Oblivion Grade: B-
On the beautiful scorched future-Earth in Oblivion, it's tough to tell where the real things start and where the fake things end. The year is 2077 and Earth is a barren, Wall-E-esque wasteland 70 years after aliens destroyed the moon and messed with the Earth's tides. But it doesn't look that bad - in fact, in IMAX, it looks great.
Sure, if you were one of the last people on the planet like Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his navigator lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) and you had to watch huge rigs suck up ocean water for energy, it might not seem that appealing. The rest of the human race is up in the "Tet," a massive pyramid floating around Earth while Jack and Victoria gather the planet's valuable resources before humanity's permanent move to the Jupiter moon, Titan.
At age 50, Cruise can still sprint with the best of them. It's best not to spoil anything, but while the last few scenes may require some post-movie internet research to understand everything, the overall scope works, even if some of the themes are lifted from sci-fi heavyweights like Spielberg and Kubrick. Director Joseph Kosinski isn't quite on their level, but the vision is there.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity.
Mud Grade: A-
Matthew McConaughey has pretty much established himself as a Hollywood hot guy, which makes his snaggle-toothed performance as the title character in Mud all the more surprising and exciting.
Mud is a sunburnt fugitive hiding out on an isolated island in a rusty boat stuck up in a tree. When inquisitive teens Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) zip over from the mainland to check out the boat, Mud regales them with tales of his love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).
Impressionable young Ellis latches on to Mud, who fills Ellis' (and his own) head with delusions of romance -- grand plans to sweep Juniper off her feet and live happily ever after. Forget that little speed bump of him being wanted for murder.
Sheridan and Witherspoon are superb, but Mud is who we're here to see, and McConaughey, retaining his snake oil salesman charm along with his haggard appearance, is the man to play him. McConaughey is more talented than we may think -- his weird drawling cadence distinguished him from more cookie-cutter leading men, and now he's actually taking risks with his roles.
Rated R for language.