Elysium (2013)

Elysium (2013)

South Africa and I go way back. I’ve travelled out there numerous times, I’ve been good friends with people from the country and I listen to music emanating out of that country… you could say we’re good buddies. Or “brews”, if you want to pronounce “bros” in the local tongue. You see, I’ve always had a bit of a thing for that Afrikaaner accent… I can’t escape it. It’s a bizarre hybrid of Dutch and Australian to my ears, and I love it. But South Africans in movies? Well… they’re not common place are they? Ok, aside from Charlize Theron, but her accent disappeared long ago. No, the movie that really drew attention to South Africa in modern years that wasn’t about Nelson Mandela or diamonds was the sci-fi romp called District 9. The Phage actually watched this movie at the cinema whilst in Johannesburg… now that’s dedication to the silver screen, right? What’s more, we bloody loved it too. It introduced us to the winning combination of director Neil Blomkamp and actor Sharlto Copley. So when we heard that a new movie was due, featuring these two… well, we got all excited. That movie is Elysium.

Elysium (2013)

Lamentably, Elysium isn’t a sequel to District 9, which ended on the most spectacularly melancholy of cliffhangers. Whether we’ll ever see another District movie, I’m unsure. Especially as Blomkamp now has his new movie, Chappie, greenlit by the studios. That film, by the way, is also due to star Sharlto Copley, alongside Dev Patel and two members of “zef” rap group Die Antwoord. It’s also set back in South Africa, so at least it’ll scratch my itch for South African accents once again…

Elysium (2013)

But back on track, Elysium does not focus on South Africa, although several characters are from there! No, Elysium focuses on the slummed out Los Angeles of 2154. Earth’s an overcrowded, underfunded, disease-ridden wreck. All of the wealthy folks have fled the planet to live on an orbiting space station known as Elysium. A place where no-one gets sick, and apparently no-one dies! But getting there? Pretty hard! Either you have a lot of money or you hop on an illegal shuttle and hope that Jodie Foster‘s Secretary Delacourt doesn’t have you shot down. But when Max (Matt Damon) has a terminal accident on Earth, he tries to get up to Elysium to be healed by undertaking a kidnap job that lands him in a plot that’s far greater than he initially imagined… bringing about the hungry wrath of sleeper agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) in the process.

Elysium is not District 9. To some this will be a relief, to others a shame. For me, it’s a shame. But that being said, Elysium is in itself not a bad film… in fact, it’s quite good! It’s just hard to love it when District 9 did so much right and was so insightful and clever in its subject matter. What Elysium does right is its beautiful cinematography, stunning visual effects and highly capable acting from Damon and Copley… what it doesn’t do right is… well, Jodie Foster

Elysium (2013)

You see, the problem is that her character felt forced and fake. Delacourt is a power hungry woman with a detestation for all of Earth’s humankind. But why? What’s the cause of this malice? Why is she power hungry? None of this is answered. She’s just a cookie-cutter “bad guy” with no back story. A good villain always has a back story… this one lacked it and also lacked much in the way of character overall. Thankfully, the “bad guy” mantle is ably picked up by Sharlto Copley as Kruger – brandishing that fabulous broad South African accent to boot. I’m a big supporter of Copley (even in The A-Team) and this again reaffirms my belief he should be cast more often. Maybe even by people other than Neil Blomkamp! Mention of course also has to go to Matt Damon – an actor that’s always reliable nowadays. Elysium is no different in that respect. Sure, it won’t win him any plaudits, but it’s a solid performance from Damon.

So what of my old friend, the plot? It worked. It has its twists and turns to add depth and intrigue, but nothing out-and-out shocking. That’s not necessarily a huge slur against the movie in itself, but it would have been nice to be caught off-guard a little more often. I think the film was helped along somewhat by the stunning visual effects – Blomkamp really shines with the way he shows his vision to the audience. Much like District 9, Elysium is gritty, grimey and shot in a way that really eschews the huge bombastic Hollywood-esque shots. Indeed, Elysium is easily the biggest and best “armageddon” style film of the summer – surpassing Oblivion and After Earth effortlessly.

Elysium again demonstrates why Neil Blomkamp should be seen as one of the true great sci-fi writers and directors of the 21st Century. In The Phage‘s eyes, he’s yet to make a misstep. It will come, we’ve no doubts about that, but for now we’re really stoked on seeing Chappie when it lands in a year or two’s time at the cinemas. Elysium is a gripping slice of sci-fi action, with solid performances from Damon and Copley. It’s just a shame it’s let down quite hard by lacklustre characterisation of Foster‘s Delacourt. But this can be overlooked… and should be, as it definitely merits a viewing.

So bru, mar love for all things Sath Ifrican is still pretty much intact, eh? Yassas, mar boy Sharlto really brings it with that lekker accent and die plot is bagkat. Essentially… Elysium is pretty damn good and deserves to be seen, whether you’ve a hankering for some SA accents or not… But if you do… well, you best start revising your Afrikaans nursery rhymes whilst you’re at it… You’re going to need it bru…

Phage Factor:

4 Star

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The World’s End (2013)

The World's End (2013)

It’s weird how most successful film franchises come in threes. It seems we all like a trilogy, but get a bit bored when a series hits four or five films, for some odd reason. Indeed, the era of the four-to-five film franchises seems to have ended in the early 1990’s / late 1980’s. Well, on the whole anyway, as it seems that horror movies have no problem pumping out sixth and seventh instalments in franchises (I’m looking at you Saw). But then again, they’re typically low budget, high return films, so it’s no surprise. That’s not always the case with the pricier films. So with all that said, we now see a film emerging to conclude a trilogy. And this is no typical trilogy. In fact, the only tenuous link between the three films are its two lead actors and director / writer… oh, and an obsession with talking about that classic coned ice cream treat: the Cornetto. Yes, the thrilling conclusion to the The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy is here… enter, The World’s End.

Strawberry, vanilla or mint? Pick your flavour!

Strawberry, vanilla or mint? Pick your flavour!

Confused how this is a trilogy? Can’t remember the films that went before? How can this be true?! Almost a decade ago we had the awakening of Shaun of the Dead: a film about romance set to the backdrop of the zombie apocalypse in London. Three years later we had Hot Fuzz, a buddy cop movie about life in rural England with murderous, bombastic undertones. And now, some six years later, we have The World’s End, a film about a pub crawl with an apocalyptic setting. What ties the films together? The Cornettos, the acting talent on display and the most valuable asset of all… British humour.

The World’s End, at its core, stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, along with director Edgar Wright who co-writes with Pegg. This time around, Pegg plays Gary King – the leader of the gang (from school). He’s intent on reliving his youth and completing a 12-pub pub crawl he couldn’t finish with his buddies when he was 18. So, he reunites the gang, rounded out by estranged best friend Andy (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Peter (Eddie Marsan) and Steven (Paddy Considine), to once again undertake his crawl some 20 years later. But things are awry in Newton Haven (a typical British town)… everyone’s acting somewhat oddly. Yes, Gary and the gang uncover a somewhat sinister secret of a global takeover by an extra-terrestrial force. Best reach for the Cornettos then.

The World's End (2013)

Shaun of the Dead is a hard act to follow for Pegg, Frost and Wright. I’d argue that Hot Fuzz didn’t live up to my expectations and fell somewhat flat. Others would say that Hot Fuzz was superior to the zombie-fuelled exploits that went before it. And obviously, people will argue where The World’s End fits into this threesome. Plus, for the sake of argument, we’re not including Paul in this debate, as Wright had no part in the film… and it’s set in the US. We’re strictly British here I’ll have you know! Where do I figure that The World’s End lands? Keep reading… Or skim to the end if you’re bored of reading already.

What I particularly enjoyed about The World’s End was the dark tone of the movie, particularly Simon Pegg‘s Gary King. In previous films you’ve been able to warm to Pegg‘s character almost instantly. Particularly in Shaun of the Dead. But here? I found myself strongly disliking him almost immediately. I was worried actually, as the first 20 minutes dragged somewhat for me, as I found myself unwilling to take Pegg‘s King under my wing and care about him. He has issues. He needs to grow up. And therein lies the message of this film… we all have to grow up and move on at some point. Life marches onwards and sometimes you have to march on alongside it or be left behind.

The World's End (2013)

Sorry, I went a bit deep there didn’t I? Aside from Pegg‘s character and the plot’s undertones, the film is replete with laughter-inducing moments. Not many belly laughs, I must add, but a lot of smiles and sniggers. But then again, I’m a hard Phage to impress; some might say I’m a snob for comedy. What I like? I really like. What I don’t? I detest. But The World’s End worked in the humour stakes. It also worked well in the plotting stakes too. The film constantly twists and turns to try and buck the viewer off its back, right up to the final scenes. I like this. Especially when it’s coupled to the deliciously British dark humour that the film draws on.

The World's End (2013)

As for the acting talent on show… we’ve got some fine British acting on show here. Recently, we’ve seen an explosion of talent marching across the world stage thanks to “newbies” such as Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbach and James McAvoy. You can also say the same of Simon Pegg nowadays, as he’s in hot demand, which is good to see. Arguably, it’s Nick Frost‘s character that was the highlight for me. A somewhat stifled lawyer who’s clearly shellshocked from his past. But when he lets rip? He lets rip. His character had the most interesting arc for me here. But having said that, the whole ensemble add real weight here thanks to Wright and Pegg‘s scripting fleshing out each character. Similarly, this is definitely an Edgar Wright film, from the stylistic shots of pints being pulled to the flavour of the dialogue. Let’s hope he can bring the same bold style to Marvel’s Ant-Man when that hits in 2015…

The World’s End will definitely be a hit with old Cornetto fans; it brings back the humour, the bromance and the clever social commentary that was present in the previous two films, but adds a new plot on top of it. Having said that, there are slow moments and it’ll take you time to warm to all of the characters, but once the film really starts rolling towards the apocalypse you’re sucked into the world entirely. Once again, us Brits show the world how humour should be done… less raunch, dick jokes and boobs, and more sarcasm, wit and use of the c-word. Yeah… we know how to offend and amuse in equal amounts!

So which Cornetto flavour is my favourite? Is it strawberry (Shaun of the Dead), vanilla (Hot Fuzz) or mint (The World’s End)? In the real world, I’d plump for mint. But perhaps it’s telling that my last trip to the supermarket saw me return with a box of five strawberry Cornettos (for 99p! Cheap!)… it was an omen. For me, Shaun of the Dead will remain the best in this series of three films, like your first true love, it’s sometimes hard to top (but can happen). The World’s End is a very close second though and is one I could go back and watch again. I’m always partial to a bit of mint, especially if its sprinkled with some truly dark chocolate / humour…

Phage Factor:

4 Star

After Earth (2013)

After Earth (2013)

Some actors and directors are just so friggin’ bankable. You put them in front / behind the camera and you KNOW you’re going to make big money. Why? Because they have a rabid fan base and you know they’re going to deliver one hell of a memorable film. And if they don’t? Well, you know it’s going to be a fun ride nevertheless. But this isn’t a hard and fast rule; sometimes things go wrong. Normally I’d be one to say that Samuel L. Jackson is in great movies, and they’re generally enjoyable, so combining that with a Sin City esque noir backdrop should work… but you’ve seen The Spirit right? That’s only off the top of my head, and there are a ton of examples of such missteps. So, what about Big Willy, Will Smith? He’s had hit after hit for years now – they really have gone BOOM and SHOOK SHOOK THE ROOM. From the “lows”: (but stupidly successful) wikke-wikke Wild Wild West, to the highs: essentially every other film he’s put his name to, Will Smith has been one of, if not the, most bankable actors internationally. So how does After Earth fair? Are we Gettin’ Jiggy With It? Are we Just Cruisin’? Or is it time to call the Men In Black to cart him away?

After Earth (2013)

Ok, I think I’m about all out of shoe-horning in Will Smith song titles into sentences, but you get the point. The guy’s a legend. After Earth sees him re-teamed with his son, Jaden Smith (seemingly he’s lost his mother’s name in there), in a “future sci-fi epic” wherein Will and Jaden crash land on Earth years after its been abandoned to pursue a life elsewhere in the universe. The aim? To retrieve a beacon that’s some way away so they can get off the planet… and that’s it. That’s the entire premise. Oh, did I mention that Will Smith basically sits down for 2/3 of the film too? I didn’t? Does that add to the excitement for you?

As you can probably tell, I wasn’t enamoured with After Earth. It’s quite honestly one of the dullest movies I’ve seen in recent memory; mercifully it’s kept at a 100 minute run time, as I couldn’t endure any more. This is NOT a Will Smith movie. You will see no humour, you will see no wit. Sure, we’ve seen Will play the serious roles before (Ali, Seven Pounds etc.), but this role is just dry and one dimensional: an elite solider who can “ghost” and avoid aliens owing to his lack of fear (oh yeah, there’s aliens, but they’re not exciting) – he’s also devoid of character. Also, as I mentioned, he spends the vast majority of his time sat down because of a leg injury. There’s very little demanded of Will Smith here, which is a shame as we all know what a talent he is. So, what of Jaden? Well, it’s essentially a Jaden Smith film featuring Will Smith. The trouble? The plot.

Get used to this scene...

Get used to this scene…

The film consists of Jaden Smith just running around a forest avoiding CGI animals. Not crazy, alien animals, no. Mainly baboons and bizarrely man-hungry eagles. And also cutting himself on bushes. This is is. This is your film. Following Jaden in a lycra suit that occasionally changes colour. I wish I was simplifying the movie for you, but I’m really not; it’s simply that dull. The scripting is weak, the plotting is dull and the action is scant on the ground. All with Will Smith uttering some monotonous spiel about fear and danger every five minutes. THEN, when you do finally have the alien section… well, it fails to up the excitement at all. Dull.

After Earth (2013)

This brings me to my next point… the director. We finally see the return of M. Night Shyamalan here. The guy that ruled the world with The Sixth Sense, Signs and Unbreakable, before commencing a steady decrease in quality that eventually led to The Last Airbender. So, we see his return, but you couldn’t tell. Having him here seems like a mercenary move to try and bolster some interest in the movie. It has none of his flair and crucially none of his twists. I don’t want this. If he’s going to come back I want him to hit hard with a “classic” Shyamalan, or at least try and attain those same heights again. I don’t want this formulaic, plot-dry attempt at a sci-fi epic. It’s not welcome!

Does After Earth have anything going for it then? Erm… I couldn’t actually tell you. There’s nothing in my mind that I thought “ooo good concept, just poor execution”. It’s just a poor concept with a fantastic lead actor that then proceeds to not use him in the slightest. It perplexes me. Thankfully, Will Smith has an arsenal of films lined up for the next two years, so he’s obviously going to redeem himself for this “blip”, but it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. I’m not really sure why he took the project, considering he’s a guy that can pick and choose roles nowadays. Let’s be fair… it’s not like he needs the money.

So… to sum up this film with another song? Just The Two Of Us. It pretty much epitomises this movie, as there’s very little else to talk about. In fact, you could argue that you don’t really need to mention Will, as he doesn’t serve that much of a purpose here either. Maybe After Earth just needed a catchy Will Smith song to sell it actually? With some “huh”, “yeah” and “jiggy” in the chorus. That’d have had me dancing down the aisles, as opposed to walking out and fearing giant eagles that are CLEARLY man hungry predators on Earth…

Phage Factor:

1.5 Stars

Oblivion (2013)

Oblivion (2013)

Oblivion. It’s such a startlingly powerful sounding word isn’t it? But what image does it conjure up in your head? Think about it. For some, it’ll be the true definition of the word: the state of being unaware of what’s happening around you – to be oblivious, you might say. Others may take it as something akin to an abyss – an impenetrable mire, from which nothing can escape. Others still may actually conjure up images of a video game from several years ago starring some demons, portals and wizards. It’s amazing what imagery can be conjured up from a single word! But which of these descriptions actually sums up Oblivion, the latest Tom Cruise-manned vehicle? Does it carry the word well, or is it too destined to just fade into oblivion?

Oblivion... looks kinda icy!

Oblivion… looks kinda icy!

Quite a lofty introduction to a film review, don’t you think? But how well does the title describe the film? Well, Oblivion is the first of two big movies this season to talk about a post-apocalyptic Earth that’s being revisited for some reason or another (the other being Will Smith‘s After Earth). This time around, we’re told that an alien race appeared and destroyed our moon. This threw the whole world into disarray and caused a cataclysmic meltdown of society. But the aliens weren’t done there… no no, they then landed on Earth and tried to take over. They failed, but the Earth is a husk, grossly damaged by the subsequent use of nuclear bombs. Now, some years later in 2077, we follow Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) – an engineer who’s tasked with repairing security drones down on the surface of Earth. These drones are there to protect various other large vessels that are draining the Earth dry in order to generate power to be shipped off to Titan – one of Saturn’s moons… but things get a little weird for Jack, as he starts to remember some facts that were erased long ago…

Simply put, the film has a rich back story and a great lore. You can’t fault director / writer Joseph Kosinski for really thinking about his world! It goes without saying that the film looks absolutely incredible too. Kosinski‘s view of the future is bleak, but totally mesmerising. I wouldn’t quite say I was as hypnotised as I was with the visual splendour of some of Spring Breakers‘ scenes earlier in the week, but nevertheless it looked great. Even better in iMAX if you have the option for that too. So far, so good…

Oblivion (2013)

But what of the acting? Well, once again – it’s solid work. The core cast, which includes the aforementioned Tom Cruise, plus his co-guardian Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), the mysterious Beech (Morgan Freeman) and the newly-salvaged Julia (Olga Kurylenko) are all perfectly comfortable in their roles. It was nice to actually see Freeman in a role that’s not as typical as usual – he’s not playing the kind, older guy that helps out the hero of the film. Thank you! If anything it reminds me more of his role in Wanted – a film I’m not particularly keen on, but that’s what came up in my mind. As for Riseborough and Kurylenko? Solid performances, but I can’t say that their roles really sold their acting skills all that much. Tom Cruise however, is once again on great form doing exactly what Tom Cruise does. If you don’t like the guy’s acting, you probably won’t enjoy Oblivion, but if you do – you’re getting what you’d get in any modern era Cruise film… Once again, so far, so good – the film doesn’t spiral into an abyss yet.

But it does come a bit closer to that hole… You see, the film makers have made a great deal of fuss over the winding plot, replete with its twists and turns. The trouble with this is that I expect the twists to be a) semi-logical, and b) unexpected. I’d say the film has two, perhaps three big twists, which I’m of course not going to spoil here. But one of them is hinted at if you have even a basic grasp of planetary facts. Now, let’s not pigeon-hole me here – The Phage is not a physicist, an astronomer or anything even remotely close. I just seem to absorb random facts that I’ve heard over the years, a bit like Bradley Cooper‘s character in Limitless. This is one of those times where I instantly recall something about the moon of Titan, which doesn’t really stack up with the rest of the above narrative. If anyone’s curious as to what that is – drop a comment below and I’ll use my Cooper-esque recollection abilities for you.

Oblivion (2013)

That’s not all I have to say about these twists either. If you recall, in Side Effects I took umbrage with the fact that the main twist of that thriller was so out of left field that it seemed like the writers had somehow cheated you out of a proper plot. Well, we’re going back into the field on the left in Oblivion too. Whilst I’d already guessed what the “big” twist was, some of the minor ones were totally bonkers and got more and more surreal as they progressed, right up until the very end of the film. In fact, the end just made me feel a bit cold to it all… You’ll see what I mean. Damn, this is a hard movie to review without spoiling anything whatsoever! But I’m determined to not do it, lest I feel your wrath. Let’s just say that some of the twists once again made me think of Wanted… but for the wrong reasons.

Having said all that, Oblivion is a solid slice of sci-fi and is set in a beautiful world. It deserves praise for that alone. It’s just that I sensed the film was a bit too drawn out at points and down-right daft at others. Sure, this is sci-fi – I should expect some ludicrous ideas and premises because it’s the future. Hell, the guy has a pulse rifle and flies around in a cool looking jet whilst living in an apartment in the sky. I can buy all that. I just wasn’t sold on some of the other plot details. Whereas some seemed too obvious, I was just oblivious to why they were included (see what I did there?).

So, which of the definitions does Oblivion live up to? It’s certainly not destined to be thrown into an abyss, that’s for sure. It’s a solid film that deserves to be seen… but it also does seem a bit too “video game” like for my tastes. No, it didn’t feature any demons or wizards, but it did seem somewhat familiar, as most games do. You almost get the feeling that Oblivion is a Frankenstein sci-fi that welds together various other film plots to suit its own means. But if you’re oblivious to some of those other films then the film will be a lot more appealing. OK, I’ll stop using words beginning “oblivio…” now… Ob(li)viously, as it’s the end.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star