Monday, August 26, 2013

Elysium: A Complicated Journey

The promised land isn't all it's cracked up to be in director Neil Blomkamp's dystopian sci-fi fantasy, Elysium.


ARTH VADER (AV): The seemingly never-ending story of the haves and the have-nots moves on in this sci-fi, somewhat original tale of extreme elitism gone all kinds of wrong in Elysium. Quite reminiscent of one of my all-time favorite sci-fi flicks, District-9, the movie is less about ray guns and space ships and more about the progression of the greed of the privileged as they stand on the backs of the greater majority—namely the rest of us. The continuity here is the perpetuation of the very wealthy having what the rest of us don't and… very literally... holding it over our heads.

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Well said Vader. The “continuity” of this film is the parallel to the real life, here-and-now issues society is dealing with today. This film screams at you to be heard as it makes statements about corporate corruption, health care, politics, immigration, and classism. The future setting gave it more pinnace as it bedazzled, but the looking glass was clear nonetheless.


AV: Fellow Bostonian Matt Damon delivers a solid (if not 'stellar') performance as the reluctant hero, Max who is imperiled with a lethal dose of radiation and must travel to Elysium where the space station's miracle medical devices offer a last ditch hope for survival. Super sci-fi sweetheart Alice Braga (I Am Legend, Predators) plays Frey, the love interest/emotional support and Mom to a sickly daughter who also needs Max's help to take a trip to Elysium's miracle medical salvation. Bad guy Kruger, played by Sarlto Copley (another District 9 alum) is as bad-ass–if not downright cliché as they come. Diego Luna (Milk, The Terminal) and super-badass screen maven Jodi Foster round out a strong and engaging cast for this fairly sober look into the future. Pontificator, would did you think?

TP: This film was cast very well Vader. Matt Damon was excellent in his role as Max, an everyday person thrust into dire circumstances as a victim of a society that produces and preys upon the downtrodden. Thumbs up also for Jodie Foster as Secretary Delacourt. Her lack of sympathy and thirst for power were convincing. Her complete disregard for anyone not of Elysium drove home a fine point in the movie. The film itself moved at a steady pace and always kept me engaged in the characters. The overall tone of the film stayed ominous, breaking only long enough to shock us with graphic and explosive action.


AV: I must say, this is a damn good looking movie. The dystopian District 9 look plays well for Blomkamp and this movie is both believable and unsettling. Originally slated to direct the initial HALO movie project (now defunct), Blomkamp doesn't revel in the pristine, super smooth, overly sterile environments of many futuristic Sci-fi worlds. The director's vision of the future is sullen, downtrodden and this side of depressing—all playing well to the movie's larger story. The technology is both fantastic and believable, a hard balance to strike. Wouldn't you say, Ponty?

TP: Agreed Vader. This is a film that isn’t dependent on special effects to make it’s point, but when it does them... it does them well. There was no new ground broken, but the visuals are superb and the technology is realistic and fantastic at the same time. The most sophisticated piece of technology didn’t even require any real effects, it just scanned you... then cured you. I thought this was brilliant as it left the filmmakers free to concentrate on making the weapons and robots futuristic and functional, without disconnecting so far from reality as to make them absurd. The merging of man and machine, and specifically, man and computer, in this film was both unnerving to watch and interesting to contemplate... for the very near and very real future.


AV: Down to brass tacks, this movie is NOT about space stuff, technology and robots as stated earlier. All of those things exist in Elysium but they aren't the real story. This story is about the awful–downright criminal–lengths wealthy people often go through to keep what they have away from the rest of us. It's about closed borders, illegal immigration and the inequity of class warfare. Elysium makes a point of calling out the subjugation of the majority by the privileged Elite. It's the story of the 'other 99%' and it's done well. 

Liberal advocate, Jodie Foster dials in a ho-hum performance but Matt Damon's conflicted character is redeemed on the hero's journey. In the end, we are faced with the solution being a software reboot and not actual people being the problem. All it would take is another system reboot and we are right back where things were and that is downright bogus to me. Thoughts, P-Man? 

TP: This is a film that I could spend all day talking about Vader. The relevance it has to today is eerie and makes me shudder. The only thing scarier than watching this film and realizing that it is speaking about us today, just set in the future... is watching it and not realizing this. 

Corporations are running amok and gaining more influence daily over the lives of everyday people. The same people that make their success possible, and yet for whom they show little regard. Health care remains a hot-button issue today, the level of which is received is directly tied into our financial viability. Politics remains about those in power maintaining their position of such, and catering just enough to the masses to make them think it is otherwise. Immigration remains a problem as those with needs, but without means, seek to go (illegally) where those needs can be met (taking nothing away from the privileged as it seems nobody is ever home on Elysium). Class remains the divide as the wealthiest of us seek to separate and isolate themselves, while also subjugating everyone else. Yes... these are the messages of Elysium, shown as the final destination if things continue to progress as they are. This film is easily one of the most profound ever reviewed here.

PONTIFICATOR’S SPECIAL OBSERVATION: I have friends that are in law enforcement and have great respect for the job they do, but this film makes it a point to highlight the degrading image of the profession by having the positions (police, parol officers, security) performed solely by robots, that emulate the very worst in abuse and brutality that humanity can offer. The irony being that we freely create the very instruments that deprive us of freedom. Seen in the film as robots, seen in reality as the decisions we make once in a position of upholding and enforcing the law.


AV: I really believe it would be a huge disservice to the voice and experience of this movie to follow it up, seeing as *spoiler alert!* the hero dies. I could see how the another Elysium story could be told with an entirely different cast of characters. Regardless, I look forward to Blomkapm's next theatrical undertaking. 

TP: There is nowhere left to go here. The points have been made and the solution has been given. What happens next is anyone’s guess... but the society of Elysium’s Earth will either become Blade Runner or Battlestar Galactica... and we have already seen these two paths. Elysium cements itself as a masterpiece, only if it is left to remain standing alone with it’s messages. 


ARTH VADER rates Elysium: This movie is one of 2013's stronger cinematic experiences, at least in the wheelhouse of movies we review on this blog. As with all movies that show above average intelligence, it will perform only moderately–as did District 9–at the box office. But with a stellar cast and out-of-this-world (sorry) screenplay, Elysium solicits a sound eight (8) Busted Blocks for emotional engagements and intellectual maturity but looses points for complication of idea presentation and lack of true resolution. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Elysium: Profound in it’s messages, entertaining in it’s effects... and engaging in it’s direction and acting, this film was so much better than I expected that I was left sitting in my seat thinking to myself... wow. It provokes serious thought about where we are today as a society, and where we might be going...  busting eight (8) blocks on the way there. 

ELYSIUM: 8 / 10 Busted Blocks

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Monday, August 19, 2013

A Monstrosity On Land & Sea

The Gods (and audiences) seem to have forsaken
Percy Jackson and The Sea of Monsters


ARTH VADER (AV): According to the seemingly endless hordes of visiting or residing teenagers in my home, this film follows the second book in the Percy Jackson chronicles pretty closely. That seemed to not help this movie very much ultimately but the fictional canon developed by author Rick Riordan for teens and tweens is adhered to. Furthering the life and times of Percy, the only living air to the ancient Greek God Poseidon, who lives in the mystical forest refuge of Half-Blood. Down to it's name, the movie follows it's roots fairly close. What did the great Pontificator think?

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): This is my first time seeing a Percy Jackson film Vader. I wasn’t aware this one comes from a book, but I got a crash course on everything that was wrong and deviant from the book... by the exuberant young man walking behind me with his father, recalling the entire book in a single breath. Apparently, the film doesn’t follow the book exactly, but really... what film ever does?


AV: There is no relevant acting in this film. Period. This is purely a kid's film–for kids, about kids. The acting is transparent and one dimensional in the few scenes it actually appear in. The cast is the same hum-drum cast of tween nobodies we saw in the first film and the film was directed by Thor Freudenthal (Hotel for Dogs). Ponty?

TP: For what this film is supposed to be (a kid friendly adventure), it was cast and directed well. I could feel my inner child connecting to the characters and the pace of the film satisfied by inner child’s ADD. Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Brandon T. Jackson and Douglas Smith all played their roles as I would expect watching a film catered to 14 year olds. Jake Abel was enjoyable as the bad guy... and cements himself as the next generation’s typecast villain.

AV: It felt to me, Ponty, that this movie exhausted its effects budget on a few big effects shots. The rampaging mechanical bull was one, near the beginning of this story. That effect and sequence were terrific. Great looking, highly intense with lots of 3D eye candy monuments. The others were the giant sea monster and the end fight scene(s). Good looking scenes that are quickly forgotten because they don't enhance this story nor are they particularly memorable. 

TP: I wish I had seen this film in 3D Vader, as I saw the previews in 3D and thought the effects of such were amazing. Instead, I opted for the regular version and picked up on all the areas that would obviously make an impact in 3D. There are no breakthroughs here, but there are some effects done exquisitely well.... as well as some done very shoddy. The mechanical bull was brilliant, while the “Cyclops” effect for Tyson...indeed the Cyclops’ in the film, screamed of being faked and rushed. If more attention was given to every other special creature and effect as was the mechanical bull, I would be saying something very different and inspiring about the special effects.


AV: This movie is riddled with holes old friend. Who sent the giant mechanical bull to attack camp half-blood? Bad guy Luke (Jake Abel)? Why? If Percy could just summon a wave to ride on, why did we need the giant Sea Horse? Why was it okay to ridicule Percy's half brother, Tyson? You're demigods, you're above all that–you have Satyrs walking around for God's Sake! Why is this movie called the Sea of Monsters and there is only one? If the outcome of this quest could end everything how come NONE of the Gods are involved—are they too busy? Confederate Zombies? Great idea, how do they have an automatic rail gun mounted on a ship that was built before that technology was available? Where do they get their power to light the frivolous Christmas lights? Percy and Tyson spend so much time hugging out their problems in front of Chronos' tomb that he actually has time to break free and start the apocalypse. C'mon Hollywood, you're better than this. Even for an empty-headed tween fantasy, this movie is a disaster!

Arth Vader's Bonus Anti-Percy Rant: At the core, this idea had promise that died in the hands of incompetent studio executives. Maybe it's my years showing here, Pontificator, but I am starting to wear thin on the 'special kid saves the world because us dumb adults can't do it' story arc. Harry Potter, Twilight, this year's forthcoming "Ender's Game" and even the Star Wars saga all head a sea of films where  the kid savior saves us all. Really? We're both Dads here P-Man and I can't speak for your kids but I can't get mine to even clean their room or not spill chips on the couch–thwarting an Alien armada or stopping ancient Gods from consuming our world seem, I don't know, a bit of a stretch? At least make these movies believable, not from a fact-based standpoint but from a human one. Tweens & Teens are notoriously lazy by nature, having them thwart Armageddon seems oh so out of touch—and they need to end. Thoughts, P-Man? 

TP: Agreed Vader, the plot was so holy, they should have shown the movie in a church. In taking a deeper look, there is not much deeper I have to go than the rating of the film... PG. This pretty much says everything I needed to know about the film for critical analysis. The characters were simple, the story was simple, the tone was friendly... there was not much else to this than for me to try to view it as my 14 year old daughter would. Sitting with her as she watches all her teen shows helped me enjoy the film more and curtailed any deeper criticism I might have had, unlike you O’ Dark One. I think the idea of the entire mythos of Percy Jackson is interesting and the mix of humor, drama and action, presented as it was, is a good segway into the heavier stuff the child fans of this film will be exposed to later.


AV: This movie is derived from a popular (and not too shabbily written) series of teen adventure books that offer a number of further adventures for Percy. I think what this series needs is a sense of loss a sense of purpose and a return to the magic that got Riordan the fan readership he gained in the first place. Again, executives of Hollywood, two words here; SOURCE MATERIAL. Follow it, and win. 

TP: I don’t follow the books... but if they are anything like the Harry Potter machine, we can be sure that there will be more films coming to the silver screen.


ARTH VADER rates Percy Jackson and The Sea of Monsters: I thought The Host would have been this year's worst film we would review here. I was wrong. Every empty-headed attempt at a feel-good moment in this film is botched as horribly as the screenplay was. The one bright light is the cameo of fan-boy über-prince, Nathan Fillion whose appearance as Hermes was both fun and refreshing–with a great nod toward Firefly.

Even still, there is little I could find right with this film as I begrudgingly release just one (1) Busted Block in hopes that it, along with this film, will be quickly devoured by the Sea of Monsters, never to be heard from again. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters: Looking at it for what it is, this film was pretty good for it’s target audience. If you can connect with your inner child, then this film will make a connection with you. That said, with a mixed bag of effects (mostly on the negative side), simple story and characters... but innocent and pubescent fun, this movie spawned an immortal five (5) busted blocks. 

Percy Jackson and The Sea of Monsters: 3/10 Busted Blocks

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Re-Introducing Wolverine. Again.

Following the 2009 debacle of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, FOX inches ever-closer to getting it right with The Wolverine.


ARTH VADER (AV): At this point, continuity in all these non-Marvel Studios movies is a joke, Pontificator. Without going down the long, winding (and uninteresting) road of not following the source material, these (mutant) movies can't even follow their own story arc in chronological succession. I can be somewhat forgiving on this topic but it can't be ignored. The last Wolverine movie–that supposedly took place in the 1970's–left Logan without memory and grabbing a brew at bar in Japan (see post-credit cut scene from X-Men Origins: Wolverine). So what happened here Ponty? Did Logan not like his Japanese beer and left to go hang with the X-Men for a while before heading back to hibernate in Alaska? I'm confused...

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): This film takes place after the events in X-Men: Last Stand (instead of X-Men Origins: Wolverine), so the continuity remains intact (if you swallow the red pill), as far as the films are concerned Vader. As far as keeping pace with the comic books, the X-Men films by Fox Studios left continuity behind a long, long time ago... in an alternate universe (my best guess).


AV: Until the day I draw my final breath, Hugh Jackman will evermore be Wolverine to me. There, I said it. Newcomer actress Tao Ocomoto may just yet become my newest movie actress crush. Smart, sophisticated and mysterious, her portrayal of Logan's one true love, Mariko was great. Director James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Girl interrupted)'s vision of Wolverine was captivating. While the screenplay certainly had some holes, the casting was spot on in The Wolverine. So much so that any movie goer, fan boy or other, could watch and have a really good time. Your thoughts?

TP: Hugh Jackman is Wolverine... until they find someone better to fit the role. He has branded the character with his own interpretation of Logan, and it has been pretty good. The overall acting the film was alright and I had no real complaints except for Svetlana Khodchenkova... who I found to be unnecessary and a waste of a character. I’ll get more into that later, but the slow pace of the film didn’t do it any favors either. To be a true summer blockbuster, you have to come stronger than this film O’Dark One.


AV: Two parts of the film stand out as ridiculous SFX shots, Ponty. First, the train scene. While this scene may very well eclipse every good moving action sequence in the history of the action movie genre, this train ride seriously goes (ahem) off the rails–at 180 mph. Its a ridiculously fun action sequence that serves no purpose but to deliver gratuitous levels of adrenaline-soaked mayhem. The second is the end sequence featuring the robotic and awkwardly re-imagined Silver Samurai. While the premise of the idea is just downright stupid, it looked phenomenal. Kind of a running theme in this film. 

TP: <Snikt>...we’ve seen it a million times now, the popping of the claws, the healing factor, and so I wondered where could they find an opening to dazzle me with effects? Fortunately the filmmakers have learned all the lessons taught by others in CGI and were able to pull off the Silver Samurai much better than I anticipated. It was menacing and believable... unlike the train fight scene which was not new (see: Skyfall, Spider-man 2 and Mission Impossible) and quite predictable. Aside from the Silver Samurai, there was nothing being offered in this film in the effects department, that hasn’t already been digested before.


AV: It's a tired conversation to state these non Marvel Studios films go off on weird story arcs and unnecessary tangents. These screenplays butcher perfectly legit stories and dumb them down to experiments in absurdity. The Wolverine suffers from a wandering, listless identity crisis... BUT, the first half of this movie is introspective, exceptionally well shot and so rich in character-driven story telling, it may be amongst the best I have seen. The end is unfortunately a mish-mash of bunk that is as hard to swallow as it is to watch. The beginning feels very much like an entirely different movie than the ending. That said, I liked it overall and would encourage others to check it out as well. P-Man? 

TP: I don’t know exactly where they dropped the ball here Vader, but I can think of a few areas that certainly need some attention, starting with the plot. With so much material in comics, for the plot to be so shoddy is inexcusable. Somehow we are supposed to believe that the gratitude of having your life saved culminates in a murder plot for the one that saved it. Umm... lame. In comics the Silver Samurai has innate power, so why not simply keep that instead of making Viper a mutant... which she certainly is not. Such a rich and profound character reduced to a “mutant” cameo... sad. On top of all that, losing the claws was just dumb. All it did was open the door for a future plot device, equally ridiculous. The complete mish-mash of so many comic elements from past Wolverine stories, thrown together with no coherent plot, made this film as dicey as the bloodless ninjas on the business end of the claws.


AV: As of the writing of this post, Hugh Jackman is discussing a four-picture, $100 million deal that would cement him as Wolverine for the foreseeable future. There is no doubt we will see him in future installments. The post-credit sequence is clearly a build-up to X-Men: Days of Future Past, due out next summer (2014) and his one of the most exciting moments in the film. We need more Wolverine and we demand better scripts! Ponty?

TP: Why was I so sure somebody wanted to look back on the Wolverine films and say “trilogy”? Now you say four? I shudder to think where they will go next because they never seem to get there via the familiar roads already paved. Yes, after the credits we get teased by a scene that looks toward the future for the X-Men... but that doesn’t make me any more optimistic about another Wolverine film... never mind another two.


ARTH VADER Rates The Wolverine: Somehow, even after a fifth appearance on screen, the Wolverine is almost but just not quite there. It's fun, he's furry, he's furious and unfortunately the screenplay still plays like a schizophrenic day dream. But that doesn't stop this from being a frenzied, fun-filled fight fest full feral, flash-ripping fun (don't worry true believers, the theatrical release sports a PG-13 rating but the forthcoming director's cut Blue-Ray DVD will show this movies true color: Red!). Though it still struggles to find it's sense of self, The Wolverine is worthy of a healthy eight (8) Adamantium-filled busted blocks. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates The Wolverine: I really tried to like this film and it helped to have some good scenes and Jackman’s rendition of the character be so endearing, but in the end, much of it was stale. Even though I enjoyed the Silver Samurai (changed as he was), the final battle was somewhat anti-climactic and the waste of Viper and the opportunity for some serious ninja scenes left me feeling heavy... and left this film only able to slice six (6) busted blocks.
The Wolverine: 7/10 Busted Blocks

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

R.I.P.D. Off

The all-too familiar premise of Universal Studio's R.I.P.D. is unfortunately D.O.A. 


ARTH VADER (AV): Well Pontificator my friend, this movie, at best, was going to fight an uphill battle. As a movie, R.I.P.D. was at least somewhat true to it's source material. Ryan Reynold's lead as murdered police officer Nick Walker (or Nick Cruz in the comic), was convincing in a story that just shouldn't have been told so soon after a recent Men-In-Black installment. R.I.P.D. is a pretty creative idea with potential that could have been told with more flair if the source material was adhered to more closely. Thoughts, Ponty?

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): R.I.P.D. is an original movie that... wait, did I say original? Let me put it this way, the events and content in this film have not happened the exact same way in any film prior. With that said, there was an eerie familiarity to this film and although the nostalgia was pleasant, the substance was anything but. I have never read the books, but no doubt they had to have been better than this film.


AV: Ryan Reynolds has become somewhat of a falling stock in the vein of Hollywood leading men especially after the horribly under-performing Green Lantern and the no-fault-of-his-own developments of the mishandled Deadpool character from X-Men Origins: Wolverine.This movie suffers from an unfair–if not unconscious–comparison to the MIB franchise. Jeff "Obediah Stane" Bridges reprises his Rooster Cogburn personae (from True Grit) that is annoyingly charming. I just couldn't get past the old ball-buster cop paired with the unlikely and defiant rookie-ish cop a la Lethal Weapon series, and MIB. That was the.. ahem... nail in the coffin here. 
TP: It doesn’t seem as though Ryan Reynolds will be catching a break anytime soon. Although he is being cast as the comedic type, with hints of a serious side, neither of those sides show a good look in this film. Jeff Bridges is an excellent actor and his role in this film is a good one, even though the film can never do him justice. I can’t say this film was well cast, have to split on the acting and although I enjoyed some elements of the direction, it was listless overall.


AV: This movie could have had a moment in the sun with some decent effects shots but just fell like a corpse on its face here, Ponty. With a full array of 'been there, seen that' effects shots, I couldn't say that anything really 'changed the game' in the effects arena for me in this movie. In fact, one of the film's most charming details comes when we discover the real-world identities of the undead heroes. Ironically, this required exactly NO special effects and was potentially this movie's only spark of creativity in writing and screen presentation.

TP: At the beginning of the film, I was very much enjoying the special effects. The whole “action-stopped-in-time” sequence was entertaining, even though this wasn’t the first time it was seen in films, it was done rather well. After that, it all went downhill. The CGI was horrible, to the point that I began to wonder if the film meant to make a mockery of itself... as part of the failed comedic formula it was using. I watched this film in 3D, and it was a colossal waste to do so. As with other films that used 3D when it was first introduced, it was poorly done and severely underused.


AV: The sad truth is that there just isn't much to R.I.P.D., Pontificator. We have had quite a range of experiences this summer with movies but this film just doesn't offer much to discuss, review or consider. As a stand alone effort, it has moments that make you smile but many parts of this film simply got too cliché, too mired in mediocrity and too dang familiar. That's my opinion but that's why I co-write this Ponty. What did you see when you peered into the microscope, sir?

TP: Well Vader, perhaps if a deeper look was given to this film during production, it would have fared better on the silver screen. I get the idea of making a fun comedy with great talent and cool special effects. I get it... but the makers of this film don’t. I really wanted to be entertained and went in giving this movie the benefit of the doubt. What I got for my openness was a rip-off of Men in Black, minus everything that made those films entertaining. There were times I felt like I was sitting through a Progressive Insurance commercial crossed with Ghostbusters. There were many areas where this film could have been better, instead it seemed to highlight everywhere it wasn’t.


AV: In my estimation, it would take a monumental writing, re-tooling and re-imaging of this property to get it to ascend above where this movies has probably placed movie-goer's expectations. I simply don't see how something this–pardon the pun–lifeless could have any further appeal. Movie-making is a business and all businesses need to prosper to survive. In business terms, this film is a lead-loss. I say put it out to pasture... ehh, so to speak.

TP: When trying to define the essence of a bad idea, making a sequel to this film fits the bill. On the other hand, if wasting money and time is the desired goal, then there is no better endeavor than to make a part two to this. Really though... don’t.


ARTH VADER rates R.I.P.D.: As a self-styled movie man I must confess this movie simply couldn't end soon enough. Even being shot in my home town of Boston, Massachusetts, this story was a dead-end (insert pun-induced groan here) and offered little signs of after (or previous) life. With a screen-play as dead as the story arc itself (I can't stop myself, Ponty!) R.I.P.D. lays just three (3) busted blocks down to their final resting place.

THE PONTIFICATOR rates R.I.P.D.: With subpar special effects, shoddy acting to a failed formula for comedy, facilitated by a terrible script and poor direction... this film kills four (4) busted blocks... without hope of any resurrection. I gave it the extra block for being filmed in our home city of Boston, Vader... and for casting Kevin Bacon as the villain.

R.I.P.D.: 3.5 / 10 Busted Blocks

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