The battle between the haves and the have-nots is fruitful territory for contemporary science fiction in a world where we look with fear at a widening gap between the two and a struggle for scarce resources. Director Neill Blomkamp, who made his feature debut with the outstanding low-budget District 9, has clearly moved up in the world, and now commands the talents of A-list stars Matt Damon and Jodie Foster as the two poles of poverty and privilege that collide when a factory worker (Damon) on a post-apocalyptic Earth decides to hijack his way onto a manmade space habitat called Elysium, a paradise of plenty in which people live lives of privilege and ease. In District 9, Blomkamp did a remarkable job of dealing with issues of race inequality in South Africa in an enjoyable, occasionally funny and finally quite powerful piece of science fiction drama that blows the pants off star vehicles such as Will Smith’s After Earth and Tom Cruise’s Oblivion. It can only be hoped that the presence of Damon and Foster, and the significantly bigger budget Blomkamp now has to work with, hasn’t hampered his creativity.
At Any Price
Fathers and sons, a life on the land versus a stab at the big-time, family farms and big agriculture, At Any Price takes on a slew of big, powerful issues, and comes up with a multi-layered, nuanced and deeply flawed creation that may be a little ambitious for its own good, but cannot but startle you with the breadth of its vision, its willingness to push new ground and its deep roots in American culture. This is a feature debut for writer-director Ramin Bahrani, who elicits an outstanding performance from veteran Dennis Quaid, and takes pretty boy Zac Efron and pushes him right out of his comfort zone, where he proves he has the chops to do much more than High School Musical. The conflict between Henry Whipple, an ambitious farmer struggling to build his empire, and his son Dean, who wants off the land and into the seat of a NASCAR racer, comes to a head when Henry’s business is put under scrutiny of a high profile government investigation. Both father and son stand to lose everything, and the price of survival could make or break the family.
Saving Mother Robot (瑪德2號)
Sentimental oddball comedy about a single parent family in which Vivian Hsu (徐若瑄) plays mum to Hsiao Hu, her 8-year-old boy who is forced through loneliness to create a rich fantasy life in which he believes his mother is an alien. In order to makes ends meet, Hsu’s character does any jobs that come her way, so that she is constantly exhausted, and even takes on being an assistant to a photographer. The photographer is played by Huang Xiaoming (黃曉明), who has his own rich fantasy life, which builds on Hsiao Hu’s as a way of creating a quirky kind of humor, saturated with sentiment, and leading to a denouement in which Huang’s character needs to somehow save this dysfunctional single parent family. Characters, plot and emotions seem largely dissociated from real life, but there is much for fans of Hsu and Huang to enjoy.
Like Someone in Love
A Japanese-language drama film written and directed by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, starring Rin Takanashi, Tadashi Okuno and Ryo Kase. The story about a young prostitute who develops an unexpected connection with a widower over a period of two days is oblique and enigmatic, with its pleasure to be found in the disjunction between the needs and expectations of the three main characters, which fail to intersect as expected. Kiarostami creates an atmosphere of tense uncertainty that is both frustrating and intriguing, and portrays characters that are both profoundly ordinary but whose lives reveal existential truths. His style has been compared to that of Yasujiro Ozu, with the same leisurely pace that focuses audience attention on details.