Neill Blomkamp started on the small screen with Stargate and Smallville and well and truly stamped his name on the cinematic scene with District 9, a somewhat unconventional film, that showed him to be an up and coming director of the younger generation. After making such an impression back in 2009, how will his new film Elysium affect his big-screen reputation?
In 2154, whilst the poor and sick live on a desolated earth, the wealthy live up in space on a station named Elysium, where they is no sickness, poverty or crime. Max, an ex-criminal, suffers a horrific accident and his imminent death forces him to find a way into Elysium to heal himself.
From the first shot, vivid scenes of a beautiful Elysium and a filthy, polluted Earth manage to symbolise the huge gap between classes within seconds of the film’s beginning. This lasts throughout and a constant stream of impressive visuals makes Elysium a spectacle. From the luscious plains of the artificial world that is isolated amongst the void of space to the vast, baron nature of Earth, Blomkamp visually enchants whilst producing a metaphor for a (perhaps prophetic) class divide in the not-so- distant future.
Complimenting the settings are revolutionary fight scenes and revolutionary it is: exquisitely realistic police robots blown apart by meticulously detailed bullets that explode on impact, all in slow motion to create an jaw-droppingly realistic experience. Intense bursts of violence are interspersed with silence to give the effect of disorientation. Frequent slow motion shots paired with POV angles create a unique experience: Futuristic fight scenes don’t get much better than this.
Neill Blomkamp is no stranger to smuggling ethical themes into violent films and his latest venture is no expectation. For starters, the name ‘Elysium’ refers to the iconic Elysian Fields from Greek mythology (also referred to many other films such as Williams’ ‘Streetcar Named Desire’), which is a heaven-like home where the gods and good people went after death. Just from the title, Blomkamp shows the divide and segregation between the rich, powerful and the poor. District 9 closely clung to the theme of seperation and racial hatred and this also gleams through in Elysium shown in the clear and strikingly realistic attitudes the rich possess.
Elysium is riddled with deep but subtle metaphors that are at the core of the film. Kruger’s (Sharlto Copler) sadistic nature, the man who is ordered to stop Max at all costs, symbolises the worst of both the residents of Elysium and Earth. This is juxtaposed with the extremely ill daughter of Frey, Max’s childhood friend, Matilda: Through her pure childhood innocence, as well as that shown by a young Max and Frey in the opening and closing scenes to a poignant effect, Kruger’s sadistic nature is highlighted and this produces emotive scenes, that parallel intense battles.
Rather than a powerful motif overshadowing the storyline, it compliments it. What begins as a fairly generic plot of a struggling no-body on a near impossible mission is thoroughly enhanced by a strong theme. The seemingly mundane plot transforms into an interesting story that grows each minute and matures to become both emotionally and visually powerful, peaking in the final seconds of the film.
A fantastic cast astutely complements the bold themes Blomkamp expertly uses. Matt Damon shines through with his helpless yet powerful nature, whilst Spider, the mastermind behind the assault on Elysium, is passionate and eccentric in the face of danger. Jodie Foster as Delacourt is hard-nosed and extremely intimidating director of defence and William Ficthner’s Carlyle is chillingly vulgar: two characters that are (ironically) equally, if not more, brutal than the physical violence Kruger uses and are portrayed by their respective actors with such skill.
This exceptionally intriguing film is an eerie apparition of the future; Blomkamp’s vision of what may come of our home planet. He creates a world, both in space and on Earth, which shows the contrasts of the financial divide, through a structured and elegantly detailed prophetic world. With its bold themes, the masterfully intense and visually exceptional battle scenes and the emotionally crushing exchanges between Frey, her daughter and Max, Elysium is prodigiously prolific in many areas of cinema. Rarely is a film so emotive whilst so unbelievably intense, making Elysium a wonderful addition to Blomkamp’s repertoire, surging him to the forefront of the modern sci-fi genre.
Since the Star Wars mega-franchise was sold in late 2012 for $4 billion, there has been much speculation about what’s next for George Lucas’ creation. With Disney at the helm, JJ Abrams on board and an array of actors already rumoured to be involved, it promises to be a big event when the new films are to be released in 2015. With Disney keeping tight-lipped at the recent D23, it is hard to be certain where the galaxy far, far away will end up…
Star Wars veterans Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Leia) and Harrison Ford (Han Solo) have all expressed interest in being involved in the new re-boot. But, how could this possibly work? If the films are set straight after Return of the Jedi, then these three will look ridiculously old, so that’s a no-go. If the movies are set relative to the age of the actors, so perhaps thirty years later in the Star Wars timeline, then there will be a huge gap in the story of their on-screen lives. And with Ewan McGregor reportedly making an appearance as a ghost, it’s all just a bit confusing. Screenwriter Michael Arndt, of ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and ‘Toy Story 3’, will have a lot to do.
To add to the confusion, the immense Star Wars universe post-Return of the Jedi is already set out, in the form of books. Authors such as Timothy Zahn, James Luceno and Karen Traviss, to name a few, have scribed the continuation of the lives of Skywalker and co.
Major events are already set in stone. Han and Leia have twins, one of which turns to the dark side for a short time, in the book ‘The Last Command’. In saving them from a freak explosion, Chewbacca dies in ‘Vector Prime’. A Grand Admiral named Thrawn takes over the Empire shortly after the Emperor dies and it thrives through him, in ‘Heir to the Empire’.
Does this mean Ardnt has his plot set out for him, or not? If he choses to follow the books, fans will be happy. But what would happen if he doesn’t? Perhaps he has been given free reign to make a new story up. This would surely upset die-hard fans, whilst also simply extinguishing the already told continuation of Star Wars.
Standalone films have been confirmed too: separate movies that explore the lives of key characters, but are not directly related to the franchise’s core plot (Episode 1-6). Being so big, the Star Wars universe has a wonderful array of characters, so it will be interesting which ones are chosen for their own films. Like much of Skywalker’s story, a lot of the other protagonist’s lives are already panned out in book form, with a few notable exceptions. Yoda’s early life is not told and there are no definitive answers as to his origins. A spin-off of his life will surely be a big hit. Plus, the books never divulge the end of Luke, Leia or Han’s life: perhaps a clever move by Lucas to keep the franchise open for future movies?
Despite all the challenges, I think Lucas made the right decision to sell on the franchise and let someone else have a stab. Through all the speculation, I believe that the new Star Wars films will be strong with the force, hopefully exceeding already high expectations.
Star Wars: Episode VII is set to be released late 2015.
Arguably nearing the peak of his cinematic career, the year of 1954 brought from Alfred Hitchcock the chilling crime drama Dial M for Murder. Adapted by Fredrick Knott from his own stage play, Hitchcock once again delves into a murderous plot of deceit and damning reality. With the gift of hindsight, does this 1950s thriller look like an out-dated, passable flick, which does not compare to Psycho? Or does it, in fact, hold its own?
After a bitter professional golfer, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), realises his wife, Margot Mary Wendice (Grace Kelly), had been cheating of him with Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), he devises a cunning plan to kill her, but are his actions the perfect murder?
In his true, unadulterated style, Hitchcock makes his signature traits within minutes: The iconic blonde female, and the subtle cameos are immediately present. Continuing throughout the whole film, his archetypal murder plot is as bold and intriguing as ever.
Simplicity is often the key to success and Hitchcock is a prevalent advocate of this. Largely due to Knott’s adaption from the stage play, much like a theatre production, the minutes are predominantly spent in the small apartment in which Tony and Margot live. Used three years later to great effect in 12 Angry Men, the concept of using one setting for the whole film is tricky, easily slipping into a repetitive and sluggish nature. Yet, Hitchcock uses this a metaphor for the stifling nature of Tony’s presence: he shows the character, through the settings, to be a contrived and overbearing husband. Hitchcock masterfully utilises this to create genuinely innovative and interesting cinema.
Ironically, Hitchcock’s plot is complex. A web of lies and deceit are intertwined forming an intricate story. Tony’s obsessive intentions are elaborate and the results are even more complex, but, Hitchcock manages to slide through scenes with ease, creating a complicated plot that is clearly explained. Grounded by a constant psychological showdown between Tony and Inspector Hubbard (John Williams), a game of wits ensues which is equally puzzling as it is understandable.
As ever, Hitchcock provides a wide range of characters, which supplement the plot to an exact measure. Tony, the jilted husband, is perhaps the most entertaining: his cold and ruthless nature is masked behind a seemingly caring façade, which is perfected by Milland. Consistently, he is given narrative, which is horrifically cold, which when juxtaposed with the wronged and deluded Margot, makes it clear Tony holds an almost insane nature, which is chillingly pleasurable to watch. One predominant setting relies on a solid script and Knott excels in this regard: from start to finish, not a word is wasted, each gradually building the dramatic tension up to the climatic end.
One room, one murder but 2 hours of pure tension. Dial 83 for 83/100.
Baz Luhrmann first showed his extensive creative nature in Romeo and Juliet back in 1996 and since then has made instant classics, such as the bold blockbuster, Mulan Rouge. Luhrmann has returned with an adaptation of Fiztgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby, widely regarded as one of the most significant and best literary pieces of the 20th century. Leonardo Dicaprio is joined by Tobey Mcguire in this tale of life, love and the lavish lifestyle of the mysterious war hero turn millionaire.
Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a extravegent and undoublty lonely, self-made millionare who stumbles upon his new neighbor, Nick Carraway (Tobey McGuire), a budding and ambitious bondsmen. Nick is set up as matchmaker, as Gatsby longs to met again with his former love, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). Jay sets himself the mammoth task of acquiring Daisy’s love once again, yet she is married to a brutal, adulterous and equally wealthy polo player named Tom Buchcnan (Joel Edgerton).
Written by Lurham and Craig Pearce, the screenplay produces a sophisticated and highly emotive narrative, ranging from the colloquial, sassy, working class Myetle Wilson, played by Isla Fisher, to the highly astute yet hypocritically angry Tom Buchanan. All characters included are provided with a near-perfect narrative, which effortlessly exploits the character’s emotions, creating heated bursts of passion and magnificant displays of the pain of love. Dicpario switches from a mature, young gentleman, rooted with a polite decorum to a truly angered and terrifying pained man, instantaneously. He exploits the characteristics needed for a man-on-the-edge so well: his effortless slide from desperation to obsessive hope exceeds the expectations needed for such an iconic literary character. Carry Mulligan portrays a torn chracter who personifies the throws of love; her raw energy on screen highlights the noble and forbidden qualities of both Tom and Jay. Tobey McGuire’s Nick Carraway narrates the film and retrospectively recounts the sporadic nature of Jay’s and Daisy’s relationship: McGuire holds the film together and gives The Great Gatbsy an omniscient and partially neutral story-teller, which produces a focal point to which the film consistently sticks to.
Jay-Z provides a hugely diverse soundtrack and makes the music in The Great Gatsby archaic but extremely fitting. Frankly, the use of modern rap, soul and pop music contrasted with jazz and stereotypical 1920s swinging music is genius. A blend of modern music and an early 20th century setting could easily have been catastrophic, but through Luhrmann and Jay-Z, it is expertly utilized and results in an auditory pleasure.
Musical masterpieces are paired with consistently stunning 1920’s backdrops, from Gatsby’s idyllic mansion to the slightly haunting green light which Jay obsesses over. Dominated by touching and saddening themes, Lurhmann creates a detailed early 1900s world which constantly enchants. Tiffany, the world famous designer company, provided countless jewelry, stain-glass windows and mutliple costumes which portray the archetypal dress sense the post-world war one millionaires used, thus creating an authentic and glamours premise for The Great Gatsby. Another astounding spectacle is the sheer scale of the parties: Lurham uses hundered of actors, including showgirls and jazz bands all extravagantly dressed, surrounded by businessmen and rich women to show the variety of attendants to Gatsby’s weekly gathering, all in the hope that Daisy arrives.
Partly taken straight from Fitzgerald’s masterpiece and partly novel, the script provides every single character with a huge spectrum of emotions to portray. 4*
Luhrmann produces a masterpiece which contains everything an adaption of The Great Gatsby needed: drama, romance, extravagance and passion. 4*
Verdict: Good show, old sport. 4*
Junsuifilms.com, check it out. A great film website which combines mainstream reviews with interviews, galleries and original film work. Direct link here: http://junsuifilms.com/
The Numbers Station (2013)
Crack the code…
By Jack Amor | May 2013
DIRECTOR: Kasper Barfoed
WRITER: F. Scott Frazier
Danish director Kasper Barfoed (The Candidate) takes the helm of this low-budget, trans-Atlantic spy thriller that exposes the intriguingly old fashioned world of code-breakers.
Following a traumatic experience out in the field, Black Ops Agent Emerson (John Cusack) is deployed to a quiet C.I.A. bunker in the English countryside to watch over Katherine (Malin Akerman), a brilliant code-breaker in charge of sending coded messages to agents across the world via radio waves.
Emerson’s new found scene of serenity is abruptly shattered however when the bunker is attacked by a group of rogue agents out to message kill codes for fifteen US secret agents. Locked inside the station, Katherine and Emerson must combine their respective mind and muscle if they’re to prevent a potential national disaster.
John Cusack embraces Emerson’s wounded agent with surprising conviction, his restrained performance bringing gravitas to first time screenwriter F. Scott Frazier’s otherwise by numbers characterisation.
Akerman, too, proves superior casting but her committed turn as brainiac Katherine is often undermined by a clumsy central relationship with her newly assigned protector; the notable lack of character development severely dampening the narrative’s more interesting twist when Emerson is ordered by his superiors to eliminate Katherine.
Barfoed does his best with limited locations and a suitably drab colour palette, while his juxtaposing of frantic puzzle solving with bursts of violence as the intruders close in provides some serviceable thrills.
Yet the enigmatic premise is ruefully wasted as Barfoed eventually succumbs to genre convention with a slew of derivative flashbacks, shootouts and explosions in a rudimentary attempt to inject the final act with requisite set-pieces.
While the two leads ensure The Numbers Station doesn’t completely collapse in on itself it remains a film that could, and should have offered so much more.
A few flashes of inspiration aside, F. Scott Frazier’s breakout script wastes an
interesting premise on predictable plotting, heavy handed themes and
shoddy characterisation. 2
Barfoed’s serviceable direction is elevated by the committed performances of
his two star leads. 2
More Saturday night distraction than multiplex attraction. 2
Please check out my reviews on Junsui Film, feedback would be appreciated:
Written by Marianna Ladas and Allison Volk, Last Ditch Therapy is a short film about a husband and wife who run into marriage troubles. After a recommendation, the couple reluctantly signs up to a therapy program, which is orchestrated by a mysterious doctor/magician. Oh and Elvis turns up. Confused?
The film begins with the couple driving through an idyllic neighbourhood, and almost immediately there is a sense of tension between the husband and wife, which is apparent just from their body language. Allison Volk (the wife) and Matt Wright (the husband) play the duo well but Wright’s performance becomes a little tiring by the end: his attempts at comic lines and mannerisms feel out of place in this movie. Nevertheless, the physicality at the start and the end of the film skillfully portray how much the couple grow together throughout the story.
Suddenly, we’re thrown into the presence of the strange (and appropriately chilling) doctor, who resides in an almost Gothic setting. The doctor uses hypnosis to send the couple to sleep, where they apparently experience lucid dreams. This is where things start to get inconsistent. For example, the husband’s vision is one of him provocatively dancing with his wife. Yet, in the wife’s hallucination, she sees two alternative versions of herself, who battle it out for her attention. But her husband is nowhere to be seen. This is somewhat indulgent on Volk’s part. Also, how would these illusions actually help a marriage? How does dancing with a sexier version of your wife, or watching your alter ego playing a harp, strengthen a relationship? Frankly, it wouldn’t help. At all.
Confusion is apparent throughout the film. This isn’t necessarily bad though, even ten minutes in it’s not clear what is happening, leaving the audience with the desire to find the answers. Except they never do. One scene, which makes no sense at all, is the one prior to the couple’s visions. They are led into a room and their fortunes are read by a crazy witch woman. This bears no relation to the plot and seems highly unnecessary. It’s only purpose is to break up the couple physically, but that could have been done by leading one into a different room (saving five minutes of everyone’s time). What is also used to excess is the musical interludes. One of the wife’s alternates plays the harp for a few minutes in a segment that looks more like a music video than a short film.
However, there is redemption in the closing scenes. The doctor’s portrayal of the couple’s relationship as being a theatrical piece is a clever metaphor for how the couple changes thanks to the therapy. That said, the heart-warming touch in the conclusion does not detract from Last Ditch Therapy being disproportionate in the focus between the husband and wife, and this results in a jumbled mess of sporadic sub-stories.
Great news! I’ve managed to get a review published on an awesome site called Gorilla Film Magazine. They specialize in independent films. Here’s my review:
Set in Papua New Guinea, Le Vallée (Obscured By Clouds) is a tale of love, adventure and the pursuit of happiness. It follows a group of young French travellers who seek to find the eerie, unknown place, known only as ‘the valley’. Almost by accident, the explorers are joined by a rich, young aristocrat who, in an attempt to do business, follows them.
Barbet Schroder, writer and director, aimed to use the idyllic landscape of Papa New Guinea to convey the paradise-like state of ‘the valley’. Strangely, Schroder originally wanted it to be filmed on a boat, but due to budgeting limitations, he took a skeleton crew of just a dozen people to Papua New Guinea to a region that was truly undiscovered and only described on maps as being ‘obscured by clouds’. He states ‘it was something that made you dream’ and therefore the film was subsequently set and filmed there. The setting used adequately provides the characters with the surroundings the plot warrants.
Unfortunately, the wooden acting of many of the actors does not help the film’s cause. Although, the aristocrat, Vivian, played by Bulle Ogier, meanders from sadness to happiness to excitement convincingly. But, many of her supporting cast do not do so with such ease. Michael Gothard plays Oliver, a sceptic of the valley, and his performance is one of a dull-faced nature. This was perhaps intentional as Schroder explains Oliver was actually a satirical view of hippies, as he intentionally likens them to mere ‘tourists’. His lack-lustre role contrasts greatly with Gaetan, the leader of the group. Jean-Pierre Kalfon conveys clearly the character’s passion to find the mysterious region.
The story eventually leads them to a tribe, who take them in. What Schroder does here is very effective: he shows the contrast between the two groups. He uses this to explain how the group is not ready for ‘the valley’ and are still infantile in their knowledge of the island. Nevertheless, the Mapuga tribe show them the way and with the skills they learn they are seemingly ready to continue their expedition. Interestingly, Schroder uses a genuine tribe and the footage shown is real and not falsified. Apart from a few lines, this particular sequence could be taken straight out of a documentary. It is almost wholly about the tribe, which adds a new dimension to the film, but unfortunately diverts from the plot for a significant part of Le Vallée.
The real gem of the film is the soundtrack. Pink Floyd’s ‘Obscured By Clouds’ is sporadically splashed throughout. It opens Le Vallée, but is subsequently suppressed throughout the entirety of the film. Only at times, through the car radio for example, do you hear the soundtrack, even slightly. This is a shame as the album was specifically made for this film and is only used a handful of times. Nonetheless, Pink Floyd’s creation does supplement the film well, at the rare occasion is it used.
Le Vallée explores the themes of travelling, expeditions and beating pigs round the head with bats. Overall, the film’s setting is a wonder to behold and the ending leaves many questions to be asked. Although slightly flawed, Pink Floyd’s, somewhat infrequent, contribution paired with an impressive cast, make Le Vallée a 1970’s hit.
‘If I’m going to make a fake movie, it’s going to be a fake hit.’
Am I watching the same film as everyone else?
The story is set in the late 1970s, amid a volatile Iranian revolution due to British and American interference. The US embassy is overthrown and 6 Americans are able to escape. The film is essentially how the US government launched a cover story to extract the escapees from Iran.
For starters, the fact the film is based on real events makes it immediately enthralling. But once you begin to realise that the key word in that statement is ‘based’, the film becomes less plausible. There are certain scenes towards the end which clearly embellished the truth: in true American-film style, the Iranians are racing down the runway in an attempt to stop the aeroplane. It could have been taken straight from Skyfall. Affleck has later admitted that parts were added and modified to make it more entertaining. Firstly, the British embassy did hold the refugees for several days, whereas in the film, it is stated they are turned away by the UK. Also, the film insinuates that the Canadians took credit for the operation, although the US did all the work: Jimmy Carter, former president of the time, states that in actual fact ’90 percent of the contribution to the ideas and consummation of the plan was Canadian.’ The film fails to mention this.
The actors used for the 6 escapists look remarkably similar to the actual Americans. Towards the end, there is a comparison shown between all the main protagonists and the real people and the similarities are uncanny. Credit to the casting department. On the other hand, Ben Affleck gives a dreary performance which bores the audience. I am a huge fan of Good Will Hunting, but in this he plays a depressed CIA agent who looks as happy as a kid getting socks at Christmas.
Overall, this film is distinctively average. An interesting plot, filled with exaggerations and scenes straight from an action film. Affleck does a good job directing, but looks near-suicidal throughout the film. At times very tense, but so far from the truth, Argo becomes just another action film.