Archive for August, 2009

Review: "District 9"

August 16, 2009

I’m not sure I could claim with utter certainty that District 9 is the best movie of the summer. I didn’t find it as audaciously thought-provoking as I had hoped it would be, and the third act succumbs to a rather typical (though still entertaining) shoot-em-up, complete with a mechanized solder-suit. What I will say is that it’s one of the most unique and inventive movies I’ve seen in a while, a film that doesn’t quite fit the cliches of the many genres it seems to emulate; and in a decade full of sequels and remakes I found myself thoroughly enjoying watching something I realized I had never seen before.

If I could sum up what I thought District 9 was like briefly, I’d tell you it was a well-conceived combination of Independence Day, Iron Man, Hotel Rwanda, and The Fly. It’s certainly a science-fiction film, but it’s put in such a realistic, gritty tone that you’ll hardly recognize it as such.

About twenty years ago, in the film’s history (told in a documentary style), a large alien craft settled over the city of Johannesburg, South Africa, and stayed dormant for three years until humans finally cracked their way inside. They discovered rooms full of starving, emaciated alien creatures. Soon a civilization (of sorts) is set up on the ground in a place to be known as District 9, where the aliens are separated from the humans, apartheid style (Johannesburg was clearly chosen for a reason). Tensions mount, people don’t like them, they’re named after a sea shrimp they resemble (prawns); it’s tough being an alien.

Eventually the private weapons manufacturing company charged to oversee the aliens, Multi-National United, decides the aliens need to be moved to a new place, and charge a field operative named Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) to give the eviction notices. In doing so, he comes across a strange cylinder which shoots black liquid on his face. He realizes within the next few hours that this liquid is altering his genes, and that he is turning into a Prawn. While this is naturally horrifying for him, MNU head-honchos realize this means he can fire the aliens’ DNA-specific weaponry.

The movie is, as I’ve said, original in many ways. For one, the aliens don’t land in Chicago or New York, but South Africa. Meaning they don’t blow up the White House in this one. Second, the alien civilization is shown to be distinctly, well, human. They aren’t all reptilian monster trying to eat us or laser-gunned invaders trying to gun us down, nor are they cute and cuddly E.T.s that snuggle nicely with stuffed animals. They have the good and bad, the black market and crime that come with any slum, as well as those that love and hate. It’s also kind of neat to see people treat the aliens like an everyday occurrence. We see that in more fantastic Star Wars-esque films, where aliens are all over the place, but I can think of few movies where character aren’t in absolute awe at the aliens walking over our homeworld. In this film, everybody’s adjusted to the initial shock. Now there are alien haters, alien rights activists, economies, and all other facets of human civilization entwined with the aliens existence, having developed over two decades.

The film is masterfully directed by Neill Blomkamp, who pulls off both the documentary and shaky-camera war-scene very well. And Sharlto Copley is fantastic as the kind-hearted and frantically terrified Wikus.

The obvious Apartheid analogy doesn’t quite pan out for me, just because the aliens didn’t really want to be around either. They were just sort of stranded. I can also understand why some people would be upset at the money spent towards the prawns when there were humans who could use it as well. But it’s still a harrowing, depressing look at the depravities that can become human nature, and while I felt the film took this a bit too far with just a bit too few good humans depicted (three, to be exact), I really did enjoy this film. It’s not some grand masterpiece, but it is imaginative and original. Which is saying a lot these days.



Review: "Funny People"

August 9, 2009

Funny People, the (relatively) new comedy by Judd Apatow starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen might be the first movie ever to release both the original and its sequel in one feature-length film.

George Simmons (Sandler) is a wildly successful comedy star, who can go nowhere without being recognized but lives alone, with no real companions. Ira (Rogen) is a young, broke, aspiring stand-up comic. When George is diagnosed with a form of Leukemia and given a slim chance of survival, he begins to question how he has lived his life. He sees Ira performing a stand up routine and hires him as an assistant and joke writer.

That’s the first movie. It then spins off into a second, tangentially related plot in this rather bloated, often grim comedy. I felt like there was a lot Apatow wanted to do with this film, and he ultimately decided just to throw it all in. It could have been an expose of the vapid lives of the famous who are recognized by everybody and k known by none. It could have been the story of the pain and agony that often lies behind the comic genius (the ‘sad clown’ parable we know all too well). It could have been about a man discovering what mattered in the last months of his life. It could have been about the rekindling of an old flame, or about the male camaraderie of an old veteran and a young novice. Instead, it tries to be all these things and more. While I wouldn’t claim it would be impossible to mix some of these themes into one film, Funny People is laden with multiple unimportant side plots and finds trouble un-jumbling and balancing all it tries to achieve.

I wouldn’t say it wholly fails, it succeeds in part with most of what it attempts. But had it trimmed the edges it could have wholly succeeded with all it attempted. It catches you by surprise, for instance, when Simmons’ old flame (Leslie Mann) appears one-third of the way through the movie and immediately starts crying because she had always loved him.

It’s a rather nihilistic, depressing comedy. Apatow said he was trying to make it “twice as serious, and twice as funny” as any of his other films. He succeeded with the former. But as I stated, it ends up feeling like two movies; one where George copes with death, another where he gets re-entangled with the love of his life. The way I ultimately felt about it was that the first half was a better film, but I laughed more in the second. But truth be told, I was anxious for the thing to end.

Sandler is the star of the show, playing a serious and complex character like he never has (well, at least since Billy Madison). He kind of lampoons himself throughout; his George Simmons is known for stupid comedies and characters that make really weird noises. But he’s lonely and isolated, and faced with his own demise. The first half especially showed me the Sandler with the real acting chops.

Apatow did a decent job of creating very flawed, very real characters. At face value, they are all somewhat despicable. Pretty much every character in the film does something disgusting, but somehow you come off liking them anyway. Eric Bana and Leslie Mann
are both disloyal people who ultimately want to save their family, and even though Bana’s character comes off as a tool for the first half of his time on screen, he is shown to be no more of an ass than Simmons; that it was all a matter of perception.

Laughs weren’t exactly commonplace, and were never fits of hysteria. But the film has strong characters and some good things thrown in, even if it gets a little muddled. You might not want to sit through in a theater, but it’s worth seeing at some point.


What Will Michael Cera Do When He Can’t Play The Awkward Teenager Anymore?

August 7, 2009

Today, Paper Heart sees it’s limited release to select theaters throughout the U.S. It’s a mockumentary, or rather a fictionalized telling of the relationship of Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi. Now, Cera is actually playing himself, but it’s also the same character he plays in every single movie he’s ever been in, whether it’s a loser teen in high school (in at least 3 movies) or a loser teen that’s a caveman (thankfully, only once).

There’s a humorous video mash-up here, and you can play a fun and impossible game of “which awkward character is he playing here?” It is actually hard to do…

Now this is no news, but I do wonder what will befall the actor when he is no longer an awkward teen. Will he just be an awkward adult? Will he be 80 starring as the bumbling 18 year old in the newest, critically acclaimed, coming of age, independent film, that somehow is still considered a fresh look at growing up?

Or more likely, he’ll just play the awkward 80 year old who can’t get the beautiful widow that lives in the room across from him in his nursing home.

We can only wonder.

Ridley Scott And Leonardo DiCaprio To Show Us A "Brave New World"

August 6, 2009

The official announcement for an adaption of Aldous Huxley’s classic novel Brave New World came out today, a year after the project was first brought up. Ridley Scott, who we recently discovered would be returning to the Alien franchise, is set to direct and it seems highly likely that Leonardo Dicaprio will be involved somehow, probably as the lead character…

Brave New World
is one of my favorite novels, and I consider it one of the most important books for people to read in their lifetime. So if you are currently reading Twilight, or even something worthwhile like Harry Potter, it would probably be more beneficial to yourself and society to read Brave New World, if you haven’t already.

It’s a fascinating read, a harrowing tale about the horrifying Utopian future that might befall humanity. It shows a world where science has reached it’s peak, obliterating the need for things like ‘religion’ or ‘sexual reproduction.’ The former is replaced by drug binges with hallucinogens used to evoke euphoric feelings, as meaningless chants and hymns are sung, all culminating in a group orgy. The latter is done in science labs and test tubes, where one egg can be used to creat up to 96 new beings grown in bottles. During incubation, the young fetuses are treated to be born into one of five different castes, which will designate what they will do in life. The Alpha cast do the more intelligent work, the Epsilons do the most basic. There is no jealousy between castes; they all receive the same amount of food, housing, and soma (the hallucinogen used to keep the populace in control).

Consumerism is king, and it’s not only consumerism of objects. Sex is rampant and undisclosed, though only for recreation. As stated, a desire for reproduction or a family are what is considered ‘pornographic.’ People have many sexual partners, and even go to movies called ‘feelies,’ which are essentially porn films that give the audience the sensations involved (much like the ‘talkies’ gave the audience the sensation of hearing at the time this book was written).

Alexis du Tocqueville wrote of ‘Soft Despotism’ in his famous treatise Democracy in America, and I see a lot of it in Brave New World, and early signs of it in modern society. This book, and hopefully it’s corresponding film, will make you think about the world we live in, what is important, and what sort of existence is ideal.

Hey, Guys! I’m Back!

August 5, 2009

Hey, fellow box office junkies! It’s Grady, and I’d just like to let you know that I am back from my long, amazing Summer in Pennsylvania, where I worked at a Christian sports camp for about 3 months. It was truly awesome, and I loved every minute of it. (The picture above probably makes sense to no one, but its a small example of some of the craziness of camp. It was taken at the wrestling meet- that’s me in the tie.) I’ll probably go back again next year, but we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it!

Reed has done an incredible job holding down TBOJ on his own (really, isn’t he great?), but I’m glad to be back to contribute my thoughts. That’s not to say that I’m going to be back in the full blogging swing just yet. You see, I’m sort of in the midst of a giant crossroads in my life, and I have about two days to decide whether I am going to be a student at UVA or the CU-Boulder next year. Any thoughts on that whole issue? I’m waiting for some clarity. Once I get my college career sorted out, I might be a bit more inclined to talk about the film industry, but I gotta be intentional and purposeful about my decision. Anyway, I’m excited to be back! Peace out, friends!

A Brief Bit About Why Movies Are Awesome

August 2, 2009

A friend of mine gave me a book called “Epic” by John Eldredge. Now I don’t exactly fall into the religious crowd, per se, and this is a very religious book. I also enjoy it quite a bit. I may not agree with everything, but at it’s core it has some profound wisdom (something I might also say about The Bible). The author uses many examples from pop-culture, particularly movies. The basic premise of the book is, in the absolute most basic sense, is: The Bible is The Story about life, Life itself is a Story, and humanity’s stories are microcosms for the larger Story (emphasis on the capitalization). Now, I’m not going to write about religion here (the first part of that summary), but I would really like to share with you a bit from the prologue in the book, something that I feel really gets to the heart of why movies (and good stories in general) captivate us so strongly.

“We can discover the Story. Maybe not with perfect clarity, maybe not in the detail that you would like, but in greater clarity than most of us now have, and that would be worth the price of admission. I mean, to have some clarity would be gold right now, wouldn’t it?

“Start with the movies you love. Think about your favorite movies. Notice that every good story has the same ingredients. Love. Adventure. Danger. Heroism. Romance. Sacrifice. The Battle of Good and Evil. Unlikely heroes. Insurmountable odds. And a little fellowship that in hope beyond hope pulls you through in the end.

“Am I right? Think again about your favorite movies. Sense and Sensibility. Don Juan DeMarco. Titanic. The Sound of Music. Sleepless in Seattle. Gone With The Wind. Braveheart. Gladiator. Rocky. Top Gun. Apollo 13. The Matrix. The Lord of the Rings. The films you love are telling you something very important, something essential about your heart.

“Most of us haven’t stopped to ask ourselves, Now why that heart? Why those longings and desire? Might we have been given our longings for love and adventure, for romance and sacrifice as a kind of clue, a treasure map to the meaning of Life itself?

“Next I want you to notice that all the great stories pretty much follow the same story line. Things were once good, then something awful happened, and now a great battle must be fought or a journey taken. At just the right moment (which feels like the last possible moment), a hero comes and sets things right, and life is found again.

“It’s true of every fairy tale, every myth, every Western, every epic- just about every story you can think of, one way or another. Braveheart, Titanic, the Star Wars series, Gladiator, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. They all pretty much follow the same story line.

Have you ever wondered why?

“Every story, great and small, shares the same essential structure because every story we tell borrows its power from a larger Story, a Story woven into the fabric of our being- what pioneer psychologist Cart Jung tried to explain as an archtype, or what his more recent popularizer Joseph Campbell called myth.

“All of these stories borrow from the Story. From Reality. We hear echoes of it throughout our lives. Some secret written on our hearts. A great battle to fight, and someone to fight for us. An adventure, something that requires everything we have, something to be shared with those we love and need.

“There is a Story that we just can’t seem to escape. There is a story written on the human heart.

As Ecclesiastes has it: He has planted eternity in the human heart.”
-John Eldredge, Epic

There’s no telling how many copyright laws I just broke. If the author of the book somehow stumbles here, please forgive me, and I will take it down immediately if it’s a problem.

But I think it’s a great little statement about stories. You can be religious or not, but I think you’d agree there’s something in us, something yearning to get out. And I think we reflect ourselves in the stories we tell. Our dreams, our values, our sense of humor, whatever it is that makes us human, are isolated and expounded in our cinema; in the stories we tell.

Superman Put In The "Speeding Bullet" Track?

August 2, 2009

IESB has started a flurry of interest in a new Superman film, which is possibly being fast-tracked for a 2011 release. Which, if you’ll recall, is pushing the deadline for WB’s ownership of the trademark before it reverts partly back to the creator’s descendants.

Evidently they are viewing Superman Returns as a bookend to the Donner series, and are planning to move forward. That’s great, though that movie wasn’t a great book-end, I’m thrilled for a new start. It’s not as hard as they think it is, that’s for damn sure.

There are even some director rumors. The Wachowski brothers are mentioned. I have mixed feelings. They gave us The Matrix, a very smart and very action packed movie, with interesting questions and characters. But they also gave us The Matrix Revolution, which, well, sucked like a hoover.

The other name being thrown out is James Mctiegue, with the Wachowski’s producing. I opt for this option, but as of now this is all speculation and rumor. I assure you, I’ll keep you posted.

Review: "Green Lantern: First Flight"

August 1, 2009

Regular visitors here are aware of my love for comic book movies, particularly those of the Superman, Batman, DC orientation. And though those movies have been relatively scarce in theaters, Bruce Timm, the creative force behind nearly every awesome DC cartoon for the past twenty years including the highly respected Batman, Superman, and Justice League animated shows, has been pumping out some pretty good direct-to-DVD animated features that geeks like me eat up. I encourage you, though, to watch them as well. Some of them have been much better than many movies released in theaters (specific examples: X3, Spider-Man 3, Ghost Rider). With exception of the rather abysmal Batman: Gotham Knight and the mediocre Justice League: New Frontier, the other three have been very good. Superman Doomsday packs in more action than we’ve ever seen the Man of Steel perform in any medium, and makes you realize how bad ass the character is, because the big movies haven’t quite done it yet. Wonder Woman absolutely blew me away, especially when I realized I really liked a movie completely focused on… Wonder Woman. And the most recent release, Green Lantern: First Flight gives an epic, action packed, science fiction story in the tone of Star Trek.

The action is high, and characterization for the star is rather low besides the “Hal Jordan acts heroic” aspect. His origin is greatly stunted, I imagine because it was featured prominently in New Frontier and will likely be told again in the live action movie coming soon. So it happens very suddenly; an alien crashes on Earth, his Green Lantern ring picks Hal Jordan to succeed him (it’s never explained that it does this because it recognizes his valor), and suddenly he’s off Earth for the rest of the movie encountering aliens and Guardians of the Universe and an intergalactic war. Is he ever surprised by this? Very briefly. The movie pretty much shows him accept it and be totally fine with bizarre looking creatures. But again, for this it works.

The more interesting character is Sinestro, whose betrayal of the Green Lantern is shown here. I’m not really spoiling you; it’s pretty clear from the get go that he’s got a few screws loose. But there’s a pretty nifty little twist about two thirds in that I won’t spoil, and actually made me say, “whoa.” It was very well done. But Sinestro is a great villain, and is shown perfectly here.

The action scenes and art is incredible throughout. I imagine it’s somewhat difficult to make the action seem real, since it’s all about a ring that takes the shape of what its wearer wills it to do. It sounds abstract, but is actually pretty cool, because it allows those fighting to have a physical battle that is actually a battle of inner strength. How very Zen.

There is a little camp here, but I let it go. Sometimes Hal makes his ring into a giant baseball bat, or a rocket launcher, but it’s all in good fun.

I don’t mean to think that this is just mindless action, there is more to it. It’s not completely devoid of character, and there are some nifty political undertones. It also packs a surprising dramatic punch when the rings of dozens of dead Green Lanterns all return to their source all at once, after a precise coordinated attack. It has great action, but there’s some maturity here as well.

This is also good because it shows WB is starting to allow their heroes to be showcased in multiple mediums. Since we’re essentially going to get a very similar story when the movie comes out in theaters, I was surprised they let this one go. But they might be starting to realize that exposure is very important, and since this film is great, I’m sure it will only make the live action one better.

If you’re a comic book geek, definitely see it. If you like comic book movies, give animation a chance, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


And Now For Something Completely Different

August 1, 2009

I don’t know why I am so flipping excited for this movie, but the second trailer for Ponyo came out today and I about squealed like girl at a Jonas Brothers concert. I can’t decide if it’s the beautiful art or the cute and absurd story that got me, but it’s certainly something I’m looking forward to. The first trailer was a little bare on the plot, I couldn’t quite follow up how the goldfish was running around looking all… Human. But this brings a lot of that story to light. So enjoy.

@ Yahoo! Video

And as the title implies, I am double posting because it’s almost midnight and I have to get up early tomorrow to do all the hiking, but in a fantastic bit of good news, Futurama will be coming back on the air on Comedy Central, with all the major voices returning. This almost didn’t happen, and it looked like the entire cast wouldn’t sign on. But evidently, a deal was reached, which spells good news for us and Bender’s shiny metal ass.

If you have never watched the show, I highly encourage you to. It’s absolutely one of the smartest, sharpest comedy shows out there. Like Family Guy, it got a cult following on DVD, and then released four full length films before getting picked up again. Unlike Family Guy, I feel like I’m watching something with a purpose. Now I enjoy both shows, but Futurama has smart comedy, good writing, and a lot of really brilliant science fiction in one show, and is definitely one of the more unique creations out there. So I highly recommend watching the shows and the movies they have released.