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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

District 9

At once buddy cop anti government and freedom fighter while being highly stylized and horribly graphically gory, this movie is not for the faint of heart, or the weak of stomach. Also, if you are annoyed by plot holes and if narrative flow is important to you, I recommend that you skip this one and take refuge in something better executed, like Moon.

I had heard a lot about this movie and was excited to see it. Perhaps my expectations were too high… perhaps my sensitivities for plot holes and break of narrative devices are too sensitive. Either way, while the movie was decent… it did leave me with an overwhelming feeling of “Blech.”

Which isn’t always a bad thing. But in this case… it wasn’t really a good thing either.

First, the movie, which follows the misadventure of a mid level bureaucrat tasked with relocating 1.8 million alien Prawns from their ghetto into a concentration camp sort of place, is an interesting story.

The allegory to apartheid isn’t lost and the disconnect between liberal ideals and reality showcased in the foils of the bureaucratic versus military standpoint is well played. The aliens themselves are nicely done from a special effects standpoint and it is almost refreshing that the entire situation takes place in Johannesburg , South Africa and not New York .

Of course the eviction of the aliens doesn’t go as planned, of course there is an evil conspiracy, of course humanity’s love affair with weapons and violence is showcased. From the Nigerian gangs to the white scientists, a picture of human nature at it basest and lowest is painted. At the center is Wikus who starts off as an insensitive bumbling sort of bigot and turns into a sympathetic bumbling idiot. This is a character only a mother could love… in fact his own mother does appear on screen long enough to admit that he was rather annoying but, after all, he was her son. The only way to not hate the character is to accept that you don’t necessarily like him, but were still going to root for him anyway.

On the whole, not bad.

But there were, of course, problems.

The shtick, besides aliens landing in Africa and then being forced to live in slums, is the documentary style in which much of the film was shot. As narrative devices go, this can be a very decent way to tell a story. A few issues invariably arise however. The first is the constant movement of the camera work that can make many audience members nauseous. (There was also an awful lot of gore, which gets more graphic in shots like this.) I, however, wasn’t bothered by the movement having never had any sort of motion sickness issue. No, what bothered me was more of a breakdown in narrative flow.

If you are going to make a movie documentary style, then you should never have moments that are clearly not part of the documentary. Having times when the shot, the angle, the subject is obviously not part of documentary footage breaks down the narrative flow. Having shots that further the story but don’t fit in… well that is just sloppy film making.

Then there was the element of, what I like to call, Plot Spackle. In this case it was magic liquid that not only could pilot a space ship, but also change human DNA into alien DNA.

These things with some very large plot holes made a movie that had a good idea…. It just wasn’t executed as well as it could have been.

It eventually comes down to how much slack you personally want to cut the filmmakers in the name of “cool idea” and “original idea.” Again, the acting was good, the special effects were believable, the plot holes were distracting, and the overall feel of the movie suffered by being made in a way that wasn’t actually a helpful way to tell what was, at its core, a very nifty story indeed.

Watch the D9 preview here

Here's a clip:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Visions of America

Book Review for Visions of America

The idea of this mammoth coffee table book was to showcase the idea of Democracy through pictures.

The thing is… Democracy is an idea, it is hard to put an image along with it that isn’t something Congress, White House, Roman Senators, or Simple Waving Flag.

Joseph Sohm doesn’t go that route though…. Instead he shows the reader Democracy by tying the idea of Democracy to the idea of America… something much easier to photograph..

American people: at play, at work, in politics, in sports… American places: rural landscapes and city sky lines. This book is a gorgeous array of several of the puzzle pieces that make up the mosaic of American life. The shots are well composed, perfectly places on the pages, bright, colorful, resonating with patriotism and power.

And they are beautiful.

I like the state by state (even if I wish there had been more of it) I loved the large beautiful shots (even if a few were slightly cliché… clichés are there for a reason, because they work.) This book never failed to illicit murmurs of admiration from the people who flipped through it.

And almost everyone who has entered my apartment over the last few weeks has flipped through it, which is no small task… the book is huge and heavy. But it was worth it. As people flipped, they paused at the photographs, they nodded to themselves, they told stories of their own lives that they were suddenly reminded of because of the photographs.

No one read the text, which is a shame because it is here that Sohm really shines. But, of course, that isn’t the point of a coffee table book. The point is of visuals that impact and stay with you.

This book then, is a success.

Post script: I don’t normally put my own politics into my reviews… and today will be nom exception. However, I would like to point out that our country is currently divided over some pretty big issues and it is nice to see something positive. I think we could all benefit from taking a moment and dwelling on the good parts of our country no matter our differing opinions. I encourage you to visit the Sohm’s website and to enjoy the video below.