After a month-and-a-half hiatus, I’m continuing with my resolution to watch more movies, here’s what I took in this past week:
Elysium, dir. by Neil Blomkamp, USA, 2013.
This was one of my most anticipated films of 2013. I was a huge fan of Blomkamp’s District 9 and his earlier Halo shorts, which were nothing short of remarkable. Blomkamp is one of the driving forces behind my world building in my next feature, Paul Pope’s The One Trick Rip-Off, and we keep going back to him as a reference.
Elysium is as impressive as ever from a sci-fi world standpoint, its details are remarkable and deftly realized. The production design is ace, but unfortunately that’s about all the film has going for it. This despite Blomkamp’s obvious visual talents and Matt Damon’s earnestness.
Where to begin with this mess of a film? Well let’s start with just that - it’s messy and sloppy. Feels like it was edited by a 6-year old on an iPhone, and the ADR on Jodie Foster’s wonky accent takes something that was already bad to downright appalling. Foster - who is likely one of the greatest actresses of her generation - totally phones it in with a lazy, one-note performance. The only time we see any depth in her character is in the seconds before she dies, and that too is contrite and boring.
I also don’t understand the casting of Alice Braga in this or any other Hollywood film. I just don’t think she’s got what it takes to carry big budget films. She was a revelation in City of God and set the screen on fire in Lower City, but her ventures into Hollywood have been flat and uninspired. I can’t put my finger on it, but for some reason I just don’t buy her in any of her roles. Could be just me.
But as is the case with most current sci-fi, the film fails at the script level. An inane story is further dragged down by silly dialogue and a complete disregard for any common sense. Technologies are provided that literally act as god machines, easy fixes that have zero credibility. In one sequence, a completely incomprehensible Sharlto Copley gets his face blown off and in a completely stupid leap-of-faith gets his entire face reconstructed within seconds. Sure it’s sci-fi, but any science within that universe must be rationalized. In Elysium, it’s all effect and zero plausibility.
The fault of all this lies squarely on the shoulders of Blomkamp, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s so overwrought with social metaphors and cloying left-wing politics (and I say this as a bleeding heart liberal myself) that it comes off more as a political parody than social critique, a lefty version of Atlas Shrugged. Ouch. Can’t believe I just wrote that, but it’s very, very hard for me to like this film. There’s very little going for it other than pretty visuals.
Murder on the Orient Express, dir. by Sidney Lumet, United Kingdom, 1974.
Hercule Poirot is one of literature’s truly wonderful characters - uptight, snooty, wholly inappropriate and a complete badass. Albert Finney’s version of Agatha Christie’s intrepid inspector is one of the all-time great screen characters, and bolstered by Paul Dehn’s Academy Award-winning screenplay and Sidney Lumet’s impeccable direction.
This is classic Lumet and movie that would never be made today because it is loaded with dialogue and balances a small army of characters with equal aplomb. Poirot digs and pokes and prods each suspect of an overnight murder on a stranded train, using humor and Gallic charm to piece together the evidence. Features an all-century cast with Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, and a lethally radiant pair of femme fatales in Jacqueline Bissett and Vanessa Redgrave, this is a pure treat of performance and impeccable direction. The ending is shocking and morally ambiguous, which makes it all the more memorable. We just don’t see movies like this anymore. Sad.
TRON: Uprising, dir. by Charlie Bean, USA, 2012.
Joesph Kozinski’s TRON: Legacy was a visually stunning letdown. It’s improved over repeat viewings but there was just something missing from it, and after seeing Disney’s otherworldly animated series TRON: Uprising I finally realized what that missing factor was: edge.
Kozinski’s film, like his Oblivion is simply too smooth, too slick, and as a result it reads as mechanical and cold. What the original TRON captured - and what the animated series has recaptured - is a hard cyberpunk edge that infuses heart and blood into a cold, mechanical world. This visually stunning animated series is one of the very best things I’ve seen in a long time, cartoon or live action feature combined. And that’s not hyperbole, it’s just that fucking good. Superb voice acting, hyper-stylized animation, impeccable sound design and amazingly solid writing all contribute to what science fiction should be in our age of visual technology, and TRON: Uprising is just firing on all cylinders. It’s violent, sexy, thought-provoking and amazingly executed. Definitely flying under the radar and undeservedly so, this is sci-fi at its very best. Seek it out, support it, and make sure it doesn’t get cancelled.