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Matt Damon in his “Elysium” bald-headed glory

I don’t do real movie reviews.  For one, I don’t think I’m very good at them, and for another, I’m not getting paid for it.  Instead what I do is tell you what kind of movies I like and, in that context, how I would rate a particular movie.

I am ecumenical in my film enjoyment; I like everything from cartoons to musicals to drama (even Shakespearean drama) to sci-fi to comic book movies to anime.  What do I like?  I thought “The Incredibles” was one of the best movies of the last 15 years.  I think the three “Lord of the Rings” movies are incredible, and hold up really well.  I think everyone should be required to see “Casablanca” and “Singin’ in the Rain”, two of the best movies of all time.  I saw “Citizen Kane” once; I don’t ever need to see it again.  I think “The Godfather” is amazing, but don’t particularly enjoy “The Godfather II”.  I laugh so hard at some scenes in “Sleeper” that I practically wet myself.  So there you have it.

Rankings-wise, I don’t use stars, or anything like that.  My rankings are simple:

  • Go see this in the theater, and buy it when it comes out!
  • Go see this in the theater, but you don’t need the DVD (e.g., “Dangerous Liaisons”, which I’m glad I saw, and never ever want to see again as long as I live.  If need to see a young Uma Thurman’s boobs again, I’ll watch “Baron Munchausen”)
  • Buy the movie when it comes out, but it doesn’t require a theater trip (e.g., you don’t really need to see “The 40 Year Old Virgin” on the big screen)
  • Just rent the damn movie when it comes out
  • Why did I rent this horrible movie?

This is an enjoyment scale, not a quality scale.  For example, “Mad Max” is not a particularly high-quality, Academy Award-winning film, but man do you need to see that sucker on the big screen, you know what I’m saying?  By the opposite token, “Dangerous Liaisons” is a beautifully written, wonderfully acted, well-directed movie that is worth seeing . . . once.  Afterwards, take a shower and rinse out your mouth, and never see it again.  (“The French Lieutenant’s Woman” is similar.  Good movie, but uck!)

That all being a prelude to how I like “Elysium”, the latest film by South African film wunderkind Neill Blomkamp.  And the answer is:  Meh.  Which means, “Just rent the damn movie when it comes out.”

The premise is interesting enough; in the mid 22nd Century, the wealth gap has reached such an epic level that the Rich Folks have left the planet entirely, living on their very own space habitat, Elysium; sort of the ultimate in gated communities.  On Elysium, you can get any sickness cured.  On overpopulated Terra, not so much.  Like many dystopian future science fiction movies, the poor ol’ Earth is a hellhole.  And naturally, most folks want to get on up to Elysium.

There’s a bunch of interesting ideas in this movie–apartheid taken to its logical extreme, ditto the aforementioned wealth gap, ditto stomping on illegal immigrants (the film even calls them “illegals”, just like Romney did during the 2012 election).  But for me it just didn’t hang together.

Don’t blame Matt Damon or Jodie Foster, who both put in excellent performances.  (I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of Damon’s crooked smile that just seems to bust out of him when you least expect it.)  No, it feels more like too many ideas in the stew.  Plus I am sick Sick SICK of shaky-cam, where everything is close up and shaky to simulate urgency, or realism, or some damn thing.  It is the hellspawn of “The Blair Witch Project”, and it seems as if no SF or action movie director is allowed to use steady camera shots.  Enough, already!  And “Elysium” uses it all the damn time.

And while I really appreciate the melange of cultures and accents in the film–middle-American Matt Damon, South Africans, Hispanics, a couple of African Americans, that evil dude from the first “Iron Man” movie (no, not Jeff Bridges; the bad guy from the caves)–between the close-ups, the shaky-cam, and the accents, half the time I couldn’t understand the damn dialog.  Especially when the character Spider was speaking, in his thick L.A. Barrio accent (one presumes).  It’s hard for me to enjoy a movie when I both can’t see and can’t understand the dialog of WTF is going on.

Finally, there’s the “science”.  Which I’m putting in quotes because who the heck would build a space habitat where one side is open to space?  Yes, it’s theoretically possible to spin a giant habitat enough to hold the air in, but it has to be really big, and spinning really fast.  It’s dramatic-looking; it’s also stupid.

And all the other tech in the movie is basically stuff we have right now.  The computers not only looked like current tech, they actually looked like my friend Chris’ 8 year-old Alienware laptop.  In 2154?  Seriously?  And (spoiler warning!) the plot hinges on the ability of someone to just insert any random person as President of this giant, high tech satellite during a hard system reboot and then you’re in charge?  SERIOUSLY?  Even “Live Free or Die Hard” was more realistic about computer security than that.  C’mon, Blomkamp!  I mean, I go to an SF or comic book movie expecting to test my willing suspension of disbelief, but there’s testing it, and there’s spitting in its face.

So to sum up:  “Elysium”, meh.  Rent it when it’s out on DVD or streaming download.