Elysium: in the near-future humans are divided into the haves and have-nots; with poverty and crime rife on a polluted earth and the 1% (!!) enjoying an idyllic and disease-free lifestyle in a giant space structure. I think this is about health care in America, although can’t be sure… To cut to the chase, I don’t believe that this is in the same league as District 9, but partly because a lot of the film’s tone and aesthetics appear to lean heavily on the ‘look and feel’ of Bloomkamp’s previous film. The story is also quite similar although less of a subtle political under-current, and more of an in-yer-face affair. While it’s bigger, brighter, shinier, and louder than his previous film, Dirctric 9 takes a lot of the wind out of Elysium’s sails, as you feel like you’ve seen a lot of this before – and in the end, it just gives you with a craving for prawns.
The Informant!: follows ADM executive Mark Whitacre, and his turbulent relationship with colleagues and the FBI during a global corporate price-fixing conspiracy. What hits you first is the lo-fi, softly lit yellow hue’d, old-skool, late 1960s TV aesthetic that dominates the style – no film has looked like this for decades, which makes it stand out. To match this there’s a snappy, finger clickin’ jazzy soundtrack with a hint of old spy movie about it – no coincidence there. Damon is superb as the conflicted lead in both his performance and physical transformation – a tubbier frame, moustache and wig puts decades on him. The supporting cast are interesting choices given the number of out-and-out comedians giving restrained performances – but it works. The Informant! boils down to being a two-man show: one at each side of the camera lens. Soderbergh has taken a massive corporate crime story and turned it into a quirky little white-collar caper – and whilst it’s entertaining enough, the story would have had more impact as a flat-out documentary.
Contagion: as a lethal virus spreads rapidly around the globe – we observe as the government, pharmaceutical industry and everyday people struggle through the pandemic. It’s always good to see an ensemble cast this big, but with the numbers involved some people go +30 minutes without an appearance, and each person’s angle feels underdeveloped. Too single one person; out I can’t tell if it was Jude Law, or the ridiculous blogger / twitter journalist he was playing, but that strand was just terrible. Other than the devastating virus and ensuing medical procedural hunt for a cure, there’s no single dominant story; there’s a slow build-up, mildly tense middle, and it ends quite abruptly as we just stop dipping in and out of the characters lives. Unlike most blockbusters the science is very realistic (on good authority from my buddy with a Master’s in Cellular Immunology). With the ultra realism in both content and a simple, minimal directorial style, you’re left with a ‘film’ that feels more like a discovery documentary / re-enactment – but with some familiar faces. The final product is a mildly depressing, Dell sponsored, montage heavy film that tries to juggle too much, with very little focus.
The Adjustment Bureau: an aspiring politician accidentally sees behind the curtain of ‘fate’, and how he’s not fully in control of his own destiny, so he tries to re-write the books. This is the first romantic, heavily religious sci-fi thriller I’ve seen in a while… and juggling all those things hurts the film – but that’s only one of the minor problems. The ‘adjustors’ – who are never fully explained – are cringe-inducing. They wear old style clothing (ok), and their special powers are hats that allow them to walk through doors (ookaaaayyyy…..), and their Achilles heel is water (oh.)… Seriously – semi omniscient beings whose kryptonite is the most abundant compound on the planet! As for the other characters, there’s almost no attempt to develop anyone. It also feels like it’s been put together by the NYC tourist board, with no fewer than 10 photogenic locations. As the film went on some of the reveals and explanations were so stupid I was chuckling for minutes at a time. Emily Blunt’s totally watchable, but did I really just see Matt Damon in a big-budget b-movie?? Seriously, what’s he doing here? The final product is a totally ludicrous and non-sensical film; but you get the feeling that everyone involved knew that. It’s ultimately harmless, but totally stupid.
The Departed: modern twisty cop tragedy based on a Hong Kong trilogy and set in Boston; which tees up some of the worst crimes against accents in modern cinema – the foxy psychiatrist being the biggest offender. There’s a lot of ‘hard’ and seemingly strange cuts & edits, with some amateur-looking camerawork in places (although it won Best Picture / Best Editing Academy Awards: so it must just be me!). Despite these foibles you still get absolutely immersed courtesy of the superstar cast and phenomenal story. Walberg’s rage and Nicholson’s insanity are especially great to watch, although all the mains put on a noteworthy show. The soundtrack’s also used brilliantly to get you more involved in the scenes, and the last hour of this film is pure cinema gold, with drama and twists all over the shop! It’s a great film, and if you liked this a lot it’s 100% worth watching the original ‘Infernal Affairs’ trilogy. It won’t do Boston tourism, or the Irish, any favours…
The Bourne Ultimatum: it’s almost like a bond film, with its bonanza of locations, technology, action and thrills. The shaky cam and generally gritty / urban look of the film means that watching it in HD is pretty pointless, although the amazing 5.1 track and slick editing more than made up for it! This film ticks all the boxes for a great action movie, yet it’s anything but dumb; it even leaves you thinking about things like intelligence tactics, torture and (to a lesser extent) the media.The entire trilogy is strong, and this final installment is the icing on the cake – setting a new benchmark for action film!