SCREENING ROOM

District 9
4 Stars
Neill Blomkamp – Director

Dist 9This is a an odd flick. I will admit (and only this once) that during a brief, and regrettable period of moral weakness, I streamed a portion of this movie from a sort of shadey Russian pirate site. I had seen the trailers, and assumed this was some sort of claptrap chruned out of some B studio as pap for the dull witted reality TV crowd. It was my view that my scant resources in both time and money would be ill spent on a sojourn among the many headed to see this on the big screen. I have always been a sucker for a science fiction movie, and God knows I have seen my share – so this was destined to be added to my file.

I decided to waste a few hours one evening and watch this movie in the privacy of my own home. I streamed about 10 minutes of this flick before it became immediately apparent that this was going to require an expedition to the silver screen, the many headed notwithstanding. I thought it was pretty good. This movie was made as a feature length version of 2005 short film called Alive In Joburg, crafted by the same Neill Blomkamp. Blomkamp is a relocated-to-Canada white South African who seems to have cut his teeth on the short film. This effort is his first feature film. I understand that he has been tapped to handle the first HALO movie, althought this effort is mired in fiscal difficulties. The movie is shot as a documetary, and in my opinion, done very well in this regard. The shots seem impromptu, the dialogue equally so. I was convinced.

This movie is simple in every respect (which I believe this is a reputable attribute for most directors). This flick deals with issues surrounding appartheid, racism and social segregation, told through the vehicle of an alien race that arrives in the sky above Johannesburg, South Africa. Once on the ground for 20 years they become a new underclass, more disenfranchised than the blacks of the arpatheid era. They live in a slum, seemingly unable to not only access the ship hanging in the sky above, but also unable to escape their grim fate on this new world.

The government decides to move them from a filthy crime infested shit hole of makeshift buildings, garbage and nefarious “Nigerians”, to a new fresh and clean camp further from the city. Heading this effort, and the central character in this drama is Wikus van de Merwe. I am reliably infomed by those in the know in white South African society, that the surname van de Merwe is one of those universal names always used when telling a funny story… two guys walk into a bar, van de Merwe says to the other guy…. – you get the drift. This role is ably palyed by a complete unknown actor – Sharlto Copley, another South African. I thought his delivery of this complex yet intellectually simple charachter was brilliant, and I hope we see more of him in future. I am disappointed to learn that he is slated to be involved in the remake of the A Team. (Why anyone would want to remake this excressence is an enduring mystery).

This movie has it all for those who like visually exciting graphics, not very involved plot lines and well executed action scenes. Filmed entirley on location in Soweto, with computer graphics done in Vancouver and the alien models done in New Zealand, this is a bit of an international effort.

The plot, and I won’t spoil it, revolves around Wikus as he is recently promoted to handle this relocation by his Father in Law. He hits the field with secuirty troops to make this happen and ends up getting exposed to alien DNA with predictable results: bad guys want to learn about this DNA and it’s possibility in weapons technology.

This flick is fun, the computer graphics are so well done it amazed me they made this epic for a mere $30MM. Go see it or rent it. It is a fun way to sepnd a few hours and see both an impressive new actor, and well put together film.

Slumdog Millionaire
5 Stars
Danny Boyle – Directors
Loveleen Tandan

I have a confession to make. I have to admit, I am loathe to release my tightly held view on something as bogus as the Academy of Motion Pictures….. but in this case I am compelled to confess. When I first heard about Slumdog Millionaire, and it’s instant success without even a general screening, I assumed it was the general blithering of the Obama compliant media, back slapping each other about some left wing piece of underdog crap that would make us all feel just as good as an Obama speech. Then…. when the media began to predict a sweep at the Oscars I chortled to myself, giving myself a good dose of backslapping that I called that one.

And then, it won every Oscar in sight, and my Academy loathing reached new heights. God knows they haven’t exactly demonstrated their capacity to reward real talent in recent years. They have, in my opinion, demonstrated an alarming capacity to reward those who can be confirmed to have irrefutable Democratic credentials.

And THEN, I actually saw the movie, and my world came unglued. I thought it was brilliant. To my eternal surprise, it wasn’t a piece of crap.
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The story is, I suppose, one we are familiar with, the triumph of the good guy, the eventual come to Jesus of the bad guy, a little class justice, and a tidy package of the grimness of a modern slum. The story describes a present day go for the gold play on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Jamal, an orphan from the slums of Mumbai, gets a crack at this wildly popular show, and he climbs the answer pyramid, we see flashbacks to his youth as he rose up from a “slum dog” or criminal beggar in the slums of Mumbai with his brother and an other adopted female waif that describe his grasp of the answers.

It is spectacular in it’s photography. Associate director Loveleen Tandan handled the Indian shooting and the casting, and did brilliant duty on both. You may remember her from the last great Indian flick to wander through the big screens – Monsoon Wedding. Based on the debut novel by Indian author (and incidentally the Indian Deputy High Commissioner to South Africa) Vikas Swarup, it is thoroughly enjoyable, heartwarming, and instructive of some less attractive aspects of Indian culture, all in one gulp. I liked Ayush Mahesh Khedekar. He is the young Indian actor who plays young Jamal. How this role could have been cast better is beyond me.

Keep in mind that I am a sucker for Indian movies of any stripe. I can sit for hours and watch those Hindi song and dance numbers, and I like the Bollywood thrillers. In fact, I would urge you to hang back in the theatre at the end and watch the song and dance number by the cast. Excellent cinema…. Excellent cinema indeed.

Miracle At St. Anna
3 Stars
Spike Lee – Director

On the 12th of August, 1944, the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division, Reichsführer-SS, rounded up all of the women, children and refugees that could be found in the Italian villiage of Sant’Anna di Stazzema, and shot them all. 570 of them. Why?… I am not sure we can understand after the fog of years and war. Suffice to say that retreating Nazis felt a need to slaughter all and sundry for reasons we can only surmise.

miracle_at_st_annaSpike Lee has crafted a flick that centers on this historical footnote. I have to admit, that for part of this movie, I was convinced this was some sort of black angst thing…. you had to have grown up being tormented by whitey in Philly to truly understand the point. But… after a bit you can see there is something in this. The movie follows a small portion of the 92nd Division (the first and only all black combat division to see action in WWII) as part of the 370th Regimental Combat Team. The movie follows their accidental occupation of the village of St. Anna, as a result of outrunning a failed forced crossing of a river, during which their intensely racist white officer kills a good many of them during a fucked up artillery barrage. This is the portion where I was dreading yet another “hate whitey” movie.

However, there is action aplenty, ultimate clarity of purpose and in the end, a darn good story. This movie has received very poor reviews. Rotten Tomatoes suggested that “is a well-intentioned but overlong, disjointed affair that hits few of the right notes.”. Bull.. it is a good watch and I recommend it for those who have a couple of hours to spare and the time to see it through.

Australia
Average Guy: 2 Stars
Reader of Boddice Rippers or James Mitchener Novels: 5 stars
Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman
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This movie struck me in terms of five things:

1) Titanic Syndrome: in my view. Weird psychotic nut job of a family scion endlessly trying to possess that which he cannot. A massive physical tragedy (Japanese attack Darwin and sack the place) amplifies the chaos of his mind. He even has the same hair do as the guy in Titanic. I guess it is a formula that works….
2) Mad Max: That tall weird guy from the Mad Max movies was in it. You know… the guy who flew the gyrocopter…. I have always wondered what happened to him, or for that matter, who the fuck is that guy and where has been? Well…. apparently biding his thespian days waiting for Nicole to bring him back to the stage. Isn’t it odd that you see a guy in a third rate B movie, and you remember him forever? Was his acting that top drawer? Apparently.
3) The Kidman Nubbies: Lots of naked Jackman, not any naked Kidman. I have seen my share of Kidman movies….. and truth be told, probably more than my share….. and yet I haven’t seen her naked yet. What a gross injustice to my hard earned dollars. Surely if I spend my movie dollars in a consistent way, patiently watching her drecky movies, one after another… you would think she would bless us all with at least a passing glimps of those million dollar nubbies. But no… we wait still for that golden day. Doubtless she is saving that monumental event for the day that she can’t get a decent role, and plays that hand in a sad sort of Julie Andrews gambit (I, for one, will never recover from seeing Mary Poppins’ nubs… never)
4) Abos Baby… Abos: Aussie aboriginals seem a cool crowd. The whole concept of becoming a man by going walk about with your grand dad just says booo yah! to me. Think how this world would be different if only we had become men this way.
5) Social Statement: There seems to be some sort of underlying drive to make this movie some sort of social statement about the forced removal and education of aboriginal children. I didn’t get it, despite the careful text before AND after the film. Let it be a story for Christ sake, why does it always have to be about some social issue? Why is that? And then why does it have to be heeled down your throat by the dim bulbs who made the movie, as they think so little of your intellect that they are SURE you couldn’t possibly get it, so help text is provided.
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Anyway, this is a flick about a sweeping story of a an English aristocrat coming to Australia to corral her suspected philandering husband on his cattle ranch waaay out back in Australia. She meets Mr. Drover (really… that seems to be his name) and they have the usual loathsome relationship until it’s time to drive 1,500 head of cattle across the outback to the Army beef ship in Darwin, then they are rutting like rabbits under the starry Australian sky. To be honest, the test of the drive across the desert is the dullest part of the flick, when it should be the best. It lacked any of the real sense of physical and mental testing that slogging across the great emptiness of the interior should include. I actually thought the movie was coming to a close and I was thinking it was pretty pedestrian when it breaks out in a whole new direction, and, as it turns out, the best direction.

If you are a reader of the bodice ripper oeuvre, or used to be a big Michener fan, you will like this movie. It has sweeping vistas, interesting characters, local color,…… the whole shitterie. Other wise, I suspect you will find this thing just a little formulaic, and as such a bit of a “put my ass to sleep” sort of flick.

The movie ends with some serious hokum. It’s one of those things they should have just resisted the temptation to include….. just left it alone. The young Abo boy decides to go with his Grand Dad on walk about. That should have been ok. But then they include this bizarre Abo Grandfather silioquy “You have been on a journey, and now we are headed home to my country… our country. Hmmm….. interesting. I wonder if the Abos would look at it this way……

The Castle
4 Stars
Michael Caton, Anne Tenney

Recently during a meeting of the Rogue Editorial Board, I was railing on regarding my two favorite Australian movies, Muriel’s Wedding (which I had just acquired for $6) and Strictly Ballroom. I could watch either of these movies pretty much any time and enjoy them every time. I was advised, during this august gathering, that I was exhibiting all the signs of a mere dilettante of the Aussie Oeuvre unless I included the little known, beyond that Fatal Shore, The Castle. I had never heard of this flick, and it is now nearly 12 years old. The Australian Ambassador was kind enough to provide a copy of the film for my review.

the-castleKeep in mind that this film redefines a couple of basic tenets, obscurity being not the least of them. Apparently this entire film was shot in 11 days for some crazy small money (some say as little as $19K). This is a movie about the Kerrigan family who live in a shambles of a “work in progress” house at the end of the runway at the Melbourne airport. The patriarch of the family, Darryl, is, I am told, a classic caricature or amalgam (certainly exaggerated) of the working class Australian. If that is the case, then move me to the end of the runway at the Melbourne airport tonight. Superbly played by Michael Caton, Darryl redefines the “glass half full” world view. The family are ludicrously positive about everything, are absolutely all about the simple things in life, and are entirely supportive of each other and the neighbors. They celebrate the simple pleasures, despite the dark stresses of an eldest son in jail.

The story revolves around an attempt by a big faceless corporation involved with expanding the airport to execute a compulsory acquisition of the family property, or….. the castle. Darryl is devastated by the concept that the government can just come in and take away the things that mean the most to you. Then begins a legal battle that could easily be the new poster boy for the classic David and Goliath struggle. It is a story about good and evil, right and wrong, and that ever so rare concept that sometimes the little guy can get ahead.

And… therein lies the gold. If you like classic Australian cinema or movies made for under $20K, then you will like this. If you are looking for Nicole Kidman, then you should give this a miss. This movie is uplifting, positive and fun….. just the way I like them (when I am not longing for dark, violent and depressing!!!) Give it a go…. it won’t disappoint.

TAKEN
4+ Stars
Liam Neeson

I have only one piece of advice for the action movie fan when considering this flick. LEAVE YOUR WIFE AT HOME! This movie is designed for men. It has virtually no bullshit, very little (and fairly lamely done) romantic complication, and absolutely NO mercy. It doesn’t have a politically correct bone in it’s body. 310708022555_taken-detailI mused for a bit, as I was walking out, how horrified that tweedle Stephane Dion would be had he the man nuts to go see a flick like this…. but I digress. The story line is simple and, truthfully, panders in a shameful way for the average man’s requirement for flashy cars, good looking women and bad guys experiencing pain and a richly deserved fractured larynx.

It’s simple… repeat after me:
1) Ridiculously entitled Barbie Doll American Princess goes to Paris for some U2 related shenanigans (yes U2… I know… I know, but no one said a man film had to make any sense)
2) Bad Men from Albania kidnap same for nefarious purposes involving….. you guessed it! Sex and Arabs
3) Girls CIA trained father promises Bad Men some serious mayhem and bodily harm if girl not returned immediately
4) Bad Men, apocalyptically, scoff at such hollow threats
5) CIA trained American Dad visits the Trials of Job upon the unsuspecting Bad Men, employing variously more ingenious dark arts (including an improvised electric chair)
6) The World has fewer Bad Men, and all ends happily

Yes Virginia, it really is that simple. What makes this movie so entertaining is the complete lack of restraint. There is torture, grievous bodily harm, rich and obviously decadent beyond the point of redemption Arabs being treated in a fashion that would doubtless chub up the average Israeli, and, of course, some cool cars. There are some very hard core moments that I guarantee will surprise you. Absolutely guarantee.

I love the way this movie absolutely pulls all the right strings and pushes all the right buttons…. It is easy peasy to believe Albanians are just naturally bad bad bad. And… how hard is it for any post 911 North American male to believe that behind every white slaver ring there has to be a rich Arab? Not hard…. not hard at all. So this makes the movie pace a lot faster as you don’t have to question your closely held stereotypes about the world. I love the efficiency of the whole thing.

Now…. keep in mind this is not a movie for Academy Awards, or for the Leftards to squint at in the Toronto Film Festival. It is short, fun and 90 minutes well spent.

Look at me!….. Focus! DO NOT TAKE YOUR DATE, munch popcorn and swill one of those half gallons of diet Coke. Don’t take your date, that would just be stupid.

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7 Pounds
Will Smith
-2 Stars (That’s minus two stars)

Every now and then one of two things happens…. you are just not in the mood for a certain kind of movie…. or someone you have trusted in the past has a stroke and makes a total bag of shit. In the case of 7 Pounds, there is a possibility that the planets aligned and both happened in a single day. This flick is right up there with the worst of them. Let’s look at the upside: While I will never get that 23 hours back (while it may have been 90 minutes it seemed like a modest lifetime), but it didn’t visually offend me. It was just sort of indifferent. will-smith-seven-pounds-701553This movie is, apparently, about a guy whose brother works for the IRS, and for reasons I am not entirely sure I understand, he decides to give his life away. He decides to help seven strangers while trying to off himself as a result of a car crash that seems to have offed his beloved and six other people. Must have been some crash. So he gives them each a pound of his brain? Who knows….Now, I fell asleep twice in this movie, so my grasp of the weakest story ever told is probably not that great, but he gives his house away to a battered woman, and eventually “dies”. While there is obviously more to this, it just doesn’t matter. I couldn’t spoil the ending for you as it wouldn’t make the slightest difference for you anyway as the oldest maxim in the movie biz applies here – dull is dull…. and in this case, it is dull beyond words.

Now let’s look at the down side: I don’t think I even know what the seven pounds is supposed to represent…. but I am willing to guess it comes from the ass of a bull, and all you have is a six pound bag.

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Gran Torino
Clint Eastwood
4 Stars

gran_torino_posterThe trouble with aging actors is that they start to do their best work when get aged, and have a diminishing number of years left to share a growing genius. Of course, I always liked Clint’s movies all along. The spaggetti westerns, the Dirty Harry’s and the many similar offshoots of this theme. Also expected was my absolute loathing (and in my vocabulary – loathe is a word used sparingly to denote the extreme end of the scale of dislike) of anything that contained the so called work of Sondra Locke or apes. What he was thinking when he made this dreck is beyond me, but you see it from time to time in suddenly successful actors.

Gran Torino is a thoughtful movie. It concerns the developing and ultimately terminal relationship between Clint’s character and his Hmong neighbors in a delapidated and crumbling, once prosperous neighborhood of Detroit. Clint plays Walt Kowalski, a former long serving, but retired and recently widowed auto worker for Ford. He is also a Korean war vet who, as it turns out, has been carrying some serious baggage about since his return from that war 50 years previously. That baggage drives him to both despise his “gook” neighbors, and lead a generally aimless and crumudgeonly existence. The screenplay and dialogue are courageously and honestly racist – as you expect a retired right wing “polack” auto worker might actually be. His neighbors, Thao and Sue Vang Lor (along with their oddball granny) are ethnic Hmong who represent the predominant ethnicity of the neighborhood…. something Walt has never really managed to accept or even try to understand.

This movie is about struggle in my view. The struggle between Walt and unresolved war time horrors, between the old world of white homogenous neighborhoods in the heartland of America and the new reality of different skin colors and values. Between the young trying to do the right thing and the temptations and pressures of doing the wrong thing. It represents the struggle between young and old, between father and son and, of course, the struggle between right and wrong. It is also about the struggle between unfamiliar cultures in a very familiar landscape. These are all represented in detail in this compelling story. I suppose it is also about redemption to some degree. To resolve the inner demons of the war for Walt, and to get straight with the world for Thao. It is about the capacity of people to seek to relieve the wrongs of life.

Walt helps the Hmong kid next door to stay on the path of right, through some interesting mentoring which begins as studied indifference. Tempted and tormented by a local Asian gang, Thao struggles to find his way in unfamiliar terrain. Ultimately trying to steal Walt’s pristine 1972 Ford Gran Torino as a gang intitiation, these two unlikely souls come together in an uneasy understanding that ultimately resolves in a surprising fashion.

I won’t tell you how it works, unfolds or even ends. I will tell you that you will like it, and, for most of you, will feel a certain kinship with one or more of the characters in this surprisingly human offering from a king of kill like Clint Eastwood.

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