In today’s Journal, we discuss the notion of justice. In all three of today’s films, the few attempt to get away with murder and it is up to the underdog to make sure that justice is served. Spoiler alert – this often involves guns because yay America. We’ll look at the acclaimed sci-fi film EYSIUM, Sylvester Stallone’s latest BULLET TO THE HEAD and the old school GANGSTER SQUAD.
First, a reminder of the rating system:
The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.
What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals?
In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?
SCOTT’S FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 63
BULLET TO THE HEAD (2013) – Two New Orleans hitmen perform a job, only to get double-crossed later on. One of the hitmen is killed, which leaves survivor James Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone) pretty pissed off. A Washington DC cop (Sung Kang – FAST & FURIOUS 3-6) comes to town in order to investigate the murder of the informant the hitmen killed. Getting brushed off my local police, he decides to approach Bonomo in order to help him track down the people who contracted the hit.
BULLET TO THE HEAD marks the return of Walter Hill to the director’s chair after an absence from the big screen that lasted for eleven years. Hill is typically a refreshingly straightforward director, not above utilizing stylish touches, but only when it serves the story. Which is why it is so disappointing to see Hill employ techniques that don’t do anything but make BULLET TO THE HEAD feel like every other second-rate Hollywood action film. There are some sequences that pay off, but also a great number of them that don’t. The film is frustratingly schizophrenic by frequently coming this close to being a solid, hard-boiled action flick, only to descend into the same-old-same-old a few minutes later.
Likewise, Kang’s character is a major sticking point with this film. Here is a police detective out of his jurisdiction who approaches a known murderer for a completely unorthodox collaboration. But then, the film would have you believe that Kang is shocked when this hitman actually starts killing people. Kang is painted as a stereotypical by the book cop, which is not only boring but inconsistent with the entire notion of him hooking up with Bonomo. And no, this doesn’t get any better during the entire movie.
There are some nice bits and Sly tries to add some character to the proceedings. Likewise, Jason Momoa (2010’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN) makes a surprisingly good villain. But so much of BULLET TO THE HEAD is second-rate that it winds up being a major let-down. Disappointing
Read Austin’s review.
ELYSIUM (2013) – In the future, class inequality has hit an extreme. The Earth has become so polluted by reckless industrial and chemical plants that the elite have chosen not to live there. Instead, the ultra-rich live in a paradise space station called Elysium. There, they have their every need catered to, they don’t have to work and they can cure practically any disease or injury in just a few moments. Max (Matt Damon) has lived a hardscrabble life on the surface all his life, always dreaming of one day going to the place that hangs in the sky as if to torment him. When an accident as his job gives him only a few days to live, he resorts to drastic means in order to get to Elysium and cure himself. Unfortunately, this also means that he carries encrypted data that Elysium’s Head of Security (Jodie Foster) will do anything to get.
ELYSIUM is another smart science fiction film from DISTRICT 9 director, Neil Blomkamp. The two definitely share quite a few similarities. However, while DISTRICT 9 was inspired by Blomkamp’s upbringing in South Africa, ELYSIUM’s message is focused on the global economic crisis with a specific eye set towards the United States. Every single hardship felt by the people in ELYSIUM is already being experienced by millions of people, just not on the scale portrayed in this cautionary tale. Deeper and deeper class division? An upper class that would like to keep all its toys and pretend the poor don’t exist? The notion that health care should be a privilege that you pay for? The growing suspicion that a comfortable life is growing all the more unattainable? We now live in a world where all of these things are experienced daily by the very people who make our world function. Just when it seems like the Occupy movement is losing steam, along comes a film like this to give it a shot in the arm. ELYSIUM joins a great tradition of science fiction that uses futuristic societies to address important problems.
If only it were all that great. Unfortunately, the intrigue going on board Elysium is nowhere near as interesting. Foster’s head of security has her eyes set on a coup. But despite Foster’s incredible talent, her character is not mapped out as it should be. Perhaps part of the problem is that just as the people in Elysium would like to ignore the poor, the film ignores the people on Elysium. We don’t see much of them aside from some shots of them hanging out at the pool or attending cocktail parties. We don’t get a glimpse inside their life of privilege with makes it harder to relate to them in any way, for better or worse.
Another problem is Sharlto Copely as an insane government assassin. He is far too manic and unhinged to be believable and his accent (which other roles prove he could tone down if necessary) makes it difficult to understand what he’s saying. The fact that he becomes the major threat of the film means we have a narrative as complex as Aldoux Huxley with an antagonist lifted from TANGO & CASH.
ELYSIUM is a smart film that does not remain as consistent as it should. Nevertheless, I suspect this won’t be our last exposure to this type of material. This is a problem that is not going away. Until it is addressed, it will get worse and worse until it explodes, one way or another. Recommended
Read Jesse’s review.
GANGSTER SQUAD (2013) – Los Angeles, 1949. Men return home from World War II, with the hopes of making a life for themselves and their families on the west coast. What they find instead is a state that is becoming infested with organized crime at the hands of a power mad psychopath Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is a cop who is fed up with the corruption and is given a chance to do something about it. He assembles a team of honest cops not to make arrests but to flat-out destroy Cohen’s operation.
GANGSTER SQUAD is an old school G-Man flick, with an eye towards action over any accurate representation of the time. As these films go, it’s a long ways from 1988’s THE UNTOUCHABLES, but is thankfully even further away from 1991’s MOBSTERS. It’s a fun action film, with an eye towards the old-fashioned crime flicks, up to and including the brutality that many forget was on display in those films.
Like BULLET TO THE HEAD, GANGSTER SQUAD suffers from a tendency to employ ineffective modern techniques, particularly during some of the action sequences. Too many moments like this suggest a film that should be better thought out than it actually is.
GANGSTER SQUAD is a poor stepchild to THE UNTOUCHABLES or L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, but it’s more entertaining and involving that I would have suspected. Recommended
Read Jesse’s review.
Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 282
Miss any of the previous Journal entries? Check them out here!
And tune into my new web series, Moviocrity!