Elysium is not only an eyeful of a motion picture and a rock 'em, sock 'em thrill ride, but it is also rather insightful about where things will wind up if we stay on this track. This is not to say that the wealthy are going to retreat to an orbiting gated community on which to live, but this movie is a rather chilling future projection of the police state that is forming even now in our midst.
And while the one per cent ride around on the inside rim of their upscale outer space ferris wheel, the other 99 per cent are left here on polluted, over-populated and diseased Earth to scrape out a living, under complete and omniscient surveillance and robotic police control, very much like what we see at our airports and other security checkpoints these days.
The goal of the protagonists in the Elysium screenplay is to access and download all of the code that runs this Earth-orbiting paradise and provide its benefits to all people; but of course, the elite don't want this, since they have everything sewn-up solely to their own benefit and comfort.
Enter Matt Damon as Max, who works here below, manufacturing more robot police units. An industrial accident exposes him to a lethal dose of radiation, and his only hope is to fly up to Elysium for the medical treatment provided to the "citizens" there. . . and so begins an epic struggle, rich in scope, visually exciting, with one of the most tenacious villains we've seen in some time, played by Sharito Copley.
Jodie Foster, as Delacourt, comes across convincingly as the steely cold fish bureaucrat of the future, and Diego Luna is a refreshing treat as the hyper Julio, part of the harried launch support team on Earth.
A good friend told me he saw this as a propaganda film for free health care. I see it as a well-crafted look at where this world is going in its headlong rush for "security," and the exclusion of whole segments of society from the good life, by the devices we see now--voter ID laws, gerrymandering, holding down the minimum wage, luggage searches and body scans. We see what we want to see, that's for sure . . . and I wanted to see Elysium, and I totally enjoyed it.
I have always been aware of Jackie Robinson, and his place in baseball history, but beyond the bare facts, I knew little. So I was drawn to see 42, a motion picture which tells the parallel stories of both Robinson, a young black minor league baseball phenom, and Brooklyn Dodgers owner, Branch Rickey, one of the major names in post WWII major league ball.
Rickey is portrayed by Harrison Ford, who brings forth his best performance this century — an understated and highly reserved mix of Peter Falk's Colombo, with growly hints of John Huston, and a slight touch of contemporary Jack Nicholson thrown in. Gone is the brash arrogance of Han Solo and whip-cracking swagger of Indiana Jones. This is a pure bravura of a different sort and I have never been so taken with Ford's skill as an actor, rather than a character.
Just as deftly as Daniel Day Lewis inhabited the soul of Abraham Lincoln, Chadwick Boseman becomes Jackie Robinson, and there is little m0re to say about him than that. It is a level and controlled performance, with a realism and humanity that underscores the steady dignity of this film. We see bigots in many forms, and we hear the slurs, but this motion picture nevers veers from its true course, which has no need to resort to violence.
The screenplay did not shy away from the word nigger, and neither will I. You will hear it again and again, in the same full frontal assault of the racism that pervaded this nation in those years. And it is the transcendent moment when a young boy in the grandstand parrots his father's outcry, "Go home nigger," and then sees for himself, the beauty and excellence of Jackie Robinson's grace and style, and we look into that boy's eyes again, and can see the entirety of the coming Civil Rights Era and shift in perception.
And that is what 42 is really about —the shift in perception, beginning with Branch Rickey, who is mainly interested in the World Series and making money — but more profoundly in Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black), whose perceptions about niggers changed into what we now know as African Americans.
There are amazing performances all through this film, from the glaring stares of the Teutonic Philadelphia and Pittsburg pitchers, to Robinson's wife (Nicole Beharie), and a minor but delightful take on Red Barber by John McGinley (whom I loved to hate as Perry Cox on Scrubs). In fact, the entire cast is superlative. And all credit goes to director and screenplay writer Brian Helgeland, who has written and crafted the best baseball — and human story, seen in quite some time.
-- Thomas Ormsby
The recent attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi Libya gave rise to memories of the siege of our embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the 444 day hostage crisis which ensued.
There is a thrilling backstory to that siege that not everyone remembers, when six of the Embassy staffers managed to escape to the streets before the marauding mob was able to fully occupy the Embassy. Those six people took refuge at the home of the Canadian Ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, where they stayed hidden, while a desperate and seemingly impossible plot was hatched within the CIA to get them out of Iran safely.
Argo is that story, and it has been brought to the screen in a worthy interpretation, deftly directed by Ben Affleck, who also stars as the real-life rescuer, Tony Mendez. We have seen Affleck evolve over the years, from when he and his then-unknown screenwriting sidekick, Matt Damon, first gained a foothold in Hollywood with their screenplay for Good Will Hunting, which remains, in my opinion, Damon's best work to date. Affleck's career sputtered during various dalliances, resulting in screen work so mediocre that he won The Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor four years in a row, and deservedly so.
But he began to regain his footing in 2010's The Company Men and The Town, and now, with Argo, he has achieved brilliant maturity, both as an actor, and also as a first-rate director. He took full command as lead actor due mostly due to his looks, referring not to his physical features alone, but also, his silent presence in several scenes in which not a word was spoken, as he "looked" out upon the situation and conveyed the full meaning with those "looks" alone — superb acting in itself. George C. Scott pulled off that same talent marvelously in one brief scene in a tent in Oklahoma Crude, and James Mason, with a simple passing glance at a cohort, summed up the full intent of why he assigned George Peppard to fly the new untried monoplane in the concluding scene of The Blue Max. It is a rare talent and the mark of a great actor. Ben Affleck now inhabits those ranks.
The cast of Argo is rounded out with the Hollywood insider savvy of Alan Arkin, who takes on agent Richard Kind slap-for-slap in an insult contest, Victor Garber as the venerable Canadian ambassador, reaffirming, in my estimation, why Canada is one of the most civilized nations on Earth.
-- Thomas Ormsby
Like a fine French cognac, Director Woody Allen improves with age, and as a writer, he is the logical person to produce such a discerning work of art as Midnight in Paris . . . a look at several great ages of art and writing, in which the luminaries of each era muse about the meaningless and emptiness of life, and how they long for some preceding Golden Age, when things were perceived to be better, but, in fact, these are the very people we look back upon as the giants of their age . . . Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Cole Porter, Dali and T.S. Eliot . . . and further back to Degas, Gaugin and Lautrec.
Woody Allen wrote this brilliant screenplay, and it is apparent that he saw himself as Gil, visiting Paris in 2010, who takes this journey back, through the portals of time, each midnight at a certain locale, to converse first-hand with the likes of Hemingway, Picasso and others.
But Allen remains behind the camera, and instead, uses a surrogate of himself in the form of Owen Wilson, another naïve and unassuming, unlikely leading man, to use this opportunity to present this very screenplay to Gertrude Stein, in her Paris apartment in the 1920s, for her critique, a task she accepts, and upon reading it, offers her advice, which fine-tunes this story even more adroitly to affect the present day. All writers should find this motion picture to be deeply satisfying, and you'll wish you could remember many of the lines in the dialogue just for their sheer wisdom.
Hemingway appears in his raw form, the gifted young writer who had just arrived at the threshold of changing the course of American literature with his new, distinctive style, borne of love and war. Picasso is the young seminal painter, whose half-wild black button eyes penetrate the moment, and in them you can see many of his paintings yet to come. It's startling !
And, Adrian Brody comes absolutely alive to give one of the best, if not the briefest performance of his career, perfect as the flamboyant Dali, when his surrealism was fresh and pure, before he became an overwrought caricature of himself.
But make no mistake, even though he is never seen, it is Woody Allen who is the main character of Midnight in Paris, in this genuinely luminous cinematic vehicle of his own creation.
It is said that Paris is for lovers. To that, I would add Midnight in Paris is for writers, with whom this movie should resonate deeply.
-- Thomas Ormsby
The main problem with Hollywood's current crop of big budget so-called blockbusters is that they have all become one big movie, totally dependent on CG visual effects, re-running the same old action heroes and storylines from previous episodes, and ultimately serving up nothing original . . . and alas, this is the case with Star Trek : Into Darkness.
All the elements are there —all the things we've loved about this franchise over the years. Chris Pine is a perfectly suitable Jim Kirk, Zachary Quinto's deeply etched and by-the-book Spock is vastly familiar and Karl Urban continues to channel the soul of DeForest Kelly; but therein, I fear, lies the death knell for Star Trek, for we have entered the realm of keeping this franchise alive at all costs, by retelling old stories, employing even grander scenes of destruction, longer battles on ever larger scales — troubles that require tribbles — and a reservoir of plots so depleted that an old villian needed to be resurrected to get this movie up and running, along with Dr. Carol Marcus, the once and future director of the Genesis Project, seen in her earlier years, portrayed here as a plastic Starship Barbie, so bimbo-like that any minute I expected her to text OMG to her girlfriend, very much in contrast to the classy 1982 incarnation that Bibi Besch gave to this character in The Wrath of Khan.
The visuals are simultaneously thrilling and yet over-the-top. I am not sure just how many exploding and colliding star ships we need to see; but just as I have had my fill of James Bond, I am sorry to say that not only will this be the last Star Trek movie I will see, it may also be the last one filmed. Most of the trekkers will like it, of course, and even some of the trekkies, but for me, Star Trek has run its course. The picture above pretty much says it all.
-- Thomas Ormsby