Tuesday, August 18, 2009

District 9 - Taking the science out of Science Fiction

District 9 review

I was actually kind of excited about this movie. Peter Jackson's name is attached to it, though at the end of the day, I doubt he wrote more than a check for it. On the surface, the story seems to be a 'realistic' depiction of what it would be like if a shipload of docile alien refugees one day landed on our doorstep. Indeed, the first ten minutes of the film are just that, providing first-person testimonials about this new 'social problem'. The aliens apparently arrive here malnourished and helpless. With no place to put them, we created a sort of refugee camp for them, like we do, called District 9. All this, by the way is happening in South Africa for some ungodly reason. Not that South Africa plays any part in the film at all, the majority of the film takes place in a slum that could have been shot in Arizona. Fast forward twenty years and now the aliens, numbering almost two million, are still living happily in their little slum. Only the slum is too close to the city and the powers that be want it shut down. So begins an attempt to move all the aliens to a new slum (District 10), away from the city.

In charge of this move, is a hapless bureaucrat named Wikus (pronounced Vikus), played by absolute unknown, Sharlto Copley. Wikus is the sort of marginal character that usually gets eaten by a T-Rex in the first act of a Jurassic Park movie. Yet, here he is not just the main character, but the only one! While going door to door evicting Prawns (a derogatory name for the aliens), Wikus finds some special extra-terrestrial dildo that squirts in his face and gradually begins to turn him into... yes, a Prawn. For American audiences, prawns are what South Africans call shrimp (something the film takes for granted we know). So begins two hours of nonsense that does everything it can to take the 'science' out of science fiction. First of all, there is no scientific precedence for any species to suddenly change its DNA and become another species. Genetic evolution is something that occurs over thousands of years, not twenty minutes. Unless the aliens themselves are that way because this jizz turned them into these monsters. Which means, that they might actually resemble humans in their natural state. But none of this is explored. No, Wikus just has a very bad case of the Jeff Goldblums. The first thing to 'turn' is Wikus' hand, which becomes a sort of reptilian claw. But here let's take a pause to examine the aliens themselves.

The Prawns are depicted as more animal than human. They live like pigs, their social graces would make Klingons cringe and their motivation does not seem to extend beyond their obsession with cat food. Another unexplained phenomenon. Like, what's in cat food that can't be found in dog food? Indeed, they trade all their weapons and technology for the stuff. Which brings us to the next point. They seem like aimless, stupid creatures yet somehow they made their way over here, not a small technological feat in itself. So they are actually far more intelligent than we are. Huh?! Their weapons, mind you, are so superior to ours that we are led to believe that if only one of them decided to arm himself and go on the warpath, it would take an army to stop him. Yet they live in pitiful squalor and do everything we tell them to do and just basically bend over every time a human raises his foot. WTF?! It's hard to have any respect for these Prawns. Why did they make these weapons in the first place if all they're good for is trading for cat food? But get this, only the Prawns can use their own weapons which require some sort of genetic signature just to press the trigger. Another technological mystery. Apparently humans in real life are now developing firearms with fingerprint locks but this would assume some sort of biological interface and these weapons are anything but biological. Anyway, this brings us back to Wikus, who with his new Prawn claw, now finds himself able to use their weapons. This, of course, makes him tres valuable and pretty soon he finds himself on an operating table, ready to be dissected for some completely unexplained reason. Wikus, with his newly acquired super-strength, breaks out of the lab and goes into hiding in District 9.

The rest of the plot revolves around re-acquiring the E.T. dildo as it apparently is the key to the Prawns leaving Earth. To go where is also a mystery. Presumably they will just dock on another planet and become a burden on some other species. I mean, if there was a home to go to, why did they leave in the first place? This is a mass migration, not some starship explorer. And do they really expect to find more hospitable environs than on Earth? Why leave at all? Because they are persecuted against? Get over yourselves. Pathetic aliens. What they should do is grab some of those guns that only they can use and take over the planet like any normal alien would do. Would have made for a much more entertaining film, too.

In the end, this movie is simply not very well thought out. I am consistently blown away the devotion to detail in the special effects of these big budget flicks. Now if only a fraction of that devotion went into the writing, we might have something here. As it is, the film is a chore to watch. The only reason I stuck around was the promise of some big budget crescendo it never really delivered. Supposedly a sequel is now in the works after a big first weekend at the box office. At least next time I'll know what to expect and wait for the DVD.

Grade D

Thursday, April 2, 2009



First of all, can I just say that there is something seriously wrong with a line like: “Death was peaceful, easy. Life is harder.” in a movie targeting teenage girls. Now I’m not the most conservative of critics. Hell, I made my own vampire flick targeting teenage girls. It’s called Thicker Than Water: The Vampire Diaries Part 1, and I welcomed the expansion of our mutual sub-genre into this new and most fruitful of demographics. I had heard rumors that the film was ‘dangerous’ but I really couldn’t imagine how it could be so. From what I heard, there is hardly any blood in the film, the gore, only hinted at. Then I saw it. What’s dangerous about this film is precisely that. This is not a horror film. It is a romance. That is its strength and the secret to its appeal. The horror is treated almost dismissively. It’s a story about impossible love and impossible ideals. There is a group on Facebook called ‘Because I saw Twilight, I have unrealistic expectations of men.’ Remarkable self-awareness. Edward Cullen is that impossible ideal: strong, handsome, utterly devoted, yet fatally dangerous. Bella, in love to the point that she is willing to become a vampire to be with him, gives it a fatalistic devotion that I can only compare to Juliet’s. But alas, their love must remain unrequited because he cannot ‘lose control’. A perfect passion paradox. Not to mention allegory for what happens in the backseat of dad’s Volvo after the movie.

Personally I was unmoved by this most theatrical of displays. But that is not saying much. I am, after all, not a teenage girl. Were I such, I would, perhaps, drool over Edward Cullen, hiss at Bella, the skinny bitch, and generally cream my Gap panties over thoughts of jumping atop tall pine trees with my supernatural stud who never has to go ‘all the way’. But what I would not do is revel in the mischief and mayhem that is this film’s birthright. As such Twilight actually does a disservice to the sub-genre. It is really a very traditional Hollywood romance. The loner Goth chicks that I thought it was championing would actually find this kind of dull and ‘establishmentary’. They are not the target audience. Which is really what makes this film so dangerous. In its attempts to whitewash the sub-genre and make it accessible, Twilight actually appeals to the most innocent romantics of the seventh grade; pimply girls with dreams of prom night, not the black-clad eye-liner crew in the corner of the cafeteria.

This realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Twilight and its ‘vegetarian’ Judy Bloompires with their day-glo skin and eternal high school attendance are indeed an insidious force. They are creating a generation of girls with ‘unrealistic expectations of men’. Too bad their male counterparts will all be a bunch of X-Box toting man-children. And girls - if you’re reading this - no man is worth it! Get off that ledge and move on! No matter what Bella says, death is not the easy way out. Just remember that this too will pass. As will Twilight.

Phil Messerer
Grade: D

Transporter 3

Transporter 3
April 2, 2009

Okay, so these bad guys kidnap some government dude’s daughter to make him sign some shady document. And for some reason (that still escapes me) she needs to be driven around without ever really getting anywhere for most of this film. Oh, yeah, and she’s wearing a bracelet that won’t allow her to get more than 75 feet away from the car or she’ll blow up. So the plot either went right over my head or it was never there to begin with. To tell you the truth, I don’t really care either way. I think Luc Besson, the director of this cocaine hit of a movie is betting most people won’t. This isn’t exactly a rocket scientist’s picture. If you’ve rented Transporter 3, chances are you’re looking for some good old adrenaline rushing, testosterone flowing, heart pounding, fist pumping, pec flexing, sweat dripping, blood splattering action. That’s why I rented it, anyway. Nothing wrong with that. It is my birthright as a man to enjoy such frivolity. Just like you ladies have your Drew Barrymore movies. We’ve got Jason ‘Gruntmaster’ Statham. He kick yo ass!

Anyway, sounds like the bad guys have it all figured out except that they picked Frank Martin to be the chick’s chauffeur. Now he can’t get more than 75 feet away from the car either but see, that’s not a problem. Cause Frank is a guy who takes his car everywhere – the bottom of a lake, the top of a train, hell he’ll even take it with him inside the train. That’s just how he rolls. By the way, this summer’s Crank: High Voltage looks like it’s going to take suspension of disbelief to a whole other level.

Gotta say, I haven’t enjoyed a film so shamelessly in a while. It kind of brought me back to my formative years, mail-ordering nun-chuks after watching Revenge of the Ninja for the fifth time in a row. What great, clean fun. We should all be so lucky. But when I stopped to think about it, it occurred to me that though there’s been a steady flow of this genre for a while, critics never really bother to present a hierarchy. Something that starts with Robocop and ends with like Robocop 2. But back to Tranporter 3. There is something pretty special about it which actually makes it a must see.

What could this possibly be? Is it Statham’s performance? No, he grunts his way through it with his reliably constipated angst. We like this guy cause he feels like he’s most at home in a bar brawl. Or a pub brawl, whatever. Not like that poofy cokehead Van Damme. He’s kind of our generation’s Steven Seagall, maybe a little leaner and with a little less personality. But hell, who needs that shit. He just has to look mean and deliver a couple of one-liners. Then one day we’ll elect him governor. Action stars are kind of like relief pitchers in baseball. Only instead of one pitch, they just have one facial expression. And Statham’s scowl is the pitching equivalent to Mariano Rivera’s fastball. I think we all know exactly what we’re going to get from the guy and he rarely fails to deliver. So no, there was nothing extraordinary about his scowl in Transporter effing 3.

Was it the action? It’s decent. Actually Transporter 2 had better fight sequences (I can’t believe I’m dissecting this). But yeah, in Transporter 2 you could tell that every part of the fight sequence was individually shot, not just slapped together with fancy editing. Very sophisticated stuff. Pretty rare to see that sort of dedication to detail. Transporter 3 is not quite so thought out and the use of random objects just lying around (Frank’s signature) is actually at a minimum. The driving scenes as usual are all sped up which actually works pretty well. This is a trick as old as cinema itself. But no, they are actually weaker than the first two films.

What sets this film apart is a member of the cast. Her name is Natalya Rudakova. Look her up on IMDb and all you’ll find is this movie. What you are seeing is a star in its embryonic stage. A supernova of the Hollywood variety. There’s been a slew of these Russian hotties gracing our capitalist screens of late. I hear they play tennis too. But this girl is different. Discovered by Luc Besson crossing the street in New York, she has got IT. I mean A list potential. She plays Valentina, the conflicted, slightly psycho, super sexy vixen with a smile that thaws even Frank’s icy blood. Wow. Usually I fastforward through the actual ‘getting to know you’ scenes in these movies but I have to say in this case they were the highlight. So check it out and discover Natalya for yourselves. I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot more of her.

One other thing I should probably mention is that, though he is not utilized anywhere near his potential in this, the bad guy is played by Robert Knepper, who basically stole every scene on Prison Break and who I think is set to become his generation’s Gary Oldman. This is the first really obvious case of typecasting for him. Let’s hope he gets to sink his teeth into some juicier roles in the future.

In conclusion, definitely do check this out especially if you want to stay on top of new talent in Hollywood. Lately there’s been this push of ‘girl’ stars who never grow up; the Kate Hudsons and Kirsten Dunsts of this world; female equivalents to Mathew Broderick and Michael J Fox. I’d like to see us get back to glamorous women like Monroe and Hayworth. That’s what Natalya reminded me of. Some sort of lost ideal. Go Besson. We need some new blood in this town. And thanks for the adrenaline rush.

Rating: B+