Posts Tagged ‘indie

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

04
Feb
09

Movie Review: The Wrestler

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Yes, it’s true: the fans are fake.

 

Stars Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood. Directed by Darren Aronofsky.

 

The movie begins with Quiet Riot’s “Bang Your Head” while the camera pans over newsclippings and flyers of Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Rourke), a wrestler from the 80’s Golden Age of Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Rowdy Roddy Piper and let’s not forget, announcer Mean Gene Oakland. “The Ram’s” career hit its peak with a showdown with wrestler The Ayatollah (Ernest Miller).

 

Cut to “20 years later”. Randy is a broken down being. He takes wrestling gigs when he can find them and “supplements” his income by picking up part-time hours at a local grocery store in New Jersey. When he’s locked out of his trailer park home he resides in his Dodge Ram van. His one friend in town is Pam (Tomei), a stripper who goes by the name Cassidy and who has some feelings for him.

 

And we’re inducted into the world of wrestling through Randy. It’s not all body slams, drop kicks, and rivalries; all the wrestlers meet up before the matches and decide who will do what when the time comes. We see Randy’s drug addiction, prescription and otherwise. He hides small razor bits under the tape around his wrist so at the appropriate time he can cut his face, the blood running down and adding to the “performance.” After one particular match he “drops like a brick” and awakens in a hospital, the recipient of a heart bypass and a doctor’s warning of death if he wrestles again.

 

This starts him attempting to change his life. He spends a day with his daughter, a girl who he hasn’t been around for during his entire career. He tries proposing to “Cassidy” who can’t decide to love him or leave him. And he tries operating behind the meat counter at the grocery store. All these things bring him back to square one: he is a wrestler. With the upcoming 20 year rematch with The Ayatollah, Randy has to make a decision:

 

The main point of the movie is: arrested development. Randy is still doing the wrestling circuit and poppin’ painkillers and other drugs to keep going. He listens to Motley Crue, Whitesnake, Poison and every other hair metal band you can think of. His Nintendo only plays a game of him versus the Ayatollah. He carts around his videotapes and has a Polaroid camera. As he looks around at other wrestlers/ friends, he sees their bodies breaking down (wheelchairs, colostomy bags). He’s lonely, tired, and depressed, and doesn’t know how to do anything that he hasn’t done for the past twenty years.

 

Cassidy is also dealing with arrested development. She’s a stripper in a small town in New Jersey. She has a nine-year-old kid. She wants to do better for her life, but isn’t sure how that will happen. She is cautious in regards to having a relationship. As she looks around she notices that the guys aren’t looking at her much anymore. Is Randy the guy that she needs?

 

I will give credit to Aronofsky for this movie. While I have not been a fan of his previous efforts, this movie was on a level I wouldn’t have believed that he could achieve. He made the film feel like a documentary film, which added to how “real” the character felt. Aronofsky made Rourke disappear into the role, and the film was better for it. It’s a sad, lonely, depressing, surprisingly comical at moments, head-bangin’, body-slammin’ drama.

 

And now I’m going back to working on my standing moonsault, chair shot, and el kabong.

 

My grade: A-

And for those who haven’t seen the trailer:

 

 

And a treat from The Onion:

 

 

29
Dec
08

Is Kevin Smith Still Relevant?

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Writer, director, and comic book artist Kevin Smith came into the Entertainment Scene in 1994 releasing his first film, “Clerks,” about a Quick Stop convenience store employee who was dealing with relationship problems while having problems with customers. Using credit cards and money borrowed from his family, as well as shooting at the Quick Stop where Smith worked during nights and in-between customers, the movie was an epitome of the Independent Films of the Nineties and traveled the film festival circuit before being picked up by Miramax, which gave him money to shoot additional scenes as well as pay for music rights (which cost more than the film itself).

 

The next year Smith received a bigger budget and made “Mallrats,” a movie about comic book-loving slackers who are dumped by their girlfriends and seek refuge at the local mall. This film featured a few people from “Clerks,” most notably the duo Jay and Silent Bob (Jay Mewes and Kevin Smith). The film’s budget was $6 million and brought in $2.1 million; a nearly critical failure for Smith. The best thing to come from this movie was that it was Jason Lee’s debut, who went on to do more Kevin Smith movies as well as the film “Almost Famous” and the hit NBC series, “My Name is Earl.”

 

Smith redeemed himself with the follow-up, “Chasing Amy” (1997) Ben Affleck starred as Holden McNeil, a comic book artist who falls in love with a lesbian comic book artist played by Joey Lauren Adams. The movie was a critical hit for Smith, being better received than “Clerks” and especially “Mallrats.”

 

From that point Kevin Smith climbed the filmmaking ladder with follow-up hit, “Dogma.” Smith had gained more “star power” with casting Linda Fiorentino, Alan Rickman, Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, George Carlin, Janeane Garofalo, and Alanis Morissette. Made on a budget of $10 million, it earned most of it back within its first weekend ($8 mil). Controversy from the Catholic Church surrounded it, possibly driving more people to go and watch it.

 

With the characters Jay and Silent Bob, as well as the inter-weaving of stories through Smith’s “View Askew Universe,” it was only fitting that Smith’s next film was, “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” following the two convenient store misanthropes as they head to Hollywood to stop production of a Bluntman and Chronic movie. Smith has called it a “$15 million inside joke,” making it for the fans and to tie-up any loose-ends of the “View Askew Universe.”

 

And with the finalization of “Jay and Silent Bob…” Smith was closing a chapter on what made him famous: slacker characters and “dick and fart jokes.” As quoted by Ben Affleck: “Why in God’s name would I wanna keep writing about characters whose central preoccupations are weed and dick and fart jokes? I mean, ya gotta grow man. Don’t you ever want anything more for yourself?” Kevin Smith did, and walked away from the characters in View Askew.

 

Three years later Smith returned with “Jersey Girl.” Most the fanbase, reared on “Jay and Silent Bob” as well as Smith’s dialog (read: cussing and weed, dick, and fart jokes) turned away. The reasons differed, but most of the reasons stem from Ben Affleck’s relationship with Jennifer Lopez. To his credit, Smith made a good film. Not great, and not what he had built his career on, but it showed that Smith’s “Peter Pan” syndrome was well behind him.

 

Or so it seemed.

 

Sans any good ideas, Smith returned to his roots: “Clerks.” Cashing in on “sequel-itis,” “Clerks II” showed slackers Dante and Randall having to find jobs after the Quick Stop catches on fire. Here Smith returns to what made him popular: the View Askew Universe of characters. While the film did make its money, “Clerks II” was a far cry from Smith’s previous VA Universe ventures.

 

Which brings me to “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” Greenlit by the Weinsteins before Smith had even written the script, “Zack and Miri” follows as two lifelong friends, strapped for cash, make a porno. Reportedly, this was based on Smith’s experiences in making “Clerks.”

 

And it’s this stagnation that makes me question Kevin Smith as a filmmaker. Ever since Smith has “struck out on his own” from the View Askew-verse, his road has been worse than a flat tire forced across speedbumps. I will give him credit for “growing up” and making “Jersey Girl,” and accept why it wasn’t as popular as his previous entries. However, he has mined the “Clerks” shaft all the way to China. He made a “Clerks” animated series, released a special “Clerks X” DVD with commentaries, original version, etc., and made a sequel not even as good as the original (which, in the world of his characters, requires chastising). Harlan Ellison once said that, “Gene Roddenberry had only one good idea in his lifetime, and that was ‘Star Trek.’” It seems that “Clerks” may be Smith’s “one good idea.”

 

If I had one thing to say to Mr. Smith, it would be, “Yes, I know that you LOVE ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Indiana Jones.’ We GOT that. Can you please move on?” I don’t mind the occasional reference to the series, I love them myself, but how many references to Spielberg and Lucas do you need? For God’s sake man, we get it!” And you can only keep profane language, comic book references, weed, dick, and fart jokes going for so long.

 

So, I’m opening this up for discussion. Is Kevin Smith still relevant? Is he still a filmmaker to be admired, or are his fifteen minutes up? Give me your thoughts.

 

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05
Dec
08

Movies on DVD Review: The Bank Job

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Bank heist movie, Seventies style.

 

Starring Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Stephen Campbell Moore, Daniel Mays, James Faulkner, and Richard Lintern. Directed by Roger Donaldson

 

Terry Leather (Statham) owns a small car dealership/ garage in London. Constantly harassed by thugs he owes money to, opportunity knocks in the form of Martine Love (Burrows). Love lets him in on a foolproof score: the Lloyds Bank on Baker Street. Terry rounds up his friends Dave (Mays) and Martine’s former lover Kevin (Moore) to help him plan it out, along with “proper” Englishman Guy Singer (Faulkner) and on lookout with a walkie-talkie, Eddie (Michael Jobson). What Terry doesn’t know is that the bank job is a setup being orchestrated by Tim Everett (Lintern), a member of MI5 (which is akin to CIA covert operatives) which doesn’t want to be connected to the crime. MI5 want to get a series of photographs being held in a safe deposit box at the Lloyds Bank by Michael X, the British version of Malcolm X. When a ham radio operator listens in on the walkie-talkie conversations and alerts police, events take a turn. When Terry realizes the objective of the caper (the photos of a Princess in a ménage a trios) wasn’t just money or jewels, everyone is at risk. The heat is turned up when a porn producer’s “real” ledger is being held by the group, unbeknownst to them. Terry must try to keep the group together and keep from being killed by the porn producer’s thugs, the cops, MI5, and the guys he owes money to.

 

Honestly, I didn’t think I would like this movie as much as I did. For the more “Americanized” movie watcher, it’ll take a bit to get into London circa 1971. My only experience with British gangster movies is “Snatch,” “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,” and “Get Carter” and this is an interesting addition to the genre. Playing more as a drama than action/adventure, the film is a little slow on the setup of the principal characters. However, once the job is pulled off everything shifts into high gear and you’ll want to stay to the end to find out how it all works out.

 

With it being “based on a true story,” is it all true? The movie does a great job at suspending disbelief. In reality, the bank job was a success. A group of people did rent out a shop and tunneled under it to break into the lockbox area of a bank .A ham radio operator did intercept and record the calls, notifying the police. While four people were supposedly sentenced to twelve years none of the money was ever recovered, the “take” being valued at over $5 million. The rest is speculation. Were the newspapers given a D-note, telling them not to talk about the robbery for the purposes of National Security? Was MI5 really afraid of Michael X and the pictures he had? Couldn’t they have just went into the bank and retrieved them? One of the biggest mysteries is that Michael X’s “file” is closed until 2054; most criminals’ records stay closed for 25 years, spies for 100. Guess we won’t know until then.

 

Overall, a good British caper movie.

 

My grade: a recommended B

27
Oct
08

Movie Review: Choke

 

 

A feel-good sex addict movie.

 

Starring Sam Rockwell, Brad William Henke, Anjelica Huston, Kelly MacDonald, and Clark Gregg. Written for the screen and directed by Clark Gregg. Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk.

 

Funny. Sad. Poignant. It wins!

 

Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk (esteemed author of “Fight Club”), Sam Rockwell plays sex addict and “historical interpreter” Victor Mancini. Victor has a fellow sex addict and historical interpreter roommate Denny (Henke), a big guy who’s into masturbation and finds a girlfriend; stripper Cherry Daiquiri (Gillian Jacobs). His mother Ida (Huston) is at a nursing home and whenever Victor arrives, she believes that he’s one of her many lawyers. To pay for her stay, Victor goes to restaurants and chokes on food, thus eliciting sympathy and monetary compensation. Life is sad and lonely for Victor.

 

It all changes when he meets his mother’s new doctor, Paige Marshall (MacDonald). She tells him there’s an experimental way to save his mother from dementia, and to do it they must do it. This causes problems with Victor because he’s about sex, not relationships. Speaking of relationships, Victor is trying to find out from his mom who his father really is and the secrets are in a diary she wrote in Italian. With Denny moving out, falling in love with Paige, and the possibility that he may be a direct descendant of Christ, it all becomes too much.

 

For those wanting to compare this with, “Fight Club,” the only traits this movie shares with it is that the character is sad, depressed, lonely, and basically living on the bottom rung. And this person also has relationship issues. That’s about it. Dotted through this film are pieces to explain to us how Victor came to be. His mother went from place-to-place, Victor was often put in foster care, and there is a more than a hint that Victor was taken by Ida from another couple.

 

This is one of the most honest movies in regards to portraying relationships and sexuality. As I’ve stated earlier: funny, brutal, messed-up, but honest.

 

Kudos to Clark Gregg who not only wrote and directed this (based on the novel), but had a part as Lord High Charlie. Funny.

 

My grade: B

12
Sep
08

Movie Review: Transsiberian

 

 

One solid ride from Beijing to Moscow.

 

Starring Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Eduardo Noriega, Ben Kingsley, and Kate Mara. Directed by Brad Anderson

 

Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer are Roy and Jessie, two Americans in Beijing who are helping disadvantaged kids in China through Roy’s church. Roy is affable, happy-go-lucky, and dopey; he’s a manager of a hardware store who loves trains, which leads them to taking the Transsiberia Express. Jessie we find out wandered into Roy’s life via a DUI accident and spends her time perfecting amateur photography. Both love each other, but are having their problems.

 

Enter Carlos and Abby (Noriega and Mara), two drifters who stay in the same cabin as Roy and Jessie. Carlos says that Abby is a teacher in Korea, but little else of what she or he does. As the film progresses each of the characters aren’t quite what they seem and try figuring the others out. Abby is just a drifter, Carlos is a drug mule, Jessie is dealing with her inner demons, and Roy is oblivious to the seedy side of people.

 

What follows is Jessie and Roy becoming separated, with Carlos and Abby staying with her. After an altercation with Carlos, Jessie finally reunites with Roy and is introduced to Grinko (Kingsley), a Russian Narcotics Detective who knows more about Carlos and Abby than he lets on. With the altercation becoming the main Plot Point the film hinges on, lies beget more lies and Roy and Jessie are soon on the run for their lives.

 

The incredible thing about this film is that it hangs on the acting of Emily Mortimer; I have no clue as to how close her real life may have been to the source material, but I never stopped believing her character. Woody Harrelson was subdued, Kingsley did a good job, and I haven’t seen Noriega in anything since “Open Your Eyes.”

 

If you, dear reader, detect even an ounce of ambiguity to the description, it’s because there’s so much about this film that I can’t/won’t tell you because it would destroy going to see this film. Brad Anderson is my one of my favorite psychological thriller directors (next to Christopher Nolan) and with films such as “Session 9” and “The Machinist” under his belt, this is in the same ballpark. Other critics have denounced the beginning as being slow but hey, not all movies have to “hit the ground running.” Plus the buildup in the movie is incredible. And the ending, while happy, still left my nerves unsettled for the rest of the night.

 

One fun thriller with “Strangers on a Train,” and “Rope” influence thrown in. Hitchcock would be proud.

 

My grade: A