Elysium: A Solid Movie Starring Matt Damon (aka The Director’s 2nd Choice Behind…Eminem??)

I went to see the sci-fi action movie Elysium on its first day in the theaters for three main reasons:

  1. Matt Damon in a starring role gives any movie a ton of credibility. I know his filmography isn’t mistake-free (Adjustment Bureau was terrible, can’t imagine We Bought a Zoo was very good), but over the course of his 20-year career he’s earned the benefit of the doubt on most projects he chooses (especially when it comes to action roles).
  2. The concept. From the trailers on TV I gathered the film was about a future where the most elite humans have left an uninhabitable Earth to live the utopian life on a space station while the rest of mankind is trying to survive on the ravaged planet. And of course a group of those Earth-dwellers would be plotting their way onto that paradise floating in the sky.
  3. Neil Blomkamp, the director and co-writer of the movie, has made only one other well-known film, District 9. If you enjoyed that flick as much as I did, you probably agree that any other project he’s involved in is worth seeing.

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I assumed Elysium would be a can’t-miss hit for Sony because it just seemed like the obvious choice for “best action film of the summer.”

And when I showed up for the 10:45 a.m. playing of Elysium at my hole-in-the-wall Culver City theater, I was certain the movie would be all the talk after the weekend. Typically when I go to a weekday movie at this theater, there are anywhere between zero and five other people in attendance (even for the most-hyped of movies). When I walked in on Friday, there were at least 30 people. That’s a 600% increase. How could this film not knock it out of the park?

But then I read about their underachieving opening weekend

I’m wondering if the stench of two disappointing movies from earlier in the summer that also featured a destroyed planet Earth have made people wary of this latest installment. The two in question would be Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise, and After Earth, starring the entire Will Smith family.

If that’s your reason for staying away from Elysium, I’m urging you to reconsider. It doesn’t come close to getting a 10 out of 10 in my official watchability scale (see below), but it’s a fun movie with a ton of great action.

If the “sci-fi” tag typically keeps you away from a movie, I can tell you it’s only sci-fi in the most technical sense that it takes place in the future and there are certain scientific truths that don’t yet exist in our world. It’s not a movie about aliens, zombies or ghosts.

It’s really a story about people trying to secure or elevate their social status in a world where that status could mean the difference between life and death.

Max Da Costa (played by Damon) always wanted to get up to Elysium (the space station), but as an adult he’ll settle for being a working-class citizen rather than the ex-con-on-probation status that we see him in at the start of the movie.

Secretary of Defense Delacourt (played by Jodie Foster), already a high-ranking citizen on Elysium has even grander aspirations.

Even the character Spider, a smuggler on Earth, who knows he’s doomed to live out his life on the self-destructing planet aspires to be among the most elite non-Elysium dwellers.

It’s all about status until certain people start to get sick, and then it becomes all about getting to Elysium where their magical medical pods can cure anything, including natural aging.

The movie has a few good twists so that by the end you’re not so concerned with whether Damon’s character will make it up to Elysium, but rather if he’ll stick with his goal of saving himself, or if he’ll do what needs to be done to change the course of human history.

The biggest criticism I had after walking out of the theater is that many details and backstory were skimmed over in exchange for more time with the action. We never really learn any character’s motivation for doing what they do except for Damon’s. We never get any insight into how the elite make their paradise run so perfectly. 

With the movie coming in at one hour and 45 minutes, I actually wouldn’t have minded them stretching it to the full two hours if they would have used that time for backstory and subplots.

You should see this movie if: You enjoy a ton of action, especially chase scenes and one-on-one combat. You enjoy all things Matt Damon. You enjoy films with not-so-subtle social messages (just like District 9). The underdog stories always fascinate you. You want to see the best action movie of the summer.

You should not see this movie if: Your least favorite movie genres are sci-fi and action. You can’t enjoy a movie unless there is explanation and backstory for everything. You dislike violence. You piss yourself at the sight of a little gore. You like deeply developed characters and lots of subplot.

On the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS), I give it a 7 out of 10. If you haven’t been keeping up with my summer movie reviews (which you can find HERE), this means I’m ranking Elysium slightly ahead of World War Z (6.5 out of 10), but behind Star Trek Into Darkness (7.5 out of 10) and Fruitvale Station (8.5 out of 10).

I was going to end this post by saying I will continue to see any movie that Neil Blomkamp makes because they are fun, action-packed films…But then as I was fact-checking some information about Elysium, I saw this on Wikipedia: “The main role was offered to rapper Eminem, but he wanted the film to be shot in Detroit. That was not an option for the two studios, so Blomkamp moved on to Damon as his next choice.”

There are so many things wrong with that statement, but mostly the fact that Eminem was the choice to play a lead role in a $115 million film over Matt Damon. Now I have to question everything Neil Blomkamp does for the rest of his life.

Fruitvale Station: A Fantastic Movie That You’ll Never Watch Twice








[Editor’s Note: In my ongoing attempt at bringing my readers something other than sports blogs, here is my third movie review of the summer. It’s incredible how at-home you can feel on a Tuesday afternoon in an empty movie theater. Like I’m just watching a show in my living room, hand down my pants and all. If you didn’t read my other movie reviews from earlier in the summer, check them out HERE and HERE. Enjoy]

If you haven’t heard much buzz over Fruitvale Station, that’ll probably be changing soon. Though it came out on July 4th, it only got released nationwide about a week ago. And come award season, you’ll be hearing all about this film and its lead actor, Michael B. Jordan.

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The film is based on a true story about the last day of Oscar Grant’s life leading up to his savage murder by a Bay Area Transit Police Officer on New Year’s Day 2009.

The murder and the subsequent trial of BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle became a national topic not unlike the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case.

I’m not one to traditionally seek out politically-charged movies where race is at the center of a tragedy, but this all happened in my backyard as I was living in San Francisco at the time. I’ve gotten off the BART train at the exact station where Grant was shot (Fruitvale) a handful of times. It also turns out that a friend of a friend edited this entire movie, and I heard some Oscar buzz rumblings before the movie was even released. All of that plus my appreciation for all things Michael B. Jordan made it a must-see.

Jordan has been on a nice career path over the past 12 years (I say if he wins an Oscar he gets to drop the “B” and just go by Michael Jordan): He played Wallace on The Wire, a small but impactful role; then came the hotshot high school quarterback role of Vince Howard onFriday Night Lights; he followed that up with his first major movie role as a teenager with superpowers in Chronicle (I hated it, but plenty of people enjoyed it); and finally the lead role in Fruitvale Station. There’s also a rumor out there that he’ll play the lead role of Apollo Creed’s grandson in a Sylvester Stallone-produced spin-off of Rocky.

Needless to say, the guy can act. I can’t see his career not taking off on an even grander trajectory after his turn as Oscar Grant.

It’s a tough movie to get excited for because you know the ending ahead of time, and it’s a terrible, gut-wrenching ending. This innocent man is going to die. And that’s why I said it’s a fantastic movie that you’ll never watch twice. It’s not a comedy where you can pick up more humor the more you watch it, or an action movie where you want to see a crazy chase scene a second time.

You’re literally watching the final 24 hours of a young man’s life, hoping that somehow the ending is different than what you saw on the news in January 2009.

When I say innocent, certainly I don’t mean that Oscar Grant was a saint. He had spent time in prison, he was trying to quit dealing drugs to make sure he’d be around for his daughter and girlfriend, but early on in the movie we see that he just got fired from his grocery store job for constantly being late. 

And that’s pretty much what we get to see Grant go through on the final day of 2008: he knows what’s important to him now, and he’s trying to get his life on track to provide for his family, but he keeps getting in his own way.

It’s a simple story all the way up until the fateful BART ride home to the East Bay after Grant and friends watch fireworks in San Francisco. That’s when things get complicated, inexplicable and tragic. 

If you saw the movie Argo, you remember that final 10 minutes when they were going to the airport to make their great escape. You were probably sweating from the suspense even though you knew the outcome ahead of time.

It’s the same way in this movie once the cops show up to Fruitvale station and all hell breaks loose. You want to jump through the movie screen and tell the cops they’re overreacting, and that the guys they’re holding aren’t the ones who started the fight.

But it’s a pointless struggle as we watch the inevitable happen.

You should see this movie if: You enjoy movies based on true stories, even if it’s a sad story. You enjoy thought-provoking, authentic-feeling movies. You know of the Oscar Grant shooting vaguely, and you want more details. You want to knock one of the Academy Awards contenders off your must-watch list before the January/February scramble where you try to cram all the nominees into your viewing schedule. You’re a fan of brevity…this movie clocked in at 85 minutes long (I waste more time nightly watching Kardashians, Houswives or one of the 35 wedding shows that my girlfriend watches on an endless loop).

You should not see this movie if: Either by being a blatant racist or just an old person, you assume young black men are up to no good and you were OK with seeing the BART Police Officer get off with only involuntary manslaughter. You support George Zimmerman. Hearing someone call San Francisco “Frisco” will make you want to strangle that person (Oscar’s girlfriend keeps referring to the city as “Frisco,” which no one really says, right?). You only enjoy movies that take place in fairy tale worlds where everyone eventually gets what they want. You don’t enjoy heavy content in your movies. You want to walk out of the theater smiling and feeling good. You’re a mother who won’t be able to hold it together as you watch another mother lose her son.

On the Ross Watchability Scale, I give it a 8.5 out of 10. 

Like I already said, I can’t imagine Fruitvale Station is a movie you’re going to want to watch over and over, but everyone should see it once…for the story itself and the brilliance of Michael B. Jordan.