Neill Blomkamp … keeps the action coherent and fills the plot with clever twists that make up for some of the insulting obviousness of the political allegory.
-Craig Seligman, Bloomberg
An exciting and visually stunning film, one which perhaps holds too much to a familiar path, but which is undeniably thrilling.
-John Lyus, HeyUGuys
There’s no coming back from this.
Elysium – Neill Blomkamp’s much anticipated follow-up to his 2009 sleeper hit District 9. The world has been wondering: Will Elysium meet the high expectations of matching the success of Blomkamp’s freshman effort?
The results are mixed, but mostly land on the positive side of things. Elysium is a fairly worthy successor, but thematically isn’t as strong of a film as District 9. Blomkamp is undeniably a talented film maker but it seems the studio may have interfered just a bit too much with his artistic vision on this one. A comparison of District 9’s modest $30 million budget to the $115 million production of Elysium proves that there was much more at stake here, and certain choices the film makes are catered to a mass audience appeal.
Minister Delacourt (Jodie Foster) is the Secretary of Defense on Elysium. Her job: to enforce the strict Earth immigration laws and protect the Elysium border at all costs. She is the commander of the Civil Cooperation Bureau, keeping Earth in line and its citizens in place. Her strict zero tolerance beliefs when it comes to Earth immigration isn’t shared by the bulk of the Elysium government, but she will do what it takes to protect Elysium from illegals.
Jodie Foster is terribly miscast in this role. The character is extremely one-note and we never completely find out her motivations for being as evil as she is. Why does she have this unadultered hatred for the citizens of Earth? We never learn her backstory and there is no character arc to be found. Foster deserves a lot better and had very little to work with here.
“Undocumented ships are approaching elysium airspace…shoot them down!”
Agent M Kruger (Sharlto Copley) is a crucial weapon and first line of defense in Secretary Delacourt’s arsenal to keep Elysium free of illegals. One of Elysium’s most important Earth-based sleeper agents, Kruger has untold human rights violations to his name and is a professional killer. His bloodlust is unmatched.
Kruger is one of the most outrageous and intense villains I have ever seen in a film. Copely holds nothing back and plays this character as a completely psychotic madman thirsty for blood. It’s pretty fantastic to watch his insane performance, especially during the final act of the movie when he is chasing down Damon’s character. It’s a spectacle to behold.
Damon is always outstanding in the action hero role and he does the same great work here. What makes this character even better are the biomedical implants he has surgically added: a neural transmitter and exoskeleton suit.
Like District 9, the story of Elysium has a very strong political allegory under the surface, although it’s much more heavy handed this time around. It’s painfully obvious how badly the film wants to make statements on border control and class discrimination but a little more subtlety would have been nice. District 9 was much more nuanced with its own metaphor for the South African apartheid, to greater effect.
Elysium is an incredibly fun science fiction film that falls a little flat when it comes to articulating it’s themes. The actors are all solid, aside for the terribly written evil-for-the-sake-of-being-evil character played by Jodie Foster. Sharlto Copely is a standout as deranged mercenary Kruger, the film is almost worth seeing just for him. Visually, the film looks phenomenal. The environments are all beautifully imagined and the characters are designed flawlessly. Although the heavy-handed take on inequality issues weigh the film down a bit and detract from the cool and interesting visuals, Elysium is still one of the better films of the summer and a blast to watch.
It’s bold, it’s beautiful, it’s a sheer delight… and a more disciplined approach might have made a masterpiece out of it.
-Rob Vaux, Mania.com
Tarantino’s spaghetti western of the American South is an untamed blast of stylishly rendered, outrageous entertainment.
-John Wirt, The Advocate
A new Quentin Tarantino movie is something I always look forward to and Django is no exception. Not all of them hit the mark for me, but they’re always interesting at the least and borderline genius at best. Pulp Fiction has been one of my all time favorite films since I first saw it and his others typically find a place in my yearly top ten lists. Django Unchained will most likely do the same.
If Inglorious Basterds is Tarantino’s revisionist history masterpiece, Django Unchained is him getting the rest of the revenge out of his system. This is a brutal, blood soaked hero’s journey and Quentin, as usual, gets the last laugh – whether it be Kill Bill‘s Bill or Hitler and the Nazis (Basterds) and now to slavery and plantation owners in Django. Let’s just say the slave owners don’t end up faring too well in this film.
It definitely would have been interesting to see Will Smith play Django, as was once rumored before the cast was finalized, but Jamie Foxx is flat out awesome as the character. For a relatively quiet performance, Foxx is great exuding all the slow burn, built up intensity that Django unleashes.
I’m curious as to what makes you so curious.
I like the way you die boy.
Django, the ‘D’ is silent.
Kill white folks and they pay you for it? What’s NOT to like?
Leonardo DiCaprio breaks the mold and plays the first major villain of his career as plantation owner Calvin Candie, and he is exceptional. Cristoph Waltz, once again puts on an absolute show acting under Tarantino’s direction, playing bounty hunter/Django’s mentor Dr. King Schultz. Quentin builds the perfect amount of tension between the two characters during a few extended scenes and it really pays off.
Not only is Django a violent revenge fantasy against slavery, it is also one of the laugh out loud funniest movies of the year. That sounds strange coming from a movie that deals with such sensitive subject matter but Tarantino is a master of weaving humor and lighter moments among the brutality.
Though not as masterful storytelling wise as Inglorious Basterds was, Django Unchained is a wildly entertaining entry in the revenge genre from Quentin Tarantino. An outstanding cast of characters (Even Samuel L. Jackson shows up as one of the more interesting supporting characters you’ll see this year) make up for a bit of unevenness with the plot. The usual lengthy dialogue scene or two show up here, but don’t slow the pace down as much as you’d expect. See it.
A terrific supporting cast, especially the non A-list actors, make the dramatic license taken justified and redeem Affleck for miscasting himself in the hero’s role.
-Bruce Bennett, Mad About Movies
Let’s face it, Ben Affleck is a better director than an actor. Argo is an amazing story hindered only by the lead actor’s performance, and it’s a shame because casting a different actor could have brought much more to the role.
Let’s weigh the pros and cons of Argo :
A large supporting cast that is excellent
Bryan Cranston. Alan Arkin. John Goodman. Victor Garber. Kyle Chandler. Zeljko Ivanek. Titus Welliver. Richard Kind.
All these actors round out the supporting cast and really elevate the believability of the events on screen.
Very tight editing
From scene to scene, Argo never misses a beat. Every shot has a purpose and the film flows nicely, never allowing the audience to lose interest. The tension is at a perfect level throughout and does a great job keeping one invested in the events that play out.
An intense and horrifying opening sequence
To kick this movie off, Iranian citizens overthrow the U.S. Embassy in a violent and brutal manner. It is a heart-stopping scene of terrorism and very effective at setting up the crisis that plays out during the rest of the film.
It successfully depicts a historical event while satirizing Hollywood
Argo maintains a humorous almost light-hearted take on the Hollywood system while the serious events of the main plot are taking place. And it manages to take nothing away from the grimness and severity of the situation, which adds a nice light undertone to the film. Also, it takes a pretty big shot at the legitimacy of film journalism.
Jack O’Donnell: They’ve got revolutionary guards going door to door. These people die, they die badly.
- Ben Affleck isn’t a good actor and is miscast. That’s it. Everything else about this movie is great.
For all its good intentions and spurts of innovation, it never really comes alive as living, breathing history. Instead, it too often plays like an audio reading of the Congressional Record, with some unwieldy domestic scenes tossed in for good measure.
-Matt Brunson , Creative Loafing
I was disappointed with Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln. After last year’s very mediocre and overly sappyWar Horse, I expected somewhat of a comeback film for Spielberg and I had been anticipating Lincoln greatly. Then the awful trailer was released and I lost a lot of interest. The film is fine if expectations are kept low, but don’t expect a monumental piece of film-making that changes the way history is viewed.
Here is the basic outline of the story: politicians on opposing sides of the aisle argue vehemently over some topic and are so divided there is no hope for any resolution. Enter Abraham Lincoln who proceeds to tell a whimsical story that relates to the issue at hand that makes everyone laugh and smile and forget their differences. Rinse and repeat until the movie’s over.
I wasn’t enamored with Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance as Lincoln, it was played very low key and I didn’t feel it had enough gravitas for a movie centered around this character. Strangely, I think Lincoln himelself was probably my least favorite character in the movie. Tommy Lee Jones actually has the best scenes in the film, playing outspoken House representative Thaddeus Stevens:
Thaddeus Stevens: How can I hold that all men are created equal when here before me stands stinking the moral carcass of the gentleman from Ohio? Proof that some men are inferior. Endowed by their maker with dim wits, impermeable to reason, with cold pallid slime in their veins instead of hot red blood. You are more reptile than man George, so low and flat that the foot of man is incapable of crushing you.
The scenes of courtroom-esque drama and political maneuvering are done well and are very entertaining, but Spielberg for some reason tries to shoehorn terribly done family drama into the narrative that just doesn’t work at all. Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows up out of nowhere as Lincoln’s son Robert in a poorly executed plot that goes nowhere. Sally Field does great work as Mary Todd but she is given virtually nothing to do other than whine and cry about the war.
There is probably enough historically interesting about Lincoln to warrant a watch but it is a definite disappointment. The politics are a lot of fun but that’s about it.
This is Washington’s movie from beginning to end, and full of little layers.
-Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger
One of Denzel Washington’s finest performances. And that’s really saying something, considering everything he has accomplished on screen.
-Clint O’Connor, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Flight is Robert Zemeckis’s first live action film in 12 years and he doesn’t appear to have lost a step. Clearly his current work isn’t going to hit the highs of such classics as Back to the Future, Forrest Gump or Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but Flight comes close, at times. Seemingly a vehicle for Denzel Washington to flex his acting muscle, he puts on an absolute show playing alcoholic commercial pilot, Whip Whitaker.
Flight contains the most intense plane crash sequence you will ever see on film. This visually terrifying sequence within the first few minutes of the movie really does a great job maintaining the reality of what would be happening in the cabin of an aircraft during such an emergency. The way the shots are set up showcasing how Denzel handles the situation is fantastic and really shows what we’ve been missing from Zemeckis the last decade. The final shot of the plane’s wing crushing a church steeple as members of an outdoor congregation scatter in fright is truly haunting and about as effective as any scene this year.
Whip Whitaker: No one could have landed that plane like I did. No one.
So, the crash sequence starts Flight out with a bang, but does the rest of the movie hold up? Yes and no. There are some moderate pacing issues with what goes on with the narrative through the bulk of the second act. It slows down substantially from the adrenaline rush of the first few scenes and it actually is kind of jarring, but it never stops being entertaining. A tense courtroom style scene towards the end brings the energy back up and nicely brings the the film to a thematic close.
There is some great acting to be seen in Flight, and not just from Denzel (who probably puts on his best performance since his Oscar winning role in 2001’s Training Day) The way he handles the mix of physical toughness and emotional fragility of his character with such nuance is remarkable and he will assuredly be in the Oscar conversation this year. John Goodman also shows up, chewing the scenery in a comic relief type role that really pays off plot-wise towards the end and Don Cheadle does his usual great work as well, playing Hugh Lang, an attorney assigned to Whitaker’s case.
Hugh Lang: The FAA placed ten pilots in simulators, recreated the events. Every pilot killed everybody on board! You were the only one who could do it!
Flight is the complete package, expertly mixing great scenes of intense action with a mostly slower paced and dramatic narrative that concludes with a hugely satisfying ending. Denzel Washington is a total scene stealer here, and there are some fantastic performances to be seen by the character actors as well. Flight will definitely get some mentions around Oscar season and is a definite must-watch, the crash sequence alone is worth the price of admission.
Visually dazzling, superbly acted, and massively ambitious. I’m going to be obsessed with this visionary saga for a while.
-Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat
“Cloud Atlas” is much easier to watch than it is to describe. It really is an extraordinary cinematic achievement.
-David Kaplan, Kaplan vs. Kaplan
A lawyer on a Pacific voyage in the 1800’s has his life turned upside down when his life is saved by a stowaway. A talented musician in the 1930’s writes letters to his lover while being blackmailed by an aging composer. A 1970’s investigative journalist unravels a conspiracy involving a nuclear power reactor. In the near future, an aging book publisher has a run-in with the mob and is held against his will in a retirement home. An enslaved clone discovers a hidden secret and incites a revolution in futuristic Korea. A post-apocalyptic tribesman goes on an incredible journey after his village is destroyed.
Every one of these stories take place in vastly different times and places but they all interact and influence each other in profound ways. Without one distinct narrative that acts as a through-line for the film, Cloud Atlas weaves these 6 tales in and out of each other throughout it’s 3 hour run time. And there is not a dull moment to speak of. The end of every scene is an expertly done transition to the start of a different, but thematically similar, scene in a different story line.
Dr. Henry Goose: : Fear. Belief. Love. Phenomena that determine the course of our lives. These forces begin long before we are born and continue after we perish.
- The individual stories are all an absolute blast to watch.
They range from emotionally moving to hilarious to horrifying and back again. I can’t even pick a favorite because they were all so fantastic.
- It is a visually incredible film to watch.
There are insane amounts of detail packed into every scene. The special effects and makeup work are remarkable, gorgeous, haunting, stunning, insert-adjective-here.
- It has top notch acting.
Most of the actors in this film played 6 different characters, one for each story. Some completely unrecognizable from the actor playing them.
- The editing is unparalleled.
With so many stories and scenes perfectly intertwining, it’s a miracle this film makes any sense. But it is done so seamlessly, the six stories become one.
Cloud Atlas might be the closest thing to a perfect film I’ve ever seen. It has such scope and ambition and digs so deep I am still having trouble processing it. It’s certainly going to find a place in my all time favorite movies list. It has been my most anticipated film for quite some time and it definitely didn’t disappoint. SEE IT NOW.
The script is episodic by nature as it blurs fantasy and reality, with some vignettes more amusing or compelling than others.
-Todd Jorgenson, Cinemalogue
Engagingly off-centre, like Charlie Kaufman taking down Quentin Tarantino, this sunbaked shaggy-dog story is a place-holder film for McDonagh, and often closer to chaos than it is to genius.
-Matt Glasby, Total Film
I give Seven Psychopaths a lot of credit for being a truly original film in a time where sequels, prequels and reboots have completely taken over. Not really following any sort of typical narrative structure, this dark comedy by playwright/filmmaker Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) bounces us around a series of beautiful “SoCal” locations not typically seen on film. Constantly flying in and out of fantasy and reality, the narrative is at times difficult to keep up with and doesn’t exactly mesh into a satisfying whole by the films final set piece.
As far as plot goes, Colin Farrell plays Martin, a struggling screenwriter who hangs around with his best friend and dog kidnapper, Billy (Sam Rockwell). When Billy and partner Hans (Christopher Walken) unknowingly kidnap the beloved dog of a gangster (Woody Harrelson), Martin becomes mixed up in a scheme that just may be the inspiration to his screenplay he has been waiting for.
Although not exactly laugh out loud funny, Seven Psychopaths has some of the wittiest and most intelligent dialogue I’ve heard in a film in quite some time. It is a great time just listening to Walken and Rockwell talk circles around each other as an exasperated Farrell listens on. Speaking of Walken, he plays such a lunatic in this movie it’s almost as if he’s doing his own take on a Christopher Walken impression. I find myself liking Farrell’s work a lot more lately, and this may be my favorite performance of his so far, equal parts alcoholic beachbum and straight man to the rest of the cast. And of course Woody is great as always, playing the ultra violent but equally patheic gangster, Charlie.
As fantastic as the cast is, the real gem of this film is Sam Rockwell’s Billy. Rockwell brings a real heart to what could have been a completely one dimensional character and it really adds depth to the movie, in more ways than one. Billy gives a monologue towards the climax of the film that is a real showcase for how great of an actor Rockwell can be. Here’s a peek at the type of dialogue you can expect from Billy:
Hans: As Gandhi said…’An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind’. I believe that whole heartedly.
Billy: No it doesn’t. There’ll be one guy left with one eye. How’s the last blind guy going to take out the eye of the last guy left whose still got one eye left? All that guy has to do is run away and hide behind a bush. Ghandi was wrong. It’s just that nobody’s got the balls to come out and say it.
This movie starts out fantastic and has some real momentum for about the first 2/3’s of the film. The final act, however, takes place almost entirely in a desert and parts of it slow down significantly. The flow of some of the plot elements essentially come to a standstill and the film loses itself narratively a bit, with an almost anti-climactic ending and final few scenes.
Seven Psychopaths is nothing if not unique and I can really appreciate the complete originality it brings to the table. Although it stumbles a bit towards the end, it is a very entertaining time at the movies and worth checking out.
Looper is a superior genre film, an engrossing thriller that engages not only the senses, but our minds as well, just as good sci-fi should do.
-Randy Myers , San Jose Mercury News
If nothing else, Looper is one of the most ambitious movies you’ll see this Fall. The third feature film from up-and-coming writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom), Looper might not be a complete masterpiece, but it is a very unique twist on time travel films and even the sci-fi genre as a whole.
I’ll get the plot details out of the way quickly. Here’s all you need to know: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis star respectively as young and old versions of the same character, a hired assassin who kills and disposes of criminals sent back in time 30 years.
Looper is an interesting film for a couple of major reasons:
a) It treats the “science” in science fiction in an almost subtle tongue-in-cheek way. Everyone knows the concept of time travel makes no sense and is just one paradox after another. Instead of trying to explain the intricacies of how it works, Willis’s character (old Joe) sums it up for us with this quote:
I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.
The science behind the time travel really doesn’t matter, so Johnson pokes some fun at the notion of trying to explain the impossible. A gusty move that I really appreciate.
b) The second half of this film is entirely different from the first. Sony did a great job with Looper‘s marketing campaign, not revealing much of anything from the final two acts. Not spoiling too much, the first half focuses mainly on time travel elements, the young and old Joe characters and their motivations. The second half of the film takes a strange turn when it comes to the plot and starts diving deeper into weighty themes like morality, fate, how one’s actions can affect the future, the importance of parenting, among others. It almost feels like 2 separate films in one, but the two halves do work well thematically.
A very ambitious and unique tale, Looper‘s pieces may not all fit together perfectly, but it is definitely a worthwhile and interesting trip to the movies. Highly recommended.