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Elysium (2013)

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Following up a revolutionary blockbuster such as “District 9” is no easy task. One that the director and writer of said film Neill Blomkamp was charged with completing. While his follow up “Elysium” might not be as avant-garde as its predecessor, it certainly doesn’t pull any punches. Granted, the story’s themes might feel a tad worn and the plot is occasionally dotted with structural and character cliches. Nonetheless, Blomkamp continues to dream big and it is this very trait which makes him so well respected and important in the filmmaking industry. Even though he still might need time to perfect capturing his immense ideals. The fact that he has continued the trend is a great sign for cinephiles. “Elysium” offers enough sci-fi thrills and ingenuity, in addition to a smart, albeit familiar socio-political message to blow summer audiences away.

Alice Braga;Sharlto Copley

In the year 2154, the wealthy have fled Earth to live on a space station orbiting our planet called Elysium. The rest of the population is left to inhabit what remains of our desolate, disease-ridden planet. Max Da Costa (Damon), an ex-con, lives in the ruins of Los Angeles working for a manufacturing company. After being exposed to a lethal amount of radiation, Max seeks the help of a fellow criminal who is dead-set on transferring Earth’s population to Elysium using any means necessary.  Upon being melded with an exoskeletal device, Max, with the help of a small team sets out to infiltrate Elysium, and hopefully be completely healed by a med-pod.

Matt Damon;Sharlto Copley

Definitely the fortuitous recipient of a keen eye for stunning imagery. Whether it be natural or CGI. Neill Blomkamp exudes both effortlessly and utilizes this seemingly inherited gift to maximum effectiveness in “Elysium.” Although this tremendous talent is miraculous all on its own. The fact that he does not, like most big-budget blockbuster directors, get bogged down in the process of large-scale fabrication is perhaps more respectable and to an even further extent, more remarkable than the skill itself.

Now, this goes without saying, Blomkamp’s logical and moderate use of computer generated images by no means hampers or discredits “Elysium,” or “District 9” for that matter. Not getting caught up in the over-falsification of visuals is a testament to Blomkamp’s direction and unwavering motivation to keep the viewer just as focused on the story and its characters. Between Elysium itself, the droids, and his futuristic flying machines. Blomkamp clearly hasn’t lost his imagination or his capability to transpose his ideals to reality, regardless of how minutely imperfect the adaptation might be. Not to mention the facial reconstruction scene, which is easily the most breathtaking sequence in the film. With “Elysium,” he might not be able to hypnotize the audience as well as he did with “District 9,” but it isn’t that much of a drop off either.

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Speaking of “Elysium’s” story, it might be one you’re familiar with. I mean, a dystopian future where only the rich and powerful thrive isn’t exactly a plot unheard of in cinema. However, make no mistake, Blomkamp has made this common yarn his own with some clever additions, but more importantly, with unflinching violence and pure content.

“Elysium” is what I like to call an adult blockbuster. While many high-budget summer flicks, more specifically the superhero sub-genre dull down their content and violence in order to appeal to a wider audience and simply make more revenue. There is a tradeoff and it is usually a weaker pull to more mature audiences or it is not received well by the general consensus. This is not the case with Blomkamp’s “Elysium.” There is some instances of brutal carnage, gore, and magnified violence, but it is tasteful and relevant to the story. Nor does Blomkamp dilute the more challenging aspects of the story. Now, “Elysium”  might not be the mind-bender we all thought it’d be, but it’s still more intelligent than half of the films released during this season. Nothing in Blomkamp’s fictitious world exists for the sake of excess. Essentially, what you see is what you get, Blomkamp gives the audience credit and respect and receives it in return.

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Perhaps the most consistent and unforgettable aspect of “Elysium” is its tremendous performances. Featuring actors of brilliance such as Matt Damon, Sharlto Copley, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner, and Alice Braga. It quickly becomes clear that no matter how typical and cliched “Elysium’s” story and script might be. The cast is undoubtedly capable of carrying a majority of the load. As far as tragically underused actors go, Alice Braga and William Fichtner continue to add fuel to the fire. Both do phenomenal jobs in supporting roles and are a beautiful contrast to one another. I must admit that I’m not a big Jodie Foster fan, but she took me by surprise. She gives an excellent performance as some form of anti-hero and truly teases the audience.

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It has been proven time and time again, whether it be through box office numbers or critical acclaim. That Matt Damon is, without question, able to play the hero. So, with “Elysium,” Damon might not be challenging himself the way we might have hoped. Nonetheless, he does prove that the well hasn’t dried up. He might not be as effectively used as he was in the “Bourne” trilogy. Regardless, he exudes everything that compiles a summer action-hero. As much as I love Sharlto Copley as the protagonist in “District 9” and “Europa Report.” His antagonist portrayal is oozing with villainy. Mixing in comedic elements, sufficient hand-to-hand combat, and an unprecedented ruthlessness. Copley easily gives the best performance of the entire ensemble.

Superbly acted, mesmerizingly directed, and visually amazing. Neill Blomkamp and cast create another mildly-budgeted summer triumph that will kick you off your feet.

Elysium: 7.5 out of 10.

District 9 (2009)

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A disheartening, realistic, and utterly original take on humanity’s first encounter with an extraterrestrial species. “District 9” is riveting cinema at its finest and packs quite the emotional wallop. Combining fast-paced action, morality, and a brilliant socio-political influence. This sci-fi drama stings, lingers, and is by no means easy to watch. It is an endless serenade of stunning visuals and superb performances, which brilliantly compliments the endearing story at its core. It is the first full-length feature directed by up-and-comer Neill Blomkamp and is also the cinematic debut for lead actor Sharlto Copley. Both of whom do an absolutely superlative job in their respective roles. While it may not have the traditional large-scale destruction or typical villainous twist. “District 9” is gut-wrenching, cosmically astounding, and incredibly satisfying.

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An alien mothership floats gently above Johannesburg in South Africa. An investigation team enters the ship and discovers a population of sick and malnourished extraterrestrials, soon refereed to as Prawns. This species is confined to District 9 which is a government camp just outside of the city. Not long after, the city grows uneasy with their new neighbours and protests are not far behind. Eventually, the South African government decides to move the Prawns to a new internment camp using the MNU (Multinational United). However, during the routine transfer, things slowly begin to go awry.

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Although “Avatar” may have demolished “District 9” at the box office, predictably. In the long run, the shadow James Cameron’s epic cast over Blomkamp’s modestly-budgeted sci-fi experiment was more of a high-priced mirage. Granted, Cameron’s CGI is striking, atmospheric, and haunting. That being said, for the price, Blomkamp’s achievement is much more impressive, essentially a cinematic stroke of genius. Throw in a more compelling, plausible story, thoroughly outstanding performances, and action sequences that get the viewers heart-racing viewing after viewing. Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9” is entirely more entertaining and a much more diverse and rewarding film experience. Which deservedly earns it staying power that will long outlive “Avatar’s” temporarily topnotch graphics. By no means am I discrediting Cameron as a filmmaker, I respect, appreciate, and enjoy all of his films. However, simply put, Blomkamp’s work here is truly mesmerizing and faultless.

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What utterly sets Blomkamp’s “District 9” apart from the bottomless cesspool  of haphazard, drivel sci-fi flicks that do nothing but dilute the genre to a point of irretrievable inaneness is its ability to strike at the viewers jugular. There are many points in which deplorable, inhuman behaviour and acts really make the audience cringe. Yet, Blomkamp is able to simultaneously retain the viewers attention with pure intentions, awe, and merciful innocence. It’s as serious and dark as it is playful and bright. Blomkamp is able to subject his audience to both sides of the coin, making it an unprecedented movie experience. And for this, Blomkamp was rewarded. Garnering 4 Oscar nominations on a mere 30 million dollar budget, compared to Avatar’s 237 million (roughly). “District 9” is truly a triumph and all comparisons aside, is a prime example of what cinema should be: imaginative, emotive , smart, and visually stellar.

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Not to be overlooked in this modern day masterpiece is the performances of its relatively unknown cast, especially Sharlto Copley. While “District 9” is thoroughly appealing to all the cinematic senses and it does owe the majority of its success to creator Neill Blomkamp. Who, by the way, does a magnificent job with control of the camera for a first timer. The cast of this miraculous sci-fi drama does deserve a significant portion of recognition as is it what completes the story and brings it to life.

Amongst the deserving recipients are the scientists, tv crews, etc… In the  faux-documentary aspect of the film, they do a marvellous job authentically creating the hype, fear, and human aspect of the invasion. Not to be left out are the government officials, war criminals, and supporting cast members to the main protagonist. Although occasionally portrayed as heartless, conceded, and villainous, these cast members do convey what we hope doesn’t happen behind closed doors. Nonetheless, no matter how evil, they do a lovely job making the viewer hate them. Finally, Sharlto Copley, who is flawless in the lead role, should earn the most kudos. Never have I witnessed a first-time performer steal the show as Copely did completely throughout “District 9.” If sci-fi thrillers aren’t you’re preference, at least view this film simply for Copely’s performance.

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Original, captivating, and occasionally disturbing. Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9” will hopefully kick-start the genre and continue to be irrefutable prof that you don’t need a big budget to make an instant classic.

District 9: 9 out of 10.