something.  I didn’t really feel anything with Only the Brave; I enjoyed it and found it very worthwhile but it didn’t engage me emotionally. It might seem odd to suggest blame lies with the music score but film music isn’t what it used to be, and the industry has lost something of the genius of the likes of Goldsmith and Horner and that kind of film music, no longer in vogue, certainly worked back in the day.

So a missed opportunity then, unfortunately, but certainly a sincere enough effort.

Oblivion (2013)

oblivionposter1Well, first things first, I enjoyed this film a lot. I think its a good sci-fi movie, but with reservations that I’d like to get into in a moment. I would just like to warn readers that the following will be spoiler-ific so if you have not seen the film yet, please avoid what follows and come back later. You will enjoy the film more. What follows is aimed at people who have seen the film so please, if you do intend to see it go ahead, its a good film, you will likely enjoy it. But do come back and maybe let me know what you think.

Anyway, rather than wax lyrical about the film, I’d just like to submit a few cautionary comments about Oblivion.

First of all, the most pressing thing thats bugging me – was anyone in the slightest bit surprised by it? I mean, think about it a minute. When watching the film, did the film at any point actually surprise you? Did any of the ‘twists’ actually take you aback? Admit it, you second-guessed the film throughout? Because I did. I only ask because some comments on the web rate this as a ground-breaking and original story, and I’m wondering if I saw the same movie. Right at the very start, when Jack wakes up from dreams of a strange woman, I was already getting nervous,  distractedly thinking of Arnie waking up with same in Total Recall. And that’s another thing similar to Total Recall– Jack and Vicky having had their memories wiped- Jack forgetting his earlier, true ‘self’ recalls, yes, Total Recall again.

oblivion3 Actually, that whole ‘memory wipe for security reasons’ thing was something that really annoyed me from the start- when you think about it, it makes no sense whatsoever. In what way does it make the team better operatives not knowing anything about their past? Wouldn’t the unknown, unanswerable questions regards who they are and where they come from begin to impact on them? Why is Vicky so complacent and accepting of everything she is told? They have a photo of themselves in a kiss but cannot possibly remember when it was taken, as that is revealed near the film’s end and is part of their ‘erased’ past. I may seem picky about this but it has been bugging me more and more since I saw the film. It simply exists as a plot device to get away with the later ‘twist’ about who and what Jack and Vicky are, (and  mirrors that of Moon) regards them being unwitting clones. Besides which, how does anyone explain how when Jack rescues his wife from the crash-site that she doesn’t just leap into his arms declaring who she is and who he really is? It is established later that she has been floating in space since the incident revealed at the end of the film- as far as she is concerned, the sixty-years of war etc never happened and Jack is the same Jack she last saw when they began their original Nasa mission. Yes she may have been disorientated and dubious for awhile, but even if she accepts that Jack isn’t the same Jack she knew, surely she’d be screaming at him about who the hell he is, why he and Vicky both look the same as her (dead?) ship-mates did sixty years ago and what’s going on?

I think I would have preferred a slightly differently tuned start with Jack openly in love with Vicky and perhaps his dreams becoming triggered later by some event on the surface. I think that would have been more involving, seeing him begin to doubt his feelings and his purpose in life, and seeing his perfect/loving relationship with Vicky begin to fragment in front of us. The way the film is structured, Jack is already haunted by his dreams and already has set up his secret idyllic home behind Vicky’s back. He’s essentially halfway along on his journey/character arc already by the time the film opens.

There’s also a few other things that start to really wind me up the more I think about it. Just what the hell is that Alien pyramid thing and if it can travel through interstellar space why does it need a bunch of clones to engineer an invasion and monitor/repair the drones that are defending the Hydro-rigs?  Why not just arrive at Earth and dump a plague on the planet, wipe out humanity/all life and just take all the resources then? Jack and Vicky just accept the ‘fact’ of a colony on Titan without ever seeing it?  And most importantly, during the big reveal at the films end, if Jack’s Nasa ship is caught in a tractor beam, how come he can jettison the main crew section (who are are in cryogenic sleep) without that section also being caught in the same tractor beam? And er, exactly why are they in cryogenic sleep during the moment of First Encounter? Nasa sends ten or so astronauts/experts to investigate an alien anomaly and leaves the majority of them in bed at the Big Moment?  And where has that cast-off section been floating for nigh on sixty years? How does Morgan Freeman’s bunch know about it, track it and even know how to bring it back down to Earth?oblivion-poster2

Agh, nevermind. Hopefully none of this will bug me so much when I see the film again. But it really bugged me during the movie. Usually films unravel when you think back on them, but this one was unravelling even as I was watching it. Its such a damn shame because the premise is so intriguing.

One other thing- I also had a problem with the music score, which I know many viewers have enjoyed. I can understand why, its a fine score, but its another movies score, surely, and that movie was a Dark Knight movie? This distracted me several times during the film, when the score suddenly sounded like out-takes from The Dark Knight or Tron: Legacy. Its bad enough that the plot kept on reminding me of other movies, without the music doing the same. Maybe re-watching the film on blu-ray in a few months time I’ll be able to accept it, but so many moments during the film things just kept on pulling me out of it. Its also very heavy-handed the way the music is used and mixed. Early on when Vicky jumps in the swimming pool and Jack follows her in, the love music is so loud in the mix it just feels like a parody, it feels wrong.

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But there certainly are many positives. The film looks astonishing. I love the clean, slick, ‘future designed by Apple’ look of the whole thing. It’s so very refreshing after all the dirty, gritty production-designs we have seen over the years, and I’m speaking as a huge fan of Alien and Blade Runner. Many of the visual effects are seamless. I especially appreciate the fact that its a self-contained story and that there is no need for an Oblivion 2; for once film-makers had the confidence to make a film that had a beginning middle and end without the need to leave room for a franchise. I do believe it at least attempts to be a serious, adult sci-fi movie, in a way that really does bring back memories of 1970s films like Silent Running, Solaris, maybe Omega Man even, which has got to be a Good Thing, and its certainly a very welcome change from the big dumb spectacles we usually get. Its certainly a much more successful piece of sci-fi than was, say, Prometheus last year. Maybe if it was longer, had set up the Jack/Vicky love affair, their routine existence more, before bringing on the dreams and the wife. Maybe tried to tell a more coherent story less hell-bent on mysteries and twists.

I do think Oblivion is a good movie. I can put up with the music score being so, well, generic because these days so many films scores are. I can put up with reminders of past sci-fi films because, well, sci-fi films have always been rather cannibalistic in how they use earlier movies. But I do take stock with some of the hype/praise about the film when its own logic doesn’t really work. Maybe I’m being overly critical? Oh well. It certainly looks fantastic…