Monday, September 21, 2009

REVIEW: District 9

The backstory to the making of District 9 is fast approaching folkloric proportions.

Peter Jackson (naturally the PJ of Lord of the Rings fame) wanted to work with South African, Neil Blomkamp. The intended project become bogged down as I understand things often do in the film world. Jackson instead now encouraged Blomkamp to redo an earlier short film he had made about aliens appearing over Johannsburg. District 9 resulted.

The first third or so is shot in documentary format, the moving camera and 'unscripted' appearance giving a real immediacy to the audience before moving seamlessly into the film as such.

This is not a happy film. The Death Star is not destroyed and Princess Leia giving medals to the victorious Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. This is a dark film. It looks at issues like seggragation, prejudice and the willingness of the authorities to be ammoral, especially when they have something to gain.

Following the appearance of alien creatures, nicnamed prawns from their similarity to those crustraceans beloved of our dining during summer, the visitors end up in a major encampment. With this film set in near-future Johannasburg, the irony of setting up post-apartheid forced separation hits the viewer with as subtly as a brick. However this does not detract from what is more important, the story telling.

The action slowly builds up and once that pace is achieved, just rockets along. I hardly moved at all in my seat while watching, and as the film finished only some 40 minutes ago as I draft this entry, my dodgy knees are still suffering from being locked in the one position for far too long. It takes a lot to get me of all people, to sit that still for that long.

We are left with an ending that is not an ending, but could be seen as set-up for a sequel.

The screenplay was written by Blomkamp with Terri Tatchell. I'd love to have a read as I imagine it would be one of those scripts that reads as well as it ends up being shot.

NOT a film for the kids and not one for adults who like soft, fluffy endings.

As a dedicated sci fi freak and lover of all good story telling, this gets a big thumbs up from me!

REVIEW: Pelham 123

I'm not a great fan of remakes. If the original was any good, I tend to agree with Samuel L Jackson when he was first approached about starring in the remake of Shaft: “what's wrong with the one we've got?”

I remember The Taking of Pelham 123 as a fast-paced thrill of a film. Raymond Shaw was memorable as the clinically cold, calculating criminal, holding a train of hostages for ransom in the New York Underground.
With that original being such a good film, I had to ask, why remake it? Unless you can improve on the original, then why not leave well enough alone? The exception to that rule, to my mind, is when a filmmaker can bring a new dimensino to things without detracting from the original story.

It was with some trepidation that I went to see Pelham 123, the remake starring John Travolta. While I long ago accepted that the mature Travolta can definitely act, part of me still associates him with Saturday Night Fever, or worse, with Grease - bland vomit-inducing. A part of me also still remembers him as Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back Kotter (am I really that old?). How was Director Tony Scott going to address things. Was it just going to be a cheap copy? The original story butchered beyond recognition?

Thankfully, my fears were not realised.

Travolta was menacing from the moment he first appears at the start of the film. Kudos to the make-up people who ensured that the tattoo on his neck actually looked properly aged and not just obviously slapped on for the role as is too often the case. Verisimiltude folks!

Whereas Shaw's portrayal of the villain was a man always in control, even when things were getting away from him, Travolta's is far wilder. He goes off into rants at the drop of a hat, to the point of foaming at the mouth. Yet before killing people, he tends to apologise for what he is about to do.

It is easy to forget beforehand that the film also stars Denzel Washington who was an excellent counter-point to Travolta's character. There was nothing particularly stand-out about his performance but then we have been spoiled over the years with solid-to-excellent performances by Washington, film after film. Both Travolta and Washington were credible and believable in their roles, giving that all-important suspension of disbelief by the audience.

A good supporting cast rounded things out, particularly with James Gandolfini as a jaded New Your City Mayor, who cannot wait for his term to end so he can get the hell out of the place.

The film managed to retain all the original crispness of the original but deepened things by a greater exploration of the characters involved. I won't say that this is better than the original, but Pelham 123 is definitely worth seeing in its own right.

Well done to the original novel's author, John Godey, and scriptwriter, Brian Helgeland.

This one gets a big thumbs up from me!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

REVIEW: Watchmen - what a film!

I had heard that Watchmen was a good film but I never got around to seeing it at the cinema. I recently bought a copy of it on DVD, entirely on a whim. Oh wow - am I now regretting not going to see it on the big screen!

This film simply blew me away. As a rule, the idea of Superheros who are able to maintain their secret identity by putting on a simple mask that just covers their eyes, really gets my goat. Like, who can honestly believe the idea that Superman has been able to hide as Clark Kent for all these years by simply combing his hair over and slipping on a pair of hornrim glasses. But the power of Watchmen drew me in, entirely suspending disbelief.

The camera work was brilliantly shot, with scenes and shots blending just so seamlessly, with even moves into CGI not being noticeable, apart from the obvious exception of the bright blue Dr Manhattan.
Jackie Earle Haley was brilliant as Rorschach, the near-sociopath. The power of his performance was simply amazing. Jessica Alba and other established gorgeous young babes of the screen were considedered for the role of Laurie - Silk Spectre II - but were considered too well known to be taken seriously in the role. Instead Malin Ã…kerman was cast in the role. And it was a great move. She was equally as wonderful in her way, but also looked hawt!
What an different view of superheros was presented - dark, dangerous. But that was what the original Batmen was like - practically a vigelante. But I didn't see the willing sacrifice of some 15 million people to save the world even remotely coming.
I am not generally a great lover of film treatments of comics and graphic novels. All too often they are either soft and fluffy, lacking the original edge, or end up lacking all credibility. I have not read the originals but there was nothing soft or fluffy about this film, nor was it lacking credibility in the slightest. This was hard, edgy stuff and absolutely compelling viewing.
This one is a winner!