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Space station showdown [Birmingham Mail (UK)]

August 23, 2013


Elysium (15) MATT DAMON was aged just five when 13-year-old Jodie Foster made her unforgettable film debut in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976).

In 2154, she's the beautifully tailored Jessica Delacourt, defence secretary of luxury space station Elysium.

And he's Max Da Costa, a factory worker on a ravaged Earth trying to reach one of her space station's Med-Pods to cure his radiation- induced cancer.

As showdowns go in this summer's stand-out, heavy duty blockbuster, the prospect of Damon battling Foster is mouth- watering.

So are we finally getting acting bravura and a social conscience as well as brawn and inevitable explosions? Yes and no...

because, without giving anything away, the best parts of this 'parallel universe' experience are aesthetic.

There's the sheer beauty of the Earth as seen from Elysium. And the wondrous nature of the latter's green valley inside the stainless steel 'tyre' of a spaceship.

Enormous areas of poverty and half-derelict rows of skyscrapers on Earth are also impressive.

Somewhere along the way, though, writer-director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) forgot to join his own human dots.

Despite re-engineering his leading character, Max's stamina and athleticism don't make sense when you have just 'five days to die'.

And, although Elysium has a President Patel (Faran Tahir), we don't meet any real (rich) people living in space and the respective politics of both worlds are ill-developed.

The film begins with a junior Max playing with his childhood sweetheart Frey (Alice Braga, star of Repo Men) and promising a future together.

Years later she's nursing his injuries and they both need help for different reasons while being chased by Delacourt's agent Kruger, played by District 9's debut star Sharlto Copley.

Johannesburg-born director Neill Blomkamp was himself only five when James Cameron made The Terminator (1984). He became Cameron's natural cinematic successor in South Africa 25 years later with District 9 (2009).

As with District 9, Blomkamp again keeps this movie's running time to below 110 minutes - which is itself a modern miracle.

But despite Elysium's frequently realised ambition, its relevance to 2013's international borders and Ryan Amon's brilliant score, the script's core values are neglected at Foster and Damon's expense, while some fights are over-edited to within a kilobyte of their digital lives.

WE'RE THE MILLERS (15) WITH a name like Rawson Marshall Thurber, you'd know instantly if this director had made anything of note since Dodgeball (2004).

Rest assured, he hasn't! Casting Jennifer Aniston as stripper Rose O'Reilly is a far more glamorous peg to hang this film on. Much better than revealing how Horrible Bosses star Jason Sudeikis needs a fake family to import lots of 'weed' from Mexico.

And yet it's not Aniston as his reluctant, pretend wife who holds our attention the most, but Sudeikis himself.

As David Clark, his relaxed charm in difficult personal circumstances helps to keep a very silly and criminally amoral plot relatively watchable.

Completing the leads are his make-believe children - starlet Emma Roberts as the runaway Casey Mathis opposite London-born Son of Rambow child star Will Poulter as the charmingly inexperienced Kenny Rossmore.

Although Meet The Millers always feels like a drug-fuelled cross between Robin Williams' RV and Steve Carell's Little Miss Sunshine (both 2006), there are four credited scriptwriters and between them they've fashioned a very rude road movie prone to too many second- gear kangaroo jumps.

In one scene during the film's overlong 110-minute running time Poulter repeatedly puckers up with Roberts and Aniston in turn.

A watching girl is inevitably shocked by the illusion of family life.

It says a lot about Aniston's film career that this is one of her better movies, though like Jason Statham in Hummingbird and Parker recently, she reverts to her trademark look far too quickly for comfort.

However 20-year-old Poulter is a revelation. His 'alien', quasi- Britishness makes him a perfect fit as an innocent abroad and he's sure to be dining out on the fun of his kissing education for years.

THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES (12A) THE Harry Potter- style sets look expensive and the urban setting is more interesting than the Twilight forests. But this bone-crunching, gothic adaptation of the first novel in Cassandra Clare's young adult fantasy series doesn't have the deep foundations you'd expect given its New York skyscraper location.

A young woman called Clary has been drawing odd-looking symbols and seems to be able to see things that others can't.

Then, when her mother (Lena Headey) disappears, she's drawn into a world of Shadowhunters battling a deadly compendium of creatures from demons to warlocks, vampires and werewolves in New York's alternate Downworld zone.

The cast the Mortal Looking more like a younger Posh Spice after a few cream teas than her drummer dad Phil Collins, Lily Collins (Mirror Mirror) is agreeable enough in the lead role. But to share her tears you might need to sniff pepper first.

Male co-stars include Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors) as Valentine.

The set-up veers so quickly from domesticity to rampant violence it's like having someone switch your telly from Neighbours to Underworld.

battle demons in Instruments Violence should have intelligible consequences, but what will even older children make of the seriously heavy duty punches in City of Bones? If these scenes alone ought to have warranted a 15 certificate, genuinely sensitive viewers will be terrified by an early Rottweiler attack.

The 130-minute running time is 40 minutes too long - but then there's enough repetitive plot exposition and 'who-isreally-related- to-who?' nonsense to cure insomnia.

Director Harald Zwart (The Karate Kid/Agent Cody Banks) needs to inject humour and wield some heavy-duty scissors for next year's sequel, City of Ashes.

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