Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Interview: Sharlto Copley for Elysium

Elysium-02
(Originally posted at The Hollywood News)

After bursting onto the cinematic scene with his critically lauded and commercially successful feature debut District 9, director Neill Blomkamp returns this week with sophomore film Elysium, a project that shares key thematic similarities to its predecessor only injected with a considerably higher budget. Meeting science fiction with relevant social commentary, Elysium is set in the year 2154 and stars Matt Damon as Max, a man trying to bridge the gap between two polarised worlds: an overpopulated, ruined earth, and Elysium, a man-made space station built for the wealthy. Events conspire to make Max’s mission an uphill battle, events presided over by Elysium’s Secretary of Defence (Jodie Foster) and her deadly, ruthless earth-bound operative Kruger, played by Blomkamp’s childhood friend and District 9 star Sharlto Copley. The Hollywood News sat down with Copley to discuss his role in the film, his working experience with Blomkamp and Matt Damon, and his future career away from acting.

Q: Sharlto Copley, tell me a little bit about the character of Kruger.

SC: Well, Kruger is, I suppose, a futuristic version of an ex-Special Forces black ops soldier who hides out on earth and lives amongst the earthlings, and he gets activated to perform illegal, off the books operations for the Elysium politicians when they have problems with earth.

 Q: You’ve gone from District 9 to more comical roles in, say, The A-Team; how did you approach playing an out-and-out villain?

SC: It was interesting because it was probably the furthest removed from my natural personality of anything I have done so far. Well, maybe that and Oldboy – I did Oldboy after this, so those two were like as far as I can get from my natural personality. Even somebody like Murdock [in The A-Team] who’s crazy and does all the different voices. It was a little harder this time round.

 Q: Kruger is bulkier and perhaps more physical than other characters you’ve played. It’s a lot more of a physically intimidating role than, say Wikus Van De Merwe in District 9, which was already a very physical role. Did you have to bulk up specifically for the role?

SC: Yes, as well as mentally just have to be in a certain frame of mind. It wasn’t a big method thing or anything, but it was just accessing a side of myself, I suppose, that I don’t often do.

 Q: This is your second big screen outing with Neill Blomkamp, where he explores similar themes to District 9. He obviously has a largely bigger budget this time round; did your working relationship change at all as a result of this?

SC: No, the budget didn’t change anything except making it easier for us as we had a lot more time shooting than we did on District 9. Most of it was shot in Vancouver in the lap of luxury, and I wasn’t the lead so I wasn’t working all the time so it was just a lot easier and, I think, more of a pleasant experience. It was maybe less personal for me than District 9 was in terms of the content and exactly what we were doing, so maybe not as fulfilling in that way. But District 9 was gruelling and hard; some days on set I found myself saying “Please let me get through this day!” I didn’t have anything like that on Elysium; everything was a lot more fun.

 Q: How involved were you in the project? From the get-go or did you join at a later date?

SC: Not as involved as I was with D9 at all. Neill pretty much this time – he even said to me,“Listen dude I just want you to stick to the lines this time”, because he worked in a much more structured way. So he was like “So I’m working with Matt [Damon] and Jodie [Foster], so I don’t want you going off and freaking them out, coming up with new shit in the middle of a scene”. And then the first day that I get there, he’d been drilling this into me all the time and I do the scene with Alice [Braga] in her house and I stick exactly to the lines in the script, every comma, every pause, and Alice doesn’t, she goes off and she does this wonderful, dramatic performance. So I took Neill aside and I said, “She’s not sticking to the lines what’s going on?” and he says “Well I’m sort of relaxing that now”. So I say “Dude you just have to let me go”, so he did and he let me just do my thing most of the time, so this time it isn’t one hundred percent improvisation, maybe just about seventy percent or so.

Q: What’s Neill like as a director? Is he quite strict or does he allow you to bring in your own ideas?

SC: He very much casts actors and expects them to do their thing. He doesn’t get involved; he’s not really into the actor’s performance and motivation. He doesn’t sit down and workshop it before filming or anything like that. He’s visually and emotionally working on the story as well as working on the tone, and only really comes in when he needs to tweak something. So he’ll come in and tweak a performance or tweak a tone a little bit one way or another. With Kruger it was always going to be a thing with how funny he was versus how serious, so we went through a few options of making him a litter more darkly comedic at times and a little less darkly comedic at others.

Q: Was he a darker character before you became involved in the project then? Because you are known as an actor for bringing a sardonic humour to roles.

SC: No, not really. He changed a lot compared to what was written in the original script, which is something I never ended up doing. We just developed him by going through a series of different ideas for what the character should be.

Q: What was it like acting alongside such big names as Matt Damon?

SC: It was amazing. Matt and I hit it off straight away. We shared a love of film, writing and everything about movies so we’d be constantly talking about that, and the people around us probably found it a bit much at times! I had some surreal moments, because Matt has played a South African in Invictus – and he loved District 9 and loved my performance in that film, so it was a bit weird for me being in a film with someone of his level. I’d be preparing for a scene and getting serious – and it’s a bit difficult for me to stay in a particular frame of mind for long periods of time – and just before I went in I would be getting into character and I’d hear “It’s the sweetie man coming”, and it would be Matt impersonating me in District 9! I had these weird reality moments where I’d be thinking “This cannot be happening!”. It was great also because I felt very supported; because with District 9 I felt like the real acting pressure was on me and Jason (who played the aliens). So this time the calibre of everybody else was unbelievable, I mean Wagner [Moura] and Alice – who are from Brazil – are incredible also. It just made everything easier. I knew that they had gone through several names of who was going to be the lead because I was cast before everybody else, and as they went through the names – and I’m not going to mention any names – but various names came up. Matt happens to have a very hardcore look and seems like a guy you wouldn’t really want to get in a fight with, but they were thinking of going the opposite way and casting a few guys that don’t look like that just for casting against type. And I remember just smiling to myself and thinking “Okay if you cast any of these guys it’s going to be a walk in the park for me. I’m going to rip these guys’ heads off”. But as soon as they said Matt I thought “Oh shit! I’m really going to have to up my game”, because Matt has so much intensity, and to look like I could kick his ass I would have to really man up for this one. But I was so glad that they chose him, I felt it was right and that he did an amazing job.

Q: You both share a notable chemistry in the film, especially during the intense fight scenes.

SC: Yeah! I just had to up my game for that.

Q: What were the fight scenes like to shoot?

SC: Brutal, they were brutal! I mean, we’d be taunting each other every day and we both got very physical as we are both physical guys, so it was fun to do. But brutal.

Q: You’ve gone from District 9 and immediately went straight to Hollywood for big mainstream projects. What processes do you have regarding choosing oncoming projects?

SC: You know, you have to sort of choose wisely. The point that I am at in my career now, you don’t get a lot of choice of the best stuff that is out there. I haven’t, for example, played the lead in anything since D9; I haven’t had to take the whole responsibility for a film because I haven’t been offered anything that excited me enough, or I haven’t been able to win anything that excited me enough to do that. So most of what I’ve done is either ensemble pieces or little experimental pieces like Europa Report – a little project where I did a sort of cameo in because it was interesting and quite ‘out there’. I tend to look largely at the role in question and see if I can do or add something that I think is interesting and valuable to the project.

Q: You come from a background of producing and directing films that have been in festival circuits. Any plans to do a feature film in the future?
SC:
Yes, definitely. I’m going back very much into writing, directing and producing, and I have a few things that I’m starting to develop.

Q: Any particular topics or genres?

SC: Cross-genres actually. I like fantasy and science fiction but one of the things I’m writing is a big war epic, so I’m not necessarily stuck into any one genre.

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Review: Elysium

Elysium5(dir. Neill Blomkamp, 2013)

(Originally posted at The Hollywood News)

After taking both critics and the box office by storm with his steaming debut District 9 – a film whose heavy socio-political themes were evened out by a refreshing sense of style and humour, director Neill Blomkamp makes a welcome return with sophomore project Elysium, a worthy if not wholly effective follow up. Similar to D9, which, for the most part, managed to blend the tropes of the alien-invasion movie with contemporary and socially relevant commentary concerning apartheid, Blomkamp infuses his latest with a similar amount of allegorical rumination, only this time it’s bolstered by both a significantly larger budget and a more polemical stance on class regimentation.

 

 Elysium sees Blomkamp returning to the realm of science fiction to depict another tale of the disquiet between two distinct, and distinctly realised, societal worlds. In the year 2154, the planet is divided into two disparate constructs: an overpopulated, ruined Earth rife with squalor and moral decay, and the eponymous Elysium, a pristine man-made space station for the extremely wealthy looming above amongst the stars, its circular profile resembling a judging, restricted eye. As earth continues its slow descent into near total destruction fuelled by disorder, crime and poverty, its suffering inhabitants continually intend to seek refuge on its adjacent locale, which boasts an oasis of affluence and homes equipped with machines that have the ability to seamlessly cure every known disease and ailment.

Looking to bridge the gap between the two and bring equality to these worlds is Max (Matt Damon), a blue-collar worker who’s been saving all his life to finally move to Elysium. When events conspire to put Max on a steady road to his demise, he reluctantly takes on a dangerous mission that pits him against Elysium’s Secretary Delacourt (a prickly Jodie Foster) and her uncompromising determination to maintain the unspoilt nature of her beloved constructed planet. Battling insurmountable odds, Max finds that if he’s successful, he could bring about the protection of millions of people on Earth, as well as save his own life and the life of his childhood love and her terminally ill daughter.

Starting out in a similar fashion to District 9 and the way it introduced a serious premise lined by social commentary before immediately delving into the character’s quests to break artificial boundaries, Elysium makes good on the substance and inventiveness Blomkamp laid foundations for first time round. The larger scale allows him to flex his predilection for visual innovation; his perception of a dusty, future Earth drowning in squalor is believable, as is the ultra-sleek planes of Elysium, however nondescript it seems to be (the inhabitants are rarely seen, the identical houses seem constantly empty). Yet the film suffers from the director’s continuous trajectory and drive for exploring his various ambitions; the plot conceit is engaging and thought-provoking yet the themes regarding greed, corruption and a lopsided society become dormant once the narrative’s momentum picks up, a narrative that quickly becomes overcome with energetic, albeit generic, action.

The film appears imbalanced and rife with plot holes, which is strange for a filmmaker with such a precise way of constructing unfamiliar and extraordinary scenarios and environments. Yet it is boosted by an infectious imagination and first-rate casting, from Damon’s well-judged protagonist to Foster’s severe Delacourt, via D9 alumni Sharlto Copley’s vicious gun-for-hire operative Kruger, a startling alternative to the notable yet submissive Wikus Van De Merwe. As a director who strives to tell tales of grand sociological concepts that don’t seem heavy-handed, Blomkamp mostly succeeds however broad his brushstrokes tend to be, yet with Elysium he fashions an allegory that is exciting at first but ultimately says very little.

 

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Screen shot 2013-05-09 at 18.06.58

(J.J.Abrams, 2013)

2009 saw bespectacled boy wonder J.J Abrams doing the inconceivable: transposing Gene Rodenberry’s beloved creation into the 21st century and giving it a gleamingly cool polish, reminding the world that it was a sci-fi franchise capable of being very much in vogue. Star Trek (2009) was that rare species of Hollywood blockbuster: a CGI-laden romp with a sense of both humour and nostalgia, but also a teeming desire to not merely rehash old ground but deliver to contemporary fans a fresh and exuberant spin on a dusty format. This was done by incorporating an ingeniously assembled alternate reality, allowing Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, to freely break away from continuity restrictions whilst upholding certain relevant story elements and, more importantly, fan favour. Four years later Abrams returns to the directorial chair – before propelling off to a galaxy far, far away for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII (2015) – for belated sequel Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), which sees him reteaming with Orci and Kurtzman (alongside producer Damon Lindelof, given a writers credit) and embarking on a decidedly more ambitious yet flat and impersonal adventure amongst the stars.

Following up a largely superior first outing, Abrams et al have the unenviable task of trying to replicate its winning formula, which is something Into Darkness excels at through the preservation of a formula grounded by the seamless balancing of action and humour – however much it maintains the first’s schizophrenic attention span, where spectacle monotonously interrupts drama. The other jewel in its imperfect crown is the return of a cast who, rapidly and memorably, grew into their characters first time round. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto’s perfectly rendered Captain James T Kirk and Spock, respectively, are complemented by the epic, echoey bombast of Benedict Cumberbatch’s awesome villain John Harrison, an ex-Starfleet agent with a malevolent penchant for destruction. His villain forms the overarching driving force for the plot, which sees the crew of the Enterprise battling a particularly overwhelming form of terrorism directed all too close to home.

The preservation and indeed wanton fascination with the relationship between Spock and Kirk is the backbone of the franchise, and Abrams fully understands the bearing this has over whatever story he’s telling within this universe. The moral issues between the two protagonists are both engaging and integral to the emotional core of the film, and they cast a formidable shadow over the generic demands of the genre. An opening sequence – set amidst a perilous observation mission on a primitive, volcano-encumbered planet – has ostensibly little to do with the overarching narrative, yet the decisions made by hot-blooded Kirk (his ship’s heart) and rule despot Spock (it’s logic-motivated head) continue to reverberate throughout the succeeding action. This paves the way for the further fleshing out of the traits and principles that clearly define the large cast of characters, allowing even smaller roles the opportunity to once again leave their mark (though Zoe Saldana’s sultry Lieutenant Uhura is unfortunately pushed to the margins, yet fortunately not made as redundant as newcomer Alice Eve is after a glaringly useless underwear shot).

A blatant refusal to part with the frameworks of Star Trek ultimately robs Into Darkness of overall expansion and implants a sense of arrested development. The outcome of Spock and Kirk’s once again tried and tested friendship is copied almost verbatim from its predecessor, which forced into focus the humane notion that, regardless of race, temperament or perspective, loyalty will out. This is also true of the finale of the opening chapter in this hopefully long-lasting revamp, which saw Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Prime – cleverly interwoven into the current mythology – intoning the show’s phrase by outlining the Enterprise’s five-year mission to seek out and explore new worlds, life forms and ultimately go, boldly, where no man has gone before. It left on the promise of further exotic adventures fuelled by inquisition, yet it’s ultimately a promise that Star Trek Into Darkness – with its backwards-facing elaboration and duplicated nature – struggles to keep.

Review: Upstream Colour

upstreamcolour

(Shane Carruth, 2013)

(Originally posted at The Hollywood News)

Synopsis: Kris (Amy Seimetz), a dynamic career woman, becomes the apparently random latest victim of an unnamed serial assailant, who induces her into a disorientated state of compliance whilst embezzling her wealth and lifestyle. Later, Kris meets fellow victim Jeff (Carruth) and they both attempt to uncover their splintered existence in an unforgiving modern world.

After wowing the 2004 Sundance Film Festival with the bracing, experimental and philosophically wrought cult brainteaser Primer, American cinematic wunderkind Shane Carruth makes a triumphantly belated return with his sophomore directorial oddity Upstream Colour. Just as his first project saw the filmmaker shunning established filmic principles in his approach to implementing the science fiction genre, Carruth’s latest is more of an innate symphony of ostracism sung from a deeply idiosyncratic voice; an ambitious, inventive and hypnotically contemplative entity wholly beyond compare.

It is within Carruth’s lack of empathy for, and simultaneous defiance of, narrative codes and genre conventions that make his latest one of the most challenging and markedly unclassifiable films to emanate from American independent cinema in quite some time. It also makes descriptions of its sprawling and cerebral storyline all the more harder to comprehend, though to disregard such an occasionally perplexing and bold refusal to pander to customary audience-pleasing formula would be a disservice to both the film and one’s take on its intellectually meditative outlooks. Here Carruth strikes a densely layered balance between the dissemination of his high-concept plot and overarching concerns, augmented as they are by an indelible passion for humanity, and creates a work of meticulous and methodically oblique beauty.

Far removed from the recognisability of stiff three-act storytelling structures, Carruth dons a formless manner in an attempt to simultaneously subvert and celebrate filmic formulations, using his work to spawn an all-encompassing confluence of guises, tones and rhythms. Upstream Colour is that most peculiar of hybrids; one that succinctly unifies shades of the crime thriller with an organically rendered and lyrical story exploring love and what it is to be in a relationship reinforced by an ingrained sense of dependency. The baffling, clinically observed catalyst for Kris and Jeff’s disorientation – which could be labelled as a destructive form of forced existential espionage – needs no clear explanations because Carruth spends the first half of the film wrapped in its own visually coiffured enigma, using performance and dreamlike tangents to blur the need for answers. This is extended into the film’s melodic second tier as the protagonists’ search for resolutions is reflected within the microscopic world of nature, parasites and pig farming, as is the ethereal presence of a hushed foley artist capturing the silent world through a microphone.

Similar to fellow distinct American auteur Terrence Malick, who imbues every facet of his latter-day craft with visual and aural ruminations on religion, Carruth – who also wrote, produced and edited the film whilst producing the ambient sound design and remarkable cinematography – shuns dramatic methods in favour of weaving together an astonishing symphonic sound palette with stark imagery. This creates a poignant insight into the all-pervasive interconnections of humanity unimpeded by dialogue or action; a seamless echoing of the stasis of life in continuous flux that, whilst arranged in a methodical but unknowable style, is distinctly cinematic storytelling handled by a learned practitioner.

Robot & Frank

robot-frank-gardening

(Jake Schreier, 2012)
(Originally posted at Take One)

Taking a bold and refreshing step in new directions within a genre clogged up with overt derivatives, Jake Schreier’s confident debut Robot & Frank (2012) is a dutiful shot in the arm to science fiction that calmly addresses a range of prescient topics without overcrowding them with easy answers or flashy aesthetics.

Set in ‘the near future’, Frank Langella plays the eponymous Frank, an aging cat burglar edging closer to the cusps of senile dementia. Living alone in a cluttered house, Frank spends his days thieving petty items from local gift shops and frequenting the local library where his friend Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) works, casually showing evidence that he is losing grasp of his memory. Despite the occasional visits from his son Hunter (James Marsden) and video calls from daughter Madison (Liv Tyler), Frank lives a life of grouchy solitude and pines for his productive days as a jewel thief.

Noticing that the lack of company affects his general wellbeing, Hunter invests in a robot butler (brought to life by the sultry voice of Peter Sarsgaard, channelling Kevin Spacey’s desolate tones in Duncan Jones’s Moon (2009)) to aid his father’s day-to-day existence; effortlessly carrying out the chores Frank cares little for. Immediately sceptical of this new addition, Frank – a product and cheerleader of the analogue charms of the old world – quickly begins to confide in his newfound friend, realising that its job to obey its master’s orders can be manipulated to his advantage. Conspiring to help save the library’s acquisition by a wealthy socialite, who looks to convert its dusty interiors to a more modernised community, Frank hatches a plan that requires his trusty robot to help in a series of burglaries, teaching it skills that are new to its artificial intelligence (lock picking, etc.) whilst forming a dependable friendship that is tested somewhat by the local law enforcement hot on their trail.

Marrying creative, and sometimes laugh out loud, humour with a subtle projection of an entirely plausible near future, Robot & Frank is a clever and outwardly light film that peers in on current issues regarding humanity’s embrace and  – to some extent – reliance on robots and technology, concerns that are not particularly overstressed by the relatively thin premise. Embedded amongst a leafy upstate New York, the story (a first-time feature from the clearly intelligent writer Christopher D. Ford) is stimulating through its existence as a sci-fi with only delicate and understated affiliations with genre conventions. Transcending CGI and action driven subplots (two of many elements all too comfortably associated with the genre), Schreier and Ford’s film contains only whiffs of technological advancement; a zippy vehicle here and a sleek robot there are features only drip-fed throughout an unidentified world that is almost familiar to a contemporary audience.

Much like the plot to switch the library from a house of knowledge to an augmented simulation of reality, the film calls to mind the current rivalry between books and the increasingly popular Kindle, with the latter doing away with and replacing the physical act of turning pages and actually buying and appreciating the written word. This is similarly mirrored by the character of the robot as, by and large, a replacement for humanity and the processes of memory; its computerised functions make for an interesting duality in conjunction with Frank’s ailing mental health.

Though not without its faults, namely the all too rosy finale, Robot & Frank is a film full of merits, and is both a poignant depiction of ageing and loneliness and sci-fi that refuses to give in to the normalities of the genre.

Review: Robot & Frank

(Jake Schreier, 2012)

Taking a bold and refreshing step in new directions within a genre clogged up with overt derivativeness, Jake Schreier’s confident debut Robot & Frank is a dutiful shot in the arm to science fiction that calmly addresses a range of prescient topics without overcrowding them with easy answers or flashy aesthetics. (Continue reading here)