Monday 25 July 2011

A weekend movie ramble – "Into the Wild", "District 9" and "2012"

A massive movie fan I have been borrowing from other volunteers movie collections when here aiming to catch up on films I always wanted to see missed in the cinema, ones I’d never heard of, and some,well best described as to be left on the shelf! I thought I’d start adding my own personal take on these into this blog
This weekend’s movies were
Into the Wild is directed by Sean Penn. Penn is, in my opinion, an extremely good, capable of being great, actor and director. I like that he does things he is passionate about. I’ve particularly enjoyed his performances in The Game, Hurly Burly, and more recently was enthralled by him in I am Sam.
I came to Into the Wild not knowing the background to this story and perhaps that is the best way, so I shall say very little about it here save that there is no Hollywood ending, that the ending is great if that is the right word to use given what it is. It has touches of Jim Jarmusch about it. Penn gets a riveting central performance out of actor Emile Hirsch as Christopher McCandless.
It is a road movie with Christopher heading off into the unknown, travelling through the USA, and ending up in Alaska. But it’s also a story about running away from a dysfunctional family, a place of lies and deceit to search for the truth and to try and refind happiness lost after childhood. It’s the story about giving everything up to find out what really is important.  He finds companionship along the way with folks of all ages, and learns a lot about himself. He goes through the “I want to be alone” stage to rediscover that happiness needs to be shared. It is a story about one young man’s search for identity – he discards his name and takes the alias “Alexander Supertramp” only to find that truth comes from calling and naming things by their real name. He goes through the “I hate you” stage to find eventually that he can forgive. The pivotal point comes quite ate in the movie and its second half is heart wrenching mix of success and failure , of happiness and sadness: the viewer does not know whether to cry or not.
 ashramblings verdict: One of those quiet films with lasting impact (4*)
District 9
I’d never heard of this movie before, but noting the Peter Jackson production tag I thought it would be worth a watch.
At first I was not at all sure whether I was watching a serious sci fi movie, a spoof or a comedy, whether it was akin to Doctor Who in its depictions of the alien “The Prawns”, or whether it was an Alan Partridge like comedy. I later read the trivia on the films page on and found the following explanation of the central character’s last name
“In South Africa, the last name "van der Merwe" really is a fairly common surname … but it would also be recognizable to most South Africans as the common name in a whole genre of jokes about stupid, bumbling, oblivious, or incompetent Afrikaaners. The fact that the Wikus van der Merwe character is (at least at the beginning of the film) an ineffectual, catastrophically clueless bureaucrat is immediately communicated by the screenwriters' decision to give him that particular name.”
The first half shows the authorities trying to evict the alien population of District 9 or Jo’berg for resettlement far outside the city in District 10 – it cannot be amiss that this is set in South Africa, that it is an apartheid that is inflicted on the aliens.
 ashramblings verdict: A sci fi take on political satire comedy? Interesting! (3*)
Joining the ranks of  humanity survival sci fi movies, this film tries to do a Deep Impact on a different sort of extinction level event with a take on the Noah’s Ark idea. If you like a film full of special effects but lacking much else beyond  the cliché this is the movie for you! 
BUT and here comes a huge BUT, if not, then this film is worth watching for the 10 minutes or so in total that Woody Harrleson appears on the screen as Charlie Frost, the doped out, ex hippy turned radio station operator who reports from a ringside seat as the world’s newest volcano erupts in Yosemite. His nicely judged over the top depiction of  a spaced out fanatic steals the show and is arguably the best performance he has ever given.
It left me wondering why he never got an award  or even nomination for this ? Is there some minimum length of time a character has to be on screen to qualify as a supporting role? I’m thinking here about show stealing performances like that of the magnificent Katherine Hepburn as Ginny in the otherwise mediocre Love Affair with Annette Benning and Warren Beatty which was nominated for a Razzie award as the worse remake.  Come on film buffs help out here – is there a minimum screen time? Are there other “missed” performances linger in the wings because they are such small parts?
 ashramblings verdict: fast and furious special effects (2*) overtake all but Woody Harrelson’s “best in show” small part (4*)

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