Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley. Director: Neill Blomkamp
Elysium is clearly the work of the same writer/director as District 9, since it shares so many of that film's strengths and weaknesses. It looks sensational – its world and weapons solid and believable, but also cool in a sci-fi way – has a stand-out turn from Sharlto Copley, and has a political message less insightful than the film thinks it is.
Elysium is set in a not-too-distant future where earth is in the grip of extreme overpopulation and poverty. Except for a few very rich people who live on a luxury space station (in billionaire mansions with lakes and grass and waterfalls natch) called Elysium. More to the point, there is no noticeable healthcare on earth while on Elysium anyone can be cured on anything by hopping into what looks like a tanning-bed for five minutes.
So when Matt Damon suffers an industrial accident and has days to live he must join the rebels to try and “break into” Elysium and smash the system. As you do.
Foster is rather underutilized as the meanie in charge of Elysium security, Copley is wonderful as her aggressive enforcer and Damon is reliably impressive as always. In all ways this is a well-made and engaging action thriller, a fun night for the family. Just don't scratch too much below the surface for political meaning.
Magic and magicians are problematic on screen. The reason that there are so many TV shows of “street” magicians is that the surrounding public “prove” that it's not just TV fakery. Now You See Me suffers severely from this. It has a great cast – Jessie Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and more – and an ultra-slick twisty story about four expert magicians who want to... well, do something, we don't quite know what. Turns out that under the pacey ride is a lot of lazy nonsense and a plot that intellectually betrays everything the audience invests in. The tag line is absolutely true: “The closer you look, the less you'll see.”
There is a certain danger when reviewing a lot of films constantly that you over-praise a film for originality. Just because it stands out. It's only later you realise that originality was its only merit. That may possibly be the case with John Dies in the End which is why, despite thinking it is brilliant and the most fun I've had all month, it's not “Pick of the Week”. What can I say? It's from the director of Phantasm and the amazing Bubba Ho-Tep, and has Paul Giamatti, time travel, a mind-altering drug called soy sauce, exploding monsters, an alternate universe, more twists than a really twisty thing and more laughs than should be legal. Fantastic!
The Croods must have looked great in 3D. Even in 2D every minute of Dreamworks new animation has stuff bursting from the screen in the story of the eponymous caveman family led by Nicolas Cage's ultra-cautious patriarch and centring on the rebellious teen daughter (Emma Stone). An earthquake has them falling into an exotic Avatar-style world filled with wondrous flora and fauna where excitement and adventures ensue. The film's kitchen sink approach, throwing in gags of every style – slapstick, satire, whatever's going - actually works, while the visuals are dynamic and fresh.
Appearing to all intents and purposes like a full-bore trashfest – Battle Royale meets The Running Man - The Human Race immediately wrongfoots viewers by coming on all arty. It even opens with some subtitled dialogue explaining the rules of the deadly running game that eighty abducted people must take part in. And which only one can survive. Further disorientation comes when a character set up to be major is immediately killed. It's an audacious start and the film continues to deliver, with rule-breakers' heads soon exploding all over the place. But this is no grindhouse parody: it's seriously brutal, unforgiving and nasty.