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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Elysium (2013) - Sci-Fi Action

Elysium (2013) -  Well I may not have enough films for a part two of summer films but I did see this one. It was one of those rare occasions where Elisa (my wife) and I agreed on a film to see together and this is the one. Certainly a summer movie but with a bit of heart and some good if garbled messaging about rich and poor, and health care. I was looking forward to it. I had seen director Neill Blomkamp's feature District 9 and really liked it. He using science fiction had taken a look into racism in a way not seen since Alien Nation (1988). I always loved that about Science fiction the way you can use the fantastical stories to look at issues facing all of us today.  So when this film started up and the world presented looked an awful lot like South Africa I thought okay we might have something here. Except this world was all out of whack. Now most people see this film and say its about the rich and the evils they will dispense on the masses when the earth that they moved towards it's breaking point finally can not sustain the kind of life they want to live. If you will a shot across their bow, but I think the message got a bit garbled in its presentation.
  Global warming and overpopulation makes the earth of 2154 look like hell.  Somewhere along the line the Earth's population stopped using birth control, but continued to rape the earth of resources leading to the wealthy saying, "See you later gator." They took their ball and went up to a lovely climate controlled environment in orbit call Elysium. I am sure there were many discussions that we don't get to see where the wealthy are looking for alternatives to this solutions. Certainly they recognized that unbridled capitalism which focuses on growing the pie, thus increasing the size of the population was unsustainable. I am sure before building their dreamland in space they tried to give away condoms and create industries that would save the earth instead of encouraging its demise. They being the leaders of governments and the masters of industry surely pushed for a sustainable form of economics that would allow them the comforts of wealth without trashing the one place they absolutely need to live. I am also sure that the film just didn't show the continued efforts on the behalf of mankind after they left the ground. Surely they realizing that if the earth ultimately died so would they. Even with their magical fix-it medical bays they must have realized that the earth will eventually burn leaving them without a workforce or resources to sustain themselves? So they must have been doing more than just making police robots and lounging by pools and partying.
  It appears that when the goods are mostly used up that the "haves" of this future world decided living in a shitty world was not for them. They with their Ayn Rand philosophy left the party for a place that was unreachable by the masses leaving the workers to be enslaved to the idea of someday joining them in their utopia. Now I have a basic problem with the vision shown in this film. The civilization left behind is one of abject poverty. People controlled by robots police without feelings. Slogging away each day for measly wages and having no say over their lives. I object to this vision one where the people would stop governing themselves. One where everything will go to hell without the wealthy's guiding hand of wisdom. Sure the world presented is one where the rich run things but I say bull that it would go down that way. People would still strive for good meaningful lives even in that kind of society. The film implies that normal people, although poor can't organize, can love, can't control crime, can't get along and the criminals and poor decision making would rule the day. If not for the ruling classes robot police force the earth would be an uncontrollable festering sore of crime and debauchery. Not only  do I reject this idea I think that the yoke of mechanized control would be thrown off not long after it was institutionalized.  In fact instead of dreaming for a chance to steal health care from the rich, or if a big dreamer of earning enough cash to move to the city in the sky, I imagine that a healthy hatred of the place would be the more prevalent feeling.
  In this film we see like the Cuban boat people during the Reagan years, refugees trying to reach the US before being captured and returned to Cuba, but here on Elysium it is a bit different. We are presented with an immigration message, one which corresponds with what the Obama administration does, capture and deport people when they cross the border. The other more extreme idea is to shoot their spaceships from the sky, as presented by Elysium's director of defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster). All these people are after we learn is the magical medical bays. They know they will be deported so the idea is to land and race to the nearest house. Every wealthy person has a medical bay that in just seconds can scan a person and correct any ailments they might have. The refugees who have gotten a DNA code on the black market break into a house and get scanned and cured of all illnesses before getting caught by the robot police. Its a remarkable message that the wealthy of this world have what could be termed socialized medicine for themselves but don't want to share it.
 The medical bays are an instrument of control, they allow the rich to live long healthy lives. I could not tell if the residents of Elysium were practically immortal but they certainly have very long lives. The longer life allows for more wealth and power thus the wealthy are the long lived ruling class. Keeping the poor dying young is actually a good means of controlling the society. So keeping them from proper health care makes it more likely that anyone organizing to change this corrupt society will face mortality long before those in charge. A fine example of this control is shown through the main storyline where workers at a factory are more likely to be allowed to die that to be instantly cured when they are hurt on the job. The wealthy overlords see the human left on the planet as disposable resources not worth the expense of fixing.
  The main story is of a man Max (Matt Damon) who will soon die after an accidental radiation exposure. He wants to try to get to Elysium and get himself cured and because of this is willing to do anything to make it happen. The mixed plot involve him getting a mechanical exoskeleton, working with hackers who want to jack into the memory of a wealthy Elysium resident John Carlyle (William Fichter) for passwords so they can hack away. He visiting his factory in future LA. and just happens to be the boss that decides not to cure Max when he is hurt. On top of this he has just written a program to reboot the entire Elysium computer system. In doing so making all the robot police he designed, be reprogrammed to follow Defense Minister Delacourt instead of the current president. This treason can't be discovered so he encodes his program in his own head. Of course the film has the hackers find this information and remarkably know what it is. In fact it seems the program is the most easily recognized piece of code ever written.  Adding to the plot is the love interest of Max, Frey (Alice Braga) who needs to get her daughter to Elysium also. The little girl is battling leukemia and will not survive long without the magic of the medical bay. Of course it is all going to come out good for the main characters but there is lots of action and thrills along the way. The wild card in the plot is mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley) who is assigned by Delacourt to stop the invasion perpetrated by our heroes.
  I can't say that this was the greatest of films, the action was fine and all but in a way it felt a bit too formula. Some of the simplistic solutions to solve problems made it seem that the society was not quite as advanced as it wanted to be. The medical bay technology was true magic and the simplistic code  that it seemed everyone immediately recognized was silly. The final change to that code that made everyone on earth legal to receive the medical bays was absolutely stupid. Certainly this was a what if scenario that needed the magic to make it work. What if the wealthy left the earth when it became too crappy? What if they still ran society from a space station? What if they had a medical bay that could extend their lives and power? Would they share it? These questions are answered I am just not sure they were answered in a satisfying way.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Bikini Girls on Ice (2009) - Horror Slasher

Bikini Girls on Ice (2009) - A really good slasher film has an unforgettable killer with a back story to motivate the killing spree. It has plot logical enough so that it will put the victims in the way of the killer with some semblance of cause and effect. It is a film about the torment of the killer and the drive to have to kill. It is also about the victims being separated and hunted the fear of trying to escape. The formula has been done well many times and poorly even more often over the last thirty-five years. It has also been done poorly many times particularly in sequels. So how do you make a new slasher that is of quality?  Start with a cast of attractive women in bikinis. Every guy at least likes to see attractive women in swim ware. To start you will have half your audience, actually because the horror world is probably seventy percent men you will have more than half your audience. Then you have to get these attractive victims to the location of the killer. In Friday the 13th the victims were counselors who arrive at the summer camp where the killer is. It is an organic set up that works. So put these ladies on a bus and get them to the killer by having the bus break down. Oh wait that's been done. Since the setup is not original you have to do something else to make the film interesting.  What you do is have the bikini babes and the broken down bus cliche but instead of playing the film straight as a tense slasher, turn in into a campy romp making fun of slasher cliche.
 Oh wait again, that is not this film either. Maybe instead of having the characters being just stupid victims we can give them some depth. You don't have to have the regular stereotypes, no girl next store, no pining good guy chasing after her, no desperate virgin guy praying he will get laid, no bitchy pretty girl acting all jealous or her ditzy friend who never stands up for herself. You know break the mold so the same old same old does not sink your movie before it starts. Unfortunately this film by Geoff Klein is everything that could go wrong with a slasher without the humor.
  All Bikini Girls on Ice has going for it is the attractive actresses and leave every other slasher trope in place without originality or camp. It is a film devoid of an idea that is new or fresh, its a simple setup where the woman soccer team is going to have a car wash to raise money for the team. They will all wear bikinis to attract people to the car wash. The head girl, we will call her the bitchy stereotype picks a loser virgin guy to set up the transportation and they rent a bus that just does not make it to the destination. When the bus breaks down at Moe's garage it seems abandoned even though there are still lights and some very loud ice machines. The illogical decisions of the group since they are broken down pretty much in the middle of no where are mind boggling. One would think that the news that the bus will take 3 hours to fix would be enough to cancel the days events and for people to get on their cell phones and call for rides back to school. Not here though, in this world everyone decides to hold the car wash right where they are, in the parking lot of an abandoned garage. Hell why is t5he team not doing the car wash at the school? Why is it they have to drive through East Bumfuck to get to the location for the car wash. Oh yeah because the story required them to get to this particular garage and fuck logic completely for trying to get in the way.
  Not only that but just the logic of girls in bikinis is flawed. Klein has to sell this film so he wants as much skin in the flick as possible so he has the girls in swimsuits, but I have two women in my life, a daughter and a wife and trust me when going to the beach they would never go without shorts and a top for before and after a swim. In fact most woman would carry a large beach bag with everything they need, sunblock, sunglasses towels, clothes, iPod there definitely would not be just girls in bikinis with nothing else. It is just ridiculous that they woman go everywhere without any back up clothing and you notice it as it gets dark. Sun goes down. the car wash is over but no one has any clothes to put on. Again writers Geoff Klein and Jeff Ross have not thought out the simplest of logistics. No that's not fair, what they discussed might have gone down like this.
 G: Hey you know this script is sort of weak, should we spend the time to make it better before going into production?
J: Well its a slasher, you know horror fans will see it even if it is shit so why go through that kind of trouble?
G: I know those fuckers will drop money on anything, we'll probably make our money back before enough people realize the film is shit.
J: Dude you know it, besides I don't give a shit I just want the IMDb credit, but what if people just get bored and stop watching, then word of mouth will stop people from even seeing it. We have to have a way to make them at least get through it.
G: Well how about we just keep the girls in bikinis the whole time, in fact know matter what happens they never put on any clothes.
J: But what about that part where it becomes night, won't someone get cold or something?
G: We'll just not have any other clothes on the set, it won't be part of the world, and then we will imply that there might be a chance for nudity and Bam we win!
J: Brilliant Geoff!
G: Thanks Jeff!
 So we get this poor transition, where it is obvious there is no reason to continue with the bikinis but they stay in that state anyway.  By the way if you are hoping for nudity you are not going to get that either. Instead we get a transition to night. I guess was needed to get to a scarier environment but it was so clumsily done it stands out. They have a few car wash scene where remarkably there is a lot of traffic and then a kill where a yellow clad girl wanders out of the daylight into the back door of the garage. She wanders around a bit thinking she is hearing sounds in the distance. The interior of the garage is dark and has limited light sources to create the needed atmosphere. She is being stalked by Moe (William Jarand) and is killed violently. Then a shot of the moon and then everyone is standing in the dark, no explanation of where the time went or anything just its now dark.
  The largest failure of this film is the lack of rhyme or reason for the maniac mechanic Moe. He is a non-verbal crazy who stabs repeatedly and then stores his victims on ice. Since there is no back story at all through scenes or through expository dialog with the local characters there is nothing creating a since of urgency. He is just this mad man creeping around killing the girls one at a time but without any back story at all. Maybe in the sequel there will be some sort of story for him but here it is a failure on the writers part. The garage we learn through an old guy is abandoned but that's all we get so there is never any motivation for the killer.
  On top of all these failures is the classic slasher trope of divide and conquer, the victims separate from each other and are killed and never to the remaining characters organize to stay together and find those who have gone missing. Instead one by one they wander off to their own fates without the knowledge that anything bad is going on. Never is a scream heard, never to they all hang out together, never is there even a glimpse of normal group behavior. It really is a frustrating feeling to watch this film. We have such a long history of slasher film to learn from and yet this one seems as though it is only trying to duplicate the mistakes of the past without even a nod to originality. Worse yet is the fact that the number of characters and the number of kills don't match up. When the car wash is going on there are ten girls in bikinis and 2 guys, but I think the total number of kills is four girls and the two guys? I could be wrong on the numbers but a half dozen potential victims vanish from this film without a word being said. Its all to rush towards a finale that is equally disappointing and nonsensical. Our final girl Jenn the all American freshman soccer star runs about trying not to be killed. She finally just gives up and whines and pleads on the ground when she is saved by a minor character who has had a line or two in the entire film? On top of this fucking insult to horror fans is the epilog scene setting up our iconic killer Moe for another film even though he was shot to death on the climax.
I always like to acknowledge that it is a difficult thing to organize and execute a film and there some credit should be given. Klein made this film happen, and I am sure expended a lot of time energy and money in its execution, it makes it more disturbing that he has so failed to make a film that is nothing but a retread of some of the worst slasher films of the past. What a waste, you have the fortitude to pull a film off and yet spend no time creating a film worth seeing. Maybe he made money and that was all he was trying to do. Why though, put work into a product that you can't be proud you did? Money can't ultimately be why we do creative endeavors there has to be something more doesn't there? Well the fact that Klein has made Pinup Girls on Ice (2013) tells us for him at least it can all be about the money.
  I must be in a bad mood today so let me try to lighten up a bit. Like I said earlier the actresses in this film are beautiful which is a necessity if the film is going to be awful, Cindel Chartrand, Danielle Doetsch who was in the wonderful science fiction film Motivational Growth (2013) which I saw and loved at the Boston Science Fiction Festival, Suzy Lorraine, Christina Sciortino and Kerri Taylor do their jobs as the girls in bikinis that will sell this film. The couple guys in the film are fodder Tarek Gader as the virgin Blake and Ivan Peric as Tommy, the hero who is not to be. So there is definitely no recommendation coming for this film. It is too unoriginal and formulaic in the worst way for that. I hope that director Geoff Klein takes as much time making sure he has a worthy story for his sequel as he does promoting himself and his girlfriend on the internet. That kind of effort when put into the product will get him much further than just creating an online image.