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No good options for Sony Pictures with ‘The Interview’

This photo provided by Columbia Pictures - Sony shows, from left, Diana Bang, as Sook, Seth Rogen, as Aaron, and James Franco, as Dave, in Columbia Pictures' "The Interview." (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures - Sony, Ed Araquel)

Associated Press image

Seth Rogen and James Franco are shown in a still from “The Interview,” a movie that Sony Pictures Entertainment has put on indefinite hold because of threats made by apparently-North-Korean hackers to retaliate should Sony release the movie not only in movie theaters, but in any other form.

I don’t recall that at any time in my life was a movie not released because of terrorist threats.

Sony Pictures Entertainment has taken criticism from many for deciding not to release “The Interview,” starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as a team who ultimately assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Sony’s decision not to release the movie as planned on Christmas Day wasn’t enough; hackers who have been identified as probably North Korean apparently demanded in an e-mail to Sony that “anything related to the movie, including trailers” be removed from the Internet and that Sony “never let the movie [be] released, distributed or leaked in any form of, for instance, DVD or piracy,” as though it were possible for Sony to police the entire Internet and prevent all leaks or acts of piracy.

The Associated Press reports that “Sony Pictures has been removing all signs of ‘The Interview’ from its websites and taken its trailers off YouTube. On Wednesday, the studio canceled its Dec. 25 release after the hackers made threats of violence against theaters showing the film. Sony has said it now has no plans to release ‘The Interview.’”

While I doubt that any actual terrorist attack at a movie theater would have been committed had “The Interview” been released as planned — North Korea has no operatives within the United States, to my knowledge, and as North Korea doesn’t want its inhabitants to leave the Asian nation at all, I don’t really see the United States ever crawling with North Korean operatives  — I imagine that Sony would like to avoid any lawsuits or negative publicity (or both) should any such terrorist attack actually happen, even though such an event is fairly highly unlikely.

While I would like to see Sony at least release “The Interview” on DVD and streaming, as it would any other theatrical release, I imagine that Sony doesn’t want to have to worry about further problems with North Korean criminals in the future. Sony Pictures Entertainment is, after all, first and foremost a business. Its No. 1 reason for existing is not to enlighten us or even to entertain us, but to profit from us, and if Sony perceives that releasing a film would or could cost it more than if it withheld the film, Sony’s probably going to withhold the film.

“Team America: World Police” (which was distributed by Paramount Pictures) went off without a hitch in 2004 (I saw it at a movie theater and I’ve seen it on DVD), but maybe that’s because the late Korean dictator Kim Jong Il was portrayed by a puppet (and was not assassinated technically; at the end of “Team America” his human body is destroyed, but from his body a cockroach emerges – Kim Jong Il actually is [or was…] an alien in the form of a cockroach, you see – and flies off in a miniature spaceship, promising to return). And maybe it’s that Kim Jong Un is a lot more sensitive than was his daddy.

Just as “Team America,” had it never been released, probably wouldn’t have been a great loss to American culture, the pulling of “The Interview” (as much as I’ve liked some of the work of Franco and Rogen in the past) also probably isn’t a huge loss to American culture. We can take some comfort in that, I think.

We can assert that Sony Pictures Entertainment shouldn’t cave in to terrorist threats, but at the same time, should any terrorist attack actually occur at any movie theater showing “The Interview,” we then would lambast Sony’s greed that put dirty profits above precious human lives (and, as I noted, I would expect at least one lawsuit to ensue).

As much as I’m not into sticking up for corporations, I don’t see that Sony really could win in this case (except that if I were in charge at Sony, “The Interview” probably would, minimally, get an online and/or DVD release…).

Still, one day I’d like to see “The Interview” at last, in one format or another, and we have the apparently-North-Korean hackers, with their terrorist threats, to thank for that. It’s a movie that I probably would have skipped otherwise, at least in its theatrical release.

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Greatness eludes ‘Elysium,’ but Blomkamp is getting better

Film review

This film image released by Columbia Pictures-Sony shows director Neill Blomkamp, left, and Matt Damon on the set of "Elysium." The film, opening nationwide on Aug. 9, is a rogue burst of originality _ a futuristic popcorn adventure loaded with contemporary themes of wealth discrepancy, immigration and health care. (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures, TriStar, Kimberly French)

Associated Press image

Writer and director Neill Blomkamp directs Matt Damon on a set of “Elysium,” Blomkamp’s second big entry into the sci-fi genre.

Like his “District 9,” writer and director Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” is a worthwhile and entertaining but imperfect sci-fi venture in which Blomkamp takes the opportunity to inject social justice.

“Elysium” hits much closer to home here in the United States than “District 9,” which is set in Blomkamp’s native South Africa, did, however.

“Elysium” takes on at least four large American sociopolitical issues: immigration, class-based access to health care, the environmental degradation of planet Earth, and the phenomenon of the gated community, which is a euphemism for what actually are becoming privately militarized compounds as the filthy rich get richer and the rest of us get poorer and the rich want to keep the shit that they’ve stolen from us safe from us.

Set in the year 2154, in “Elysium” Matt Damon plays Max, a member of the poor working class in a future Los Angeles whose residents speak both English and Spanish. Most of Max’s companions, including his best friend Julio (played by Diego Luna) and his love interest Frey (played by Alice Braga), are Latino.

Like poor Mexicans attempt to get into the United States (although not nearly with the same frequency since the U.S. economy crashed and burned, like everything else did, under the watch of George W. Bush), poor and desperate Earthlings attempt, via spacecraft, to get into Elysium, the name of the gargantuan wheel-like space station that orbits Earth in space like the moon, and that like the moon, is visible on Earth. (The full backstory of the construction of Elysium is not given in “Elysium”; like the moon, it’s just taken as a given, which is OK, since we don’t really need the backstory anyway, since we already have a very good sense of how Elysium came to be.)

Protecting Elysium from the poor and desperate Earthlings who wish to reach it — the “illegals” — is the space-station plutocrats’ defense secretary, the sometimes-French-speaking Delacourt (an icy Jodie Foster) and legions of humanoid robots that keep the “illegals” (who even on Earth are deemed “illegals,” because they are not allowed admittance to Elysium) in line, mostly on Earth but also on Elysium should any of the “illegals” actually make it to Elysium.

Max, whose job is in a factory that manufactures the robots that keep the “illegals” in line, is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation while on the job — there is no OSHA in Blomkamp’s dystopian Los Angeles — and is given five days to live, and he finds out that Frey’s daughter has terminal leukemia.

The elites on Elysium have the automatized technology to cure a human being of any malady (as long as he or she is still alive, anyway), and Max’s underground associate Spider (Wagner Moura), who is a futuristic coyote, has a plan that could take Elysium down, and so the film takes off from there.

True, as others have noted, “Elysium” does go off the rails a bit, as it goes from a social-consciousness movie into a typical Hollywood action flick, but then, it more or less saves itself at the end, when it returns to its social-consciousness beginning.

Matt Damon carries “Elysium” well. He is a reliable workhorse of an actor. And as his own sociopolitical views lean strongly leftward, my guess is that he infused his performance with the sense that with Blomkamp he is furthering good causes (because, methinks, he is).

I found Jodie Foster’s performance, however, to be remarkably stilted and lifeless. I mean, she was nominated four times for the Best Actress Oscar and won twice. Foster’s character is supposed to be icy, I get that, but Foster nonetheless seems to have phoned it in. Some of this might be Blomkamp’s fault, however; as we get no backstory on or real development of Foster’s character, perhaps the two-dimensional portrayal is about the best that she could do.

And while Blomkamp apparently likes Sharlto Copley enough to have put the star of “District 9” in “Elysium” as well, Copley’s villainous Kruger, a mercenary who is on Delacourt’s payroll, is, as others have noted, over the top. Indeed, this villain, when compared to the other characters in the film, even that of Delacourt but perhaps especially that of Max, seems to have been cut and pasted from another film entirely… (Ditto for Kruger’s immediate associates, who also seem like refugees from a “Mad Max” movie.)

And like “District 9” does, “Elysium” suffers from some inconsistencies and some explanations that don’t make sense, as though Blomkamp hadn’t really thought all of it out.

The ubiquitous humanoid robots that keep the “illegals” in line on Earth suddenly go mostly or even entirely missing when the action moves from Earth to Elysium, and while our protagonists and antagonists battle it out on Elysium, I found myself asking myself, “Where the hell are all of the robots? They’re all over Earth, but they’re missing in action on Elysium?”

Apparently a “reboot” of Elysium’s “core” (its central computer) somehow is going to remove President Patel (Faran Tahir) — whom the right-wing, merciless Delacourt despises because she considers him to be too soft and too merciful toward the “illegals” (whose spacecraft she just wants to blow from the sky as they try to reach Elysium, without exception) — and, presumably, put Delacourt in the deposed Patel’s place.

How, exactly, the mere rebooting of a central computer would achieve that change of guard, Blomkamp doesn’t explain. Nor does he explain how the mere reprogramming of Elysium’s “core” to recognize all Earthlings as citizens of Elysium would magically mandate that all Earthlings automatically are to receive the level of medical care that the denizens of Elysium get.

I mean, it’s not like reprogramming a computer, no matter how powerful it is, is the same as reprogramming human beings. (That said, the craniums of the denizens of Elysium apparently are linked with implanted, wireless circuitry that at the least allows them to communicate hands free [Google and/or Apple is/are working on this right now, right?], and there is a character [a CEO whose corporation Max works for, played by William Fichtner] who, much like how R2-D2 held the plans to the Death Star, holds the plans to “reboot” Elysium inside of the small computer that is implanted in his head, where he has downloaded the plans, but, presumably, the over-privileged denizens of Elysium cannot be reprogrammed into believing that they actually had elected someone else as their president or that the destitute denizens of Earth suddenly now are their sociopolitical equals.)

Also, if we are to buy the central premise of “Elysium” — which is that the rich and the powerful tiny minority (the 1 percent, if you will) have fled the increasingly overpopulated, diseased and polluted Earth for their own mega-gated community in the sky, and that they have done this in order to protect and to preserve the limited, apparently scarce reserves of life-enhancing things for themselves — then how can we buy “Elysium’s” ending, which apparently portrays the 1 percent’s hoarded resources, or at least their hoarded medical-care resources, as being enough to serve at least the entire area of Los Angeles, but apparently even the entire Earth?

This does not compute…

Still, despite “Elysium’s” flaws, it’s a more than watchable film, it’s an improvement over “District 9” (and so Blomkamp seems to have a promising career ahead of him), and it’s great, of course, to see a mainstream film take a socialist-y stance on current hot topics such as immigration, access to medical care, environmentalism, and, of course, the ugly phenomenon of the gated community, which is but a manifestation of the insanely great class division that we see in the United States of America today.

I don’t expect American wingnuts to love this film, and that’s a great thing.

My grade: B+  

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‘World War Z’ needs braaains!

Film review

In this publicity photo released by Paramount Pictures, the infected scale the Israeli walls in "World War Z," from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions in association with Hemisphere Media Capital and GK Films. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, Jaap Buitendijk)

The Cool Catastrophes of 'World War Z'

This publicity image released by Paramount Pictures shows a scene from "World War Z." The zombies in “World War Z” move with Carl Lewis speed and a swarm-like mentality inspired in part by rabid dogs, furthering the eternal fan debate over whether the walking dead should actually run. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures)

Zombies leap and pile atop each other like angry armies of ants in “World War Z,” produced by and starring Brad Pitt, but despite these impressive visual effects and a plot that has Pitt’s character jetting around the globe, “WWZ” overall is a fairly tepid entry into the zombie genre.

I walked into “World War Z” yesterday with one reviewer having stated that the film does nothing new with the zombie genre but with other reviewers (the majority of them) having stated that it’s an engaging, thrilling summer action movie.

Sadly, in a nutshell, my verdict is that “WWZ,” while watchable enough, does nothing significantly novel with the zombie genre.

I wanted to like “WWZ” more than I did. The zombie genre, done right, can be decent entertainment, and Brad Pitt usually doesn’t do shit. But “WWZ” won’t go down as one of Pitt’s best films or as one of the zombie genre’s best entries.

“WWZ” has some compelling special effects, such as its hordes of fast-moving zombies leaping and piling atop each other like angry armies of ants, but methinks that the proof that’s in the blood pudding is how the individual zombie is portrayed, and “WWZ’s” individual zombies aren’t very frightening, and “WWZ’s” lackluster zombie makeup effects break no new ground in the zombie genre.

Not that gore alone makes for a successful zombie movie, but perhaps one of “WWZ’s” chief errors, I suspect, is its producers’ decision to make a PG-13-rated instead of an R-rated zombie film. I mean, a G-rated zombie film would be considered something for kids, and so not very scary at all, so why would a PG-13-rated zombie flick be all that much scarier?

Indeed, far from being all that scary, most of “WWZ’s” individual zombies are (from what I can tell) unintentionally fairly funny. (My mate, who sat next to me, laughed throughout the movie, and laughed at scenes that very apparently weren’t intended to be comedic.) The tooth-chattering zombie, the zombie that Pitt’s character interacts with the most, I found to be creepy, but not scary, and zombies are supposed to be scary, especially in a movie that bills itself as a seriously scary zombie movie.

Further speaking of which, from what I can tell, the zombies in “WWZ” have no interest whatsoever in consuming human flesh — no, not even human braaains! — but have interest only in biting non-infected humans in order to spread the zombie virus. Perhaps that’s the best that you can do with a PG-13 rating, but yaaawn!

And while the whole concept of the zombie — a human being that is without a beating heart and thus without circulating blood and thus without any other functioning organs yet somehow nonetheless magically is animated — of course is entirely fantastical and not remotely scientific, it would be nice if “WWZ,” since it presents itself as interested in science and medicine, had strived for more medical and scientific accuracy in its portrayal of the viral-infection process.* (Spoiler alert: The material at the asterisk below is a mild spoiler.)

No virus, for instance, is capable of taking over the entire human body within a matter of seconds, and no virus can replicate without a living host, so of course a zombie, without even a beating heart, could not be a virus factory.

Didn’t early zombie movies just rely on voodoo or some other kind of magic or hocus-pocus as the explanation for zombification? When and why did viral infection become the new, unworkable rationale in the zombie genre?

OK, sure, I suppose, perhaps the fear of a Plague still lingers within the human psyche — large swaths of people have been offed in plagues during the past (and the plague of AIDS is still with us, and new plagues, such as bird and swine flus, have the power to scare us at least a bit today) — but even before “WWZ” we didn’t need another entry in the virally caused zombie genre.

And the “solution” that the heroes in “WWZ” find to deal with the zombies is less than credible and less than thrilling. (It’s so not thrilling that I won’t even bother to go into any detail about it; it would be a “spoiler” not even worth “spoiling.”)

With Brad Pitt’s involvement, you would have thought that “WWZ” would have turned out to be a smarter zombie movie. Instead, “WWZ” screams out for braaains!

That said, “WWZ,” regarded as typically mindless summer action-movie fare, is not entirely unwatchable. It’s just disappointing if you expected something more and something better.

I can forgive Pitt for this lapse — as long as he does not involve himself in a sequel.

My grade: B-

P.S. I found BBC America’s “In the Flesh” to be a fairly fresh take on the zombie genre, in case you are interested in feasting on such a fresher take — a take with brains (literally and figuratively).

*Indeed, the movie disappointingly kills off its most scientifically minded character quite early. Are we to take that symbolically as well — that without the scientist further in the movie there will be no further scientific orientation in the movie?

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