Recliner Reviews for Jan. 2, 2014

December 31, 2013 

Tommy Lee Jones in "The Family."

JESSICA FORDE

“Elysium”

The art an artist makes is usually determined by an artist’s background. Although it’s debatable whether or not films are forms of art, one thing is certain – director Neill Blomkamp uses the shanty-towns of his homeland in Johannesburg, South Africa as a muse to make cool sci-fi movies into a political art form. In his feature debut “District 9,” he turned apartheid and segregation into an action-packed alien movie. This one divides the earth of 2154 into the haves and have-nots – a world where everything beautiful or good is shared by one percent of the population, while 99 percent of the people scrounge and die because of a lack of healthcare in an industrial wasteland. There are also plenty of ties to South Africa, including Sharlto Copley, the dynamic actor whose career started with “District 9.” Matt Damon shows why he’s one of the best actors doing action films today, and Jodie Foster brings her Oscar-worthy chops to villainous heights. Blomkamp joins the likes of Kubrick and Spielberg in making fantastic films with jagged social edges – worth a watch.

“The Family”

Writer/director Luc Besson has been all over the place as far as genre – action, sci-fi, historical, kids’ movies. Here he goes for the strangers-in-a-strange-land theme with the family of a mafia hit man-turned-informant in witness protection in France. The whole thing is a bit unexpected as he returns to the style he used in “Leon: The Professional” by making a gritty film that’s full of violence and heart. Yes, it draws on Italian/mafia stereotypes, but Besson is aware of what he’s doing because he also turns the stereotypes around a time or two. Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones show why they’re seasoned veterans still making movies. Dianna Agron and John D’Leo do a pretty capable job playing the offspring of Mafioso. This is no “My Blue Heaven” nor is it “Married to the Mob” or analyzing this or that – it’s simply worth a watch.

“Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters”

So many popular book series for young and teen readers have been made into great movies. Just think of the “Harry Potter” series, or more recently, “The Hunger Games” trilogy. But something has been amiss with Percy and his pals since the first film. And things only go downhill in this sequel. It’s a shame because the title character is played by Logan Lerman, a decent young actor. You might think that director Thor Freudenthal’s strong name would indicate stronger cinematic achievements than two flat family films – “Hotel for Dogs” and one of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movies. And scribe Marc Guggenheim has spent the last couple of years chipping in on the writing duties for superhero movies and TV shows – some are subpar affairs such as “Green Lantern” and some are watchable series such as the CW’s “Arrow.” This film sinks past mediocrity, into who-the-hell-cares levels, so deep the series may drown with this outing – pass.

Derrick Bracey, for Weekly Surge

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