Lisa Reviews An Oscar Winner: The Silence of the Lambs (dir by Jonathan Demme)


Oh, The Silence of the Lambs, I have such mixed feelings about you.

On the one hand, I’m a horror fan and Silence of the Lambs is a very important film in the history of horror.  Back in 1992, it was the first horror film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture!  It even made history by winning all of the big “five” awards — Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay!  It was the first film since One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and It Happened One Night to pull that off!

Beyond that, it’s one of the most influential films ever made.  Every erudite serial killer owes a debt to Anthony Hopkins’s performance as Hannibal Lecter.  Every competent but untested and unappreciated female FBI agent owes a debt to Jodie Foster’s performance as Clarice Starling.  Even though the whole criminal profiler craze probably owes more to Manhunter (a film to which Silence of the Lambs is a sequel, though that often seems to go unacknowledged) than to anything else, this Oscar winner still definitely played a part.  I mean, how many people watched Manhunter for the first time, specifically because Lecter mentioned the events in that earlier film in Silence of the Lambs?

Plus, this won an Oscar for Jonathan Demme, one of my favorite directors!  And while I’m sure Jodie Foster would have gone on to have a strong career regardless of whether she had played Clarice Starling or not, it’s generally acknowledged that Silence of the Lambs revitalized the career of Anthony Hopkins.  So for that, we should all be thankful.

And yet, it can be strange to watch Silence of the Lambs today.  All of the imitations (not to mention some ill-thought sequels and prequels) have lessened its bite.  I can only imagine how it must have freaked out audiences when it was first released but I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed the first time that I watched the film.  Looking back, I can see that disappointment was due to having been told that it were one of the scariest movies of all time but, because, I had seen a countless number of imitations, parodies, and homages, I felt as if I had already watched the film.  So, I wasn’t shocked when Lecter turned out to be ruthlessly manipulative and dangerously charismatic.  Nor was I shocked when he managed to escape and poor Charles Napier ended up strung up in that cage.  I’m sure that audiences in 1991 were freaked out, though.

Actually, as good as Foster and Hopkins and Scott Glenn are, I think the best performance in the film comes from Ted Levine, playing Buffalo Bill.  Seriously, Levine’s performance still freaks me out.  It’s the voice and the way he says, “Precious.”  Levine’s performance, I found to be a hundred times more frightening than Anthony Hopkins’s and I think it’s due to the fact that Hannibal Lecter was clearly an author’s invention while Levin’s Buffalo Bill came across like he might very will be hiding in an alley somewhere, waiting for one of your friends to walk by. (Interestingly enough, I had the same reaction when I first saw Manhunter.  Brian Cox did a good job as Lecter but he still came across as a bit cartoonish.  Meanwhile, Tom Noonan was absolutely terrifying.)  Levine has subsequently gone on to play a lot of nice guy roles.  He was a detective on Monk, for instance.  Good for him.  I’m glad to see he was able to escape being typecast.  Admittedly, I do kinda wonder how many serial killer roles he had to turn down immediately after the release of The Silence Of The Lambs.

Still, it’s a good film.  Time may have lessened it’s power but The Silence of the Lambs is still an effective and well-directed thriller.  It’s impossible not to cheer for Clarice.  It’s impossible not to smile at the fun that Anthony Hopkins seems to be having in the role of Lecter.  Jonathan Demme creates a world of shadows and darkness and still adds enough little quirks to keep things interesting.  (I especially liked Lecter watching a stand-up special in his cell.)  It’s the little details that makes the world of The Silence of the Lambs feel lived in, like Clarice’s nervous laugh as she gives a civilian instructions on what to do in case she accidentally gets trapped in a storage locker.  Even the film’s final one liner will make you smile, even though it’s the type of thing that every film seemed to feel the need to do nowadays.  It’s still a good movie, even if it no longer feels as fresh as it once may have.

Film Review: Hotel Artemis (dir by Drew Pearce)


Oh, Hotel Artemis.

I had such high hopes for you.

Hotel Artemis, you may remember, was initially released way back in June and, at the time, it was advertised as being some sort of nonstop action thrill ride.  The commercials made it look totally over-the-top and exciting, which was I wanted to see it.  Of course, I didn’t see it because …. well, actually I don’t remember what was happening in June that kept me from going to the movies.  But there had to have been something going on because I not only missed seeing Hotel Artemis in the theaters but I also missed Ocean’s 8 and Hereditary as well.

Well, regardless of why I missed it the first time, I did finally get a chance to watch Hotel Artemis earlier this week and, unfortunately, it turned out to not be anything special.  It’s certainly not terrible.  It has its moments and the film looks great but, at the same time, it’s hard not to feel somewhat let down by the film.  Hotel Artemis has promise but much of its goes unrealized.

The film takes place in one of those vaguely defined futures where there’s a lot of rioting and a lot of militaristic cops.  In fact, the film opens with Los Angeles in the middle of one such disturbance.  The riot scenes attempt to go for a Purge-style intensity but, for the most part, they just kind of fall flat.  There’s a lot of scenes of people yelling and occasionally, a police transport rolls by but, for the most part, there’s no danger to the film’s riot.  It’s all just a bit too obviously choreographed.  You never get the feeling that things could just randomly explode.

The Hotel Artemis is a combination of a hotel and a hospital.  It’s run by Jean Thomas, who is better known as Nurse and who is played by Jodie Foster.  Jean was once a doctor but, haunted by the death of her son, she became an alcoholic and lost her license to practice medicine.  Severely agoraphobic, Jean has spent 22 years inside of the Hotel.  She only treats criminals and other people on the fringes of society.  Helping her is Everest (Dave Bautista), who helps to keep order in the often chaotic hotel.

All of Jean’s patients are given codenames, based on which room their occupying in the hotel.  There’s Acapulco (Charlie Day), who is wealthy and short-tempered and who is waiting for a helicopter to come pick him up.  And then there’s Nice (Sofia Boutella), an international assassin who gets to beat people while wearing this red gown that is absolutely to die for.  There’s also Wakiki (Sterling K. Brown), who is a bank robber who is worried that his partner, Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry), is going to die from the wounds that he suffered during a robbery-gone-wrong.  Further complicating things is a gangster named The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) and Morgan (Jenny Slate), who needs Jean’s help but who also happens to be a cop.  Zachary Quinto is also in this film, playing the Wolf King’s son, because you really can’t make a pretentious genre film without giving a role to Zachary Quinto.

Anyway, there’s a pretty good action sequence towards the end of the film but it takes Hotel Artemis forever to get there.  Before that, you have to deal with a lot of talking but, unfortunately, none of the conversations are particularly interesting.  Hotel Artemis may clock in at 94 minutes but it feels considerably longer.  On the plus side, the cast is big and interesting but, on the negative side, nobody really seems to be that invested in their role.  It’s fun to watch Charlie Day play a bad guy but otherwise, the majority of the actors struggle with their thinly drawn (though certainly verbose) characters.  The majority of them struggle to convince us that they’re anything more than a group of talented actors slumming it in an action movie.  The fact that Jodie Foster received a good deal of praise for her performance in this film has everything to do with the fact that she’s Jodie Foster and little to do with anything that actually happens in the movie.

On a positive note, the movie looks great.  Visually, the Hotel Artemis is a fantastic creation that combines the decaying luxury of The Shining with the claustrophobic sterility of an underground bunker in a Romero zombie film.  (I’m thinking of the original Day of the Dead in particular.)  The Hotel itself is so fascinating that you can’t help but kinda resent that the film seems to be more interested in the boring people inside of the building than with the building itself.

Despite the superior production design, the film itself is slackly paced and never quite as a clever as it seems to think that it is.  Hotel Artemis is not a terrible film but it is a rather forgettable one.  It’s hard not to feel that it could and should have been a hundred times better than it actually was.

2016 In Review: Lisa Picks The 16 Worst Films of 2016!


Well, here’s the time that I know we’ve all been waiting for!  It’s time for me to reveal my picks for the 16 worst films of 2016!

(Why 2016?  Because Lisa doesn’t do odd numbers!)

Now, I should make clear that these are my picks.  They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the other writers here at Through The Shattered Lens.  In fact, I know that a few of them most definitely do not!

What type of year was 2016?  It was a pretty bad one.  There weren’t many memorable films released but there was a lot of mediocrity and disappointment.  Do you know why 2016 was so bad?  I think it’s because, if you add up 2 plus 1 plus 6, you end up with 9, an odd number.  For that same reason, 2017 is going to be much better.  If you add up 2 plus 1 plus 7, you end up with 10, which is an even number that can be cleanly divided.

So fear not!  2017 is going to be a great year!

For now, however, here are my picks for the 16 worst films of 2016!

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16. The Girl on the Train (dir by Tate Taylor)

15. The Fifth Wave (dir by J Blakeson)

14. Alice Through the Looking Glass (dir by James Bobin)

13. Jane Got A Gun (dir by Gavin O’Connor)

12. Mother’s Day (dir by Garry Marshall)

11. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (dir by Burr Steers)

10. The Sea of Trees (dir by Gus Van Sant)

9. Money Monster (dir by Jodie Foster)

8. Me Before You (dir by Thea Sharrock)

7. Independence Day: Resurgence (dir by Roland Emmerich)

6. Zoolander 2 (dir by Ben Stiller)

5. The Purge: Election Year (dir by James DeMonaco)

4. Paradox (dir by Michael Hurst)

3. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (dir by Zack Snyder)

2. Yoga Hosers (dir by Kevin Smith)

And finally, the worst film of 2016 … drum roll please ….

  1. HARDCORE HENRY! (dir by Ilya Naishuller)

Seriously, Hardcore Henry is one of the few films that I have ever had to walk out on.  I literally got physically ill while watching the film, largely due to the nonstop shaky cam.  Seriously — when your film’s selling point is a technique that literally induces nausea, you’re going to have some problems.  Now, before anyone leaves any angry comments, I did make it a point to go back and watch the rest of Hardcore Henry before making out this list.  Not only does Hardcore Henry feature a nausea-inducing gimmick but it’s also a rather uninspired and dull action film.

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(Feel free to also check out my picks for 2010, 2011, 2012, 20132014, and 2015!)

Agree?  Disagree?  Leave a comment and let us know!  And if you disagree, please let me know what movie you think was worse than Hardcore Henry!

Tomorrow, I will be posting my 10 favorite songs of 2016!

Previous Entries In The Best of 2016:

  1. TFG’s 2016 Comics Year In Review : Top Tens, Worsts, And Everything In Between
  2. Anime of the Year: 2016
  3. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I Saw In 2016
  4. 2016 in Review: The Best of SyFy
  5. 2016 in Review: The Best of Lifetime

 

Film Review: Money Monster (dir by Jodie Foster)


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In a perfect world, the new film Money Monster would feature a monster that was literally made out of money.  Its name would be Monblar and it would shamble down Wall Street and breathe coins made of fire.

Or, if not featuring a literal Money Monster, the film would at least open with the angry spirit of Andrew Jackson springing out of a twenty and seeking vengeance over being replaced by Harriet Tubman.  In order to defeat the bitter old president, it would be necessary to summon the spirits of both Tubman and currency hottie Alexander Hamilton.  Seriously, that would be a great movie!

Unfortunately, Money Monster is just another boring recession thriller.  I’ve lost track of how many bad movies have been released since 2008, all featuring saintly blue collar workers who are forced to resort to extreme measures as a result of losing all of their money due to corporate greed.  While they seek revenge by either pulling off a tower heist or an assault on wall street, villainous CEOs sit in their offices, smoke cigars, and laugh at the evil of it all.  In between the inevitable gunshots and the collapsing families and the evictions, there’s always time for a didactic speech or two.  And don’t get me wrong.  I’m not fan of Wall Street but I’m also not a fan of preachy movies.

George Clooney plays Lee Gates, who has a show called Money Monster where he tells people where they should invest their money.  Lee is charming.  Lee is glib.  Lee’s show features backup dancers, clips from old movies, and a rap theme song that is just so 2002.  At the start of the show, Lee even dances as Money Monster tries to convince us that Lee’s a hyperactive showman despite the fact that he’s being played one of the most laid back actors of all time.  Lee is totally unaware and/or unconcerned about the people who have occasionally lost their life savings due to his advice.

One of those people is a deliveryman named Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) and we know he’s a good, honest guy because his name is Kyle Budwell as opposed to Kyle Evilguy.  Kyle follows Lee’s advice to invest his family’s savings in IBIS Global Capital.  (At first, I thought that the company was called ISIS Global Capital and I was like, “Hey, you betray your country, you pay the consequences…”)  One week later, the IBIS stock crashes, Kyle is suddenly dead broke, The Big Short only manages to win one Oscar, and Hillary Clinton defeats Bernie Sanders in the New York primary.  What other choice does Kyle have other than to go on Lee’s show, force Lee to wear a bomb vest, and demand answers!

Yawn.

There’s not a single surprising moment in Money Monster.  I was going to say that you immediately know that IBIS’s CEO is evil because he’s played by Dominic West but actually, you know he’s evil because he’s a CEO and he’s appearing in a movie called Money Monster.  Meanwhile, you know that Kyle isn’t really a bad guy because he looks like likable, clean-cut, and handsome Jack O’Connell.  If Money Monster had any guts, it would have cast some fat 60 year-old slob with bad teeth in the role of Kyle Budwell.  Money Monster ends with a twist that you’ll guess within the first few minutes of film.  It’s an annoying twist, if just because it seems to assume that the audiences can’t handle moral ambiguity.

(Then again, there’s really no reason to assume that audiences can handle moral ambiguity so maybe Money Monster has a point…)

I suppose I should mention that Julia Roberts is also in the movie but there’s really no reason for her to be there.  She plays Lee’s producer, Patty, and there’s nothing about the role that demands it be played by a star.  There is a subplot about how, up until the Kyle takes Lee hostage, Patty had been planning on quitting her job but … well, who cares?  Whenever Patty and Lee talked, I found myself cringing and thinking, “Do we really have to sit through this conversation?”

(In all fairness to Money Monster, that’s actually my reaction to most conversations…)

Money Monster was directed by Jodie Foster.  It’s funny how we always assume that just because someone is a good actor that they’ll also be a good director.  For instance, Angelina Jolie has directed three mediocre films and yet, with the announcement of each new Jolie-directed movie, we still continue to assume that she’s eventually going to win an Oscar for her work behind the camera.  (Remember when Unbroken and By The Sea were being touted as guaranteed Oscar nominees?)  George Clooney has directed five films and none of them are really that good.  (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind only works because of Sam Rockwell’s performance.  Goodnight and Good Luck is overrated.  Leatherheads is boring.  The Ides of March is tedious and The Monuments Men is one of the worst movies that I’ve ever seen.)  Money Monster is Foster’s fourth film as a director and it’s almost as much of a tonal mess as The Beaver.  Then again, The Beaver was at least weird.  Money Monster was just boring.  Foster is an incredibly compelling actress and an incredibly blah director.

That said, you would think that Foster would at least be able to get good performances out of the cast.  As good as they often are, both George Clooney and Julia Roberts have actorly tics that they tend to fall back on whenever they’re working in the absence of a strong directorial vision and let’s just say that this is a very tic-filled film.  Meanwhile, poor Jack O’Connell is running the risk of turning into Taylor Kitsch.

Amazingly enough, Money Monster was this week’s “big” release.  Personally, I would recommend seeing Captain America: Civil War for a second or third time.  Now that was a good movie!

Money Monster

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #108: The Brave One (dir by Neil Jordan)


Brave_one_2007For our next entry in Embracing the Melodrama Part II, we take a look at Jodie Foster in the 2007 film The Brave One.  And…

Well, how to put this delicately?

I hate hate hate hate HATE this movie, with every last fiber of my being.  I hated it the first time that I saw it and I hated it when I recently rewatched it and right now, I’m hating the fact that I even decided to review this damn film because it means that I’m going to have to think about it.  I’m going to try to get this review over with quickly because, with each minute that I think about this film, I doubt my commitment to cinema.  That’s how much I hate this movie.  If I’m not careful, I’m going to end up joining a nunnery before I finish this review…

So, in The Brave One, Jodie Foster plays Erica Bain.  Erica lives in New York and hosts one of those pretentious late night radio shows that are always popular in movies like this but which, in real life, nobody in their right mind would waste a second listening to.  Erica spends her time musing about life in the big city and hoping that we can all just love one another and expressing a lot of other thoughts that sound like they’ve been stolen from an automated twitter account.

Erica also has a boyfriend.  His name is David and he’s played by Naveen Andrews.  That means that he looks good and he has a sexy accent and when he first shows up, you hope that he’ll stick around for a while because otherwise, you’re going to have to listen to move of Erica’s radio monologues.  But nope — one night, while walking through Central Park, David and Erica are attacked.  David is killed.  Erica is raped.  And their dog is taken by the gang!

(And the film doesn’t seem to know which it thinks is worse…)

When Erica gets out of the hospital, she is, at first, terrified to leave her apartment.  Or, at least, she’s terrified to leave her apartment for about five minutes.  But then she does find the courage to go outside and, of course, the first thing she does is buy a gun.  At first, she’s buying the gun for her own state of mind but, almost immediately after purchasing her firearms, she happens to stumble across a convenience store robbery.

Bang!  Bang!  Erica’s a vigilante now!

But, of course, she’s not really sure if that’s what she wants to be.  Even though she eventually ends up sitting on a subway and waiting for a guy to approach her so she can shoot him, Erica is still never really that comfortable with the idea of seeking vengeance.  And this is why I hated The Brave One.  The film is so damned wishy washy about Erica’s motivations.  Instead of allowing Erica to get any sort of satisfaction or emotional fulfillment out of her actions, The Brave One has her constantly doubting whether or not violence is the answer.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that violence is the answer.  But if you’re going to make a film about a female vigilante who is out looking for vengeance, why don’t you at least allow her to get some sort of empowerment out of her actions?  That doesn’t mean that the film itself can’t be ambiguous about what she’s doing.  But by having Erica constantly questioning her actions, it makes her into a weak character and it lets the men who raped her and the ones who subsequently threaten to do the same off the hook.  It allows them to be seen as victims, as opposed to products of a society where men are raised to believe that women will never fight back.

There’s a far superior New York-set film that has almost the same plot as The Brave One.  The title of that film was Ms. 45.  It was made for a hundred times less money than The Brave One and, at the same time, it was and remains a hundred times better.  (I previously wrote about Ms. 45 and The Brave One in my essay, Too Sordid To Ever Be Corrupted.)

The difference between the two films can be summed up by the film’s tag lines.  The Brave One was advertised with, “How many wrongs to make it right?”  Ms. 45 was advertised with: “She was abused and violated … IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!”   Ms. 45 features a vigilante who never doubts her actions and, as a result, she becomes a symbol not of violence but of empowerment.  Meanwhile, Jodie Foster is so constantly wracked with guilt and doubt that the film almost seems to be criticizing her for not staying in her apartment and trusting the police (represented by Terrence Howard and Nicky Katt) to do their job.

Oh!  And, of course, at the end of the film, Erica gets her dog back.  Because nobody ever permanently loses their dog in a big budget studio film…

And really, that’s why The Brave One is such a failure.  It takes a subject that was tailor-made for the grindhouse and attempts to give it the slick and self-important studio approach.  And part of that approach is that no one can be offended.  This is a film that both wants to celebrate and condemn at the same time.

And that’s why I say, “Give me Ms. 45!”

At least that movie knows what it wants to say…

Shattered Politics #39: Taxi Driver (dir by Martin Scorsese)


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We’ve never had a President named Charles.  We’ve had several Presidents named John and a quite a few named James.  We’ve even had three named George.  But we’ve never had a Charles.  We’ve come close.  Charles Evans Hughes nearly beat evil old Woodrow Wilson in 1916.  Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was nominated two times in a row by the Federalists but lost to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison respectively.  We’ve had three Vice Presidents names Charles — Fairbanks, Dawes, and Curtis — but never a President.

And, if we ever do elect a President named Charles, he’s probably go by either Charlie or Chuck.  The United States has always liked to think of itself as being a country that has no official royal family and, as a name, Charles probably sounds far to aristocratic for most voters.

That’s why I’m sure that, once U.S. Sen. Charles Palatine won the Democratic presidential nomination back in 1976, he probably insisted that people start calling him Chuck.  Of course, Sen. Palatine probably had no idea how lucky he was to win that nomination.  If not for a few secret service agents, Sen. Palatine could very well have fallen victim to a psychotic taxi driver named Travis Bickle.

Sen. Palatine’s presidential campaign is a major subplot of Martin Scorsese’s 1976 masterpiece of paranoia, Taxi Driver.  As played by an actor named Leonard Harris, Sen. Palatine appears to be the epitome of a politician.  He may smile at the right moment but his eyes are always shifty.  Even his campaign slogan (“We Are The people!”) is vapid in an all too plausible way.  (How different is “We Are the People” from “We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For?”)  For the most part, Palatine remains a remote figure, giving speeches and appearing in television commercials.  The only time that we get to know Palatine as a person is when he gets in a taxi being driven by Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro).

Travis recognizes him immediately and tells him that he tells everyone who gets in the cab that “they gotta vote for you.”  Palatine smirks a little as he asks Travis what he thinks the most important issue of the election is.  Travis goes on a bit about how someone needs to destroy all of the scum and filthy lowlifes who seem to populate Travis’s section of New York.  As Travis rambles, Palatine’s smile disappears and it becomes obvious that he’s realized that he is essentially being driven by a psycho.  Oh shit, Palatine is probably thinking, this guy is telling people that they gotta vote for me?  However, Palatine quickly regains his composure and assures Travis that the wisest people that he’s ever met have been taxi drivers.

Of course, what Palatine doesn’t realize is that Travis only knows about the campaign because he happens to be obsessed with a Palatine campaign worker named Betsy (Cybill Shepherd).  And Betsy even goes out with Travis a few times.  But then Travis, who spends the majority of the film showing how little skill he has when it comes to understanding and relating to other people, takes Betsy to an adult film.

With Betsy refusing to take his calls, Travis’s attention shifts to Iris (Jodie Foster), a teenage prostitute.  Obviously seeing himself as being a knight in shining armor, Travis tells Iris that she has to go back home to her parents.  As Travis talks, it becomes apparent that he’s simply repeating talking points that he’s heard on TV.  (If Taxi Driver was made today, Travis would be one of those people constantly sharing “inspirational” Facebook posts.)  Iris laughs at Travis and goes back to her pimp, Sport (Harvey Keitel).

And, of course, Travis goes even crazier than before.

38 years after it was first released, Taxi Driver remains a disturbing and powerful film.  However, what makes it effective is that, in many ways, it’s perhaps the darkest comedy ever made.  Throughout the entire film, Travis essentially tells everyone that he meets that he’s disturbed and potentially dangerous and, throughout the entire film, everyone seems to be determined to ignore all of the signs.

Critics always talks about the scene where Travis points a gun at his mirror and asks, “You talkin’ to me?”  And that’s a great scene.  It deserves to be famous, just as De Niro deserves all of the praise that he’s gotten for his iconic performance in Taxi Driver.

However, for me, there are two other scenes that are just as brilliant.  The first is where Travis attempts to get some advice from an older cabbie named Wizard (Peter Boyle).  Travis says he’s been having a lot bad thoughts.  Wizard shrugs and says that everyone has those.  What makes this scene particularly memorable are the lengths that Wizard goes to in order to avoid acknowledging that Travis is obviously disturbed.

And then, there’s the scene where Travis buys a gun from Easy Andy (Steven Prince).  Andy is such a salesman and is so nonchalant about all of his weaponry that, for a few brief minutes, Steven Prince actually manages to steal the spotlight from Robert De Niro.

Whenever one thinks about Taxi Driver, one automatically pictures Robert De Niro.  That’s why it’s all the more interesting that De Niro was not the first choice for Travis.  When Taxi Driver was in pre-production and a pre-Jaws Steven Spielberg (of all people) was thinking about directing it, Jeff Bridges as briefly attached to the role.  And while it’s always tempting to think about what a Spielberg/Bridges version of Taxi Driver would look like, I think we’re all right to be happy that the actual film was directed by Scorsese and starred De Niro.  They truly made Taxi Driver into one of the most memorable films ever made.

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Quick Review: Elysium (dir. by Neill Blomkamp)


elysium-firstposter-full2In 2009, director Neill Blomkamp gave us District 9, a quiet film that amazed with its visuals of an Earth populated by refugee aliens from space. Produced by Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, the film was a great success in some ways for both the director and its lead, Sharlto Copley. Both Copley and Blomkamp reunite in Elysium, also adding Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga, William Fichtner & Diego Luna.

I’ll admit that on seeing the film, I was impressed by the visuals, but my hype machine was cranked just a little too high. Any disappointments with the film are the result of my expectations after seeing the trailer. I thought I was going to see something similar to the upcoming game Watch Dogs, where maybe Matt Damon’s character would be able to hack & control a whole network, using it as he saw fit.  He’d flip cars, crash planes and cause all sorts of interesting mayhem. The kid in me jumped in his seat at the thought of that.

What I got, however, wasn’t quite that. It came off feeling like a cooler, much better written version of 1995’s Johnny Mnemonic. This isn’t a bad thing by any means. The first hour of the film was very solid, but the second half shifted gears somewhat (at least for me, anyway).

Elysium is the tale of Max Da Costa (Damon), a former car thief who lives and works on Earth in the year 2154. The world is divided into an even greater scale of the Have’s and Have-Not’s. Most live on the overpopulated planet under horrid working conditions, run down pavelas and broken down roads. Those who can afford it can buy a ticket to live on Elysium, a large habitat orbiting the planet, filled with Mansions and other luxury homes. The houses also contain medical systems that can cure any ailment. When Max suffers an accident on the job that leaves him with only 5 days left to live, his immediate goal is to get to Elysium to cure himself. With the help of his friend Julio, Max meets up with a former associate from his crime days for a job that could give him what he needs. In order to complete his mission, Max is outfitted with an exosuit that makes him stronger. Considering that most of his enemies are robot sentries, the suit becomes a necessary asset.

Elysium is protected by Delacourt (Foster), who makes sure that any unauthorized ship is diverted. When Max’s job directly intervenes with plans of her own, she enlists the aid of Kruger (Copley), a somewhat unstable mercenary to clean things up. Will Max be able to heal himself? That’s what you’ll need to see to find out.

Visually, the movie is pretty good. Elysium itself is a marvel. If there was ever a Mass Effect movie to be made, effects makers wouldn’t have any problems recreating the Citadel space station, based on what you see here. Robot Police using futuristic weapons are well rendered, though they don’t really have the cool factor of something like say, I, Robot or Total Recall. It’s minimal in some ways, but effective. For a budget of just $115 Million, Blomkamp and his crew knew where to put the money.

Musically speaking, I did a bit of searching and found that supposedly the score comes from newcomer Ryan Amon, who Blomkamp found on YouTube. The music does the film some justice, though it isn’t anything sweeping and grand. It does what it needs to for the film, at least that’s how I felt. I hope to see more in the future from Amon, actually.

Cast wise, Damon is effective as always and I’ll admit that I liked Jodie Foster in this one, though she didn’t seem like she was given too much to do. The same almost applies to Alice Braga, who plays Da Costa’s childhood friend, Frey. Both Diego Luna and Wagner Moura (as Spider, Max’s former associate) had some interesting moments. The standout by far is Sharlto Copley. His Afrikaans accent is pretty strong, and almost makes it hard for you to catch what he’s saying, but he’s creepy. If the Simpsons’ Groundskeeper Willy somehow caught rabies, his mannerisms would probably be what you get from Copley in this film. Very wild stuff there. He and the effects are the best parts of the film for me.

On the second half of the film, I felt as if the film shifted from a drama to an action film, but I don’t know. There was something odd about it. It wasn’t new for me – District 9 did the same thing in it’s 2nd half, but Elysium seemed as if with all the robots and all the guards, some of the events occurred just too easily and without their intervention. I didn’t get a feeling that there was danger around every corner, but that’s just me and it’s a very minor gripe on my part. There weren’t too many cheer moments for me (and by “cheer moments”, I refer to those scenes where you want to yell something but keep yourself in check – or forget to do so and yell anyway like with Pacific Rim). It was a little generic for me, despite the original and fresh elements leading up to it in the setting and Da Costa’s sense of purpose.

Overall, Elysium gives the audience an interesting situation, and populates it with at least 2 good characters (in Kruger and Da Costa). See it for the visuals and the solid first half, but don’t expect the story to be the best thing in the world. Just enjoy it for the escapism.