Saturday, August 07, 2010

dark of the matinee is mine

It hasn't been a particularly cinematic summer for me but I have managed my share of celluloid images. While some films have been imminently forgettable, a few recent viewings were definitely worth sharing:

District 9
This South African film opens with visually impressive news footage of a massive alien spacecraft hovering above Johannesburg, apparently stranded. Months later, when troops enter the space craft, they find an emaciated alien species, whose crustacean-like appearance causes them to be dubbed "prawns". The prawns are confined en masse to a government compound (District 9), which rapidly becomes a ghetto, a hotbed of poverty, unrest and violence.

You can be forgiven for thinking that director Neill Bloomkamp watches a little too much South Park, but he was not, in fact, just ripping off the Crab People episode. District 9 is actually a scathing commentary on xenophobia and segregation. It has moments of dark humour, most of it via the highly sympathetic main character of Wikus van de Merwe, a cheerful devoted family man, whose task it is to lead the forced relocation of the residents of District 9. During a raid on the shack of one of the resistant prawns, Wikus is exposed to a mysterious dark fluid, which sets into effect a mutation process.

Despite the film then segueing into hyper-active violence, it remains an intelligent and unique commentary on apartheid. Wikus becomes a fugitive from his own employers, who want to harvest him for biological material that would allow them to develop the ability to use the alien's complex weaponry. He is forced to forge an uneasy alliance with Christopher Johnson, one of the leaders of the prawn species. Oh yeah, and the Nigerian gangs also pursue him, believing that devouring his mutating limbs will impart them with extraordinary powers.

There is nothing formulaic about District 9. It is an original and highly engaging film and you should watch it.

Date Night
Steve Carell and Tina Fey are comic geniuses. You already knew that, of course, but whoever thought to play them opposite each other, in a film where they are a highly believable time-stressed, permanently exhausted married couple from New Jersey, is some kind of casting genius.

The only thing I couldn't buy was Tina Fey's ability to run from the bad guys in those heels. Only Dana Scully can run in heels like that.

I'm not saying I want Phil and Claire Foster to be my next door neighbours, but I sure wouldn't mind going out for dinner with them on occasion. Just not that dinner.

13 Tzameti
The Resident Offspring, always the consummate film critic, picked out this 2005 French film on a whim. It's filmed in black and white and is subtitled, so if that bothers you, then maybe this isn't the right film for you. On the other hand, maybe it is, because if you've got a problem with black and white subtitled films, then you are missing out on a lot of good stuff.

Sebastian, a struggling labourer hired to repair the roof of a seaside house, overhears the owner discussing his monetary woes and his opportunity for a financial windfall. When the owner dies of an overdose and Sebastian stumbles onto an envelope containing a train ticket and some rudimentary instructions, he decides, in an act of desperation to recoup some of his lost income, to use the ticket and take the dead man's place.

What he finds himself embroiled in is a deadly lottery,where he is the 13th man in a sinister game, a pawn in a secretive world where fortunes are made and lost by men gambling on the lives of other men.

13 Tzameti is a really compelling and brutal psychological drama which had me holding my breath with the tension. Be sure to see it before the American remake, starring Jason Statham and Mickey Rourke, is released later this year. Yeah, seriously.


Captain Karen said...

I LOVED District 9 although I was a bit disappointed with the last 1/2 hour or so where it seemed to become your typical shoot 'em up action flick. Your review was spot on as usual Barbara!

As for Date Night, I normally dislike Steve Carell and haven't watched a single episode of 30 Rock so my exposure to Tina Fey is limited to Baby Mama (groan). However, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this in the theatre - it was hilarious.

Charlie said...

Thanks for the reviews: District 9 it is for our next viewing pleasure.

Eva said...

Mickey Rourke should play all the roles. Like Sam Rockwell in Moon or Lindsay Lohan in the Parent Trap remake!

Especially the Eyebrow Lady.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

District 9 did veer into shoot em up territory for a while, didn't it, Karen, but I think the overall quality redeemed that.
I sort of assumed that I would enjoy Date Night, but it surpassed my expectations.

You are in for a real treat, Charlie. Highly recommended.

He would be following in some pretty big footsteps, Eva, but you know if anybody can pull of the Eyebrow Lady part, it's Mickey, channeling the spirit of his purse dog.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed District 9 for many reasons. The guy who played the main character of the beaurucrate was excellent. I loved how the prawns developed many human characteristics and behaviours. I think the violence was an important part as it also somewhat mimics the violence that was part of the apartheid history but more extreme, like the aliens. The movie probably didn't need quite so much violence.

Allison said...

Date Night never really appealed to me, even though I love Tina Fey. Perhaps because I can only tolerate Steve Carell in small doses.

I've been meaning to see District 9 for a while now. Thanks for the review! It's in the que.

Wandering Coyote said...

I thought District 9 was fan-fracking-tastic! One of the best movies that came out last year, actually. I would like to see Date Night, actually, but it's not on the top of my priority list. I am still catching up on last year's Oscar contenders. I just saw The Hurt Locker, and it was quite thought-provoking.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I'll look for that French film. Thanks for the heads up.

John Mutford said...

Of the two of these that I saw (D9 and DN), I agree wholeheartedly. Is that 4 thumbs up?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I agree that the actor (whose name I forget) who played Wikus was excellent, Kelly. Very nuanced. I found it very telling that the prawns took very English names, also a political statement.

I was expecting to enjoy Date Night, but not as much as I did, Al, but then I do enjoy Steve Carell.

I've been meaning to see the Hurt Locker for quite a while now, WC. Did you write a review of District 9 a while ago? Or maybe that was Karen? So good!

I suspect you'll like it a lot, Dr M! Very compelling!

Four thumbs and all the big toes as well, John!

Wandering Coyote said...

Must have been Karen. I didn't get around to reviewing it. I actually haven't done a movie review in a long time...

Captain Karen said...

Nope wasn't me, haven't seen Hurt Locker yet - I think maybe Milla?

As for the actor who starred in District 9, it was Sharlto Copely. He's also in the A-Team which wasn't great but he was interesting as Murdoch.

Johnny Yen said...

Hey, I loved Jim Jarmusch's "Down By Law," which was black and white and had lots of subtitles. And of course, the two greatest movies ever made, "Casablanca" and "Citizen Kane" were black and white.

Thanks for the reviews-- "District 9" is on streaming on Netflix. It's probably not a coincidence that the director was from South Africa.

If you have the Documentary Channel on your cable or satellite package, try to catch "Long Night's Journey Into Day," a documentary about the truth and reconciliation panels in South Africa. Fascinating, heartwarming, heartbreaking, complex-- incredible.