Archive for August 19th, 2009

19
Aug
09

Movie Review: District 9

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Take some apartheid, mix in some aliens…

Starring Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, and Vanessa Haywood. Directed by Neil Blomkamp

It’s the best sci-fi I’ve seen in a while (better than “Moon”) and I’ll see if I can impress upon you what the movie is.

The story: Twenty years ago an alien spaceship came to Earth and hovered over Johannesburg. Not D.C., L.A., NYC, or even Chi-town, but Johannesburg, South Africa. The ship just hovered there and after 3 months the government made contact by sending a team into the ship where they found refugees. The government segregates the aliens into “District 9” and place signs all around telling people to contact authorities if they’re spotted outside their area. Meanwhile the district turns into a black market slum with the aliens (called “prawn”) scavenging for food and supplies through garbage, being serviced by prostitutes, and controlled by a paralyzed warlord named Mumbo. They trade with Mumbo for the one Earth commodity they crave: cat food. Mumbo also provides them with mutilated cow meat.

Fast forward to now. South Africa is fed up with housing the prawn and dealing with them. MNU, the government agency dealing with the prawn, has been given a new assignment: relocate them to District 10, a much smaller encampment. Heading up the group is our protagonist Wilkus Van de Merwe. Wilkus is an affable doofus who got the job because his beautiful wife happens to be the daughter of the guy running MNU. With his head stuck naively somewhere in corporate policy, Wilkus goes to move ‘em aliens.

Doing that isn’t as easy as advertised. The prawn are contrary, lying, refusing to go, causing complications because they’re supposed to be given 24 hours before eviction, etc. Wilkus finds a lot of weapons to collect and a helluva lot of hostility towards humans. Go figure. When he finds a canister with alien writing on it he pushes a button while inspecting it instantly sprays himself in the face with black “fluid.”

Now Wilkus is infected. He coughs and his nose runs black blood. After collapsing during a surprise birthday party he’s hospitalized when it’s found that… his hand has just became like the prawn! He’s quickly sent to underground MNU where they conduct experiments on him; namely, having him fire the prawn weaponry (the weapons only work biologically, so human DNA won’t operate them). He’s strapped against a metal closure and zapped with electricity, forcing him to operate their guns. Wilkus makes his escape and heads to District 9.

Wilkus’s body is changing and he’s beginning to hate it; he scarfs down cat food only to vomit it up moments later. In hiding he teams up with Christopher Johnson, a prawn he previously tried to evict. Johnson tells him that he can be changed back but first he needs to get the “fluid” back and that involves a suicide-mission to MNU’s underground labs. To do this they’re gonna need weapons which they get back from Mumbo, who vows his revenge. What follows is action, adventure, explosions, and the question: what does being ‘human’ really mean?

First off, get rid of the hype. This IS a good movie and you might leave the theater with the feeling that someone or something punched you in the stomach. It’s not this decade’s next “Dark City”: it’s something different. For that, it’s worth the hype.

But it’s NOT the be-all end-all, greatest thing since sliced bread. It’s a first film and there are some flaws. The transitions in Wilkus’s character toward the end might be plausible, but seem a little “sped up.” How can humans understand the aliens’ language? Or vice-versa? Also, some of the beginning CG is a little “iffy” of believability.

These things aside, I do recommend seeing “District 9.” I liked it more than “Moon” (but recommend it as well). With this being Blomkamp’s first feature movie, I’ll be looking out for what he does next.

My grade: B

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19
Aug
09

Movie Review: Moon

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I think I’m a clone now…

Starring Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey as the voice of GERTY. Directed by Duncan Jones

NOTA BENE: If you want to be surprised by this movie, you may wanna skip this review.

Story: Sam Bell (Rockwell) lives on the moon working for Lunar Industries. It’s 2 weeks until his contract is up. He’s ready to see his wife and child again and be on Earth. He begins having hallucinations. GERTY, the computer running the facility, only wants to help him. Bell takes a lunar rover/tank (I don’t know how else to explain it) out to one of the harvesters that convert lunar rock into high-grade oxygen for the planet. Having another hallucination he crashes into the harvester and passes out.

He awakes in the lunar base’s medical lab. GERTY tells him that he’s been in an accident. As he walks around he swears that he encounters another version of himself. Eventually he makes contact with this “other” Sam Bell and finds that they are both clones. Digging deeper both Sam Bells find out more than they wanted to know about what’s going on as well as the price paid for being temporarily human.

I liked the movie and wouldn’t mind owning it, but it does take a while to get into. Bringing myself up on scifi from Asimov to Bradbury to Ellison to Matheson, clones are often a plot device. I liked how this treated the idea of “what happens when a clone realizes what he/she is, and they want more than that out of their life?” I’m reminded of the episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” where Riker (Frakes) found that during an engagement when he was beaming off a planet part of his DNA got caught into a transporter mishap and somehow a copy of him existed on the planet. The rest of the episode raised the question of who was more entitled to be “Riker.”

And that’s something I got out of the movie: the boundless questions. I’m not going to spoil the ending for you but it harkens back to the premise: is a clone of a living, breathing human being considered a human being? Or property by the ones who created him?

Well done indie scifi flick.

My grade: B

19
Aug
09

In Passing… John Hughes (1950-2009)

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Director, producer, and writer John Hughes passed away on August 6, 2009. Hughes was known for successful 80’s teen comedies such as “Pretty In Pink,” “Sixteen Candles,” “Weird Science,” and “The Breakfast Club,” as well as “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” “Uncle Buck,” and “Home Alone.” Born in Lansing, Michigan he spent time shooting small films in Northbrook, IL. In 1970 he took a job as an ad copywriter in Chicago. Continuing to write he sent in a story called “Vacation ‘58” which became the basis for “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” His breakout film was “Sixteen Candles,” which won praise and followed by “Breakfast Club,” “Weird Science,” and “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.” Not wanting to be “the teen comedy guy,” he directed “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” “Uncle Buck,” and “Home Alone.” His last was “Curly Sue,” in 1991. Since then he dropped off the Hollywood radar, movie back to Chicago and eventually going into farming. Using the pen name Edmond Dantes (think “Count of Monte Cristo”) he wrote the screenplays for “Maid in Manhattan” and “Drillbit Taylor.” He died from a heart attack at the age of 59.

 

Thoughts and prayers for his family and friends.

 

Check out his IMDB page at:

 

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000455/

19
Aug
09

In Passing… Walter Cronkite (1916-2009)

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Anchorman, journalist, and broadcaster Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr. passed away on July 17, 2009. Cronkite was born in Missouri but at the age of 10 moved to Texas. He became part of the Boy Scouts and later edited his high school and college newspaper. In 1935 he dropped out and became a radio announce in Oklahoma City. From there he joined the United Press in 1937 and covered World War II, becoming one of eight journalists selected to fly along with a “bombing raid.” He also covered the Nuremberg Trials. In 1950 he joined CBS and worked as in anchor in various capacities. April 1962 Cronkite took over for Douglas Edwards and for the next 19 years became head anchorman for the CBS Evening News, reporting on the Kennedy Assassination, Vietnam War, Watergate, the Space program, and the Iran Hostage Crisis. Dan Rather took his spot as he left but continued to be politically active in journalism and other media. He passed away cerebral vascular disease at the age of 92 years.

 

Thoughts and prayers to his family and friends.

 

For more information, check out his Wiki page at:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Cronkite