So once again we have survived.

District 9

tn_district9Well, we’re getting to the end of the summer here and it’s been pretty light on good old fashioned popcorn type movies. Most of us enjoyed STAR TREK, but that was at the very beginning of the summer, it seems like a lifetime ago. TERMINATOR SALVATION was a letdown, TRANSFORMERS 2 need not be described, GI JOE was hilarious but not the type of behavior we want to encourage. Leave it to some 29 year old South African director of video game commercials to make the most memorable sci-fi action type movie in a while.

Neill Blomkamp was the plucky young orphan that Peter Jackson discovered living off scraps in the Wellington sewer system (not sure about the authenticity of this wikipedia bio) and for some reason chose to direct a movie of the video game “HALO.” But the money fell through on that one so director Blomkamp and producer Jackson said “Fack it” (they both have accents) and made a lower budget sci-fi movie free of video game heritage, an extension of Blomkamp’s ’05 short film ALIVE IN JOBURG.

mp_district9The trailers for DISTRICT 9 have been intentionally vague and mysterious. They still didn’t make me too interested in the movie but then the unanimous nerd raves started hitting and I got my hopes up. Drew McWeeny compared it to seeing ROBOCOP for the first time, for example. I don’t think it’s anywhere near that good, but it’s undeniably an original and well put together movie with many thrills, laughs, a few truths, and impressive but completely organic special effects harry pottery (“wizardry” is overused so I made up that word). I was surprised to learn that Jackson’s company Weta was busy with AVATAR so they only did the mothership. The aliens were all done by a company in Vancouver. Same place where movies that take place in Seattle are always shot.

This movie doesn’t have Seattle in it though, it takes place in an alternate Johannesburg where 20 years ago a huge spaceship showed up and just floated above the city. After it sat there for a while the South Africans went up and cut that bitch open and found a bunch of starving CGI aliens that looked like bug people or shellfish with big dewy eyes. So they brought them down and fed them cat food but everybody was disgusted by their appearance so they locked them in a ghetto where they lived in filth and crime became rampant. Also super heroes are real and Nixon is still the president.

(One thing I never figured out is if apartheid also was going on during this alien business, or whether this happened in place of apartheid. Maybe it brought the races together. Black and white South Africans seem to share in their prejudice toward these aliens they call “prawns.”)

The movie unfortunately (if you ask me) is told mostly in the form of a documentary, complete with expert interviews, file footage etc. A camera crew follows the dipshit recently-promoted bureaucrat in charge of relocating the aliens from District 9 to a concentration camp. A ways in the movie begins to slip out of the mockumentary and show some aliens inside their house and some other things that they don’t expect you to believe were caught on tape. But even then it keeps switching to newscopter footage and security cameras every once in a while.

The fakeumentary style is done perfectly. The experts and newscasters and everyone all seem completely authentic (one possible exception being that they explain things that everybody would know if they lived in a world with aliens). And it does help to create a realistic texture to this world that you don’t get in, say, STARSHIP TROOPERS. Seeing these CGI aliens perfectly integrated into shaky video footage makes them seem real.

But still, can we fuckin retire this technique now? Can this be the very last one? It’s not a novelty anymore, fellas. We’ve seen it. Let’s move on. Time for real movies again. Tell a story through situations and conversations, not through a guy looking into the camera describing it. I know it’s not exactly the same approach as BLAIR WITCH or CLOVERFIELD (it’s not supposed to be from one camera), and it’s not painful like DIARY OF THE DEAD. But it’s a gimmick, to me it gets in the way of telling the story.

You know what it might be? When you watch a movie like WAR OF THE WORLDS, you might suspend your disbelief and pretend that what you’re watching is real. When you watch this though you have to pretend not only that this world is real, but that you are sitting in a theater in that world, watching a documentary about recent events. I think that’s too many layers there, it ends up pulling me out of the story instead of into it. Or maybe all that pretending is a little too role playing, a little too cosplay. Whatever it is, about halfway through the movie I was really sick of it.

Luckily that’s exactly when our dumbass human protagonist Wikus is forced to team up with an alien with the legal name of Christopher Jones and you realize that Blompkamp is finally done with all the setup and explanation and now the story can really kick in. And that’s when I felt like I was watching this great movie that the nerds are talking about. (Of course, this is the “standard action movie” part that the less enthusiastic reviews all complain about.)

The most ingenious aspect of the movie is this character of Wikus. He’s not a traditional hero in any sense. He’s a huge asshole and not in a cool way like Ash or Jack Burton or somebody. I think the closest comparison is actually Steve Carrell on the USA version of THE OFFICE – just a deluded boob showing off for the cameras. He seems to think he’s a humanitarian but in the first section of the movie he’s casually racist and even genocidal. In the most disturbing scene he destroys a shanty full of alien eggs while mugging for the camera and explaining how to do it like it’s some neat information for the viewers at home to enjoy. He gets that person-in-authority arrogance as he goes around to these homes trying to get aliens to sign a form consenting to being evicted. He loses track of what a shitty thing he’s doing and thinks they’re the bad guys for not making his job easy.

Obviously the movie is partly based on apartheid, which Blomkamp saw growing up in Johannesburg. But it would be easy to show the people as loud-mouthed bigots, human supremacists. Blomkamp makes it more true and unsettling by having characters who are completely clueless about their prejudice. They got these aliens crammed together living in poverty and then when some of the aliens act a fool the humans use it as evidence that they’re inferior. In fact the movie cleverly makes you look at them with racist eyes yourself. They look like monsters, they speak in clicks (with subtitles), you see them dumpster diving and rioting, sometimes acting up MARS ATTACKS! style, and you don’t really have any context. When Christopher is first introduced he seems like a terrorist up to no good, but by the end he’s one of very few good people in the movie.

In his review Roger Ebert says “What Neill Blomkamp somehow does is make Christopher Johnson and his son, Little CJ, sympathetic despite appearances. This is achieved by giving them, but no other aliens, human body language, and little CJ even gets big wet eyes, like E.T.” I think the actual difference between the portrayal of the Johnsons and the other aliens is that they’re the only ones we really see outside of the documentary style. The rest are nameless faces we see in clips somebody caught of a riot or a crime. They interview plenty of humans about the aliens but they never interview a single alien. They’re not trying to be racist, in fact quite the opposite, but they still don’t understand these aliens, they don’t relate to them, and when we see the aliens through their documentary they’re not people, they’re subjects. It’s only when the movie magically goes out of mockumentary mode that we see what they’re really about.

And I think I just talked myself out of being against the documentary style. It makes an important point. But still, last one guys.

I remember when I first saw STARSHIP TROOPERS I was surprised by how much violence they got away with, but that’s because it was mostly bugs getting blown up. In this one almost all the violence happens to humans. The alien weapons just make them pop like balloons. It’s not pretty.

It becomes pretty clear at the end what a sequel would be called if they made one. But I’d like to see them back away from DISTRICT 10 and actually call it DISTRICT 9 2, just so 976-EVIL 2 wouldn’t seem lonely. Also, why don’t they start doing letters in sequel titles? If Rob Zombie doesn’t want his movie HALLOWEEN II to be confused with Rick Rosenthal’s movie HALLOWEEN II he shouldn’t use the same title, he should call it HALLOWEEN B.

Anyway, according to interviews Blomkamp is open to a sequel but doesn’t necessarily plan for it to be about what the end of this movie implies it would be about. I would like to see what happens with Christopher, but if not, so be it. All I ask is that you abandon the fake documentary gimmick. You were a caterpillar but now you are a butterfly. Fly away and leave that fake interview shit on the ground next to the used cocoon.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, August 17th, 2009 at 1:11 am and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

123 Responses to “District 9”

  1. This won’t come out over here until October. Damn.

  2. Great review vern. I had agreed with Ebert when I read his review, about just making those 2 aliens sympathetic and the rest not, but I think you brought up a really good point. Them eating the asshole soldier at the end tho doesn’t really help their cause any. They should reconsider savagely eating humans during their alien rights protests.

  3. The “fakeumentary” style of it didn’t bother me, since I thought it was well-handled. The biggest problem I had with the film is that a cliche is a cliche no matter which language it’s in, Alien or with a South African accent.
    But having said that, I loved this film. Maybe it could have worked better as a straight narrative, but when they start blowing stuff up, they blow stuff up so well it covers whatever minor complaints I have.
    Also, I love what happens to Van De Merwe. Reminded me of that X-Files episode “Young At Heart” (I had to look that up).

  4. Chopper Sullivan

    August 17th, 2009 at 2:39 am

    I thought the savagery of the aliens was a great point. It’s like slaughtering Native Americans and then watching them retaliate in brutal fashion.

    I think Ebert kind of missed the boat on this one too. The ugliness of the aliens reflects the viewpoint of those in charge. Those that consider blacks less than human view them as disgusting animals.

    I think this movie was a lot smarter and more fun than say, Children of Men. And I’m a little disappointed you didn’t mention the action in this movie, Vern, which is superior. It still has the shaky cam shit but does it proper.

  5. I said my opinion on this one back in the Kickboxer II talkback.

    I was intrigued for this one when I saw the first ‘government propaganda’ teaser. It’s rare we get an ad campaign that doesn’t give the whole damn movie away and instead is tempting to ask what it will be about.

    Thus I was totally shocked when the nerds liked the ad campaign. Why do you ask? You say it was purposely designed so nerds would be foaming at the mouth for it. Yeah that was the point but now-a-days it rarely works.

    Examples:

    James Cameron’s Avatar – his first movie in 10+ years (that’s not a documentary because those aren’t real films apparently) should be enough to get nerds excited and the fact that there is a lack of ad campaign and information should be adding fuel to the fire.

    Nope. Go online and all you read is ‘This looks my Halo video game! I’d rather Halo!’ ‘Obviously the reason they aren’t showing us or telling us anything about it is because they are ashamed of it and it’s gonna suck!’ ‘There are no spoilers out for it so it must be the worst movie ever since Spider-man 3 which is the worst movie ever because it had Gwen Stacy in it and didn’t kill her!’

    War of the Worlds – They purposely kept the design of the tripods a secret. Nerds bitched and wailed about how they wouldn’t show them. (conversely Transformers was originally going to do the same with their robots but the designs leaked and many argued that that happened in the movie’s favor as fans were able to adjust to the drastic redesigns better than say Zilla in Godzilla ’98 (where the design was kept secret till release day as well)

    Not even sci-fi/fantasy die-hard scary nerds are the only offenders:

    This one more casual movie buff who kind of pisses me off because he’s a bit of douche wrote a huge rant about how he refuses to watch Seven Pounds because of it’s trailer. “I refuse to see it on the basis that trailer didn’t tell or show me anything other than Will Smith being in it!” (translation: I’m gonna shove it to ‘the man’ and not see it!) (Irony: just two weeks prior he was ranting about trailers giving too much away)

    So yeah I would say the vague ad campaign was a risk (to more than just trying to get the casual movie audience in).

    That rant out of the way and as stated earlier I really liked this one.

    I am having a bit of deja vu here though. Coming out of Fight Club one my issues was that the ‘moral’ and ‘commentary’ were a bit in your face, I felt that here too. Yet I’m reading all these reviews from people (sometimes smart people too) who totally missed it, just like with Fight Club. As someone up there mentioned about Ebert missing the boat on this one. I’ve read similar complaints about how the aliens are ‘under developed’ or shit and I’m like ‘That’s the point’.

    As a southern boy I can tell you I noticed immediately how this thing was going with the documentary footage. It hasn’t changed at all our local media outlets still love a good ‘raving black person’. Just last week we had rapper or someone put away for life and all the tv news stations gleefully played footage of his sister completely and totally spazzing out, ranting and raving. They played that footage over and over again.

    It happens all the time, even on national news channels. They love a good over-the-top African American or homosexual. Makes them ‘good god-fearing’ white folk feel all good about themselves.

    I really like that the movie made it’s lead so despicable. It would have been easy for to ‘eventually come around’ or ‘learn to respect them’ but that’s just not what (usually) happens in real life. Between this and Drag Me Hell

  6. -accidentally hit the submit button

    Between this and Drag Me To Hell maybe we’ll be getting more interesting lead characters now (hahaha just kidding Drag bombed and I suspect a similar fate for this one). I mean can’t get anymore bland than Duke from GI Joe.

    As for the third act everyone is bitching about, I didn’t mind it. I will say it did feel a bit like a pitch reel for Blomkamp to show what he can do (action-wise) or a joke by him and Jackson to show what the nerds lost by them loosing Halo. But the action in that last part was solid and did something very few straight-up action movies do anymore, it had actual emotional impact because you knew and liked the characters (well one or two of them anyway) and you clearly knew what the stakes were and legitimately didn’t want the negative to happen. Everything a good/great action climax should have that action movies don’t really have anymore

    example:
    Optimus Prime or Commander guy: Alright Sam we know led a group of blood-thirsty evil alien robots into a heavily-populated city for some reason… Fuck you we’re making this up as we go along! Your mission is to get the Hellraiser cube to the top of a building to get onto a helicopter!

    Sam: Why?!

    Optimus or Commander: I dunno lol!?

    What I’m trying to say is, is that District 9 is being called smart & original so a bunch movie snobs are now coming out of the wood-work to inform that the movie is in fact dumb and you are dumb for liking it. They can go fuck themselves and go back to watching shitty arty ‘challenging’ (because they are unwatchable) independent and foreign films that really aren’t all that original either but they’ll defend it because it ends with people talking rather than blowing stuff up.

    Don’t listen to those guys. They convinced you that Being John Malkovich was “hilarious” and nothing could be further from the truth.

    Listen to vern, this is a good one and in the end it’s at least different, in a good way.

  7. Saw this thing yesterday, and I have to say, it actually sort of exceeded my expectations. I know the fakeumentary thing is kind of a lame gimmick by now, but here I think it’s a very well justified narrative decision. I also really love that the movie is confident enough to have it both ways an not apologize for it by offering some lame excuse like it’s a re-enactment or something. They don’t need to try and convince you that you’re actually watching a documentary in the future or something, its just that this is a great way of giving us insight into the way people think about this phenomena. It makes the world feel real and also gives you a sense of scope which you probably wouldn’t get from the main storyline if that was the only thing they gave you.

    The apartheid parallels are pretty obvious, and I was sort of dreading that they would use that to claim depth without actually offering anything other than an allagory, but the way the movie sets it up is both sharp-eyed and subtle, especially the things Vern mentioned, for instance also not allowing the viewer to understand what the aliens are doing or depicting Wickus as a sort of affable, nerdy nice guy who is just goes about murdering
    alien babies because you might as well enjoy your day job. I mean, I think for sure it’s supposed to be set in modern-day, post-apartheid S. Africa. But they don’t play up the idea that no one learned anything from their last go-round as ironic; instead, they make you understand why this seemed like a logical course of action and, by proxy, why it was allowed to happen before.

    I also really, really appreciated the movie’s confidence that some things are better left unexplained. We never really learn what the heck happened to the Aliens or why they left their home planet or what went so wrong that they ended up here. People leaving the theater were asking why if the Aliens had these powerful weapons they didn’t just explode the shit out of humans and take their cat food by force. A fair question, but what I think is cool is that they’re left so inexplicable that you can think of any number or reasons why they wouldn’t — or, attribute it to some weird alien motive which would make sense only to them. If they do make a sequel (I kind of hope they don’t… this story is perfectly self contained) I hope they don’t just use it as an excuse to go back and explain everything which never needed explaining to begin with. We’re better off not knowing.

    Yeah, honest to God, I’m searching for a bad thing to say about this baby, but it’s just
    a really solid effort. Nice job Blomkamp! Keep up the good work.

  8. I’m skipping this review for now , I don’t want to know anything about this . I stopped reading when Vern said that Nixon is still president of Johannesburg with super-heroes. What pisses my off is that I checked a bunch of websites and some say it will be out here in Italy on October , others say the official day is 14 December 2009. Man , I don’t know what the fuck is going on , but it’s also true that this “internet” thing is still relatively new over here in this medieval country. Good half review Vern , now excuse me , I’m going out to gather wood for the fire and hunt for food .

  9. There’s a review at the link. I’m eager to see what Blomkamp has up next. Exciting times in filmdom.

  10. Niel answers some of the more puzzling questions posed by The Onion AV Club:

    NB: “…the aliens being this termite hive that have lost their queen, then maybe you’re on shaky ground. But I like the idea that they’re from this society that’s lost their queen and their leadership, and they need to reestablish that.”

    AVC: That point about the queen never comes out explicitly in the film. There’s a lot left to the imagination, and a lot the audience has to figure out on its own.

    NB: “Yeah, I think so. I really wanted the film to feel as real as possible, but I think if you spoon-feed people every piece of detail, it makes it less real. It just feels like a Hollywood spoon-feeding festival, as opposed to if you throw the audience into the middle of it, so they’re kind of trying to figure out what’s going on. I was okay with how much wasn’t explained.”

    AVC: I only came out of District 9 with one plot question, and it involves a major spoiler, so it’s going at the very end of this interview. How was Christopher able to get the mothership started so quickly and easily, given that none of the other aliens were able to when they were originally stranded? Why was he able to just punch a button and get it started after 20 years?

    NB: “The idea is that—this gets really geeky and insane, but going back to their hive-structure thing—their queen has died, and the elite population of their society has died, which are really the decision-makers. You’re left with a bunch of drones that aren’t directed on their own goal-setting basis. I like the idea that after 20 or 30 years, that their ESP kind of hive-mind will begin to almost elect members of its population to start—their fundamental brain architecture could actually change, and they start forming leadership roles.”

  11. Vern, per normal, you’ve provided us with not only the best review of District 9, but also the most insightful. Thanks.

    Also, I wanted to throw out/expand upon the defense of the usage of the documentary style. I didn’t really see it as requiring an extra layer of suspension-of-disbelief from the viewer so much as an extra layer of narrative. The documentary/security camera views are providing us the story that humanity is telling itself happened while the movie parts are telling us what really happened.

    So, just as the documentary style is providing an excellent examination of unknowingly racist propaganda, it’s also the viewers’ source of just what happened next. How humanity reacted to and explained these events. Obviously, George Romero was trying to do the same thing with Diary of the Dead, but where his was overbearing and downright annoying, I think this was a lot of fun.

    So, in summary, I don’t think that the audience is meant to pretend they exist in that world and are watching a documentary. I think the most they are being asked to pretend is that this happened and they’re getting to watch competing narratives of what actually happened. And I think that presenting the movie that way gave more depth and reality to the world than just presenting it as a movie.

  12. I would really like to see a prequel to this film that shows the aliens coming to Earth. People could be really excited at first, welcoming them with open arms, but then they find out that the aliens are really just like us. They aren’t benevolent god-beings, they don’t have the answers to the secrets of the universe. People gradually get disenchanted with the aliens and see them as a nuisance. I suppose all of this comes across in the movie but I think it would be worth exploring in more detail.

  13. No prequels. Not for this movie, not for any movie. Please God no more.

  14. This is real sci-fi. Not that Will Smith pseudo-bastardized sci-fi we see in I AM LEGEND or I ROBOT. Nor that nonsense which the Geek Internet thinks STAR WARS is the begin and end of all science fiction. A good recent example being STAR TREK.

    Of course in Mori’s nerd context, only thing that he could compare to is ROBOCOP, I would compare it more to THX 1138. Not exactly or in narrative similarities, only that both THX and DISTRICT 9 don’t fucking spoonfeed explainations for everything.

    Some things you figure out on your own, and well D9 is more a Docu-drama if you ask me. Of a fake universe, and its quite confidently handled and well executed.

    Also, for a Hollywood-relative low budget, DISTRICT 9 is more impressive with its robot fighting FX than that 200 million dollar TRANSFORMERS 2 that Mr. Majestyk enjoyed so much that he’ll regret eventualy. Hell I even loved that detail that despite such a badass robot and tools and shit, eventually it can be taken down.

    This aint a video game.

  15. I really really really need to see this movie
    Kinda reminds me of the time travelers = illegal immigrants metaphor from South Park

  16. I basically see it the opposite way with the documentary stuff, Vern. The first 30 or 40 minutes are pretty brilliant and set us up for a satire of xenophobia, racism, etc., but once it drops the documentary style, it also puts all the really interesting stuff it was doing on the back burner and turns into just another shaky-cam action movie, albeit one that’s better than most.

  17. I actually thought the fake documentary stuff was cool and I thought it was brilliant the way they mixed it with more conventional movie scenes

    buy yeah I do think it would get tiresome if Neill Blomkamp used that style for EVERY movie he does

  18. Well, now I’m gonna defend Moriarty’s ROBOCOP comparison. I don’t know exactly what he meant by it (I don’t think he was actually saying they were similar), but I do think there are a whole bunch of parallels.

    They’re both dark social satires that are fun and entertaining and never preachy. Both are released by studios using well-executed effects on a lower budget to compete with the much more expensive movies that aren’t as challenging. Both are violent (although DISTRICT 9 doesn’t seem shockingly violent like ROBOCOP did at the time). Both have to private corporations fucking things up by running programs that used to be run by the government. Both have heroes that do action hero things that the director clearly considers morally questionable.

    And there’s that Verhoeven thing that I love where the world is just horrible and presented to you matter of factly instead of telling you it’s a dystopia. Wikus at the beginning is like a doofus version of somebody working of OCP.

    So even though it’s a different feel this is more in the Verhoeven tradition than just about anything else I can think of.

  19. The Robocop – D9 comparison works for me. Love this movie, and I’m glad most people seem to be digging on it.

  20. RRA, I’ll regret nothing. I stand by my convictions: Transformers 2 is an enjoyable piece of shit that made me laugh. That ain’t gonna change no matter how many times somebody on this sight makes a (rapidly becoming tiresome) “at least it was better than Transformers 2” remark. I’m just a guy who liked the movie. You guys are the ones who’re obsessed with it.

  21. Vern – You know, that makes logical sense. Alright you got me there.

    Majestyk – If you can’t stand the heat, take the boiler plate back for a refund.

    See, I mutated a cliche.

    “Transformers 2 is an enjoyable piece of shit that made me laugh.”

    I think my earlier point about Tf2 stands when this is the most positive comment I’ve heard about it here.

  22. Jareth Cutestory

    August 18th, 2009 at 7:49 am

    “Transformers 2 is an enjoyable piece of shit that made me laugh.”

    In a perfect world, that phrase would be written bigger than Bay’s name on
    the movie poster and dvd packaging.

  23. I don’t feel the need to defend myself, RRA, and the only thing I take offense at is the idea that you think that I do. So I liked a dumb movie. Big deal. Yet you think it’s THE dumb movie, the line in the sand that separates the sheep from the cinephiles. The fact is, I went into Transformers 2 wanting a goofy, bloated, borderline offensive movie to laugh at, and I got my money’s worth. You wanted a cinematic straw man to burn in effigy, and you got that, too. The difference is that I got what I wanted and moved on, while months later you’re still dragging Transformers 2 around like the steamship in Fitzcarraldo. You clearly enjoy hating the movie far more than I enjoy liking it.

  24. Jareth Cutestory – I agree.

    Mr M – I must admit, I only refer Tr2* because it does obviously bother you. Not out of meaness, just as an inside joke between us. But since it bugs you, I’ll quit it.

    If you want to bust MY balls, rip up my liking THE BLACK DAHLIA or THE INTERNATIONAL or HEAVEN’S GATE or THE PERFECT GETAWAY or RAISING CAIN or other shit I’m a fan of that most folks aren’t apparently.

    I won’t take any of that busting personally.

    *=I refuse to call it T2.

  25. I guess I was just kind of offensive because I was just minding my own business and then out of nowhere I got called out for some old shit. It’s like when somebody keeps picking on you until you get annoyed and then he’s like “What? I was only kidding.”

    And I don’t really want to bust your balls, especially since you seem to be a big De Palma fan, which I really respect. That’s the thing: I have all these great movies that I love, but Transformers 2 (I also refuse to call it T2) is the one that gets remembered. It’s like the punchline of that old joke: “But you fuck ONE goat…”

    Anyway, I hope we can all get to the point where liking Transformers 2 is considered no more shameful than liking Hudson Hawk. Remember back when that was the worst movie ever made and the symbol of “what’s wrong with Hollywood today”? If people now feel safe coming out and admitting that they enjoy watching Batman & Robin, I should be allowed to laugh at my racist robots in peace.

  26. you should shake it off or roll with it like Vern. I mean hell he liked SPIDER-MAN 3, X3, and SOLDIER.

    The dude is bulletproof. He’s like Brad Pitt: He could murder a nun with a bag of puppies, and he would still be respected.

  27. I guess you have a point. The smart thing to do would be to recognize when someone is clearly trying to get a rise out of me and not give them the pleasure.

    I also like all of those movies without shame. Well, sort of. I liked X3 the second time I saw it, and I don’t really like Soldier, but I love Kurt Russell in it.

    “What are you going to do?”

    “I’m going to kill them all.”

    Every action script should have a line like that in there somewhere. If it doesn’t, you’re not done writing it yet.

  28. “Every action script should have a line like that in there somewhere. ”

    Indeed. Along with “the look,” which I never recognized until some guy wrote some book about Steven Seagal movies.

  29. Also crucial is the “Oh shit, it’s on” moment, a term Vern coined in the Rolling Thunder review for when Colonel Frank Thunder shows up at Tommy Lee Jones’ house during dinner so they can go get some revenge and Tommy Lee just puts down his fork and says “I’ll get my stuff.”

  30. Mr.M , RRA:And don’t forget the “Just How Badass is He?” scene like in Redbelt and , well , almost every Seagal movie ever , really.

  31. For example in Under Siege 2 , when they realize Casey Ryback is on the train they literally shit their pants , just by whispering his name. It’s almost like there’s a column in “Henchmen Weekly” entitled “Don’t Fuck With This Guys” , and he’s at the very top of the list.

  32. I would like to commend Majestyk for being the first to reference Fitzcarraldo in his defense of liking Transformers 2. Unless that fuckin Armond White nut already did, I didn’t read his review.

    Although I do think of Transformers 2 as that movie that represents everything wrong with etc. etc. I also laughed and sort of had a good time being appalled by it. I don’t think what he’s saying is much different from what I said about GI JOE, so I relate.

    And thank you for remembering my various badass theories. I’m way behind on my new year’s resolution but I’m still trying to plan out my attempt at a script that would contain all of them in one movie. One tough one is that it seems like all the best badass juxtapositions have been taken. I mean I don’t want the guy collecting faberge eggs or nothing.

  33. Gentlemen! Vern needs suggestions for non-badass peccadillos!

    I have three:

    1. Sailboat-in-a-bottle-making.
    2. Playing “Redemption Song” on an acoustic guitar in the subway for spare change.
    3. Blogging.

  34. RAA – I’d appreciate it if you’d share your opinion on The Black Dahlia.
    I’m not a De Palma fan; I think Blow Out and The Untouchables are solid work,
    Body Double is goofy fun, but I find Femme Fatale and Redacted excruciating.
    Everything else is somewhere in between.

    I’d like to see a film on the Black Dahlia murder, but have stayed away from
    De Palma’s film mostly due to bad reviews.

  35. Collecting limited edition super-hero dolls , like the kid in Live Free….. (I’m a comic book reader ‘ but , damn , I hate those things .)

    Dressing as Gandalf or Frodo , in selected conventions , of course .

  36. Vern – Maybe the secret to formulating an original badass juxtaposition lies not in
    the activity itself (playing piano, collecting Royal Dalton figurines) but rather
    lies in the composition of the character. The effectiveness of the juxtapositions used
    in both Ghost Dog and Chocolate weren’t really in the actitivity – we’ve seen plenty of
    tough guys into samurai codes – but we’d never seen Forrest Whitaker or
    Yanin Vismitananda inhabit roles that are traditionally given over to white male
    tough guys.

  37. And another suggestion : the hero is completely badass , but he’s obsessed with catching all the Pokemons on his Gameboy !

    On a more serious note , what if he’s a dancer ? You know , classical ballet ? Tony Jaa did a similar scene in Ong Bak II , but that was a traditional dance , I’m talking opera-like here .

  38. Now that I think about it , the dancer angle works ACROSS movies . John Travolta was Tony Manero and ended up working with Tarantino and Woo , and Patrick Swayze made Dirty Dancing before Road House . Maybe that is one of the reasons why they work as ass-kicking badasses : the surprise factor . What , the guy from Staying Alive shooting dudes while doing a back flip ? I wanna see how it turns out !

  39. Hm… non-badass pecadillos. Well, Kenshin Himura (from Samurai X / Rurouni Kenshin) makes rice balls that look like cute little mice. {g}

    I know it’s anime, but you should at least try the Trust/Betrayal miniseries, Vern. It’s an ultra-serious and realistic story–no cute little rice-mice (that comes later)–set during the last major Japanese civil war (same setting as that movie you loved, _Sword of Doom_.)

    The main series is set during the same time as Tom Cruise’s movie _The Last Samurai_, when Japan was trying to become a modern 19th century nation (that wasn’t irony, the series is set in the 1800s {g}) but is struggling to maintain its cultural identity. Lots of badassery in both the miniseries (which was produced after the main series ended) and the main series, although the main series also has plenty of typical anime wackiness and some wuxia-ish martial art things. The miniseries, by contrast, is totally realistic (and grim): the creators show _exactly_ what happens when people kill one another with katanas. Both the main and the miniseries are built around historical events and sometimes feature historical characters (including former Shinsengumi captain Hajime Saito, who lives and breathes badassery. {ggg!})

    Bonus: the first two-part arc in the main series (after eps introducing most of the main and secondary characters), is for all intents and purposes a de facto sequel to _Sword of Doom_ featuring the sociopathic former Shinsengumi guy from that movie. He’s the first guy in the main series who can give Kenshin a real fight.

    It was a friend’s squee-ing over the cute mice-rice balls, many years ago, that sold me on checking out the series, though. Very glad I did.

  40. Personally, I’d like to see a hard as nails badass whose juxtaposition isn’t found in a particular activity, like
    postage stamp collecting, but rather in a kind of unarticulated ennui. He or she
    isn’t tormented by one particular traumatic event, but has a kind of general
    malaise.

    Given the current state of film, I’d like to see an aging badass who quietly
    mourns the loss of everything oldschool – the gentrification of old neighborhoods,
    the old model cars, the music.

    My preference would be for an older character, along the lines of
    Terence Stamp in The Limey or Lee Marvin in damn near anything.
    The film would be as much about kicking ass as it would be about the end of
    the era of kicking ass.

  41. The first US Poet Laureate slash International Government Assassin?

    Or how bout a guy who poses kittens and puppies for greeting cards?

  42. I want the guy to collect faberge eggs. It’s a good setup for a scene when he’s fighting people in his home and he has to keep saving his eggs from being broken.

  43. Jareth, I think you just described most Clint Eastwood movies from the past twenty years.

  44. Ha! Ian, you’re totally correct. Good catch.

    Good thing I’m not a script writer.
    Eastwood could sue my ass six ways to Christmas. Then he’d beat the shit
    out of me on general principle.

    I’m starting to realize how difficult this genre of film is to write.

  45. As well as the collected works of Raymond Chandler, one of the building blocks of the modern badass. “Unarticulated ennui” describes Marlowe to a T.

  46. Good point about Philip Marlowe. Marlowe also played chess, which you could
    easily see Eastwood appreciating.

    And Marlowe brewed his coffee without a filter. Badasses have no use for this
    filter shit.

  47. Thinking about this movie a little more, I just keep being impressed by the attention to detail and the perceptive little touches that bring this from just being a movie ABOUT racism to being a movie about WHY racism happens.

    I love, for instance, that they insist on going through the motions of “evicting” the aliens, including having them sign the paperwork, even though, as “Christopher” points out, its all completely illegal and they’re not even getting real signatures anyway. I mean, its the same reason dictators bother to rig elections, even though its completely obvious to everyone that its a sham. The beauracracy must go on, even in the absence of any real effect, and after a while it just becomes self-justifying.

    I guess he has a slight advantage having grown up in S. Africa, but Blomkamp’s keen eye for this sort of thing really impressed me. It makes the world he creates feel natural and organic, so much so that we can understand how it got to be this way without him having to spell it all out. And it also allows him to get away with it when he stretches credulity a bit — we might not be able to buy as cartoonishly evil an antagonist as the lead mercenary in a movie which didn’t otherwise feel so natural. Here, though, we see a wide range of people and can just accept that he’s an unbelievable asshole, because, hey, some people are. And probably a greater porportion of Mercenaries than the general population.

  48. Jareth: Marlowe also had a cat, I believe, which is a pretty not-so-badass thing to do, especially in the forties.

    Or was that just in Altman’s The Long Goodbye (which needs a review, by the way, Vern, hint hint)?

    Speaking of things that need a review, Vern, are you planning on checking out Zoe Bell’s web series-turned-DVD Angel of Death? It’s written by Ed Brubaker, probably the best and most hard-boiled children’s comic strip writer working today. If you absolutely had to read one graphical type novel, his book Criminal is right up your alley.

  49. Jareth Cutestory

    August 18th, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    I’m guessing at this point, but I think it was just Altman’s film that had the cat.
    As far as Chandler’s books go, Marlowe didn’t even have a secretary, unlike that
    prima dona Sam Spade.

  50. Majestyk – I watched ANGEL OF DEATH but didn’t have anything interesting to write about it. Zoe Bell is cool, the story is pretty good for a while, but it’s not very memorable. I guess the most interesting thing is (SPOILER) that Lucy Lawless plays a woman who tries on Zoe’s clothes, is mistaken for her and killed – a clever play on their former stunt double relationship.

    I hope Zoe Bell gets some more starring roles though, she’s good.

  51. Why was Lucy Lawless trying on Zoe’s clothes in the first place?

  52. Huh. That’s disappointing. I was hoping for a classic action-star debut for Ms. Bell, whom I’m sure we all agree is the real fucking deal. I’m checking it out anyway. I hear the fights are good.

  53. you guys have really got me thinking… the hero’s interests don’t necessarily have to be overtly nerdy or effeminate to create an interesting contrast. maybe he’s a big fan of dub music, maybe he’s a BBQ enthusiast (and all his friends go on about his steaks being the “Queens tits”). hmm. i know i’m gonna be thinking about this shit all night.

  54. “2. Playing “Redemption Song” on an acoustic guitar in the subway for spare change.” i dunno… thats a pretty badass song
    especially if his ‘song of freedom’ involves fucking up everyone who tries to oppress people
    i’m still trying to figure out if an obsession with looking good is badass juxtoposition or part of being a badass.

  55. Damn skippy it’s badass. If Bob Marley, Johnny Cash, and Joe Strummer have all done something, its pretty much for goddam sure badass.

  56. Off-topic, but for some reason I prefer the Strummer version of “Redemption Song.”

    Maybe its that it came out after he died, and it added this poetic eerie exit, ultimately in retrospect a guy singing about what he’s wanted and tried to do, expressed through guitar.

    Then again, I shouldn’t be really shocked considering the good reggae shit The Clash recorded, especially White Man in Hammersmith Palais

  57. Re. Badass juxtaposition.

    Here’s a good example from real life. I was lucky enough to work with Benny The Jet a while ago and he is a 100% badass, on this we must all agree. He is also a very strict vegan. Like, completely anal about everything he ingests. It is a weird combo. And he is evangelical about it – I was parched and bent to drink some water from a water fountain and he had kittens -“Ugh – that stuff’s full of chlorine and fluoride.” So I went to grab some Dasani (the coca cola water that they’d brought in for everyone) and again he was like “That’s the same stuff!” so he took me to his trailer and gave me some spring water from his secret stash!

    He’d prepared all his own food and brought it in with him, and his dessert was this tofu stuff (tofutti or something-doesn’t sound tough…).

    I just think it’s a cool contrast for a movie character – because he could be constantly disgusted by everyone’s eating habits, and always having to organise his badassery around his strictly scheduled and prepared meals.

    In fact it reverses a tradition in action movies for the hero to eat and behave like a macho slob (see Dirty Harry, Lethal Weapon etc).

  58. Solid notion, Telf. I think that’s kinda what they were going for with “Monk” too, (although in that case its the archetype thats badass more than the specific character).

    But yeah, the idea of a badass who is very particular about something – -maybe diet, maybe cleanliness, maybe diction or even pop culture — is cool. Plus, you can use it as a little badass boost later in the film when the hero has to do something like eat a greasy burger while undercover. He or she won’t like it — but they’ll man up and get the job done without arousing suspicion. You can’t play it as a joke, though; or at least, not a joke at their expense. They just know what they like, and fuck you if you don’t think its cool.

  59. Mr. S,

    Yup, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. He chokes down a burger or something, no one is any the wiser – later on excuses himself and barfs in the restroom. Or better yet, later admits to someone that it was utterly delicious and he can hardly take the guilt.

    Or, he Forrest Taft’s someone in the tummy causing them to puke and goes on to berate his victim for his poor dietary choices – suggesting healthy alternatives. “This wouldn’t have happened if you had better digestion – have you tried quinoa? It’s really quite delicious…”

  60. You could do what we were talking about before and make the main character gay. That’s the ultimate bad-ass juxtaposition.

  61. telf : Wow , that’s a good story , man , thanks for sharing . His fight with Jackie Chan in Dragons Forever makes me piss in my pants every time I watch that movie .

    RRA : I was thinking the same thing , but the first song that came to my mind is Armagideon Time . Now that I think about it , the set he played over here in Bologna , with the Mescaleros , was mostly reggae , and of course , some classics like Death or Glory and Straight to Hell.

  62. CallMeKermit – me too, that scene is incredible.
    He was so cool, it was an amazing honour to get to know him. His fight with Cusack in GPB was fantastic too. He’s a fascinating guy, complete warrior archetype who just happens to have been born in the 20th century. He’s still heavily involved in training kickboxers and MMA guys along with his film work. And he does it all through the power of tofu!

  63. CallMeKermiT – I’m kinda surprised you didn’t mention his/their Police & Thieves instead. But hey, all friggin good as far as I’m concerned.

  64. I loved the Wikus character. He’s the character that has a genuine arc, not the boring and saint-like Christopher. If Chris had more ambiguity (maybe he was a kind of terrorist, which would be justified, or maybe he tries to double-cross Wikus at some point) he would been a more complex and equal counterpart to Wikus.

    For instance, it would have been more interesting for Chris to have led the assault on MNU. He seemed like more of a royalty-class alien compared to the “worker” aliens you see in the rest of the movie. I was expecting the director to explain why Chris is so different for the others at some point but it never happens.

    I still think it was a great sci-fi movie. The best in years.

  65. I liked Wikus leading the assault, because ironically while he’s turning alien…he’s man up finally.

    Also, liked how most of his (original) motivation to get that fluid and shit was for selfish reasons, and kept at it rather later than most movies with such a narrative would go before that turn.

  66. Re: Redemption Song, it’s not that the song itself isn’t badass. It’s just been ruined by the roughly 27 million white college dudes with dreadlocks who have played it because they think they’re oppressed because the government won’t let them smoke weed. Actually, white dudes with dreadlocks pretty much killed all of Legend for me. I can pretty much only listen to Marley’s really early ska shit now.

  67. Mr M – No good song can ever be ruined.

    That post reminds me of people who diss rap because white suburban middle-class kids listen to it. Well yeah, they do. But alot of the shit they buy, like for example by Jay-Z, is still great stuff. Guilt by Association is wrong.

    I’m not the biggest Reggae fan, but I respect it as an artform and in context its history.

    In college, all during the Dubya Regime, I listened to lots and lots The Clash and Public Enemy. Does that mean I ruined LONDON CALLING and “Fight the Power”?

    I’m afraid that post says more about you than those pot-smoking kids.

  68. Jareth Cutestory

    August 19th, 2009 at 7:50 am

    I’d be the first in line to see a film that featured a badass dreadlocked rastafarian.
    Because reggae music gets a lot of airplay in movies, it would be an opportunity to
    dig real deep into unfamiliar stuff, like the actual beliefs and practices of the religion.
    Not to mention how rich the Jamaican vocabulary would be for cool dialogue.
    The deep dub reggae mentioned in an
    earlier post, like Scratch Perry or King Tubby, would be a great fit for a grim action film.
    And a rastafarian protagonist could incorporate much of the dietary
    material discussed above. Also, you could write in one of my favorite b-movie
    tropes: a deeply religious man who kicks ass for the lord. Something about a man
    of god with a machine gun really lends a sense of grandeur to the film.

  69. Jareth Cutestory

    August 19th, 2009 at 7:56 am

    Not to mention: an action hero who fires up a big spliff after a job would
    make a pretty striking image. Or even better: lights the spliff before the big
    gun battle and doesn’t drop it throughout.

    Someone upthread mentioned a gay action hero protagonist. William Burroughs
    used a gay detective in “Cities of the Red Night” – when he achieved orgasm he
    would have visionary experiences that would help him along in the case he was
    trying to solve. Obviously it would take a brave director to put something
    like that on the screen. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a good start.

  70. Mr. Majestyk – RRA is right. That post does say more about you than those pot-smoking kids. Can you fill in some backstory for them? Don’t take this the wrong way, but maybe if you gave them a better character arc we wouldn’t have this complaint. Perhaps you should give them some kind of redemption in the third act? I have an idea for a song you could play over that.

  71. Apparently none of you ever went to a school with a hippie infestation. I smoked tons of weed, hung out with plenty of hippies, and I’m just over that whole scene and mindset, which purports to be about peace and love but is really about selfishness and laziness. Five years later they’ve all got office jobs and Volvos, so I can’t help but feel that they’re all full of shit.

    I’m not saying that Bob Marley sucks. I’m just saying that the experience of listening to all but a few of his songs has been ruined for me by association. He was supposed to be the voice of the downtrodden, but all he makes me think of are smelly white dudes who got daddy to buy them a van so they could follow Phish around for a summer while I had to get a job. I don’t mean to make gross generalizations, but all white people with dreadlocks are awful human beings who cannot be taken seriously for any reason.

    Maybe this does say more about me than them. That’s fine. Doesn’t change the fact that white people who sing Redemption Song without the benefit of being either Johnny Cash or Joe Strummer are major douchebags.

  72. Jareth Cutestory

    August 19th, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Mr. Majestyk – The white college kids you describe in your post probably
    think “Marcus Garvey” is a style of hat and are usually
    scared shitless by “Iron Lion Zion.” I doubt they’ve even heard of
    Burning Spear or Wailing Souls.

  73. Nah, they know Burning Spear. He still tours a lot, or at least he did back when I was still paying attention. I actually saw him once.

    I’ll admit, I’m not the world’s biggest reggae fan. It’s one of the few forms of music that I have a hard time getting down with. The rocksteady riddim just kind of bores me. I can take a song at a time, but that’s about it. Throw in all the negative connotations and you can see why it rubs me the wrong way.

  74. Burning Spear is the dude and not the band, right?

  75. Jareth Cutestory

    August 19th, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Not only is Buring Spear a dude, but he is a righteous dude. Part preacher,
    part historian, all dude.
    His “Marcus Garvey” album is often considered the best roots reggae album ever made,
    at least by people who keep up with those sorts of things.

    I see your points about white kids appropriating the music of other cultures for
    frivolous purposes. I figure people give a pass to the appropriation of reggae because
    so much of the music is about love and acculturation. Most people I know
    get way more pissed off about the white kids who appropriate the fashions and
    idiom of hip hop but fail to absorb any of the politics.

  76. I do like the Marcus Garvey album, now that you mention it. I think I’ll go buy some patchouli and get some beads sewn into my hair.

  77. Mr. M — oh yeah, I knew those guys too. But I guess the ones I knew were about the same percent douchbags and hypocrites as the majority of the population. Which is to say, most were, but a few were genuine idealists who continue to really devote their lives to important issues, live simply, and keep an eye on the big picture. I think it’s just more annoying to spot the bullshit hippies because they’re a group which tends to talk up the moral highground. The Frat Guys were easily more thoroughly doubbags, but they at least barely tired to deny it.

    Reggae (at least, genuine roots reggae — OAR need not apply) is pretty badass, so I don’t know if it really works as a badass juxtaposition. I mean, look at THE HARDER THEY COME. Yeah, he’s a badass, and yeah, he plays reggae, dude, it only makes sense, since that’s what fucking badasses do. Its often a lot more aggressive and sometimes even outright violent than most people realize. At least as much so as rap, anyway. The hippies I knew also struggled with the homophobic and mysogynistic messages of a lot of reggae as well, which is something that rap has taken a lot of heat for but Reggae, probably because its not as popular, usually gets a pass on.

    So yeah, I think Redemption song is not the right way to go. If the guy’s gonna be a musician, he needs to be playing something not so oppressed or cool, etc. Like, maybe he’s a jazz clarinetist, or really into Peruvian folk music. Or maybe he’s the tenor in a barbershop quartet. Something that doesn’t read as immediately cool. See: EL MARIACHI, DESPERADO, etc.

    BTW, I think it is definitely time for an unapologetic gay badass. The key would be to not make a huge deal about it, to just treat it like any action movie romance where he and his partner as basically forced to team up and solve hijinks, etc. Most of the gay guys I know would go for this type of movie way more than “Brokeback Mountain” romance-y shit. As they say, “there’s nothing feminine about being gay”. The hero is actually just so damn manly that women hold no interest for him. You know, like Henry Rollins.

  78. If there were an action movie starring Henry Rollins as a gay badass, I would 100% watch the fuck out of it with extreme prejudice and/or a vengeance.

  79. Did anybody else think Dolph was supposed to be gay in BLACKJACK? I wish the screenwriter would’ve answered my email so I would have a definitive yes or no on that.

  80. Just saw this movie. Masterpiece, flat out masterpiece. And I’m sorry to do this but I’m going to go there: District 9, at least after my initial viewing is as good as The Thing, The Fly, Aliens, any of those, movies, movies I consider a crucial part of my film history. Brilliant, complex and motivated by a blistering political anger that is palpable in every frame, District 9 is a movie that has been built for the ages. Thank you to Neil, to Peter and to all the artists who brought this incredible world and its characters to life.

  81. One of the great failures of the 1990s was the inability to find a good film to
    put Rollins in.

  82. Vern – Nothing official, but it’s been commented upon out in blogland:

    http://www.geocities.com/tyrannorabbit/blackjack.html

    Of course, Oleg did have a wife and kid in the movie.

  83. Hell, action cinema, and cop movies in particular, have been ambiguously gay since forever. TOP GUN, BLACKJACK, and POINT BREAK are probably the three that spring to mind most blatently (in the case of POINT BREAK, the homosexual undertones were confirmed as intentional by Ms. Bigelow). I mean, HOT FUZZ pretty deftly satirizes the traditional male/male intense bonding experience common to a lot of these things (and that’s not even touching the homoerotic fetishization of the male body in stuff like 300 and the RAMBO sequels).

    So yeah, its been in there for awhile, but I think it’s finally time to just start making a few movies where the guy is openly gay – just drop the stupid girlfriend side plot, you’re not fooling anyone, pal. I think people would be ready for it if it was just handled confidently, and not like it was a joke or a gimmick. But what action star should be the one to break the sexuality barrier? I, for once, would like to suggest Michael Jai White. He’s actor enough to handle it sensetively, yet badass enough that no one would give him shit. Better yet, he hasn’t yet established a single persona for his action films, nor is he so well known that the public would reject a big change from him. I mean, if Dolph or someone did it at this point, I think they’re so iconic that it would just read as a stunt. But White I think could pull it off and would probably come out of it recognized as a more versitle star. So do it, I say. It’s time.

  84. His backstory could be that he grew up in the ghetto, where he was gay-bashed nearly every day, which is why he grew up to be so badass.

    Would the plot somehow be connected to his homosexuality or is the way to go to just kind of treat it as a non-issue and let him kick the shit out of standard issue drug dealers?

  85. “But what action star should be the one to break the sexuality barrier?”

    My vote would be for The Rock. His perfomance was the only thing I liked
    in that Get Shorty sequel. Remember how the Elmo character in Soderbergh’s
    Schizopolis was forced to leave the film Soderbergh was making and go star in another one?
    I kept hoping that The Rock would do that in Be Cool.

    Ed Harris would be cool too.

    Having said that, I doubt anyone will ever top Michael K. Williams’s performance as Omar
    on The Wire.

    I’d also vote for not connecting his sexuality to the plot. I have no
    confidence that many scriptwriters could deal with the issues in a
    manner that wasn’t hamfisted. And from what my gay pals tell me, straights spend
    way more timing thinking about homosexuality than gays do.

  86. Mr M — could go either way, I guess, but unless you had a really great idea about how it would work itself into the plot, I think that non-issue is the way to go. I think your idea for a backstory is right on the money. That way, its just kind of an interesting character aspect and a part of his backstory, but not really exactly related to the plot.

    On the other hand, you could just go balls out and have a gay guy going around fucking up Klansmen or guys who committed homophobic hate crimes and got away with it. A kind of gay take on blaxploitation, with lots of shirtless guys and gay artists and icons on the soundtrack. Actually come to think of it I think Kenneth Anger may have already made that film.

  87. Jareth — yup, that’s my impression too. With the right material an action plot which incorporates the hero’s homosexuality might be a worthwhile addition to the genre, but it would have to be a great script and concept to work as anything other than a gimmick, which would make the whole thing lame. And yeah, I can’t think of anyone who I think would have a good take on that angle.

    The Rock would also be pretty great, although a different kind of great than M. J. White. And you bring up a good point that in this crazy age of Liam Neeson stealing roles from Seagal, some mighty respectable actors might take on a bloody genre flick if it had an openly gay twist. Ed Harris is an unexpected choice but might be good. But how bout Viggo Mortensen?

    Mr M — btw, forgot mention earlier that I’ll be right there with you opening day for that Rollins movie. And please forgive me for hoping the title is “Bad Sweetback’s Sweeeeeetttttt aaaaassssss song”. Because I just can’t help myself, is why.

  88. I could see it going either way. On the one hand, a gay ass-kicker who fucks up homophobes and hate-crimers would have more of a cathartic impact, but it could get preachy and/or phony. On the other hand, having an ass-kicker who just happened to be gay might be more subtly subversive. Maybe you wouldn’t even bring it up until the movie is half over to make people confront their own preconceived notions. You’ve just watched this dude stomp the fuck out of a dozen people. Is he any less of a man now that you know he’s gay?

    The best part would be when the villains find out they’re getting their asses handed to them by a homosexual. Being macho assholes, that would really piss them off and make them escalate the situation in a fit of the ever-popular gay panic.

    For the screenplay, what about that guy who wrote Milk? What if he’s like David Gordon Green and is an artsy dude with a secret affection for action movies? We’re talking Oscars AND Outlaw Awards.

  89. Mr M — yeah, either way they go the villain flipping out would be great. That’s definitely got to be in there.

  90. Guys, the gay badass thing was done on the Wire. Omar is the most likeable, heroic charcater on that show, and he’s an out and proud homosexual with a string of same-sex lovers that the show doesn’t flinch from. He also blows apart drug dealers’ knee caps with a shotgun and inspires so much fear that people literally throw drugs at him to avoid having to deal with him. Good stuff.

  91. Jareth Cutestory

    August 19th, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Mr. Subtlety – You remember how committed Viggo Mortensen was to learning his role
    for Eastern Promises? Casting Viggo as a gay action hero would be worth it just for the
    dvd commentary on how he prepared. I’m sure he’d bring gravity to such a role, way better
    chops than the Rock.

  92. True, Omar is awesome, but he’s still just a supporting character. We want an out-and-proud action star center stage where Middle America is going to have to deal with him if they want their explosion fix for the week.

  93. Saw this yesterday and agree with disliking the fakumentary. Especially since the lead character was such a fink it just felt like one of those Best In Shows movies only not funny enough.

    It’s weird, because I remember when I saw ALIEN NATION, the part I really liked was the whole expository portion at the beginning, whereas in this film, even though it was well fleshed out, it kinda bored me. Whereas in ALIEN NATION, as soon as it switched gears to a buddy cop formula, I got bored, and in DISTRICT 9, as soon as it became a fugitive formula, I got intertested.

  94. god this blog needs a message board.

  95. Brendan – Yes, THE WIRE…..and nobody saw it beyond that loyal small audience who stuck with that classic. Really I was always pissed that it never became a ratings juggernaut like I figured it would eventually become.

    I want a gaysploitation actioneer, a BILLY JACK or SWEETBACK or WALKING TALL for that genre.

  96. “Apparently none of you ever went to a school with a hippie infestation.”

    Mr. Majestyk – I did. Marley still kicks ass.

    Then again, I’m reminded of those Fox News conservative personalities who’s personal mythology is that they were liberal college kids once. I wonder if that Kristol guy was a hippie himself, smoking up his campus. I bet he could blow doughnut rings.

    Of course I never smoked weed either or give a serious shit about “hippie” culture. Never could seriously, in an intellectual or philosophical fashion, relate to it.

    BTW, speaking of ALIEN NATION (liked the show, not much the movie), Sci-Fi Channel is remaking it.

  97. The Wire could never have been a ratings bonanza. I was just to damn good and unflinching. People want escape (not a bad thing) and The Wire was all about exploring the real world. The fact that the show lives on and is still discussed, analyzed and gains an audience is enough for me.

  98. I think it was Alan Moore who called THE WIRE the greatest American television drama.

  99. No, it was everyone who saw The Wire. Including Alan Moore

  100. Yes, the Alien Nation film was bad. Mostly because of Caan’s hamming it up with some sort of pre-Ben Stilleresque performance. He probably thought he was giving a Bill Murray Ghostbusters type of comic flare to a supernatural story but it just didn’t work.

    The mystery they had to solve was pretty standard and the action wasn’t great. But all the stuff about how they tried to integrate the aliens with regular society was really good.

    Like I said, maybe it was because the expository portion of District 9 was the same as the expository portion of Alien Nation that this movie didn’t grip me right off the bat because I felt I’d already seen it. But the Kafkesque fugitive portion was good stuff.

  101. Jareth Cutestory

    August 20th, 2009 at 7:16 am

    Brendan – Not only was The Wire unflinching, but it was uncompromising in its refusal to make moral
    distinctions between the cops, gangsters and politicians. That must have been very unsettling for any
    viewer expecting the familiarity of a Law & Order style cop drama.

    It also presented numerous complex characters and eschewed conventional expository devices. It was
    structured to build to a season climax, so, unlike The Sopranos, there often wasn’t a per-episode payoff.
    You basically had to watch the show from the beginning with undivided attention to catch what was
    happening, and even then you still had to contend with the show’s thematic ambiguities.

    The only other recent show that I can think of that attempted to confront view expectations so radically was
    Arrested Development, but AR bent over backwards with flashbacks and exposition to accomodate
    viewers who were late to tune in. And even then people found it off-putting.

  102. okay i saw District 9 this weekend. its one of the best things ever. i mean people probably aren’t reading down this far but its spot on. the racial subtext, the main character’s character arc, the proper action scene… perfect

  103. I just saw it too. Loved it. Just so clever and fun, but with all the layers of thought and meaning that you used to get in genre movies. I found it incerdibly exciting and really got involved emotionally towards the end. And the effects work was amazing. Would be first in line for a sequel.

  104. […] I do want him to consider the point I made in my review about the documentary style. Most of the movie is a documentary from the human point-of-view. They […]

  105. Am I the only one kind of bummed about the sequel talk?

    I mean, I loved the movie. Loved it. But when your a guy as smart and imaginative as Neill seems to be, I think its a bit of a shame to waste your time going back to extend a story which is perfect exactly the way it is. The movie leaves some things mysterious, which is exactly one of the reasons it is so fantastic. It explains enough that you can figure out a lot for yourself, and what you can’t figure out you can imagine any way you want. Brilliant! We don’t need to know every detail — and it cheapens the experience if we do. See Star Wars, Wolverine, Matrix prequels and sequels.

    Look, Im sure a DISTRICT 9 sequel would be fun, and Im sure they’d think up a good story and do a nice job. And Id go see it, sure. But come on — its like Don Corscarelli wasting time with all those Phantasm sequels. Sure, they’re fun in their own way, but they just kind of overexplain what didnt need to be explained, and needlessly extend a story which had a perfectly great ending already. Worse, it kept him for making another classic original for years and years. And now he just wants to do more BUBBA HO-TEP sequels? Argh! Its perfect as it is! now move on and do something else great!

  106. I just watched this and it was great. I lived in South Africa for 5 years so I got a lot of the small jokes that may be lost on an international audience. Blomkamp captured the feel of a South African slum (or “the location” as we call it) perfectly.

    Vern to answer you about whether apartheid also took place within the film’s universe : The way Wikus talks to his black colleagues and the way black people are generally portrayed in the film tells me that apartheid definitely took place.

    I have heard a few Nigerian friends complain about the portrayal in the film and I cant blame them. There are Nigerian gangs in Joburg but thats no excuse.

  107. If the Queen of England doesn’t knight Peter Jackson for this movie then I will personally scrub her face off all Australian currency.

  108. I have to say I wasn’t too keen on this one. I’ve just seen it and found it to be disappointing due to the hype and basic script and film-making flaws. While its one of the better films I’ve seen released the past few months, that’s not really saying much. The characters were base at all times without really being elevated by detail or world ideas that weren’t just ripeed off better movies. The lead character was essentially a remake of the typical pluckly, a bit eccentric and conservative trying to make good under horrible circumstances Peter Jackson character (Brian Dead and Bad Taste to Lord Of The Rings all have that at the centre) but kinda watered down without the horrible details Jackson does. The alien monsters are essentially Dr Who rejects who start off scary but turn out good. (how many ET 80’s clones did that in a dull fashion) And then they had all these dull action scenes with cliche-ridden moments or capture and scarifice that are horribly corny and Black Hawk Down music in the last half-hour to suggest soul. All you get really is racism is bad and corporations are scum. Big deal. This one really neededmore work in the planning stages.

  109. […] that what is being seen is real, even the aliens scavenging nonchalantly in the background. In his review of District 9, Outlaw Vern argued (convincingly, I think) that the shift in the movie from documentary to […]

  110. Great review, Vern! I just watched this again on DVD and found myself thinking many of the same things that you gave voice to in this review!

    Once thing you didn’t touch on that I wanted to ask you about, how do you feel about the use of digital cameras in this movie? More to the point, did you even notice that it was shot 100% digitally?

    A lot of the documentary stuff was apparently shot with the Sony EX1 (which uses 1080p resolution with MPEG-2 compression) while the bulk was shot with the RED One camera at 4K (4096×2048) resolution. I found it to be completely organic, myself. I still think the best digital cinematography thus far has been done on Fincher’s Zodiac (which was shot with the Viper Filmstream camera at 1080p resolution(1920×1080), but that’s more from an artistic standpoint and I still found many times when I recognized that it was video and not film (look at Toschi’s first big scene investigating the cab crime scene to see what I mean; motion blur doesn’t look quite right).

    When it came to District 9, there is only one brief scene where I thought the images looked like digital video (not including shots that were SUPPOSED to look like they were from a video camera) and that’s the scene after the dropship/command-module is shot down and Bald-o McMercenary drags out Wikus. Again, you see that tell-tale video motion blur. Aside from that scene, I thought it looked completely film-like.

    Anyway what were your thoughts, Vern?

  111. I rented this last night. Good stuff. A couple thoughts that weren’t discussed above (SPOILER ALERT):

    Religious symbolism of Christopher (Christ) the alien. This is maybe obvious and maybe not, but he seems to have a Jesus role here which is made explicit when his cross-shaped drop ship is levitated into “heaven” (the mothership) at the end of the movie.

    I was kind of frustrated with what I thought was a plot hole until I read the interview with the director quoted above. It seems that all Christopher has to do is gather enough fuel to get the drop ship up to the mothership and then he can fly away. Why did they get stranded to begin with? These questions were kind of explained by the director by saying that the aliens’ ruling class had all died off somehow and these prawns are worker bees, so Christopher is saving his species by taking some initiative (see religious symbolism above). How did he know how to do make rocket fuel? etc. Why didn’t Christopher beam up all the other prawns when he got to the mothership, which has apparently been fully operational the entire time?

    Why does rocket fuel turn humans into prawns?? Wikus gets a little shot of the stuff in the nose and 5 days later he’s a shrimp? Rocket fuel??? This is just a little insane and makes zero sense. Since when is rocket fuel DNA-based or made of viruses or whatever could scientifically turn a human into an alien. Which brings up the point – how do you change a human into an alien anyway, are they both based on DNA? Not likely. Oh well, I guess I am just a stickler for the “hardness” of hard sci-fi.

    Fun movie though.

  112. Watched it today and while I agree with the rest of the world that Neill Blomkamp is a very talented director and that it’s one of the better SciFi movies of the 00’s, I wasn’t really blown away by it. Mostly because it starts as a typical mockumentary, continues as typical man-on-the-run-movie (even with the stereotypical evil father-in-law who works for the government) and ends as a typical action movie (even with the stereotypical sadistic soldier psycho, who says stuff like “I love to kill prawns”, just to make sure that the audience seriously notices what a sadistic fuck he is.) The subplot about the gangsterboss that wants to become an alien was pretty useless and I got no idea how and why the alien kid suddenly could activate the starship and every other alien technology via remote control. And I just HATE the SciFi cliche: “The humans are the real monsters and not the nice aliens who look like monsters!”
    But thanks to the energetic directorial work of Blomkamp and the high level of inspiration that all these well known parts were mixed with, I give it a pass. Although it’s definitely no “Children Of Men”

  113. Vern, don’t you fucking dare delete this work of art.

  114. anyone else getting really excited for Elysium?

    there’s something about the movie’s depiction of the future that seems scarily all too plausible, maybe even the most believable future in a movie I’ve ever seen, beyond the space stations and robots and shit, just the idea that LA will be a third world shithole by the 22nd century seems inevitable (I also like the detail that all the written text on things is in Spanish)

    that says something pretty fucking sad about the world that such a cynical, pessimistic future is so believable, but I read in an Entertainment Weekly article that Neill Blomkamp said that the future in the movie is basically just a metaphor for the way world already is

  115. Yeah, face it, “The rich have it better than the poor and will do everything to keep it that way” isn’t exactly the most subtle metaphor for our time. Or…any time.

  116. that doesn’t make it any less true

  117. I agree with CJ, sci-fi has always partly been about exploring new ideas that require couching in metaphor because it’d be unwise or even dangerous to be explicit. There’s nothing even vaguely controversial or original about any of the idea’s at the heart of District 9. Racism = bad is not an idea that needs to be wrapped in a clever metaphor, it’s something that plenty of other movies going back like 70 years have been pretty upfront about. This new one looks like more of the same.

    Blomkamp could learn a thing or two from Bioshock Infinite, in my opinion. Now there’s some sci-fi with something to say about the world we’re living in.

  118. That said, I’m still pretty excited for Elysium.

  119. Bioshock Infinite has something to say? I had a hard time finding anything that wasn’t very obvious and shallow.

    Elysium looks like it should be good. I’m also glad it’s playing things fairly straight with no ambiguity, can you imagine a movie with the same premise as Elyisum but set in today’s actual real world doing that?

  120. Will be seeing CHAPPIE tonight regardless of the reviews. In fact, I stayed away from reading any reviews at all. Hopefully it´s just Internet background noise.

  121. ….and I quite liked it. It´s a bit like SHORT CIRCUIT mixed with the apartheidsploitation you expect. I am actually quite glad he got the ALIEN gig now so we can get something different, which I am quite confident he can pull off.

  122. Shoot, I have talked to a couple of people whose opinion I trust that really enjoyed CHAPPIE. I am going to check it out this week.

  123. The Undefeated Gaul

    March 9th, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    Glad to hear it, Shoot. I am seeing Chappie tomorrow. Elysium was way better than all the reviews tried to make me believe, so I am sure Chappie will be too. In Blommetje we trust.

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