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Elysium

Elysium film posterSynopsis

Sci-fi film set in the 22nd century. Earth is poor and overpopulated.  Rich people live on a space station called Elysium which is a materialist paradise that keeps the poor out.  Matt Damon plays Max, a worker who sickens with radiation (having only five days to live) and is implanted with the exoskeleton mind of John Carlyle (William Fichtner) who runs the factory where Max works.  Max is up against Delacourt (Jodie Foster) who plans a coup on Elysium with Carlyle. Max is asked to help his girlfriend Frey (Alice Boya) and her sick daughter by gaining access to Elysium’s medical cures.  Max battles with Kruger (Sharlto Copley) who is Delacourt’s thug and he must infiltrate Elysium.  Will there be a happy ending?

Review

Damon plays the lead character, and the role could have gone to Tom Cruise or Will Smith, so it’s sci-fi business as usual.  There is the beautiful mother with the sick child, there is slow motion lyricism, an Eastern European choir.  We also get the usual futurist dystopia, which looks like a vast slum, back dropping hi-tech fights.  The film is directed by Neill Blomkemp who made District 9, the Kruger character is from that film and his South African accent is almost incomprehensible.  In the contrast between earth slums and Elysium, one feels that the poverty is romanticized because it is more vital and humane.  There are bits of Oblivion, Zardoz, Iron ManIsland and other sci-fi films in this, so there is little that’s original though it looks great.  The space station surpasses the crude plastic kits of 2001, it’s a stepforward in space.  The corporate smoothies in Elysium are sleek, bland, and vile.  Their main concerns are their jealously guarded privileges vis a vis the starving and oppressed masses on Earth.  This makes us feel uneasy because our own attitude to immigrants can be just as selfish and xenophobic. Carlyle is a smugly arrogant and etiolated swine, he will not tolerate his employees talking directly to him because of germs.  Employees are expendable and do not rate as humans.  Delacourt is the super bitch who runs this gated paradise with an exhorbitant sense of entitlement where humaneness is eccentric or subversive.  They are much like today’s finance capitalists.  Frey is the usual Spanish-Mexican Madonna with an adorable child that we’ve seen many times since the 80s.  The rugged hero is really the right man for her but he has a world to save and must die a beautiful death.  This leads me to a criticism made about this film, that it assumes the world will be not much different in the future.  Surely it’s understood by now that sci-fi is more an extrapolation from present social problems.  Given the hectic pace of technological change, how can we envisage even the next few decades?  Such criticism is facile but it does make the point that we should get away from predictable things. Elysium is District 9 with Ideal Home improvements in space.  One expects more debate and ideas but it’s mostly the usual macho brutality. It could have been an effective satire on consumer capitalism, still it’s visually entrancing

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Posted by on August 29, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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On the Road

On the Road film posterSynopsis                                                                                                  Based on Jack Kerouac’s 1957 On the Road.  It stars Sam Riley as Sal (in the book he’s Neal Cassady), Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarity, Kirsten Dunst as Camille, Kristin Stewart as Marylou, and Tom Sturridge as Carlo Marx (based on Allen Ginsberg).  It’s USA in the late ’40s and Sal wants to be a writer and he meets up with all these characters and they drive around America.  Sal and Dean meet Vigo Mortensen as Burroughs, they sleep with prostitutes in Mexico, Dean has gay sex with Steve Busconi then has domestic problems with Kirsten Dunst.  Sal gets to know a working mother as he does some labouring and later he starts on his novel.

Criticism

I’m not sure what the film wants us to think of these people.  It’s a theme park ride around the 1940s like Pollock and Howl, or any biopic about James Dean.  It’s a 21st century treatment of an age that seems to be difficult to recreate with real feeling, it’s all very self conscious and posed as if the characters are amenably primed to do what’s expected.  The film lovingly presents its bohemian cliches:  the contrived wish to live life to the extreme (‘burn like Roman candles’), the homo-erotic bonding of the self serving mates as they get into tribalized chanting, the obligatory jazz routines where I expected Jude Law to do his Talented Mr Ripley jazz performance, the compulsory drug taking, the adolescent posturing before authority figures, the pretensions to artistic intensity, the appalling treatment of women.  This last in the list is a constant leitmotif of male ‘bohemia’, the free wheeler and sex predator always has subservient women to feed his ego.  Kirsten Dunst looks after the baby, her domestic drudgery the ironic contrast to Dean’s self glorification.  Galatea (Elizabeth Morris) is angry at her husband Mortensen as Bull Lee (Burroughs)  discusses art with the other males as women scrub floors around them.  This ‘free life’ is always at the expense of women.  Mortensen keeps a ‘bohemian’ menage, and his wife brushes lizards out of a tree.  Mortensen himself uses Wilhelm Reich’s eccentric orgone box which is supposed to enhance psychic energy.  The high old time in Mexico is with prostitutes (those other reliable props to the freewheeler’s ego), and Sal predictably gets like Jon Malkovitch in The Sheltering Sky (another film based on self absorption at others’ expense).

As a road movie,On the Road follows the ‘philosophy’ of these films:  the journey is an end in itself and the traveller must ‘find’ himself (it’s a pity he doesn’t get lost).  The film Easy Rider was all about this and what we usually get is privileged types who don’t know what to do with their lives.  The only thing that they expand is not their minds but their self regard.  Like a Woody Guthrie hero, Sal works with cotton pickers but of course this is just a jaunt for his novel like the trip to Mexico.

On the Road is set in the era that gave us coffee bar jazz, beatniks, and pop Buddhism.  We do get some stunning scenery:  bleak winter highways and desert landscapes.  There is the promise of visionary imagery which never turns up.  This movie seems happy to glorify these people and I didn’t detect any ironic distance.  Sam Riley as Sal is not sympathetic.  The director of On the Road made Motorcycle Diaries about the young Che Guevara on his trip around South America, and we get pretty much the same here.  They are supposed to acquire wisdom from drifting about.  I don’t think so.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in Film Reviews

 

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