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Elysium

I saw ELYSIUM last night. As my most anticipated movie of 2013 I was pretty excited to get into a press screening at the Arclight Hollywood. We were literally the last people in line, got the last passes, were the last to have our phones taken and bagged, and the last to enter the theater seconds before the light dimmed for the screening. That’s when an usher opened up a reserved aisle, and we got seats together in a perfect spot. Don’t know what the moral of this story is. Sometimes it pays to be late?

Anyway, the movie is entertaining and goes faster than a dropship breaking through Earth’s stuffy atmosphere, but I my feelings are I only liked it rather than loved it. The style and the execution of the world is amazing, and every frame is recognizable as a Neil Blomkamp film, but a lot of stuff doesn’t land. It follows Matt Damon’s character, a downtrodden worker human on Earth, as he tries to get himself to the orbiting ringworld of Elysium for urgent medical attention. He has five days to do it before he dies, and a bunch of people on Earth, as well as up in space, do not want that to happen (because they hate poor people? It’s never explicitly explained).

The real problem I had is with the film’s antagonists – for a start there’s too many. It muddies the plot to have not one, but four different people against the lead for different reasons. Specifically, Sharlto Copley’s character is a kind of government-sanctioned bounty hunter straight out of a comic book, and he really is the film’s weak point. He has ludicrous action, barely any motive and just a weird performance that doesn’t work at all.

There’s a bunch of little plot holes that don’t really bother me, but the general switching of stakes kept the story from really building to a nice ending. There was a goal, quickly achieved, then another totally separate goal that needed attention, and so on.

It’s entertaining, but not the genre-defining kick to the balls I was hoping for. Lower your expectations, cause Neil Blomkamp is human after all.

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The Dark Knight Rises

Quick thoughts on THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. True IMAX presentation is always worth the money. It’s stunning.

But this installment is a big drop off from THE DARK KNIGHT. There’s something wrong with the structure – Nolan seems to want to take things away from the Batman mythology so much, he cripples his own story (and hero) to do it. Alfred disappears. There’s no Batmobile. They never say the name ‘Catwoman’ once. And most importantly, Batman is out of action for the majority of the movie. I get why. Bruce Wayne is fighting an inner struggle with himself, and being in that jail is a reprise of being stuck at the bottom of the well in BATMAN BEGINS. Unfortunately, it means there’s no overt hero in your superhero story.

The other problem I had is with the ticking time-bomb at the end. This is so ridiculously literal, especially with the numbers counting down on the side. There had to be a better way to create urgency than that. Also, I really missed Heath Ledger’s Joker. I know that’s sadly out of anyone’s control, but he was noticeable by his absence. It highlighted how much Batman needs the The Joker to come alive, character-wise.

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SXSW: The Epilogue

I ate a bunch of unhealthy food, met some folks in the film industry, drank too much free beer and saw some movies. Did I mention the unhealthy food? It will take months to recover. That was my SXSW.

So what about the movies? It was an eclectic bunch. That’s the best part about festivals, the selections are so new no one has heard of most of them, so you have to take a chance on what you see. Missed a couple of things due to timing, but here’s what I did see.

CABIN IN THE WOODS

The ultrasecret Joss Whedon/Drew Goddard horror that sat on MGM’s shelf for two years. It’s mind-bogglingly fantastic. Knowing too much will ruin the experience – take my advice, go in cold and be prepared for awesomeness. If you weren’t feeling generous you could say it’s too silly (which it is), but I had so much fun with it I refuse to complain. Is it better than all other horror movies? No. It IS all other horror movies.

THE HUNTER

Willem Defoe hunting a thought-to-be extinct Tasmanian Tiger in the redneck backwaters of Tasmanian. This was a muddle. The central idea is pretty strong, but the writers added complexity with the introduction of some eco warriors, violent loggers, shadowy corporations, drug-addled mothers, hippy kids and a big conspiracy. Which all serves to dilute the point of the story, which was… I’m not sure. Not recommended.

21 JUMP STREET

Not a huge fan of Jonah Hill or Channing Tatum, but they killed it. It’s so well put together, it reminds me of THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, where the characters are feel real and there’s some heart/truth there. Surprisingly good.

[REC] 3: GENESIS

I’m a big fan of the original [REC], never saw the sequel, but was interested in the premise for this one. It’s set during a big wedding, so the found footage aspect makes a lot of sense, as well as the drama of such an important day and having a family of loved ones in peril. What I was not expecting was that they ditched the found footage conceit a quarter of the way though (in a rather nice way), so it becomes a straight up horror movie. It was bonkers, really over the top with ideas and situations and gore. Way goofier than I thought it would be, most of the scares and kills are played for laughs.

BROOKLYN CASTLE

Great documentary about an inner city school in Brooklyn with a killer chess team. It shows the huge impact of the recession on after school programs that are so important in the US. I have to say, these kids were amazing. They are smart as hell, funny and tireless in trying to get things done. One kid, Pobo, is nothing short of a legend and he’s only like twelve. I loved it.

TRASH DANCE

Another documentary. This one played to the Austin crowd because it focused on the city’s garbage collectors and one white lady’s attempt to get them to put on a public performance art piece. Obviously, they didn’t want to do it because it sounds stupid (and it was) but she convinces them anyway. It was kind of weak, apart from a couple of genuine characters, the thrust of the doc was contrived. These events would not have happened unless the filmmakers hadn’t invaded that world and made these people do things outside of their comfort zone, so it kind of rings false. But like I said, the local crowd ate it up. One person even said it was Oscar-worthy and made them proud to be a human, so what do I know?

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The Disciple Program/ Hyperdrive/Orphan’s Dawn

OK, let’s talk about scripts. I mean, if you want to write them, you have to read them. Science fact. I’ve been working hard at my day job, so I have to fit in reading on the subway ride there and back. Basically the most uncomfortable environment known to man or farm animal. A New York City subway car in rush hour is the nadir of civilization and people don’t even give you enough room to hold a Kindle DX, but I persevere because I want to win an Oscar.

THE DISCIPLE PROGRAM

The spec script everyone’s been talking about for the last few weeks. Uncovered and championed by Carson Reeves at Scriptshadow, it received major attention and now writer Tyler Marceca is signed to WME. It all happened in the blink of an eye.

The script is fantastic. It’s purposeful and muscular, every scene has a dramatic element to it and the opening ten pages make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The story is basically a version of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, but it’s so well told it’s never anything less than riveting. (This goes back to what I was saying last week about execution.)

A couple of nitpicks are that it’s a little overwritten, a twist shows itself way too early and it doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the opening scenes. But they really are nitpicks. This script has already inspired me a great deal. Congratulations to Tyler, the talented swine.

HYPERDRIVE

Pretty solid sci-fi spec by Morgan Jurgenson and David Daniels about a famous author (who’s also a huge nerd) getting caught up in an intergalactic war exactly like the one he writes about in his books.

The tone is really flimsy, and the characters are a bit stock for my liking. They’re ‘playing’ with ‘genre conventions’. There’s a grizzled cop and his partner, an annoying wimpy sci-fi fan, a hot girl from space and some ugly space heavies. It plays out exactly how you imagine – it’s like MEN IN BLACK/GALAXY QUEST/ROUNDTABLE. Like I said, solid, but not inspired.

ORPHAN’S DAWN

Epic original sci-fi by Josh Friedman. This is a weird one. It seems like it’s adapted from a set of revered novels, but it’s all original. It’s about a man who is ostracised from his people on a city floating in space, left to live the life of a wandering something. I forget what. He must help a woman who will lead the ship to a new planet and start a new life for the millions of inhabitants. So basically, the plot of WALL-E.

Very well written, he’s got an awesome voice (though I’m not a fan of the asides to the reader), and it’s densely plotted and sharply realized. The one thing that confused me was near the end, a long scene involving a tightrope walk and grappling hooks attached to the sky of the city (the sky is made of fabric). It’s not bad, it’s just a really odd moment – he lives in a city that has giant anti-gravity drives and yet there’s no such thing as a jetpack and he’s jumping around like Cirque du Soleil. Still, it’s commendable madness to write this on spec and expect it to get made, but it’s so ambitious I see why it sold.

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