Woody gets serious
Australia’s Cate Blanchett (Lord of the Rings, The Aviator) is a great actress, and boy does she have an Oscar-worthy role in Blue Jasmine, the latest film from Woody Allen.
She stars as Jasmine, a socialite whose limo lifestyle has imploded since her husband (Alec Baldwin) was jailed for stealing millions. Penniless and emotionally fragile – she’s washing down Xanax with endless Stolle martinis, and talking to herself – Jasmine has retreated from Manhattan to San Francisco to move in with her working class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and lick her wounds.
Abrasive, self-absorbed and clinging to memories of her past, Jasmine does a poor job of trying to reconcile with Ginger and to fit in with her blue collar boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale).
There are shards of dark wit embedded throughout Blue, but this is primarily a drama, and Allen’s bleakest film since 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. He is non-patronizing as he explores the working class milieu of Ginger and her friends, and the cast – including Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard, and a surprisingly effective Andrew Dice Clay – is uniformly excellent. But this is Blanchett’s film all the way, and her tour de force performance as a brittle woman whose personality is slowly unraveling is a painful revelation.
Rating: ★★ ★★
Sci-fi allegory crash-lands
South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp delivered a powerful political allegory in his debut film, District 9, where
Apartheid was critiqued via a strange sci-fi tale. He still has politics on his mind in his sophomore feature, Elysium, but this portrait of the savage divide between haves and have-nots is so heavy-handed it undermines what could have been a decent film.
Blomkamp’s future dystopia is set on a terribly polluted Earth that has become one giant ghetto policed by brutal robocops. The lucky few get to live above it all – literally, as they dwell on an orbiting space colony that has been landscaped to resemble a gated community in Palm Desert. Enter our Everyman hero, Max (Matt Damon), who works in a factory. When an industrial accident gives him a lethal dose of radiation, Max has five days to get to Elysium where his life can be saved.
That is the nub of the movie, which has various other subplots that don’t add up to much. Damon is, as always, marvelous. And Alice Braga (City of God) is effective as Max’s sort-of girlfriend. But Jodie Foster delivers a surprisingly one-dimensional portrait of bureaucratic evil as Elysium’s head of Homeland Security, while her thuggish enforcer, Kruger (Sharlito Copley), seems like a knock-off of the Dark Knight Rises Bane: scruffily anti-social and, instead of a voice-muffling device stuck over his mouth, an abrasive South African accent. Full of routine action sequences and lame characterization, this is a disappointment.