So it was a mini Matt Damon festival for me this week-end. “Elysium” opened on Friday and instead of seeing “The Big Wedding” with my mother and God-mother (because I don’t do ‘heart-warming’) opted instead for Neil Blomkamp’s latest offering.
The South African born directors’ searing debut "District 9" was an instant classic and "Elysium" is set to follow in its footsteps as an action sci-fi that manages to entertain and be thought-provoking, beautiful as well as kick-ass.
The always reliable Matt Damon proves once again that he's one of the most versatile actors of his generation, Alice Braga is a very affecting female lead while Sharlto Copley has tremendous fun as the bad guy. William Fichtner, a man who fills out an Armani suit rather well, puts in a good supporting role as does the delicious Diego Luna while Jodie Foster, with a bizarrely clipped accent is just plain terrifying in a role originally written for a man.
For South African audiences the biggest joy will be the South Africans in the cast, (the aforementioned Sharlto Copley and Brandon Auret) the South African flag which even in the staid Hyde Park cinema elicited squeals of excitement, genuine South African accents and numerous South Africanisms including a braai and lines such as “Ja", "lekker", "p**s" and "kak”. (There is another "South Africanism" that brought the house down. A guy about five seats away from me literally fell out of his seat laughing!)
"Elysium" is not a perfect movie but it is original, well written and brilliantly executed. The special effects are stunning and the cinematography fantastic. A worthy follow up to "District 9".
The second Matt Damon offering, out on DVD now, “Promised Land" is a pretty good example of 'advocacy cinema', where the objective of the filmmakers is obviously not just to entertain, but also to inform. With fracking, a controversial issue at the best of times but a very topical one in South Africa at present, as it's theme, this is a film worth seeing just to get another perspective on the issue.
Leading man Matt Damon hasn't been resting on his laurels since he struck gold with his screenplay for 1997's Good Will Hunting - he's become one of the most accomplished and respected actors of his generation. After a lengthy absence from screenwriting (he hasn't had a script produced since 2002's Gerry), "Promised Land" sees him back at the keyboard with new writing partner John Krasinski (better known as Jim from "The Office") and it's a cracker of a script.
The film is exceptionally well rounded with great acting. Once again, Matt Damon proves that he is just as proficient in portraying an everyman as he is an action hero and he and John Krasinski have some great scenes together. Frances McDormand is at turns hilarious and heartless in her role and eighty-seven year-old Hal Holbrook serves as the film’s moral center, and it’s yet another great role in Holbrook’s recent late-career re-emergence. Director Gus van Sant wraps it all up into a tight, coherent little ball.
In the end, "Promised Land" achieves its aim of entertaining and informing, without ever getting preachy or dogmatic. It’s the kind of movie that you won’t only just enjoy but you’ll learn something along the way. Its Van Sant’s best film since "Milk" and another great part for Matt Damon- a guy whose name has become synonymous with quality.
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