Category Archives: 5 Things

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Her

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

HER

  1. Her, a near future depiction of a world where the OS on our computing devices is far from artificial and much more intelligent (the incredible episode, “Be Right Back,” from the UK’s transcendent anthology television series, Black Mirror, goes one step further), is at once a haunting and depressing reality and at the same time a stunningly provocative and beautiful commentary on the increasingly blurred lines of our connectivity.  The technology may be a few steps ahead of today (Siri is still getting her feet wet as a reliable assistant), but the emotional understanding could not be more current.
  2. The “Him” in Her is played with a delicate accessibility that has been vacant in the more recent career of the always great Joaquin Phoenix.  The result is immediate buy-in.  This allows his relationship with “Her” to come alive in reality and not in fantasy (Can you imagine Phoenix’s character from The Master or that weird, bearded rapper he played in real life interacting honestly with an OS?  Nope.).  “Her” is performed by Scarlett Johannson in what may be the most memorable vocal acting performance since Robin Williams’ genie in Aladdin.  Ms. Johannson’s seductive tones and “I just woke up on a weekend morning” rasp create an immediate allure.  Her chemistry with Phoenix is undeniable.  They are as genuine and honest as both characters believe the relationship to be.  Subsequently, the audience does not for a moment question the veracity of their feelings and openly accepts the possibility of this technological advance.  (One additional note: Samantha Morton originally portrayed Samantha.  She was on set, in the room, responding live and Joaquin was responding to her.  When Spike Jonze’s team went to record the dialogue in the studio, it just wasn’t working, so Johannson was brought on as replacement.  To know that Johannson’s performance was responding to only footage and tape of Joaquin’s performance is even more impressive.)
  3. Well played, production team of Her.  The production design and costumes of Her create a near future of mustaches, high wasted pants, and retro colors that make sense and speak to realistic fashion trends.  The technology design has a simplicity and artfulness that is rooted in the already established movements in the field.  The musical score adds a lush color to the already transformative visual mosaic.  Its melancholic beauty is tone affirming,
  4. Her, by a wide margin, features my favorite Amy Adams performance of the year (Take that Man of Steel and American Hustle).
  5. Her is a film set in the future that has both currency today and will have continued resonance as it ages.  Although very much a byproduct of a soon to be now, its timeless relationship truths are as universal as its title.

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Holiday Season Edition

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

It’s been a while.  ’Tis the season to be busier than usual and this holiday season proved to be a formidable foe to free time.  Consequently, this post will feature not one, but three movies that I have seen in recent days and weeks.  Let us hope that the beginning of 2014 affords more time…

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

  1. I trudged out of the movie theater into the bristly cold, New England night after the three hour runtime of The Wolf of Wall Street believing the following things to be true: I was exhausted, I needed a shower to clean myself from the unrelenting visual debauchery of the cocaine hooker-ville that was this latest Martin Scorsese picture, and I DID NOT like the movie I had just watched.

  2. I also believed the following things to be true: I had just witnessed the best acting performance of 2013, the best acting performance of Leonardo DiCaprio’s career, Martin Scorsese’s best film since Goodfellas (I am looking at you, The Departed), and a masterpiece (despite the length and the redundancy of misbehavior) of a movie.

  3. Leonardo DiCaprio is absolutely phenomenal in The Wolf of Wall Street.  His performance as the morally incompetent, but toxically charismatic wolf, Jordan Belfort, is physically and emotionally fearless, breathtaking scene after scene after scene, and as naked (literally and metaphorically) as I have ever seen Leo.   Here, he is the movie star he was always destined to be – free from any inhibition and constraint to cruise control (and frequently out of) his way through an unyielding barrage of the baddest behavior.  His scene work and chemistry with fellow actors is the best of his career and rivals his work with Kate Winslet, his professional star-crossed lover.  Although content-wise, I would not recommend The Wolf of Wall Street to many in or out of my circle, for anyone who enjoys the movies, you must see this pinnacle performance of Leo’s career.

  4. Although appreciating and respecting his body of work and fully believing he is the on the Mount Rushmore of American filmmakers, I have never been on Team Scorsese (I play for Team Spielberg and more recently, for Team Nolan).  What makes Martin Scorsese prolific has never aligned with what I most love about cinema.  Notwithstanding, The Wolf of Wall Street is a great Martin Scorsese movie and it is hard to believe he could possibly ever have had as much fun making a movie before.  Scorsese creates a vast playground for his actors to take unheard of risks, push every possible button of squeamish discomfort and unchecked mayhem, and to challenge each other to go there.  Every actor in the movie is on some level of awesome and career best (The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal was my biggest surprise performance and could not have strayed further from the dopey anguish of Shane).  Jonah Hill (brilliantly cast) gives Leonardo DiCaprio his best and most consistent scene partner (their several near death flirtations in the movie are the clear frontrunners for best scenes), but I may have been even more impressed with Scorsese’s work with the relatively green, Margot Robbie.  She matches the brilliant DiCaprio during each of their marital trysts slap for punch (as excruciating to watch as it was) in a way that speaks to the free creative expression on-set environment that Scorsese must have crafted.

  5. The Wolf of Wall Street is a movie, unlikeable, oftentimes unwatchable, and certainly interpretable as not an indictment, but rather a glorified celebration of the filthy excess and monetary tomfoolery of the protagonist’s world, that provides an exhilarating, exhausting, awesome cinematic ride.  It is not out of contention as potential motion picture in the foreseeable future as either a tentpole of DiCaprio and Scorsese’s outstanding careers or sooner, if critical momentum leads to some Academy Award success.

American Hustle

AMERICAN HUSTLE

  1. American Hustle, portrayed as a cacophony of the 1970s (in music, fashion, culture, and sleaziness) in its trailers, does not disappoint in its period pizazz, but rather in its totally messy storytelling and filmmaking.  Much of its direction and focus feels arbitrary.  It is a movie about too many things so that the ultimate result is that is about nothing at all.

  2. As one could expect from a David O. “character is my focus” Russell film, many of the performances in American Hustle are strong.  Bradley Cooper has a tremendous amount of fun and seems to have been given free reign over his dialogue.  Christian Bale is in method mode, forty pounds heavier, and doing some skillful physical acting.  Although Jennifer Lawrence, America’s muse for over a year now, is woefully miscast and far too young for the part, she manages to sparkle and shine through many of her scenes.  Amy Adams manages to salvage much of the confusion surrounding her character with some expected professional work.

  3. These strong, scene-chewing performers and characters could have all carried their own movies, but put together in American Hustle, they amount to very little.  The parts are far greater than the some in this case.

  4. If meant to be a crime caper, American Hustle lacks the requisite scintillating plot twists.  As a picture about governmental corruption, it puts its foot in the water for too brief a second to matter.  As a movie about a combustible love triangle among relatable characters, it is just too confusing.

  5. American Hustle is a movie that, despite its on paper goods, fails to connect, to entertain, and to inspire any passion.  Without a full understanding of what it aims to do and be, the audience are the ones who are left feeling hustled.

Saving Mr. Banks

SAVING MR. BANKS

  1. Saving Mr. Banks does not focus on the making of Mary Poppins, but rather on the courtship of Disney, in the form of Walt (played with American Dream warmth by Tom Hanks) and his writing team, to P.L. Travers and all of the curmudgeonry that comes with her in a belabored attempt to acquire the rights to her book.  As Mrs. (do not call her Pam!) Travers roadblocks each intersection of the direction that Team Disney wants to take, we are more exposed to how her childhood in the Australian Outback may inform her decisions in the present than to why it matters to her now.  The flashback connections do not always yield logical results (seriously though, why not the color red?), and we are left with the impression that Mrs. Travers is just being difficult.

  2. If you are going to see Saving Mr. Banks, it will be worth it to set up a Mary Poppins refresher viewing first.  Much of the whimsy, effective writing, and referential fun of Saving Mr. Banks is in comparison and with a heightened understanding of the motion picture, Mary Poppins.

  3. Although there is a some reasonable chatter contesting just how historically accurate this telling of the Mary Poppins rights acquisition is, the vision of early 1960s Disney studios, Disney hotel welcome packages, Disney rehearsal room door decals, and Disneyland Main Street USA autograph seekers are all a series of the most delightful period movie ornamentation that I have seen in some time (and an appreciated pace change from the bombastic sites and sounds from the seedier scenes of the movies discussed earlier).  For a studio where “movie magic” seems to be one of the ultimate goals, mission accomplished.

  4. Just to clarify: Saving Mr. Banks, a story about the writer of the book that became the movie Mary Poppins (one of the most successful motion pictures ever made by Walt Disney Pictures) and her dealings with Walt Disney, was made by Walt Disney Pictures.  As mentioned, access to certain forms of visual authenticity may be appreciatively enhanced, whereas the objectivity in regards to the less favorable side of all things Disney (including the portrayal of Walt himself) is harder to value.

  5. Saving Mr. Banks is a delicate, delectable, and most pleasant movie that aspires to create a tale of great emotional power (the flashback trope is a constant visitor) out of something far simpler.  When centered on P.L. Travers battles with Walt Disney and the Sherman musical tandem over details and content, there is certain “inside the actor’s studio” intrigue (especially since I had seen Mary Poppins just hours before).  There is additional interest in Travers’ childhood flashback world, but when an attempt is made to fully understand her present obstinance out of her past memories, we are left without knowing really what to say.  Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, indeed.

 

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Blue is the Warmest Color

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR

  1. Blue is the Warmest Color (La Vie d’Adèle in French, or “the life of Adèle”), a sensual, sexual, emotionally naked sensory menagerie, is a film of great beauty. Chronicling the literal coming of age and self discovery of Adèle, from the tribulations of a high school boy crush to the devastation of an adult breakup, Blue is the Warmest Color gives the viewer a rare opportunity to experience love as real and and as raw as it actually is.

  2. Adèle’s relationship with Leá Seydoux’s Emma (for much of the film her hair is the warmest color) is a most rare love story depicted on film that manages to expose both the more simple, mundane moments and the more fantastical fireworks. The most impactful scenes (more on one of them in no. 4) meander and wander longer than we are used to. We are given time to fully experience, to ruminate, to indulge. An impromptu dance, a meal with the in-laws, or my favorite scene, a celebration of Emma’s art that features the first meeting of Adèle and many of Emma’s bohemian friends, are so rich with text, with subtext, and with an deeper, more intimate layer of personalized understanding. I felt that I actually knew Emma and Adèle not as a stranger in their world for the duration of the film, but as a close friend who has had the pleasure of sharing some of those most meaningful moments.

  3. In case the name and image of “Adèle Exarchopoulos” have not yet reached your list of known movie industry contacts, they will not allude you for long. The majority of BITWC is a literal closeup (there is a little adjustment to get used to the unyielding propensity for this convention) of the uniquely ravishing and mysterious beauty of Miss Exarchopoulous, eighteen at the time of filming, who agrees to let the audience be her makeup mirror for the three hour run-time (it never feels this long). Her face, a storyteller of epic proportion on its own, is not at first glance as striking as it will become throughout the film. The more you get to know her and seemingly each angle, curve, and crevice of her visage, the more you become enraptured in her intimate, moment to moment awakening. There is much discussion in the film about the brilliant writings found in Adèle’s diary. The experience of watching Blue is the Warmest Color is as if we are that diary, exposed to the innermost thoughts and feelings of this mesmerizing character in a strikingly personal way .

  4. I would be remiss not to mention what seems to be the most well-known, over-discussed, and heightened point of curiosity surrounding Blue is the Warmest Color: the graphic seven minute sex scene between Adèle and Emma (Someone in my theatre exited right afterward. Apparently he had somewhere to go). In an effort to quell some of the chatter: yes, it is that long. Yes, it is that graphic. Yes, I have never seen anything like it on screen before. Yes, it matters and yes, it absolutely enriches the story. Blue is the Warmest Color is as effective a piece of work because it is unafraid and unabashed in its portrayal of all moments of Adèle and Emma’s relationship, not just the ones that are easy to show.

  5. Blue is the Warmest Color, propelled by an overwhelming trust (at least during filmmaking) between actors and director, is a film of great power. The simplicity of its story is set against the real complexity of life in such a delicate, considerate, and generous manner. It is as honest and real a telling of la vie d’Adèle as could have been imagined.

 

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: 12 Years a Slave

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

12 YEARS A SLAVE

  1. 12 Years a Slave, the critically-applauded and a more than safe wager to be a 2014 Oscar night power player, is at times as excruciating to watch as anything I have ever seen on film. Steve McQueen’s historical biopic of the harrowing kidnapping and dozen year enslavement of Samuel Northup, a free black man from Saratoga Springs, NY in the wrong place (Washington D. C., or more accurately, the United States for the first century of our existence) at the wrong time (in mid-nineteenth century America or when money-grubbing kidnappers are afoot), shoots the moments of slavery’s ugliest manifestations (of which there are an infinite number) as though time stood still. Each shot of a beating, raping, or lynching feels several minutes longer than we asked for. The message is clear: slavery is unthinkably horrific and 12 Years a Slave is prepared to leave the viewer with this message steadfastly imbedded for years to come.

  2. In a similar thread, there is a scene that depicts the lynching of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s (a courageous and career defining performance) Samuel Northup that is halted by the conflated magnanimity and cruelty of Michael Fassbender’s plantation slaveowner. Although Fassbender’s disturbed Mr. Epps saves Northup’s life, Northup is left hanging, feet tip-toeing the ground of survival from sunlight to darkness. If there is a set of images that you will remember from this cinematic achievement, it is the aftermath of this lynching: Northrup is alive, but fighting for life, with normalcy surrounding him. Fellow slaves go about their “chores” and plantation hands go about their business while Northup waits for someone to cut him down. I looked around the theater (both curious and in need of a break myself) to see the majority of my fellow moviegoers covering their eyes with a “let me know when it is all over” aversion. I have rarely experienced a communal viewing experience that was as revolting and off-putting to watch. In this one scene, McQueen delivers the most striking 12 Years A Slave anti-slavery pronouncement.

  3. The acting in 12 Years a Slave is so superb across the board that I foresee it may affect how I view certain actors in future performances. Ralph Fiennes impeccable and chilling performance as a Nazi in Schindler’s List has made it difficult, now twenty years since, to see him as anything but an evil villain (his casting as Voldermort was always an easy sell). I anticipate that I will be able to shake Michael Fassbender’s Mr. Epps because he has already had a plethora of defining character portrayals (how much longer do we have to wait for X-Men: Days of Future Past?). Paul Giamatti, one of the best character actors in the business, has enough of a diversified track record to allow his slave auctioneer to be quickly shaken. Unfortunately, I fear that Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood didn’t help) and Sarah Paulson (nor did her performance in Deadwood), two of the most evil of offenders over the course of the picture, may be much harder to shake from their 12 Years a Slave roles. I am not sure I will ever be able to see them the same way.

  4. 12 Years a Slave is a masterwork, will be a career-defining picture for all of those involved (especially Ejiofor and McQueen), and will be the toast of the 2014 Oscars. However, my strongest critique is that the picture focuses a little too much on the horrors of slavery rather than on the compelling and informative story of Samuel Northup. Northup’s pre-enslavement period is rushed to auction (Quvenzhané Wallis, we hardly knew you!) before we have time to understand the richness of identity and profundity of this man’s day to day existence. By the time Northup finds his long coveted freedom, it feels like a long two hours since we saw him entertaining Taran Killam. The outcome is a more universal anti-slavery story when a more personal telling of the Samuel Northup story would have created a slightly more unique movie experience.

  5. 12 Years a Slave is a motion picture that will sit next to Roots as one of the two definitive cinematic depictions of American slavery. Its prolific form is only matched by its unyielding, unrelenting, and unafraid delivery of this horrific stain on this nation’s history.

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Captain Phillips

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

1. Captain Phillips is a taut, clinically precise, tension builder of a movie that drives the dangerous waters of the story of a 2009 Somali pirate hijacking of everyman Captain Richard Phillipps and his US Cargo ship off the Eastern African coast safely to shore.

  1. Tom Hanks, sporting an at times nondescript, an at times unintentionally comedic New England accent that certainly does not pass the native Bostonian authenticity muster station, gives his best (and least Tom Hanks-ian performance) since Cast Away.

  2. With Bloody Sunday, United 93, and Captain Phillips now in bold on his directorial resumé, Paul Greengrass is the most prolific filmmaker working today of true stories of harrowing real life events involving a highjacking (In the case of the brilliant Bloody Sunday, the 1972 massacre of innocents at the hands of British soldiers in Derry, Northern Ireland, the hijacking was of a more metaphoric nature.  The civil rights march was hijacked by the violent actions of the IRA and the British Army.).  All three movies, told through the lens of a hand-held documentarian cinematic style and a straight forward, unsentimental plotted delivery, are successful sojourns in accuracy and realism, but Captain Phillips is most successful of the three at character.  Part of this is due to the undeniable screen charisma of Mr. Hanks and part of this is due to the nature of the real life story (it is really about Captain Phillips fight for survival), but Greengrass also provides a deeper zoom here into both Hanks’ heroic portrayal of Captain Phillips and the mindset of each of Somali pirates.  Much of the action of the movie is spent in the claustrophobic confines of a stuffy life boat and Greengrass allows the audience to endure our own seat as a fateful passenger.

  3. In working under the presumption of complete realism, Greengrass does not often allow for much sentimentality or for an overarching or overbearing message to peer through his pictures (the anti-Oliver Stone, so to speak).  He simply allows for the facts to speak for themselves.  Yet, the story of Captain Phillips does have some pertinent allegorical overtones about the nature of power, both at the individual level (Captain Phillips versus his handful of attackers) and at a much larger level (The inevitability of who is going to lose – the little leaguer Somali pirates – when the US military rescue operation albatross rears its Major Leaguer status, is striking.).  I do not for a nautical knot have any sympathy for the actions of the Somali pirates, but I do appreciate the way that Captain Phillips is not afraid to point out how they do derive from an unjust system of “haves” and “have-nots” that limits options and can lead to a more nefarious existence.

  4. Although Captain Phillips may at first glance be well-fit in the classic “great rental, but don’t need to see it in theatres” category, such a movie of pristine competence, execution, and entertainment value, deserves a cinematic viewing.  Most importantly, Captain Phillips delivers the best performance by the best modern movie actor of the last twenty-five years without the first name “Daniel” and the last name “Day-Lewis” in over a decade.  With Saving Mr. Banks on the holiday season horizon, it is a pleasure to have Tom Hanks back in the conversation and Captain Phillips is a most meaningful way to start it.

 

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Gravity

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.  NOTE: My last “Five Things” was on ELYSIUM back in early August.  I was available to see movies during this time in between, but the industry releases in August-September largely left something to be desired.  Let us rejoice that the fall movie season is now upon us.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

GRAVITY

1. Gravity, a 91 minute anxiety-inducing and awe-inspiring cinematic master work, is, unlike the fated space stations that encounter the unrelenting and destructive debris storm that set the action of this motion picture in play, primed to be a lasting achievement of the medium for decades to come.

2. Gravity is the most immersive and realistic (despite Neil Degrasse Tyson’s “I know a lot about the universe” tweet vomiting) cinematic experience I have ever had.  With perfect support from 3D and an IMAX theatre featuring the sound and physical seat wonders that are the Jordan’s Furniture “Butt Kickers” (pronounced, in your best Boston accent, Kic-kahhs), I was given a first hand account of Sandra Bullock’s harrowing fight for survival in the lonely world of oxygen tank depleting open space.  Although Gravity only uses point of view shots on a few occasions, you otherwise feel as though you are a fellow astronaut watching, constantly moving on your own orbit around Sandra as she fights for her life.  Every second of the picture is an exercise in unrelenting tension and anxiety – the only breaks are to stop and see the  magnificent beauty of the Earth from the eye of Cuarón and his go-to and soon-to-be Oscar winning cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki.  In a time when we can consume a movie in the comfort and diminutive size of our smart phone (and I admittedly have), Gravity is meant to be seen in the best of cinemas (and I strongly suggest an IMAX) in which the full scope of this work of brilliance can be fully experienced.

3. Alfonso Cuarón, the visionary filmmaker whose last release, Children of Men (grossly under appreciated, brilliant in its own right, and one of my fifteen favorite movies of all-time), was bestowed upon on us nearly seven (long) years ago, is in the conversation for best director on the planet.  His batting average may be a bit higher than some of his rival contemporaries because of fewer at-bats (Christopher Nolan has played this same strategy as effectively, despite helming the most important cinematic trilogy of this century), but he continues to manufacture runs in such a diversified number of ways every time he comes up to the plate.  A Little Princess (1995) and Great Expectations (1998), both unique adaptions of literary treasures, were hard lined singles to the opposite field.  Y Tu Mamá También (2001), a Spanish language coming of age road trip picture that explores friendship, compassion, and sexual awakening, was his ground rule double.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), the Harry Potter movie that best embodied the magical whimsy of J.K. Rowling’s world, was his stand-up double off the wall.  Children of Men (2006), a thrilling triple perfectly place into the gap between right and center, explored a most realistic near future dystopia of infertility, burgeoning totalitarianism, and deep moral questioning.  Gravity is Alfonso Cuarón’s home run. (I never thought, with my lackluster present day interest, that I would use baseball as a running metaphor.  I guess some October things never change.  Go Sox!)

4. Gravity is not a movie about its actors (two of the best in the business), their execution (both Mr. Clooney and Ms. Bullock were expectedly outstanding), or its script (at times slightly oppositional to the “less is more” philosophy of backstory justification), but I would be remiss if I did not mention just how phenomenal, especially for the physical and emotional challenges that were required to achieve the seemingly effortlessness that is the end product, Sandra Bullock’s performance was.  In a movie that requires the audience to face unwavering vulnerability, it is Sandra’s most human guide that so successfully grounds our own most realistic and immersive movie encounter.  The level of difficulty (she spent the majority of her time in a 9×9 box, carefully and precisely marking each movement and emotion so that CGI post-production could do their thing) could not have been higher, and she nailed it.

5. Gravity is a motion picture that takes the cinematic medium leaps and bounds forward, giving its audience an unforgettable ride that both touches our deepest vulnerabilities and allows our most expansive imaginations to have no limits.  It is shot (the first being almost twenty minutes long) after shot of beauty, wonder, and the most pristine filmmaking execution (so worth the delayed release!).  Mr. Alfonso Cuarón has created a movie masterpiece that should be considered a classic of the medium from this point forward.

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Elysium

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

ELYSIUM

1) The 2154 world of Los Angeles and the space habitat, Elysium (the only settings of the movie) that Neill Blomkamp creates are as visually stunning and well shot as any movie I have seen.  Cameras effortlessly swoop in and out of environments like you are a passenger on the greatest helicopter trip you have ever taken or if you are on an actualized version of the great ride Soarin’ from the Disney Parks.  There is just so much visual detail and nuance to take in.  Many of the best movies that take us to the relatively near future have excelled at what the world feels like on the ground (Elysium does this effectively as well), but Blomkamp’s accomplishment here are his sights from a short distance above.

2) If Elysium had been released in 1983 or even 1993, it becomes an iconic science fiction motion picture in the vein of Blade Runner.  Matt Damon’s protagonist hero Max makes him an even bigger star (on the Harrison Ford mid-80s level).  Elysium Kenner action figures and playsets fill the aisles of Toys ‘R Us and Caldor.  Sharito Copley’s over the edge and over the top Kruger (despite a performance and character that takes a promising concept to an uncalled for extreme) is considered for a spin-off and given glorified villain treatment à la Boba Fett.  Perhaps muted in the over saturated destruction fest that has been the 2013 summer movie season and definitely muted in the current state of the international revenue focused modern cinema, Elysium in 2013 is a short-lasting August box office blip that never reaches its potentially potent cultural relevance.  It just fills a whole in the summer season between Pacific Rim and Kick-Ass 2 and will be soon out of both our collective consciousness and water cooler twitter conversations weeks before Labor Day.

3) Ultimately, Elysium’s failings are intrinsic to its form and the execution thereof.  What makes Elysium great – an engrossing near future interpretation of our world that further disenfranchises its citizenry by race, xenophobia, and class, the “haves” versus the “have nothings” – would have been much better suited for the crock pot marination of a television series.  Blomkamp creates a world that we want to spend so much more time in where we could have explored the vast story possibilities found within.  Unfortunately, the constraints of a movie and its need to create a more succinct central story damaged the ultimate result.  Once Elysium’s plot thickens, characters driven by honest and understandable motivations are thrown off the transport.  We are left with unnecessary violence, unnecessary violent verbal spewing (looking at you Sharito Copley and Jodie Foster), and a pace that ruins the enjoyment of the meal.  A television series of Elysium that crash landed into many different aspects of the segregated future vision that maintains Blomkamp’s exceptional visual mastery is an immediate success story that could thrive for many years over the course of many seasons.

4) Jodie Foster’s performance, character, accent, motivations, horrible overdubbing, and decision-making skills were the definitive low point of the movie.  It is an awful performance that gets more problematic as the movie continues.  Apparently, the original accent was too distinctively French (I would have been fine with this), so a new less pronounced addition was overdubbed over every line of dialogue.  Not only does what is said struggle, but now the how (both what you hear and what you see) becomes close to farcical, pulled from the worst Rita Repulsa scene from a Power Rangers episode.  I thought that after her speech Golden Globes, Jodie Foster had reached the hot mess apex for her 2013, but this Elysium performance has more than eclipsed any viewer discomfort from January.

5) Like District 9Elysium is a movie that creates such a vivid futuristic world allegory that I could have spent many hours in it, digesting its story possibilities.  Unfortunately, the story chosen to support the less than two hour runtime of this movie is too sloppily plotted, leaves too many lingering questions, and requires too many leaps of logical faith to sustain its ultimate credibility.  Elysium is a movie based upon an incredible idea.  Blomkamp and his team chose the wrong story, mostly the wrong characters, and the wrong medium to present Elysium to its intended effect.

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: World War Z

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 

WORLD WAR Z

1. World War Z is a scintillating and exhilarating professional summer movie experience.  In what appears to be an entire world infected by a nasty zombie bite, Brad Pitt’s character of Gerry Lane declares that “movement is life” and Marc Forster delivers a picture that embodies such a credo.  World War Z is paced like an Olympic relay race with Brad Pitt as the baton passed from country to country on a hunt for potential crumbs of an outbreak containment solution.  Moments to take a breath or to reflect on the magnitude of what has transpired are fleeting and infrequent – any stall could mean death in the world of the play or in the momentum of the movie – but through the lens of the delicate, but strong performance from Pitt, we are able to tune out the wild screams of the pursuant undead and focus on the task at hand.

2. Speaking of Brad Pitt, the power of his obvious visual charisma has never been questioned, but some of his past performances haven’t exactly jumped out of the screen.  Here, he wears his middle age with a wisdom and stature that perhaps he is finally earned. Screenwriters are smart to not cloud his character with too muddy a backstory (there is no clichéd drinking problem or past infidelity). We are given permission to see him affectionately as simply a dad trying to finish a job so he can get back to his family.  He is honorable, courageous, and real.  In a movie centered on the pace and movement of the plot, the stillness and contemplative experience we have with Pitt’s Gerry throughout is what takes World War Z to that next level.

3. In a Zombie nation comparison, World War Z encompasses everything that was successful about the Frank Darabont-led first season of The Walking Dead while avoiding all of the pitfalls and horrible characters that have poisoned the waters of subsequent seasons of the AMC mega-hit.  In World War Z, we do not want moms to die because they are too annoying (Mireille Enos unexpectedly delivers as Brad Pitt’s wife – for anyone who has spent any time in the rain-addled depression pit that is her performance on The Killing – this is a major surprise).  In World War Z, child characters are endearing and sometimes even useful.  In World War Z, we appreciate that it seems like there are people out there who are trying to take meaningful action against the world zombification. In World War Z, there is no governor and there are no governor and Rick standoffs (praise!).  Pitt and other Z characters get that “movement is life” and would never consider hiding out in a prison or a farm for months at a time.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, World War Z feels like the actual world we are living in in the way people talk, communicate, and feel.  It is a credible vision of the “what if” of such an outbreak and the audience is subsequently riveted from the opening credits.

4. There is an important uncredited performance in the movie (even “uncredited” in the way the camera and actor try not to focus on each other), but, as fan of the actor and the iconic role he recently played, his appearance provides some solace in a most chaotic of worlds, especially when a plane crashes into the climax of the movie.  (If you want to find out about what actually happened with it, read here.  Despite a substantially reduced role, I appreciated his presence.)

5. World War Z is a riveting ride of a summer movie whose production troubles (rewrites, financing) yielded a most satisfying final product.  Cradling the storytelling genre of the moment with a potency and execution yet to be achieved anywhere else on screen or on television, this Brad Pitt star vehicle is very much worth the price of admission.