Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters, and a special screening Sunday in Westport:
When two intrepid, yet innocent 14-year-olds -- Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) -- discover that the force of the latest flood has left a boat lodged high in a tree on a deserted island, they're ecstatic, until they suddenly realize it's already been claimed by a wily, silver-tongued squatter wearing "Seven League boots" with crosses nailed into the heels and a snake tattoo coiled down his arm. He's a "wanted' fugitive named Mud (Matthew McConaughey), who cleverly cajoles them into helping him repair the damaged vessel for a getaway on the Mississippi River with his beautiful, beloved girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), whom he says will be joining him -- with vengeful bounty hunters in hot pursuit.
Since his squabbling parents (Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon) are contemplating divorce, which will mean the loss of the houseboat he's always known as home, Ellis is emotionally vulnerable to likeable Mud's mysterious superstitions and far-fetched stories about true love, particularly since he's developed a crush on an older high school girl, May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant), who barely notices him. And Neckbone's been an orphan for years, raised by his uncle (Michael Shannon), who uses a homemade diving bell for oyster-diving. Gradually, however, both naive boys learn to face danger, disappointment and disillusionment.
Fresh from Terence Malick's "Tree of Life," Sheridan's naturalistic performance propels the picture, projecting a watchful sensitivity far beyond his years. After starring in four films ("The Paperboy," Magic Mike," "Bernie," "Killer Joe") last year, McConaughey continues to ooze irresistible charm, explaining how he had to murder his girlfriend's abusive ex-boyfriend. Sam Shepard appears briefly but convincingly, offering support for Mud, yet it's a shame that Witherspoon's fickle, trampy part is so underwritten.
It takes an incredibly talented, charismatic actor like Tom Cruise to elevate this derivative, exposition-heavy sci-fi into a compelling adventure.
Cruise plays Jack Harper, a high-tech security repairman, stationed high over Earth in 2077. Unlike his prim partner/ever-efficient controller, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), Jack feels a curious affinity to the desolate, half-destroyed planet he's never called home. And, although his memory has been "wiped," in his disturbing dreams, Jack is on Earth 60 years ago, before the devastating war, with a shadowy, dark-haired woman named Julia (Olga Kurylenko).
On a drone reconnaissance mission, only weeks before Jack and Victoria are due to leave for evacuation on Titan, one of Saturn's moons, intrepid Jack discovers that same mysterious woman, Julia, in a wrecked space-travel sleeping pod. Then he's captured by rebellious human "Scavengers,'' or Scavs, led by Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and begins to realize that much of what he has been taught to believe is far from the truth.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski ("TRON: Legacy") from his graphic novel, adapted as a script by Karl Gajusek and Michael DeBruyn, it's chock full of familiar bits and pieces from other, far better, post-apocalyptic sci-fi films like "WALL-E," "Total Recall," "Omega Man," "Blade Runner," "Star Trek" and "The Matrix," including Sally (Melissa Leo), their computer-voiced commander, a close relative of HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Since neither waifish Kurylenko nor robotic Riseborough is able to forge any emotional connection, it's left to naturalistic Cruise to elicit audience empathy. Which, to his credit, he does.
But propelling this nonsensical thriller is a somewhat thankless job, even though the Bubbleship must have been fun to play with.
If you watched "The Jetsons," the minimalist chic production design of Jack and Victoria's stylish loft, perched above the clouds, should trigger memories of that Hanna-Barbera cartoon. But why Victoria wears stiletto heels remains a mystery, along with her pasted-on eyelashes.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Oblivion" is a standard, recycled 6, substituting striking, sweeping visuals for its total lack of originality.
"A PLACE AT THE TABLE"
Fifty million people in the United States -- one in four children -- don't know where their next meal is coming from. That's not only a startling statistic but a horrifying warning because the national issue of hunger poses serious economic, social and cultural implications for our nation.
Rosie, a ravenous fifth-grader from Colorado, often relies on junk food from neighbors and charities, admitting she often pictures her fellow students and teachers as pieces of fruit. Barbie, a Philadelphia single mom, tries to feed her two youngsters using food stamps, but when she gets a low-paying job, she's suddenly disqualified from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and loses her subsidized child care as well. And Tremonica, an obese Mississippi second-grader, suffers asthma, exacerbated by her "empty calorie" intake of processed foods.
"The relative price of fresh fruits and vegetables has gone up by 40 percent since 1980, while the relative price of processed foods has gone down by 40 percent," points out food activist Marion Nestle. "We're spending $20 billion a year on agricultural subsidies for the wrong foods."
In America, there's no lack of food, but there is shameful apathy about our disjointed food stamp system that makes the working poor ineligible for help. Articulate representatives for the Congressional Hunger Center and Witnesses to Hunger explain trying to get traction in Washington, D.C., while Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges introduces his End Hunger Network, noting that hunger is a crisis "our own government is ashamed of acknowledging ... if another country was doing this to our kids, we would be at war. It's just insane!"
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "A Place at the Table" is an enlightening 8, which should propel people to take action. It will be screened at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 28, at Westport Town Hall, sponsored by the Westport Cinema Initiative.