Elysium Review


Elysium is the latest film by acclaimed director Neill Blomkamp and it delivers a spectacular and richly detailed world that is startlingly realistic. But does Elysium measure up to the stunning success of his previous film, the shockingly original and politically adept District 9? Not quite, but even still Elysium is a sci-fi epic worth seeing, even if it is more for the incredible action than for the rich political commentary.

Elysium is billed as a utopian society, which means it must be innately flawed, right? Right.

The title Elysium references a space-station that the wealthy created when Earth became over-populated and polluted. In this floating fortress the rich have no fear of disease or aging because of breakthrough machines that eradicate disease or physical trauma with a few simple button presses. On Earth, the rest of the population live in utter destitution, forced to man the factories that churn out the machines that keep them subjugated. While these poor masses may desire to go to Elysium to cure their various abnormalities, there is a strict code that forbids access to any that are not “citizens of Elysium” aka billionaires and their families. So naturally the plot centers around the character Max (played by Matt Damon), who must break into Elysium for medical aid. He is prevented from doing so by Secretary Rhodes and Agent Kruger (played by Jodie Foster and Carlto Copley respectively). While the former is a pretty strait-forward, if diabolical, politician, the latter is a truly sadistic and incredibly compelling sleeper agent who is tasked with bringing down Max. Max is outfitted in a type of exo-skeleton super-suit; think the suit from Aliens except shrunken down to the size of a man and you get the basic idea. The fights between Kruger and Max are some of the best I have seen this summer, and while they may be over quickly Blomkamp’s use of sharp camera angles and tracking shots keep the fights in focus while amping up the intensity. Blomkamp really flexes his muscle when it comes to smart use for special effects and fight choreography, because each frame is beautifully constructed from a fast paced hand to hand duel to a robot being shattered from a explosive round piece-by-piece. Jaw-dropping stuff.

See that large gun? It makes things go boom, boom real good.

But while these fights and the effects throughout are incredible, I go to a Blomkamp film expecting a complex and original narrative with political acumen. Blomkamp certainly is trying to maintain his reputation for tackling political issues; his engagement in the 99 percent debate is worn on his film’s proverbial sleeve, but the film lacks the moral complexities that made District 9 such a standout. This is a pretty black and white world where the rich are the bad guys and the poor are misunderstood victims. While Copley (who also starred in District 9) turns in another stellar performance that adds some much needed complexities to this otherwise predictable drama, Matt Damon is unable to create the morally ambiguous anti-hero that Blomkamp seems to want him to be. Perhaps it is just because Damon is too darn likeable, but I never bought into the idea that he was the tatted-up, selfish badass that he was made out to be. Because of this, there was never a question to how this film was going to turn out. Unlike District 9, where I loathed and questioned Copley’s protagonist until the very end, I was never invested in Matt’s character in the same way. This is not to say I didn’t care about Max or the fate of this depressingly realistic society, but the film suffered from a level of predictability that was unexpected in a Blomkamp sci-fi epic.

Copley dominates as the sadistic and unpredictable Krugar. Oh and his weapon of choice is a katana, doesn’t get much more badass than that.

But still it must be said that a Blomkamp’s film still is superb and miles above most sci-fi’s like Oblivion or After Earth. What Blomkamp does is effortlessly create a rich, living world that is completely believable. If anything, I felt that the film was a bit short, and I would have liked to see more glimpses into how this world was run on a day-to-day basis before everything went crazy. Because of Blomkamp’s incredibly detailed worldbuilding and the awesome action I am giving Elysium a solid B.

So, what did you think? Did you see the film or want to see it? How do you think it compares with Blomkamp’s previous work? What about the political and social elements, was he too obvious or did he spark some interesting ideas about the class divides in society? Let me know what you think in the comments below..


The Wolverine Review – Comic Book Movies can be More than Non-Stop Action


“Eternity can be a curse. The losses you have had to suffer… a man can run out of things to care for, lose his purpose.” So begins Logan’s journey to rediscover a reason to live and a summer blockbuster film that aspires to be more than its pedigree. Does The Wolverine accomplish its goal to be both an exciting comic book film and a  personal character journey? For the most part, yes. Despite some small shortcomings, The Wolverine rises above the pack of mediocre genre films and accomplishes something unique; Director James Mangold has created a comic book film that is simultaneously action packed and deeply intimate. This X-Men spinoff is certainly worth seeing, which is something that could not be said about the adamantium man’s first solo endeavor.

In many ways, this film is more than a comic-book film, but it manages to do so by embracing its comic-book roots. That’s right, Wolverine’s got roots son.

The Wolverine is unique in the fact that it is pretty much a strait-forward adaptation of the limited run Wolverine penned by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. Despite Bryan Singer and other film directors’ reluctance to willingly adapt a single comic storyline, Mangold has proved that comics can certainly be adapted successfully, even if doing so sacrifices the groundedness that typifies the recent cadre of recent genre films. The Wolverine, spoiler-alert, focuses on Logan (does he have a last name?) and picks off after the events of the middling film X-Men: The Last Stand. The very fact that The Wolverine in many ways redeems the previous film’s horrendous storyline is proof enough that Mangold and writers Mark Bomback and Scott Frank know what they are doing. Logan is once again drifting from place to place, befriending the wildlife and getting into a barfight here and there for kicks. During one such encounter, he comes across another mutant, the japanese ninja who can foresee a person’s death, Yukio, who offers him the opportunity to fly to Japan to send off an old war-buddy, Yashida, the multi-billion dollar leader of the technological powerhouse Yashida Corporation. Yashida offers the Logan, who is literallyl haunted by the death of (spoilers of The Last Stand) Jean Gray, the opportunity to sacrifice his immortality so that he can put those ghosts to rest (or maybe even join them in the afterlife). What follows is a Wolverine story unlike any others as Logan is both physically and emotionally vulnerable, which makes for satisfying and engrossing filmmaking that is also tinged with that dry wit that the X-Men films are known for. Logan soon finds himself as the bodyguard for Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko, as they run from those who want both Logan’s healing powers and Yashida’s powerful technological empire. It is an exciting ride that fluctuates nicely between personal story driven moments and pulse-pounding action. In summary, it checks all the boxes of a summer blockbuster but with the maturity to acknowledge that it is characters that makes these stories worth watching.

Yup, those are ninjas. If you are thinking “awesome” than this is the movie for you. If you are thinking “cheese” than you might want to sit this one out, or go check out your pantry.

That said, once Logan accepts and steps off the plane in Japan, the rest of the film sticks to this unique locale. Yup, The Wolverine almost exclusively takes place in modern day Japan, which comic book lovers like myself will totally dig, and those who might not be comfortable with some subtitles and ninja warriors might shy away from. Mangold totally embraces the idea of Logan/Wolverine as a Ronin, a warrior without a master or purpose, which is one of the film’s strengths and possibly its weakness depending on who is watching it. For me, I was totally engrossed with the whole “fish out of water” aspect of the film, and loved watching Logan fall for the Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko, and engage in bloody fights with members of the japanese mob on top of a 300 mile-an-hour bullet train. But for my wife, and I can imagine many that are not as comfortable within the geek sub-culture, this setting might be a bit of a turn-off. What makes Singer’s films, and even the more recent X-Men: First Class, is the accessibility of it all. These filmmakers take the comic-book out of the comic-book movie and instead drop these engrossing characters in a very real world, or at least as real as teleporting blue ninja monsters like Nightcrawler can tolerate. Not so with the The Wolverine; because Mangold and his team openly adapted a comic series, they chose to embrace every aspect of it, including its foreign setting, and went even further in some cases with the final encounter with the Silver Samurai (I am not spoiling anything here that wasn’t in the trailer). Still, if you can buy into this very comic-booky (definitely a word) world, what you will get in return is a highly engaging and exciting film that delivers on as both an action film and an emotionally driven character story that asks some great questions of its protagonist: questions such as, “what does it mean to be immortal,” “do warriors search for a honorable death or simply something to fight for?” The fact that Hugh Jackman has created a character believable enough to sustain such probing questions is testament enough to the power of this film. While the ending of the film (certainly the weakest part of the film, but still eons better than Wolverine Origins) may not stand up to these philosophical ponderings, it is still a satisfying conclusion to a very well-rounded foreign excursion, made all the better by an after-credits scene that is so incredible it had me clapping in the theater afterwards. Seriously, that scene got me so pumped for the forthcoming Days of Future Past, I can’t stand it. So if you like comics or appreciate a summer blockbuster with as much heart and it has explosions, than The Wolverine is more than worth your time, despite a mediocre conclusion. You just may want to go with a group of your buddies and maybe not your significant other or your parent (unless he or she loves comics, in which case, more power to you).

I am giving The Wolverine a B+.

So what do you think? Are you going to see The Wolverine, or are you too turned off by the setting or the terrible Wolverine Origins? If you saw it, what was your favorite part, and what, for the love of all thats good, did you think of the after-credits scene?! Let me know in the comments below.

Despicable Me 2 – Review

“It’s so funny I’m gonna die!” were the words I swear I heard coming out of my wife’s mouth when we were leaving the theater after seeing Despicable Me 2, the sequel to one of our favorite computer animated comedies of all time. Okay, so maybe my wife didn’t say those exact words, but she should have because that would have been really clever and a good start to my blog, so I am going to say she did anyway.

Which brings me to confession time:
So, when going to the movies with my lovely wife I would love to say that we go see some new crazy comedy, or the latest action/romantic flick, or a serious oscar drama. I would love to say that, but I would be lying. The truth is that, 9 out of 10 times, if we are going to go see a movie in the theaters, it is probably going to be a computer animated kids movie. For example, we took some time out of luxurious honeymoon in a small town in Colorado to take three buses to get to the nearest theater so that we could see the incredible conclusion to the saga we had been waiting for: Toy Story 3. It was awesome. End of confession…

Wiig’s  Lucy is a great complement to Carrell’s Gru.

So yes, we saw Despicable Me 2, and I am happy to report that it is… hilarious! Seriously though, this one doesn’t disappoint. From the very beginning, it is made apparent that directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud have not forgotten that dark and fluffy comedy that made the first film so uniquely engaging. An example super early in the film is when Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell) dresses up like the fairy godmother as the kids play in an obstacle course filled with deadly traps. It is scenes like this, where Gru’s villainous personality is mixed with the fluffy childishness of his three adopted girls that stand out above the ever-increasing range of computer animated features coming out now. I was really happy to see that the three girls maintained their prominence in the sequel (especially Agnes, the youngest who has a strange obsession with unicorns). Without the girls much of the charm would be lost, and indeed, some of my least favorite scenes were when Gru was off on his own without the little rascals. That said, the addition of Agent Lucy Wilde (voiced by Kristen Wiig) certainly contributed to the zany antics of Gru and his girls. Wiig brings her characteristic charm and quirkiness to the role, and she is a solid, if a little predictable, complement to Carrell’s Gru. If I had one critique of Lucy Wilde it is that she falls into a few female stereotypes that a smart film like Despicable Me with its plethora of unique plot devices like adoption, diversity, and trademark dark humor doesn’t need. Keep up the creative plotting people!

Looks like Gru’s in with the good guys now…

Speaking of plot, Despicable Me 2‘s is exciting and fun, if slightly predictable. The film opens with another heist scene, similar to the first film, which is fun but more of the same. The show really starts when the camera shifts to Gru’s home, wherein he is hosting a birthday party for Agnes (as mentioned above) apparently having embraced his role as a father after the events of the first movie. After the guffah-inducing events of the party, Gru gets “recruited” by Agend Wilde to be a member of the “Anti-Villain League.” These events were basically shown in the many theatrical trailers, but I have to say I really appreciated that, after that short sequence, the rest of the film was never shown in the previews (which my wife and I had watched multiple times of course). What follows is a pretty standard “who-done-it” plot with Gru and Wilde trying to uncover the mastermind who pulled off the heist at the film’s introduction. There are various plot twists and some fun new characters (there is a pet chicken at one point that practically steals the show) but it is all rather predictable. That was okay for me though; I don’t go to these films to be blown away by new plot devices, I go to laugh and soak up the silly absurdity of Gru, his girls and his minions. Speaking of the minions, it is clear these clowns are a big hit because they get a lot of screen time for their various completely absurd hijinks. While most of their comedy is mostly slapstick, which is certainly funny, some of it is completely over the top and hilarious, especially for those old enough to catch some of the references back to the 90s, classic sci-fi films and even a few boy-bands that shall remain nameless. Seriously, the minions at the end of the film had all of us in the audience over twelve (there admittedly wasn’t many) laughing our butts off. That ending is absolutely comic genius.

Minions play an even larger role, which usually ends in more hilarity.

Before writing this piece I asked my wife what her favorite movie of the summer was, and after deliberating for a little bit, she said that above Pixar’s Monster’s University, Despicable Me 2 was her absolutely favorite. As for me, while I certainly could find a few areas to nit-pic, like the conventional plot and treatment of Lucy Wilde, this was a sequel that certainly doesn’t disappoint. If you were a fan of the original Despicable Me, or even if you are just a person who likes computer animated comedies and lived through the 90s, then I think you would agree with me when I give Despicable Me 2 Must Watch.

What did you think? Did you like Despicable Me and its dark and fluffy comedy, or were you not a fan? Should I be embarrassed for my wife and I’s shared love of computer animated movies? Let me know what you think and I will definitely respond to your comments!