Review Roundup - Ringworld

ELYSIUM (2013)

I had a lot of hopes for this after District 9, possibly the kind that could never be fulfilled but ultimately those that ended up being dashed a little as the movie went on. The erratic, energetic style and the faux docu-drama camera work had a kind of ad libbed charm and an off beat sense of humour that was a big surprise at the time. Unfortunately the follow up doesn't really have any of those raw indie stylings, and it falls into too many clichés that should have been avoided. Perhaps they were unavoidable with Hollywood casting coming into play. That's not to say there isn't quite a bit of enjoyable stuff here, it's just frustrating that amongst the entertaining sequences and the great CG creations there's just too much clutter, the parts have been put together in a way that feels clumsy instead of refined.

Like it's predecessor, the design and art direction is pretty incredible. There's more of that dirty, worn out sci-fi aesthetic this time mixing shanty town slums with robotic police and space vehicles; it pops on screen in a very detailed, eye pleasing way. I'd have liked it to have spent more time exploring the dystopian world that had been created, but it pushes on quickly with the storyline and drops the quieter moments (a chat with a dead faced computerised parole officer is one of the best) in favour of more basic plot forwarding scenes and story points we've all watched before. After an accident Matt Damon is forced to break into the space colony where Earth's rich elite live in seclusion to save his own skin - but he's an ex-con with a heart and has to help some old friends along the way - and possibly even the people of the desolated Earth while doing it (yeah). It's really odd how quickly these elements take over from the more interesting stuff - the life saving health machines he needs are a weak plot device, and the political commentary is a lot heavier than District 9.

Damon's hero Max isn't very memorable and the other cast members vary; I have to bring up D9 again as Sharlto Copley shows up doing a twisted version it's protagonist, but it seems kind of forced here. Jodie Foster is the main villain giving him the orders but doesn't get anything memorable to do and has a very strange accent going on, which seems to represent the wealthy characters though it's unclear and I thought it seemed dubbed. It's an entertaining ride but problem is that despite good moments and some great effects, the more typical plot elements need editing down to smooth over the parts that are all too convenient or just incredibly trite. I still look forward to the next release by these film makers but this dampens things a little.




Things have got really bad when you start to wonder "maybe the Roland Emmerich directed White House movie would have been a better choice?" It's very tedious and the derivative wannabe Die Hard action mixed with a current affairs North Korea plot holds zero entertainment value. I expected more from the casting but this delivers on nothing. It get's one point for one good wise crack in the whole thing.


Review Roundup - None more dark


Due to the nature of it's recent history storyline, coupled with the portrayal of interrogation tactics at US Black Sites this is a difficult movie to digest as you'd expect. Jessica Chastain stars as "Maya" - the jawline that killed Bin Laden, and it's a fairly engrossing look into the grey and murky world of covert CIA operations. They sum it all up in one line which goes something like "find me some people to kill". That attitude runs through the whole thing and over the course of a decade her drive simply gets more icy in the face of dead ends, bomb blasts and machine gun fire - alongside department bureaucracy and doubting superiors. The level of realism on show here, and how much fact backs up the writing I can't say - but it is all done in a very engaging way that hooks in early after a slow start and doesn't let up.

The core cast around the lead heroine is all pretty solid, but her ever building determination holds it all together, with the mission becoming all she is ever shown thinking about (after 12 years it's not surprising). Part detective plot part spy thriller, the bulk of the narrative is at it's most basic just information gathering, but it never drags - and for want of a better cliché this is pretty edge of the seat stuff on many occasions as targets are followed and leads are chased. It keeps ramping up all the way to the climax, a tense night-vision showdown akin to Silence of the Lambs via Rainbow Six.

The morality of what's going on during the torture scenes and how the final assault goes down is never questioned. Perhaps the viewer is being left to judge, or perhaps they are simply for or against what takes place depending on how you look at the mission outcome - they get the job done but nobody is ever questioned about the methods or brought to task for being involved in the work they've done. American operatives switch roles to regain their links with "normality" while their prisoners are are simply "not getting out" and never talked about once the facilities are closed down - make of it what you will. It's cold and detached but this is possibly the point, if they were trying to make one. In the final moments there are no celebrations and no questions raised. The story is simply brought to a close, but it is a gripping and well made tale. 



LINCOLN (2012)

If you like people shouting "How dare you sir!" and having lots of historic debate scenes this is the good stuff. The accuracy is something I have no knowledge about besides the basics of the subject but the cast is very compelling. Daniel Day Lewis is impressive of course but I liked Tommy Lee Jones here a lot too. Nearly ever other scene is an anecdote or a speech of some kind but they are all well done even when some of the cursing could quite possibly be out of place in this time period. It does go a bit off course in the final moments trying to do something different with an outcome everyone knows is coming, but overall it's still a drama worth seeing.


Review Roundup - Sunstroke?


Why is this so long and drawn out? I appreciate an epic Western here and there and length isn't immediately detrimental to a story, but this outstays it's welcome by an hour - at least. There's a lean 90 minute adventure film here under all the chaff, but for whatever reason it's an exercise in flabby and impotent cinema. There are a lot of big pacing issues here which aren't helped by useless book end sequences set years after the story takes place, and it fails to either be a fun blockbuster or a serious drama - there's an identity crisis going on between the Disney style Johnny Depp mugging and the harder edged moments of the Old West genre.

Tonally the story is all over the place. Bordello scenes where prostitutes fire guns hidden in false legs (really) and comedy horse gags clash against bandit raids, railroad labour and moments where the big bad decides to eat part of his latest victim just for kicks. The pastiche and grit doesn't gel at all and it goes off the rails way too often, which is odd when they already have two separate train crashes in the plot. Outside the random elements of the script things don't improve much - the characters are instantly forgettable, as is the music outside the signature Overture theme. The titular hero is flat and doesn't get any kind of proper arc, while Tonto gets both drama and slapstick to deal with and neither works. Is he mystical or just cracked? Does it matter? It feels empty a lot of the time and so much should have been left on the cutting room floor to make it flow properly.

As a Summer action movie, it should have at least been punchy and slick, but the fleeting moments during some of the set pieces that feel engaging are rare - it's too much like struggling to cross a desert rather than the breezy ride I was expecting. It does look pretty good in places, the panoramic shots and real locations work nicely but in the end it's wasted. All that troubled development perhaps took it's toll, but that's no excuse for all the excess. Someone should have taken the reigns and decided what genre this was going to be. Besides, Gore Verbinksi already did a great western. It was called Rango.


Review Roundup - Would you care to step outside?


So I will go ahead and say it, Christopher Reeve is still Superman... but I didn't hate this. Something of a sticking point for some, but the ridiculously overblown violence, collateral damage and this kinda angsty version of the character isn't so bad despite me expecting the worst. You see Superman Returns is kind of a dud in reality and after the buzz of hearing John Williams blasting at me again had worn off, it just felt like a big lazy rehash of the 1978 movie that didn't add anything of it's own besides some questionable plot threads that will never be continued and some weird secondary casting choices. So this is something different at least on some levels, and the real problems are the writing rather than the darker outlook.

Darker, grittier, more intense? It seems like a mantra for many reboots and sequels particularly in this genre. After the latest Batman outings it was a predictable road map to where this would be heading with producers and writers reuniting, and things definitely hit that tone here. The mood is engaging for the most part, and the mix of flashbacks, action beats and space drama keeps things moving with a moderate pace. It does feel a little derivative at times of recent sci-fi concepts, particularly the Bioware Mass Effect series or some moments in the Star Trek reboot. The more detailed look does add that expected level eye candy at least, even when some of the effects don't hold up in every scene. The big action moments are pretty ludicrous at times, but I found them entertaining. It's fun to see superhuman abilities done with new technology, and despite the overblown violence I didn't feel it detracted so much from the story. The much talked about final moment in the last battle didn't appall me and offered more of a look at making impossible decisions. Unfortunately the script cuts the moment short and things move along to fast, the dialogue doesn't provide any kind of thoughts on what is taking place - as I will get to.

The cast is filled out pretty well, though without any particularly stand out performances. Cavill has his moments, he certainly looks the part - and Shannon does his stuff, but it's hardly Take Shelter. My issue is the writing here which doesn't provide the big character moments to balance the big spectacle. There isn't enough real discourse - Superman at one point literally says "I'm gonna stop you" without debate or flair. Charisma and banter has been dropped - the verbal sparring is lost to the hulk smashing, and ultimately I think there's a missed opportunity. Perhaps it's not the done thing now but I still prefer the comic tone of those Otisburg moments and kind of hammy "diseased maniac" villain scenes which have more flavour. Surely there's still room for that kind of thing in some guise? They've set things up for a new take on some of these ideas, but who knows if they can expand on them properly in the future. It's certainly a step up from the flat and hollow photocopies of 300 or Watchmen at any rate.