Elysium Movie Review 0 108

Elysium movie review

Former TV commercial director Neill Blomkamp turned his hand to feature filmmaking a few years ago with the terrific District 9, a deft combination of political and sci-fi ideas mixed with exciting action brought to life with impressive (for the relatively low $30 million budget) visual effects.

Now he’s back with the enigmatically titled Elysium, a much grander scale (read: expensive) sci-fi action film that might lack a certain quality that made District 9 so special but is still an admirably ambitious, visually spectacular and often very entertaining film nonetheless.

Set in the year 2154, Elysium takes place in a world where two classes of people exist: the very wealthy who live on the immaculate space station of the title – enjoying everything from perfect homes to “med bays” that can cure illness instantly – and everyone else i.e. the poor who live back down on a ruined and over-populated Earth.

We specifically follow Max (Matt Damon), a factory worker who gets exposed to radiation so in order to try and cure himself he attempts to find a way onto the heavily guarded Elysium up above. In his desperation he accepts a mission from a rebel faction of the population that not only could save his own life but bring equality to the lives of everyone.

There have been many movies in recent years tackling pressing environmental issues, from Pixar’s WALL-E to this year’s Tom Cruise sci-fi actioner Oblivion, to name but a couple. Elysium is one of the more successful examples of taking these issues and exaggerating them on a big scale, with Blomkamp’s dystopian world at once out of reach and all too believable.

Amid the dazzling special effects and (often surprisingly brutal) violence the film tackles ideas of wealth (in)equality, a government’s influence over its people and fairness in healthcare. It can sometimes feel like its banging you over the head with its messages and ultimately just uses them as a backdrop (excuse?) for the action. Nevertheless it’s nice to have a big-budget film like this that actually has something going on between the ears.

It takes a while to get going, spending much of its first half establishing the world and its rules with some heavy-handed exposition. But once it hits its stride action-wise, it’s highly entertaining stuff, all leading towards an exhilarating last half hour that – some issues with unnecessary shaky cam aside – jumps a final hurdle at which a lot of summer blockbusters fall.

Those who’ve seen District 9 – and I imagine many of those interested in seeing Elysium will be big fans – will find many overall similarities in the plot. Indeed this does hit many of the same beats as that film; for instance, the main character being on the run with a physically enhanced body and the ability to use special technology. And in a way it takes what was done then and explodes it onto a bigger, clearly far more expensive canvas. It means that this isn’t quite the original sci-fi we were presented when Blomkamp introduced himself as a filmmaker. It provides more spectacle but maybe not as much heart and soul.

What Elysium does have over District 9, however, are some very clear villains. We have Jodie Foster as a sort of high-ranking government minister charged with protecting Elysium’s borders from illegal immigrants. Her ropey British accent threatens her coldly threatening quality but she effectively represents the selfish, controlling government who literally rule from the sky. Though technically on the same side, her character is the antithesis of the ruthless and frankly badass Kruger (played by District 9 star Sharlto Copley), a kind of governmental assassin sent to take care of whatever problem is occurring back down on Earth. With his grubby appearance, menacing stare and heavy South African accent, he’s a rather special villain that provides an interesting dynamic to the action as he chases down Damon’s determined Max (who is looking like his character from Eurotrip has had some bad luck in life), later on providing for one of the summer movie season’s most visually unique fight sequences.

It’s perhaps inevitable that bigger isn’t necessarily better with Blomkamp’s sophomore effort. Indeed Elysium is somewhat of a disappointment after the level he reached with District 9. However, he has still created a fascinating, fully realized sci-fi world that looks stunning in a film that admirably aspires to be more than your average blockbuster.

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Elysium is released in UK cinemas on August 21st.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 416

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 448

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10