New release movie reviews - August 15

ELYSIUM ***1/2 (109 minutes) MA

In the far-future there will be no trouble distinguishing the 1% from the 99%. So says the grittily rendered dystopian future of Elysium, a high-end, value-driven sci-fi actioner designed for grown-ups.

The former will live in the titular space station, a gigantic, magnificently designed luxury wagon wheel with landscaped gardens, white mansions and miraculous home-based medical pods that can cure any illness, disability or injury.

The latter, meanwhile, shall toil away in vast shanty towns on the scorched, polluted surface of the earth, dying premature deaths and living only to service the profits of their space-dwelling, fashion-conscious overlords.

With his head shaved and his accent mastery honed after Invictus, Matt Damon plays the reluctant proletarian hero who, faced with his own death, must don an exo-skeleton and fight his way up to the wagon wheel to make things right.

Packed with action and jarring, well-judged visual toggles between the five-star lives of the haves and the baking squalor of the have-nots, writer/director Neil Bloomkamp - who brought a hyper-realistic, allegorical richness to sci-fi with 2009's anti-apartheid fable District 9 -  essentially overlays the concept of Fritz Lang's Metropolis with a ripping, ultra-violent class war.

Featuring great VFX work - you just can't see the seams, these days - the film is spiced by a scene-stealing villain played by District 9's Sharlto Copley, with a stuck-up Jodie Foster super-fine as a power-hungry Elysium official who enjoys keeping the place secure from all the Earth-dwellers who keep trying to get there by blasting their shuttles into space dust.

WE'RE THE MILLERS *** (110 minutes) MA

Very funny, salty adult comedy in which a debt-laden small-time drug dealer (Jason Sudeikis) is forced by a super-rich big-time drug dealer (Ed Helms) to do a drug run from Mexico to the US.

As everybody knows - talk about killer poster art and effective saturation marketing - he assembles a fake family comprised of a stripper (Jennifer Aniston), a likeable virgin (sparky Brit actor Will Poulter from Narnia and School of Comedy), and a smarmy, eye-rolling teenage runaway (Emma Roberts, Hotel for Dogs; Scream 4; Nancy Drew).

Dutifully obeying the dictates of formula, director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball) initially milks some big laughs from the quartet's differences before upshifting to something more grounded as they face comical danger from bumbling bad guys and pull together as a real family.

A surprising number of verbal gags pepper the lark's broad, knockabout physical comedy, including an uproarious genital joke clearly designed to rival the eye-watering zipper bit from There's Something About Mary.

As with all the coarse American comedies we've been getting since the advent of Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, however naughty, low-rent or playfully dirty things get, the story eventually circles around to a reassuring final-reel scenario where the misadventure is given meaning by the reinforcing of good old fashioned family values. Nothing wrong with that.   

FRANCES HA *** (86 minutes) MA

Rising star Greta Gerwig (so good in Damsels in Distress) co-wrote this black-and-white slice of neurotic New York whimsy with director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale; Margot at the Wedding; Greenberg).

Its flighty quarter-life crisis theme familiar to anyone who's seen five minutes of Girls, the drama amps up once the film gets serious about exploring the underside of long-standing friendships. Wears the influence of Woody Allen's 1979 masterpiece Manhattan well, and very proudly.

RED OBSESSION ***1/2 (79 minutes) PG

On the face of it, this lovingly made documentary is about the love that goes into making and drinking red wine. But as narrator Russell Crowe talks us through the intricacies of the high-end international wine market, it becomes pretty damn clear that the film isn't so much about wine but about the unstoppable rise of China as the world's next pace-setter.

Aussie directors Warwick Ross and David Roach might not have intended their warm, attractive-looking little film to be a commentary about geo-politics, but when people talk about bending to the demands of the voracious Chinese market, it's unavoidable.

A very entertaining doc, regardless of whether you like a drop.


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