DVD Review “Elysium”

Actors: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna
Directors: Neill Blomkamp
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Release Date: December 17, 2013
Run Time: 109 minutes

Film: 3 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2 out of 5 stars

“Elysium” is the latest film from writer-director Neill Blomkamp, who brought us “District 9”. This film has a similar feel to it and even reunites the director with Sharlto Copley but doesn’t have the same magic. The film has quite the political back drop and I felt that it took over a little too much in the story and hurt “Elysium” quite a bit. The film is still visually impressive and Damon kicks some ass and really commits to this role. Worth checking out for sci-fi junkies but nothing special.

Official Premise: In the year 2159 two classes of people exist: the very wealthy who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Secretary Rhodes, a government official, will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium. That doesn’t stop the people of Earth from trying to get in, by any means they can. When unlucky Max is backed into a corner, he agrees to take on a daunting mission that if successful will not only save his life, but could bring equality to these polarized worlds.

When I think of this film I do not think about watching it on DVD, I think about a nice high-def crisp Blu-ray to fully take advantage of the very visual aspect of the film. So I was let down there for sure. If you are looking for special features, the back of the DVD box says get the Blu-ray. There are only two extra includes on this DVD. The first is called “Engineering Utopia: Creating a Society in the Sky”, which focuses on the visual effects. The next (and last) is called Collaboration: Crafting the Performances in Elysium” take a look into the cast from the film.

Book Review “Elysium: The Art of the Film”

Author: Mark Salisbury
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: August 6, 2013

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

When I first saw “District 9”, I was blown away at how original and unique this film was. It was from a then unknown director named Neill Blomkamp.  “Elysium” is his latest film and really delivers another original sci-fi story with a great cast including Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. The film also look visually amazing, which is why I was very excited to break into this latest “Art of the Film” book. Then I realized who it was authored by, Mark Salisbury, and got even more excited. Last year Mark did two of my favorite books including “Prometheus: The Art of the Film” and “Dark Shadow: The Visual Companion”. He has quickly become one of my favorites and delivers yet another strike out with this book. I was excited to see “Elysium” but now I am mega-excited to see it.

In “Elysium: The Art of the Film”, we get a very encouraging foreword by Neill Blomkamp.  This guy is amazing and I can see him directing the hell out of a future “Star Wars” movie or something along those lines.  He really has a passion for film. Like I said earlier, when I see Mark Salisbury’s name you know you are going to get quality behind-the-scenes look. This book has a ton of amazing production art and photos.  There is also input from the legendary designer Syd Mead (“Blade Runner”, “TRON”). You can tell that this film is very elaborate and took a lot to create this futuristic world. Like always Titan Books comes through with another very impressive release. The book is larger than most “art of the film” books with dimensions 12.1 x 10.9 x 0.8 inches. The pages come with some fine stock paper and the images are super high quality.  There even is pull out pages in various sections. There was a lot of work that went into this movie and the book really captures all of it.

Faran Tahir talks about roles in “Elysium” and “Escape Plan”

When both you’re mother and father are well known in the theater it’s almost guaranteed that you will follow in their footsteps. Faran Tahir was born in Los Angeles while both of his parents studied acting and directing at UCLA. After completing their studies the family returned to their native Pakistan where they both established prominent careers. His father, Naeem, currently serves as the Director General of the Pakistan National Council of the Arts. Returning the America at age 17, Tahir attended the University of California at Berkley, where he graduated with a BA in Theater. He later earned his Graduate Degree at Harvard.

He made his feature film debut in Disney’s live action telling of “The Jungle Book” and is best known for his roles in “Iron Man” and J.J. Abrams re-boot of “Star Trek.” He also has a recurring role on TNT’s new incarnation of the popular television drama “Dallas.” Later this year he will be seen opposite Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger film “Escape Plan.” This week he stars as the President alongside Matt Damon and Jodie Foster in Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium.” I recently spoke with Mr. Tahir, touching on his new films, his love of science-fiction and working with his parents.

Mike Smith: You’ve done a lot of sci-fi/fantasy genre’ projects: “Lost,” “Star Trek,” “Warehouse 13” and now “Elysium.” Is that something you enjoy? Do you intentionally seek out those projects?
Faran Tahir: I do enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun. I think it’s thought provoking. I think it tickles the imagination. And I like the fact that those kind of stories have very high stakes. Part of it is because I come from a theater background. If you’ve done any theater…any Shakespeare or Greek tragedy…the stakes are as high. I like the theatricality of science fiction. Do I seek it out? Yes, I do seek it out but not at the expense of other genre’s or other kinds of stories. I try not to get too complacent. If I do too many bad guys I try to play a good guy. If I do too much science fiction I try to do something else. I try to keep as much of a balance as I possibly can. I have “Elysium,” which is science fiction. I have “Escape Plan,” which is an action movie. I have two independent features coming out. One is an emotional drama about two families losing their children in a mall explosion (“Torn”). I play the father of one of the families. The other is a supernatural thriller (“Sara’s Cell”). So yes, I do like science fiction but I also need to make sure that I don’t get pigeon holed in just that genre.

MS: Can you talk a little bit about your role in “Elysium?”
FT: Sure! Elysium is a space station. A Utopian space station where all good things happen. Cancer is cured. The temperature never goes above 75. All of that good stuff. All of the grunt work to support Elysium happens on Earth. So the people on Earth desire to get up to Elysium while the people on Elysium don’t want the people from Earth coming over. I play the newly elected President of Elysium. My character is a politician. He’s nuanced. He’s very careful about how he deals with issues. He doesn’t want to hurt his base supporters both on Elysium and on Earth. The counter to him is the secretary of defense, played by Jodie Foster. She has a totally different idea on how to deal with these issues. There’s a nice, dynamic tension between these two characters of how they’re going to deal with the issue of the Earth people trying to come in and what are the resolutions to the situation.

MS: Where you a fan of Neill Blomkamp’s previous film, “District 9?”
FT: I’m actually a fan of Neill! You can sense that he’s a very bright guy. What I love about his work, and it’s true for both “District 9” and “Elysium,” is that he takes a hot-button issue and then he just slightly bases it in the fictional zone. But not so far in the fictional zone where you lose connection to it. “District 9” was a statement on apartheid. “Elysium” deals with other hot-button issues, like elitism and immigration. You can swap the words “Elysium” and “Earth” for “Developed Country” and “Under-developed Country.” You can say “the US” and “Mexico” and have the same dynamics. He works with some really great premises and presents them in a really fun way. I feel blessed that I got to work with him because he is really and truly a genius. He doesn’t push…you know exactly what he wants…but he never pushes his vision. He lets the actors get there organically. He trusts that you will get there with his guidance.

MS: A real change of pace role is Frank Ashkani on “Dallas.” Any chance of you coming back next season?
FT: (laughs) Here’s what I have to say about that. The story goes that anything is possible in science-fiction and on soap operas. So we’ll see what happens. (laughs) I could come back as the twin brother of the character…we’ll see. I really don’t know yet.

MS: Both of your parents are well regarded actors and directors in the theater. Have you ever performed with them?
FT: I have, actually. Back home the first television show I did was with my mom, which was kind of interesting. I’ve been directed by my father. And what I loved about it was that, although they were my parents, they were also consummate professionals. They would completely turn that side off and deal with me just as an actor when you were in a scene with them or being directed by them. All of the domestic issues could just wait. And it was a great thing to learn how to leave all of that behind when you’re working on something.

MS: You mentioned “Escape Plan.” Can you give us a quick preview?
FT: “Escape Plan” comes out in October. It’s a prison escape picture. The three of us…Stallone, Schwarzenegger and I…break out of a prison together. It was a lot of fun.

MS: Anything after that and the two independent projects?
FT: No. Right now I’m concentrating on those projects. After that we’ll see.

Film Review “Elysium”

Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 49 mins
Tri Star Pictures

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

The last time director Neill Blomkamp and actor Sharlto Copley worked together it was in the brilliant, Oscar-nominated “District 9.” Four years later they’ve reunited for another cautionary tale called “Elysium.”

Early in the 22nd century, the Earth is but a shell of its former glory. Over-population has turned the planet into one giant, overcrowded slum, where unrest and violence reigns. High above the planet sits Elysium, a space station where the very rich and connected live worry free. The weather is always nice and nobody ever gets sick, thanks to an invention that cures everything from a paper cut to stage-4 cancer. We meet young Max (Maxwell Perry Cotton) and Frey (Valentina Giron) in the orphanage they live in. They both marvel at the sight that floats in the sky above them. “One day,” Max tells Frey, “I’m going there.”

We meet the now adult Max (Damon) as he walks through the crowded streets to work. Max works on the assembly line of a company that makes androids. Max did not do well after he left the orphanage and has spent some time in prison. His boss knows his past and constantly berates him. When an accident at work leaves Max with only days to live he will do anything he can to get to the Shangri-La in the sky.

What made “District 9” such a great film was the “under the radar” anti-apartheid message it told. That same greatness permeates “Elysium.” Here the message is over-population and illegal immigration. Is it a coincidence that the majority of those left on Earth speak Spanish, while the citizens of Elysium chat happily in French? Who knows. But it certainly makes you think.

Besides Copley, who plays a rogue agent for the tough-as-nails anti-immigration defense secretary (Foster), the cast is clearly divided between the have and have-nots. Damon, his body covered in enough steel to make him a cyborg, fights against all costs to realize his childhood dream. Besides Foster he has to contend with John Carlyle (William Fichtner), at whose company he works. It is Fichtner’s second baddie of the summer (after “The Lone Ranger”). On the more moralistic side is Frey (Alice Braga), now an adult and single mother and newly elected President Patel (Faran Tahir). Everyone in the cast does a fine job with the surprising exception of Foster. Speaking in a clipped, faux-accent, she sounds like Madonna after she moved to England.

Visually the film is packed with powerful images. Is that what our planet will look like in the next century? The future looks bleak, though if a comment the adult Frey makes, even though the world is in chaos you can still find cartoons on television. It’s certainly a world Neill Blomkamp wants you to consider. And do your best to avoid.