Film round-up: Week ending September 2013 (Elysium, 2 Guns, Jurassic Park, Compliance)

Elysium (2013)

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Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9 has been getting some mediocre press – not as good as D9, too Hollywood, too liberal, too dumb… well, it isn’t as good as D9, that’s a definite. Yes, it does resort to basic punch-up action at the end, and despite the potentially fascinating science on show (the healing powers of state-of-the-art technology which more or less cures you of nearly all ills), it doesn’t explore it in any moral, cerebral or way beyond using it as a plot hook. Also, Jodie Foster’s performance is odd to say the least – a very mannered, borderline-stilted turn which seems to have been treated with some kind of audio alteration which makes her voice sound…well, off. Still, Matt Damon is a good lead, the gritty visuals conjure up a heated, close, claustrophobic atmosphere, the action is terrific and Sharlto Copley delivers a hilarious, hugely entertaining performance of such scenery-chewing evil that he may very well be the most gleefully cruel villain in a Hollywood blockbuster over the last few years. Not a film to blow your mind, but at the very least one to blow your face off.

2 Guns (2013)

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Moderately entertaining fodder that wins points for enthusiasm on the part of Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington as two mismatched criminals who are really undercover good guys but neither knows who the other one is and whatnot. The chemistry between the two leads is infectious, so it’s a pity they aren’t rewarded with a memorable script. It has all the trademarks of a quick-fire, banter-loaded buddy-buddy comedy, but it falls short of magical. Still, Bill Paxton makes for a calmly threatening villain who does painful things to his victims with drawing pins, and the whole affair is pretty enjoyable before it gets bogged down in a darker tone toward the messy final confrontation. Still, it’s okay enough. Co-stars Paula Patton from the fourth Mission: Impossible film, whom I only just discovered is married to Robin Thicke, who sings lead on the other impossible-to-avoid chart summer hit with Pharrell Williams that isn’t ‘Get Lucky’, and also made headlines for dry-humping chief ‘twerker’ Miley Cyrus at some awards ceremony.

Jurassic Park 3-D (1993/2013)

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It’s weird, but every 3-D film I see feels less 3-Dy the more it progresses. As this re-release of Spielberg’s splendid blockbuster begins, I could feel Bob Peck was in the same room as me as he stares forebodingly at that cage with the raptor inside. By the end, it’s all feels as though it’s reduced to the same perspective and I couldn’t tell what was nearer and what was further away. I feel the same way with all 3-D films. Still, it’s great to see all of this on a massive screen, and despite the odd dialogue clunker, slightly underwhelming ending and strictly 2-D characters, this is a phenomenal thrill-ride that boasts awe, wonder and terror in equal measures. The 3D conversion seems to have made the film look a little grainy, and the special effects a bit more obviously artificial, but this is still a spectacle to be truly reckoned with. Even if some find the build-up overly long, I would suggest that the leisurely approach only makes the eventual horror all the more effective, with the first T-Rex attack being one of Spielberg’s absolute best sequences, a masterclass in tension, terror and PG-rated envelope-pushing traumatisation.  The work of a master for sure, and definitely the most fun I’ve had watching it ever since that first time twenty years ago.

Compliance (2012)

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Inspired by a true story? Hmm, time to take this with a pinch of salt, methinks. Yet a cursory search online reveals that more or less all the events in this depiction of crank-call harassment taken to the extreme really did happen. So why does this film still feel so damned preposterous and frankly, totally unbelievable? Seriously, this may very well be one of the most frustrating films you will ever see – the characters behave so stupidly and ridiculously that you may very well end up wanting to punch the screen in. Still, it really happened – what can I say? Well, truth is truth, but Compliance presents it all the wrong way. For example, it would have been much more effective to experience everything from the victim’s point of view so that we could only hear what they hear, but by revealing that the caller in question really isn’t a police officer investigating a suspected theft early on, it’s makes his frankly outrageous demands all the more difficult to accept. Also, when things get seriously twisted, the film throws in a ten-or-so second shock moment that comes out of nowhere, that just seems unnecessary and over-the-top, and yet too also happened in real life! Here it just seems unbelievable, and this was the point that I just started laughing. Sorry if that sounds disrespectful, but a film shouldn’t get a free pass just because it’s based on truth. In fact, the almost cavalier way it goes about this shock moment is almost more offensive because it was based on truth. And then the fact that the victim herself is pretty much sidelined at the end in favour of the naïve store manager who pretty much let all of this happen makes for a very muddled and confusing depiction of what really was an astonishing real-life case of sick manipulation.

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