On a busy August movie weekend, the future looks bleak and beautiful.
"Elysium" is a smart political allegory disguised as a well-constructed science-fiction thriller. Matt Damon stars as a factory worker in a future Los Angeles where most people live amid the poverty, pollution and disease – but the richest of the rich have relocated to the luxurious orbiting space station, Elysium. Damon is desperate to get up to Elysium, to find the medical treatment that will save his life after a lethal dose of radiation, so he takes a criminal job to heist some computer data that Elysium's ruthless defense secretary, Madame Delacourt (Jodie Foster, with clenched teeth and wavering accent), will protect at all costs. Writer-director Neill Blomkamp, who mixed sci-fi with social commentary in his debut "District 9," paints an alternately sleek and gritty view of the future, and ratchets up the tension with some strong action sequences.
For the kiddies, Disney offers "Planes," a sequel-of-sorts to the "Cars" franchise that wasn't made by Disney's Pixar division. It shows. The cliched "follow your dreams" storyline, this time involving a plucky cropduster (voiced by Dane Cook) who wants to be a racing plane, is predictable and tonally all over the map. There's also an egregious bit of product placement (for American Airlines) that illustrates how Disney thought of this as a moneymaker and not as a movie.