Tag Archives: aliens

Arrival (2016)

At last! I finally got to see Arrival, the sci-fi movie directed by Prisoners and Sicario (and soon Blade Runner 2049) filmmaker Denis Villeneuve. Of all the Best Picture nominees at the Oscars this year, Arrival was hands down the one I wanted to see above all others. Villeneuve is a master at creating atmosphere, tension, and stunning visuals, and I couldn’t wait to see what he could do with a film based on an award-winning science fiction story.

With expectations that high, I almost anticipated disappointment as I walked into the darkened cinema today. I intentionally avoided most of the trailers and all reviews so nothing will be spoiled, though I did hear a throwaway line in a podcast that revealed a little too much for my liking. Still, I felt like I knew little enough to make the experience fresh and unencumbered.

When I walked out of Arrival, I was speechless. I didn’t say anything more than a couple of words for quite a long time. My mind just couldn’t stop spinning and thinking about what I had watched and what it all meant. It’s 116 minutes long but I felt like I could watch another 116 minutes of it. I have no doubt I will be thinking about the film for days and I can’t wait to watch it again. It’s a thinking-person’s sci-fi movie—my favourite kind.

The plot is very simple. Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a top linguist who is contacted by the US government when mysterious alien crafts suddenly appear around the world with no apparent agenda. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) plays physicist Ian Connelly, while Forest Whitaker plays an US Army colonel. The film takes quite a realistic approach to what would happen in the event of an alien arrival event, providing its own subtle takes on government relations, societal reactions, religious beliefs and individual emotions.

The film is absolutely stunning to look at. I was very excited about the visuals of this movie after seeing Sicario, and though Arrival has a different cinematographer (Bradford Young, who was the DP for Selma; Roger Deakins was the DP for Sicario), the look is nonetheless beautiful. I’m not talking about just the special effects, which are seamless, but the landscapes and Villeneuve’s use of camera angles and focus. I’m very surprised the film was not nominated for Best Cinematography.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Arrival is some kind of alien invasion blockbuster. It’s a much more contemplative film where the pace is very measured. There was a section of the movie after the initial contact that felt a little slow and had me worried about where the narrative was heading, but fortunately, it soon got out of that rut and dragged me into its world. Before long, Arrival developed one of the most immersive film experiences I’ve had in years. I became completely lost in its story, characters and intrigue. There are so many fascinating little revelations and twists and turns — not all of them are shocking or unpredictable, but even the ones I could see coming nonetheless sent chills through my body.

The performances are, as expected, wonderful. Amy Adams should have been nominated for her portrayal, which carried the film from start to finish and was full of raw, nuanced emotion. Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, and Michael Stuhlbarg are all solid in supporting roles. I imagine much of the acting from Adams and Renner came in front of green screens, which only makes their performances more remarkable.

The closest film I can compare Arrival to is the 1997 classic Contact, directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Jodie Foster. Both are very personal sci-fi films that are fantastic at creating intrigue — they show enough to whet the appetite and satisfy your curiosity, but not too much so that the sense of mystery remains in tact. Both films are also very philosophical and emotional. I like how they don’t explain everything and leave the audience with unanswered questions and room for open-ended interpretations.

In the end, Arrival turned out to be every bit as good as I hoped it would be, albeit via an experience that was very different to what I had expected. It’s fascinating, thought-provoking, and ultimately very moving and heartbreaking. It is definitely one of movies on my list of favourite films of 2016 — the only question is whether it’s at the very top.

5 stars out of 5!

PS: The film isn’t perfect though. Apart from that slow patch I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t a fan of the Chinese general character played by veteran Asian actor Tzi Ma. The big blunder the film makes is that the head of the People’s Liberation Army should actually also be the President of China (and also the General Secretary of the Communist Party). Also, as hard as Amy Adams tried, her Mandarin pronunciation was poor,

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

independence_day_resurgence

As a big UFO and alien buff growing up, the original Independence Day should have been just my kind of movie. I remember Will Smith punching out an alien, Bill Pullman doing his cringeworthy Braveheart speech, and Jeff Goldblum doing Jeff Goldblum things, but I don’t remember loving the movie. A reasonably enjoyable popcorn flick is about as far as I would go.

Accordingly, apart from a little dash of nostalgia I didn’t really want anyway, there really was no reason for me to see Independence Day: Resurgence, especially not 20 years later. Sure, they brought back all the main cast sans Will Smith (maybe they refused to let Jayden Smith play his son in this one), but they also brought in charisma wormhole Liam Hemsworth as the new “younger generation” lead and replaced the wonderful Mae Whitman, who played Bill Pullman’s young daughter in the first time, with skinny blonde Maika Monre (even though I really liked her from The Guest and It Follows).

As expected, Resurgence was not very good. I don’t think it’s as vomit-inducing as what I’ve been calling it, ie Regurgitation, but it’s just a silly, special-effects heavy, overstuffed money-grab that fails to recapture any of the “event film” magic of the original.

I’ll start with what I liked about the movie. The end. Just kidding, there was a little bit more than that. I liked how the story built on the events from the first movie 20 years ago, creating an alternate timeline where humans have blended their own technology with alien technology to build a nice-looking future world where people can travel to the moon and back in seemingly minutes or hours (depending on what is most convenient for the plot), and there’s also world peace with no ethnic or religious conflict. That sounds like a much better world than the one we live in now.

The special effects are so very well done even by modern standards, and I’m glad that the film doesn’t take itself very seriously at all. It’s a movie that knows how silly it is and plays along with its tongue firmly in cheek at times without spiralling into a complete farce.

Having said that, Resurgence just doesn’t feel nearly as fun as it’s supposed to be. It gets off to a poor start with Hemsworth establishing himself as a douchey space pilot protagonist dating the ex-president Whitmore’s (Bill Pullman’s) daughter (Maika Monroe), who is now all grown up and a confidant for the current president (Sela Ward doing her best Hillary Clinton impersonation). Oh, and Will Smith’s dead (his photo is on the White House wall as a reminder), but his son (Jessie Usher) just happens to have grown up to be the best pilot in the country (and since this is the United States, the planet, but most probably the entire universe). In other words, the near-apocalypse 20 years ago had no impact whatsoever on nepotism.

The rest of the cast is also impressive, but none of Vivica A Fox, Charlotte Gainsbourg or William Fichtner have meaty enough roles to really offer anything worthwhile. The only guy who really seems to be a genuinely positive influence on the film is good old Jeff Goldblum. Though he churns through the same schtick as most of the roles he plays these days, he at least adds some levity and sense of fun with his quirkiness and one-liners.

Another really annoying part of the movie is the obvious product placement, in particular from China, from Chinese milk beverages to QQ (messaging service) to the somewhat arbitrary inclusion of Chinese actress Angelababy. She’s not bad in this, but her presence is awkward and an unnecessary distraction because her character is poorly written – though that’s pretty much like everyone else.

The biggest issue I had with Regurgitation is its inability to generate a care factor. Director, co-writer and co-producer Roland Emmerich has always had a thing for world-ending visuals (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, etc), and in this regard he doesn’t disappoint, but his history developing characters worth rooting for has been a lot patchier. Regurgitation is not one of his stronger efforts. Hemsworth is smug, Pullman looks too exhausted for anything except limping his way to an easy paycheck, and Jessie Usher doesn’t come close to exuding even half the charisma Will Smith did.

Consequently, most of the first half of the movie is rather unengaging as we wait for the inevitable alien invasion, serious carnage and of course, famous landmark damage. And when it arrives, most of it is nothing we haven’t seen before. It gets more exciting once the CGI-heavy spaceship battles begin (largely because human technology is much more advanced than what we’re accustomed to seeing), though things eventually plunge into a wild and laughable climatic sequence that tests the limits of how much ridiculousness audiences can bear. I guess it’s no less insane than humans using a computer virus to defeat an advanced alien species like they did last time, but saving grace for the human race this time is telegraphed far too early. Oh, and I love how mere seconds can expand into a seemingly infinite amount of time when the story calls for it. The problem with all of this is that at no stage does it actually make you feel like humanity is in any real danger.

I’m actually less critical of Regurgitation than how I make it sound in this review. The second half of the film is dumb, popcorn entertainment I didn’t really mind. But then again, it might just be because the first half lowered expectations too much.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Area 51 (2015)

Area 51

There was a time I was semi-obsessed with Area 51, the alleged secret US military base in the Nevada desert where alien secrets dating back to Roswell are said to be stashed. And so I thought I’d give the film Area 51 with an attitude akin to how I approach UFO sightings these days — sceptical but hopeful.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to be even worse than what I thought it would be. In short, Area 51 epitomises everything wrong with the found footage sub-genre. It uses every trite tactic in the book, looks cheap, feels cheaper, uses little-known actors to play stock characters spewing pathetic dialogue, and most of all, offers zero scares, thrills or creativity.

The premise is as formulaic as you imagined. A bunch of young people decide to break into Area 51 to uncover the alien conspiracy and government lies. Despite been terrified of getting caught and going to jail, they do a lot of stupid illegal stuff and record it all on cameras while complaining about it the whole time.

As it turns out, security at Area 51 is worse than your local supermarket, allowing the teens to get in with ease. They see a lot of lame stuff they try to trick you into thinking is impressive with their fake excitement and shock, before — you guessed it — aliens break out and start killing people.

The film’s whole idea of horror is people running around with shaky cameras while breathing loudly. That and brief glimpses of a “monster” before people are suddenly snatched away are pretty much the only two tactics of the entire movie. I guess I should not have been surprised given that it is directed by Oren Peli, whose previous directorial effort was the first Paranormal Activity.

The characters do stupid stuff and say stupid things non-stop, such as “What’s that noise?”, “Where’s that sound coming from?”, and my personal favourite, “Do you think we should be here?”

Shamefully, the film doesn’t even offer much legitimate information about the real Area 51, or at least what sources believe the place is like. Come on, at least educate us a little.

So yeah, Area 51 is a flaming turd, a combination of everything that annoys me about movies. I disliked it immensely.

1 star out of 5

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

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I didn’t initially plan on seeing Tom Cruise’s latest blockbuster, Edge of Tomorrow, at the cinemas. The well-publicized Groundhog Day device applied to a sci-fi premise didn’t feel all that enticing to me, and neither did the fairly stock-standard trailers I had seen. In the end, I was swayed by good word-of-mouth reviews and decided to give it a shot. And I’m glad I did. Edge of Tomorrow is everything you could hope for in a summer blockbuster — exciting action, tremendous special effects, superstar power, and just plenty of old-fashioned fun.

The story is actually based on a Japanese light novel called All You Need is Killin which the protagonist is placed in a time loop that keeps bringing him back to the day he dies in a war against aliens who have invaded Earth. Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage (a nod to the Japanese protagonist Keiji), a PR man of sorts for the NATO-lead United Defense Forces in their fight against the alien race called the “Mimics.” He’s not exactly a likable guy, and for that he ends up being on the front line in humanity’s last-ditched effort to topple the Mimics once and for all. Then, as the “Live. Die. Repeat” tag line suggests, Cage is forced to live the same day over and over again until he can either defeat the Mimics or the time loop ends. The only person who can help him is Sergeant Rita Vrataski, played by Emily Blunt, a giant sword-wielding warrior affectionately nicknamed the “Full Metal Bitch.”

It’s a synopsis that sounds almost typical, and in many ways Edge of Tomorrow is straight and predictable. Having said that, I was surprised by what an enjoyable ride it was. First of all, despite the time loop, the film never feels repetitive (my main fear). There are of course some parts that are repeated, but for the most part the script does an excellent job of varying up what to show audiences and throwing in little differences and curve balls to keep things interesting.

Another strength is its ability to switch tones between serious and funny with apparent ease. We feel Cage’s pain, frustration and helplessness at his situation, but we also have plenty of fun with it when the movie tells us it’s OK. Many of the deaths Cage has to endure are actually lighthearted and in some cases quite hilarious, as is a lot of the banter he has with army leader Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) and the members of J Squad, a ragtag team of crazy rejects he has been assigned to.

Most of all, the film comes at audiences at a finely tuned pace — relentless enough so that you never have time to stop and think about all the plot holes or things that don’t make sense, but not so fast that you lose track of what is happening or the sci-fi explanations you’ll need to grasp. Speaking of which, I was impressed with how smart and efficient the film was in explaining Cage’s predicament, including WHY everything was happening to him. For me it was important to know that the time loop had a reason, and director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith, Jumper, Fair Game) does a great job of creating a “believable” premise and helping audiences in suspending their disbelief.

The action is finely executed and goes hand in hand with the top-notch special effects. The human soldiers wear these mech-warrior suits that remind me a little of Elysium (but are actually quite commonly seen in Japanese anime) and look very convincing in both their design and movements. The Mimics have a unique look with a body that is constantly changing, and they move so fast that there’s no mistaking that they are not from this world. The only complaint I have is that the enemy, as often is the case in these invasion movies, are essentially generic robots that don’t serve any purpose other than to overwhelm our heroes with sheer numbers.

The performances are fantastic, as you would have expected with any Tom Cruise film. Say what you want about him, but Cruise, at 51, is still looking great as an action hero. He may be the craziest “technically sane” man alive off-screen, but when it comes to making movies, Cruise has always been the consummate professional. His trademark intensity shines throughout the film and he is superb whether as a conniving coward or a courageous soldier. Emily Blunt also looks like she had a lot of fun making this, trading her stereotypical image of the prim and proper damsel in distress for baddass warrior (who also happens to be in incredible shape). A lot of scene-stealing supporting roles too, including from Paxton and Brendan Gleeson, as well as Aussies Noah Taylor and Kick Gurry.

At 113 minutes, Edge of Tomorrow is about right in terms of length and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The thing that almost ruined the film for me, however, was the ending, which I felt did not match the rest of the film’s high standards. In the beginning I was confused, but then I realized it just didn’t work. I think it’s a reflection of the fact that the script had to undergo several rewrites and that they went into filming without having finalized the ending.

Apart from that, Edge of Tomorrow is a surprise summer hit that ticks all the right boxes. I don’t think it’s Tom Cruise’s best sci-fi — that honour would have to go to his all-time classic Minority Report — though I believe it ranks right up there at either No. 2 or 3 along with the underrated War of the Worlds.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: Tom Cruise has actually only starred in five sci-fi features: Vanilla Sky, Minority Report, War of the Worlds, Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow

Movie Review: Prometheus (2D) (2012)

I just watched one of my most anticipated films of the year, Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s is-it-or-isn’t-it prequel to Alien, his 1979 classic. There is an answer to that question but it’s not a particularly important one, because Prometheus stands on it’s own extremely well. It’s not the classic Alien or Aliens is, but hey, few films are. If you measure the film by the impossible standards of those films, of course it is going to fall short. But by ordinary standards this film is freaking awesome. Visually stunning, with excellent performances and plenty of suspense. It’s not groundbreaking by any means but takes the successful Alien/s formula and places it on a much larger and different angled palette.

Set late in this century, it tells the story of a group of private sector space travellers who head to the moon of a distant planet to seek the origins of mankind. What they find, of course, is not quite what they expected.

This is a very different film to those in the Alien franchise (I am going to pretend, by the way, that the Alien vs Predator pieces of crap never existed). This is a ‘big ideas’ movie, or at least it tries to be one, and the scale and grandeur dwarfs anything that has been attempted in those earlier films. The special effects and the sets and make up are simply mind-blowing. The introductory scene sets the tone perfectly and is one of the best I have seen in a very long time.

At it’s heart though, Prometheus is still a sci-fi mystery horror, and in that regard it delivers. Even when you have a fair idea of what is likely to happen it’s still suspenseful — and often, extremely gross. It has scare tactics that will remind viewers of the Alien franchise though I wouldn’t call it ‘recycled.’ There are also one or two memorable scenes that will probably linger in the back of my mind forever.

The screenplay is written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. Spaihts previously wrote the script for The Darkest Hour, which was a horrible movie but not because of the writing (I thought the idea was decent). Lindelof, on the other hand, is the co-creator of and writer for one of the most fascinating and frustrating TV shows of all time, Lost, and his fingerprints are all over this one.

On the bright side, the plot unravels like a brilliant mystery, akin to slowly peeling off the layers a giant onion. When you’re not terrified you’re fully engaged trying to figure out what the heck is going on. On the other hand, Prometheus is full of plot holes, loose ends and unexplained stuff that will frustrate a lot of viewers to no end. It’s almost as though it was written with a sequel in mind, or perhaps, like Lost, the writers just did what they thought was cool at the time without giving much thought to whether they could make sense of it later, if at all.

Being a film about finding the origins of man, there are of course some philosophical considerations. On this point I felt Prometheus was also very Lost-like; that is, a lot of interesting questions but not a lot of answers, a lot of style but not a whole lot of substance. That said, I didn’t really care. Intellectual stimulation was not high on the list of reasons why I wanted to watch this film.

The cast is super. Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce. No weak link in that line up. The Assbender, though, is the clear standout as David, a mesmerising guy you quickly find out is not quite the same as the others. It’s not a stretch to say the Assbender carries the bulk of this film. 300, Centurion, Inglourious Basterds, X-Men: First Class, Shame and now Prometheus. The dude has become one of my favourite actors.

Rapace gives a sound effort as scientist Elizabeth Shaw, though it’s rather unfair to compare her to Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) because they are such different personalities. Unfortunately, she doesn’t even channel her inner Lisbeth Salander, which might leave some of her Dragon Tattoo fans disappointed. Despite her name being the first in the credits, Rapace doesn’t stand out throughout the first half of the film, which I’m not sure is by design. However, she does have one ripper of a scene later on, possibly the best sequence in the entire film (and an instant classic), and more or less redeems herself by the end.

So yeah, Prometheus is pretty cool. Flawed but very enjoyable if you can look past its most egregious problems. At the end of the day, I didn’t watch Prometheus expecting it to be as good as Alien/s. I didn’t watch it expecting to gain more insights about where we came from. I watched it expecting to be entertained, awed and terrified for a couple of hours. And I was.

4.25 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Paul (2011)

I like comedies and I’m fascinated by aliens, so Paul, the new sci-fi comedy written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (of Shaun of the Dead fame) seemed right up my alley.  In short, Paul is pretty good, but nothing special.

Paul is about two English comic book nerds and buddies, Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost), who travel across the Atlantic to attend Comic-Con and to take a trip in their RV across the country to visit alleged alien hotspots.  Of course, they run into the titular character, voiced by Seth Rogen, who is unlike all the stereotypes we have come to expect, and that kick starts off a series of wild and wacky adventures.

For me, there were lots of moments where I went, ‘That’s very clever’ and had a giggle or two, but the laugh-out-loud moments were rarer than expected (though, to be fair, there were a couple of ripper gems).  That made it slightly disappointing as I thought the potential for better laughs was definitely there.

My favourite thing about Paul is the Arrested Development connections.  The film is directed by Greg Mottola, who did a few AD episodes back in the day before going on to direct Superbad and Adventureland.  Jason Bateman plays the mysterious Agent Zoil, and there’s also Jeffrey Tambor as a sci-fi writer and Jane Lynch as a themed cafe owner.  They are all brilliant.  I won’t spoil any more than that except to mention that the film also features the likes of Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), Bill Hader (Adventureland) and John Carroll Lynch (my favourite husband from Fargo), plus a few truly awesome cameos.

Ultimately, Paul is what it is.  A few flashes of comedic brilliance, some clever lines, surprisingly wonderful cameos and references — super fun but not exactly super funny.  I’d call it an amusing film with a dash of geeky charm, for the most part an enjoyable chuckler as opposed to a laugh-out-loud kind of movie.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Monsters (2010)

Monsters commences across Australia on 25 November 2010

Tell me this is not an awesome premise for a film:

To find alien life in the universe, NASA sends a probe into space.  The probe crashes at the US-Mexico border upon its return.  Six years later, the US and Mexican military are still struggling to contain the “creatures” in a sealed off area dubbed the “Infected Zone”.  And now, an American photojournalist is entrusted with escorting his boss’s daughter through Mexico back to US soil as the mayhem continues around them…

If that synopsis got you a little interested, then you might understand why I was super excited to catch a screening of Monsters, the low budget British sci-fi written and directed by special effects master Gareth Edwards.

Unfortunately, Monsters doesn’t come close to living up to its promising premise.  There were some good moments, but the main problem is that Edwards decided to place the focus of the film on the relationship between the two central characters, Andrew (Scoot McNairy), the photojournalist, and Sam (Whitney Able), the boss’s daughter.  While the two actors have chemistry (they were dating at the time and are now married), neither character came across as particularly likable, making it a bit of a stale romance in my opinion.

Consequently, Monsters became a bizarre hybrid between an alien sci-fi and road romance movie — kind of like a mix between District 9 (or Cloverfield) and Before Sunrise — except neither aspect was done very well.  There were moments of genuine tension and excitement whenever the “creatures” were nearby, but they were too often overshadowed by the tedious glances and conversations between the leads as well as the long montages of them travelling through Mexico.  This doesn’t mean those things weren’t done well, but man, I just wish Edwards took a different path with this film.

Having said all of that, Monsters does have a lot of positives.  The visual effects were magnificent (as you would expect from a writer and director who specialises in it), despite the fact that the entire film was made on a budget that would ordinarily only be enough to cover the catering expenses of most Hollywood blockbusters.  The acting was solid, as was the cinematography.  Much of the dialogue was apparently improvised, and I think it shows (in a good way), coming across as natural and unforced, for the most part.

Clever idea, intriguing premise, good performances, wonderful special effects, and when it wanted to be, pretty exciting.  But at the end of the day, Monsters was not what I wanted it to be.  That’s really my problem, but it is what it is.

2.5 stars out fo 5

Movie Review: Predators (2010)

After several years of the disappointing Alien vs Predator efforts, it’s good to finally see one of the franchises returning to its roots.  If you ignore all the films with Aliens in them, then Predators is essentially the third film of the franchise.

Excellent.  Enough of the Aliens crap.  I want to see Predators hunting and frightening the life out of humans again.

Well, Predators gives the audience exactly what they have been asking for since 1987 (the 1990 sequel was too brutal for my liking).  The premise is simple but effective — throw all the most lethal humans on the planet into a jungle and watch the Predators hunt them down.  It’s man versus the unstoppable hi-tech creature in hardcore terrain that harks back to the original when Arnie took on and defeated the first Predator.

However, gone is the bulky mass of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In his place — Oscar winner Adrien Brody!

Most people, when they first hear about this new action hero, would have had the same WTF reaction as I did.  Adrien Brody?  The Pianist?

Yes, him.  As Brody said it himself in an interview — go look at the elite soldiers of today.  They all look like him.  Thin and sinewy (though few have his ridiculous nose).  None of them look like body builders.

Fair enough, but physically Arnie at least made us believe there was half a chance of survival.  Maybe the gamble with Brody paid off, maybe it didn’t.  I’m kind of sitting on the fence with this one because he is a brilliant actor and brought out so much more from his character than anyone would have thought imaginable.  But he’s still Adrien Brody (albeit a visibly more buffed one).

Anyway, Brody is not the only one.  There’s also Topher Grace (Spiderman 3), whose wimpiness makes Brody convincing (if only for a second) as a super tough, super deadly mercenary.  There’s Alice Braga (I Am Legend) as an Israeli sniper (and token female), Danny Trejo (Con Air) as a Mexican cartel enforcer (and token Latino), Mahershalalhashbaz Ali (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) as an African RUF officer (and token black guy), Oleg Taktarov (Righteous Kill) as a Russian soldier, Louis Ozawa Changchien as a Yakuza enforcer (and token Asian) and Walter Goggins as a deathrow inmate.  Plus there is an extended cameo from another big name who seems to have put on a bit of weight lately.  It’s a mixed bag, and you can be sure that not all of them are going to make it to the end.

Director Nimrod Antal (who directed the 2007 Vacancy) clearly tried to channel the raw power, excitement and fear of the original into Predators.  It’s essentially an update of the first film with new characters, more dangers and a couple of twists (one of which is a complete dud).  It’s not without merit as there are a number of tense, action packed scenes, but the fear simply wasn’t there.  There was a feeling of inevitability about all the deaths and when they would happen, and there wasn’t even anything particularly original about any of them.

I really wanted to like Predators, but it didn’t come close to the classic original.  Still the second best Predator film though.

3 stars out of 5

[PS: SPOILER ALERT — the worst part of the whole film was when the Yakuza dude took on one of the Predators with his Samurai sword.  I expected the guy to be some master swordsman and to see some rapid sparks flying everywhere.  Instead we got to see the lamest sword fight in history.]

Movie Review: District 9 (2009)

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District 9 is a film that I really liked but wish I liked more.

Produced by Peter Jackson and directed by Neill Blomkamp (previously best known for his 3D animations), the film has an original and fascinating premise with a political message – aliens stranded in Johannesburg, South Africa and segregated by an apartheid government into the titular District 9 (a reference to the infamous South African ‘whites only’ District Six of 1966).

However, the film was not as political as I expected – while it may have started off that way, before long it morphed into your more typical action sci-fi film, complete with an impossible mission, robots and alien blasters.

Stylistically, the movie was also somewhat uneven.  It commenced with a documentary-infused style which utilises a mixture of news footage, interviews and a ‘live’, nausea-inducing hand-held cam (which made my wife ill).  It was fresh but after half-an hour of it I was beginning to get sick of it (both mentally and physically).  But as the film started to become more personal and action-oriented (and for where news cameras would not have been available), it started to return to more traditional film-making and story-telling techniques.  Strangely, it was at this point that I began to really enjoy the movie.  Perhaps it was because characters finally started emerging and plot started moving.  Regardless, it was fun.

Speaking of characters, the human actors are largely unknowns (to me anyway), and they put in credible performances.  The lead actor, Sharlto Copley who plays Wikus van de Merwe, really annoyed me at the beginning but he grows on you as the film progresses.

Needless to say, the special effects were seamless.  So was the make-up.  I especially liked the alien design, a far cry from your slim, grey-skinned extra-terrestrial with the big black eyes.  They were funny (and provided much comic relief) but human enough for audiences to relate when required.

So overall, an unusual, solid film – one that I’m likely to remember a few years from now.  There were some glaring plot holes and inconsistencies, but District 9 is impressive enough in most other areas for me to recommend it.

3.5 stars out of 5!