Movie Review of District 9

Netflix, now after years of success, has released an array of critically acclaimed films. Although it was not distributed by the online company, one of these successful movies that is now streaming and has maintained popularity over the last couple of weeks since its release is District 9, directed by Neill Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson. Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, let’s look at this this sci-fi story and review what works!

District 9 tells the story of an alien affairs officer and his attempt to relocate an extraterrestrial alien camp, located in Johannesburg, South Africa, to outside of the city. As things go from bad to worse for the naive but passionate Wikus van de Merwe, Wikus goes on a journey of what it means to live the life of a foreigner. 

Early on, it’s apparent that District 9 technically succeeds with its well-executed visual effects as we see aliens appear on-screen. (This especially stood out to me when I saw the film nine years ago.) To add to this, the usage of news footage, handheld video recording, and rapid camera shots all convey a sense of chaos and urgency, as humanity cannot come to terms with an alien race that wishes to live in the same vicinity. Such filmmaking even goes so far as to include many fictional interviews of in-story experts, giving viewers the sense that this almost seems like a documentary.

monochrome photo of flying helicopter

Yet such a documentary, if it were one, would be quite grotesque. Whether it is someone experiencing a mutative process, severed animal heads, or people being blown to bits, District 9, like real-life warfare, is not for the faint of heart. It is for this reason, however, that I think District 9 is also a thematic achievement for cinema. These gritty examples, along with cool color tones, all convey the sense of hell that war really is. What adds to the potency is the fact that the film was released during the Iraq War, when the majority of deaths had already occurred. 

Whether it’s a news report such as, “There was a terrorist attack, but everything is fine,” or musical overtones commonly heard in Arab contexts, the film is bold in sending a message that is against violence and weaponry, and one that is for peace, protection, and sympathy. Personally, I think any movie fails in some sense when anything is a bit too on the nose. District 9 in my opinion comes close to falling into such risk taking, while still remaining safe, due to the writing. 

Thankfully, we get to see such a duality of peace and war, instead of being told that a war is going on and we need to either support it or be against it. Also on display that should be addressed is the acting of the main character, Wikus, and the transformation we see him go through from beginning to end. Regrettably, this is the area of the film I was a bit preoccupied with and thought suffered as a result. 

South African actor Sharlto Copley had quite the task in playing Wikus. Without spoiling the film’s main progression, Copley does well to display great emotion. Yet at times in the story, his acting seems to veer into the realm of being melodramatic. Of course this is nothing unique to acting, simply something I thought deterred the film from being even greater than it already is. 

District 9 is gripping, and it’s intense. For those interested in a story that may go down as a sci-fi classic in the future (if it already isn’t one and said sci-fi fan somehow hasn’t seen it yet), then you may love the film. There’s great thematic material and ample amounts of action to boot. For those wishing to stream something a bit more gentle this holiday season, may I advise that you steer clear of District 9. 

Zimm Score (scored prior to viewing online scores for my amusement!): 8/10
Aggregate Critics’ Score on Rotten Tomatoes: 7.8/10 (not using percentage score)
Metacritic Score: 81/100

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/district_9
https://www.metacritic.com/movie/district-9

 

Movie Review of Roma

December every year in the world of film means it’s the last month for the best movies to make their mark. Since many of America’s film critics and commentators have released their nominees, some of which Netflix has distributed, in this post I’ll be reviewing Roma, a foreign film that has been nominated for best picture at the Critics’ Choice Awards (and presumably will be nominated for an Academy Award as well).

sea black and white sunset beach

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, and Gravity), Roma tells the story of a Mexican housekeeper living with a middle class family in Mexico City. Set in the early 1970s and in a nation of political turmoil, we follow the young housekeeper, Cleo, who comes to terms with what womanhood really is in such a climate, and what it means for her identity. 

Being nominated for eight Critics’ Choice Awards (with the most for a film this year having 14), I went into Roma assuming it would at least be a decent movie. When the end credits rolled, I thought it was the best movie of the year, at least so far that I’ve seen. Now yes, I do hope to still see some left that have many nominees of which I have yet to see. But Roma was a display of visual arts that told a story in which only the most astounding films do, in my opinion. 

Roma is a film that “let’s you sit in it,” or sink into the story. There’s very little music (coming from one who loves a moving musical score), and it’s shot in black and white. These traits I think yield something special when the viewer is allowed to “take in” a story and is not force-fed or rushed through a cornucopia of sights and sounds slamming you in the face, not to mention lacking any structure. “Great, thanks for your $12, the exit is that way.” 

No, when there is music, it’s intentional and placed for the viewer to understand something special, something symbolic that is going on. Visually, Cuarón directs with such beautiful usage of imagery and symbolism. Having only finished the film a couple of hours ago (at the time of writing), I still don’t think I’ve exhausted all the meanings and connections within this one story. Round two viewing may be in the works! 

The cinematography greatly executes beautifully framed shots one after another. Additionally, there are also techniques such as slow panning from left to right and vice versa that gives you a panoramic display of activities, activities that revolve around a nuclear family and its loyal housekeeper. 

Cleo, played by Yalitza Aparicio, for me was entirely believable. Because of her role as housekeeper for this particular family, there isn’t necessarily a wide range of emotion. Yet as the story progresses and the stakes are raised, so does the suspense and stress level. As events unfold, I felt emotionally connected with a Mexican woman working as a young housekeeper in Mexico City during the 1970s. Such a story had a structure that was clear and was easy to follow. Characters develop. Scenes were intentional. And for me, the pacing was neither too slow nor too fast. 

Finally, Roma worked for me because of both its strong cultural significance and cultural relevance. Though the film is actually a semi-biographical take on Cuarón’s upbringing in Mexico City, the release of the film comes at a time where there is much discord on issues related to social status and gender equality. Regardless of where you stand on such issues, Roma is impactful for the discussions it may foster now and perhaps for decades to come. 

Zimm Score (scored prior to viewing online scores for my amusement!): 9/10
Aggregate Critics’ Score on Rotten Tomatoes: 9.1/10 (not using percentage score)
Metacritic Score: 96/100

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/roma_2018
https://www.metacritic.com/movie/roma?ref=hp https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/aug/30/roma-review-alfonso-cuaron

 

 

 

Movie Review of Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle

 

With the 2010s nearing the tail end of the decade, it could be said that it’s been quite the decade for remakes, reboots, and sequels. With the list much too long that warrants a separate post for such a subject, one such remake has recently been released by Netflix. Directed by Andy Serkis, best known for his voice acting and motion capture roles in various big box-office sci-fi and fantasy films, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle marks a return to the stories of The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling.

bengal tiger half soak body on water during daytime

(Disclosure: In giving the following synopsis, some early plot points are revealed, but are considered not as important as spoilers that come later in the story.) 

When a boy named Mowgli (played by Rohan Chand) is taken in by animals of a jungle, he grows to learn specifically of Shere Khan, a Bengal tiger (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). As is just so convenient for Mowgli (*yay sarcasm*), Shere Khan wants Mowgli killed, and thereby having him removed from the jungle. As the story unfolds, Mowgli must learn the importance of protecting his own before losing his home and friends forever. 

I’ll admit from the outset, this film was a difficult viewing for me, even at only 98 minutes. Such difficulty was not from how much the story was emotionally weighed down, since this was Serkis’s intention, stating it would be a darker version and one that was closer to the source material. No, for me it was a difficult viewing in how much the narrative was weighed down in its confusing presentation. 

It’s clear that many films that could be called emotionally burdened or weighed down have been Oscar-bait for the Academy. Yet one thing many of these films have that I thought Mowgli lacked was a clear direction or structure. Many changes and scenes that come late in the story, I would say, could have been placed much earlier in the story, adding more effective storytelling for the viewer. 

For example, many of us are perhaps ready to jump into a whole new world with the main character after about 25 or 30 minutes. If that doesn’t happen, and we’re still in the same “world,” without even any new characters, we might start to lose attention. Some of us may feel it’s starting to drag a bit. I thought Mowgli, unfortunately, suffered from this problem. 

On the bright side, Mowgli is supported by some excellent voice acting from a star-studded cast. Christian Bale plays Bagheera, a black panther (which I didn’t recognize while watching!), Benedict Cumberbatch as Shere Khan, a bengal tiger, Cate Blanchett as Kaa, an Indian python, Andy Serkis as Baloo, a sloth bear, and Naomie Harris as Nisha, an Indian wolf who is Mowgli’s adopted mother. Though at times I struggled to view each motion-captured character as one unit of both voice acting and computer animation, this wasn’t an awful distraction and thought both were done with excellence. 

When reflecting on Serkis and how he directed the entire team, I have to remember that this is the very beginning of his directorial career. His intent was indeed a darker version of The Jungle Book than many have become accustomed to, and at that he succeeded. It is clear in his presentation, as Kaa narrates in the opening scene, that “chaos and darkness came to our lands.” Such raw earthiness and savagery, as displayed through hunting, knives, slicing, death and despair, are for sure traits of the jungle Serkis thought necessary for this telling. It is such a telling, however, that I thought lacked the emotional balance and heart that this story deserves. I still remember feeling moved by the climactic scene in Disney’s animated version from 1967. Instead, I felt the emotional mood throughout was akin to Manchester by the Sea, while remembering to bring things to a close in a disorganized and abrupt way. 

Because of such emotional weight and violence that could rightfully be imagined in a jungle, I personally wouldn’t see this as very educationally redeemable or worth the time for anyone younger than a teenager. If you want a story of the jungle with a great voice-acting cast and some great visual effects, check this one out! If you’re expecting something on par with Disney’s recent remake or even Disney’s animated version, just remember: I warned you. ; ) 

Zimm Score (scored prior to viewing online scores for my entertainment!): 5.5/10
Aggregate Critics’ Score on Rotten Tomatoes: 5.5/10 (not using percentage score)
Metacritic Score: 53/100

 

Movie Review of The Christmas Chronicles

man in santa claus costume

With the holiday season in full swing, Netflix has been once again timely this year in adding Christmas films to the viewer selection. New, however, is a Christmas film that stars Kurt Russell as none other than Santa Claus! The Christmas Chronicles is one of the latest Christmas comedies to hit the streaming service, so let’s review the ups and downs of the latest St. Nick flick.

On the verge of being grounded for over a month, a teenage boy named Teddy Pierce is in need of a moral compass. Along with his little sister Kate, they wind up boarding Santa’s sleigh. However, they soon cause Santa to lose all the essentials needed on Christmas Eve, and St. Nick is even arrested later in the story (not your typical Santa story). Christmas Eve is not going well, and it’s Teddy who must learn to do some good before Christmas morning arrives. 

Now, The Christmas Chronicles has its strong points. The production design in many scenes and shots throughout the movie are beautiful. The visual effects that may or may not involve small little elves (that may or may not remind some of Gremlins) were executed with dazzlement and a palette of saturated colors. 

In addition to these areas of production, Kurt Russell also does his best in my opinion to fill the big red suit. I must confess, however, Russell as Kris Kringle wasn’t always easy viewing for me. See, I along with many others have been lured into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with all of the characters that come with it. With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Russell’s performance as a space god in the back of my mind, watching jolly ole St. Nicholas in Chronicles omnisciently know everything about the human race had its moments of eery reminiscence. 

A final strong point in Chronicles was its modern take on “The Night Before Christmas.”  Though the film overall did seem to exude tones of The Santa Clause, which debuted now twenty-four years ago, as of this writing, children and teens I think will more easily relate to such a film as Chronicles than if they were required to watch one of the classics, essentially from any decade in the twentieth century. 

Yet such a strength in the film conversely has its own weakness. With a modern update to such a classic Christmas poem (and films), Chronicles suffered from unnecessary product placement and distracting pop culture references. From “fake news,” to Stranger Things (which Netflix distributed), and even a red-hot Dodge Challenger, along with other merchandise and one-liners, the script of Chronicles unfortunately is where the rubber meets the road. *comedy drum fill* 

When Santa exclaims, “People need Christmas to remind themselves of how good they can be,” I can’t help but wonder if such products and cheesy references dilute such a proposition that Santa is so passionate about. Sure, I know that it might be “fun for the whole family,” and if so, Netflix succeeded with one of its many holiday films. Yet considering why people need Christmas (if we do) perhaps would be a worthwhile discussion for families after viewing this Santa adventure. Instead, I only wonder if some kids will be left with visions of Cheez-Its and Challengers dancing in their heads. 

The Christmas Chronicles is stated as “popular” right now in my Netflix streaming service. In fact, it is because it was the first listed film in this category that it is the first film I am reviewing for my new movie review blog! Does the movie deliver for families that may want a new take on a Christmas story we’ve heard and seen before? I would say yes. There’s bits of humor, some beautiful scenes, and a fast-paced adventure! But strained dialogue and a predictable plot I think should keep some from investing an hour and a half of their time into their monthly subscription. 

Zimm Score (scored prior to viewing online scores): 6/10
Aggregate Critic Score on Rotten Tomatoes: 5.8/10 (not using percentage score)
Metacritic Score: 52

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_christmas_chronicles
https://www.metacritic.com/movie/the-christmas-chronicles