Monday, November 16, 2009

Bruce Willis is not a robot, Aliens are not African people, and Jews are not happy.

The Surrogates

Sci-Fi thriller starring Bruce Willis, adapted from the graphic novel. In the near future, people have created android bodies so lifelike, that - with the help of a neural uplink - they now use them to get around instead of their own bodies. Basically, taking the avatar concept to it's logical endpoint - literally be whoever you want to be. Fun concept, though the avatar metaphor isn't really explored in much depth. There's a mystery plot, which brings no surprises, and characters which fail to engage over-much. I guess there wasn't anything really awful about The Surrogates, but I'm hard pressed to really recommended it. Watch it, and then perhaps use it as a platform to launch into a conversation about the fronts people use online, and what it all really means for humanity. You'll probably come to more interesting conclusions than the film itself did.

Was it entertaining? Had a couple of moments. There's a chase scene with Bruce Willis being very Terminator which was kind of cool.

Is it worth watching? Couldn't hurt, I suppose.

District 9

Sci-fi action/mockumentary starring.... some South African dudes. Now this I enjoyed. The first third of the film is shot in pure documentary style, giving us a look at an alien reserve in Johannesburg, started when a starship came in earth in 1982. So, naturally, Apartheid references abound, and for the most part, it works really well. Just about the entire film is shot in an actual Johannesburg slum, which makes for a suitably messy, depressing setting. As the film goes along, a plot does begin to emerge, as we follow a bureaucrat as he wonders around the titular District 9, giving eviction notices to the Aliens (as they are being moved out of their current homes to another preserve, which, notably, is far away from the city). During the course of his wacky adventures in evil banality, he comes into contact with an alien substance. Things get worse for him, but much better for the audience, as the film takes a turn first from scene-setting mockumentary to body horror, and then from body horror to wacky 80's style action-fest. I've read reports of people finding this shift jarring, as though they expected the whole thing to be in the doco style, but personally, given the sheer amount of horrible things that happen to the protagonist, and the complete and utter bastardy of a lot of the characters, when our dude gets his hands on a giant alien lightening gun which pops people like balloons, it is THE MOST GRATIFYING THING EVER. It's be like if you were watching the Wire, and everything was totally serious business, except that McNalty finds a giant cannon and kills EVERYONE YOU HATED. HORRIBLY. Now, one could make a case that this style shift betrays the premise of the film but turning it into a cartoon shoot out, but if you approach the film as an action sci-fi instead of a complete straight up satire, the documentary style is an excellent mechanism for drawing you into the world, setting up the characters and the situation, and building a sense of contempt and discomfort everything and everyone we are exposed to (with the notable exception of a single Alien character. And his son). Thus, having pulled us in, the action pay-off carries real emotional weight, releases this tension, and cathartic-ally indulges our contempt for the villainous characters. Ultimately, while this film offers some commentary on humanities inhumanity to man (via insect-like alien proxies), and presents in all in an intriguing documentary style, it is, at it's heart, and action film, and should be approached as such if you really want to enjoy it. Which isn't to say that there's no depth at all, but just that as an action vehicle, it's set-up and pay-off is such a high that it's not to be missed. It also has a giant robot sequence which is far more entertaining than both Transformers movies put together. Not that that would be all that difficult...

Is it entertaining? Oh, most definately. Though the first half is really quite harrowing, the last half-an-hour or so is a total riot.

Is it worth watching? Totally.

Inglorious Basterds

Hey, Tarantino, my old friend. You know what I liked about your films? It wasn't the feet, and it wasn't the copious film references, nor was it the sudden, high impact violence. It was the way you told stories through dialogue. So, by that rationale, I must have really loved Deathproof, seeing as about 60% dialogue, right? Well, no, I'm afraid not. I think what was missing mostly from Deathproof was that, drowning in vapid dialogue from vapid characters, there is practically no plot. No tension, no story. Just chicks in a bar/chicks in a diner. Well, good news, Quent old sport, because Basterds is a real return to form, showcasing everything I liked about your earlier films, with only a few of the annoying elements of your later stuff. Are there gratuitous pop culture references? Well, yes, but I didn't even notice most of them, and a lot of them are more about German cinema of the 1940's, which, given the context, is somewhat relevant. Is there sudden impact violence? Oh my yes, and it offers a marked anti-climax to the build up preceding it... kind of like a Sergio Leone Western, really. Are there feet? ...yes. There are feet. But no, forget all that, because what this film has, and what no Tarantino film has really excelled at since Pulp Fiction, are long, drawn out and painfully tense conversations. What makes them so tense? Because whilst a vast amount of time is spent observing the surface tensions, with every single scene there is an additional piece of information that takes every line being said and adds about 30 layers of menace to it. Breezy talk about Milk with a SS officer? There are Jews hiding under the floor boards. That celebrity guessing game where you stick the name of a famous person to your forehead? The participants are a mix of Allied spies and suspicious German officers. Dinner with a refined gentlemen in a Parisian restaurant? You're a Jewish woman sitting across from the man who had your family killed. Scenes like this are so laden with menacing subtext, that every single word and action by every single character carries with it a resonance that reaches far beyond whatever simple word or action has occurred. These scenes are brilliant.
There are annoying parts - I'm not fond of the way Tarantino's gotten into the habit of editing the music against his scenes. But the way it's shot, and the way the story is told, is also interesting, and not just from an aesthetic standpoint (although, just about every set looks wonderful, and the camera's milking every last scene for all their worth). Despite it's setting, this film is shot like a Western. No where is this more prevalent than in the opening scene. A farmer, his daughters, a sweeping vista, trouble approaches from the horizon - 2 black riders heralding a black carriage. The whole thing is so timelessly Western that it informs the rest of the story, even though the plot doesn't quite fit the style - Once Upon a Time in Mexico is possibly the closest parallel I can think of off hand, simply for the way we follow multiple protagonist through parallel and somewhat interconnecting plot-lines - though they never really meet. There's probably a wealth of subtext to delve through here, but as a piece of spectacle, it's quite enjoyable on it's own. Recommended, if you can forgive the travesty that was Death Proof and the snooze-fest that was Kill Bill vol 2.

Is it entertaing? Swings right from entertining to tense to outright distubring.

Is it worth watching? I certainly enjoyed myself, so I think I can reccommend this to any fans of Taratino's, especially his earlier films, and of dialogue-driven thrillers.

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