District 9

August 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

It’s relieving to know that there are people in Hollywood like Peter Jackson that have some power now. I’ve always believed in the guy, going back to his “Beautiful Creatures” days. I saw “Meet the Feebles” after he had made it bigger (possibly because it wasn’t in DVD rotation until he started making some money) but he’s always had a passion for fantasy, sci-fi, and imaginative storylines. All you have to do is watch one of his films and you’ll know that within the first 10 minutes.

He and his production company put up pretty much all the money for this film directed and co-written by 29 year old Neill Blomkamp, which is about an alien spacecraft that “crash” lands in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the alien occupants become “citizens” of a quarantined area called “District 9?. Pretty much every implication of racism, apartheid, worth of life, and intolerance is explored throughout the narrative and it winds up a fairly clever, fun, and darkly comic fable that–while violent and at times very vulgar, is also charming.

The film’s first twenty-five or so minutes is a bit jarring, in that it flings different POV’s at you at random times, trying to give you an up-to-date idea of what’s going on in “District 9? through a series of interviews and documentary footage. The footage includes talks with Wikus van der Merwe, who eventually is identified as the “hero” of the film, or at least the main character. Wikus is introduced to us as somewhat of a “Company Man”, who is promoted to the head of a group of people to move the aliens out of “District 9? since the human occupants have had enough of them.

A little bit of info on the aliens themselves: they’re creatures that have insect-like qualities, and are extremely ugly. They’re referred to as “prawns”, a derogatory term because they resemble the underwater creatures themselves. There are gangs of these creatures, and they’ve overflowed the city of Johannesburg to the point where they are “sectioned off” and only allowed in certain areas. What does this remind us of? Of course, this is the main theme the film plays with, and it does so fairly well, even if it is a bit obvious.

No one wants these creatures around, and so this group of people have to attempt to get them out of “District 9?–but it’s not so easy, as Wikus learns quickly. Wikus is also married to the daughter of a powerful government official, who was in charge of promoting Wikus to his new position–but he has very little confidence in him, and doesn’t like him. It’s kind of obvious why–he’s an alpha male, and Wikus is a bit spineless. He doesn’t want a violent attack on the creatures while they evict them, but in the course of trying to evict one family, he is exposed to a black liquid that eventually begins to altar his body.

Wikus soon finds that he is becoming one of the creatures. He doesn’t want this to get out, but it eventually does, and he becomes a potential victim of science until he breaks out, and lives as a fugitive in “District 9?. Other things that are going on in District 9 include a group of rogue Nigerians who are buying and collecting the alien weaponry found on the spacecraft–the drawback is that no human can operate it. The Nigerians believe they can use witchcraft and “eat” parts of the aliens to get the power to use it, but to no avail. When Wikus shows up and his ailment is discovered, the Nigerians want him too–well, at least–they want his arm.

Wikus befriends a prawn that he earlier had to evict, and learns that he and his son have hatched a plan to get the spacecraft working again, and go back to their home planet. Wikus also learns that they can cure him and get him to be human again. Once the government learns his whereabouts, and the Nigerians as well, all hell breaks loose and this is where the film turns from an intellectual sci-fi film into balls out action packed shoot-em-up.

To be honest, this didn’t bother me. Much in the way that “Sunshine” devolved into a “slasher film”, the third act didn’t betray the original plot and theme and therefore, I didn’t have a problem with it becoming more of a visual experience rather than a cerebral one. Plus, it is just really cool to see the alien weaponry actually used. If you’re going to set it up, you have to pay it off, and it’s paid off very well.

In fact, the whole movie looks good. This is a credit to the fact that Jackson put up the money–this could’ve been a failed low budget sci-fi film that looked silly; or, it could’ve been a script that sat on a shelf for decades before being picked up by Michael Bay and turned into Transformers 3. Instead, this is a smart film that while it loses itself a bit in action packed violence, never loses itself to the point where you forget how important the theme is in the first place.

This is a movie about tolerance, and it’s executed well enough to be given praise. It deserves a chance to be seen, and I think if you have the right mindset, it may even open your eyes to some of the same problems we face in the real world. Even though these prawns are creatures, in some ways they’re no different than you or I. It promotes the idea of unity rather than segregation; only in this narrative it may be too late for that to happen. There’s been criticism that this film shows Nigerians in a negative light, and that it cheapens the angle of the Apartheid. I think because it’s science fiction, you have to look at it in a more symbolic sense rather than a literal one. As far as vilifying, it depends on how you look at it. I think the entire film gives enough credit to characters where it’s due, and only a few of the “villains” are cartoonish–and the most vile isn’t a Nigerian. Though the film does become more action packed, the film’s climax also leaves ambiguity; but its final scene is incredibly touching.

It’s probably the best movie the summer has to offer, and I have a feeling it will be passed over because of its complexity. But if you’re willing to give it a chance, it delivers.

My rating: :smile:

Zero Day

October 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Home Video

This is a very haunting film. It was done a few years after Columbine and is almost a replica of the “basement tapes” by Dylan and Eric, and the resemblances are purposeful and very well done. The two actors playing the kids are extremely believable, with one caveat–the blond haired kid does look a little too pretty to be considered “an outcast”.

The entire movie is shot in the same style of the “basement tapes”; it’s all “footage”. You’d think that would get old after, say, a half hour, and I seriously thought it was going to switch to a more narrative style after the first ten minutes. But once you start to get to know the kids more, you kind of forget that you’re watching a movie, and you’d think you were just watching home movies of these kids.

The kids’ names are Andre and Cal. Cal is the pretty blond kid who is very quiet, and unassuming. He’s most likely the one based on Dylan because of his soft spoken demeanor and his looks are definitely more reminiscent of Klebold’s. Andre, the Eric Harris character, is the son of a German immigrant father, whom you feel the utmost sympathy for throughout the film because he is so kind and naturally loving toward his son. I also emphasize the word “natural” here. These actors really do come alive as these characters; you don’t feel like you’re watching people act.

The film’s opening credit sequence is a slideshow of the two kids growing up; photos of them as innocent little kids, and growing up to be teenagers. After that, the film goes through somewhat of an introduction to what these kids are about. They call themselves the “Army of Two” and that they’re planning a series of “battles” before “Zero Day”. You don’t know what Zero Day is exactly in the beginning, or what the battles are, but because they start off as innocent as throwing rotten eggs at a bully’s house, you do think that perhaps “Zero Day” might be more of an idealistic “war” rather than an actual attack.

But then you see Andre showing how to make pipe bombs, and how to “shortskirt” a rifle in under a minute, and you get the idea pretty quick that “Zero Day” is, in fact, going to be an attack of major proportions.

Throughout the film, you don’t really get a sense of why these kids want to do what they’re doing. They are just adamant about it. Maybe that was done purposely by the filmmakers. After all, in the “basement tapes”, you get more of a sense of Klebold and Harris’s detachment from reality than you do get a glimpse of their inner turmoil. But I think in the sense of a film, your job as a filmmaker is to make a point about something. Say something about it. And here, it looks like they carelessly left out a very vital part in what they were trying to say: WHY did these kids get drawn into such a blinding rage?

The other thing that you would have a very strong argument against this film is that it does in fact SHOW you how to make bombs and how to make weapons more easily to conceal. Not that this was intended to be a “how to” but I didn’t really like the fact that this movie could be used as a means for copycats to use. I even give Gus Van Sant credit, with his infinitely inferior “Elephant”, that he said he didn’t want any scene that showed the kids obtaining or training with guns so that there wouldn’t be any use for it for anyone.

I said that “Zero Day” was constructed to resemble the Columbine massacre and, as the film goes on, its resemblance grows stronger. There’s even a scene in which Cal goes to the prom, something indicated in the “basement tapes”. Also toward the end, they do give you the meaning of “Zero Day”–it was supposed to be the first day that it was below zero, and the attack would ensue; but because of a banal incident, it was set to a later date, in May. The day before the massacre, they make one final “Good-bye” speech, and again, much like the “basement tapes”, it’s them saying good-bye and telling the camera that NO ONE is to blame but them for this. Their parents didn’t know, the guys they got the guns from didn’t know, there was no one a part of it except the “Army of Two”. Andre also pontificates that they are “setting people free”, and not doing something horrible that people will surely condemn them for. Cal finishes with “We’re all animals.”

And finally, on “Zero Day”, the film does shift its perspective. The two kids leave their camera in the car, and head into the school. The shooting sequences all are captured on surveillance, and the audio is all coming through a 9-1-1 call from one of the students. You can hear the shooters in the background as the 9-1-1 operator pleads with them to get on the line and try to get them to stop what they’re doing. It does get a little annoying to consistently hear, “Andre, pick up. Pick up, Andre” from the operator–however, your attention should be focused more on the shocking footage of the kids shooting and killing innocent teenagers, and I found myself shaking while watching it. It was almost TOO much like watching the Columbine surveillance footage.

The two finally kill themselves, but the scene is much more powerful than I thought it would turn out to be because one of them hesitates, and there is a great moment in which it looks like the two might be captured, or there’s some kind of epiphany they have about what they’ve done–but in the end, the inevitable happens.

The final scene of the film is, to me, a bit unnecessary but I think it’s in there for you to make what you want of it. Overall, I think the message is clear that this film’s approach was to show you as close as possible what happened at Columbine, and the events leading up to it. Somewhat like “Flight 93?, but obviously this is about something very different and it’s tragic and chilling in a different way.

This isn’t a film I’d say is something “important” to watch; but it does deserve some recognition. While I’m still waiting for a film that shows a much broader angle than just focusing on the killers and the killing and gives you an insight into high school life in general and again WHY these kids will be lead to this sort of thing, I think “Zero Day” is an honest effort. Unlike Van Sant’s uber pretentious and empty “Elephant”, “Zero Day” is powerful and intriguing, and the hardest part about it is–you actually like the two kids to a certain point.

Gives you the shivers thinking about it…

My rating: :smile: