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DECEMBER 17TH, 2013

ELYSIUM // Following a retreaded story structure, “Elysium” sticks out as a strong science fiction action film for its impressive visuals, more-so over its ability to tell a captivating story, however, the strong allusions to unbalanced socio-economical classes and unequal distribution of wealth help differentiate it from similar sci-fi flicks. Much like his directorial debut, Neill Blomkamp has no problem weaving his visual concepts with his glimpse into the future of Earth. In this impoverished future, Earth in inhabited by the poor, living in squalor among dumps and with poor healthcare. The rich, however, have fled Earth and are orbiting in an enormous space station paradise called Elysium. Here, there are robots to serve and protect, and healthcare comes in the form of an MRI-looking machine that fixes any illness you may have, be it a fractured bone or even caner. Matt Damon leads this endeavor as Max Da Costa, a former car thief turned factory worker who suffers a radiation accident within the first act of the film, giving him 5 days to live. Determined to get to Elysium to get medical treatment, he turns to his former boss, Spider (Wagner Moura), huge hacker and black market kingpin, who offers him a way out, attaching a metal harness to his entire body, making him part human, part machine. “Elysium” succeeds wonderfully as a straight up action film, producing some highly entertaining action sequences, especially between Max and Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley of “District 9” fame, who also wear a metallic harness. Performance-wise, “Elysium” is somewhat lacking, Damon, Copley, and even Alice Braga as love-interest Frey are all convincing, but Jodie Foster and William Fichtner tend to phone-in their performances, with Foster delivering horridly paced lines and attaching a completely dismal accent. One thing you’ll notice during the credits sequence of the film is that the visual effects are a fraction of the size compared to most big budget science fiction action films nowadays, but “Elysium” has amazingly striking visuals with half the effects crew, which is entirely impressive to say the least. Neill Blomkamp proves wonders with his sophomore endeavor, giving piece of mind to those that questioned whether he could knock it out of the park twice in a row.

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AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS // Highlighted with three of best performances this year, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” takes a minimal storyline and creates an authentic and emotion-filled canvas for these young and bright actors to paint this heart-wrenching drama with their God-given talents. Casey Affleck has proved time and time again that he is an actor to be watched, delivering award-worthy performances around every corner, taking on the richest of characters and bringing his unique persona to each of them. This goes for his embodiment of the character Bob Muldoon in this film as well, a man who takes the blame for his wife when she shoots a police officer and goes to jail, while she gives birth to their child and lives on the fringe, wondering if he’ll come back to her. Played by the stellar Rooney Mara, Ruth is a torn character. On one hand, she has the love of her life in jail, who took the fall for her and who she now sees in the eyes of her daughter as she reads her to stories in bed or sings her to sleep. On the other hand, local police officer, Patrick Wheeler, played by the always talented Ben Foster, is showing a kindness to her that she’s never experienced. When Bob escapes from jail, the question of how he’ll return for Ruth and whether she’ll actually go with him becomes the driving force of the plot. Every performance in David Lowery’s film is multi-layered and executed to a level of brilliance unbeknown to me by just seeing the trailer. Often creating the mood of Western, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” escapes the bonds of similar films while not having to adhere to any “based on a true story” moniker, creating a truly original story matching the caliber of classics like “Bonnie & Clyde” or “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”.

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THE FAMILY // Wasting no time delving into the story of this insanely dark and violent comedy, “The Family” is a scatter shot of ideas and cast members placed together in a haphazard, yet entertaining way. Lead by Robert De Niro, the cast feels fresh in their roles as a former mob family on the run. Obviously De Niro’s role in this feels natural from all his previous mob roles and his humor is deadpan but spot on. He and Michelle Pfeiffer play husband and wife, and it works phenomenal, especially in scenes where they are close, breathing an authenticity into the family unit. Dianna Agron is absolutely stunning as the high school daughter, reaching the violent moments with ease while looking sexy and confident the whole way through. John D’Leo is the sight unseen, nail on the head in this role, coming off like a mini mob boss and showing an extensive future in these roles, fitting the son of De Niro perfectly. Director Luc Besson (“Taken”, “Lockout”) wastes no time defining the stakes of the film, killing a similar family within the first moments of the film. Yes, this touts violence immediately, but rightfully so, not allowing for the thought that this is a romp-comedy, and instead borders dark undertones with no mistaking that death will be the eventual conclusion. Besson also provides the needed character development that allows the viewer to believe these characters are capable of the eventual, action-packed ending. Slightly sadistic, this family is full of loose cannons that prove they know their way around weapons. The comedy comes mostly from De Niro’s fish-out-of-water persona, as he tries to write down his memoirs, fix the plumbing throughout the town, and deal with the FBI, lead by the veteran Tommy Lee Jones, who grounds this film in its sentiment. With some extremely farfetched leaps throughout the film, including a country traveling school newspaper that ends up in the hands of the one person in the entire world that it shouldn’t, the film often feels unbelievable and hard to give the benefit of the doubt. Also, the characters go beyond extremes at times, with unwarranted suicidal tendencies and some awkward daydream moments that constantly make you wonder what it reality and what is a dream, with the two mixing far too often. The dialogue is smart, with the word “fuck” set up nicely and used to cause humor throughout the whole film, rather than using cursing for the sake of using it. Rising above the poor reviews and slightly vague genre for the film, “The Family” is darkly funny and wonderfully acted, with a tinge only Besson could carry successfully.

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KICK ASS 2 // On about the same level as its predecessor, “Kick Ass 2” delivers more bang for your buck but ultimately loses something in the passing of time. What once was hilarious is now just average, as Mindy McCready (Chloe Moretz) once stole the spotlight as the smart-mouthed twelve year old who took to murder as second nature, now becomes an older teenager, where the foul mouth and personal vendettas reek too much of “Mean Girls” and not enough like the original concept that was the original “Kick Ass”. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plods on as Kick Ass, adding no real depth to the character and remaining just as whiny as before, save for some rock hard abs to bring to his hero. With no Mark Strong to sell the villain role, we’re left with Christopher Mintz-Plasse to take on the role of bad guy, and he really leaves much to be desired, coming off more humorous than villainous. To replace the giant hole left by Nicolas Cage, we are graced with Jim Carrey, in a very spot-on performance as Colonel Stars and Stripes, the leader of the hero group Justice Forever. Although his performance is somewhat short, it’s worth every second. The action scenes are intense enough to grab attention and the visual effects keep the story on track, but there’s really nothing surprising or captivating beyond the basic entertainment that we come to expect from action comedies. With several recycled storylines stitched together to make up the story for “Kick Ass 2”, the film does not win on an originality standpoint, but it delivers with enough oomph to hold up on the big screen.

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THE LONE RANGER // Overly long and tonally challenged, “The Lone Ranger” is still a visually stunning and eloquent Western that just suffers from emotional shifts and a run time of almost three hours. Not completely sold on Armie Hammer as a front man, his interpretation of the Lone Ranger is slightly convincing, but not entirely enjoyable. There’s very little charm or threat presented by him as an actor and therefore leaves the book wide open for someone to replace him. As with most of his endeavors, Johnny Depp brings the humor as Tonto. Unsure why the creators decided to have old Tonto narrate the story when it’s not really his story, Depp gets top billing and I guess that’s all the reason we need. Tom Wilkinson and William Fichtner present admirable performances, both embodying their darker sides while Barry Pepper is never really allowed to shine, as his character and his possible depths are squandered. The wild west backdrop is stunning, but is still kept at bay, with not as many wide open shots as I would have desired from a modern Western. The visual effects work wonders, especially with the train set pieces billed in the trailer. Overall, this was not quite up to “Pirates of the Caribbean” standards, but with a strong score from Hans Zimmer, a darker side to the world of Westerns, and enough emotional arcs to keep you invested, “The Lone Ranger” is still a summer success in my book.

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PRISONERS // What can only be described as an epic, slow burn thriller, “Prisoners” is a direct descendant of the dark worlds shaped by director David Fincher. With drained color and constant dreariness in every scene, the films tone is off the charts. The drizzling rain and stormy days may seem somewhat heavy handed, but these choices suck you into this world and drain the hope right out of you. Director Denis Villeneuve wastes no time providing false hope or building a world where life is normal. Within the first twenty minutes, the girls are gone and you’ll be amazed at how long Villeneuve can string you through the hunt. Built with strong performances from everyone involved and bringing to light some precedent subjects like torture and the human psyche, the film takes hold and never lets go. Jake Gyllenhaal is the highlight of the film as Detective Loki, bringing a silent charisma and unending bravado that provides this stern drama with everything that it needs to keep going. Hugh Jackman makes some definitive choices in his role, but ultimately comes off monotonous and loud throughout the entire film, but I’d make a case that this is the point, leading to an eventual ending that serves up justice in all directions. Terrence Howard and Maria Bello slightly phone-in their performances, not given much to work with, while Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, and Viola Davis all give above par performances. “Prisoners” deals with slight of hand and a realistic look at a detective working in a small town. As Loki uncovers many of the dark secrets throughout the town, he finds that they might be more interconnected than he could have imagined. Apart from feeling slightly ahead of all the case revelations, the thriller still holds its surprises and has you guessing until the very end. With a superb and subtle ending, concluding the film at the exact perfect moment, this film will stay with you. Plus, any film that can tout a 150 minute run-time and still keep the suspense building and the story interesting is a massive achievement.

New Releases
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Devil’s Pass
Elysium
The Family (2013)
Ghost Team One
Kick Ass 2
The Lone Ranger (2013)
One Direction: This Is Us 2-denied2
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Prisoners


TV Box Set

  •     Burn Notice: Season Seven   
  •     Family Guy: Season Twelve
  •     Justified: Season Four   
  •     Shameless: Season Three  


Special Editions/Other Releases

  •     Alien Uprising   2-denied2
  •     Force Of Execution
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