Tag Archives: Matt Damon

The Monuments Men (2014)

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It’s often a good thing when a director settles into his own style, when he reaches a degree of comfort with his voice as a storyteller. It means he can spend less time obsessing over style choices and more time considering what lies at the center of the stories he’s chosen to tell. Not so George Clooney. In Leatherheads and Good Night, and Good Luck, Clooney revealed a proclivity towards the atmosphere of Old Hollywood–Old America even. He also showed a modicum of nuance in the way he presented it. Unfortunately, The Monuments Men finds him exploring this inclination more single-mindedly and fruitlessly than ever before.

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Elysium (2013)

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Setting a film in the future is tricky. You can have fun with it and create eye-popping visuals unconcerned with authenticity, or you can try to build a convincing projection of the world we live in now. What you should avoid is landing somewhere in the middle, as Neill Blomkamp has in Elysium. Certainly pieces of Elysium‘s world feel possible, like the disconcertingly ubiquitous biotechnology; some of it even probable, like the bastardized mélange of languages or the lack of paying work in an overpopulated world. But between the magical healing tubes, the utterly structureless society, and the absurd lack of humanity in damn near every character, Blomkamp’s follow-up to 2009’s slick District 9 spends far too much of its screen time asking you to meet it halfway.

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Contagion (2011)

I’ve never been particularly impressed with scary movies. Growing up, scary movies had so little to offer that I could connect with, outside of the standard suburban setting and a general fear of death. An omnipresent psychopath who can’t be killed doesn’t jive with my notions of reality, and incessant gore is more disturbing than scary. But Contagion, the latest product of Steven Soderbergh‘s telescopic curiosity, is truly frightening. It follows the path of a diabolical virus as scores of people die and the world’s population loses its collective mind. It illuminates with strict veracity the rapid downward spiral of panicked masses, and it does so in a world as close to ours as the big screen can accommodate.

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True Grit (2010)

I don’t think there’s such a thing as a bad Coen Brothers movie.  Now, I haven’t seen them all, so I can’t say that with all confidence, but as they somehow gain more and more momentum with the passing years, and the veneer on their product keeps getting shinier, it’s hard to imagine them making any really evident mistakes.  Not only is this impressive when considering their startling prolificacy, but also because, frankly, the Coens don’t play it safe.  They’re not churning out standby material with rote characters and tested plots.  They change it up every single time. If I were an aspiring director I wouldn’t even bother trying to emulate them, because there’s just no way you’re going to do the things they’ve done.  True Grit is the latest example of that consistently inconsistent greatness; a cocky and witty western from a pair of legitimate talents in their apparently never ending prime.

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Invictus (2009)

When the World Cup arrives this summer, we’ll see a common banner lining every pitch.  One that reads “SAY NO TO RACISM.”  As a young American, this seems a relatively dated sentiment, but a friend more savvy to the international scene explained it to me: international soccer offers racial tension a passionate arena to catch flame, and all kinds of race resentment is tied into a country’s national pastime.  These already intense matches become entwined with the immensely heated conflict of color, and feverish support of one’s team only fuels the anger.  So the banners seem a sad necessity in a twenty-first century still dealing with the ignorance of the past, and it’s this awareness that motivates Invictus. A story that appraises race relations as the simple matter they can be at heart, while ignoring the complex creature they truly are.

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