The sci-fi genre for many years has been the perfect veil for social uprising. Through distant planets, dystopian futures, and three breasted women, filmmakers have entertained us while delivering a social agenda. Few have done it better than writer/director Neill Blomkamp, whose last film District 9 masterfully wove the pain of South Africa’s apartheid into a story about humans warring with alien life. Heartfelt, gripping, and boasting a handful of thrilling action set pieces, Blomkamp emphatically staked his claim to the genre’s future. For those enraptured by District 9‘s power, waiting four years for Blomkamp‘s follow up Elysium was difficult. Much like District 9, Elysium mixes an action driven plot with cutthroat political statements. The comparisons between the two films ends there, as Elysium is merely an inspired mess undermined by senseless characters, a soft script, and hapless editing. The result is surprising, especially when we consider the potential power of the film’s plot. Max Da Costa (a serviceable Matt Damon) is a man hardened by a war-torn, decimated Earth. His dream is simple: reaching Elysium, a floating nirvana ripe with green flora and perfect healthcare. After a tragic accident at work, Max finds himself on the verge of death, unless of course he can expedite his dream by illegal means.
His obstacle is Elysium’s hard ass Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her mercenary Kruger (a wildly enjoyable Sharlto Copley). The two maniacal forces prevent “illegals” from penetrating Elysium’s precious atmosphere. It’s in this villainous combination that the film finds its worst enemy: it can‘t decide which bad guy is more pertinent. Inexplicably both are treated as tidal forces and thrift shop villains. Sharlto Copley at least delivers some shocking malevolence, while Foster looks completely aimless in the skin of a snake. Then again, it’s not her fault Blomkamp has created a practically useless character. Even if his new story and characters aren’t on point with District 9, Blomkamp is a visual maestro who seamlessly integrates practical shots with special effects. He even finds a morbid level of beauty in the vicious violence he puts on display, with a sword showdown between Damon and Copley being the centerpiece. When Blomkamp connects on all levels, which is sparingly, it’s typically undone by spastic editing that gives the film a disjointed feel, making its 100 minute run feel like a laborious two hours. The goodwill Blomkamp established with District 9 isn’t revoked by the existence of Elysium, but his future monopoly of the sci-fi genre seems less assured.
Prince Avalanche 4.25/5
There’s a great deal of oddball behavior buried within David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche, a remake of an Icelandic film titled Either Way. There’s so much bizarre activity in the film, most of which revolves around the mundane job of its characters, that most people would either dismiss it as boring altogether or typical pretentious independent shit. I won’t lie, there are tedious moments in Prince Avalanche, but underneath its anomalous flourishes are charming moments and grand humanistic gestures. The plot, which is pretty thin, gently places us in Bastrop, Texas circa the late 80’s. A country road ripping through an environment recently ravaged by a wildfire bears painstakingly tedious opportunities for our protagonists Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch). Over the course of three months, they’re charged with repainting traffic lines on the road, as well as erecting new road signs. Outside of decent pay, Alvin loves his job because he receives a level of seclusion he can’t get anywhere else. Seclusion is the opposite of what Lance wants. He prefers the attention a random party may provide him; he suffocates in Mother Nature’s open spaces. The only reason these two are painting side by side is because Alvin is dating Lance’s sister. Obviously loyalty and love overpower undesirable favors.
Surrounded by one of the year’s most enchanting, simplistic scores, Alvin and Lance slowly push one another away until they realize their demonstrative verbal daggers are actually drawing them closer, exposing the faults they‘ve masked for far too long. David Gordon Green subtly strings the damaged goods together through shots of a charred land that was once prosperous but now only produces ashes and painful reminders of the past. David Gordon Green’s Terrence Malick like approach with the camera helps us strip away the veneer of both our characters, both of which Hirsch and Rudd effortlessly bring to life. Hirsch is wonderfully aloof as Lance, a gigantic idiot who’s so ready to impress anyone he meets, he ends up being more endearing than annoying. As for Rudd, well, honestly he delivers the best performance of his career. The highlight of his performance comes when Alvin finds the last remains of a house devoured by flames. Amidst the ashes Alvin plays “house”, assuming the role of the hardworking husband coming home to a beautiful wife and meal. Initially, Rudd provides Alvin with an infectious glee, but as the scene plays out longer, revealing perhaps the cracks in Alvin’s love life, Rudd imparts on us a vulnerability we never saw coming. Our protagonists share an understated growth that isn‘t anchored to a particularly overly dramatic scene. They quietly seek refuge in one another amidst a gutted land. Through soft-spoken ticks monumental discoveries are made.