Tag Archives: Matt Damon


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?


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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Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra film posterSynopsis

By Steven ‘Sex Lies and Videotape’ Soderbergh.  About the pianist Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his homosexual relationship with Scott Thorson (Matt Damon).  Based on Thorson’s book about his affair and the jealousies that led to their acrimonious split.  Thorson had started out as an animal trainer for movies.  It shows Liberace getting Thorson to undergo surgery to emulate his own ordeal.  It shows Liberace at his piano performances and his death from Aids.


Hollywood studios would not touch this film so it was premiered at the Cannes film festival, presumably because it’s too explicit in the way it deals with homosexuality.  The big surprise for mainstream cinema is that Matt Damon and Michael Douglas have played mainstream machos (imagine Redford or Eastwood playing a pair of queens!) and here they are not only camping it up but showing the two men in an honest and direct way, though one might still offer the caveat that they might feel easier playing queens rather than ordinary people in such a relationship, after all, quite a few actors have played camp.  Liberace’s stage performance makes Elton John look sedate, I’m reminded more of Andy Warhol (like him Liberace was a Catholic).  It’s amazing that Liberace’s blue rinse audience appear to have been ignorant about his sexuality.

The film follows their daily life in what Liberace called “palatial kitsch”. His candour over his affluent tasteless slum does not diminish one’s visceral revulsion against its tackiness and spiritual desolation, where is the zebra skin couch?  Again, one thinks of the pathos of this spiritual squalor as in Sunset Boulevard.  Liberace’s keyboard talent does not extend to his awful taste in pictures or furniture.  Now of course, many affluent people in the rich world emulate Liberace in the horrors of plastic surgery and manipulation, and sexual callousness in what we call oxymoronically “celebrity culture”.

Douglas as Liberace shows us the nuanced human being under the twitching camp mask that’s sometime reptilian and sometime easily wounded.  The bedroom scenes are a scary mix of insecurity and paranoid jealousy.  We should have expected it, but it is a shock when we learn that those Elvis-in-a-light-socket wigs covered baldness.  In mainstream films we always know we’re in rich decadence when we see bathers drinking champagne in a marble jacuzzi, and so here.  Debbie Reynolds plays Liberace’s Austrian mother, she is so unrecognizable that I thought it might be Meryl Streep doing another elderly lady impersonation.  The various businessmen and lawyers are shysters in mutton chop whiskers and flared trousers, and they all look like wretched scavengers.  Great Performances.

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Posted by on June 14, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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We Bought a Zoo

We Bought a Zoo posterSynopsis

Based on Guardian journalist’s real life purchase of a zoo in Dartmoor and what happens to it.  Matt Damon plays Benjamin Mee.  His wife has died and his son is in a state of grief.  His daughter is enthusiastic about him buying a house in the country and the small zoo that goes with it.  Their workers are Scarlett Johannssen, a feisty Scott (Angus MacFadyren), a teenage girl with a crush on the son and other willing helpers.  Tangled with issues of bereavement there is an ageing tiger.  There are bureaucrats, money problems and a storm threatens opening day………


This is a sentimental film, now set in California, in which everybody comes through emotional ordeals all the stronger.  They have to, this is a mainstream film.  Animals on film over the last half century or so, from Born Free (about a lioness) to zoo programmes, Tarzan and so on, have all shown a Disneyland view of animals.  Their activities are circumscribed by the requirements of sentiment, this film is not an exception.  A dying tiger becomes a sort of cathartic symbol of Damon’s grief management.  Other animals look like cute pets as their lives are controlled by culturally correct self-delusion, one is no longer allowed to call a cage ‘a cage’, but an enclosure.  A change of words doesn’t change the reality for the captive animal.  Bereavement is worked out by the usual guilt and remorse routine as the zoo itself becomes a sort of school of self therapy.  We are not shown the realities of looking after animals in a zoo, in this sanitized place there’s hardly a hint of bodily functions.  Those of us who’ve looked after an old pet know all about that stink and mess.  Scarlett Johannssen would get whisked off to the big city pretty quick and we get no insight into her chosen way of life, she is just a good egg who has a way with animals and who of course will straighten Damon emotionally.  It’s all very treacly and predictable.  We get the anti-bureaucratic feisty Scot and the sleazy bureaucrat who should be given their own compound labelled ‘lovable stereotypes’.  In order to avoid embarrassing lapses into what could look like goofy family camcorder shots, we get zingy pop songs which don’t have any obvious reference to what’s on the screen and we get relentless action like those quick fire adverts as if to avoid lingering lachrymosity.  Sentiment is frogmarched off between the toolbox and getting the job done.  There is a sort of nod to Noah’s Ark, as a storm threatens to maroon the zoo, then the sun comes out and everything is okay.  Undemanding but likeable.


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True Grit

True Grit posterSynopsis

A Coen brothers film based on the novel rather than the 1969 film starring John Wayne.  Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfield) is the daughter of a murdered employer of Tom Cheney, so she wants him hanged.  She hires the reluctant Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) whom she meets in the courthouse where he battles with the lawyer trying to get at the truth about a shooting.  She heads out with him into Indian territory (this is 1878) with Leboeuf, a Texas Ranger, played by Matt Damon.  They track down the gang Cheney is with and he is killed.  Mattie loses her arm from a snakebite, Cogburn tries to save her arm, getting her back to civilization as quickly as possible.  We see Mattie at the end of the film finding out about what happened to Cogburn.


What’s puzzled me about this film is why some critics have wondered at the point of making it.  It’s a story and films are about stories.  Jeff Bridges is a different Cogburn from Wayne, he drawls inarticulately and seems shrewdly ambivalent later in accompanying Mattie out to the wilderness.  The search and pursue party is a constant of westerns, it’s all about the searchers finding out about themselves through the ordeal of the wilderness.  The setting itself is a harsh snowy landscape, all sepulchrally bare trees and various shades of dust brown, this is not Remington’s more opulent vision of nature that are in his paintings.  The trees bear swaying corpses and the backdrop is visually bizarre, like the rider in a bearskin who looks like a bear riding a horse.  This I think is a nod towards Jeremiah Johnston a reminder that even in the 1870’s the west was still a vast wilderness for whites.  Nature is a mirage which is skirted with ambush and violence.  There is no real claim to visual originality, more an untameable quirkiness which resists moral expectations.  Violence is a sudden bitter flourish in gesture and face.  A man’s fingers are chopped off, Laboeuf nearly bites his own tongue off, a snakebite blackens an arm, night camps are protected by ropes which keep the snakes away, brutality will do what it can when the chance arises, there is a hanging in the town of Fort Smith at the beginning of the film.

All this is in contrast to the peculiarly florid and biblical language that the protagonists (especially Mattie) use.  It’s as if the harshness and brutality can be endured by a florid turn of phrase like engraving a chrysanthemum on a samurai sword.  There is deftness about phrase making and argument, Mattie does business easily and persuades tough men to ride with her.  She will not be dismissed, her precocity excites their resentment and erotic insolence:  Laboeuf administers a spanking.  She does not have to resort to the familiar tactics of sentiment, she forces these hardbitten frontiersmen to act on her terms and in doing so sets up a macho contest between Labeouf and Cogburn.  Each probes the other’s weaknesses, though Cogburn is better at concealing his, finally forcing Labeouf into an initially reluctant mentoring role for Mattie.  Civilization of course is thrown into very dubious relief.  In general, western films are resentful of the spread of urban life even as they thrive on the cut throat individualism of its capitalist dynamism.  There is a real, uneasy sort of fascist eulogizing of wildness which usually needs a narrative of resentment to give it coherence otherwise it would just be a National Geographic look at the Iron Man.  The resentment appears when an idiosyncratically cultivated mysticism is violated by capitalist servility, the spread of civilized mores, or ugly industrialism.  These come out in the Coens’ film.  I detest the Coens’ fascination with violence and physical oddity, but in this film they have found their true calling, they out Peckinpah Sam Peckinpah.

This is a reminder of those 1970’s westerns which showed the west from a worm’s eye view: the alkali dust, the longueurs of rural life, the shear life-corroding harshness of the frontier, the moronic thuggishness of the formerly romanticized villains.  The sepia tinted myths were getting a makeover.  The Coens have not exactly rejected the sepias and there is still the unrealistic silliness of the their gunfights, but it could be the Coens are factoring in their own cinematic mythmaking into this story.  Now westerns have to be comments about the western as they try to recreate life in the wild frontier.  In that respect this is a somewhat old fashioned western, although there are acknowledgements of 1970’s attempts at realism, there is mainly a direct line to the westerns of the 30’s to the 60’s where the bad guys wear black hats and the good guys wear white hats and there is no probing into what makes a guy good or bad.


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The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau posterSynopsis

Based on Philip K Dick’s 1954 short story, it’s about an aspiring.politician played by Matt Damon.  He meets Elise (played by Emily Blunt) but he should not marry her, this is decreed by the guys in suits and hats.  These are a sort of guardian angel who watch over humanity.  These angels have details of all our lives which must be lived according to the plan.  Elise must become a great dancer and Matt must become the President of the USA.   They end up running away from Terence Stamp, the chief angel, who tells Damon about the sorry state of unaided humanity and how angels must rescue people from themselves.  It turns out that Damon and Blunt should be together after all but they run through doorways into different places to do it.  One of the angels helps.


This would be a decent Twilight Zone story but it’s stretched rather thin over a film, so the film makers of this have decreed that Blunt and Damon’s romance is the central part of the story.    They are fairly good as the central leads, each with a great future yet with the decency to topple ideas of ambition.  In a way the film is a sort of anti-Faustian pact, Damon wants nothing to do with the future the angels, or higher ups, have planned for him.  He inadvertently came upon them re-arranging human thoughts in accordance with the ‘plan’.  These higher ups wear ’50s hats and suits in plain grey and look like benevolent renegade Kafka bureaucrats.  It’s as if Philip Dick is satirizing the bland bureaucrats that have been a recurrent 20th century nightmare even though they work for the human good.  They work in huge Victorian buildings and their insistence on the protocols of destiny make them look unsympathetically pernickety.  Freedom of will is dismissed as a consumerist myth.  Stamp does his usual paternalistic man of wisdom, trying to be patient with Damon raging against destiny.  You could say that this is an updated Sliding Doors, an experiment with alternative outcomes.  It fits with the fad for the supernatural through a very earthly setting.  Blunt and Damon end up in a tower block as if to be shown the riches of the world: John Slattery from Madmen plays one of the angels and he looks indistinguishable from his role as a grey suited executive in the Madmen series.

The film also seems concerned with what motivates people to get into politics “the showbiz of the ugly” !!  Is it really disappointment in love or lack of it?  Certainly Damon is being groomed to be a successful congressman and he rails against the dishonesty and corruption that go into making a US politician.  He excoriates the image makeover that is supposed to appeal to different constituencies.  He experiences a Damascene conversion to truth and authenticity and this means that he is fighting the decrees of the angels.  Familiar stuff this, the power of lerv !!! This makes him a sort of sophisticated Mr Deeds.  He is not rebelling against politics, just its corruption and it doesn’t concern him in the least that he could ask the angels to manipulate the world for his benefit. He stands for decency, and whatever freedom we are capable of, and he will not have anything to do with manipulation for good or ill.

The film pointedly takes us round New York with its post-twin towers resonances.  It seems timeless though set in present time.  The plot really falls apart when we learn that there are no higher ups above Stamp, it’s us and our free will after all. Duh!   So all that running around from doorway to doorway is just a chance for us to watch Emily Blunt in a neat silk dress like in some perfume commercial.  A slight story skilfully stretched but reaches breaking point with Matt and Emily’s runathon.


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Posted by on May 18, 2011 in Film Reviews, Out on DVD


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