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Monday, August 17, 2009

REVIEW - "District 9" (2009)

Just when I thought this weak summer had nothing more to offer. Of course, when I say “more,” what I mean is something with substance and a show of talent. “District 9,” at the very minimum, is an illustration of new talent oozing with relevance. The masses are correct: Neill Blomkamp is a name to watch for. If “District 9” is any indication, Blomkamp’s future looks very promising indeed.

The film opens with a brief history about the aliens reaching Earth. Labeled as workers with missing leadership, the aliens are “given” a home on Earth outside Johannesburg, South Africa. After twenty-years in their slum home of District 9, MMU, the aliens’ governing body on Earth, decides to relocate them further away from the city. During the process a strange alien container infects relocation operative Wikus van der Merwe; the event spirals him in to the greatest fears of his life and the revelation of the aliens’ salvation.

“District 9” sets itself up as a docudrama, but continues with linear storytelling filling the gaps between the camcorder and security footage. What sounds like a pathetic attempt at innovation actually joins the two styles seamlessly. For those in fear of keeping up with jarring camera instability, fear not. The documentary style is steadier than most Michael Bay films and while the cinematography doesn’t have the cleverness of “Cloverfield’s” handheld shots it frames everything believably for every any given situation. (Security recordings, handheld interviews, P.O.V. shots.) Unfortunately Blomkamp’s photography slowly seeps in to fast summer action shooting, sporting all the cliché framing and filters we’ve become accustomed to when watching a soldier walk in slow motion.

But enough with my film-student wanking of Blomkamp’s intriguing style. Is the movie any good outside a photography major’s knowledge? “District 9” is, without a doubt, everything that makes up good science fiction: Originality, spectacle, well-developed characters and a large mirror reflecting a critique on the human condition. Like a long episode of “The Twilight Zone,” “District 9” provokes wonder and promotes thought.

Wikus, who begins as the most despicable offenders of human rights, (even though these creatures aren’t exactly human) discovers the humanity in these aliens when he’s forced to hide among them. Though his infection curiously reeks of Jeff Goldblum in “The Fly,” it’s (thankfully) used as an outlet to learn more about the visitors. Befriending a rather lovable alien, Christopher, Wikus’s selfish needs grow in to a compassion that inspires the type of aggression needed to fight a world littered with prejudice and poverty.

Set in South America, a country that triggers all the images “District 9” produces, it’s interesting to feel concern for these otherworldly creatures in their cramped slums. The footage of aliens facing street executions and torture is a vague reminder of events that happen throughout that particular continent. As Wikus begins to feel for these creatures there’s a bitterness left with me. Is the film’s reality so powerful because there’s only a handful of Wikus in the audience? If it at all? I feel as if the irony behind caring for these fictional creatures was purposefully left by Blomkamp to be pondered over. If this idea goes over some people’s heads then at least the subtext of valuing all individuals is left loud and clear.

After struggling with the images and characters that grace the film’s stronger messages, the epic ends with what we expect in modern science fiction: A climatic blowout of visuals and explosions. While the CGI was already impressive throughout, topping the rather poorly aged renders of Gollum and Jar-Jar Binks, the finale flexes all the right muscles to keep the thrills sharp and the multiplexes’ arm rests in business. Although it could use a little editing, “District 9” delivers in ways very few summer flicks did this year. (If any.)

It’s not that “District 9” is a perfect movie or even the greatest science fiction story ever. It’s the fact it clings to what little originality is left in Hollywood and pushes it to the forefront of mainstream ideas. Connecting with age-old human issues and using it to create a very engrossing world, “District 9” is haunting and stimulating. But if you really want a one word sum-up of "District 9," here it goes: "Cool!" Blomkamp has some interesting potential. I look forward to his future endeavors.

*** out of ****

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Legendary Pictures to Produce New Godzilla?

And let the rumors begin. A little fly on the wall has released news that Legendary Pictures (the company partially responsible for the little movie known as "The Dark Knight") is in negotiations to produce a brand new Godzilla film. Is this true?

When an insider asked Toho if this report had any legitimacy to it, they simply responded, "No comment." And added, "We're currently shopping around..." It sounds like Toho would have denied this outright if it weren't true. They're good at doing that. Even if it's true, however, this project is still a long way off as negotiations will no doubt take awhile if Toho is wanting to avoid another disaster like the 1998 movie.

There's also a fly on the wall spitting something about Weta hoping to do the effects work for Godzilla. For those keeping tabs on visual effects, that's the company that ditched out "The Lord of the Rings" beasts. But lets ignore that rumor based on the fact we don't even know if this movie is being made yet.

So why should I, a lifelong Godzilla fan, be excited about this? Am I not afraid another mistake like the 1998 debacle will be born? A few things to divert that fear: First, we've reached a point in film making where studios, crew members...etc... are actually paying attention to what fans want and thus, to avoid scrutiny, stay close to the source material. Why would it be much different for this new Godzilla, especially after the source-straying movie from 1998 bombed with both critics and fans?

The next fear stopper is simply the charm that some franchises have today. "Star Trek," "Iron Man," and yes, even that "Transformers" seem to have a spark audiences really take too and embrace. Whether they should or not is a different discussion altogether. But I can see a Godzilla movie, if done right, that can grab that same attention from audiences and receive enough love to continue as a franchise.

And finally, it's been nearly five years since the last Godzilla outing "Godzilla: Final Wars." Being use to the franchise's long list of movies, it feels uncomfortable to not add more titles on a regular basis. Similar to the James Bond franchise, you just can't go too long with out adding another Godzilla title. In short, I hope this Legendary Pictures deal moves forward and I hope I, and my fellow G-Fans, receive the American Godzilla movie we dreamt of over a decade ago.

Poll - Movie You're Looking Forward to the Most Next Year

Surprised as I am, I'm also a little delighted. I would have guessed "Iron Man 2" had this poll in the bag by a long shot, but I suppose with the excitement surrounding the recent Harry Potter flick this makes sense. On the other hand... It's not like a fat amount of people vote on these sorry things. And the poll results are:

Iron Man 2 - 1 Vote (16%)

Alice in Wonderland - 0 Votes (0%)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 - 4 Votes (65%)

Tron Legacy - 1 Vote (16%)

Boondock Saints 2 - 0 Votes (0%)

Toy Story 3 - 0 Votes (0%)

Other - 0 Votes (0%)

Harry Potter and the Extended Editions

Don't jump up and down too high. While there will in fact be extended editions of the Harry Potter films released soon (presumably on DVD, but a special theatrical release isn't out of the question) the fact is there really aren't that many deleted scenes to insert per movie.

Although I would love to see a "Lord of the Rings Extended Edition" length Harry Potter series, it's not exactly going to be that big of a cut. Simply a handful of scenes, or extended scenes, will likely be littered throughout the series and passed off as longer versions.

So, I ask the Potter fans, is it worth the extra dough? The answer depends on what type of fan you are I suppose. The "extended" cut I'm most interested in is the fifth film, (my favorite entry) although I feel heavy additions to the sixth film could enhance it greatly. Perhaps there's more to these extended cuts than we think? Wait and see.

Can "Wolverine 2" Save the X-Men?

I'm not sure why I keep holding out hope for the X-Men franchise. If Bryan Singer's approachable vision of people with extraordinary gifts wasn't destroyed in "X-Men: The Last Stand," then it was finished off in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." But yet, Fox is throwing us a glimmer of hope! Oh what could it be? Tom Rothman's resignation? Sorry. That's just false hope.

Oscar winning scribe Christopher McQuarrie is selected to adapt the Japanese saga of Wolverine's life. McQuarrie was an uncredited writer of the first "X-Men" which was mostly the work of David Hayter. So the good news is he knows how to write the characters properly.

But what oh what can become of a script, or film, when Tom Rothman is looking over the staff's shoulder? The first "Wolverine" looked promising, but left nothing notable outside its pretty looking trailer. Besides, we've seen Oscar caliber talent fail at franchise material before. (I'm looking at you John Logan. "Gladiator" was great, but "Star Trek: Nemesis" needed some work.)

Okay, so we have a credible writer with some experience in the franchise. That's good. What else? Brace yourself for a long reach. Bryan Singer, director of "X-Men" and "X2: X-Men United," has expressed some interest in returning to the franchise. Seeing as he and McQuarrie have worked before ("X-Men," "The Usual Suspects") would it be out of bounds to hope Singer could return? Furthermore, can Fox bury the hatchet with Singer?

He left years ago to direct "Superman Returns" for Warner Brothers, leaving Fox high and dry with the unfinished X-Men franchise. There were some unprofessional grumblings that Singer's future with Fox was over, but is that really true? Can Fox reel back in the man who birthed them the cash cow? Are they willing?

If all of these pieces were to come together I could see a very promising continuation of the X-Men franchise. Until then fingers remain crossed.

Selene's Return?

For a franchise I thought was dead it sure is making a quick comeback. Not only is there news of a new Underworld movie, but of a new trilogy planned complete with the 3D gimmick.

Okay. Big deal. 3D. Do I care if Kate Beckinsale isn't in it? Nope. Good thing the plan is to bring her back then, eh? In what is arguably her most famous role (Selene), Kate Beckinsale is rumored to return to the franchise in what would undoubtedly be a sequel to the action packed "Underworld Evolution." No, it's not confirmed yet, but if the folks at Lakeshore Entertainment are serious about extending the franchise, it's time to bring back the player that made it the semi-cult brand it is.

Years ago, after "Evolution's" release, Beckinsale declared she wouldn't dawn the vampire teeth and tight leather to play Selene again. If Sean Connery has taught us anything, it's never say never. Money talks and Beckinsale's schedule doesn't exactly look like it's full of dazzling projects.

My take? The "Underworld" franchise is something that took me awhile to warm up to. At first I was put off by it, but looking back at the original two films I've found it easy to enjoy the light entertainment supplied by standout characters and over-the-top action. Lets not bash it for what it's not. They're fun films with a sleek, sexy style and they work. Besides, there aren't too many good vampire flicks out there-- For what it's worth I'll take Beckinsale's Selene over the nauseating players in "Twilight," or "30 Days of Night" any day.