TBT: The Waterboy (1998)

Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 2.38.53 PM

To round up August TBTs I really would like to review a football movie in light of the upcoming season that has somehow invited itself upon our doorstep. Yes, the end of August, for me anyway, is quite exciting for reasons beyond upcoming movie releases. This weekend, my Tennessee Vols (Shout Out!) #GBO #YOVO (“You’re Only a Vol Once”) shall play their season opener, wherein we will probably be whooping some ass, seeing as though the first game is always a one-sided affair to give the host an extra boost of confidence and maximize the crowd’s enjoyment to kick things off. So, with the beginning of the fall sports season occupying about as much space in my mind from here on out as the movies will be, I figured this would be a good theme for this week. Of course, this particular film selection is sillier than all Hell, but it still qualifies for one of my more memorable football/sports films to date. And, in a way, this will be a throwback to the glory days of Adam Sandler’s career, before he became (or tried to become) more serious, more mature and clearly, less creative. R.I.P. Good Adam Sandler. 

Today’s food for thought: The Waterboy.

The-Waterboy-movie-poster

Release: November 6, 1998

[VHS]

Bobby Boucher (Sandler) may not have much going on inside his head, but he does serve one very important purpose, and my, how passionate he is about that purpose: providing his football team the necessary water they need to stay hydrated. Getting constantly heckled and made fun of doesn’t really bother Bobby much (at least he doesn’t show it at first), and it sure doesn’t bother head coach Red Beaulieu (Jerry Reed) until one day he decides to make an example out of Bobby and unceremoniously relieve him of his duties at the fictionalized University of Louisiana, citing him as “a distraction to his players.”

When Bobby is then picked up later as a waterboy for an in-state rival team, the South Central Louisiana State University Mud Dogs, the head coach, Coach Klein (played by none other than “The Fonz”) notices the new-hire to harbor a particular talent that could be more useful on the field than off of it. He soon convinces Bobby to start playing for his team, seeing in him a potential for getting his coaching mojo back since his genius playbook was stolen by his sworn enemy, Beaulieu some years back.

Klein discovers an incredible tackler in Bobby Boucher, the awkward albeit friendly simpleton who has been sheltered all his life by his overbearing mother (Kathy Bates). Klein encourages the kid to take out his frustrations on the field, and channel all that energy into being the best tackler he can be. And because Henry Winkler is. . . .well, Henry Winkler, a really strong and memorably bond is formed between this coach who’s lately been unsure of his coaching skills and the newest member of the team.

waterboy01-large

“Hmm….how to take down an entire offensive line of Fonz’s. . . ?”

Of course, this is an Adam Sandler flick. An early one, but still a Sandler flick. That means this film is more formulaic than Baby Gerber’s. Bobby gets booted from one team only to join another, finds a special talent, hones it while at the same time proving to his teammates he belongs after they initially reject him, and he goes on to become the team’s hero. Why, of course this movie is going to be unrelentingly dumb. It’s going to be predictable from the beginning. Yet, the core of the entertainment usually lies within Sandler’s colorful characters, and his Bobby Boucher is no exception. He’s a special kind of Southerner, one with a small brain but a big heart. And all the while he’s poking fun of the over-juiced jock/football player. You can’t exactly call this genius work, but there’s no way you can deny him the creative bit.

Another Sandler custom is that one can always be sure to be introduced to a few similarly-ridiculous characters that somehow make Sandler’s character more likely to fit in, if given the right moment. Case in point, there’s the usual cast of friends to work beside Sandler and provide for him the typical goofy, puerile atmosphere. He enlisted the help of Jonathan Loughran (Sandler’s personal assistant on every set); Peter Dante; Allen Covert; Rob Schneider; and some others to bring that familiar Sandler circus to the sidelines. As is also customary in a Sandler flick, there’s likely to be a few stand-out cameos as well. This time, he convinced sports commentators Jimmy Johnson, Brent Musberger, and Dan Patrick to get in on the action and they apparently seem to embrace his school of humor as they each deliver one-liners that are more often than not hilarious.

Sandler does make it easy to rail against his films, but The Waterboy will forever be one of his best efforts. It is unapologetically stupid and impressively redneck, yes that’s true. But it is a fan-boatload of fun. How can anyone hate someone who commutes to and from his job via lawn mower? This is a guy who makes John Deere look like a legitimate lifestyle! As the water boy slowly makes a name for himself, he finds a girl to stand beside him (Vicki Vallencourt — this movie features some classy names, by the way), and eventually the entire community that is South Central Louisiana has the water boy’s back as he takes the team to a title game against the dreaded Beaulieu and the Cougars. Again, it’s the rise to fame that you’ve seen depicted a million zillion times before, but nonetheless it’s about as endearing as Sandler has or ever will be.

How the times have changed.

3-0Recommendation: Any fan of Sandler’s has already bought a copy of this and has watched it to death. If you haven’t already seen this you’re likely to never get to it, which is quite alright. It would seem the ‘Recommendation’ section has never felt more redundant. The movie features Adam Sandler at his most idiotic, but hey — I’ll take this over his recent fumbling attempts to be more family-oriented. (How Grown Ups is meant to portray adult life in the mind of Adam Sandler is beyond me.) In my eyes, you don’t really get much more vintage Sandler than The Waterboy. Filled with stupidity, the movie is also somewhat sweet; plus, it makes a redneck bon mot out of the sport of football, making the SEC look even better than it already is. And, of course, in the spirit of the season, LET’S GO VOLS!!!!

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 90 mins.

university-of-tennessee-neyland-stadium-university-of-tennessee-athletics

Welcome to Big Orange Country

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

You’re Next

100904_gal

Release: Friday, August 23, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Men in animal masks descend upon a dinner party tucked away in a secluded mansion in the forest. When one guest manages to outlast the many vicious assaults, the identities of the assailants as well as the motives for all the bloodshed come into question.

You’re Next combines good old-fashioned gore with a surprisingly clever conceit to build a film that is more dark comedy than horror. While I’ve debated exactly what makes ‘horror films’ “horrifying” these days (blood and guts aren’t scary, that stuff’s just gross), it seems director Adam Wingard, along with writer Simon Barrett, were keen on trying to reinvent the term. They came close, but not quite. Still, the resultant film is a ton of fun and deserves more attention than it’s probably getting.

Beginning fairly inconspicuously, the family slowly starts to come together to celebrate the 35th wedding anniversary of Crispian (AJ Bowen), Drake (Joe Swanberg), Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and Kelly (Margaret Laney)’s parents. Though the acting starts off on the wrong foot, the atmosphere remains relatively tense since a few members of the family — notably Drake and Crispian — don’t get along very well. As dinner conversation goes from civilized to more hostile, strange things are happening outside and in a single, brilliantly directed moment chaos erupts. From here on out, you can start to expect a body to drop about every other scene. The blood starts to flow quite freely, and things in the Davison family will never be the same again. That’s putting it mildly, too.

The family is under attack from at least three men — one in a lamb mask, another in a tiger mask and the third in a fox mask. (I actually thought one of those was a bear, but still. The masks are effectively creepy either way.) The masked murderers apply a variety of hunting skills to the task at hand, which is essentially to wipe out this entire gathering of seemingly innocent people, wielding crossbows, machetes and axes as their weapons of choice. However, as the narrative continues to unwind and the body count rises, we are provided some unexpected twists — here, ones that are used to serve great purpose rather than being thrown in to oblige a post-Saw horror audience — that shake up the entire dynamic of this particular home invasion story.

Impressively, the acting throughout You’re Next does not greatly improve. . . .yet the movie itself does, and by quite a large margin. Relying mostly on emotional reaction shots in response to the (often grisly) death of someone close to them, Wingard and company don’t need award-worthy performances from the cast to carry this story forward. The further we go, the more complicated the morality play at work becomes. Character motivations become the only thing that truly separate this from a plethora of other home-invasion type thrillers. The violence is nothing spectacularly original — though it is often accompanied here by a laugh or two, which is attributable to the brilliant writing of one Simon Barrett (who wrote segments for V/H/S 1 and 2); and the hits always come at a time when it feels. . . right. I feel a little like a psychopath saying that, but when you watch this film, tell me you do not agree.

Though the film is limited (more or less) to a single building, the drama is never less than compelling. It also should be emphasized that there is more drama than terror; more twisted, dark humor than profuse bloodletting for profuse bloodletting’s sake. Because the film borrows elements from dramas and thrillers, there is an unusual gleefulness about watching so much gore unfold. Adding to that the fact that hardly any of the characters are all that likable aside from the crucial role that Sharni Vinson plays as Crispian’s girl, Erin, and You’re Next suddenly becomes a wildly entertaining, fun ride. It was absolutely a pleasant surprise and it begs the question of why can’t more horror films be like this.

Then again, that could very well diminish the novelty of Wingard’s take on horror/home invasion movies. For now, I’m perfectly content with the fact that this movie has rekindled my enthusiasm for the genre, and why anyone should pay to see them.

yourenext-2

3-5Recommendation: For fans of the genre, this is a must-see. For anyone else who’s dubious about putting themselves through an hour and a half of brutal violence, you should still go see it. Never before has violence and death seemed so. . . necessary? Maybe necessary’s not the right word; but it sure is satisfying watching it here. You’re Next successfully has made a break for a wider audience, and, much like James Wans’ incredibly successful The Conjuring, this film has proven that 2013 has made a concerted effort to add substantial entries into ‘Horror.’

Rated: R

Running Time: 94 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Blue Jasmine

103398_gal

Release: Friday, July 26, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Blue Jasmine is the film that has officially given me a reason to side with some harsh detractors of the Woody Allen school of film. Provided that I’ve only seen two of his films (To Rome With Love being the other) I can’t say definitively whether I fully embrace his films but I appreciate his style — and moreover, his output. He’s one of those movie-per-year kind of directors, and has harvested a massive crop of films that have yielded above-average, if not phenomenal levels of commercial and critical success over the past couple of decades.

The primary complaints lodged against this director’s repertoire involve the following: a stuffy atmosphere, central characters that are difficult to like and/or defend, and a narrative that tends to meander quite a lot relative to the overall runtime (most Allen movies clock in at barely over 90 minutes). While this most recent love story amply evidences justification for such criticism, no trait makes itself more apparent than the second — the fact that Allen likes to work with ‘unlikable’ characters. In fact, it was so difficult to sit through the trials and tribulations of this cast of down-and-outers that it got to the point where the overall movie became a chore to watch. And that is an incredible disappointment considering all the high hope I was bringing with me into the theater.

But before anyone begins to panic and think this is about to be another rant-review, I have to put this out there: I don’t own any Louis Vuitton handbags. There, I said it. I have outed myself as not the target audience for this one.

Nor do I really care much about Louis Vuitton. Or the fashion world. Or high society. Or Alec Bald….okay, yeah, maybe Alec Baldwin. However, and it must be said that it’s not always imperative that a viewer be impressed by or even care about the movie’s choices in thematic elements, this is a film where it really wouldn’t hurt to have some interest in them. Allen’s signature quirky eye isn’t to blame for the sheer lack of enjoyment, nor is the acting really. In fact, Cate Blanchett is almost too convincing here. She is a full-blown alcoholic and more than a little unstable as Jeanette “Jasmine” French, a woman who’s been sent crashing down to Earth after her recent marriage ended in an FBI investigation and has rendered her with no other option but to move in with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who is living a more modest life in San Francisco.

No. Blanchett turns in one hell of a performance as Jasmine. Though she could not have irritated me more with the requisite snootiness of a woman displaced from her lavish lifestyle in New York, I could appreciate the level to which the actress had physically and mentally embraced this emotionally fragile state of just such an individual. One particular highlight is the fact that Jasmine goes off on tangents and talks to herself in public, appearing at times like a complete and total nutcase. Indeed, she’s an interesting character even if she doesn’t do a single thing that’s admirable in the slightest.

However, the narrative is shifty, often confusing and occasionally jarring as it darts back and forth between significant past events and catching us up with Jasmine’s mounting despair as she lives with her sister in the present. In spite of things she forges attempts to “better herself,” and move on with her life. That, and. . . well, the rest of the cast are not exactly a likable bunch, either. Featuring Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard, Andrew Dice Clay, and Bobby Cannavale, Blue Jasmine truly plucks the apples who have fallen the farthest from the tree, if truth is to be told here. C.K. plays the potential future love interest for Ginger, during a bout of overconfidence brought forth by Jasmine as she brings her along to a party to meet guys and officially put themselves back on the market. Spoilers come from explaining his character, but let it be said that he provides a great example of how Allen likes to give his characters layers. For as brief of a time C.K. is involved, he makes a big impression.

The Diceman makes his insanely inconspicuous appearance in the extensive flashback scenes, playing the ex-loser boyfriend of Ginger who also happens to be upset with her sister. And then there’s of course Bobby Cannavale as the current boyfriend, Chili, who appears to be nothing more than the next pick out of the abusive boyfriend pile. He’s a volatile, aggressive and moody guy who can’t help but cry in public when things don’t go his way. He demonstrates Ginger’s taste in men quite clearly and is perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects to this film. The one-man island of amiable characters lies within Peter Sarsgaard’s Dwight, a man whom Jasmine bumps into at that same party — an aspiring Californian congressman who Jasmine takes to quickly because of his high aspirations and warm personality. Aside from him though, everyone else is some varying degree of sleazy, miserable or just plain drunk.

But supposing these are the attractive qualities to the latest from Woody Allen. Did I just miss the boat with this cast or something? Maybe I am overlooking something critical in my evaluation here but it seems that in order to enjoy a movie, it’s a good idea to have at least a couple characters to root for. That’s decidedly not the case here. Not to mention, there are more than a few moments throughout the film that are simply stressful and uncomfortable.

All around, this is likely to be one of his least-appealing Woody Allen offerings given the vast amount of time one is likely to spend wondering just how the hell this woman is going to make anything of herself in her frenzied state. The film is somewhat unforgiving in that regard. At times, you just would like to see the poor woman rest and escape all of her problems (that is, without reaching for a bottle of vodka). Blanchett really humbles herself with this unattractive person she’s just turned herself into. Allen here seems content enough to watch his cast squirm under the crushing weight of sobering realities. Unfortunately, he also crushes any hope for enjoyment at the same time.

bj-2-hehe

2-5Recommendation: I didn’t enjoy this at all, but then again, I found myself well outside of the intended audience for Blue Jasmine. As the central character is somewhat obsessed with fashion and interior decorating/design, perhaps those who find themselves engaged in those things in the real world will find great enjoyment in Blanchett’s whimsical attempts to become reintegrated into that lifestyle. Though, for those who don’t particularly care to watch someone suffer for the duration of a film — even if that person has brought it upon themselves — it’s best to stay away.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “Anxiety, nightmares and a nervous breakdown, there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.comhttp://www.imdb.com 

The Spectacular Now

103934_gal

Release: Friday, August 2, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Miles Teller had but one chance left to impress before I completely wrote him off as an actor who may have talent, but is perpetually doomed to recycling poor role choices. Even though his resumé may be limited, there’s enough to notice the pattern of him being typecast as the boisterous, most extroverted alpha male in the room. Never one to take anything seriously, the 26-year-old Teller in drunken fiascos like 21 & Over and Project X has been highly unlikable and the movies themselves never led me to believe the kid could really act. Fortunately, that opinion needs to be amended, now that I’ve seen his work in The Spectacular Now, an unusually refined story that shows a young couple falling in love and dealing with the complicated realities of being on the cusp of adulthood. Yes, it’s a coming-of-age story, but not one you’ve seen before.

Teller takes on a more civilized version of his once-and-future frat boy persona. Where he was once trying much too hard to channel his inner John Belushi circa Animal House with his high-spirited debauchery and general disregard for anyone around him (including his friends), his Sutter Keely is dressed in a decorum which really goes the extra mile in this new film from James Ponsoldt. While he’s still not my favorite element to the film (that recognition goes to Shailene Woodley’s stellar performance) this guy is a much more likable person and is one that is easy to get behind and root for. Finally.

Sutter’s that kid who refuses to think about the future. He lives very much in the moment, which is typically a healthy practice, but for him it’s become a mindset that has eroded more of his potential than fulfilled it since he seems content to just drift by in school, at his job and even in his relationships, all while embracing being king of high school — even if that is a clock that is set to expire pretty soon. Of course, he knows that, so isn’t that even more reason to remain in the here-and-now?

After a fall-out with his ex, Sutter goes on an inexplicable drinking spree (how does anyone get away with serving this kid when they know he’s underage?), gets tanked and drives home, which results in him laying in someone’s front yard, and being discovered by a concerned passer-by early the next morning. Thanks to his reputation, the girl immediately recognizes him, but he can’t quite put a name to this pretty face. She introduces herself as Aimee Finecky (Woodley). Call the rest history.

The film tumbles into a fierce love story between the two young stars that is intensely captivating. At a certain point, the performances and direction work so seamlessly that the script seems to be relegated to more of a guideline-type role and the real human element, the gut instinct, takes over. Being a teenager on the cusp of adulthood, facing real-world problems suddenly with secrets being revealed about one another’s own families and their histories, there’s no doubt that in particular Sutter and Aimee’s transitional year from high school to. . . . . whatever comes next. . . is particularly turbulent. Well, more like explosive, and Ponsoldt was adept in capturing as many sparks as he could. The fact remains that while teenagers do “have it made” more or less, there’s a lot to figure out about one’s self this early on. This film utilizes that time period to explore some deeply personal and complex emotions and head spaces.

In the end, it’s the details that really arrest. From discovering certain underlying reasons as to why Sutter drinks just so damn much; to him convincing Aimee that she needs to quit doing the paper route for her mom (“Mom, get off my motherf**king back!” being one of the movie’s more memorable lines); to what happens on the side of a road one fateful night. The film is a complete tour-de-force as far as the emotional spectrum is concerned. It’s almost a little bi-polar — but that term doesn’t sound good, so we’ll just go with extremely moody. At the same time, it’s a complete package. The ups are terrific and moving, while the low points almost break you to pieces. The last thing I thought I would be doing would be nearly coming to tears concerning Teller’s character at one point.

At the end of the day, with me being completely nonplussed by Teller’s previous output and then being blown away by his performance here — that’s saying something. However, it should also be mentioned that he’s got plenty of great material surrounding him, but it’s obvious he has stepped up his game for this role. He’s really quite likable and to me that was one of the largest payoffs. With that said, the rest of the cast is simply wonderful as well and the movie benefits tremendously from top-notch work turned in by all.

tsn-1

4-0Recommendation: This is an emotional rollercoaster and if this had a massively long queue lined up for it, it’s surely worth that wait. The cast bring career-defining performances (although for Woodley, she started off on an equally impressive foot with her work in The Descendants) and the events that go down here are all but guaranteed to affect everyone in attendance substantially. If not, then those are some pretty cold-hearted moviegoers. And I pity the fool(s).

Rated: R

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “What do you mean? Everybody’s got a story.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

new-tbt-logo

I love the TBT of this week. Few contemporary flicks seem to really be able to pull off the right amount of raunchiness and sentimentality. Most end up being too much of one or the other, which isn’t to dismiss them as ‘bad’ films, per se, but it just seems a large number of films in the rom-com genre favor sensation over sensibility. In other words, rom-coms typically are forgettable experiences. But when these kinds of films err on the side of being more ‘sensible’ — in terms of actually caring about the plights of their characters and finding a satisfactory conclusion for him/her/them — an entirely new experience emerges and we get movies that make us think twice about things.

Today’s food for thought: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

forgetting_sarah_marshall_movie_poster-1721

Release: April 18, 2008

[DVD]

Poor Peter. He’s just been dumped by his Red Carpet-worthy girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) — the star of a raunchy and ridiculous murder-mystery T.V. series, Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime. At first, Peter (Jason Segel) shows some sense of emotional fortitude when he first hears the news from her when he claims he wants to hear what her reasons are and what he can do to make her stay. Then he becomes naked and everything falls to pieces when he learns of the real reason — “the other guy” reason — and thus, the opening shot of the film.

Segel goes from starring in hit T.V. shows to writing his first (hit) film with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a romantic comedy that tells of a man who’s just been heartbroken and doesn’t see any point in trying to date again anytime soon. . . that is, until the next amazing girl (Mila Kunis) walks into his life and changes his outlook for the better, forever.

In his devastated state, Peter strikes out to find happiness (if it exists) elsewhere. After embarrassing himself at a club one night, he finally goes to Hawaii to shake off the gloominess, and hey — what are the odds! Sarah is vacationing on the same island with her new boy-toy. He immediately wants to leave but then realizes that would make it seem like he’s running away from her, so stubbornly he decides to stay put even when he catches her fooling around with the other guy more than a few times. Just when things seem to be as depressing as they’ve ever been, Peter slowly starts to make friends with some of the locals, including the gorgeous woman who works the front desk at the hotel in which he’s staying. His misery has become so public that she offers him the most expensive suite in the building, a room typically reserved for “people like Celine Dion and Oprah,” and says that he can stay there so long as he cleans up after himself. Clearly it is a gesture out of pity. Peter awkwardly obliges.

However, the longer he stays around the island, the more he finds himself truly connecting with this new girl, Rachael (Mila Kunis), and it’s not long before he finds himself falling for her. She’s cautious about Peter’s forthcoming interest since her past is not exactly free from complications, despite the fact that she lives on the incredible Hawaiian beachfront. Regardless of circumstances — in fact, part of the intrigue here is that maybe it’s in spite of them — the two form a friendship that ends up going much deeper and is one that’s genuinely romantic and believable. There’s a great chemistry between the two actors that should and could afford them more opportunities to work on other projects together in the future.

Perfectly satisfying on most levels, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is both sweet and painfully funny, in equal doses. It has a host of funny supporting roles, the most memorable of which belongs to Russell Brand, as he introduces a character which would end up spanning a couple of films (Get Him To The Greek being the other). His loose-cannon, sex-obsessed and incredibly egotistical Aldous Snow is incidentally the one Miss Marshall cheated on Peter with. Jack McBrayer plays a man unsure of his recent decision to get married; his wife (Maria Thayer), however, is obsessed with him and the two form a highly uncomfortable pair that is both hilarious and somewhat disturbing to watch. They represent something of an anomaly when it comes to thinking how newlyweds might behave on honeymoon. . . in Hawaii. . .

Predictable as it may be, the film is successful in rising above the deep, trope-filled waters of the rom-com genre by providing a sharp, witty script, affable characters in Peter and Rachael, and gorgeous settings. That, and a very strange, albeit memorable, ending. For a first-time writer cred, Segel’s name could be attached to much, much worse. This movie, and later his writing of The Muppets, seem to be the promising beginnings of a career in film writing for the man as well.

fsm1

3-5Recommendation: For those who haven’t already checked this out, it’s practically a must-see (if you are into the romantic-comedy, that is. . . this likely won’t change your mind if you’re firmly opposed). Segel and Kunis offer great laughs and some heartwarming moments together, and the supporting cast is very capable as well. One of 2008’s best comedies.

Rated: R

Running Time: 118 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Lee Daniels’ The Butler

105613_gal

Release: Thursday, August 15, 2013

[Theater]

I think the real question here is, “Is it pretentious for the director to include his name in the title of the movie?” Or is it just pretentious to think about this being pretentious? Perhaps I’ll address that later Nick addresses this down below in comments, but in the meantime — the answer to the first is a resounding “Heck no.” Daniels’ film, featuring Forest Whitaker in a possible career-defining role, is both a heartwarming and tragic epic that unfolds similarly to Robert Zemeckis’ multiple-Oscar-winning Forrest Gump in that we visit several crucial periods in American history and see how they impact the life of a strong central character who undergoes both external and internal changes throughout.

The resultant timeline is full of emotional highs and lows. As one might imagine, there’s likely to be a lot of lows, since the material incorporates the violence from the civil rights movement along with the Vietnam conflict, just as two major examples. Despite the horrors on display however, there is a substantial amount of pleasantness to the proceedings. A lot of it stems from Cecil Gaines’ family life and the general essence of Whitaker in this role. He is absolutely fantastic — it’s clear he’s fully embraced the importance of what his character meant (his Cecil Gaines is actually based on the real-life story of Eugene Allen). Nominations should be awaiting with this one.

Even despite the movie being a rather loose adaptation, his life story is miraculous, to say the least. Growing up on the Westfall plantation, Cecil bears witness to gut-wrenching violence of the worst (most personal) kind. After it happens, the elderly Annabeth Westfall (Vanessa Redgrave) tells Cecil he is to start working inside the house from now on. Though the job was offered out of pity, his general treatment doesn’t exactly improve much as the notion of being an invisible servant in whatever room was impressed upon him rigorously. As gloomy as his situation initially seems, and Cecil doesn’t know it yet, this is finally a job with transformative powers.

Similarly to Forrest Gump, The Butler is a lengthy journey and takes its time to unfold. Patience may be required, but also it is with great ease that most people should be able to adhere. Daniels’ vision may wander around a bit, but the transitions made from scene to scene are often subtle yet very powerful. From the plantation house Cecil moves on for the city life in search of his next job. The woman he used to work for is nearing her death and he sees no future staying around the plantation anymore. He soon comes across a man named Maynard (Clarence Williams III) under dire circumstances and asks him for a job doing anything at all. Maynard reluctantly agrees to temporarily help out a malnourished Cecil. However, Maynard quickly learns just how good Cecil’s skills are and he suggests the boy move on to still bigger things. He informs him of a job opening at a ritzy hotel in Washington, D.C. and that he should consider applying. From the hotel, Cecil’s gainful employment continues as he moves up to the White House after discovering an open position for a butler there.

Daniels allows each scene to speak for themselves. As each one unfolds, Gaines’ worldview widens steadily and our respect for him grows accordingly. There’s a wonderful flow to the way small villages give way to the rush of the bigger city. The audio narration, read by Mr. Gaines, explains circumstances to us so even though we don’t have many “images” of these places, the time and places are anchored efficiently with what he has to say about them. Eventually we will meet a fantastic crew of other butlers who staff the busy American landmark: some who stand out the most are Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s upbeat Carter and Lenny Kravitz’ more reserved, but respectable James.

And of course, once we’re inside the White House we also will be getting to see the current leaders of the nation at the time. One of the most effective elements in Daniels’ film is his rotating door of great actors filling in significant roles, specifically the eight different presidents under which Cecil serves throughout his 34-year career. When Cecil first enters the Oval Office, we see a very thinly-haired Robin Williams as President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He’s discussing something with members of his Cabinet while Cecil politely serves tea. The moment is just enough to give us the impression that a significant wind of change is about to start blowing  given the discussions ongoing. All those who fill in the presidential roles are terrific and similarly contribute to the scale of this story. Other famous personalities in the White House that we get to revisit include John F. Kennedy (James Marsden); Lyndon B. Johnson (Liev Schreiber); Richard Nixon (John Cusack); and Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman). Each actor really makes their mark on each of their respective presidential roles and it’s quite a bit of fun seeing how the attitudes and atmospheres change with each new leader.

While these sweeping changes are being examined at the top tier of the political ladder, Cecil must always mind his business and be sure to strictly stick to his job. . . . . . that old nasty adage of being seen, but not heard really applies here. By doing just that, the mild-mannered Cecil becomes one of the most entrusted employees within the building which is by no means an accidental occurrence. As he has attempted to be all his life, Cecil is simply a patient and humbled man who retains every ounce of his dignity even though things at home aren’t exactly perfect. His eldest son, Louis, isn’t particularly proud of his father and often overlooks the fact that he’s had to work extremely hard to get to where he’s at now. Louis leaves for college in Tennessee, where Cecil knows trouble is likely to find him, but Louis isn’t listening. His wife, Gloria (a beautiful and heartwarming performance from Oprah Winfrey was a terrific surprise for me) is more supportive of her husband but also more supportive of her son making up his own mind. A nail is driven between Louis and Cecil’s point of view on the issue of segregation that’s currently ravaging the nation and this becomes a major focal point of the latter half of the film.

With that said, it becomes increasingly obvious as the years pass and the story amasses more and more historical significance that Daniels’ has essentially created two movies in one. One is the story of Cecil and his evolution from the terrible cotton fields to the dignified role he plays in serving the many presidents. This is arguably the overriding narrative. The second is clearly the idealogical struggle between Cecil and his eldest son, who both obviously want policies and social status to change for blacks. Whereas Cecil is content to fight the good fight that he always has by maintaining his calm and working hard, Louis feels drawn more to the revolutionary points of view shared by the Black Panthers — and I needn’t say much more about that. We can see where that story may or may not go.

Because of the heavy emphasis on the struggle between father and son, the movie seems to take on a bit too much, perhaps more than it rightfully should have to handle in this limited run time. Had the movie lasted in excess of three hours the cumulative effect might have been more profound. Instead, the story moves back and forth between Cecil and Louis for about an hour and it can get a little confusing. Who should we have to care about more? There are definite answers to that question, but Lee Daniels doesn’t really know what to say. It’s not the worst complaint you can have for a movie with this much history tied into it, but it’s difficult to ignore the obvious transitions between the three major acts.

These moments are marked by Cecil’s entrance into the White House for the first time (thus identifying Act Two), and the start of the Vietnam War (Act Three). Although the fact that the two stories — that of Cecil and that of the relationship between him and his oldest son — don’t mesh as smoothly as they could have, this seems to be a relatively small issue with a movie carrying this much weight. Not to mention, every member in the Gaines household are represented with brilliant performances by young actors David Oyelowo (who plays Louis) and Isaac White (who plays the younger sibling, Charlie). It may be obvious when we’ve shifted gears a little, but their screen times are both equally captivating and White is absolutely hilarious as Charlie.

I really can’t say enough about the cast. Everyone involved turns in stellar performances and considering that, this movie is far better than it maybe should have been. It’s hardly a groundbreaking story that we learn of here, even despite the incredible truth behind it and when one considers the horrible political culture in America at the time. One man comes from behind to get ahead of most everyone else and of course, things go all but smoothly for him along the way. Gaines suffers terrible personal losses, as well as he experiences the pain of a nation suffering from prejudice, hatred and division. Even though we’ve journeyed through the filth and grime with other public figures in movies before, Whitaker’s performance truly makes Eugene Allen iconic — a label which he perhaps earned himself; but the actor confirms it.

thebutler2

4-0Recommendation: Although it’s not perfect and at times darts between historical and familial themes of devotion, betrayal, respect and dignity, the direction by Lee Daniels affords the film a beautiful aura, a respectful tone and a richly detailed culture from start to finish. It’s both funny and extremely serious; simultaneously poetic and dispassionate. Juggling these extremes cannot have been an easy task, and if you’re willing to see how it’s handled, I highly recommend you give this one a try.

Rated: PG-13 (hard)

Running Time: 126 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.comhttp://www.imdb.com

Jobs

104507_gal

Release: Thursday, August 15, 2013

[Theater]

What the movie Jobs does for those who would like to get to know the guy behind Apple a bit better is like watching what a three-year-old would probably do with an iPod or iPad: out of curiosity, you hand it to them and see what they might figure out about the object. But instead, you watch them toss and juggle it around like a bouncy ball — that glossy, expensive thing of great value and they might even drop it and give it its first scratch or three. Well, damn it. You knew that was probably a bad idea , and that you shouldn’t have done that. The child didn’t recognize the true value of the thing they had, or at what cost that scratch or broken screen came.

This is how I feel about director Joshua Michael Stern’s take on the life of Steven Paul Jobs, a cultural icon and visionary who changed the landscape of the consumer experience when it came to computers. Our fearless director was handed an immensely important assignment in piecing together a biopic which would hopefully cover some new territory and show the man in lights we’ve never seen before. Through this film we would potentially be getting to know the man who shaped the company, and the life events that took place which would shape the man. Alas, what we are provided is a documentary-style glimpse at Jobs’ more pivotal experiences with the company he built; we get little to no new information about him. Stern presents Kutcher as Steve in the flesh — a man who’s not good at working with others (got that already); who’s willing to throw anyone under the bus if it would get him ahead by one step (could safely assume about as much for any individual breeding him or herself for the CEO-level); and who has simply absurdly high standards of excellence (also a given going into this thing). Stern, then, is that child tossing around a brand new iPod. “Whoa, whoa. . . buddy, better hand that back over to me before you do something stupid with it, thanks!”

Sigh. Unfortunately hindsight is twenty-twenty. That we were going to be treated to a silver screen examination of the life and impact of this one highly influential genius was exciting news, even if the director’s name attached to the project wasn’t well-known. For some reason, for material like this, a director with a reputation makes the experience seem more like it’s “safe,” “in the right hands,” or going to be “a guaranteed success.” Considering the final product here with Jobs, such a sentiment no longer seems quite as superstitious. It might be the cold, hard truth.

What this film boils down to is a by-the-numbers chronological timeline of the major events in the life of Steve Jobs, as he transforms his business from garage space to corporate high-rise. Jobs enlists the help of several “friends,” the closest of which, Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) was the one who actually showed Jobs his latest idea, which was hooking up a motherboard to a monitor — thus, the first theoretical computer for home use. Immediately Jobs was hooked on this concept and wanted nothing to stop him from accomplishing the goal of transforming the computer from a technological start-up to an everyday, civilian appliance. The process would involve the losing and gaining of friends and coworkers as well as the rise into corporate power and the eventual fall from grace that would come as a result of an ego that was perpetually left unchecked.

That besides, there were other notable pitfalls examined along the way. Jobs knew what it was that he wanted to do, but wasn’t always able to make anyone else understand. He was so ahead of his time that his most basic ideas would often be shrugged off as ridiculous or impractical, labeled as both a danger to the company financially, and a danger to himself reputation-wise. As though he would listen to this argument at all.

The main problem with Stern’s vision here is that it. . . lacks vision. Rare are the moments in this movie that are actually inspiring, or feel as though they aren’t simply being acted out. One thing must be noted, though. A big surprise came from Kutcher’s performance: he looked and felt the part, and as a matter of fact, I considered him to be one of the stronger points of the film. I’m no Ashton Kutcher fan (though he does make those Nikon cameras look pretty sweet), and I expected to be instantly repelled by his interpretation of his character. But I was fooled. Kutcher skillfully adopts several Jobsian mannerisms — the gangly, awkward way he carries himself; his gesticulations with his hands and eyes; the way he spits when he is beyond reasonably upset over something seemingly trivial. As surprised as I am to say it, Kutcher checks out.

However, the surrounding material that’s meant to build his life’s castles here is seriously lacking in interest. Structurally the story is insanely boring. Chronology does seem to make the most sense in tracing the man’s journey from college hippie to company founder to eventual CEO, but when used here, it’s simply too bland and hardly inspiring. The scenes depicting the genesis of the company outside of Steve’s adoptive parents’ home are actually quite amusing as we see potential investors showing up to the house in expensive cars, and there’s Steve and company hanging out in the yard looking bored with themselves.

Outside of a few humorous moments like these the film distinctly lacks any sort of personality. The major turning points that occur throughout are addressed briefly and then moved away from — this is Stern sacrificing substance for a few more seconds of a close-up of Kutcher’s eyes behind the iconic Lennon-style glasses he wore. There are few lingering moments during the good times, and fewer instances where we feel Jobs might be really screwed by continuing to stay his own course. Even when he’s unceremoniously ousted from the company in 1985 for butting heads with the infamous investor Arthur Rock, who saw him as a one-man show only interested in himself and not in advancing the company itself. There’s a scene of him broken down and crying, and while this was another example of strong acting from Kutcher, it’s somehow not nearly enough considering the weight of the circumstances. The director is far more interested in covering all the bases rather than the details. A cursory glance over Jobs’ Wikipedia page would produce the exact same feeling you walk out of the theater with.

There are however a few strong supporting roles that are worthy of mention. Josh Gad as Jobs’ right-hand man, Steve Wozniak, is fantastic. Though he didn’t need to do much more than look supremely dorky for most of the movie, Gad exemplifies the composure of someone who stays rather close to the man who has no problem with pushing everyone else away for the sake of working harder. Wozniak remains faithful to Jobs the entire time, and Gad really puts forth the effort to demonstrate the duo’s often tumultuous relationship. J.K. Simmons does a great job trying to out-intimidate Jobs in the conference rooms time and again, playing the extremely wealthy investor Arthur Rock. Simmons brings none of that oft-appreciated sarcasm and wit to this role and, as a result, he’s a worthy adversary for Kutcher’s querulous character.

Perhaps there is no more disappointing fact than the timeline over which this was made. Two years have elapsed since the man passed, and this movie still ended up smelling like a made-for-television special. Two years isn’t a great deal of time in the movie industry, that’s all sure, but I figured it just had to be sufficient time to make a richly compelling movie about a man who created so much from so little. Even if that’s not the most objective way to look at it, here’s another way: if you’re going to be the first to put out something regarding one of the bigger names in our recent history, you’d probably be wanting to create a splash. Making the first impression is like leaving a lasting impression, and unfortunately that is just not what we get at all.

Despite Kutcher’s surprisingly accurate portrayal, in the end its the bigger picture that really matters. Sorry to say, but I think Steve is just a figure that’s going to need to wait to be properly introduced on the big screen. Fortunately, I believe there is another project in the works and hopefully that one might live up to expectations (expectations that I don’t think are all too unreasonable). For now, it might be safe to assume that we just got Punk’D really, really good. This wasn’t the real movie, and whatever it is that is coming down the pipe, will serve as a better tribute.

jobs-2

2-0Recommendation: Jobs is thoughtful in keeping alive the memory of the man as it were and Kutcher’s work is certainly commendable, but even despite his best efforts there’s nothing here that we haven’t known for years already. Any Mac fan is probably going to be disappointed by this.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 127 mins.

Quoted: “Okay, show me this revolutionary piece of sh*t.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Paranoia

paranoia_xlg

Release: Thursday, August 15, 2013

[Theater]

I’d like to plead the fifth to any questions raised concerning whether I just went to see this for Amber Heard. I mean, come on guys. It’s also got Liam Hemsworth in it — you know, that strapping gentleman from The Hunger Games, real-life brother of Thor, hello? And this movie also features huge A-listers in Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman. Why anyone would ask me whether she was the reason I saw Paranoia is actually pretty logical, though. There are scant reasons to see this aside from her. To be delicate, this movie leaves only nine other spots on a theoretical list I’m making of the Ten Worst Films I’ve Ever Seen. The script for this supposed crime-drama is that bad, it really is.

As always, I got ahead of myself and checked the status of the upcoming movie on Rotten Tomatoes before going in and what I saw really shocked me. As limited as the marketing was backing up Luketic’s new project, the trailers had me believing we would be getting a cool new action thriller. Oldman in another sinister role, awesome. How the film would qualify for my “list of ten worst films” considering the disappointing little you get from a cast as good as this. It is stunning how terrible the dialogue is for much of the movie, and a lot of the time the plot doesn’t make sense. While there are moments that invite your eyes to widen a little bit as if you’re ready to change facial expressions, the vast majority of Paranoia is utterly, utterly flat and boring.

(I’m actually patting myself on the back for not walking out on this.)

But yet, there was some. . .quality to this film remaining that managed to keep me there, along with, I guess, the other six people who were in my theater. Despite director Robert Luketic’s seeming incompetence to provide anything but cliches to fill the time, the presence of Oldman, Ford and to a lesser degree, Hemsworth, were a bit compelling.

Some semblance of a plot is as follows:

Adam Cassidy (Hemsworth) is a bright, hard-working 27-year old fighting in the corporate world to get ahead and earn a job that will finally pay him his dues. His status and work ethic suggest advancement but his boss, the insufferable Nick Wyatt (Oldman), insists he’s nothing special. He proves it by firing him along with his team of brainiac friends after a presentation Adam was giving failed to impress a distracted Mr. Wyatt. Adam then takes his friends out for drinks as an apology for his pushiness which led to their firings, but he also uses the leftover allowance on his corporate credit card to pay for the night. Win-win, or so he thinks.

Wyatt bargains with him when he discovers $16k has been spent the night of his dismissal, and during one of the only good scenes in this entire yawn-a-thon, Oldman’s menacing temperament is shown. He tells Adam he is going to work for his rival company — Eikon, run by his former partner, Jock Goddard (Ford) — and gain valuable inside information for Wyatt’s personal gain. Even if the plot is unremarkable in that regard, there wasn’t much of a chance to enjoy the development since Luketic insisted the movie be dumbed down as possible.

It was like a spelling bee First Round, where the words are very easy and simple and everyone gets it correctly — that’s how this script passed by editors, got approval. Inexplicably, the likes of Ford, Oldman and Hemsworth, and even Amber Heard as the potential love interest for Adam, a very on-again/off-again Emma Jennings, who didn’t have much to say but what she did have to say was utterly bland — all these people agreed to what they read! It is tough to understand unless you watch this, but that’s a thing that I absolutely insist you do not do.

As Adam receives a “make-over” of sorts from a couple of Wyatt’s corporate malefactors, Dr. Bolton (Embeth Davidtz) and “Meechum” (Julian McMahon) — this is an attempt to integrate Adam into the image that would attract Eikon to hire him which really is mostly just unbelievable — he is erstwhile attempting to look more divided about the situation he is in. Hemsworth does his best in expressing it, but his character is a dumb dog following its commands. In moments he’s meant to be expressing his ehem paranoia . . . he ends up just looking confused or annoyed. Not his fault, though. There’s really nothing to react to most of the time.

The plan is to get a hold of an advanced phone technology being developed by the genius but selfish Goddard, and Wyatt uses Adam to physically steal the next-level device from its heavily-protected chamber on the 38th floor of the building. Yes, all that familiar rigamarole. Insisting Adam’s services have been sufficiently provided and that he will not continue doing his former boss’ dirty work, he tells Wyatt that he’s done, he’s out. Unfortunately, more bad movie ensues.

Half-heartedly acted, poorly edited and with simply nothing at all to distinguish itself from the ranks of other crime-drama thrillers revolving around technological one-upmanship, Paranoia is a kick to the stomach thinking about the wasted potential. Perhaps there were things going on behind the scenes that contributed to the film’s rather hushed promotion and subsequent release, and which may explain possible on-set awkwardness that allowed the film to come out as clumsy as it has. Mere speculation on my part, but I just hope there’s something else besides Luketic simply producing a complete and total misfire here.

paranoia1

1-5Recommendation: Stay away. A complete let-down, even for me as I sat down thinking how much fun this is going to be to try and defy the odds of it being grossly under appreciated in the initial reviews. Even with fake expectations, I came out still. . . disappointed.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 106 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Waiting… (2005)

new-tbt-logo

 A famous quote from this movie might just sum up my experience spinning wings in hot sauce and obeying literal five-to-ten second rules at Buffalo Wild Wings (B-Dubs, to the in-crowd), as accurately as it sums up the movie itself: “Don’t f**k with the people who handle your food.” (Don’t worry — not ALL of the stuff in this movie happens in real life . . . )

Today’s food for thought: Waiting..

waiting_ver6_xlg

Release: October 7, 2005

[DVD]

Another gross-out comedy to satisfy my summer-after-graduation-from-high-school palate, Waiting… has become gospel to any who have worked in the restaurant industry and who have had a nasty taste left in their mouth because of it. It’s not a particularly well-crafted piece, but it is alarmingly accurate in some sense. It is also pretty hilarious in spots, as well, and I still keep it in high regard when thinking of all the gross-outs that I have seen.

Employees of Shenanigans — a fictional knock-off of Chili’s and other such establishments — more or less hate their jobs, but it’s what they’ve got. So they deal. Rob McKittrick directs his talented cast as they walk through a day-in-the-life story about the frustrations of working a dead-end job. Along the way we deal with difficult customers (the source of that excellent quote that is used in my intro), employee relationships, and all the while trying to answer the question of “is this what I want to do with my life?” It is certainly a cliched, hackneyed thought, but McKittrick approaches the matter lightheartedly to affect us with just the right amount of poignancy and disgust.

Justin Long plays Dean, a nice enough guy who knows he’s seriously shortchanging himself in terms of reaching his career potential. He’s become comfortable in the routines and familiar faces that grace the premises of this burger-and-beer establishment. With the likes of Monty (Ryan Reynolds), his best friend that also happens to be a supreme underachiever and something of a womanizer; Serena (Anna Faris), a cool chick who’s “way too cool” to be working at this place; and Amy (Kaitlin Doubleday), who’s his major crush, Dean finds it difficult to move on and do that next great thing.

The movie takes place over the course of a single day, and it factors in all of the nuances of working in a restaurant. The hostess (Vanessa Lengies) is extremely professional, as she lusts after Monty despite the (illegal) age difference; the bus boys are. . .well, whiter than white trash but still dream of becoming a successful rapping duo (this was just a brilliant use of Andy Milonakis and Max Kasch, as Nick and T-Dog respectively); management is reasonable (David Koechner is Dan, a General Manager who seems to be more immature than most of his staff); and the kitchen staff is matured and remarkably cooperative. The kitchen crew is the source of one of Waiting…‘s longest running jokes — a game in which members of the kitchen staff will expose their genitals at random and if another employee sees them doing so, they get kicked in the ass and called a variety of homophobic slurs. It’s a perfectly functional environment, if I’ve ever seen one. And oh yeah, that Naomi girl (Alanna Ubach). She’s downright hilarious in this movie as that one member on staff who can’t f**king take it any longer. A constant stress mess, she’s always seen clutching a cigarette and muttering some combination of obscenities under her breath about the latest annoying customer. She adds just another level of crazy to the staff, and for me, it was one of the more memorable touches.

The icing on this cake is the overriding plot device McKittrick chooses in revealing the whole process. Using Monty as the vehicle for our Tour-de-Shenanigans, and a new hire in Mitch (John Francis Daley), we explore the ins-and-outs of the small building and it is through these two we get to intimately know the staff. . . some better than others. Considering the circumstances, Daley’s character is limited in his responses to it all, and makes for a second effective long-running joke. It all culminates at a party at someone’s house wherein the entire staff joins and lets off some steam. I could go on and on about this scene, but in keeping this relatively brief and spoiler-free, I’ll choose not to. You’re welcome.

There’s no denying that Waiting… succeeds 95% because of its cast. The script is nothing remarkable and the jokes, well you’ve heard a lot of them somewhere else at some point. The day-in-the-life formula has been used better before, but this is an interesting environment in which to apply that simplistic of a storyline since most of us at some point in our lives have eaten in a sit-down, franchised restaurant. However (and this is a big exception), the level of enjoyment probably increases tenfold if you’ve ever been more than just a customer in a restaurant. No matter if you’re currently in the industry or not, you may find yourself repulsed by what you see going on in Shenanigans’ kitchen, or you may find yourself doubled-over in pain from laughter. Either reaction constitutes a more personal experience with these things than if you were just the casual diner. The humor is low-brow one way or another, but a lot of what makes Waiting… a worthwhile experience is its exaggeration of the truth.

waiting1

3-0Recommendation: As previously stated, it helps if you find yourself in the specific target audience for this movie. If you’ve worked shifts (or doubles) serving tables, then you’ll feel some of these people’s pain. You may not be able to identify with their unique “issues” — who among us has ever been subjected to “The Goat?” — but I think a lot of us can identify with being grossly undertipped or underpaid. Long’s character takes the brunt of the emotional storm, and if you like Justin Long, you’ll probably enjoy this movie a fair amount.

Rated: R

Running Time: 94 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.youtube.com; http://www.imdb.com

Elysium

105226_gal

Release: Thursday, August 8, 2013

[Theater]

Having waited for this movie since December at least, I was thoroughly excited walking into the theater last night. Something was also telling me, adding to the excitement: that of all the movies that have come out this year promising to pack a punch and have subsequently caused controversy over whether or not said movies did just so (the biggest elephant in the room wears a red cape), something told me Elysium would rise to the occasion. In the hands of Neill Blomkamp I assumed this one would actually deliver on its promises. Its check mark number four on my Ten Taste Tests post, and its a check mark for rising to the occasion, too. Blomkamp’s follow-up to his 2009 effort may not surpass, but it effectively confirms that his vision is one to trust. This film packs all of the wallop its trailers were suggesting, and is once again brutally dystopian and all but too realistic. . . . in a sci-fi kind of way at least.

Blomkamp once again puts a vast majority of the film’s burden upon the shoulders of a strong central lead — in this case, Matt Damon as Max DeCosta, a formerly troubled youth who’s determined to change his ways (and for the most part, has) and now works on a mechanical line in a factory. He is among the millions who have been left to live (and mostly suffer) on a war-ravaged, poverty-stricken planet Earth, while those who have wealth and power have been evacuated to a floating paradise above the Earth, a white wheel-looking space station named Elysium. On the station incredible technological advances have allowed people to heal impossible wounds, replace DNA and rid themselves of disease and imperfections. Elysium is presided over primarily by the strict enforcer Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and she epitomizes the culture apparent there.

There is a fantastic wide shot of several ships attempting to dock with Elysium early in the film that haven’t been authorized to do so, and when push comes to shove, Delacourt orders the ships to be destroyed. The moment demonstrates the movie’s breathtakingly large scale and beyond-reasonably impressive CGI, as well as the heavy political overtones (specifically targeting immigration) that Blomkamp has chosen to douse Elysium in.

After a horrible accident at the factory, Max becomes fatally exposed to radiation and is given exactly five days to live. None of this information is coming from an actual doctor, but instead a robot who coldly tells Max to simply sign for the medication he will need and then to take the prescribed amount of medicine before his death. No nuance, no cheering up, no smiles. Just the mechanical truth. In his significantly weakened state, Max is determined to get up to Elysium and find a cure for his poisoning. He seeks out the help of “Spider” (Wagner Moura) who is in charge of sending off ships that are docked on Earth. Through Spider and his team of “surgeons” (?) Max is transformed from human to humanoid and is now charged with retrieving sensitive information from an executive official — the same man Max saw briefly immediately after his accident, a man named John Carlyle (William Fichtner).

The plan is to implant the information into Max’s brain, by literally plugging it into a USB port in his head. This is some wicked cool technology and — yes, okay, a little icky — mostly just badass. However, when Max and his heavily-armed crew take down Carlyle’s incoming ship, they find they can’t decode the information, and find themselves under fire when Delacourt sends her secret hit-man/ruthless murderer Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to deal with them. Max manages to escape but now finds himself the single target of the incredibly powerful Delacourt and her minions. Damn it though if Damon’s humanoid version of Jason Bourne is going to be stopped — the second half of the movie is incredibly fun to watch as a result.

Blomkamp is not quite as careful with his direction here as he was with District 9. Elysium is extremely stylish, grisly violent and provocative in many senses. But in dealing with its bigger themes, this movie is a little clumsy. (I’m not sure if it’s clear enough on what stance the director takes on anti-immigration laws. . . but if I just had to guess, I think he’s opposed to them. . . )

Case in point, Jodie Foster is terrible in this movie, which is a tremendous shock. Her Delacourt is wooden and she forces an awkward accent that is intended to reflect an air of superiority, but it’s more annoying than anything. For that matter, I didn’t much care for Fichtner’s Carlyle, either. He had fewer lines but was still carelessly written as subhuman, intentionally. The dressing up of these pseudo-villains felt awkward and gimmicky, and seemed to water down the movie in terms of its serious tone. Regardless, the majority of the cast is more than capable, and Damon — mostly due to his character going through so much — is very compelling to watch. Copley as Kruger is particularly sadistic and tends to make up for the disappointing Delacourt and others in high command at Elysium — almost to a fault. He gets a little whacked-out cartoonish in the end but the Scottish accent still maintained his ferocity legitimately. Imagine a Die Hard villain on bath salts and you’d get Elysium‘s Kruger.

The film is not completely indistinguishable from District 9, although endless comparisons are probably going to be made between the two dystopian futures — but that’s a really good thing honestly. What Elysium lacks in its intelligence quota, it makes up for in unrelenting action and maintaining a level of tense discomfort that seems unusual for a summer blockbuster. Maybe Elysium is really saved by its rating on that front. If this had been forced into a PG-13 rating, instantly a lot of that intensity would be gone. Regardless, the film has its incredible strengths despite some modest disappointments. No film is perfect, obviously. While I expected to be rooting against Foster’s character, I didn’t expect to root against Foster herself, but hey.

#YOLO

No doubt, this film is not letdown by its trailers. Elysium packs a punch with its raw action and astounding visuals. Its certainly not a drawn-out affair. Clocking in at an hour and thirty-seven minutes effectively compacts a large-scale movie into a small-sized package. When you combine that with quite the satisfying premise of two castes of society divided between the ground and a beautiful space station, you have a strong contender for best action film of the year.

elysium2

3-5Recommendation: In the words of Team America: World Police, “Matt Daaaayymmaaan…!” But really, he is very good in his role, if not enhanced by his circumstances. Any fan of Damon’s is likely to be bowled over completely, and his supporting cast (minus the decidedly villainous higher-ups) are all solid as well, so if you’re seeking out a blockbuster film with good acting, then go see Oblivi….er, Elysium. It’s about as entertaining as the big budget bad-boys are going to be this summer, rest assured.

Rated: R

Running Time: 97 mins.

Quoted: “This isn’t going to kill me. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com