Review: Sound Of My Voice

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I knew absolutely nothing about Sound Of My Voice going into watching it so I was very pleased to find myself really enjoying it. It’s all about a couple who are documentary filmmakers who go undercover to join a cult. The cult is headed by a mysterious woman named Maggie who claims to be from the future and the couple want to expose her as a fraud because they think that she is going to end up having all the members commit suicide.

Sound Of My Voice is a hybrid of the drama, sci-fi and thriller genres that actually makes you think. Instead of relying on special effects or gore it has a story that makes you question your own sense of reality. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with special effects and gore, but it’s nice to be able to see a film that doesn’t rely on gimmicks in order to tell a story. Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling have effectively written a screenplay that relies on how the main characters face the prospect of whether or not Maggie is actually from the future. Throughout the entire film I was trying to figure out whether or not she was, because there are several different avenues you can take to draw your own conclusion. This isn’t a ‘black and white’ film; there are no wrong or right answers.

The characters Lorna (Nicole Vicius) and Peter (Christopher Denham) are a couple who live together and yet by the end of the film they seem like strangers to one another. The dynamics between the two of them are played out really well, because they are both affected by Maggie, and each takes a different path as to what they truly believe. Personally, I can’t stand it when characters don’t change at all during the course of a film, so this aspect of the story was very original. Lorna and Peter go into the cult for the same reason, to make a documentary, but by the end of the film they come out as two completely different people. Both Vicius and Denham are good in their roles and bring a believability to the characters and their actions.

The main character in Sound Of my Voice is Maggie and she’s played convincingly by Brit Marling, who also co-wrote the film. She’s a very complex character, because she claims to be from a future in which food is scarce and resources very limited, and yet exudes this peacefulness. I would expect somebody from the future to be in a more of a panic about trying to tell people about what is going to happen, but perhaps the character is more believable because she doesn’t fall into that stereotype. Instead of running around like a chicken with its head cut off she has decided to train people in order for them to become good survivors in the near future.  You really won’t be able to quite figure out whether Maggie is for real or just a con artist until the end of the film, then you can easily jump to the conclusion that you want to have. In a sense Maggie becomes what we want her to be.

A lot of Sound Of My Voice takes place inside a basement, where the cult meets. As well as co-writing the screenplay Zal Batmanglij also directed this and for a film with limited location shots it really is quite stylized. I didn’t get the sense that this was a cheaply made film or that they had a limited budget. A talented director is one who can take what they have and make the most out of it. I noticed that he uses quite a lot of tight shots in the basement scenes, which makes sense since that is such a small area to shoot in, but it also gives the sense of life closing in on the cult members; that their little circle is what stands between them and possible destruction.

I am a huge fan of post-apocalyptic films, and Sound Of My Voice has a story that precedes that kind of genre of film, since it takes place before the world changes for the worst. Or does it? Is Maggie really from the future, or are the cult members doomed?

 

Review: Oblivion

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Oblivion is the kind of film that if you reveal anything major about the plot you will give away a good portion of the movie. Since that is the case I will not be giving away plot details. However, if you have seen any of the below listed films you already know partially what is going to happen in Oblivion. In no particular order:

The Matrix

Moon

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

2001: A Space Odyssey

Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones

District 9

The Road Warrior

I could go on but you get the idea; Oblivion is not a very original film. It’s based on a comic book by Joseph Kosinski and Arvid Nelson, so that might explain things a bit. They took bits and pieces from films that are well known within the post-apocalyptic and sci-fi genres and made their own story. I’m not going to knock them for that since writers of comics and novels do that every single day. However, the ideas that have been lifted are very, very obvious. I don’t know how much the screenplay was changed from the comic, since I haven’t read it, but Kosinski was involved in that as well so I’m thinking that the film isn’t too far off from the original source. If the screenplay was more original I wouldn’t have been thinking of a whole list of different movies while I was going home last night.

The screenplay may be unoriginal but it really is a gorgeous looking film. With major studio money behind it the CGI effects are very top notch and nothing looked really badly rendered. The landscape of a wasted Earth seemed suitably dead and wasted. The Washington DC area reminded me of the video game Fallout 3, but that’s just because I’m a bit of a gaming nerd and hold a great affection for the ruined landscape of that city. I really liked how old skyscrapers were rendered to become a semi-permanent part of the environment. It was as if the buildings became useful to nature, which makes sense since that is what would happen to abandoned structures in the wasteland

Now, I was originally very torn about whether I was going to see this film or not because I think Tom Cruise is a total nutcase. I have a hard time watching films that he stars in without thinking about how he is very publicly brainwashed. However, I know it’s not fair to totally judge an actor’s performance on what happens in their private life so I decided to give him a chance. Cruise is pretty good in it but there are love scenes in the film which seem really added on. It’s like they are trying to prove that Cruise is a man’s man or something silly like that. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if he has something in his contract that stated that he must be portrayed as a sexy beast so that people can’t question his sexual orientation. I may sound like a conspiracy theorist but those scenes do seem pretty unnecessary in terms of forwarding the plot. If a man and a woman are going to be living in isolation for years of course you’re going to think they’re going to have sex, you don’t have to be shown it.

Towards the end of the film there is a MAJOR mistake that I immediately caught. It is so obvious that I can’t believe that Kosinski, who also directed this, didn’t catch it. It’s like he couldn’t quite figure out how to finish the film so he tacked on an ending and said fuck it. Either that or somebody majorly messed up in the editing room.  The only clue I’m going to give you is ‘the pod’. Unlike the director I don’t think you’re stupid so I know you’ll figure it out if you decide to watch it. One other thing, that may seem small and unimportant to others, that bothered me was the clothing of the non Tom Cruise characters. How the hell do characters find advanced tech clothing that fits them perfectly in the wasteland? Is there a wasteland store that sells new looking clothes? If you watch something like The Road Warrior, which is among the best post-apocalyptic films, you notice that characters are wearing clothes that look scavenged from different sources.

Loving both the post-apocalyptic and sci-fi genres I can appreciate the effort put forth when a director decides to make such a film. I know I have bitched about Oblivion quite a bit, but that’s because I think it could have been so much better. The screenplay is weak while the film itself is very nice to look at. I think that if you love sci-fi or post-apocalyptic genre type films you should see it because you’ll be entertained, but in the end I don’t think you’ll be overly impressed.