Month: August 2013

August 12, 2013

Elysium (DJ’s Take)

ALLEGORICAL

Neill Blomkamp tops the list of my five favorite great directors of the future.  (Duncan Jones, Rian Johnson, Matt Reeves, and Josh Trank are the others)  His first film out of the box, District 9, is probably the most original, groundbreaking, sci-fi action film we’ve seen for two decades.  Though, that film’s faux documentary style allowed Blomkamp some leeway to radically tell a story.  A style that worked like gangbusters.  However, I hoped and knew that Blomkamp wouldn’t want to be pigeonholed to that type of filmmaking.  The question was how well could he tell a story in the more traditional fashion.  His sophomore effort Elysium proves that Blomkamp can be a multifaceted director.  However, he might need a bit more subtlety as a writer.  Because for all Elysium’s pulse pounding action and jaw dropping visuals, its message seems to clumsily get in the way.

The concept is great.  The rich and affluent people of earth depart for a super advanced space station called Elysium.  There, food shortages, crime, and diseases are nonexistent.  A small group of earth rebels, led by a recently dying Matt Damon, fight to get up to Elysium before his time runs out.  An ALLEGORY that is clear enough to understand even for the normally oblivious.  However, Elysium’s flaw is not allowing the audience to absorb the “We Are The 99%” ALLEGORY on its premise alone.  The film seems to beat you over the head with it over and over again.  So much so, the last three minutes become a montaged commercial for financial equality.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  District 9 is also based on the huge ALLEGORICAL message of racial inequality and South African apartheid.  However, I believe District 9’s documentary style and alien creatures mask that film’s message a bit smoother than Elysium.  Elysium suffers from not being able to sugarcoat what it wants to say.  Thus, distracting from and sadly short-changing all the things great about it.  And trust me, there is a lot of great here.   The world building is strong.  The acting is solid.  And the action is tremendously outstanding.

It always floors me how Blomkamp seems to make every action scene he does original, gritty and exciting.  No one does a clusterf%*k action scene like Neill Blomkamp.  NO!  NO!  Not Michael Bay.  Bay’s action direction, admittedly one of the few things he does well, is hyper-stylized.  Blomkamp’s action direction feels out of control.  Out of control in a good way.  You feel exhausted after each crazy entanglement Blomkamp puts you through.  Did you forget that mech suit battle in District 9?  His fights are sloppy, unpredictable, harrowing and great.  Elysium is no different in this regard.  The fighting style of the exosuits, the spaceship crashes, the corridor battles, the desert plain assaults.  They are all amazing.  Blomkamp also flexes his muscles again in the futuristic tech department.  He seems to always know how to introduce and use unique weapons and technologies just enough so we buy them as an audience, but not get bored of them.  Sanctimonious self indulgent statement here but…THEY DIDN’T WANT THIS GUY TO DO HALO!!!  DAMN IT!!!  Sorry.  It always bothers me.

As stated before, the performances are solid.  Matt Damon, while not breaking any new ground here, is still his usual charismatic self.  Jodie Foster playing a baddie always seems to vibe with me.  Though, her accent is a tad inconsistent.  A joyfully over the top performance by actor Wagner Moura as Spider also entertains.  However, there is one actor that steals EVERY SINGLE scene he is in.  One performance that people will talk about when they talk about Elysium.  And that is Sharlto Copley.  I was partially avoiding any spoilery trailers leading up to this film’s release.   This led to my surprise when I saw Copley was in Elysium as much as he is.  He’s Blomkamp’s boy, so it makes all the sense in the world.  However, he isn’t really promoted as much as he should be.  The guy completely owns this film.  After his role as the psychotic Kruger and his apparently terrific performance in Spike Lee’s Old Boy, Copley has got to be a star on the rise.

Elysium is another strong sci-fi follow-up from Neill Blomkamp.  Its only sin is a slight difficulty to get out of the way of its own ALLEGORICAL message.  If you aren’t prone to eye rolling from preachiness or a registered Republican, you’ll enjoy the hell out of it.  Even if you are, you’ll still be entertained.  Suit up…be careful of hand grenades to the face…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

August 10, 2013

True Stories: The Iceman

RUSHED

The thing about reviewing films based on a true story is you’re usually limited to technical aspects of the film.  Barring some historical inaccuracy, the only fair thing to harp on is how the story is told.  Essentially because it all really happened.  You can’t complain about an ending that really happened.  You can’t complain about character choices that really happened.  You mainly hope that the way the filmmakers tell the story is compelling and that the actors give strong and truthful performances of their real life counterparts.  The Iceman, sadly, is a film that seems to fall just short of doing both of those things.

The story of The Iceman centers around the real life story of cold blooded mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski and how he keeps his murderous career a secret from his family.  Essentially, what if No Country For Old Men’s Anton Chigurh on his off days was Danny Tanner from Full House.  It is as terrific a set up and interesting a story for any film.  Just as the plot for that gets started, just as you are ready to see the rise of this hitman through the mob ranks and the elaborate lies he must concoct in order to remain the unassuming patriarch of his family, the film starts a two hour journey to RUSH past both elements clumsily.  And it doesn’t stop.  Both selling points the movie has are handled either through stunted montages or RUSHED time jumps.

One minute, Richard has just entered the world of contract killing.  The next minute, he is a seasoned pro.  All the ins and outs of being an effective hitman and rising through the ranks as the number one mob soldier are skipped over or RUSHED.  A counter to that criticism could be that the film isn’t about the contract killing.  Maybe it is about the family dynamic throughout.  Fine.  One minute Richard is a brand new father struggling to get he and his wife a better place to live.  The next minute, he has a second teenage child and they’re all living in a house in the suburbs.  All his lies to his wife and kids and all of the moments you want to see from a guy leading a dubious double life are skipped over or RUSHED.  Maybe the film isn’t supposed to be about the double life stuff either.  Maybe it is about Richard’s cold blooded nature and the horrible past that leads to the apropos title of this film.  A true character study of a sociopath.  Well, the structure of the film short circuits that by being mum about his upbringing until a sudden exposition dump in one scene.  There is a pivotal part where the normally cold blooded murderer Richard discovers a young teenager has witnessed him killing someone.  He decides to let her go.  Why?  It is alluded to later, but to that point the film had done nothing to hint at this character having a conscience.  Basically the opposite, in fact.  It hadn’t earned that moment.  My point is that if these dynamics of Richard Kuklinski’s life were focused on or fleshed out more instead of sped through, the film would have had a clearer direction.

The cast for The Iceman is of a particularly high quality but a bit misplaced.  Michael Shannon, or as I like to call him, Willem Dafoe 2.0, is the centerpiece of this film.  As much as I do like him as an actor, I am not certain of him in the part of Richard Kuklinski.  Now don’t get me wrong.  The lack of anything but intensity behind his eyes make him perfect as the murderous hitman.  He has made a career of playing people like that.  However, Shannon is somewhat unconvincing as a loving husband and father.  I mean ladies, are you really going home with THIS GUY?  This goes again to my previous dilemma of criticizing true stories.  Perhaps Kuklinski was as stoic a dad as he was in this film.  I’m not sure.  However, I can’t help but wonder how better the movie would have been served if someone like a Thomas Jane, a Josh Brolin or a Mickey Rourke was cast as Kuklinski.  Someone you can buy portraying both facets of the man’s life.   Winona Ryder plays the oblivious wife Deborah.  Ryder is fine here but her chemistry with Shannon is marginal at best.  And though the film wants to split time between home life and mob life, Deborah’s relationship with Richard still feels too short changed.  Right when we start to get a solid emotional scene between the two of them, it ends unceremoniously.  The cast is rounded out by an odd Chris Evans, an almost unrecognizable David Schwimmer, a very recognizable James Franco, Stephen Dorff, and Ray Liotta.  Liotta, a man who’s best role was in a film that had the structure I wish this film would have had.

As true stories go, The Iceman isn’t a particularly high ranking one.  The disjointed and RUSHED method the story is told really hamstrings what this film could have been.  The story of Richard Kuklinski is still best told by the man himself in the HBO documentary Confessions Of A Mafia Hitman.  However, if you happen upon the story’s one dramatization, try to keep up…look out for ice cream trucks…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

August 9, 2013

Simplistic Reviews Presents: Cinema and Suds, Hot Fuzz and New Belgium Sunshine Wheat

It’s not a mystery that beer goes with anything.  Just ask your drunk uncle when he shows up at Thanksgiving having started at 6 am, reading The Washington Post while on the toilet.  Hey man, Miller Time is any time! So with that image of your uncle on the toilet in mind, get ready for “Cinema and Suds” a new weekly series from Simplistic Reviews.

To kick things off, the work of Edgar Wright meets craft beer from Colorado as “Hot Fuzz” is paired with New Belgium’s Sunshine Wheat Ale, a refreshing ale brewed with spices.  “Fuzz,” starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, are cops in a sleepy English town, but as people start ending up dead in some particular gruesome ways, a conspiracy is uncovered that the unlikely duo must thwart.  What does this have to do with New Belgium Sunshine Wheat?  Well, nothing really, but I’ll try and make something up to give it credence.

“Fuzz” is a fun film where you can turn your brain off and enjoy it as an action parody, which it’s meant to be.  Sunshine is a low ABV beer (ABV is short for Alcohol By Volume, of course) clocking in at 4.8% so you can knock back quite a few during the course of “Fuzz.”  Or hey, play a drinking game whenever mention is made to “Point Break,” “Bad Boys,” or “Bad Boys 2.”  That would be perfectly acceptable with Sunshine Wheat.

Enjoy the video companion to this review, and check back every week for another edition of Cinema and Suds.

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