Text Reviews Theatrical Review

Theatrical Review: District 9

Aliens have publicly landed on Earth and they’ve been with us for the last 20 years…They’ve mysteriously “landed” in Johannesburg, South Africa (their ship remains afloat above the city) and they’ve proven not to be a threat and more destitute than anything else. The aliens are evacuated from their ship and put into a refugee camp outside of Johannesburg called District 9 where life is hard for them and about to get harder. Over time, the aliens, derisively called Prawns by humans have become a major annoyance to the people of the city, and now it’s in the hands of a Haliburton-type of corporation to move them from the city to a location some 200 kilometers away, where they’ll be less of a concern to the people of Johannesburg. This corporation, called MNU who has more plans than just the displacement of the aliens, puts this task into the hands of a rising bureaucrat named Wikus Van De Merve who’s life is about to take the turn for the worse…

And that’s the basic premise to District 9 the new movie from director Neill Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson and it’s one incredible ride from start to finish.

Now parts of this premise are certainly nothing new in movies, with the basic idea being one that was handled years ago in Alien Nation, but District 9 ups it’s ante considerably by placing it in a location that’s just as alien to American viewers in South Africa, and griming it up dramatically. It’s story is told in both a mock documentary style and straight-up narrative that blend together pretty well as the events unfold and it doesn’t really let loose for a moment.

There’s a lot of back story established though there are some holes, but I don’t necessarily think those holes are there for lack of an effort, but more for getting the main thrust of this story moving forward. Or maybe Blomkamp is trusting his audience to sort of fill in the holes themselves (these holes being the language barrier between human and alien and aspects of a lack of involvement from other nations of the world here- but with a 20 year past of being on Earth, there are certainly ways to fill those holes in yourself). Regardless, they don’t hurt how this moves, and discussion of these things makes for great talk after the experience is done, and believe me, there’s room for this property to move in all sorts of ways beyond what’s here…

It’s really incredibly well made and well-paced. Jackson’s visual effects team WETA has gone the extra mile here and there’s no seams showing, the visual effects of District 9 are so far, for me, the best I’ve seen in movies this year, and one can only hope this will be remembered come Oscar time… and for maybe more than just the effects…

… what I’m speaking of in particular is the performance of actor Sharlto Copley as Wikus Van De Merve which is just loaded with all sorts of nuance. He starts this thing as almost a Steve Carell-type of movie character (sort of thinking of The Office’s Michael Scott as a serious character) who just grows in leaps and bounds as events happen to him and unfold for him along the way. He’s not a typical movie “good guy” (nothing in the movie is typical really at all) and there’s shades of grey here at the start that don’t necessarily put you in a rooting mood for him. But it unfolds pretty naturally and we’re with Wikus as this goes and by it’s end, you can’t help but really feel for the poor guy. Big kudos to Blomkamp and Jackson for not using any name actors here, as it obviously adds further to the realism of the piece.

As I said at the top, this is just one hell of a ride, and the whole thing will spur a lot of discussion afterwards, particularly with genre fans. They’ve certainly left this open for a sequel, and I have to say I hope this does well enough for this to happen. It’s R-rated and it certainly earns that R in it’s graphic violence, so fair warning for those that might be a little squeamish out there. It borrows from a lot of other movies, but puts it together in a way that’s fresher than anything else out there. This one made a great impression on me, and is certainly right up there with The Hurt Locker as one of the best things I’ve seen this year. Don’t wait for video on this one, catch it in the theatres… highly, highly recommended.

Text Reviews Theatrical Review

Theatrical Review: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

A devastating new weapon has fallen into the clutches of a sinister terror force and now it’s up to an elite multi-national fighting force to save us all.

That’s the basic plot of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the next film designed to get the fans of The Transformers and the latest film from director Stephen Sommers.

I have to say that when I was younger (but older than the G.I. Joe fan base) and this form of G.I. Joe toy came out, I just wasn’t interested at the time. I thought the cartoons were big toy commercials and the comics were the ass-end of Marvel Comics (except when artist Michael Golden was involved here and there, and then I wanted to at least see the book). But I have to say, when I first saw the trailer for the film, I thought it looked like it could be a fun ride (which I’ve found out is certainly counter to fans of this stuff, with a lot of the comments really hating the trailer and especially the mechanized suits involved with it- I don’t get that, but there you go) and so I was at least interested in seeing the movie…

And I’ve always liked Stephen Sommers’ movies– oh sure, they’re not the greatest things ever committed to film, but just some fun brainless and harmless stuff that was a good diversion for a couple of hours. In the end, that’s what I thought of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra though also I was fairly indifferent to it as well. It was a pretty ride with lots of big-ass stuff being thrown at you on the screen, but with little or no emotional investment, at least for me. But let me say, if I was 10 years old and seeing this for the first time, I’d probably love it to death.

Now the thing is, I thought anyway, for fans of this stuff though, they’d probably just eat it up. I mean, they loved Transformers so they should probably love this as well, but then admittedly, I’m about as far removed from that fanbase as can be, so hell, I don’t know for sure. I mean it was always, at least from what I know, this particular group of good guy toys against this particular group of bad guy toys in a never-ending cycle, and near as I can tell, the movie delivers that…

My own biggest criticisms is that I thought the effects for the most part were pretty obvious looking (but near as I can tell that’s a directorial choice, and it doesn’t really hurt the movie) and that the lead character on the G.I. Joe side, Duke, played by Channing Tatum, is pretty much stiff as a board. There’s never any real risk of danger to anyone here in a way that made me give a damn, but then I don’t know if that was exactly the purpose of it, I don’t think it was. I’ve seen one review where at the end of it, he said to go see The Hurt Locker instead, and I just sort of think that’s a wrong direction to go in when writing a review of this movie, trying to compare it to something that’s super-real, when this is obviously an adolescent fantasy that’s trying to stay true to it’s roots (or at least near as I can tell).

Sommers has a big and pretty cast for this movie, the above-mentioned Channing Tatum, Sienna Miller (who it;s kid of nice to see in something as opposed to reading incessant gossip stuff on her), Dennis Quaid, Ray Park, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Christopher Eccleston, Marlon Wayans, Rachel Nichols amongst others. and Sommers even manages to get “his guys” in some of the parts, like Brendan Fraser, Arnold Vosloo and in particular Kevin J. O’Connor. Nobody’s going to win an Oscar for this and really I don’t think anyone really cares, they all fill their parts well at least physically (and I happen to think Sienna Miller looks way better as a brunette in glasses than she does a blonde) and I guess they’re doing just what Sommers wants them to do. There was one point where I was watching this and thinking of the motivations of one of the characters, the Baroness, and applying to her some stuff that Martin Scorsese has said about simplistic character motivations just bugging him, and then I just had to laugh because I was going there for this movie, which of course was just ridiculous (much like the above comment from the reviewer who said you’re better off seeing The Hurt Locker instead).

As I said, if I was 10 years old, I’d probably think this was the coolest thing in the world. I tend to think that if I was a fan of G.I. Joe in the day, I’d probably eat it up as well. For me, it was a fun visual diversion for a couple of hours, though in the end I still didn’t care one way or the other when it came to a human element in the film, but then I hardly think that matters here…