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Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

District 9 opens with an overview of the situation at hand.  Years prior, a spaceship full of half-starved, desperate aliens coasted to a stop over Johannesburg, South Africa.   Presented with over a million aliens to care for, the South African government contracts with a corporation called MNU to set up facilities for the aliens.   Before long, the refugee camp becomes a permanent slum.   Human/alien tensions rise, crime soars, and anti-alien laws are enacted.

Given the awful nickname of “prawn”, the aliens are corralled into District 9, where gangsters prey on their poverty and desperation and MNU schemes to harness the aliens’ weaponry for their own ends.

District 9 utilizes the style of a documentary and introduces us to Wikus van der Merwe, an affable kind of guy with a great wife and a father-in-law in charge at MNU.   Wikus is the sort of guy who is the perpetually cheery, socially stunted sort of coworker you don’t like to get stuck in an elevator with.   He’s charged with getting eviction papers signed by all aliens before they are moved to District 10, a new “settlement” for the aliens.  While investigating an alien dwelling, Wikus is sprayed with some sort of black substance, which causes him to begin changing into a prawn.   He is taken into MNU custody, escapes, and runs to District 9 where he begins to seek answers about his condition.   Christopher, an alien with a small child, tells him the black substance will power the ship hovering over Johannesburg and they must get it back.   If they get it back, Wikus can be cured.

My main concern with District 9 was that the CGI would be distracting, as is so often the case, but the prawns are beautifully rendered and look as realistic as it gets, to be quite honest.   Wikus’ transformation from man to prawn is equally realistic, as if he’s Brundlefly without the exuberance at his transformation.

In fact, District 9 is one hell of a finely crafted sci-fi movie.  Wikus van der Merwe is horrifically, realistically human; Wikus condescends to the prawns even when he needs their help, constantly is looking out for his own interests and is only willing to make a change (albeit a slow, agonizing change) after witnessing the horrors that MNU, and by proxy, he has participated in.   Wikus is an incredibly flawed, at times unsympathetic character, but Neil Blomkamp boosts the character with the portrayal that all Wikus really wants is to get home to his wife, who he loves beyond measure.

District 9 is an unlikely Hollywood film.  Made in South Africa, featuring unknown actors and featuring a cast of humans who are the very worst kind of human and aliens that are probably the most human, it’s the kind of movie that got legs somewhere and it’s good that it did.   Sharlto Copley does a hell of a job breathing life into Wikus and Neil Blomkamp shoots the whole thing beautifully.   It may be weird to say, but my favorite character in the whole shebang is Christopher’s young son, who may be the most adorable alien ever put to film.

A very solid entry into the science fiction genre, I would imagine you’ll see District 9 on many “top sci-fi movies” lists in the future.  If we were running on the star rating here, I’d give it 4/5.

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People seem to really like Michael Moore or loathe him with fiery, passionate intensity.   Therefore, if you hate Michael Moore and you don’t agree with his politics, Capitalism:  A Love Story is not going to be the movie for you.   Quoth Cher Horowitz, “Duh”.

Moore examines the financial bailout of Wall Street and the ensuing consequences for everyday Americans while decrying the evil natures of capitalism.

Capitalism:  A Love Story begins with an old educational reel about the fall of the Roman Empire.   From there, Moore launches into an attack on Ronald Reagan, vilifying Reagan’s moves to help destabilize the unions and take care of his corporate buddies.   The overall theme here is the exploitation and suffering of the working classes at the hands of the uber-rich.   Moore makes an appeal for change, but I’m afraid that the message will only go unheeded.   Moore also posits that capitalism is an evil system that can never stop growing, eating, and consuming at the expense of the everyday folks that help the capitalist machine run.   He has a pretty solid argument.

The problem is that rich folks abusing the lower classes and profiting off their suffering is nothing new.  Perhaps we Americans thought it was impossible in the Land of the American Dream.    It’s not a unique or new event in human history, and we humans do have an uncanny ability to fail to learn from our mistakes.

Moore never clearly outlines an alternative to capitalism.   The entire documentary is spent ruminating on how capitalism has ruined our society, but offering no sort of salient point on anything else.    On one outing to Washington, DC, Moore stops by to see the Constitution to verify that there is no law declaring America to be a capitalist society.   He’s correct; there’s not, but there’s no further ideas offered up.

If Moore captures anything the best on film, it’s the pain and suffering of those steamrolled by the current economic crisis.  A family losing their farm must suffer the indignity of cleaning out their own foreclosed house to receive a $1,000.00 check they desperately need.   Another family lives in the back of a truck and others sob about life insurance policies taken out on deceased family members, because those workers were worth more to their employers dead than alive.   Catholic priests are interviewed who slam capitalism as “evil” and Moore discusses the concept and prevailing idea that capitalism and Christianity can go hand-in-hand.    Most of the free-market propaganda Moore finds he attempts to dissect and for the most part, it’s a well-reasoned critique.

Capitalism:  A Love Story is not a bad documentary at all.  Moore points out some very genuine flaws in our political and economic system.   The film is a warning and a sign post to change, and in typical fashion, experts are interviewed espousing this particular mindset.   It is a deeply saddening film, one that I think really is important to watch, given the current economic climate and important in the sense that it has given a voice to some people who had none before.

But long after the DVD was over, after I had watched this twice, and after I had time to really think about it, it does seem strange that someone so reticent to find capitalism anything but morally reprehensible would essentially use the capitalist system to make a profit off this particular movie.

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This was not the best introduction to the Pang Brothers.

I really felt at a loss to describe Bangkok Dangerous.   The plot and ending are so loaded with cliches, it’s almost as though the screenwriters constructed a movie solely out of tired, over-used devices.   The directing is adequate, although the blue filter applied to some of the scenes gets old fast.   The primary problem with Bangkok Dangerous is Nicolas Cage.

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I have a bit of a soft-spot for Cage.   My theory is that Cage got his Academy Award and then set about purposefully destroying all critical acclaim he had.   I think Cage makes bad movies on purpose.   This, however, doesn’t explain the horrible performance he turns in.

Normally, Cage likes to overact.  I can appreciate this.  It’s broad, it’s bold and it takes guts to act like that, even if it turns out to be ridiculous.

This one, however, Cage doesn’t act like much of anything.   He stares at fixed points, his face unmoving and mask-like, while he monotonously narrates unnecessary voice-overs.   Since he plays an assassin, you’d think he’d want to blend into his surroundings, but his hair is so bad you wonder when Nic Cage stopped bathing and stopped cutting his hair.   Said frightening hairdo is the most interesting thing about his entire character.  Considering this is Nicolas Cage, he of the “why is it burned?  WHY IS IT BURNED?!” fame, I am not quite sure what was going on.  Did someone give Nic elephant tranquilizers?  Was he under constant hypnosis?   Did he forget he was filming a movie?

I don’t know.   It does feel depressing that Cage is so not there that creating facial expressions seems to cause him real pain.  What sort of crazy mixed up world is this?

I watched this movie twice.  It felt like an eternity.   I’d take a pleasant, friendly visit from some Cenobites over a rewatch.

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Four Rooms is … an interesting experience.

Four Rooms is not for everyone.    Made up of four segments directed by four different directors, there’s no major story other than following a bellboy, Ted, as he works his first night at a rundown hotel.   Each segment has a different flavor, a different style but it also makes an uneven viewing experience.

The Missing Ingredient is the first and the weakest of the segments.   A coven of witches camps in the honeymoon suite and they are desperate to resurrect their goddess.   One of them has forgotten a much-needed ingredient that she can get from Ted.   You’d think a piece about a coven of witches would be interesting but The Missing Ingredient can’t even be awful, just boring.   It has a bit of inspired stunt casting in Madonna, but she’s not any good here either.

The Wrong Man centers on a man and a woman in one of the rooms who may be either playing at some sort of sexual role-playing game or…not, and Ted’s not really sure which is which and what is what.   All he can tell is that the man’s got a gun and is pointing it at him.   Most of this one relies on Tim Roth and Jennifer Beals using some precision timing and while it has a few laughs, the short wears out its welcome quickly.

Robert Rodriguez’s The Misbehavers is easily the best of all of them.   A husband and wife pay Ted $500 to watch their children while they’re gone for the night.  The kids turn out to be pint-sized, foul-mouthed tyrants who give Ted no end of grief.   By the time their parents return, they have managed to set the room on fire, discover a dead hooker in the bed, stab Ted with a syringe, smoke, drink and generally destroy all manner of property and drive Ted nearly to the brink of insanity.   It’s as though Rodriguez melded his Spy Kids sensibilities with the same sick humor in Planet Terror … just before all that.

The Man From Hollywood is directed by Tarantino and it’s got an awful lot of Tarantino trademarks in it.   What sinks The Man From Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino casting himself.   His character is Jimmie Dimmick from Pulp Fiction dialed up to eleven.   Tarantino’s fine in small doses (a la Desperado) but here it’s insufferable, obnoxious and asks way too much of the viewer to be patient as Tarantino manically bumbles along.   The Man From Hollywood is about a bet that really doesn’t end well and it feels longer than it actually is.

So what’s the guilty pleasure in Four Rooms?  Tim Roth, hands down.   Roth combines silly, well-timed comedy with slapstick and comes out with a neurotic bellboy who’s over the top but still believable.  This is a guy poorly equipped to handle the night at this hotel and reacts badly to most of the insane situations in which he ends up.

Roth is the connection between the four pieces, and even when Four Rooms is bad you hope you can still keep watching for Tim Roth and what he might do next.   I suspect The Missing Ingredient was placed first solely because it’s just not that good, and Roth’s performance is the one good thing about it.   Four Rooms would have been atrocious without him, primarily because it runs as a movie without any real sense of direction.  In fact, Four Rooms feels like four people got together on a lark to have some fun, not present stories and characters they had any investment in, so Roth has to bear a heavy weight in making things work.   He does, as best he can, and he’s the best part of it all.

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The Coslow family reside in the quiet town of Tarker’s Mills.   Marty and Jane Coslow are brother and sister, with Jane bearing a heavier load than most siblings, since she’s tasked by her parents to constantly assist Marty, who is paralyzed and requires a wheelchair.   Jane and Marty’s normal sibling rivalry carries with it an undercurrent of resentment, since Jane feels her parents give Marty special treatment.

Also popping up is the gregarious Uncle Red, the kind of guy who blows into town and out again, the only constant presence in his life being a bottle of booze.   It is he that encourages Marty to be a “normal” kid, gifting him with fireworks and what is essentially a motorcycle modified to fit a wheelchair instead of a saddle for Marty’s amusement.   He adores his nephew, in particular, but Red is the kind of guy who doesn’t take anything seriously at all.

Tarker’s Mills begins to experience grisly murders, something which begins to change the Coslaw family.   At first, the town believes the murders are accidents, but after a young boy is ripped to shreds, the town mobilizes into a vicious mob to seek some old-fashioned vigilante justice, only to have some of the mob attacked by the werewolf.

Marty’s new motorcycle, dubbed Silver Bullet thanks to Uncle Red, is shiny and fast, which is why Marty sneaks out in the middle of the night to ride on the back roads of Tarker’s Mills.  Naturally, he encounters the werewolf and only survives by shooting one of Red’s procured fireworks into the eye of the werewolf.  When he shares this information with Jane, they hunt for a townsperson with only one eye.

The werewolf turns out to be the most unlikely suspect – the local preacher, Lester Lowe, who is both tortured by his conscience and rationalizes his own set of murders.   Marty and Jane band together with the reluctant Uncle Red to fight the menace to Tarker’s Mills.

If you view Silver Bullet against the collected adaptations of Stephen King’s works, it falls  far to the bottom of the list.  It lacks a lot of the emotional punch of King’s other adaptations and the special effects are a bit dismal, even if you view them in the context of 1985, when the movie was made.

The King book this is based on is Cycle of the Werewolf, one that I’ve never read, but I was inspired to revisit Silver Bullet after finally finishing King’s newest book, Under the Dome.   The batshit crazy preacher of Under the Dome reminded me so strongly of Silver Bullet‘s Lester Lowe that I moved the movie to the top of my Netflix queue.   In an odd, sad sense of timing, I received Silver Bullet around the same time that Corey Haim, who played Marty Coslaw, died.  In many ways, the movie has some movement and power solely off the performances of Haim, who played sweet and innocent so very well, and Gary Busey as fun-loving Uncle Red.

Silver Bullet is flat and not very sharp; I have better memories of it from my childhood than it deserves.   It’s important to note Stephen King has been a large part of my life and was a large part of my childhood – quite a few of my childhood fears were shaped and molded by Mr. King himself.   I still shudder remembering parts of It, The Tommyknockers, The Stand and The Mist – either their film adaptations or the books themselves.   Stephen King has been sort of synonymous with horror for much of my life and I think it’s worth it to point out that I was never scared by a damn thing in Silver Bullet.  Perhaps the most lasting image is Lowe in his eyepatch, and that’s about it.

It’s a film that doesn’t carry much weight that I only viewed for the nostalgia factor, really, and I don’t know that I could wholeheartedly recommend it unless you’re longing for a movie from your childhood.  I can’t comment on how faithfully they adapted King’s book since I never read Cycle of the Werewolf, but hell, give me The Langoliers any day over this.

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Real Genius begins with Mitch Taylor, a high school whiz kid interested in lasers, being recruited to the prestigious Pacific Tech by a Professor Holloway.  Holloway is secretly interested in using Taylor to develop a laser that the CIA can use to incinerate people from space.   Weak, right?   (This was the stuff of Reagan’s nightmares, right?)   Taylor’s thrilled just to be at Pacific Tech, but he hits the books hard much to the displeasure of his roommate Chris (played by Val Kilmer).    Chris plays Obi-Wan to Mitch’s Luke, teaching him that life isn’t all about solving problems, while Holloway puts the heat on the two to finish the laser.

When they finally figure out what Holloway has planned for their little experiment, the two recruit other students to help them sink the laser before it can do any real damage.

William Atherton plays the slimy professor keeping the students in the dark.   He also played Richard Peck, the jackass EPA agent in Ghostbusters and the jerk reporter willing to sell out anyone for a scoop in Die Hard.   Thus, Atherton seems to have a propensity for playing assholes we love to hate.  (I bet he gets stopped a lot with comments from people:  “You’re the asshole from Ghostbusters!”   “You’re the asshole from Die Hard!”  I wonder if people ever bring this one up.)  He doesn’t disappoint with Real Genius, as he plays the smarmy professor playing all the angles just right.

Kilmer’s funny enough as Chris Knight, and while the movie isn’t great, it has a sort of “real life meets a touch of wishful thinking” kind of sweetness ordinarily found in John Hughes movies.   … Or I could’ve just been mistaken by looking at all the ’80’s-tastic fashion.  Some of the characters are a bit one-dimensional, but Real Genius makes the whole experience fun.    The ending in particular is worth the price of admission.   Unrealistic?   Slightly zany?   It’s hilarious and the kind of thing that can only happen in the movies – and I mean that in the very best way.

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Let’s leave the bitching about the deviation from source material aside, shall we?

That sounds odd coming from me given my untempered rage at X-Men Origins: Wolverine and my deep longing for Deadpool to be as close to the comics as possible, but let’s face it:   Hellblazer (the comic series that Constantine was based on) was going to be changed, like it or not,  given the religious subject matter and John Constantine’s actual behavior in the comics.

Constantine begins with the suicide of Isabel, a troubled young woman who believes she can see angels and demons.   Her twin sister Angela is a detective who is convinced her devoutly Catholic sister could never contemplate an act that would sentence Isabel to a lifetime in hell.   Angela tracks down a reluctant John Constantine, a bitter exorcist who loathes the hand that life dealt him.   It’s only when Constantine gets an inkling of what’s really at stake that he jumps into action.

I don’t find Constantine to be guilty at all; I really enjoy it, for what it’s worth.   (I went to see it in the theater by myself, which is a rare happening given that I hate seeing movies by myself.)   My annoying and not at all charming bias for Keanu Reeves may be showing, but he didn’t do a half-bad job at playing a world-weary, cancer-stricken jerk with a capacity for redemption.    Rachel Weisz does a fairly good job given the fact save for a scene where she comes back from a short jaunt to hell, but who’s counting?    And Shia LaBeouf pops up as an annoying assistant to Constantine, pre-Transformers.   Shit, Gavin Rossdale – Mr. Stefani and frontman of Bush, who I was fond of in my junior high days – makes an appearance as a villain.   Who would have thought, huh?

Constantine does ascribe a very Catholic view of things to its universe.   The special effects aren’t wonderful, but they’re not terrible either; the story’s fairly bland at times but hey, you get Peter Stormare as the Devil!  (It’s worth it to watch just for Stormare’s appearance.  No lie.)

If we’re chalking it up to guilty pleasures, I’d say that Keanu Reeves’ performance is enjoyable in an unironic way, which makes it difficult for some people to admit.    I’d say that it’s fun while being ridiculous; that Tilda Swinton is made of awesome and was perfect casting as an androgynous angel is a good pleasure point, if you will.   The twisty-looking plot isn’t all that twisty; if you sat through a couple of Catholic masses and a few episodes of Murder, She Wrote you’ll see the ending coming but the cast makes it fun while you’re waiting for the climax.

All in all, a nice escapist movie for a rainy weekend, I think.

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