Movie Review: Elysium (2013) (IMAX)

August 10, 2013 in Movie Reviews

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Elysium is a thrilling sci-fi action blockbuster with a thought-provoking premise, but it also requires you to partly switch of your brain to fully enjoy it.

I was expecting an intelligent thriller as Elysium is director Neill Blomkamp’s highly-anticipated follow-up to the acclaimed District 9, which you might recall was a clever and cheeky 2009 sleeper hit inspired by South Africa’s apartheid era. But if you watch Elysium looking forward to the same sharp wit and veiled political commentary you will probably come away disappointed. On the other hand, if all you want is exciting popcorn entertainment, then Elysium will surely satisfy as a violent, white-knuckle thrill ride with a suped-up Jason Bourne.

Towards the end of the 21st century, Earth is overpopulated, polluted and practically in ruins. The wealthy don’t have anything to worry about, because they live on a luxurious man-made community floating above the planet’s atmosphere called Elysium, where there is no poverty, no disease, and presumably, no need for people to commit any crime.

Matt Damon plays Max, an Earthling who dreamed of one day making it to Elysium as a kid but instead grew up to be a crafty criminal — well, ex-criminal, because he now works at a factory manufacturing the same androids that police their sad, wretched, pathetic lives.

I’ll try to tread around spoilers, but of course, Max needs to make it to Elysium at all costs. Standing in his way is Jodie Foster, the defense minister on Elysium, and the crazy South African mad dog she hired to do her dirty work on Earth, played by Sharlto Copley (the protagonist from District 9).

I was surprised that Elysium turned out to be such a straightforward sci-fi action flick (complete with the typical cliches), which may not have been a bad thing had the premise not held so much potential. Yes, there are obvious moral themes that emerge out of the premise, but most of these are only touched upon on the surface.

There are a lot of things left unexplained: How did the world get like this? How did Elysium get built? What’s the political or legal system there and on Earth and between the two? How is it possible that every house on Elysium has a miraculous machine that can cure all diseases (including cancer), perform instant surgeries and even reconstruct body parts — and Earth not even have a single one? Are there no altruistic rich people anymore? I’m not talking about a comprehensive explanation, just some hints. Oh, and I would have loved to have seen more of what people actually do on Elysium — apart from high society afternoon parties and dips in the pool.

And those are just the questions about the background. Elysium also raises many other in-film questions that, if left unanswered, result in Prometheus-sized plot holes. Perhaps I’m being picky, but I had so many questions about what was happening that it became a distraction at times.

If you can put these issues aside and just go along for the ride, however, then you might find Elysium a highly entertaining film powered by near-seamless special effects and inventive sci-fi creations. Watching Matt Damon run around, getting smashed and smashing people and being Matt Damon is never a bad thing anyway.

Elysium has plenty of graphic violence that could shock viewers unfamiliar with Blomkamp’s style, but personally I don’t have a problem with some visceral stimulation every now and then. What I did have a problem with was some of the intentionally shaky camera movements and quick cuts during some of the action sequences, especially the hand-to-hand combat scenes. I just prefer clarity.

The performances were interesting. Matt Damon was his usual steady self, focused and charming and dedicated to the task. He was believable and probably the only character to experience any development throughout the whole movie. Sharlto Copley got to play the cool villain by being a complete nutjob, albeit an extremely dangerous and lethal one. Strangely, it was the dual Academy Award winner, Jodie Foster, who ended up as the weak link. I think she what she could with her flimsy lines, but she couldn’t help that her character was a cardboard cutout who was never as important as we thought she was.

Final word: Viewers expecting Elysium to be Blomkamp’s allegorical portrayal of the world’s growing wealth gap in the same way he tackled apartheid in District 9 might be disappointed. But who says all of his movies need to have a potent political message? In many ways, I actually enjoyed Elysium more than District 9. With a considerably bigger budget (US$115 million vs US$30 million), enhanced star power and an enlarged scale (seeing it on IMAX was particularly stunning), Elysium is one of the year’s more exciting and aesthetically impressive action blockbusters. It might not tick all the boxes, but the film is never boring and should keep audiences completely engaged for its apt 109-minute running time.

3.5 stars out of 5

Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 6)

November 15, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

It’s been a while since I did one of these, but it’s not because I haven’t had any lined up. Here goes. I suppose this is the “drama” portion of my catch-up review blitz.

War Horse (2011)

I wasn’t as high on this Steven Spielberg epic as I thought I would be. As the title suggests, it’s about the life of a horse, from its birth in the early 1900s to the end of the First World War, and the lives of all the people it touches along the way. There’s not much to dislike about the film — it features a stellar ensemble cast, looks absolutely amazing, and is designed to tug the heart strings. Ordinarily, that’s more than good enough for me.

But for some strange reason I wasn’t blown away by it. Perhaps it’s because I’m not the biggest horse fan, or perhaps its because the ensemble cast meant there wasn’t a particular human character I could really connect with. Or maybe it’s because it was so serious, lacking in that light touch I had been used to from Spielberg movies. But it is overly long at 146 minutes and my guess is that I found the subject matter a little on the bland side.

Ultimately though, it’s still a fine piece of filmmaking from one of the masters. I just wish I liked it more.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Descendants (2011)

The Descendants is remarkable in that it takes an interesting but unspectacular concept and turns it into a poignant, funny and unexpected gem driven by excellent performances.

Based on the book by Kaui Hart Hemmings, it’s about a Honolulu lawyer (George Clooney) who happens to be the sole trustee of a family trust that owns a lot of very expensive land. He’s filthy rich, but as usual, not content with life. Following a tragic accident to his wife, he is forced to confront his two daughters and the fact that his marriage wasn’t as perfect as he thought it was.

This is the kind of movie critics just love. Well-written and well-directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election), and with possibly the best performance of Clooney’s career, The Descendants treads a fine line between genuine emotion and melodrama, but manages to come out on the right side. If you’ve seen Payne’s earlier films you’ll have an idea of the kind of dark comedy and tone that he is accustomed to creating.

I wouldn’t say I absolutely loved this movie but I did think it was wonderfully made and produced laughs and stirred up emotions I had not expected. While it probably deserved its Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, I doubt this is a movie we will look back upon in a few years as a classic, or even a particularly memorable film.

4 stars out of 5

Puncture

Captain America as a drug addicted lawyer? And it’s a true story? Yep, that’s what Puncture is all about. Chris Evans is Mike Weiss, who looks like a bum off the street but is actually a very smart guy with a law degree. The problem is, he doesn’t care much about anyone except himself, and is usually either drunk or on drugs.

Weiss and his partner take on a case where the manufacturer of a safety syringe (which would be perfect in hospitals) claims it was shut out of the market by the big bad pharmaceutical companies (sounds like a true story already). As the case progresses and the odds become more and more against him, Weiss starts developing a conscience and begins to genuinely care about the cause — with your typical “flawed protagonist finds redemption” vibe written all over it.

Essentially, Puncture is a darker, grittier version of some of the other little lawyer against big bad corporations kind of film. Matt Damon’s The Rainmaker comes to mind. But unfortunately, Puncture takes far too long to get off the ground that by the time I found myself engaged it was almost over. And no, it’s got nothing to do with Evan’s acting, which was fine, by the way.

I think it had a great story to tell and the final third was executed rather well, but it’s a shame that the film could not have gotten interesting sooner.

3 stars out of 5

The Beaver (2011)

This film had things going for it and against it. On the one hand it is directed by Jodie Foster and is called The Beaver (which is awesome), but on the other it stars megadouche and anti-Semitic psycho Mel Gibson. In the end, I decided to put my biases aside and watch the film, and I still can’t decide in the end whether I made good use of my time.

The Beaver deals with Depression by creating a bizarre scenario. Water Black (Gibson) is a depressed toy company CEO who handles his issues by speaking through a beaver hand puppet (as though it were a different person). And to everyone’s surprise, the beaver makes Black a huge success and enables him to rekindle his relationship with his wife (Foster) and son (Anton Yelchin).

If you can stomach the premise and the actor, The Beaver is a solid drama that tells a serious story in a semi-lighthearted manner. There isn’t as much humour as you would expect, though I suppose it’s hard to be funny when you’re dealing with a mental illness that affects millions of people. I think Foster dealt with it respectfully and she injects the film with warmth and honesty, but I’m not certain that I was sold by it as a whole. In the end of the day, it’s still a family drama starring Mel Gibson, and neither is really my cup of tea.

3 stars out of 5

 
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