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TIFF Review: The Martian (2015)

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The Martian (2015)

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

Behind the Candelabra (2013)

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Relentlessly bold, appeasingly fresh, and genuinely, yet subtly funny. Steven Soderbergh’s portrayal of the last 10 years in the illustrious Liberace’s life and his secret affairs is unyielding, decidedly heartfelt, and intolerably melancholic. Cemented with a truly captivating story and a pair of strong, unflinching performances from its two accomplished leads. “Behind the Candelabra” is undoubtedly the complete package and is sure to win the hearts of cinephiles and critics alike. Regrettably, the film is not an obvious smash-hit and is more of an acquired taste. Ultimately resulting in some inevitable polarization due to a lack of universal persuasion and a character that predictably alienates those not familiar with the king of showmanship and glitter. All possible criticisms aside, “Behind the Candelabra” is a magnificent triumph and is easily one of the best films of 2013 so far.

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In 1977, Scott Thorson (Damon) works as an animal trainer for films. When Scott meets Bob at a bar, he is urged to leave his adopted home with the promise of better paying work. Bob soon introduces Scott to Liberace (Douglas) who takes an immediate liking to him. Liberace invites the two back to his mansion where Scott notices that one of Liberace’s dogs is suffering from temporary blindness. Scott, a previous veterinary assistant claims he can help with the dogs illness. After treating Liberace’s dog, Scott becomes his permanent assistant and moves into his home and soon becomes his lover.

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Even though, rather, despite some may find the delicate subject matter “Behind the Candelabra” deals with to be too uncomfortable and foreign. Soderbergh and company reject any notion of a standard and present this fabulous, yet heartbreaking story in the necessary over-the-top, in-your-face style. They handle this Liberace biopic with an honesty that is so purposefully campy and intimate, if you didn’t feel out of place, you wouldn’t be human. Essentially, the viewer is invited to take part in the dissection of a man’s soul, his emotions and motivations. Granted, some have a difficult time understanding and witnessing homosexuality. Nevertheless, by the time “Behind the Candelabra” rolls around to its depressing conclusion. One can’t help but feel unaware of the fact that they’ve been watching a gay relationship. The film is so vivid, brash, and enjoyable, you lose track of our societies misconceptions of norm, but I digress.

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“Behind the Candelabra” isn’t an advocate for equality and I mean this with the best intentions. This film is about the legend that is Liberace and his life, not a campaign for equal rights regardless of sexual orientation. This is simply because Soderbergh and company, and the film itself act oblivious to any degradation and lesser merit our society places on being a homosexual, as if we are already past this idiotic premise and ideal that some are not equal due to their personal attractions. This is just a film, a picture just as much about the people surrounding Liberace as it is about the man himself, not a gay rights movement. So set aside any differences in personal beliefs and unsettled feelings and just enjoy the masterful performances, spectacular direction, and riveting story that comprise “Behind the Candelabra.”

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Without question, Soderbergh and company capture the spectacle, glamour, and talent that surrounded Liberace, almost like an aura. While the portrayal of Liberace is dead-on, the value and truth behind the films content is still somewhat up in the air. Although Liberace never stated that he was indeed gay, “Behind the Candelabra” does infant depict Liberace and his employee Scott Thorson in a sexually active relationship. Thorson wrote the book this film is based upon, so it is merely an account of events from his perspective, not an infallible retelling from Liberace’s mouth. Which leaves a lot for the audience to decide for themselves. Nonetheless, aside from the truth of its main theme, “Behind the Candelabra” leaves nothing veiled. The film is as honest, affectionate, and bold as they come. Soderbergh’s direction and originality is as firm and sharp as ever. His ability to exude this lighthearted hilarity in a beautiful contrast to the films dark content is outstanding. All in all, “Behind the Candelabra” is an intentionally campy romp that never falters.

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However, while “Behind the Candelabra” strengths appear indicative that it can indeed remain afloat without the necessary cast to compliment its positives, I can assure you that without Michael Douglas, who portrays Liberace, and Matt Damon, who tackles the role of Scott Thorson, “Behind the Candelabra” would predictably sink. The film also stars Dan Aykroyd and Rob Lowe, who individually add a layer of humour that is body-achingly funny. Matt Damon does an outstanding job alongside Douglas and the two have undeniable chemistry that rivals some of the best twosomes in cinematic history. Michael Douglas easily gives the best performance in the film and one of the best of 2013 so far, arguably Oscar worthy. Everything about Liberace, Douglas captures, moulds, and presents in a truly phenomenal performance. Just incredible performances all around from the entire cast, especially Damon and Douglas.

Immaculately performed, keenly directed, and utterly entrancing. While “Behind the Candelabra” may not always be easy to watch, it is definitely worth the effort.

Behind the Candelabra: 8 out of 10.

Top 10 Worst Cameos

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Another week, another Top 10, and I couldn’t be more excited! As you probably realized from the article title, this week’s edition will contain 10 cameos I figured to be just plain awful. However, while I was compiling this list, I realized how exceedingly hard it was to find 10, utterly terrible cameos, so I expanded the criteria a bit. The cameos listed are not confined to just being terrible, they can be odd, bizarre, unnecessary, and so on, and so on. Essentially, anything that’s out of the ordinary. I was initially going to post the 10 best cameos I could think of, but came to the conclusion that one couldn’t exist without the other. So, instead of starting strong and finishing weak, I reversed the printing order. Next week’s top 10 will contain the best cameos, so, yeah, look forward to that!

And no, before you even ask, Mike Tyson’s cameo in “The Hangover” is not on this list. Until I am able to concoct a header image for this “Top 10” segment, I will continue to use random pictures that are in some way connected to the general theme.

I know that some of you may not agree with my choices or think that I overlooked a cameo that down-right ruined a movie for you. If this is the case, leave a comment below and I will address you personally, because I have nothing better to do ;).

Without further ado, let’s get started!

 

10: Bruce Willis in “Oceans 12.”

Why?: Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the “Oceans” trilogy. It’s just that this particular segment really annoys me. The whole Julia Roberts thing and meeting Bruce Willis and him being oblivious to the stars and situation around him, it just really bothers me.

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9: Thomas Lennon in “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Why?: Another film that I genuinely love through and through. I just feel that this is a cameo that Mr. Nolan should have let slip through the cracks. Regardless if it was casting or a legitimate attempt at a cameo, it is so bizarre and unnecessarily funny.

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8: Quentin Tarantino in “Django Unchained.”

Why? Again, I absolutely love Mr. Tarantino and his films, yet, I can’t let this cameo slide. I know he likes to appear in his own films and I am fine with that. I thought his cameo in “Pulp Fiction” was hilarious, but “Django Unchained” is another story. The accent is atrocious and that entire sequence felt a bit off to me. I know I am going to catch hell for this.

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7: Matt Damon in “Finding Forrester.”

Why?: Reprising his role as Will Hunting, oh wait, does he? Anyway, the movies are so similar that Damon’s cameo really connects the two in an unpleasant way. This is as unnecessary a cameo as they come. Don’t worry, this list has more Matt Damon to come.

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6: Arnold Schwarzenegger in “The Expendables.”

Why?: I know that Willis has a brief cameo as well, but didn’t feel like picking on him twice. I didn’t care for “The Expendables” and I see no reason to drag down another action star just for a brief chuckle.

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5: David Hasselhoff in “Piranha 3DD.”

Why?: Because I said so, that’s why. This is such an unnecessary film and I see no need to bring the “Hoff” into it.

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4: Matt Damon in “Eurotrip.”

Why?: Yes, the movie is somewhat entertaining and the cameo may be funny as hell, but it is so weird and idiotic. A mega-star like Matt Damon doesn’t belong down in the gutter.

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3: Stan Lee in, take your pick.

Why?: Yeah, it was cute and charming for a while, but it got real old, real fast for me.

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2: Macy Grey in “Spider Man.”

Why?: I don’t mind a good cameo, but it can’t date a film for eternity, if you know what I mean.

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1: M. Night Shyamalan in “Signs.”

Why?: I don’t think a career has ever gone so sour, so fast. This is as unnecessary a cameo as they come. Terrible acting and just plain weird. M. Night Shyamalan will be forever repeating to people “Hey, remember “The Sixth Sense?”

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If you’ve got beef with this top 10, be sure to let me know in the comment section below ;). Have a great weekend!