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‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ Review

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Director: Gareth Edwards

Writers: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy

Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Meddelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Jimmy Smits, Alistar Petrie, Genevieve O’Reilly, and Mads Mikkelsen

Synopsis: The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic sage to follow.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

When it was announced that Lucasfilm would start doing spinoff/standalone films, many fans were excited about the endless possibilities that would entail. Then it was announced that we would be getting a prequel to Star Wars IV – A New Hope, that would follow the rebels we read about in the opening crawl that stole the plans to the Death Star. Fans were eager to see how that story played out, and then everything started coming together. The cast was put together, the director, and then the trailers were released. Everyone seemed pretty happy. Then the dreaded and new dirty word in Hollywood came out, reshoots. Even though everyone in the production said it wasn’t too big of a deal, fans started to worry. Well, it looks like we didn’t need to, because Rogue One: A Star Wars Story delivered on its early promise – a war film about the brave group of rebels that stole the plans to The Empire’s deadly weapon.

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The film doesn’t start off with the traditional Star Wars opening crawl, and instead starts with Imperial Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) getting a former Empire scientist, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) to come back to work on the Empire’s newest weapon. Before they can capture him however, Galen sends his daughter Jyn off to hide. We skip forward years, and an adult Jyn (Felicity Jones) is held by Imperial forces until she is saved by the Rebellion. There she meets an intelligence officer in Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and a re-programmed Imperial droid K-2SO (motion capture and voiced by Alan Tudyk) where they offer her freedom in exchange to help them get a message from her father that is being held by an old mentor, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and a defector pilot Bodbi Rook (Riz Ahmed). Along their journey they recruit former Jedi temple protectors Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) to help them on their mission that becomes something bigger than they thought: save the galaxy from the Death Star, and steals the plans to help the Rebellion.

Rogue One is the first of new standalone/spinoff films, and if this is any indication on how Lucasfilm and Disney are going to handle the films, I think we are all in for a fun ride and great films. While the film does hark on some elements that we all love about Star Wars, the film feels different in a lot of ways too. While the previous Star Wars films have some “dark” overtones, Rogue One does feels more like an actual war film.

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The whole film is essentially a race against the clock that sees our characters jump from one planet to the other to get vital pieces of information, and trying to stay ahead of the Empire and Krennic. What also helps is the action is extremely top-notch. Sure we remember all the lightsaber battles and sky battles from the previous films, but what we’ve never really seen the ground troops, and the dirty side of the war that is finally introduced giving us a different side of the rebellion. Not only that, there is no Jedi in the film, sure we go to the home planet of the Jedi, but the closest thing we get Jedi is Donnie Yen’s character and the appearance of Darth Vader. So if you think Star Wars films need Jedi, Rogue One will prove you wrong.

Besides the action, the characters are what also make Rogue One a great and fun film. Felicity Jones’ Jyn is a great character to follow, who eventually accepts her place in the rebellion to stop the Empire, Luna’s character is complex in his own way that makes total sense now that we get a wider and better look at the Rebellion. Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen are a likeable duo with Yen being a major highlight for me – and will be for fans of his. Riz Ahmed’s Bodbi is unfortunately underdeveloped, but does have his moments, while Ben Mendelsohn’s continues to be reliable in everything he does as his Krennic is a worthy Imperial officer villain, although I wish they would have done more with him. They do involve him in a small arc with a character many Star Wars fans will know, and although I want to talk about that, I think I’ll let you experience that yourselves. The highlight of the film is Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO, who brings most of the humor to the film, and will probably go down as people’s newest favorite droid.

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The film does have some issues. Like I mentioned, some characters just don’t have enough to do or are underdeveloped, and some plot lines are pretty thin or aren’t fleshed out enough that we’re left wondering why bring this up? It also takes a while to really pick up, but once it does, oh man, is it totally worth it and sucks you in completely. I also had just one minor issue with one Vader scene, but we can talk about that some other time.

All in all, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a great film to the Star Wars series. While the film has a few missteps, and the fear that reshoots would ruin the film, Rogue One is a hell of a lot of fun for new and seasoned fans.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

4.5 out of 5

December Movie Releases

It’s December, ladies and gentlemen!

The year is almost over! How has your year been, because it’s been a great year for films, huh? December is also a tough month to set, because this is the big Oscar month, so a lot of films end up getting limited releases, expansion releases, and then wide releases. So if anything is off, it’s because of that. I’ll do my best to get everything where it’s suppose to go, and if not I’ll come back and update the schedule.  So let’s jump right in the films that will close out the year.

Also, Happy Whatever-It-Is-You-Celebrate!

 

2nd

Limited Release: Jackie (Biography Drama – Fox Searchlight Pictures/Why Not Productions/Wild Bunch)

Following the assassination of her husband, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (played by Natalie Portman) fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children and define her husband’s historic legacy. The film has gotten a lot of love at the film festival circuit, and is getting a lot of Oscar buzz. It probably helped that this film has been in the works for a long time too. Jackie also stars Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt, Billy Crudip, Max Casella, Richard E. Grant, and Caspar Phillipson.

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Limited Release: La La Land (Drama Comedy Musical)

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone reunite for La La Land which follows a jazz pianist who falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. The film is getting a ton of great reviews from the film festival circuit so this one is one you should keep your eye out for. Also the trailer really gives off the vibe that the film will be a nice tribute to films of old. The film also stars Finn Wittrock, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend, Jason Fuchs, Hemky Madera, and J.K. Simmons.

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Incarnate (Horror Thriller – Universal Pictures/Blumhouse Productions/WWE Studios/IM Global/High Top Releasing/Deep Underground Films)

A scientist with the ability to enter the subconscious minds of the possessed must save a young boy from the grips of a demon with powers never seen before, while facing the horrors of his past. The film stars Aaron Eckhart, Carice van Houten, David Mazouz, Emjay Anthony, Matt Nable, and Catalina Sandino Moreno.

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9th

Expanded/Wide Release: Nocturnal Animals

Expanded Release: La La Land

Expanded Release: Jackie

 

 

Office Christmas Party (Comedy – Paramount Pictures/DreamWorks Pictures/Bluegrass Films)

When his uptight CEO sister (Jennifer Aniston) threatens to shut down his branch, the branch manager thrown an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day, but the party gets way out of hand. The film also stars T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon, Jason Bateman, Rob Corddry, Olivia Munn, Jillian Bell, Jamie Chung, Abbey Lee, Randall Park, Matt Walsh and Courtney B. Vance.

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16th

Limited Release: The Founder (Biography Drama)

Michael Keaton stars in this film that tells the story of McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc. I don’t think I’ve ever actually thought about the story of McDonald’s and since I’ve seen the trailer, it’s peaked my interest and I’m sure to many others as well. The rest of the cast includes Laura Dern, Patrick Wilson, Linda Cardellini, Nick Offerman, B.J. Novak, and John Carroll Lynch.

 

 

Collateral Beauty (Drama – New Line Cinema/Village Roadshow Pictures/Overbrook Entertainment/Anonymous Content/Likely Star/PalmStar Media)

An advertising executive encounters three mysterious figures who encourage him to move on from the past. The film looks like it’s going to be a powerhouse with the cast, but the idea does seem odd, and one that you can probably figure out from the trailers. Hopefully the execution works. Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Edward Norton, Naomie Harris, Michael Pena, and Helen Mirren star.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Sci-Fi Adventure –Walt Disney Pictures/Lucasfilm)

Gareth Edwards directs the first spinoff/standalone film of the new set of Star Wars films, which actually takes us back in time as it follows Rebels on a mission to steal plans for the Death Star. Listen, it’s Star Wars, people are going to go watch it. However, the film’s last two trailers were freaking awesome, of course the film however, will have some closer eyes as the “dirty” word in Hollywood has hit the film: reshoots. Nonetheless, the film looks great and more importantly it looks different. The film stars Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Jonathan Aris, and Forest Whittaker.

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21st

Sing (Animation – Universal Pictures/Illumination Entertainment)

A koala named Buster (Matthew McConaughey) recruits his best friend to help him drum up business for his theater by hosting a singing competition. I don’t know if I’m over talking animal animated film this year, but I’m not getting behind the Sing train. The voice cast also includes Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, John C. Reilly, Seth MacFarlane, Taron Egerton, Nick Offerman, Peter Serafinowicz,  and Jennifer Saunders.

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Patriots Day (Lionsgate/CBS Films/Closest to the Hole Productions)

Directed by Peter Berg, the film is an account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s (played by John Goodman) actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it. Berg has already made a splash this year with Deepwater Horizon with Mark Wahlberg, so I can only think that this will be either as good or just as good. Patriots Day also stars J.K. Simmons, Kevin Bacon, Melissa Benoist, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff, and Rachel Brosnahan.

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Passengers (Sci-Fi Adventure – Sony Pictures/Columbia Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures/LStar Capital/Original Film/Start Motion Pictures/Company Films)

A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) are awakened 90 years early. Two of the most liked and extremely talented actors in Hollywood are getting together for a film, and one that looks not too bad, I think we looking at a big hit here, don’t you think? Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, and Andy Garcia also star.

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Assassin’s Creed (Action – 20th Century Fox)

Based on the popular video game franchise, Michael Fassbender stars as Callum Lynch, who with the help of revolutionary technology that unlocks his genetic memories, experiences the adventures of his ancestor, Aguilar, in 15th Century Spain. Callum discovers he is descended from a mysterious secret society, The Assassins, and amasses incredible knowledge and skills to take on the oppressive and powerful Templar organization in the present day. Justin Kurzel, who directed the well-received and great film Macbeth, directs and reunites not only with Fassbender but Marion Cotillard as well. The film also stars Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Ariane Labed, Mathias Varela, Brian Gleeson, and Michael Kenneth Williams.

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23rd

Limited Release: A Monster Calls (Fantasy Drama – Focus Features/Participant Media/River Road Entertainment/Apaches Entertainment/La Trini)

Based on a script and book by Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls follows a boy as he seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mom terminal illness. The film stars Liam Neeson as The Monster, Felicity Jones as the Mother, Sigourney Weaver as the Grandmother, Toby Kebbell as Dad, and Lewis MacDougall as the boy and Lily-Rose Aslandogdu as Lily. The film looks fantastic and I can’t wait to see how it does. The limited release is due to Focus Features trying to get the film an Oscar run. The film will come out early next year.

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Limited Release: Silence (Drama)

Directed by Martin Scorsese and based off the novel by Shusaku Endo, the film is set in the seventeenth century, where we follow two Jesuit priests that face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and propagate Christianity. The film has been looking for a release date and what better date to come out in than in December around Oscar season right? The film stars Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Shin’ya Tsukamoto and Tadanobu Asano.

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Why Him? (Comedy – 20th Century Fox/Red Hour Films/21 Laps Entertainment)

A dad (Bryan Cranston) forms a bitter rivalry with his daughter’s young rich boyfriend (James Franco). The film looks decently funny, at least we can hope, and seeing Cranston on the big screen is always nice – even if it’s a film like this. The film stars Zoey Deutch, and Megan Mullally.

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25th

Limited Release: 20th Century Women (Comedy Drama)

The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s. The film stars Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Alia Shawkat, Laura Wiggins, and Billy Crudup.

 

Limited Release: Paterson (Drama Comedy) 

Set in the present in Paterson, New Jersey, this is a tale about a bus driver and poet, who also happens to be named Paterson (Adam Driver). I saw the trailer for the first time recently, and it looks like a great little indie film that will showcase Adam Driver.

 

Limited Release: Hidden Figures (Drama)

Based on a true story, a team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical date needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions. The film stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kristen Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell, and Kevin Costner.

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Limited Release: Live By Night

Based off the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, Ben Affleck writes, directs and stars in this great looking film that is set during the Prohibition and follows Joe Coughlin, the son of a prominent Boston police captain, as he rises through the ranks of the criminal underworld and the trouble he falls into along the way. Besides the film looking great, it has a great cast in Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Sullivan, Anthony Michael Hall, Titus Welliver, Max Casella, Chris Messina, and Chris Cooper.

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Fences (Drama – Paramount Pictures/Scott Rudin Productions/Bron Studios/MACRO)

Based on the play by August Wilson, and directed by Denzel Washington, Fences follows an African American father who struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. The film stars Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby and Stephen Henderson.

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So, what are you looking forward to?

‘The Book of Life’ Review

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Dir: Jorge R. Gutierrez

Cast: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Pearlman, Christina Applegate, Kate del Castillo, Hector Elizondo, Danny Trejo, and Ice Cube

Synopsis: Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart, embarks on an adventure that spans three fantastic worlds where he must face his greatest fears

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

 

The Book of Life is a great tribute to Mexican culture and its Day of the Dead (which the movie was originally going to be called) celebration – I’m not going to say holiday because it seems off to me. But who better to bring the culture to the big screen than producer Guillermo del Toro and first time director Jorge R. Gutierrez.

 

The movie start with a group of detention kids who end up taking a trip to the museum and find their tour guide (voiced by Applegate) that relates the story of the movie to them while also giving them, and the audience, a lesson in Mexican traditions.

 

The Book of Life follows three childhood friends – Manolo (Luna), Maria (Saldana) and Joaquin (Tatum) – who are caught in a love triangle end up becoming the subject of a wager between La Muerte (del Castillo), who oversees the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba (Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten. If Manolo, La Muerte’s champion wins Maria’s hand in marriage, Xibalba must stop interfering in human affairs, but if Xibalba’s champion of Joaquin wins then he gets to rule both worlds.

 

After the three do something that could have harmed the people of the town, Maria is sent away by her father and leaves Manolo and Joaquin to follow in the footsteps of their fathers. Joaquin’s late father was a great soldier that protected the town from a deadly outlaw, while Manolo hails from a long line of famous bullfighters, but proves to be a disappointment to his father (voiced by Elizondo) because he can’t kill the bull and would rather be a singer.

 

Joaquin (Channing Tatum) and Manolo (Diego Luna)

Joaquin (Channing Tatum) and Manolo (Diego Luna)

 

Of course, Maria returns to town many years later and Manolo and Joaquin go back to fighting for her heart. Manolo’s attempts eventually lead to the heavy advertised journey to the Land of the Remembered – with all you eat churros! – and where Manolo meets his ancestors and of course learns valuable lessons.

 

Zoe Saldana as Maria

Zoe Saldana as Maria

 

I will admit, I didn’t think the movie would be as good as it turned out. The Book of Life has a lot of humor for adults and kids and is visually amazing to look at. The team really did a great job of making every setting having its own unique look and feel to it. The Land of the Remembered is easily the best looking setting in the movie with all the vivid and bright colors that pop in every corner. The animation might throw some people off but wooden look to the characters when they are in the town as opposed to the skeleton look in the other worlds is handled in an effective way.

 

While visually the movie is great to see, its plot does feel pretty predictable with two guys in love with same woman. But it’s the way the story is told that is important and luckily the movie is engaging and the characters are endearing and funny. Diego Luna really makes us root for Manolo. Channing Tatum gives Joaquin a goofball/showoff quality that thankfully doesn’t make you hate him, but also makes you feel for him consider who his father was. Zoe Saldana’s Maria isn’t really a damsel-in-distress, as she shows throughout the movie that she can take care of herself.

 

While they are the main focus of the movie, the relationship between La Muerte and Xibalba is, arguably, a bit more interesting. Del Castillo and Pearlman sound like they are having a lot of fun playing the characters. While in theory Xibalba, and maybe even La Muerte since her name is Death, they are villains, they have these really sweet moments together and don’t act like villains at all. I’d have to say one of the weakest voice casting is Ice Cube as the Candle Maker. Nothing against Ice Cube, because he does have some fun/funny moments, it just feels like they casted him to a have another “celebrity” voice against the mostly Hispanic cast.

 

La Muerte and Xibalba

La Muerte and Xibalba

 

The rest of the voice cast that includes Hector Elizondo as Manolo’s father, Danny Trejo as Manolo’s grandfather, and Gabriel Iglesias and Cheech Marin as mariachis do their part and have some great moments as the supporting cast.

 

Since the movie is based around The Day of the Dead, it does address the meaning of it and does deal with the death of loved ones which some – if not all – Hollywood kids movies avoid. The other great thing the movie does is it takes modern songs and adds a mariachi flare to them (I think you won’t hear “Creep” by Radiohead the same again). Some of the songs – like Creep – add to the tone of the scenes, but some others add to the humor of the film.

 

All in all, The Book of Life is a ton of fun to watch. The Day of the Dead aspect of the movie is great to see on the big screen and done with respect.

 

 

The Book of Life

5 out of 5

‘Elysium’ Review

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Dir: Neil Blomkamp

Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura and William Fichnter

Synopsis: Set in the year 2154, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds

 

*Review Note:This is a non-spoiler review as always.”

 

In 2009 Neill Blomkamp gave to us one of the best sci-fi films in a while with District 9. It wasn’t just an action movie but so a social commentary that hit a chord with many people and earned itself a Best Picture Oscar nomination in the process. Now, Blomkamp has given us Elysium, an equally intelligent sci-fi film that replaces the issue of racism with poverty, immigration and overpopulation but also delivers great action sequences.

The world has been divided into two very distinct groups: the poor, who live on the diseased and overcrowded earth, and the wealthy, who have fled to a man-made space station called ‘Elysium’ in order to preserve their privileged way of life.

Through flashbacks we are introduced to Max (Damon), an orphan struggling to understand the world he’s apart of. Max’s ambition is to one day make it onto Elysium, but when we encounter him as an adult in the ruined Los Angeles, he couldn’t be further from fulfilling that dream

Serving parole and working on an assembly line building robots Max’s life is made more terrible when he suffers an accident at work which has devastating consequences on his health, making his need to reach Elysium all the more important. Meanwhile, Secretary Delacourt (Foster)– responsible for the defense of Elysium – is finding herself frustrated by the administration and wants to do something drastic to change it.

Max, with no way out of his situation, goes to his old boss Spider (Wagner Moura) with the help of his friend Julio (Diego Luna) to find away up to Elysium. This brings in the mechanic exoskeleton that we see Damon wear. The suit not only gives him the strength but serves another purpose to the story. When Spider sets a plan a motion Delacourt activates Kruger (Copley) ,a sleeper agent who is charged with the task of doing her bidding on earth.

It’s pretty cool concept once you see the whole movie. Blomkamp seems to be very good at this brand of high-concept sci-fi, the film’s narrative similar to District 9 in that it sets up a credible future-world, takes an ordinary man, places him in extraordinary circumstances, gives him near superhuman powers (alien DNA in D9, a mech-suit here) and follows his efforts to smash the system.

Aesthetically Elysium isn’t really that similar to District 9 (although you shouldn’t compare the two really). The visuals are more sophisticated this time around, the technological advancements made in the last four years make Elysium seem like what the movies makes it out to be, a wonderful place to live, if you can afford it of course.

Unlike District 9, the film is filled with a well known cast lead by Matt Damon. His Max character is a complicated character to the point where we know he’s an ex-convict trying to make an honest living but has to do things he knows are wrong in order to make it right. The flashback scenes and his relationship with Frey (Braga), a childhood friend, make him more sympathetic toward the viewer.

Foster’s Delacourt is interesting. She can be seen as the villain (although I didn’t see her as the real villain of the movie) but all her action are done to protect “the habitat” as she refers to it. The weird part though is Foster’s accent. I’m not one to complain about actors accents but it seemed like Foster was struggling a bit to keep it when she had long speeches. William Fichtner plays a businessman John Carlyle who shares most of his screen time with Foster and although a short role it’s important.

The standout however is Sharlto Copley as Kruger. He’s a man of few words at first but gradually starts to become a hassle to everybody involved. You can tell he had a lot of fun playing the role and he chews up the scenery when he’s on camera which I was okay with.

Ultimately Elysium is Neill Blomkamp’s film. The visuals are great to look at and even though it has a cool and pretty original story; the film does have some sci-fi elements we’ve seen before (still cool to watch though) but also goes into a straight action film.

All in all, Elysium has everything;  sci-fi, action, some humor, a great story with cool characters and is damn entertaining.

 

Elysium

4.5 out of 5