Saturday, September 19, 2009


A strange film to review.

I liked the story, and it had me most of the time.

It's a simple whodunit with some good twists and turns, a lot of good acting, and special effects.

The story unfolds in Antarctica as a massive winter storm closes in, forcing the evacuation of the entire base. But two days prior to evacuation, a body is found on the ice in the middle of nowhere.

So out goes Federal Marshal Carrie Stetko (Kate Bekinsale) to investigate. The body's a mess, with a hastily sutured leg wound and an ice pick wound to the chest. What was the guy doing out here? And why?

Very quickly, things unravel, and off we go on a pretty good adventure with a lot of chilling (literally) special effects - the deep freeze of Antarctica as the storm closes in. All set to go home before the long dark night, Marshal Stetko stays behind to finish the job. With her, the good doctor John Fury, done well by Tom Skerritt. And one other guy, a slightly suspicious U.N. operative done menacingly by Gabriel Macht. And their pilot, Delfy, played rather well by Columbus Short.

I was bothered by one glaring directorial (Dominic Sena) decision - the two people with me also spotted it, and all of us agreed: it clearly distracted us and detracted from the overall impact of what otherwise is a pretty good detective story. The issue? No face masks in the bitter winter storms with temperatures 40 and 50 below with murderous winds. Yes, they had goggles and all the necessary protective clothing, but no face masks; the simple truth: exposed flesh, at those temperatures and with those brutal winds, would freeze in a minute or less.

As my son put it, the director choose to let us keep seeing the beautiful face of Kate Bekinsale, sans eyes, of course, and a beautiful face it is, and a good actor she be!

Both Marshal Stetko and the U.N. operative are in Antarctica for rehab, of sorts. While we never learn his story, we get to see Marshal Stetko's story in a series of flashbacks - does this device work? Sort of, and maybe just too much of it, but it does tell her story.

As the story unfolds, we begin to see just how good the marshal is - she's putting it all together, and then, just to confirm her analysis, the director actually let's us see that part of the story, so we are dealing here with multiple stories unfolding for the audience.

I can't say this is entirely satisfying, but the overall feel of the film was engaging and quite entertaining with enough twists and turns, spills and thrills, frozen bodies and an amputation scene, to keep my interest and have me gripping my seat now and then.

Worth seeing?

Sure, why not?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Public Enemies - video vs. film

Check out this fascinating article on Mann's "Public Enemies" - shot in video rather than film. Frank Beaver, film historian and critic and professor of film and video studies and of communication (University of Michigan) offers a technical review of the media chosen by Mann. The traditional difference between emulsion film and video seems to have been conquered by Mann.

Click HERE to read more.

Friday, September 4, 2009

District Nine

The story is fascinating … but the film fails the story!
Frankly, Enemy Mine (1985) did it better, because it did it on a smaller scale.
Peter Jackson’s latest effort, perhaps unconsciously driven by the vistas of “Lord of the Rings” and his stellar reputation, tries to be too big.
It’s hard for me to put into words – as if it were a bowl of vegetable beef soup, with all the right ingredients, but no salt, no seasoning – bland, tasteless. I don’t know what’s missing, but it left me rather cold. It was fascinating to watch, to be sure, but the technique, I think, that of “documentary” – with folks looking right into the camera at times, as they go about the work at hand – never engaged me. In other words, I didn’t care about characters, though the story is clearly a powerful tale of discrimination and we treat “aliens.”
Special effects are astounding, music is terrific, and Sharlto Copley (Wikus Van De Merwe), the “star” (in quotes, because here’s a man who effectively portrays a bureaucrat put into a high-powered position because of his influential father-in-law) is incredibly effective. He’s the perfect nerd trying to be tough, evicting the aliens from District Nine, the classic wimp backed up by guns, to be relocated some 200 miles further away from Johannesburg.
The aliens have been there for 20 years, sequestered, as in Apartheid, after their ship was disabled and they sought refuge here. These intelligent aliens, to our eyes, strange, if not repulsive, are relegated to a slum, and there they live, barely surviving, some of whom are subject to bizarre medical experiments and constant harassment.
During the eviction process, Wikus is exposed to a strange bio-fluid that’s taken years for an alien to create with cobbled parts and old computers – as it turns out, it’s the needed fuel to fire up the command module long buried beneath the slums, to return to the mother ship hovering and unmoving over Johannesburg from the day it arrived.
Within hours, Wikus begins to develop extreme symptoms – apparently alien DNA in the fluid is transforming him into an alien, first growing a hand that can fire alien weapons, a feat that weapons’ developers had been trying to accomplish for 20 years. In other words, Wikus is now worth billions.
But in a feat of strength, he escapes and flees to District Nine.
I won’t tell you the rest of the story – yes, the movie is worth seeing – as the story unfolds, we see what happens when race turns on race – hatred and fear, exploitation and black-marketing, and, as always, it’s the children who suffer.
A story for our times, indeed, but the film fails to deliver the requisite emotion, tension, hope and fear, that such stories inherently hold.