August 11, 2009

District Nine (And Three Quarters)

**Warning. This movie is not actually part of the HALO franchise. If it were, I would be giving you a much stronger warning. Also, Bruce Willis is a ghost.**

This is my list of things that really hit the spot at three in the morning:

Super Big Gulps
White Castle
Lots of Pancakes
Seeing some goddamn tanks (especially walking tanks)

And though, I will admit, this night was not epic enough to involve tiny cheeseburgers or a trip to the legendary Portland Hotcake House, I am sucking on a huge Mountain Dew right now and completely satisfied with Neil Bloominkamp's District Nine.

Neil Bloominkamp is a South-African director who was tapped to direct the highly anticipated HALO movie, based on the popular video game franchise for the Xbox. As much as I know the HALO movie will suck, District Nine rocked. It focuses on a group of aliens who landed on earth 20 years ago and were forced to live in slum-like internment camps. If you've seen the ads you know this film is sorta-kinda doing the Cloverfield cinema verite thing, which is pretty cool because the movie plays out like a Mondo version of ID4. Our hero, a worthless bureaucrat sent to oppress the aliens, gets turned into an alien himself and then must help another alien restart their Independence-Day-like mothership so he can return to his home planet and get help. The ads play the movie up as if it's a preachy allegory for xenophobia. Blah-blah-blah, humans are racist, apartheid is bad, humans are the worst aliens of all, blah-blah.

But it's not like that.

This movie is too busy kicking ass and taking names.

Put it this way: the film ends with the same bureaucrat piloting a giant Gundam through the streets of Johannesburg screaming "come get some!" as he punches rockets out of mid-air and throws them back using a gun that not only shoots bolts of lightning, but bolts of lightning that make people explode as if they were kernels of popcorn in a nuclear reactor. It's like Transformers except with a strong R rating for lifelike kickassery.

Sure, this movie has it's problems. For one, the aforementioned bureaucrat character, whose name I can't even remember, is so wimpy and whiny that he makes Toby McGuire's Spiderman look like the biggest badass who ever lived. And that even goes for emo-Spiderman. The character has no redeeming characteristics, and I mean none. He doesn't even seem to have a personality. Imagine if Milton from Office Space were Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day, and that's who this guy was. He's the hero, but at a certain point I either wanted him to man-up or just get killed already. Even when the film moves into buddy movie mode toward the end and the hero has to team up with aliens to save the world, the main character is not above hitting his alien savior with a shovel and whining mercilessly about his own dull plight. Yawn.

And if you think the alien characters are any better, you're wrong. The main alien hero is a monolith of generic alienhood. Why is he the only alien among millions who knows how to restart the mothership? How did he find the special parts to get it started again? I dono. He's an alien. I guess he must be special. The character has an alien son, who apparently knows enough about technology to jimmyrig their infinitely complicated mothership using only broken parts from machines that look like they once ran Windows 96, but I can overlook this because this character doesn't really have any more development than anyone else, including the hordes of thugs our hero mows down in the streets using his lightning gun.

Also, did I mention that the alien technology itself looks like it runs on Vista? No wonder their mothership crashed. *cue rimshot*

However, by far the most annoying thing about this movie is the music. The music director alternates between dramatic Hollywood thumps ala The Dark Knight and annoying, vaguely African-sounding vocalizing that made me think that any minute the sky would open up and someone would rename the main character Simba. The music director plays this music whenever there is a pause in the violence for more than 5 seconds, as if we're supposed to step away from our ass-kicking state of glory and reflect on the horrific nature of human greed. Pissh. More lightning guns.

Speaking of, lets talk about the real reason this movie rocked.

This movie is really about the weapons. Yeah, the plot plays around with the whole "weapons companies are bad" thing, and even depicts local warlords hording alien weapons and cutting off people's hands as if the filmmakers were trying to imitate the infinitely better film, Blood Diamond. Nevertheless when the whole thing is said and done, more than half the film's running time is spent either confiscating, trying to purchase, stealing, or using alien superweapons. Yeah, it feels nice when the main character finds the special liquid that fuels the plot, but it's so much cooler when he grabs a forcegun and blasts mobsters straight through brick walls as if they were sock puppets. When the main character finally falls inside the alien Mech, there is no amount of ridiculous violence he can unleash that the audience wouldn't eat up. This movie is pornography for the readers of Guns and Ammo.

Maybe that explains why more than %50 of the theater-goers around me were young men between the ages 0f 20 and 25 paired off into groups of exactly two? I could barely stand the stench of Axe bodyspray and budding Bromance.

All in all, this movie sells itself as "The Color Purple" for the "lets blow some shit up" set, and it delivers. If you want a painfully simplistic look at apartheid and some creative cinematography with your huge explosions, this is the movie for you. Until then, I'll give you a look at the only character I can think of wimpier than this one: Peter Parker.

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