REVIEW: Elysium

2 03 2015

In April 2014, I started watching “Elysium” when I observed that it had arrived in my library. I grimaced my way through roughly 45 minutes and either fell asleep or became unavoidably detained. Then I just never got around to picking it back up again and wound up having to return the disc in order to avoid facing a fine.

I kept telling myself that I needed to pick it up just to finish it for the sole purpose of formulating some coherent thoughts to write a review. This internal conversation continued for nearly an entire year inside my head until, finally, I decided to give it another go since “District 9” writer/director Neill Blomkamp would soon unleash “Chappie” on theaters everywhere.

In short, I regret this decision.

The most interesting aspect of “Elysium” is how on earth something so violently anti-capitalist, anti-1% managed to find funding in the first place. Sure, some of these movies do manage to get through, but they are usually independently financed and then released without the help of a major studio. They also seem to temper their rage, at least enough to prevent the enterprise from seeming like an all-out vilification of the wealthy.

Blomkamp formulates a compelling scenario for his film, a world where the rich have fled a polluted, overcrowded planet to inhabit Elysium. Here, in this literal representation of what the Greeks mythologized as a paradise for heroes, those who can afford it can frolic around a ring orbiting the earth knowing that their health is always secure. Of course, anyone who lives up in the air has to resemble a cartoonish villain, even Jodie Foster’s Defense Secretary Delacourt.

Matt Damon’s Max Da Costa, ailing from a workplace accident that left him exposed to dangerous radioactive material, leads the small proletariat revolution against those hoarding access to medical care. It might have made for a fascinating, discussion-worthy visualization of the figurative “class warfare” narrative that gets tossed around quite a bit in the political sphere. Instead, it’s a boring, derivative action flick where the only thing more simpleminded than the ideology is the violent melee.  C2stars

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LISTFUL THINKING: Most Anticipated Movies of 2013

2 01 2013

I’ll still be stuck in 2012 at least until the Oscars are handed out and until then will be filling in with reviews of some of the movies I missed from the year.  But it’s time to move forward and look ahead to 2013, which could be a great year for cinema.  Several of my favorite filmmakers have projects due this year, which is what I will have to remind myself as I have to slog through a year that reportedly will give us 31 sequels and 17 reboots!

I had originally prepared a top 10 list for my most anticipated of 2013, but then I realized that since so many were TBD, there’s a chance we won’t see some of these movies until 2014.  So I added three movies at the beginning of the list that premiered on the 2012 fall festival circuit but will hit theaters for paying audiences in 2013.

Without further ado…

To The Wonder

#13
“To The Wonder” (April)
Written and directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, and Olga Kurylenko

A year ago, Terrence Malick was critical darling with his “The Tree of Life.”  Yet when “To the Wonder” arrived at Toronto and Venice, you’d have thought they were reviewing a Michael Bay movie.  How someone goes from hero to zero that meteorically is curious.  If nothing else, “To the Wonder” could be the most anticipated disaster of the year.

Frances Ha

#12
“Frances Ha” (May 17)
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig
Starring Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, and Adam Driver

Upon its many festival stops in 2012, it was called a mixture of French New Wave with early Woody Allen.  Combine that with the fact that it’s written and directed by Noah Baumbach, whose “The Squid and the Whale” knocked me off my feet, “Frances Ha” sounds like a movie custom-made for me.

The Place Beyond the Pines

#11
“The Place Beyond the Pines” (March 29)
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Written by Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder
Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and Eva Mendes

They called it a sprawling, multigenerational epic when it played Toronto.  And from the trailer for Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to the harrowing “Blue Valentine,” it looks ambitious.  And honestly, I may be looking forward to this far more than several of the movies that made the ten.

Nebraska

#10
“Nebraska” (TBD)
Directed by Alexander Payne
Written by Bob Nelson
Starring Devin Ratray, Bruce Dern, and Bob Odenkirk

Alexander Payne’s “Election” alone makes anything from the director worth anticipating.  After a second writing Oscar back from a seven-year hiatus for “The Descendants,” he shortens his gap with a new movie within two years.  I’m a little skeptical, though, since the cast lacks some of the pop of Payne’s previous films, and he also didn’t write this one.

Inside Llewyn Davis

#9
“Inside Llewyn Davis” (TBD)
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and Justin Timberlake

The Coens have gone from 1960s Jewish suburbia in “A Serious Man” to the 1880s Wild West in “True Grit.”  And now … back to the 1960s for the folk music scene of Greenwich Village?  They sure like to keep us on our feet.

The Wolf of Wall Street

#8
“The Wolf of Wall Street” (TBD)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Terence Winter
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and Matthew McConaughey

Scorsese.  Enough said.  I suspect this will be the role that wins DiCaprio his Oscar, provided he doesn’t take Best Supporting Actor for “Django Unchained” this year.  With “The Great Gatsby” (see below) moving back to 2013, it assures us yet another fantastic one-two punch within the same year from DiCaprio.  “Gangs of New York” and “Catch Me If You Can.”  “The Departed” and “Blood Diamond.”  “Shutter Island” and “Inception.”  Boom, Leo comin’ at ya!

Catching Fire

#7
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (November 22)
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth

I enjoyed “The Hunger Games” this year, though I do see room for improvement in sequels.  Hopefully the writer of “Slumdog Millionaire” and “127 Hours” as well as the writer of “Toy Story 3” can elevate it because I’m certainly not expecting much from the director of the middling “Water for Elephants.”  And I just kind of need something to fill the void left from “Harry Potter.”

Elysium

#6
“Elysium” (August 9)
Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp
Starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and Sharlto Copley

Anything shrouded in secrecy is enough to get me interested; that’s why “Prometheus” was at the top of this list for me in 2012 (that list was just mental).  And I think “District 9” could be merely scratching the surface of what Neill Blomkamp is capable of.  With Matt Damon and Jodie Foster headlining a sci-fi class warfare pic, this could be other-worldly levels of awesome.

Gravity

#5
“Gravity” (TBD)
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Written by Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron, and Rodrigo Garcia
Starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock

Speaking of other-worldly levels of awesome, let’s talk Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity.”  He hasn’t released a film for 7 years, but his last three films were the incredible stretch of “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” and “Children of Men.”  His “Gravity” has been described as “if ‘Avatar’ had been released in 1927 a week after ‘The Jazz Singer.'”  What.  Warner Bros. pushed it back from 2012 for what I imagine was fine-tuning, which just has me all the more on pins and needles.

Labor Day

#4
“Labor Day” (TBD)
Written and directed by Jason Reitman
Starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, and Tobey Maguire

Jason Reitman, on a subjective and personal level, is probably my favorite director.  He’s had a flawless 4-for-4 stretch of films in his career, and though “Young Adult” might have been a step down from “Up in the Air,” that’s because the latter was basically perfect.  I’m fascinated to see what he can do with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin.

Twelve Years a Slave

#3
“Twelve Years a Slave” (TBD)
Directed by Steve McQueen
Written by Steve McQueen and John Ridley
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, and Michael Fassbender

Steve McQueen’s “Hunger” was pretty good, but his “Shame” was an absolutely ingenious triumph.  I can only imagine how he plans to top it in “Twelve Years a Slave,” the story of a New York man kidnapped and sold into slavery.  It’s got one heck of a cast, from Michael Fassbender to Brad Pitt to Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry’s first roles post-“Beasts of the Southern Wild.”  Is it too soon to cry Oscar?

Star Trek

#2
“Star Trek Into Darkness” (May 17)
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Written by Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Benedict Cumberbatch

Abrams did one heck of a job turning around the “Star Trek” franchise in 2009.  And from the superb trailer, it looks like he plans to boldly go into Christopher Nolan territory with a beautifully lensed and incredibly emotional follow-up.  I can’t wait.

Gatsby

#1
“The Great Gatsby” (May 10)
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire

I heard today that Jay-Z is going to be scoring Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby.”  My first reaction was to rethink my placement of the movie as my most anticipated of 2013.  Then, I thought about it and realized that it might be a stroke of inspired brilliance that makes the movie even better.  Luhrmann is unparalleled in his ability to take old texts and make them feel alive, modern, and relevant.  Just look at how he took Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” and made it relevant for a post-MTV audience.  And think about how he seamlessly integrated pop songs into “Moulin Rouge,” set in 1900!  Luhrmann’s flair for the theatrical and opulent borders on gaudy on several occasions  but I think he’s the perfect match for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tale of the rich and the glamorous.  I have no doubt his use of 3D will serve the movie well too.  All in all, his “The Great Gatsby” will most definitely be for and by our times … and could wind up being the movie that defines 2013.





REVIEW: District 9

18 08 2009

In life, we often fear the unknown; with movies, I embrace it.  I saw “District 9” on blind faith, not recognizing the director or actors and knowing virtually nothing about its plot (credit this to the subtle yet effective viral marketing for the film).  I also saw it in spite of the fact that Peter Jackson, who I consider vastly overrated, was giving it a major push.  The element of the unknown only adds to the suspense of “District 9,” which is fresh and exciting to watch unfold.

The less you know about the movie, the more you will enjoy it.  I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but it involves aliens being segregated in Johannesburg’s District 9 that evokes a powerful comparison to South Africa’s Apartheid era.  And Wikus (Sharlto Copley) works closely with the aliens’ situation but will soon get much closer and gain different insight into their presence.

The first half of “District 9” is sublime.  It has power on so many different levels and you will feel it hit you hard in your gut.  The originality and unpredictability is unlike any movie of its kind you have ever seen.  Unfortunately, its second act lapses into your common, banal action flick.  And it is such a shame because it isn’t your run-of-the-mill movie; it is a smart, inventive tale that takes a concept so surreal and makes it completely believable.  Neill Blomkamp’s masterful direction allows us to be so convinced by utilizing a unique narrative voice, but I wish he had stuck to his vision throughout the movie.  But the success of the movie should be equally attributed to star Sharlto Copley, who provides a tender portrayal of Wikus that really hits home.  The film’s visual effects are breathtaking, making the aliens scary and gross, but also allowing the audience to feel some compassion for them.  But what really sets it apart from the plethora of similar movies is its simplicity.  So many science fiction movies feature really elaborate and intricately woven plots, but “District 9” is straightfoward and doesn’t try to hide anything from you.  It lets one event and motivation drive the movie, eliminating a lot of unnecessary confusion and making it quite a bit easier to watch.  Other sci-fi movies that have executed a similar formula to great success are “Alien” and “The Terminator,” and “District 9,” although not a landmark like the aforementioned, is poised to take its rightful place as a classic in the genre.  A- / 3halfstars