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District 9 (2009)
Of Robocop's violent satire and anime's surreal presentation...
*mild spoilers* (do not continue if you want full wow factor, until you see the movie)
This was amazing. First of all, there are no lulls in the film. There's either mystery, when we wonder what's going on, or tension, or dazzlement in the form of action or effects.
The effects were amazing. Bladerunner and Alien happened at night. Most other sci-fi films happen in the black of space. Most of this movie happens in the full sun of South Africa. The CGI lighting was so perfect and the action so fast-paced that it was hard to tell there was any CGI at all. It's all done in documentary style, mostly shaky camera, mixed in with news footage and security camera footage so it just feels real.
The way humans treat the aliens is a chilling satire on racism, the way I've seen in 1950's history books in America. Whether this is reminiscent of present-day Johannesburg I don't know. The poor naive hero is so calm and blasé about all the violence and racism that occurs around him, as he shows off to the documentary film crew. Plot-wise, fans of sci-fi in movies and literature will see the influences of Clarke's "Childhood's End", Veerhoven's "Robocop", and the Alien Nation TV series. But, gosh, that CGI was just amazing. If just for the sight of a live action MechWarrior, you've got to see this thing. In fact, the entire movie had the feel of a live action Japanese anime. Fans of RoboCop, AlienNation, anime, & MechWarrior have GOT to see this movie.
THIS is the way sci-fi SHOULD be, with technology as an everyday occurrence that's taken for granted by all but the audience. It's like an "Airplane" joke that happens in the background. Technology and effects are not in the front in this movie. They're in the background, and they still wow us, but the story takes the lead. Awesome movie all around. I can't wait for the inevitable sequel.
Four Dogs Playing Poker (2000)
Good idea. NOT the worst movie in the world. Worth a watch.
What's the concept behind the painting "Four Dogs Playing Poker"? Poker is a game of luck, but winning involves bluffing, lying, and aggressiveness. Dogs think they can handle these human traits, but they're just dogs. Predictable. Emotional. Easy tells.
This movie is about four childhood friends who are all in danger of dying.
To save themselves, they concoct a scheme to sacrifice one of them for the sake of the others. But they want to keep things anonymous to alleviate guilt, and that's where they stop trusting each other. Like four dogs playing poker, trying to figure out the other dogs' motives, not knowing who to trust...
The details sometimes fall by the wayside in order to set up this very interesting idea, but I found the story itself to be gripping. I had to watch the whole thing to see what happened.
Can you trust YOUR childhood friends if all your lives were on the line?
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Hilarious portrayal of life from a nerd's point of view (real life through exaggeration)
This is one of those movies where you find yourself constantly laughing not at any jokes but at the characters portrayed. After a while I realized I hadn't stopped laughing, and wondered if I should feel guilty for laughing at someone.
I realized that there was nothing wrong with laughing at the characters, because they were likable losers all in their own ways. The fact that Napoleon is "special" is not a reason to feel shame at laughing at him only because he never gives up on his life.
This is probably the only movie to successfully portray what it feels like to grow up a total nerd. Napoleon is a nerd that only only gives no thought to being a nerd, he never puts himself down for it. In fact, he is always blaming his weird family for others thinking that he is strange, not giving any thought at all to the possibility that he is strange himself. Because he views himself as normal where we do not, we can understand his desires.
Or maybe it's just because I grew up a nerd myself, and know what he's going through... ;)
There are many moments when life craps on Napoleon. Things just don't go his way. Others are mean to him. People don't understand. But he always keeps going without dwelling on his failures. Rather than be sad, he tries harder. He tells "exaggerations" to hide his disappointments, which would be enough to make any other (like his friend Pedro) just stay home from school in total depression.
This movie doesn't tell outrageous jokes, and yet it had me laughing all through the movie. All it did was draw real people not the way they're seen, but the way they're remembered.
I found it especially strong the way Napoleon showed his embarrassment and despair, by putting his head down and running away. Napoleon and Pedro don't change their facial expressions much at all, but you can tell what they're thinking.
I went into this movie thinking I'd see some weird guy doing really funny things. Instead I found out it was about a weird and funny (not intentionally) guy who just tried to act normal.
Also, the movie takes place post-70's in the early pre-Madonna 80's. I saw it in a theatre full of teens who didn't remember the references, but the soundtrack if full of comfortable 80's tunes that brought fond memories of listening to music in high school (if not fond memories of high school itself!). This is DEFINITELY a funny movie.
One note though, to those who want to watch this movie... Watch the credits completely, and I mean completely! After the music credits and the MPAA tags the credits actually end. And THEN, we are treated to an epilogue of when the characters are together again 2 months after the movie ends. You don't want to miss that.
Meaning behind the scenes
I first saw this movie when I was younger, as one of the most graphic "mainstream" movies available. That was before I ever knew what the word "soft-core" meant.
I watched it again, when I was older, and I finally understand it. The quiet sequences and unemotional facade of the female lead are no longer just boring filler between the exciting love scenes. Perhaps it's because I needed a little more life experience to know the unexpressed feelings of the female character and the expressed feelings of the male character. Sure, this movie is about taboo and tasting forbidden fruit. This movie is about sex. But this movie also has very strong depictions of the other emotions involved in the affair. Shame. Guilt. Racial and social prejudice. Love which is explored when both parties know there can be no future. Emotional detachment born out of necessity, as a "defense mechanism". Being ostracized by your peers, and life in an environment rife with vicious rumors. But mostly the shame and guilt. It's made clearer to me what a former lover of mine may have felt.
To live through all that and then to watch this movie makes for a very personal, moving experience. I can't recommend it to everyone, since every movie experience is unique. But I can say that "The Lover" is much, much more than just an excuse for graphic love scenes. It's a story of a reminiscence... a first time... a shameful secret... a hidden love, fostered through hardship and burning into the mind of the narrator an indelible, permanent mark of memory of a first, life-shaping lover...
Garden State (2004)
beautifully shot, funny and serious, but a bit corny and trite when it's trying to be deep...
I saw this at the "drive-in" preview in Rockefeller Center on June 8th.
Natalie Portman and Ian Holm give great performances.
It's a beautifully shot movie, funny and serious, but a bit corny and trite when it's trying to be deep...
The framing of certain scenes make for some stunning shots, and you can see most of those shots in the teaser and trailer. (Note the MRI graffiti.)
Yes, there's a lot of silent humor similar to jokes from "Scrubs", and an attempt at drama when the main character "awakens" over a long weekend. If places as weird as those shown in the movie actually exist in New Jersey, then I've never actually been to the place! A bit corny at times, but still worth the wait...
Strange, But Endearing
Most science fiction deals with characters who are altruistic or malevolent, and have stories that are simple, with good guys defending against bad guys. "Lexx" is different, in that it explores the amoral side of humanity not by showing these usually undesirable traits not just in minor characters, but in the main characters, in the crew of the Lexx itself. There is a Dark Man, an unemotional and undead assassin, defender of the crew. But then there are the half-lizard nymphomaniac, the unintelligent "dirty old man" (who somehow became the Captain of the Lexx through an accident), the robot head driven by love-psychosis, and the sentient, organic Lexx itself, a living ship and slave to the Captain who, if unchecked, would be content in destroying or feeding on organic life in the form of other space ships or entire planets.
The questionable desires of the crew are usually left unfulfilled in the episodes, and morality and good win out in the end over immorality and evil, but not before a thorough exploration of self-indulgent natures and evil.
True, the low-budget nature of the series may make it ideal for viewing in late night hours as an alternative to infomercials, but the series is nothing if not imaginative. Other series have cropped up since, with similar themes of a powerful space ship crewed by fools and lechers, but "Lexx" is definitely unique in that its flawed characters are so familiar that they become endearing.