By G. Michael Dobbs
An intriguing science fiction film, a disturbing documentary and a classic French film are all in this week’s movie review column.
In theaters: Elysium
South African director and writer Neill Blomkamp broke onto the world’s cinema stage with his film “District 9” and his sophomore effort “Elysium” continues his signature style of mixing a discussion of social subjects with a gritty science fiction story.
It’s the year 2154 and Earth is a place with pollution, poverty and over-crowding. Max (Matt Damon) is one of the lucky few with a job. He’s trying to lead a straight life after a history of committing various crimes.
While Max labors in an android factory, above him rotating around the Earth is Elysium, an artificial habitat created by the world’s wealthiest families. They not only lead a live of splendor, but also of power as their decisions affect the millions who live below on Earth.
There is one thing the people of Elysium have that those of earth desperately need: a medical device that can cure many illnesses by rebuilding a person’s body on the atomic level. People from Earth repeatedly attempt to get onto Elysium just to use the machine to save their children.
The themes of the growing rift between the haves and have-nots and the denial of life-saving technology in order to enforce a status quo are certainly timely, and Blomkamp weaves them skillfully in a compelling science fiction action film.
Although Damon and Jodie Foster (who plays the cold elitist head of Elysium’s defenses) are fine in their roles, it’s the star of “District 9,” Sharlto Copley as Foster’s Earth-bound agent who steals the show.
With great special effects and a compelling story, “Elysium” is worth seeing on the big screen.
On Blu-ray: The Damned
This is another great release from the Cohen Media Group, which has been restoring some very interesting films.
This French film from 1947 tells a story that begins in the week leading up to the fall of the Berlin and the end of World War II in Europe. A commander of a Nazi submarine is ordered to deliver a group of passengers from Norway to an unnamed country in South America. When one of the passengers – the mistress of a Nazi general – has an accident the group decides to kidnap a doctor.
Landing near a French town, a local doctor is brought on board, but is not released. Understanding how expendable he is, Dr. Guilbert (Henri Vidal) begins a cat and mouse game to try to stay alive as long as he can.
As the narrator of the story, Guilbert documents how the group fares the long voyage and the news that the war is over.
Director René Clément, who also had a hand in the writing of the film, was a major talent in French cinema, but for a variety of reasons, was over-shadowed by the directors of the French New Wave in the 1950s and ‘60s. It’s a real shame because if this film is any indication of his talent, he should be re-discovered.
Clément filmed his movie aboard a real submarine that adds an amazing amount of realism and tension to his movie. We can feel the claustrophobic conditions. I love little details, such as the difference between the sub’s crew, dressed in tattered T-shirts as they attend to running the ship to the aristocratic Nazis clad in suit and tie. There are many of these small moments that add to the very rich portrayal of the characters.
My only complaint is the subtitles are white in a black and white film, making some of them barely legible. It’s too bad I remember very little of my four years of high school French!
On DVD: The Jeffrey Dahmer Files
Serial killers are now the subjects of so much fiction, sometimes it’s necessary to watch a documentary such as this one to remember the horror of a person who has decided to lure and kill people to satisfy some inner urge.
In 1991 Milwaukee, Wis., serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested and an investigation revealed he was responsible for 17 murders. He was found guilty and was later murdered in prison. The details of his crimes, which included rape, dismemberment and cannibalism, shocked the nation at the time.
In this documentary, director Chris James Thompson interviews one of Dahmer’s neighbors, the medical examiner at the time and the police detective who interrogated him. He also uses archival photos and footage as well as filling in some of the story with reenactments.
Thompson maintained a low-key tone throughout the film. He is careful to present the interviews and the facts in such a way to allow them to speak for themselves.
The reenactments do not present the violence, but rather show Dahmer as an alcoholic whose only real focus on life is ultimately his string of murders.
My only problem with this film is a lack of a discussion on how the issues of race, sexual orientation and class played a role in the Dahmer case.
This is a chilling film that reminds us that perhaps serial killers shouldn’t be the common currency that are presently in movies and television.