Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
Poverty, racism and social class inequality are creatively propelling issues for 33-year-old South African-born writer/director Neill Blomkamp, who catapulted into the limelight with his first feature, "District 9" (2009), an apartheid parable nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Set in Los Angeles in 2154, this action-thriller depicts Earth with two distinct societies. Most of the population is forced to live and work in sprawling, crime-riddled slums on the squalid, overpopulated, polluted planet, while the very wealthy dwell on a luxurious space station called Elysium, hovering high above.
When an ex-con/factory worker, Max (Matt Damon), is exposed to fatal radiation, the only way he and his childhood orphanage friend, Frey (Alice Braga), a nurse with a leukemia-stricken daughter, can survive is to get on a shuttle to Elysium, where medical re-atomizers heal all ailments instantly.
With only five days left to live, Max teams up with a sleazy gangster, Spider (Wagner Moura), gets fitted with a protective, metallic exoskeleton and taps into the brain of a corrupt corporate executive, John Carlyle (William Fichtner), in order to download secret data to overthrow Elysium's autocratic Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her sadistic henchman, Kruger (Sharlto Copley), and open the celestial sanctuary to the suffering masses of humanity.
Making a strong, if heavy-handed, political statement, Blomkamp's FX visuals are innovative and dazzling but the story is so frustratingly illogical, irrational and fragmented by repeated flashbacks that it's impossible to suspend disbelief.
According to "Entertainment Weekly," Blomkamp's inspiration was a visit to an impoverished area of Tijuana, where hapless Mexicans watched floodlights across the border in the U.S., and he based his Elysium concept on Beverly Hills and Malibu.
Exuding sheer determination as the compassionate, Spanish-speaking everyman, Damon miraculously survives most of the maudlin mayhem. Armani-clad Foster speaks flawless French as the cold, calculating villain, but "District 9's" Copley's garbled Dutch-inflected dialogue is almost impossible to decipher.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Elysium" is an energetic, if sociologically simplistic 6, another violent, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi spectacle.
For many years, WASPy, elegant Jasmine has been the trophy wife of Hal (Alec Baldwin), a conniving, mega-rich Manhattan financier. Having changed her name from the more prosaic Jeanette many years ago, she's a svelte, self-absorbed, snobbish Upper East Side socialite who lives on Park Avenue and spends weekends in the Hamptons.
But her lavish lifestyle falls apart when she discovers Hal's investment banking is not only dishonest but also he's a habitual philanderer.
When he's sent to prison and the government repossesses everything, pampered Jasmine has no choice but to pack her monogrammed Vuitton bags and relocate to San Francisco. Moving in with her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a hard-working grocery store clerk/single mother with two young sons, unhinged Jasmine self-medicates with vodka and tranquilizers. Financially forced into taking a "menial" job as a dentist's receptionist, humbled-yet-conflicted Jasmine yearns for the affluent life and to become someone "substantial" again. That's when she meets Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a wealthy widower/diplomat with political aspirations.
As she gradually slides from grace, luminous Blanchett is masterful, playing her fluttering, delusional, Chanel-clad character with exquisitely fluid precision, while writer/director Allen adroitly alternates between Jasmine's memory flashbacks and reality in two distinct timelines.
Like "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and "Match Point," the tone eloquently drifts from light comedy to dark, psychological melodrama. It's a cleverly adventurous concept, skillfully done, often evoking comparisons with Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams' "Streetcar Named Desire."
Allen's casting is superb, including supporting, caricatured turns by Andrew Dice Clay, Michael Stuhlbarg, Louis C.K. and Bobby Cannavale -- and the soundtrack features the Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart 1934 ballad "Blue Moon."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Blue Jasmine" is an unsettling, insightful 9. Woody Allen is 78 years old; this is his 48th film -- and one of his best.
What do you get if you combine two trigger-happy movie stars with lots of weaponry? This summer's latest variation on the formulaic, mismatched buddy-cop genre in which a pair of bank robbers are, unbeknownst to each other, actually working as undercover government agents.
A cool professional, Robert "Bobby Beans" Trench (Denzel Washington) is dispatched to infiltrate a Mexican drug cartel led by ruthless Papi Greco (Edward James Almos), while impulsive Marcus "Stig" Stigman (Mark Wahlberg) is a naval intelligence operative assigned to steal from narcotics suppliers so that the money can be filtered into a fund used for Navy SEAL black-ops missions across the border. But then a bungled bank heist reveals their mutual deception, leaving them rejected by their respective organizations and tracked by Earl (Bill Paxton), a ruthless Southern enforcer who is determined to get back the missing $43 million and resorts to unorthodox Russian roulette.
Based on Steven Grant's Boom! Studios five-issue comic book series, illustrated by Mateus Santolouco, it's simplistically adapted by Blake Masters (creator of Showtime's "Brotherhood") and directed by Icelandic actor-turned-filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur ("Contraband") with emphasis on brutal, action-filled shootouts, explosions and car chases.
What works is the bickering bantering, the comedic macho camaraderie. What doesn't work is the absurdly convoluted plot that's so filled with nefarious complications and double-crosses that it stops making any sense at all. Confusion reigns until the climactic confrontation at Papi's ranch in Mexico. As the only notable female character, Paula Patton plays Bobby's duplicitous DEA cuddle/colleague who contributes some gratuitous nudity. And advocates against animal cruelty will be appalled by the stupid, sadistic `sport' shooting of chickens that are buried in the ground up to their necks.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "2 Guns" triggers a flummoxed, forgettable 5. Bang! Bang! Boring.