Thursday, 22 August 2013

Elysium, dir/wr. Neill Blomkamp, st. Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner

A man on the run from the authorities. In his possession, a bunch of files that threaten to destabilise governments, expose corruption, and have far-reaching implications for every man, woman and child on the planet. But until the inevitable Edward Snowden movie, we have to make do with this, Neil Blomkamp's Elysium which arrives on our shores in terrifyingly timely fashion. The Orwellian vans that have been bundling immigrants into backs of vans whilst giving realtime updates of their actions, and implacable androids (sorry - enforcers of the ominously euphemistically named 'Schedule 7') attempting to intimidate the press may not seem quite as bleak as the Los Angeles of 2154 depicted in Blomkamp's film, but are surely events worthy of an expository prologue, were the film to have one.

Four years and a 283% budget increase after the acclaimed District 9, a cogent and moving film that portrayed illegal aliens as literally that, Neill Blomkamp has gilded the lily, making Elysium a bigger, faster, noisier, and more accessible follow-up. The message though is still cut from the same cloth as its predecessor; the rich, privileged, and white live on Elysium - a gigantic Kubrickian rotating disc of a space station (imagine a low-orbit Hamptons) - where they have access to pools, champagne and 'med-pods' - one-man capsules that are literally capable of restoring life. Meanwhile back on over-populated and polluted Earth, the poor and ethnically diverse live in squalor, scraping by, and at the mercy of patrolling robots - their narrow-context programming prohibiting any reasonable form of communication or debate. Amongst these disenfranchised is Max (Damon) a petty criminal attempting the straight and narrow, and a worker at the local 'bot assembly line. Up in Elysium, inexplicably French Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Foster) plans a coup to overthrow its government, but the code that will reboot Elysium (and in turn citizenship and privilege) is intercepted by Max. Thus essentially, Elysium, much like District 9, becomes a fairly formulaic chase-movie; what elevates it above the standard fare, is Blomkamp's extraordinary attention to detail and feel for set-pieces that consecutively and relentlessly cannonball into one another, ensuring a breathlessly adrenalined ride.

Undoubtedly, personal politics will affect whether the movie sits well with viewers. It'll either come across as heavy-handed, namby-pamby, Guardian-reading, miso-soup quaffing Liberal nonsense, or an important work of social commentary that questions and warns of elitism, authoritarianism, segregation and prejudice, and indeed, there's not a whole lot of wiggle-room in the movie's 109 minutes to develop any more detailed form of debate. This is a great shame and one of Elysium's biggest failings. Somewhere there's a longer cut that expands the role of Elysium's population to more than just anonymous, poor-hating cut-outs, develops Max's relationship with regional nurse Frey (Braga) beyond slo-mo, wailing-woman-scored pop-promo montage, and gives flesh to Foster's one-dimensional, suited über-bitch Delacourt. That said, the frantic pacing that threatens to derail the first half of Elysium makes for a incessantly actioned and plotted second act, Copley as the sleeper-agent Kruger is jalaba-fillingly chilling, and WETA and ILM's digital trickery is predictably artfully seamless. As to whether Blomkamp has merely made District 10, well, perhaps, but I'm not sure it matters. Movies of this genre dismay so routinely, sampling one that's been intelligently and perceptively crafted, that has something thought-provoking and provocative to say, is becoming more and more like that scene in Soylent Green when Edward G. Robinson eats his first apple in decades. Sometimes, it's the aspiration that counts.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, dir. Declan Lowney, wr. Peter Baynham, Steve Coogan, Neil Gibbons, Rob Gibbons, Armando Iannucci, st. Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Sean Pertwee, Anna Maxwell Martin, Nigel Lindsay Felicity Montagu Simon Greenall Phil Cornwell Tim Key

It's been 22 years since Coogan's Partridge first appeared on the BBC's On The Hour. More radio followed, then a stint on Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris' The Day Today, before moving onto what many Partridgians consider to be Alan's apex - the chat show Knowing Me, Knowing You and the travel lodge-set I'm Alan Partidge. Talk of a big-screen outing for Alan has been on the cards for some while - an Al Qaeda-plotted feature was touted, then dropped in light of the 7/7 London bombings, though I suspect much time has been taken up thinking if a 90-minute Alan Partridge film was a good idea in the first place. Alpa Papa, however, manages - by a bear's headth - to navigate the rocky shores of disappointment and proves a credible addition to Coogan's Alan canon. The problem is placing Alan Partridge on the back-foot; the character is undoubtedly at his best when allowed free reign to grandstand on his own terms, manifesting his own podiums and pitfalls - in front of a light entertainment audience, in the bedroom of a Linton Travel Tavern or static home, ruling the airwaves in a sound-booth in North Norfolk Digital (as in the wonderful Mid Morning Matters Fosters shorts). Upscaling the narrative to a siege-situation action-aspirationed blockbuster never quite works for the character. That is, of course, precisely the point of the film: "How does Alan fare in the larger world?" Alpha Papa isn't the Gervaisian laurel-resting we feared, nor does it warrant a second feature film, but a colon-rippingly funny title sequence cut to Roachford's Cuddly Toy aside, is an adequate big-screen outing for the Alan we know and love.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Europa Report, dir. Sebastián Cordero, wr. Philip Gelatt, st. Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Anamaria Marinca, Christian Camargo, Karolina Wydra, Embeth Davidtz

Featuring a slew of great players - amongst them District 9's Sharlto Copley, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo's Michael Nyqvist, and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days' Anamaria Marinca - Europa Report resides very much in the more esoteric, existential offshoot of sci-fi, where larger themes of Man confronting the enormity of outer-space takes precedence over goo and guns. Told largely in flashback, Europa Report tells the story of a six-man crew on a 4-year round-trip mission to investigate the possibility of life on Europa - one of the frozen moons orbiting Jupiter. Using found-footage culled from the ship's CCTV - a cinematic device that usually has one wanting to jump out of the nearest airlock - a picture gradually forms of how things - inevitably - go pear-shaped. Cordero employs some natty set design and VFX and Bear McCreary's score is suitably elegiac, but the payoff, whilst fittingly low-key in keeping with the NASA-inspired documenting, comes off the boil come the finale. However, the sense of isolation and the impossible realisation of the distance the crew are travelling from Earth is terrifyingly palpable as they seek out new forms of life and civilization. Europa Report reminds us of the great mental conviction these science-pioneers possess and the heavy weight of loneliness out in the abyss. What with the trailers for Alfonso Curarón's Gravity kicking around the web at the moment in preparation for its release later this year, it seems like hi-concept sci-fi that lays its foundations on tone, atmosphere and more cerebral, literary narrative, is alive and well.