Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Summer Movie Time

I'm a huge fan of the movies. This year there have been some good and bad ones. This summer's collection included a fairly predictable Transformers sequel. It was loud and mindless and worse than the first one. That said if you're into watching transforming robots battle each other, none of that really matters and you'll probably think it's pretty decent. I know I did. Sometimes, we all need to watch a Michael bay film to melt the wax in our ears. I do understand if that doesn't really carry mass-appeal (though the amount of merchandise out there begs to differ). Lately I did catch two good movies I can recommend to just about anyone, though.

The first was one I caught with a few friends, we were planning on seeing GI Joe initially, because one person in the group really wanted to see it. It soon became clear that no one else did however, and we quickly shifted to District-9 [Trailer]. Judging from the reviews of the former, our decision was wise. I really enjoyed District-9. The movie is set in Johannesburg, South Africa. The movie itself is in English (and alien with English subtitles.) When I was in high school, I met a lot of Afrikaners working as expats in the UAE. I never did learn much Afrikaans from them, though I did pick up on some of the more choice swear words. (I also learned some of the lyrics to a cheesy country song, but that's a story for another day).

The movie is framed in part as a documentary, but this gives way periodically to pure plot sequences. The plot of D-9 has some obvious parallels to the days of Apartheid in South Africa. However I also saw some parallels to the large-scale mandatory detention centers in Australia. The aliens' origins are something of a mystery. They arrive in a tremendous floating craft that hovers over Johannesburg. The only clue we're given as to why the aliens (called "Prawns" because of their appearance) can't seem to express any strategic or intellectual sophistication comes from a brief glimpse of an entomologist, theorizing that the creatures are merely workers that have been separated from a hive mind. They live in shanty-towns in horrible conditions where humans maintain some semblance of order by questionable means. Our protagonist is a naive bureaucrat who suddenly finds himself in the middle of his company's program to replicate Prawn weaponry (which humans can't use since the technology is bio-active). Some people think the allegory is too obvious to be compelling, but I disagree. I think people are simply choosing the most convenient allegory- the apartheid one which is certainly there, but there's a little more going on here.

I especially like the weapons and the way the aliens and humans interact. The aliens and their weapons and craft aren't invincible beyond the realm of plausibility. They're advanced, sure, but a human missile can still do a number on them. It always bothers me a little when humans use a missile on an alien technology and it sits there impervious. Are the aliens working off a different periodic table? Here humans can melt metal no matter what galaxy it's from. It's a little refreshing. There's also a surprising amount of gore and general disgustingness (blood, amputation, necrotic tissue, dissections, crushings, etc.) I'm not too bothered by that sort of thing, but sensitive people might want to take that into consideration. I highly recommend the movie, especially if the alternative is Yet-Another-Hasbro-Toy-Turned-Feature-Film.

The other movie I recommend may not be for everyone because it's a children's film. It is another Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli film. I've been a big fan of these for a while now. They're well made and imaginative stories about (usually) plucky youngsters thrown into fantastic situations. Ponyo [Trailer] is no exception. It's the story of a goldfish that befriends a human and with magic goes through a metamorphoses to become human. It's very far-fetched but a lot of fun if you want someplace to take a younger relative. What surprised me, (and I'm really not trying to inject science into this for no good reason) was the amount of scientific commentary slipped into the cartoon. There are references to the Cambrian Explosion, the Devonian, and the names of a few ancient fish are mentioned. There was an element of the movie that irritated me personally, but probably won't affect most people. I've mentioned before that I'm trying to learn Japanese and despite knowing better, I had actually forgotten that this movie is originally Japanese but dubbed into English. I found myself seeing words on the screen that I could pronounce but not understand, or characters that looked vaguely familiar but which I couldn't place. When I got home I tried looking up a few of them, but it's difficult to "look up" a character in Japanese if you don't already know how the word is pronounced. I still don't know any other way of doing it except by stroke count alone- which is guesswork. It's a bit of a wake up call as to exactly how little I know.

Those are the two movies I can recommend, but there were two previews that caught my interest. (You can pretty much guess which preview went with which movie.) The first is The Princess and the Frog. Really the appeal for me is all about the unabashed high quality 2D animation that Disney was moving away from until now. I like 3-D movies and all, but 2-D has a unique aesthetic appeal that can't be matched. I still think that Disney's best cartoons with the exception of Toy Story were all traditionally animated masterpieces. Then something happened (I don't know whether it was Eisner or what) and Disney became all about churning out tacky forgettable nonsense that you couldn't pay me to see even if I was a child. I think this will have its own charm:

The other is Zombieland, the word "zombie" is in the title, and really that's all I need to know. The trailer however, is also extremely promising:


  1. I would strongly recommend "Orphan" which I watched the other day. It has a most unexpected and shocking twist which you wouldn't have dreamt of. I am also looking forward to the fourth installment of "Final Destination" (August 28).

    I know, I like to watch people getting mauled.

  2. I would strongly recommend "Orphan" which I watched the other day. It has a most unexpected and shocking twist which you wouldn't have dreamt of. I am also looking forward to the fourth installment of "Final Destination" (August 28).

    I know, I like to watch people getting mauled.


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