Cruise Patrols Ruined ‘Oblivion’; ‘At Any Price’: Movies

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Source: Universal Pictures via Bloomberg

Tom Cruise as Jack in "Oblivion." The Universal Pictures film is playing across the U.S.

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Source: Universal Pictures via Bloomberg

Tom Cruise as Jack in "Oblivion." The Universal Pictures film is playing across the U.S. Close

Tom Cruise as Jack in "Oblivion." The Universal Pictures film is playing across the U.S.

Photographer: Hooman Bahrani/Vesic Photography/Sony Pictures Classics via Bloomberg

Zak Efron and Malika Monroe as Dean Whipple and Candace Farrow in "At Any Price." The film is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Close

Zak Efron and Malika Monroe as Dean Whipple and Candace Farrow in "At Any Price." The film is playing in New York and Los Angeles.

Source: Universal Pictures via Bloomberg

Morgan Freeman as Beech, whose character reveals secrets in "Oblivion." The film is a collaboration between the director of "Tron: Legacy" and producers of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." Close

Morgan Freeman as Beech, whose character reveals secrets in "Oblivion." The film is a collaboration between the... Read More

Source: Universal Pictures via Bloomberg

The docked Bubbleship atop the Skytower in "Oblivion." They are among the visual effects created by director Joseph Kosinski and production designer Darren Gilford. Close

The docked Bubbleship atop the Skytower in "Oblivion." They are among the visual effects created by director Joseph... Read More

Source: Cohen Media via Bloomberg

Emmanuelle Seigner, Ernst Umhauer and Denis Menochet as Esther Artole, Claude Garcia and Rapha Artole in "In the House." The film is adapted from the play "El Chico de la Ultima Fila," written by Juan Mayorga. Close

Emmanuelle Seigner, Ernst Umhauer and Denis Menochet as Esther Artole, Claude Garcia and Rapha Artole in "In the... Read More

Source: Cohen Media via Bloomberg

Fabrice Luchini and Kristin Scott Thomas as Germain and Jeanna in "In the House." The film is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Close

Fabrice Luchini and Kristin Scott Thomas as Germain and Jeanna in "In the House." The film is playing in New York and Los Angeles.

Source: Cohen Media via Bloomberg

Ernst Umhauer and Bastien Ughetto in "In the House." The film is directed by Francois Ozon. Close

Ernst Umhauer and Bastien Ughetto in "In the House." The film is directed by Francois Ozon.

Photographer: Hooman Bahrani/Vesic Photography/Sony Pictures Classics via Bloomberg

Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid and Kim Dickens as Dean, Henry and Irene in "At Any Price." The film is directed and co-written by Ramin Bahrani. Close

Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid and Kim Dickens as Dean, Henry and Irene in "At Any Price." The film is directed and... Read More

Photographer: Hooman Bahrani/Vesic Photography/Sony Pictures Classics via Bloomberg

Malika Monroe and Zak Efron as Candace Farrow and Dean Whipple in "At Any Price." The film opens on April 24. Close

Malika Monroe and Zak Efron as Candace Farrow and Dean Whipple in "At Any Price." The film opens on April 24.

Tom Cruise patrols a decimated future Earth and jets through the cold dystopia of “Oblivion.”

He pilots something called a Bubbleship. The flying machine is a gorgeously designed special effect, with the agility of a “Top Gun” Tomcat and the grace of a dragonfly, and it’s not even the film’s loveliest visual.

Cruise could sail it through any number of narrative sinkholes and logic vacuums that render “Oblivion” a sleek, ambitious head-scratcher.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski (“TRON: Legacy”) and based on his novel, “Oblivion” looks great, all beauteous annihilation. A blasted-to-pieces Moon, its rubble forming a Saturn-like ring, hovers.

And as Jack Harper, Cruise, at his wrinkle-free handsomest, fits perfectly into Kosinski’s worlds -- both the soulless universe of 2077 and the emotionally beige movie of 2013.

“We won the war but destroyed the planet,” says Harper, explaining the nuclear defense that fended off alien invaders and left Earth uninhabitable.

Hardy Survivors

“We did what we had to do,” he adds, suggesting that, at least in the screenplay by Karl Gajdusek and Michael DeBruyn, cliches, not cockroaches, are the hardiest survivors.

With the rest of humanity re-settled on a new globe, Jack and his navigator/lover Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) are in their final weeks as Earth’s stay-behind caretakers. Their job is to watch for marauding aliens and maintain the machines draining Earth of its diminishing resources.

The pace picks up with the arrival of Julia, a mysterious beauty (Olga Kurylenko, “To the Wonder”) who stirs flashes of memory -- among other things -- in Jack.

Morgan Freeman arrives well into the movie with his trademark Sage Guide persona.

“A lot’s changed in 60 years,” Veronica tells Julia as they dine with inexplicably large utensils. Some changes just aren’t enough.

“Oblivion,” from Universal Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2 (Evans)

‘In the House’

Francois Ozon’s “In the House” doesn’t aim to be plausible -- it’s a parable. Yet, like the classroom assignments that 16-year-old Claude (Ernst Umhauer) hands to his teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini), this squirm-inducing French comedy is irresistible.

Germain assures Claude that his writings will stay private, but he’s sharing them with his enthralled wife (Kristin Scott Thomas).

The stories detail, with increasing creepiness, how Claude is worming his way into the affections of a bourgeois family by befriending his dim classmate Rapha (Bastien Ughetto). His sights are on Rapha’s dissatisfied mom (Emmanuelle Seigner).

Germain morphs from unfulfilled teacher to eager editor to obsessed reader.

The film conjures 1960s and ’70s classics by Louis Malle, Francois Truffaut and Pasolini, not to mention “The Blue Angel.” Its real subject is literature (the boys attend the Lycee Gustave Flaubert) and the way, once stories get their claws into us, they won’t -- or we can’t -- let go.

“In the House,” from Cohen Media Group, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ***1/2 (Seligman)

‘At Any Price’

Motor-mouthing and back-slapping his way through a crowd with a foot-wide grin, Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) embodies everything that makes people want to run from a determined salesman. He sells seeds to farmers in Iowa. His rural customers probably buy them just to get him off their porches.

At Any Price,” directed and co-written by Ramin Bahrani, initially seems to be celebrating these country folk. Henry’s philandering and conniving stick out like a smokestack in the corn fields.

That his son Dean (Zac Efron), who races stock cars, can’t stand him seems to be a sign of decency. He must get that from his patient, disappointed mom (Kim Dickens).

Henry is exactly the kind of overbearing phony that filmmakers love to set up. From the start, his ruin glitters on the horizon.

The pileup of catastrophes gets Quaid to quiet down and start to act, and the movie becomes watchable, if ghastly. And those country virtues give way to an ugliness that the early scenes barely hint at.

When the characters turn out not to be what they’d seemed, “At Any Price” doesn’t grow more nuanced -- it merely shifts monochromes.

The seeds Henry sells come from a faceless concern whose genetically modified product has dire effects on traditional agriculture. They raise crop yields while forcing farmers to adopt the motto “Expand or Die,” crushing smaller players.

In the end, the film feels less like a critique of American values than an attack on them, as crude as propaganda.

“At Any Price,” from Sony Pictures Classics, opens Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ** (Seligman)

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)

Muse highlights include New York and London weekend guides, Lewis Lapham on history, Jeremy Gerard on New York theater and Martin Gayford on European art.

To contact the writers on the story: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com. and Craig Seligman at cseligman@mindspring.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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