Monday, August 12, 2013

Taking Flight

This weekend, I watched two new releases that, at first, seem to have absolutely nothing to do with each other - Neill Blomkamp's Elysium and Disney's Planes.  While the two films have a vast gulf between them, they do have one thing in common - flight and the desire to follow the advice of the American aviator and poet John Gillespie Magee and "slip the surly bonds of earth."  (That's from his poem "High Flight," by the way - great, great stuff!)

Let's start with Elysium.  Now, I've been a fan of Blomkamp's District 9 since it was released in 2009.  I think some viewers have felt a bit let down by Elysium for not being District 10, which seems unfair to me.  Yes, it's less subtle a film than District 9 is, but it's a good movie nevertheless.  Dealing with dystopian themes that science fiction has wrestled with since Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Blomkamp has created a film that calls into question the distribution of wealth, medical resources, and serves as a interesting allegory regarding immigration to boot.  Are the rich "better" than the poor?  Are they somehow more highly favored by God and therefore, enjoy a life of leisure and ease?  (The name "Elysium" comes from Greek mythology - where it was the name of a section of the afterlife reserved for the heroic and righteous dead.  Hmmmm.)  The film does some interesting things with language - English is spoken by both the indolent rich living on the glittering "habitat" of Elysium and by the teeming masses who scratch out something like a living on the scorched Earth, but the secondary language on Earth is Spanish, while the Elysites (?) speak gentle French.  The casting in Elysium is quite good, with Matt Damon turning in a strong performance as the reluctant hero Max and Jodie Foster doing her best with a role that's a bit of a cardboard cutout.  There are some juicy supporting roles here, including the lame Spider (Wagner Moura) and the oily Carlyle (William Fichtner).  But the jewel of a role here is that of Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley, who was the milquetoast Wikus in District 9.  His tuneless humming of a lullaby was enough to make me check under the bed the night after seeing Elysium.  A powerful actor and he works very, very well with Blomkamp.  Oh, and there are several strong South African references in Elysium, including Kruger's name and the markings on his ship.  

It's better up there, even with the shaky camerawork.  Go see this one.

Planes, on the other hand, is a lighthearted, feel-good kid's movie that would never have gotten made if not for the runaway success of 2006's Cars.  It's got the same style of animation and the same director (John Lasseter).  While Cars was about a hotshot becoming a better person car by way of a badly-needed comeuppance, Planes is about the Little Cropduster That Could.  It's not at all a bad movie; it's just that you've seen this before.  The kids in the audience with me when I saw it were cheering out loud for "Dusty Crophopper" and some of the aerial animation is gorgeous.  But Cars made me want to get my hands on some land yacht with tail fins and explore Route 66, while Planes made me - want more popcorn.  It's interesting to see the more global take on casting, but then again, Planes involves a race around the world, while Cars was all about the American love affair with the open road.  Also, while the takeaway message of Planes is supposed to be that "you can be more than what you were built to be," by the end of the movie, very little of the original Dusty is still there.  Perplexing.  Rental.

Also, Breaking Bad started airing its final eight episodes last night - "Walter White Wednesday" has much to discuss, so check back here in two days!!

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