Elysium

(Neill Blomkamp, 2013)

with Dad and Mike Lavoie, Millerton Moviehouse, 8/14/13

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Alice Braga;Sharlto Copley

A maddeningly inconsistent movie, both in quality and in tone.  As a gritty, gory sci-fi actioner suffused with black humor, it’s tight and effective, but it keeps being hijacked by bursts of sentimentality, solemnity, and blindingly unsubtle political cant.  Elysium seems to think it’s an allegory, but when all you’ve done is change “Mexico” to “Los Angeles,” “The United States” to “Elysium,” and “modern medical care” to “instant magic healing,” you’re not so much building an allegory as you are just distorting facts.  Thank God for Sharlto Copley, whose turn as the grinning, amoral mercenary Kruger is electrically strange, menacing, and funny.  Though most of the other actors ham it up to one degree or another, none of them come close to matching Copley’s riveting madness.  Luckily, Matt Damon isn’t playing that game; instead, he plays every scene for keeps, in a restrained but forceful performance that reminds us why he’s a movie star.  Elysium‘s strongest asset might be its breakneck pace and refreshing sense of chaos; while most movies aim for graceful arcs and a certain comforting circularity, Elyisum seems to be spiraling out of control for almost its entire running time – but without degenerating into sheer randomness.  Nothing in this movie goes exactly according to plan, and it’s bracing to watch the various players – heroes and villains a like – scramble and improvise their way to survival, triumph, or doom.  Elysium should have been better, but it does have a fervid energy all its own, and that alone is worth celebrating.

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Published in: on August 18, 2013 at 12:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Blue Jasmine

(Woody Allen, 2013)

with Katy from OKCupid, BAM Harvey Cinema, 8/9/13

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In this flashback-ridden riff on A Streetcar Named Desire, Cate Blanchett’s enormous vitality in the role of the titular “Jasmine” is both seductive and dangerously close to mania.  Her performance anchors the movie, and gives it an urgency its backward-looking structure would tend to undermine.  There’s nothing terribly subtle about Blue Jasmine, but in the end I wasn’t sure how to take it.  Is it simply a portrait of a woman unraveling?  Or is it making a larger point about the way people – and women specifically – cling to romantic relationships as a badge of identity, in lieu of some deeper and more enduring purpose?  That second interpretation seems richer, because it draws an unexpected parallel between Jasmine and her sweeter, simpler adopted sister Ginger, but the movie’s final scenes don’t seem to vindicate it.  So what are we left with?  Some strong performances, some painfully funny moments, and a theme that doesn’t quite feel explored.

Published in: on August 11, 2013 at 1:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Wolverine

(James Mangold, 2013)

with Alex from Coffee Meets Bagel, Union Square Regal, 8/7/13

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A slick and serviceable mediocrity – and I mean that as a sincere compliment.  Ironically – but not unusually – this is an action movie in which the action is the weakest element.  Given a budget of $100 million (or whatever), how hard can it be to choreograph and shoot a convincing fight sequence?  Apparently, really, really hard.  Everything else is solid, or even somewhat better; Hugh Jackman, as he often does, brings real fervency and vulnerability to a potentially melodramatic script, and Tao Okamoto is a love interest worth loving – fierce, haunted, and absurdly beautiful.  Wolverine’s most formidable opponent in this film is the guilt he feels over killing Jean Grey (in X-Men: The Last Stand), and this internal struggle gives the movie a sense of purpose, and a sense of humanity, that we might not expect from a summer action extravaganza.  It’s certainly a damn sight better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Published in: on August 11, 2013 at 8:15 am  Leave a Comment  

World War Z

(Marc Forster, 2013)

with Juli Magnifico, Union Square Regal, 8/3/13

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Apparently, if a zombie outbreak ever occurs, our best hope will be the United Nations. In other words, we’re screwed.

The first thirty minutes or so of World War Z have such a visceral immediacy that the rest of the movie can almost coast on their effectiveness.  We’re placed on the ground at the start of a zombie outbreak, and the sense of danger and chaos is almost overpowering.  The frenetic camera work that was so out of place in Forster’s Bond movie (the best-forgotten Quantum of Solace) gives just the right feeling of disorientation here, and the filmmakers make good use of what we might call The Jaws Principle; the more fleeting our glimpses of the zombies, the more terrifying they are.  Things do become more plodding and predictable as the movie goes along, and the ending is a bit of a whimper, but World War Z is never anything less than a skillfully made, admirably taken-in-earnest thriller.

Published in: on August 10, 2013 at 11:34 am  Leave a Comment  

Red 2

(Dean Parisot, 2013)

with Chloe from OKCupid, Court St. UA, 7/28/13

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Clearly an excellent movie.

Clearly an excellent movie.

Silly to the core, but persistently entertaining.  Easy to watch, easy to enjoy, and really a good deal smarter than it needed to be, Red 2 is a B movie with an A-list cast – among whom I’ll single out Mary-Louise Parker, who deftly switches from slapstick to real, grounded emotion.  Did I mention I never saw the original Red?  It doesn’t matter.  This movie works on its own undemanding terms, and I feel no urge to complain about that.

 

Published in: on August 8, 2013 at 3:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Star Trek Into Darkness

(J.J. Abrams, 2013)

with Nicole from Coffee Meets Bagel, Union Square Regal, 7/23/13

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After you’ve rebooted a classic franchise, to great success and acclaim, what do you do for an encore?  That question hangs over Star Trek Into Darkness like a death sentence.  Despite a crackerjack villain in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch, and plenty of perfectly decent humor, action, and suspense, Into Darkness seems to lack a raison d’être – as if it’s just killing time between more vital installments.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a bad movie.  It’s just a transparently unnecessary one.

Published in: on August 8, 2013 at 8:44 am  Leave a Comment  

Winchester ’73

(Anthony Mann, 1950)

with Dad and Mom, Barn Screening Room, 6/24/13

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Jimmy Stewart is a badass.

Not quite an Art Western, but certainly a bit more oblique than we’d expect from its era and genre.  The film follows two main characters: Lin McAdam (Jimmy Stewart), a levelheaded tough guy with a sly sense of humor; and the titular rifle, which changes hands repeatedly, discarding unworthy owners until it finds its way back to the man it truly belongs to (no points for guessing who).  Winchester ’73 relishes detail, takes its time building tension, laments and also glorifies violence, and says a good deal about friendship, courage, and integrity along the way.  I may not exactly transcend the Western, but it does make gestures of transcendence.  Besides, just being a good Western is no mean achievement, either.

Published in: on August 8, 2013 at 8:35 am  Leave a Comment