Elysium (2013)

Elysium Movie Poster

Elysium Movie Poster

Rating: ★½☆☆☆ 

There is good science fiction, and there is bad science fiction. Elysium is the bad kind. Don’t bother.

Elysium is the sort of film that just doesn’t quite sit right with you while you’re watching it–for all the obvious reasons when in the moment–and then later on, as you’ve taken the time to properly digest it, you come to realize that there isn’t really a shred of story that holds together on any level. It’s not necessarily offensive viewing, but the entire concept is broken on so many layers that it’s impossible to be kind about it in any kind of objective analysis.

Brief example: a huge plot point hinges upon the fact that Jodie Foster’s repulsive and laughably over-the-top character can (essentially, single-handedly) stage a coup on the presidency of Elysium (which is the luxurious space station/colony to which all of the rich people flee when Earth becomes a total craphole) by simply rebooting the central computer and basically updating a database that will specify her as grand leader.

…and then there’s everything else. Sorry, Neill Blomkamp (director of Elysium)–I’m not sure where everything went wrong, but it clearly did. I’ve heard good things about District 9, but now I don’t know…

Mind f$%k double-header

This has been an unusual weekend, since instead of watching zero movies–which is how about 99% of my weekends go–I watched two movies. Only one of these films is based upon a short story by Philip K. Dick, but the other is in the general ballpark of Philip K. Dick mind-fuckitude.

Source Code (2011)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

I’m tempted to go a little higher on the rating for this one, but I don’t tend to like rating films higher than a 4 when I’ve only seen them once. That said, I enjoyed this one quite a bit. If you’re keeping track, this is the film that wasn’t based upon a Philip K. Dick story, but it’s fairly similar in a way to the Nic Cage film Next, which was an adaptation of Dick’s short story, The Golden Man.

Granted, Source Code is a much better film–though I did enjoy Next, as well–better acted, better directed, better written, and overall more engaging. But in concept, it’s really not terribly different.

In Next, the main character can see two minutes into his own future, which allows him to play out a plethora of scenarios until finding one with the highest probability of success. As a result, the government wants to use him to help track down a bomb.

In Source Code, the main character travels back through time–I’m simplifying–in order to relive the same eight minutes over and over again until he can discover the identity of a bomber. In concept, these two plots sound pretty similar, though in execution and plot, they’re not very much alike. In a way, Source Code is also kind of like an episode of Quantum Leap, if they had ever done a Groundhog Day style episode.

Basically, Source Code is kind of a mish-mash of a lot of other high concept sci-fi, but it’s a brilliant mish-mash–particularly in how it builds a convincing romance between two people who only know each other for eight minutes at a time–that works as a taut brain-bending thriller. A couple of notes about the ending:

Even though the ending is hopeful, my wife still felt a little emotionally drained by it or something. After we finished watching, she told me she had to go watch something funny.

Also, I have a quibble about the implications of the ending for one of main characters–albeit, a character we never know much about–but I can’t discuss it at all without spoiling it, and this is a film that I think shouldn’t be spoiled. So go see it, then I’ll tell you what my problem was.

That was supposed to be a one paragraph review, by the way. I guess I didn’t do too well. Let me see how I do with this next one.

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

I watched this last night, and I’m still not exactly sure how to feel about it. First of all, I should say that it wasn’t the film that I imagined in my head. I knew very little about the film outside of what I saw in the 30-second television trailers, so without spoiling too much, I’ll just reveal that I had an image of this being something a little closer to The Matrix, where The Adjustment Bureau–whatever that is–was more of a malevolent body. That isn’t really the case at all.

The film is actually something like a meditation on free will and spirituality. Within the first twenty minutes or so, we more or less know what the Adjustment Bureau is, and so the rest of the film is really about how Matt Damon’s character deals with that knowledge. This movie is not an extended chase film as the poster implies–though it does contain chase sequences–but is rather a heady story about a guy who finds out that the evolution of human history is being directed at a fine-tooth level.

It’s interesting and pretty exciting, though somehow I wish it were a little more exciting. But that’s probably not fair. I might upgrade it if I ever see it again. In any event, it’s a fine film well deserving of its good reviews.

Second Opinions from Blogs I Read

  • Television Lady – actually from a review she did on another site, but it’s a helluva lot better than the quasi-review I just wrote

Green Zone

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

(Subtract one star if you disagree with the film’s politics.)

Wow…I had a completely different notion of what this film was going to be. Knowing that this was another vehicle for Matt Damon, directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum), and from my vague recollection of having seen the trailer and remembering a sequence in which the protagonist is kidnapped, announces his intention to bring in his kidnapper, and is quickly shown to be free and causing havoc, I assumed that Green Zone was going to be about a Jason Bourne-like character putting foot to ass and bringing Iraqi war criminals to justice while unraveling a Bourne Ultimatum-like web of conspirators. I’m not saying that this would have been a better film than what Green Zone actually is. I’m just saying.

So what sort of film was Green Zone? Good question.

Well, if you’re my mother–who was visiting last week when I rented it–you’d probably never really know, since you fell asleep within twenty minutes. But in a way, I understand why. At a certain point–maybe if you’ve seen at least one movie about soldiers and the Middle East–you’ve probably gotten the idea already. That said, I do think Green Zone goes to a place that less political films haven’t been willing to go…for better or worse.

It’s probably fairly easy to spoil this film, so I’ll just briefly mention what this film was about.

Shortly after Operation Iraqi Freedom, towards the beginning of the occupation, Captain Miller (Matt Damon) leads a squad tasked with investigating alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) stockpiles. After repeatedly turning up bubkes and inevitably coming to the conclusion that the intelligence with regard to WMD is weak at best or fallacious at worst, he begins overtly questioning his orders. To Miller’s mind, if there never were any WMD, then the U.S. population had evidently been sold a bill of goods, and the military had been mobilized and deployed under false pretenses.

Miller just wants to know the genesis of this bogus intel, and his outspokenness brings him into the confidence of Brendon Gleeson’s CIA expert Martin Brown. Brown sees WMD as a smokescreen enshrouding a flawed plan by the administration to disband the Iraqi military and maintain an occupying presence in Iraq. Miller’s engagement with Brown entwines him in the pernicious tug-of-war between intelligence agencies–and pits him against Greg Kinnear as Pentagon man Clark Poundstone–fighting to determine the method by which the Iraqi nation might be once again stood upon its own feet…or not.

It’s your typical “soldier goes off the reservation” film, but it works on another level, as well.

Green Zone is a thoroughly cynical film that posits such notions as:

  • intelligence agencies inventing informants and information out of whole cloth;
  • U.S. officials being in cahoots with Saddam’s generals and suppressing intelligence that would destroy the credibility of more “favorable” intelligence;
  • collusion between U.S. officials and the print media to sell a war predicated upon unverified sources and uninvestigated claims;
  • the employment of local assets (that’s “assassins” for those of you who don’t speak Greengrass) for wetwork operations in order to circumvent oversight and provide plausible deniability for U.S. intelligence agencies whenever they need this or that guy out of the way;
  • the wielding of the U.S. military for essentially whacking highly-placed Baathists in order to prevent them from telling anybody what they know (i.e., Saddam didn’t have any active WMD);
  • the more or less intentional sabotaging of post-war reconstruction by arrogant administration officials who were so concerned with making a totally clean break with the Baathists that they were more than willing to doom Iraq to years of insurgency and civil war long after Bush declared “Mission Accomplished”;
  • that the second Iraq war was ultimately more about occupying and controlling Iraq than anything else.

You get the idea.

The frightening thing about Green Zone is how plausible it all seems. I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist by any means, but when we brought war to Iraq upon the back of the case that Saddam had WMD, didn’t anybody who was at least half paying attention think that was–in the best case–primarily a pretext meant to conceal ulterior motives? Green Zone may push the envelope of what you can attempt politically in an action film without finding your picture marginalized in the press and ignored by the larger movie-going public, but just the same, it holds together pretty well owing to a tight script. It may never approach any sort of reality, but even if it doesn’t, it’s a solid reminder of what happens when we don’t ask questions of our political, intelligence, and military leaders.

My mother, who woke up at the end of the film and caught enough of it to get the gist, suggested that the speculative claims made by Green Zone might be dangerous. I don’t know about that. I think 4000+ American deaths and 100,000 Iraqi civilian casualties since 2003 (though I’ll grant that the numbers for the latter are more difficult to understand–suffice it to say, a lot of Iraqis have died) prove that the idea of going to war with Iraq was a dangerous idea.

A movie that claims that U.S. officials lied in order to go to war isn’t proposing an idea that hasn’t been proposed many times before. If it’s more dangerous than any of those other claims, it’s merely because internally, the film tracks well from one point to the next, and if you’re already inclined in this direction, it’s tempting to view Green Zone as some sort of secret history (it’s not).

With all of that said, I think Green Zone takes a well-considered tack somewhere down the middle line with regards to whether ousting Saddam and attempting to install true democracy in Iraq was–regardless of anything else–in the interests of the Iraqi people. In that regard, the Iraqi character, Freddy, played by Khalid Abdalla (in one of the film’s few stand-out performances) serves as an interesting mouthpiece. But at the same time, Green Zone annihilates the validity of the administration’s espoused reasons for going in and skewers post-war reconstruction policy for being a farce: no exit strategy, the installation of a puppet governor, and a total stonewalling of regional experts who forcefully asserted that the administration was throwing out the baby with the bathwater and seeding an instability that would plague the nation for years to come.