Director: Neill Blomkamp
Just as in South African director Neill Blomkamp's previous film, District 9, Elysium is a full-throttle political allegory passing itself off as an action blockbuster. Unlike that surprise 2009 hit however, his latest suffers from an overly familiar premise that rather blunts the impact of its satirical ire.
It's set in a 22nd century where the wealthiest have escaped a diseased and ravaged planet Earth and taken refuge on a space station, Elysium, where they live as a perfect society, without crime or illness.
Meanwhile in a poverty-ridden Los Angeles, ex-criminal Max (Matt Damon) has dreamed of making it to Elysium since he was a boy. He's one of the lucky few with a job, working in a factory where he ends up exposed to radiation. Given a dire prognosis, and with only a few days to live, he must somehow get himself to Elysium to be cured.
Jodie Foster rather overdoes it as the defence secretary on Elysium, with ambitions to be president. Add in Sharlto Copley (star of District 9) as a psychotic mercenary working for Foster and you've a potent recipe for a meaty action film with smarts, albeit one that wants to be all things to all audiences, but ends up coming across as grandiose instead of fully engaging.
But it's given enough shine that while it never quite gels, it's still thoroughly watchable. It's a world that looks much like ours, only the cops and civil servants are robots, brought to life with visual effects that are understated and immersive. Elysium itself is gloriously conceived, a computer-generated Eden spinning in orbit.
Though set 140 years in the future, as with most sci-fi worth its salt Elysium attempts to shine a light on our current societal ills.
It's not subtle, but it's frequently effective, and its satirical targets are obvious but potent; the richest controlling the resources, healthcare and immigration being front and centre, as the sick on Earth try to smuggle themselves to Elysium for healing.
But for all its highfalutin ambitions it's a fairly well played out bit of storytelling, with a plot that regularly echoes Total Recall. Robocop is in there too, and a bit of Wall-E, and if you saw Tom Cruise in Oblivion a few months ago, you'll have a good idea where it's all headed.
And like Cruise's character in that film, Damon's Max lacks that compelling factor to turn him into a truly memorable leading man in the way that Copley was in District 9.
That may be easier to overlook if it were a better action film rather than just an OK one. But Blomkamp deploys a close-in, shaky-cam approach that means most scenes come across as confusing and low on coherence. The midsection is a big chase, the finale a big fight, but while there's some fine weaponry on display, it never quite delivers the rush that would turn it into something lasting.
Still, for all Elysium's flaws, an intelligent and ambitious action film is a better proposition than a dumb and generic one any day of the week.
See it if you liked: District 9, Oblivion, Total Recall
We're the Millers (15, 110 mins)
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
When a small time pot dealer (Jason Sudeikis) is robbed, in order to pay back his boss he agrees to bring back a shipment of drugs from Mexico.
Thinking the easiest way to get away with this is to look like an average American family, he enlists the help of his neighbours (Jennifer Aniston's stripper and a pair of teenagers played by Will Poulter and Emma Roberts) to go to Mexico and bring the drugs back in a mobile home.
Getting back into the States turns out to be the easy part in this predictably crude comedy, as breakdowns and gangsters on their tail foil their plan, even if the film never really addresses the question of why, once they get back over the border, they even need to stay together at all.
Still, it's not too bad once it gets going, a little weird in parts but not too overcooked, and though it takes a long time to get through the incredibly obvious developments and on to the forced sentiment, there are a few moderate chuckles along the way. That's largely thanks to Aniston, who still undoubtedly has comedy chops, so even though she's not brilliantly served by the script, in her subtle expressions and reaction shots, she's able to rise above it.
See it if you liked: Horrible Bosses, The Hangover, R.V.
Lovelace (18, 93 mins)
Directors: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
There's a niggling sense of familiarity for much of this biopic of Linda Lovelace, the star of Deep Throat, the adult movie that became a massive box office hit and pop culture phenomenon in the 1970s.
Dealing in the usual biographical details and incidents in lieu of genuinely worthwhile dramatic content, it pales in comparison to the similar Boogie Nights, which told largely the same story but with infinitely more interesting characters.
Amanda Seyfried is well cast and believably naive if a touch bland as Linda, with only colourful supporting players like Hank Azaria and Bobby Cannavale lifting it during a troublesome first half, while an unrecognisable Sharon Stone is outstanding as Linda's strict mother.
But just when it looks like the same old thing, where we're shown the massive success of Deep Throat from the public's perspective, a nice flip of the structure takes us back to focus on events from behind closed doors and a central relationship between Linda and her abusive husband (Peter Sarsgaard) that was never quite compelling enough becomes the core of a much better film that's ultimately the story of a woman finding self-acceptance.
See it if you liked: Boogie Nights, The Look of Love, Behind the Candelabra
What Maisie Knew (15, 99 mins)
Directors: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Somewhat surprisingly adapted from an 1897 novel by Henry James, this splendid indie drama transplants the story to modern day New York where 7-year-old Maisie is caught in the middle of the bitter divorce between her rock star mother (Julianne Moore) and frequently absent British father (Steve Coogan).
Anchored by an assured turn from youngster Onata Aprile, this is a film of first rate characterisations that reveal the deep-rooted flaws of all too human people, as Maisie is bumped around between her selfish parents and their new partners, with fine performances from everyone involved and a real emotional kick making What Maisie Knew one of the year's strongest dramas.
See it if you liked: Kramer Vs Kramer, The Squid and the Whale
Morrissey 25: Live (PG, 92 mins)
Director: James Russell
Former Smiths frontman Morrissey's shows at a cosy LA venue are brought to us as a straight-up live concert. On stage it's an energetic affair, beautifully filmed and edited, and Morrissey gives an impassioned performance that sees him deified by the crowd. But the ceaseless ploughing through song after song without pause or context means it's mainly for fans.
Jurassic Park (PG, 121 mins)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg's groundbreaking blockbuster celebrates its 20th anniversary with a cinema re-release, and it remains as fresh and spectacular to this day as it ever was. As Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, Laura Dern and some kids are chased around a nature reserve where Richard Attenborough's mad, occasionally Scottish, billionaire has genetically engineered various dinosaurs, Spielberg delivers scenes of excitement and awe unrivalled in modern cinema. It's just a shame you can only see it in 3D.