Elysium (2013) Review

Elysium (2013)

Directed & Written by Neill Blomkamp

Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
In the year 2154, the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth. A man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.

My Opinion:

I had a bit of a “Matt Damon sci-fi” weekend: I watched Elysium & The Martian (finally – I’ll review that on Wednesday). I did really like Blomkamp’s District 9 and was very much in the minority, I think, in quite liking Chappie. I missed out on Elysium but after it got such bad reviews I didn’t rush to watch it. I still planned to watch it someday, though, as I love sci-fi and am always far more forgiving of flawed films in that genre. Elysium was a tiny bit better than I was expecting (but my low expectations due to bad reviews probably helped). Don’t get me wrong, though – it’s a total mess.

Elysium actually started out quite promising but, man oh man, it really lost its way. It looked impressive so I enjoyed watching the sci-fi elements such as the robots (that looked a lot like Chappie) and the utopian space station Elysium (although it was very derivative). I thought Matt Damon did quite well and I liked the story involving his childhood friend. I didn’t read any reviews of this in detail as I knew I’d watch it someday but I assume the main complaints were about the “baddies” (Jodie Foster & Sharlto Copley). They’re godawful! There are some pretty big problems with the script but the one-dimensional bad guys (with some really weird accents) are what let this film down more than anything else. Atrocious.


This movie had a good concept so I wish Blomkamp had managed to actually explore the themes and issues he clearly had in mind. Instead, the story becomes a messy & predictable action film in the second half.  It was just disappointing as I wanted the film to be a bit “deeper” than it ended up being. There are loads of mediocre sci-fi action films like this – I wanted a “smart” sci-fi (something like Moon or Ex Machina). It’s just frustrating when a film has the right elements but can’t make things work due to a weak script.

Summary:

I didn’t hate Elysium but it was certainly a disappointment. It “looked” good, though, and I liked the first half of the film plus I thought Damon did a good job. The movie showed a lot of promise until the second half when it totally lost the plot. A weak script that doesn’t at all explore the social & political themes as well as truly horrible, one-dimensional bad guys really let the film down. I’m glad I finally watched this but I’d only recommend it if you’re a big fan of sci-fi, otherwise you’ll probably feel like you’ve wasted two hours of your time. 

My Rating: 6/10

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Chappie (2015) Review

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Chappie (aka CHAPPiE) (2015)

Directed by Neill Blomkamp

Based on Tetra Vaal by Neill Blomkamp

Starring:
Sharlto Copley
Dev Patel
Watkin Tudor Jones & Yolandi Visser (aka Die Antwoord)
Jose Pablo Cantillo
Sigourney Weaver
Hugh Jackman

Running time: 120 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
In the near future, crime is patrolled by an oppressive mechanized police force. When one police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself.

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My Opinion:

I’m not sure if anyone has noticed but I’ve been on a real A.I. movie kick the past few months. This is a favorite topic of mine in films so, despite some very negative reviews, I still wanted to see Chappie as I’ve been looking forward to it for ages. I really liked Blomkamp’s District 9 but missed out on Elysium (and still haven’t watched it as we all know how well received that one was). I’ve not yet fully read any reviews of Chappie (other than a good one from Writer Loves Movies defending it HERE) but I’ve read just enough to get the general idea: most people hate Chappie almost as much as Elysium while a small minority are defending it. Well, I guess I’m in the minority. I really enjoyed Chappie and think it deserves more credit than it appears to be getting.

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Remember that this is a favorite topic of mine within my favorite genre so I’m going to automatically like it more than some will. Plus, the last A.I. movie I saw was the disappointing Autómata. Chappie is a heck of a lot better than that one but certainly isn’t as good as Ex Machina, my favorite film of the year so far, or even Daft Punk’s Electroma (which is awesome. seriously. no one read that review – that movie should be more well known!). Yes, Chappie is basically Short Circuit except that Ally Sheedy & Steve Guttenberg weren’t South African rappers calling everyone “motherfuckers” all the time. Actually, that would’ve been hilarious. Who’s Johnny, motherfuckers?! (Sorry, Mike – I had to make the Short Circuit comparison as everyone is. At least I didn’t mention D.A.R.Y.L. or… Hardware). 😉

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I found Chappie interesting in that it actually explores the morality issues involved in creating self-aware artificial intelligence in a slightly different way than other similar films. Okay – this topic has been explored so much now that it’s very hard to be truly unique but even Ex Machina is guilty of not really bringing anything “new” to the table in the A.I. debate. Chappie treats Chappie (the robot) as a child who needs to be nurtured just as a human child would be. There’s talk of consciousness and “souls” (and violence & how to deal with crime, etc, making this not only like Short Circuit but also RoboCop). Overall, there’s probably a bit too much going on as far as all the various morality issues involved in creating advanced crime-fighting A.I. that whatever Blomkamp’s overall point actually is gets lost. The bits with the film’s two biggest stars, Sigourney Weaver & Hugh Jackman, are the weakest parts and I think more focus on the “Chappie as child in its formative years” thing would have been better. These are the most “human” parts of the film and are oddly touching. Chappie (again, the robot) is done very well – he looks great & his character is very well developed to the point that you DO feel for him. He’s no WALL-E but he comes closer to achieving that than I expected (I adore WALL-E). He’s as likeable as Short Circuit‘s Johnny 5 but with much more personality (and swearing). The most important thing to get right, in my opinion, is the character of Chappie himself & I think the film did a very good job there.

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I think the thing that may turn some off this film is the use of South African rap duo Die Antwoord (Watkin Tudor Jones & Yolandi Visser). I’ve known of them somewhat over the years through a couple of their songs & fucked-up videos and find them intriguing. When I heard they’d be in this film, I assumed it would be in smaller roles but they’re really the main stars. If you don’t take to their characters, you probably won’t like the film. Funny thing is, they end up being the best things about it (after Chappie, of course). These two crazy, swearing, “cartoonish” looking criminals end up feeling just as much if not more “human” than Dev Patel as Chappie’s “Maker”, while the film’s big stars (Weaver & Jackman) end up feeling like the cartoon characters. Or maybe that’s the point? I don’t think so… I think Weaver’s & Jackman’s roles are just very poorly written. It’s a shame, really, as it detracts from the more interesting central theme of A.I. consciousness & nurturing its development.

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Summary:

I thought Chappie was a solid sci-fi film and managed to explore the usual A.I. themes we’ve seen in countless other movies in a somewhat unique & quite entertaining way. It’s a weird kind of mish-mash of the heartwarming aspects of Short Circuit & WALL-E with the ultra-violent cartoonish-ness of RoboCop. This may be putting some people off, however, as the film seems a little confused as to what it wants to be. Sigourney Weaver’s & Hugh Jackman’s poorly written “baddies” aside, I enjoyed the over-the-top violent action film aspects but especially liked the more “human” aspects of watching Chappie become self-aware & start to develop his own personality. I know Chappie won’t work for everyone but it worked for me.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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Gotta say this may be my favorite tattoo on Watkin Tudor Jones (aka Ninja) 😉

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District 9 (2009) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Anna of Film Grimoire . This is her second IMDB review (you can read her review of horror favorite Rosemary’s Baby HERE). Thanks for joining in, Anna! 🙂 Now let’s see what she has to say about District 9, IMDB rank 210 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE.

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IMDb Top 250 Challenge Blogathon: District 9 (2009)

District 9 (2009, dir. Neill Blomkamp) is a humorous yet thought-provoking filmic allegory that reflects the racism and segregation of South Africa’s apartheid era. In 1982, a giant spaceship parks itself above Johannesburg, and when humans go to investigate it, they find many malnourished aliens inside. Seeking a quick solution to this issue, the South African government allows them to seek asylum in a designated camp area outside of Johannesburg called District 9. Despite their new freedom on Earth, the aliens are subject to strict governmental and societal control. They are not exactly welcome, and are subject to discriminatory behaviour and derogatory names such as “prawn”, due to their scaly appearance. More recently, as the humans of Johannesburg start to get tired of living near them, the government decides to move the aliens further away.

In the film, Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is working as a higher-up in a privately owned military company called Multinational United (MNU). MNU is tasked with the responsibility of telling the aliens that they must relocate to a new internment camp. Wikus is in charge of organising the relocation, and ensuring that it occurs in an orderly manner. When persuading one of the aliens to relocate, Wikus is unwittingly exposed to a strange liquid that leads to a horrific, transformative experience. Along with his a new alien acquaintance named Christopher, and Christopher’s son, Wikus endeavours to fix the condition that he is faced with, as it grows worse and worse, and as his personal empathy for the aliens’ situation is also amplified.

I chose to review District 9 for T9M’s IMDb Top 250 series because I’d never seen it before, and thought it was just about time to finally give it a watch. I found that this film was not only entertaining as far as its story and world-building, but also in terms of its parallels with social issues such as racism, poverty, asylum seekers, bigotry, and the apartheid era; among many others. These issues smack you in the face from the get-go, and can be very confronting. It can be difficult to reconcile the behaviour we’re shown in the film with actual behaviours that occurred against real people in very recent human history. The humans in this film are incredibly blatant in their discrimination and resentment towards the “prawns”, both verbally and physically. The film also shows brief snippets of pro-alien rights groups attempting to fight for the rights of the occupants of District 9, but their voice is a minority against the power of the enforcers of MNU. The overall effect is sobering. The film is undoubtedly a work of science fiction, given that it involves aliens, but the issues within the story are incredibly human.

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The film has an excellent introduction with a sufficient explanation of the history of aliens in Johannesburg, in what seems to be initially a documentary format. This format is perfect for conveying a great depth of information, which at no point feels like unnecessary exposition. It also provides for some interesting hand-held camera work and comedic moments. At the beginning we see the issues purely from the human side, from the government’s and MNU’s point of view, as they seek to justify the relocation of the aliens in District 9. We learn all about the main human characters, particularly Wikus, who is shown to be a fairly ineffectual and silly man in an elevated position as a result of being married to the boss’s daughter. From the very beginning, there’s a dark cloud hanging over the interviews – they mention Wikus as having done something wrong, as having ended up somewhere bad. This builds a good amount of suspense from the beginning, particularly when contrasted with his daft moments on camera.

The film gets dark as the MNU soldiers enter District 9 and start threatening the aliens; treating them in a way that is unfitting of asylum seekers in need of support. We see that forcing the aliens to relocate will uproot a society that they’ve built, we see MNU soldiers being violent and swearing at the aliens, and we see alien children who are forced to grow up in horrible conditions. This is where the viewers begin to see the other side of the issue – the side of the aliens who are dependent upon this internment camp for survival.

What I loved during this part of the film was that the aliens’ dialogue was subtitled, rather than forcing them to have a strange human voice. It lent a more realistic quality to the film, and almost humanised them in a way; it further cemented the idea that this is an intelligent species with their own language and social identity. We learn that the aliens have names and family roles, they wear clothing like humans, and we learn about their preferred diet – delicious cat food. We also learn that some of the aliens engage in criminal activity, and are the target of criminal groups who want to exploit them. This element of the film was very interesting and the alien life in District 9 was very well explored.

Through Wikus’ budding friendship and interactions with a nice alien named Christopher, we learn more about the aliens’ side of life in District 9. However, this occurs alongside Wikus’ need to partner up with Christopher so that they can help each other. There are a number of gross-out scenes are you might expect in this type of sci fi, but it’s similar to Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) in that the audience is meant to barrack for Wikus and simultaneously be completely repulsed by his transformation. Sharlto Copley plays the role of Wikus so believably that you can’t help but feel incredibly sorry for him.

 

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The film does turn into a bit of a regular science fiction thriller after Wikus’ transformation begins. It becomes less about the social issues, and more character-driven, although we do get to know Christopher and his child more, and learn about the ways in which anti-alien bigotry has affected them. The social issues are ever-present, but they are lessened in favour of more action, and conflict with a fairly clichéd antagonist.  The final ‘battle’ with this villain resorts to tropes of the genre, which can be slightly tiresome, and are at odds with the other more progressive elements of the film.

Although there were moments during the beginning of the film where the animation of the aliens seemed a bit blurry and computer game-ish, I noticed that the animation seemed to improve as the film went on. The visual construction of the film is excellent as the documentary format from the beginning of the film is mixed with the narrative of Wikus and Christopher, security camera footage, and news helicopter footage, all mixed together to construct a story that is seen from as many angles as possible. The score by Clinton Shorter is also excellent.

District 9 is quite a unique film in that it melds its distinctly serious social issues with a story that it at times humorous and irreverent, with the additional science fiction elements involved with introducing aliens to our world. It succeeds on many levels – an engaging story, captivating storytelling and acting, visual elements that get better as the film progresses, and a great score. It’s not without its drawbacks, such as the issues with the animation in the beginning, and the clichéd villain. But overall, this film is a stunner. It’s very entertaining but it will also cause you to reflect on deeper issues such as racism and bigotry. It is important to note that the big issues at the heart of District 9 are nowhere near resolved, which makes this a very poignant film indeed. Perhaps films like this will assist perpetrators of racial hate and violence to think on their beliefs a little more closely. Maybe in the future, this film will be a relic of once-held beliefs that have been overcome.

4/5
Watch the trailer here.

Maleficent (2014) Review

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Maleficent (2014)

Directed by Robert Stromberg

Based on La Belle au bois dormant by Charles Perrault & Little Briar Rose by The Brothers Grimm

Starring:
Angelina Jolie
Sharlto Copley
Elle Fanning
Sam Riley
Imelda Staunton
Juno Temple
Lesley Manville

Running time: 97 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
Maleficent explores the untold story of Disney’s most iconic villain from the 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty and the elements of her betrayal that ultimately turned her pure heart to stone. Driven by revenge and a fierce desire to protect the moors over which she presides, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) cruelly places an irrevocable curse upon the human king’s newborn infant Aurora (Elle Fanning).

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My Opinion:

Saw this today (it’ll be “yesterday” when this posts) and am still trying to decide how I feel about it. Overall, I think it’s pretty good. It starts out very strong then loses its way a little. There were things I thought were very good (Angelina Jolie), things I didn’t like so much (the story felt rushed) and, unfortunately, one thing I really hated (the good fairies). I’ll break it down a bit now and at the very end I’ll say how scary I think it is for those with kids although, of course, it depends on each individual kid & if they’re easily scared or not.

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I’ll start out with the good things about this. The best thing, by far, is Angelina Jolie. I’ve never been a huge fan of Jolie but I have to admit that she’s PERFECT as Maleficent. She looks great in this – they got the look of Maleficent so right. I’m actually a big fan of Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty. I know it’s dated in some ways (Sleeping Beauty herself is pretty insipid) but it’s a lovely looking film, Once Upon A Dream is a truly classic song, I LOVE the good fairies, and Maleficent is SUCH an iconic villain – I can certainly see why they’ve chosen her for her own movie. I don’t think Maleficent as a character is in any way damaged by this film. They’ve done an excellent job bringing her character “to life” in this movie & giving her a backstory and, of course, much more depth than in Disney’s 1959 version. It’s also nice that she’s such a strong female character. And I’m happy to report that Aurora is not so completely useless in this like she is in the 1959 film (although she’s extremely underdeveloped – more about that later).

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As I said, this movie starts out very strong. I really liked Maleficent’s backstory & seeing what turned her “evil”. I really liked the look of the film and was very much enjoying the first half of it. They managed to take a character who is one of the most evil Disney villains and did make her sympathetic. But here’s where we get into what some will like about this movie and others will hate…

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I’m doing my best to keep this review spoiler free but it’s a hard one to discuss in this way. I’ll say this: it VERY much changes the story in Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty. I admit I know very little about the original story but do know that the 1959 film bears little resemblance to it anyway so most everyone, like myself, will be comparing Maleficent to the 1959 Sleeping Beauty. The changes didn’t bother me – I see it as another interpretation. Others may not like it. I don’t know… I think the direction they took was a good one and made it feel less dated and “Disney-fied” (although, it’s fairly obvious where they’re going to go with the story). Sorry to be so vague but I don’t want to spoil anything. However, I will say that Maleficent DID ruin my absolute favorite thing about Sleeping Beauty: the good fairies.

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I hated them in this. They changed their names but kept their “colors” the same. Imelda Staunton was okay but I hated Juno Temple. Too young! I know I know – I’m comparing it too much to Sleeping Beauty in this case but, dammit – I love Flora, Fauna & Merryweather. They’re nitwits but they mean well and you can’t help but like them in Sleeping Beauty. In Maleficent, they’re just plain nitwits & I hated how they don’t seem to even really care about Aurora whereas they loved her in Sleeping Beauty. And they look pretty crap in Maleficent – I hated the look of them when they were small fairies. Ugh. Sorry to go on about this so much but they’re SO unlikeable in Maleficent! What a shame. It’s the only change that I hated, however, and I know that’s because they happen to be three of my favorite Disney characters.The other changes to the story were… Interesting. I liked them fine. But they’re very drastic changes so beware if you’re expecting Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

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Another problem I had with this was that in making Maleficent a sympathetic character, they went a little too far in making us not care about the other side. Things in life aren’t so black & white, which they’ve proved by taking Maleficent & making us feel for her. But that doesn’t have to necessarily make those against her “evil” either. They spent a lot of time developing the character of Maleficent and did a very good job but, unfortunately, we get hardly any character development at ALL with anyone else. The first half of the film focuses SO much on Maleficent that, by the time Elle Fanning shows up as the 16-year-old Aurora, the rest of the film goes far too quickly and we barely get to know Aurora at all. Her father, King Stefan, well… I don’t know how to discuss him without spoilers either. I also wasn’t crazy about the changes made with his character although I didn’t hate it as much as with the good fairies. I’m just not sure it fully worked. And Sharlto Copley really didn’t feel right for the role. But after such a set up for his character at the beginning, he ends up very poorly developed in the second half of the film. Really, the movie is too short. After such a promising start, the second half felt very rushed and needed far more character development for Aurora & King Stefan at the very least.

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Summary:

Maleficent starts out very strong with a magical look & feel and does an excellent job in developing its title character. Jolie is absolutely perfect as Maleficent – she was born to play this role. But, unfortunately, the second half of the film feels very rushed and all the other characters are very underdeveloped. Still, I think it’s much better than things such as Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland (which I hated), Oz The Great And Powerful (which I hated with a passion), and Snow White And The Huntsman (which I thought was okay). Maleficent definitely improves on these and seems like a step in the right direction but I felt that maybe too many “executive” types were pulling the strings, resulting in a film that was too short and therefore felt rushed & underdeveloped. Maleficent is a great character but I so wish they’d focused on the story and the other characters a bit more as well. Overall, it’s a worthy film and I enjoyed it although it drastically changes the story most of us know from Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty.

My Rating: 7/10

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Is It Too Scary For Kids?

First of all, I’m no expert on kids so don’t come back here & yell at me if your kid was too scared! As always, every kid is different so use your best judgement. This ended up actually not being as dark as I was expecting from the trailer. It’s more tame than the ones I mentioned above (Snow White & The Huntsman and Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland). It’s maybe about the same as Oz The Great And Powerful as far as how scary it is. There are three bits that are maybe pushing it a little (I’ll still try to stay spoiler free here). One is a battle at the beginning and of course the final stand off at the end. These two fight scenes are a little intense but of course you don’t see anything like blood and nothing is TOO violent. In my opinion, at least. A lot of very young kids seem to have seen the Harry Potter movies which, to me, I think are too scary for anyone under 7 or 8. I think Maleficent is far less scary than the darkest Harry Potters. The scariest bit involves a dagger in a scene very similar to 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I’d say this one scene would be the most upsetting to young kids but it’s brief and you’ll see it coming if you want to shield your kid from that one scene. As I say – I’m no expert and you have to judge things based on each individual kid as some scare more easily but I personally don’t think Maleficent is much more scary than some of Disney’s animated movies, which can be very dark. Bambi scarred me for life! 😉