Saturday, January 11, 2014

Movie Reviews: We're the Millers, Elysium

We're the Millers
directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber
I guess that Jennifer Aniston and/or her agent(s) would like you to know that she is still an attractive actress. Maybe this would explain in part her character's striptease in We're the Millers which echoes but sadly doesn't really live up to her similar turn in Horrible Bosses as a sexually harassing dentist. There, the storyline, absurd as it was made sense in its own wacky way. There was a point to it. But in We're The Millers, well it's pretty much just an excuse to see Aniston in bra and panties. Not that there's anything wrong with that of course (ha!) but because the story is so lacking I found the display to be pandering and desperate. This could have been a better movie but unfortunately at every single decision point it chooses to go for the cheap laugh and the lowest common denominator. Jokes around incest, gay sex, lesbian sex, sexually repressed evangelicals, underage sex and more gay sex abound. In fact these jokes are pretty much the film's meat and potatoes. It's a shame because every so often you happen to see a funny joke unrelated to the above topics or you realize that Aniston actually has pretty good comic timing, given the proper material.
But so it goes. This film was quite financially successful. There's even room for a possible sequel. I don't want to sound like I can never appreciate films like this because sometimes I can. I guess I just wasn't in the mood for that stuff when I watched the movie. As always YMMV. At its best this is like a much raunchier and lower-brow Three's Company with the usual misunderstandings and sexual innuendo. There is very little here that is subtle.

David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) is a sad sack middle aged drug dealer. At an age when the more ambitious drug dealers have long since either moved up to management or out of the drug business entirely, Dave is still working the streets selling bags of pot to all comers, including, in an embarrassing scene, a former college classmate who's happy to see him but wonders what he's still doing on the streets. Dave has a thing for his apartment building neighbor Rose (Aniston) a stripper who is highly contemptuous of both Dave's lack of financial success and severe lack of game, among other things.
When Dave has a strange unexplained attack of conscience and tries to protect another neighbor, the virginal and somewhat mentally slow Kenny (Will Poulter), and a sharp tongued homeless girl Casey (Emma Roberts) from being assaulted by local thugs, he himself becomes the victim of an assault and home invasion. Dave's entire stash of marijuana and cash is stolen. This isn't good because his ultimate boss Brad (Ed Helms), another former college buddy of Dave's, doesn't want to hear excuses about missing drugs or money. As Brad is a cheerfully manipulative sort, rather than have Dave murdered in a variety of different ways, he suggests that Dave do a pickup of a drug shipment in Mexico for him. This will settle the debt and he'll even pay Dave a small fee (small by Brad's standards) to do the job. As the alternative is to be thrown in Brad's orca tank, be beaten to death, or simply be shot on the spot, Dave agrees to the job.

Not being completely stupid Dave decides that a family traveling to Mexico will be less suspicious than a single male. So by hook and by crook he convinces Rose, Kenny and Casey to pose as his wife and children. Dave believes it will be a simple run across the border as Brad has already identified a corrupt border agent to facilitate their travel. Of course nothing goes as planned. The foursome have to deal with dangerous drug lords, corrupt Mexican police who are bent on rape, repressed horny evangelicals and of course their active and extremely profane dislike of each other. Obviously and somewhat predictably they also learn more about each other as they travel together.

There is some female toplessness, male nudity, and crude jokes virtually non stop. I laughed a few times but ultimately this demented road trip movie was only so-so for me. Take it or leave it.

directed by Neil Blomkamp
Do you work hard for your money? Do you have a place to stay that is warm and dry? Do you have access to health care? Do you have money in your pocket and extra room in your home? Can you easily get enough to eat? Do you have clean drinking water? Do you make more than $2/day? Well if you do you're pretty privileged compared to a number of people on this planet, believe it or not. You didn't create this world or the system you live under but you're benefiting from it all the same. Now what if that homeless man you gave a dollar to on the way home decided that there was really no good reason why he and his shouldn't have access to all the nice things you had in your life. And he was going to come home with you whether you liked it or not so that he could enjoy such things. Would you think this good? It all depends on how you see your duty towards your fellow man and woman. Your answer might also change depending on whether you thought that you bore responsibility for this man's plight or whether he needed to pick himself by his bootstraps and do better. There is after all a point where letting someone else on the lifeboat causes the boat to capsize and everyone to die. That's no good. But neither is sabotaging all the other lifeboats but yours on a sinking ship and laughing maniacally at the people drowning for lack of a boat. Does the US and/or Europe have any responsibility to the teeming masses of India, Africa and China?

The movie Elysium doesn't bother to excavate too deeply into certain ethical questions, preferring very broadly drawn good guys and bad guys but all the same the movie definitely takes a side. It has an easily identifiable subtext around such issues as illegal immigration, equality, and health care. Although some of the villains are over the top evil, all the same a few of them have some uncomfortable points to make about scarcity and who gets what.  Anyway it's the year 2154. Earth is overpopulated (apparently mostly with darker people), degraded and half-destroyed via war and environmental problems. Everyone is poor and has poor health care. The rich people (disproportionately Caucasian though there are quite a few South Asians among their number) have decamped to a MASSIVE space station named Elysium. There they enjoy artificial gravity and atmosphere, clean water, good food, low population density and most importantly state of the art health care that can quickly cure such things as leukemia, cancer of any kind, and just about any damage to the body. Obviously this life is not for everyone. Elysium is a democracy but Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) has accrued more power to herself. She takes a very hard line on "infiltrators" from Earth, preferring to kill them instead of deporting them. She uses Kruger (Sharlto Copley from District 9) to handle her dirty work on Earth. Delacourt was originally conceived as a man but I can't imagine anyone else but Foster in that role. Icy.
Back on Earth, factory worker and parolee Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) works for Armadyne Corporation, the Elysian owned corporation that builds the machines and robots that enforce curfews and act as brutal police to keep the Earth's population in line. The irony of this isn't lost on Max. He dreams of one day getting to Elysium as well as taking the (mostly unrequited) love of his life Frey (the beautiful Alice Braga from City of God) and her daughter along with him. Max and Frey grew up together but for a variety of reasons those two brave strangers never could really get it right.

As you might imagine the CEO of Armadyne John Carlyle (William Fichtner) is dismissive and contemptuous of the risks to his earthly workers. He doesn't even want earthly people to breathe on him, let alone do anything so outrageous as protest for better wages or workplace safety. This attitude is reflected in all the lower management ranks. So when a supervisor orders Max to do something risky or lose his job, Max feels he has no alternative but to comply. But doing so exposes him to severe radiation poisoning. He has 3-5 days to live. He could easily be cured if he were a resident of Elysium but he's not. So Max has nothing to lose. He's now a very dangerous, motivated and desperate man. Max goes to local criminal/smuggler/hacker Spider (Wagner Moura from Elite Squad) to get Spider to smuggle him into Elysium. But Spider has his own interests. And involved in a power struggle with President Patel (Faran Tahir), Delacourt and Fichtner lose control of something big which everyone will be interested in, but especially Spider and the brutal Kruger. It could change the entire relationship between Earth and Elysium.

There is a fair amount of violent action and sci-fi effects. I really liked Copley's work here. His character epitomizes barely restrained savagery. And if he slips his leash you had better run. I thought this was a fun film that was definitely worth checking out.


blog comments powered by Disqus