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39 ** ? O ut of the Furnace – a serious slice of life drama of life in small town Pennsylvania steel mill country, and the limited options for life there. Christian Bale plays a decent, working class guy whose life takes bad turns as his father nears death, his younger brother returns from Iraq with a restless nature and post-traumatic stress syndrome, and a drinking and driving incident separates him from his family and girlfriend. Woody Harrelson is seething redneck menace as the unstable Harlan DeGroat – a murderous, gambling, drug dealer living in the hills of New Jersey Appalachia. While the film has some interesting scenery, and captures the sad lives of people in a dying town for a dying industry — it moves at a slow, steady pace and the storytelling offers few surprises or anything fresh. Despite its strong cast, we’ve seen these characters and situation before, and the movie sort of plods along in its hopelessness and inevitability.
40 ** 1/2 Elysium – One can’t help but wish that as much attention and detail was applied to the plotting and themes of this visually stunning sci-fi action film by the talented, Neil Blomkamp, director of the Academy Award nominated sleeper, District 9. But despite beautiful and interesting visuals throughout the film, the plot is almost disturbingly melodramatic. Earth is overpopulated and its citizens live in squalor and filth, while the wealthy now live in an beautiful paradise in orbit around the earth, where every home has a miracle bed that cures all disease and injury. The poor citizens of earth can only dream of the world that is out of their grasp. Matt Damon, an orphan turned thief, has tried his best to go straight on earth, but unspeakable conditions in his factory job irradiate him and condemn him to death. His only hope of course, is to get to Elysium and get healed. In doing so, he must carry the hopes of the rebel population that wants to ensure all citizens get their fair share of Elysium’s wonders. And (spoilers ahead), there is his long-time love, who has a child dying of cancer, so the stakes are even higher. Exactly what moral compunctions are faced by Elysium’s citizens are never explored. They have the good life and seem mostly oblivious to the plight on earth below. Their minister of defense (or whatever) is played by a bland Jody Foster, sporting an irritating, affected accent that ensures she’s part of no culture but her own. The stacked deck of the brave poor vs the heartless rich is nothing but a melodramatic conceit for a lot of exo-skeletan assisted slugfests, ramped up futuristic machine guns and weapons, and selfless sacrifice by…. well, you don’t need to be a genius to figure out how this film is going to end. Matt Damon is OK here, but its District 9 veteran, Sharito Copley who has the juciest and most interesting role, as a bad ass mercenary who will stop at nothing to accomplish his goals. He’s genuinely creepy and unpredictable. Unlike the rest of this rather mechanical and often shrill pseudo-social robocop variant. (The film’s ending — in which justice is heroically restored, and with a twist of a program reboot, elysium is reprogrammed so that every citizen on earth can be cured of all disease and ‘space ambulances’ begin to welcome people is ridiculously simplistic. The world’s trouble was allegedly due to overpopulation, and even if enough cures could be dispensed to the millions who have had no hope — isn’t that going to make all the problems due to overpopulation even worse? In the films simplistic social commentary, everything is lovely on elysium because these people have money and earth is shown as hopelessly littered with everything looking terrible and everyone living in squalid shitty little apartments. What? Just because you’re poor your apartment has to look like shit and no one ever picks up the trash? This movie would have been far more interesting if it dealt with the real problem here – and didn’t assume that redistributing the resources would solve everything and make the world a lovely place again. I am far from convinced by the simple feel-good ending!
41 ** 1/2 Pacific Rim – by what critical yardstick are we to judge a film that, after all, is about giant monsters emerging from the Pacific Ocean to destroy the world and the defense of mankind by Giant Robots piloted by two-man teams mind-melded together. Dare we say the sinister plans of the monsters from another dimension are a bit unbelievable? Hey! If we judge this by what it is — a loving tribute to Godzilla vs the Smog Monster by way of rock ‘m sock ’em robots — then give Guillermo del Toro credit for making a better film than the Transformer series. What kid doesn’t want to see giant dinosaur-sea beasts smash through bridges and buildings and duke it out with nuclear powered robots? And though the stars here are all monsters and giant machines, the screenplay does provide some credible human interactions and get you interested in the puny humans who are defending the world. There are no stars here but the actors do a good job blending macho bravura with stereotyped emotional baggage and some winking humor. The film sets itself as dramatic, but doesn’t take itself too seriously which is a relief. Del Toro wisely avoids telling the ‘origin’ story of this monster vs machine war and quickly moves past the backstory and into the action. The sheer scope of all the destruction and the amount of special effects is pretty staggering! And the monsters look pretty good too (though very Del Toro). CGI does a better job than the actors in rubber suits of the original ‘destroy all monsters’ pics. The robots feel a bit stiff though. (No pun intended). This didn’t thrill or excite me, but it didn’t bore me either, though at over 2 hours it did feel a bit long. One fewer battle sequence would probably have been welcome, but on a summer’s day it was a reasonable way to pass the time and enjoy the sheer scope of its nostalgic ambition.
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