Archive for the ‘Matt Damon’ Category

MOVIE: Elysium (2013)

September 17, 2013

elysiumAfter watching this movie and pondering it for a few weeks (what, I’ve been busy!), the best word I can come up with to describe it is the word COOL.

This sci-fi fable about the haves and the have-nots in the year 2154 is cool-looking and it’s packed with some very cool ideas.  The main character is even a little Fonz.  But it’s also cool as in “more or less unemotional.”  And I have a few theories as to why.

Matt Damon plays ex-con Max, living on a dusty, desperate Earth and struggling to put his life right after getting out of the slammer, when he gets a toxic dose of radiation and is given 5 days to live.  DANG!

As a kid, he’d stared up at Elysium, a spinning space station just above Earth where all the rich people live, and longed to go there and be rich too.  Since, in addition to buckets of money, they also have these machines that cure every medical problem, Max decides there’s no time like the present, it’s just a question of HOW.  The government of Elysium certainly isn’t going to let some random, scuzzy foreigner aboard.  God, he might breathe on them or something!

The “how” part turns out to be a shady partnership with a criminal named Spider, who outfits Max with a brutally installed robotic exoskeleton (Blomkamp loves robotic exoskeletons), the logistics of which made very little sense to me (it’s installed over his clothes, which is going to make showering AND pooping kind of tricky, though maybe we don’t have to poop anymore in 2154?).  This will keep Max moving (and give him crazy robot strength) long enough for him to catch a nasty CEO from Elysium they know is coming to Earth, stick a metal doo-dad in his head, and download all the Elysium systems info from his brain. That’s a config.sys file worth its weight in gold — they can use it to hack the Elysium computers, make every Earthling an official Elysium citizen, move everybody up there, and let somebody else mow their damn lawns for a change.

The problem with the plan is, well, you know, the plan. For one thing, you should never count on computers when death is on the line (also: don’t go up against Sicilians).  And also, I just really feel like installing a data port with direct access to your brain is a bad idea in general.  Especially if the operation panel for that data port is located on the BACK of your head.  This didn’t really become an issue, but it probably should have.

Anyway.  Everything goes wrong, natch, and Max ends up needing medical attention, which, wonder of wonders!, he receives from his childhood girlfriend, who, wonder of wonders some more!, has a young daughter dying of cancer.  IF ONLY THERE WERE A WAY SHE COULD BE CURED!  You can see where this is headed.

And that’s the problem with this movie.  It is a spectacle, for sure — visually stunning, fast-paced, and very entertaining.  But man, was it ever predictable, not to mention obnoxiously heavy on the “assuming the audience is too dumb to understand metaphors” thing.  Yes, yes, we get it:  class struggle, the immigration situation, hippos need friends too,  CHECK.   We’re not morons, man.

Even worse, though, is the fact that while I was thoroughly entertained until the final moments, when those final moments finally hit, the first  thing I thought to myself was, “Wow, that was fun. . . and I feel nothing.”  Which is pretty weird, really, because not everybody who starts the movie gets to end it, and that ought to have triggered some kind of emotion, right?  It usually does, anyway.  But it didn’t here, and, for me anyway, Max’s old girlfriend is to blame for it.  That character, her daughter, and that entire storyline got in the way of the movie more than they contributed to it. There wasn’t enough time to strongly establish an authentic emotional bond — all the flashbacks to childhood in the world aren’t going to result in instant believable chemistry between two people in the present, and not only did I not care about their relationship, I didn’t care about her or her daughter either.  Or Max, really, for that matter.  I mean, he’s a nice guy, but his character is kind of a dime a dozen in sci-fi action movies, know what I mean?

Also, for the record: Jodie Foster WTF?  The only good thing about her in this film is her butt (which, incidentally, looked truly amazing in that suit).

Lastly, there were a lot of things in this movie that didn’t make much sense.   I don’t want to get too nitpicky here because, after all, it’s sci-fi, not sci-fact.  But let’s take, for example, those all-healing medical pods.  They can put a guy back together whose head was literally blown to smithereens, but they can’t help the guy whose brain gets damaged by a data download?  Why is that?  <– Rhetorical question, because we already know the answer is  “The first guy needed to come back to life for the plot to work, and the second guy needed to die for the same reason.”  Man, I hate it when that happens.

Additionally, the rebel plan appears to be shipping everyone from Earth to Elysium — equality at last!  But if we send everybody up to Elysium, doesn’t Elysium just turn into Earth?  I mean, you can’t magically fix dystopia with a change of scenery, even if that scenery features perfectly cut grass.  Speaking of which, I also found it  hard to imagine why anybody would want to live on Elysium in the first place.  It’s like Stepford Circle up there, first of all, and immortality in a land of perfection sounds like the boringest thing of all time.  I mean, I’m impatient with life already, and I’m only 39!  Just imagine if you had to go live on a space station with a few hundred thousand Kevin Costners and Nicole Kidmans.  Would YOU want to get in that medical pod?  Me neither.

Anyway, my point is that this movie is really, really entertaining.  It is!  I swear!  But that’s about all there is to it. It’s big and blasty and exciting and ROBOT EXOSKELETONS!, but there’s no meat to it at all, and the meat substitute Blomkamp tries to shove down our throats in lieu of actual meat is just. . . blech.  As meat substitutes tend to be.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre: Sci-fi (not Sci-FACT!)
Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner, Alice Braga, Sharlto Copley, Diego Luna, Michael Shanks

MOVIES: We Bought a Zoo (2012) and Zookeeper (2012)

January 12, 2013

Still playing 2012 catch-up — here are two movies about zoos I saw last year, neither of which really needs a full-length review, so both of which I’m going to haikiew (haiku-review) for you instead.  I enjoyed both of these films, and I think they’d be excellent picks for parents looking for funny, good-natured movies to watch with their kids, but they aren’t, like, brilliant or anything.

weboughtWe Bought a Zoo

Widower buys zoo
To save family from grief.
It’s cheesy but sweet.

Cast: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Fugit, Colin Ford, Elle Fanning, Angus Macfadyen, Peter Riegert
[Netflix it | Buy it]

zookeeperThe Zookeeper

Talking animals
Counsel lovelorn zookeeper.
Also cheesy but sweet!

(Hmm, notice a theme?)

Cast: Kevin James (kinda have a dorky crush on Kevin James, by the way, which is why I rented this one) Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Ken Jeong, Donnie Wahlberg, Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow
[Netflix it | Buy it]

MOVIE: Contagion (2011)

September 22, 2011

I love virus movies.  Always have.  I’m a bit of an armchair science nerd, see, and have long found viruses incredibly fascinating — the way they can so rapidly adapt or mutate to thrive in new sets of circumstances or hosts has always made them seem almost intelligent to me, even though we know they are not sentient beings (OR ARE THEY, MUA HA HA HA!).  Of course, the very thing that makes them so interesting is also what makes them so deadly; viruses are hard to kill and often impossible to predict.  As fast as we can come up with a way to fight them, they can shift behavior, making our cures useless against them.  And this, my friends, is what makes virus movies so goddamn thrilling.  It’s always about working against the clock — beat it before it beats you.

That said, virus movies are also pretty much the same when it comes to overall story trajectory — someone gets sick, they get others sick, the infection spread exponentially (usually illustrated by a PowerPoint slide featuring a map of the world and gasps from the crowd), someone finds a cure, the world is saved.  Occasionally, there are zombies (though, alas, not here).  But essentially: same same same.  What makes each film unique are the characters, their relationships, and the situations in which they find themselves.

While Contagion has all the usual suspects there too (for example, it seems we must always have one primary medical character come down with the virus him/herself, as well as at least one evil politician who makes the whole mess worse — I always refer to that character as “the mayor of Amity,” for reasons Jaws fans will understand), what I liked about this one is the way it is less the usual nasty-bug thriller and more a character study of sorts.  Instead of primarily focusing on the race for the cure, this film tells the closer-up stories of a wide variety of players.

For example, there’s the husband (Matt Damon) of Patient Zero (Gwyneth Paltrow, who really ought to cover her mouth when she coughs), who loses her and his stepson all in one day.  Then there’s the WHO worker (the insanely gorgeous Marion Cotillard) who is sent to Hong Kong to investigate the source of the infection only to find herself kidnapped by a group who wants to ransom her for first dibs on the vaccine.

The dangers of believing everything you read/hear online is a major theme as well: a conspiracy-theorist blogger (Jude Law) convinces thousands of followers he was cured by an herbal remedy called Forsythia and that the government’s vaccine is a hoax, resulting in a violent rush on drug stores for the herb, as well as a whole host of ignoramuses (ignorami?) refusing the vaccine once it’s made available (I wish this had gotten slightly more focus, in fact, because it’s so relevant to current events).  Plus, there’s a CDC doctor who violates protocol by calling his girlfriend and telling her to get out of Chicago before the city’s locked down in quarantine.  She immediately tells her BFF, and the next thing the CDC knows, the news is all over Facebook and Chicago is in a panic.

FACEBOOK!  *shakes fist*

In other words, as times change, so too do the ways in which we get ourselves into more and more trouble.  Oddly, though, I would’ve expected this focus on the more personal, every-man sorts of stories to make the film feel even more emotionally compelling.  It definitely makes the plot move much more slowly than, say, Outbreak, something I’ve seen a lot of people complaining about (though, dudes, this is a Soderbergh film, not a Spielberg one — what were you expecting?), but even slowed down and more intimately focused, it still didn’t make the story any more wrenching than usual to watch unfold.  That is, it’s never easy to look at bodies being thrown into mass graves, but with each sub-plot giving us a close-up view of one person’s struggle in time of strife, you’d think this would be a highly emotional film.  And yet, it isn’t.  This is a good movie, I would say — I enjoyed it while I was watching it.  But I never really connected with any of the characters, and after I left the theater and the buzz from the science high wore off, I realized I found this movie more interesting than engaging.  I liked the characters, but I didn’t really FEEL them.  Hard to say just why, though my theory is that it’s at least partly because there were simply too many of these storylines, making it impossible to connect deeply with any of them.  I think the film would’ve been more powerful had it tried to cover fewer bases, though I’d be hard pressed to tell you which character I would’ve cut out and which stories I would’ve beefed up.

All in all, I’d say this is a flick well worth the price of admission, but you should go into it ready to think, more than to grip the edge of your seat.  The virus certainly takes off with lightning speed, but the movie?  Eh, not so much.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Science Fiction, Deadly Virus
Cast:  Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle

MOVIE: Hereafter (2010)

August 17, 2011

I remember thinking this film looked unbearably cheesy when I first saw the trailer for it a year or so ago.  When Matt Damon‘s character said the line, “It’s not a gift . . . it’s a curse,” I confess I laughed out loud in the theater, which I’m sure was incredibly annoying to everyone else there with me (sorry, but COME ON).  I had absolutely no intention of ever seeing this movie — none ‘tall — until the other day when my sister recommended it to me.  Not only had she enjoyed it, she said, but it involved a set of twins that had made her think of us (we’re fraternal, but close enough).  We don’t tend to seek out the same kinds of movies, but when we do hit on the same ones, we usually either both like them or both dislike them.  So her recommendation had some weight to it, and I decided to suck it up and give Hereafter a shot.

First things first, it IS ridiculously cheesy at times, especially at the end, when it is also ridiculously hokey.  And, what’s worse, Damon’s character, a psychic who recently retired because talking to dead people was seriously bumming him out, says that “It’s a curse” line not once but TWICE.  TWICE!  TWICE with the world’s most trite and annoying movie line of all time!  Whoever the screenwriter was, I’d like to take him out back and pop him one in the chin.

That said, I was surprisingly entertained by this film, and it made me think some too — not a lot, but some, for sure.  It’s got some interesting ideas about responsibility, the afterlife, perseverance in the face of adversity, the way people latch on to beliefs that don’t make any sense in order to get through difficult ordeals (my two cents), etc.  And it’s well acted, despite the fact it’s not very well-written (not just the dialogue, but it also lacks a clear mission and the end is absolutely unforgivably dumb).

The story comprises three separate tales which converge ham-handedly (but whatever) at the end.  The first is about a guy named George (Damon) who had brain surgery as a child that somehow left him with the ability to talk to dead people.  By touching your hands briefly, he can connect with someone you’ve lost and convey messages back and forth.  But after a successful career doing just that, George burned out and quit.  The constant grief wore on him, and the fact people treated him like a freak didn’t help much either.

So, he threw in the towel and took a new job, this time in construction, and though his brother (Jay Mohr) constantly pressures him to get back into the psychic biz, saying it’s his responsibility as someone with such a unique ability to help people, George is happier living his new “normal” life and wants no part of his old gig.

As his tale unfolds, the film introduces a second story, this time focusing on a young French woman named Marie, a news reporter who nearly dies when a tsunami hits the small island she is vacationing on in the beginning of the movie.  Obsessed with the peaceful visions she had as she was drowning, she begins exploring research on the “hereafter,” ultimately publishing a book on the very controversial and oft-disdained subject.

Meanwhile, the third tale weaves on in, this one about a little boy named Marcus, maybe 7 or 8 years old, whose identical twin brother is hit by a truck and killed one afternoon.  The boy’s mother is sent to rehab and he’s placed into temporary foster care, where he slowly begins to fall apart, lost and untethered without his “big” brother there to guide him (I can see why my sister could relate to this, as she’s always been my tether and guide as well).  When he comes across some web sites about psychics and the afterlife, he immediately robs his foster parents of their rainy-day fund and begins paying a series of kooks to talk to his brother in Heaven for him.  Though he knows each one is a phony, rarely getting any information correctly, he persists, desperate to get both his brother and his previous life back.

The three characters end up meeting at the end of the film (when, where, and how I’ll leave for you to discover, but I hope you believe in tremendously unbelievable coincidences. . .).  We knew it was bound to happen, of course, this being the way movies with parallel story lines typically go.   But even though the plot is predictable, the dialogue is cheesy, and almost all of Matt Damon’s storyline was completely expendable, I really enjoyed the other two plots and their characters, and the actors in those roles (Cécile De France as Marie and Frankie and George McLaren as the twins) did a wonderful job with their complexly emotional parts.

Overall, I’d say this one is well worth a rental if you’re interested in this kind of stuff.  (And, while I’m at it, allow me to also recommend the terrific sci-fi novel Passages by Connie Willis, which is also about the science and theory of the afterlife and is both better written and a lot more engaging than this movie.)

Incidentally, it turns out I’ll never be able to look at Matt Damon again without thinking of this (NSFW):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSfoF6MhgLA&feature=related.  Hee.  Hee hee.  Hee hee hee hee hee.  Oy.

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Drama
Cast:   Matt Damon, Cécile De France, Frankie & George McLaren (the twins), Bryce Dallas Howard, Jay Mohr

MOVIE: The Informant! (2009)

March 25, 2010

You know what’s weird about this movie?  It’s billed as a comedy — I mean, look at the cover art for the DVD (stage left), right? — and yet, it’s absolutely one of the most tragic films I’ve ever seen.  I didn’t know it when it began, and I laughed more than once.  But as the story unfolded, I was absolutely crushed by self-loathing over that. Oh man, this is so not funny!  It’s NOT FUNNY, I’m sorry!

Based on the non-fiction book by Kurt Eichenwald, this movie tells the true story of a whistle-blower named Mark Whitacre (played by ex-Boyfriend Matt Damon) who worked for Archer Daniels Midland in the 1980’s.  When he discovers a price-fixing scheme in the company related to the cost of lysine, an additive widely used in the livestock industry, he reports it to the FBI, quickly and almost unwittingly becoming sucked in as the major player in their resultant quest to bring ADM down.

Over the next several years, Whitacre helps the FBI amass thousands of hours of video and audio recordings that trace the scheme all the way up to the top executives.  Eventually, they are all arrested and taken to court, and several ended up serving jail time (though, naturally, this became just a minor blip for the huge, still-going ADM).

The “comedy” parts of the film come mostly from watching Whitacre bumble around a lot, as he dictates things loudly and obviously right into his wire and accidentally nearly-exposes the whole plan more than once.  At first, we just think he’s kind of a dolt — or maybe a bit of a loose cannon.  But it’s not long before it becomes obvious that he’s fairly severely mentally ill.  I guessed bipolar about halfway through the film, and it turns out I was right about that — it just fit with everything he was doing, including committing his own major, major crime without really thinking about it (fraudulently stealing over $9 million from the company over a span of several years), and not being able NOT to tell on himself later on.  That he then kept digging himself deeper and deeper into the hole simply failed to strike me as amusing, I’m afraid.

I mean, here’s a guy who can neither lie nor not lie, and whose mental illness drives him to extremes that eventually destroy his career and his marriage, finally landing him in prison with a sentence three times bigger than the ones given to the ADM executives who started this whole thing rolling.  Why is that funny?  Can someone explain it to me?

The movie is very well made, of course — good acting, good writing, and an undeniably fascinating story.  But I have to confess, most of that was kind of lost on me in the end.  The “comedy” in this comedy is simply so painfully unintentional and so obviously leading to a terrible end that it’s more heartbreaking than hilarious.  Call me a stiff if you’d like.  It’s a moniker I’ll wear with pride over this one.

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Not Comedy. NOT!
Cast:  Matt Damon, Melanie Lynskey, Scott Bakula, Patton Oswalt, Thomas F. Wilson, Joel McHale

MOVIE: The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

December 31, 2007

I really enjoyed both of the other Bourne movies (Identity and Supremacy), and was excited to finally get to see the latest installment in the series.  But though I was entertained, I have to say I was also pretty disappointed.  This movie has about 18 minutes of plot — the rest is just one chase scene after the next.  Granted, they are amazing chase scenes — brilliantly choreographed and extremely fun to watch.  But seriously?  After the second one, which I swear lasted at least 12 minutes and added essentially zero to the story, I was really ready for some actual PLOT.

And what a waste, because there were all kinds of ways this installment’s story could’ve gone.  Jason (Matt Damon) has begun having flashes back to his original training, slowly regaining his memories piece by piece.  And what’s he’s remembering is absolutely horrifying.  Meanwhile, a CIA deputy director (David Strathairn) has decided Bourne is a threat — that he’s out for revenge after the murder of his girlfriend and must thus be stopped at any cost.  As Jason struggles to untangle the mass of memories in his head, he finds himself teamed up with an old adversary, both of them soon evading assasins left and right.

Sounds pretty riveting, right?  Too bad the story itself was only an eighth of the actual movie!

In any case, it IS still fun — I can’t deny it that much.  But I confess if they make a fourth one, I won’t be in a hurry to see it.  Why in the heck someone bothered to make a movie where the ratio of story to filler is 1:8, I have no idea. 

I do still love that theme song by Moby, though. . . Can’t help myself.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre:  Spy, Action, Thriller
Cast:  Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Joan Allen