Posted by: Mish | August 14, 2010

District 9, Moon, Up and Beyond

If it weren’t for the Hugo Awards I probably wouldn’t have heard of Moon or rented District 9 one night. Both are so fantastic and compelling I can’t say which I liked more. Star Trek and Avatar were entertaining in their own way. Up was cute and comical.

Moon: Sam Bell is an astronaut miner contracted to extract a lunar gas that would end Earth’s energy crisis. Towards the end of his three-years, Sam (Sam Rockwell) starts feeling like he’s losing his mind and can’t wait to return to his wife and daughter. His only companionship is a computer named Gerty (Kevin Spacey), whose job is to keep Sam safe, among other things. After an accident, Sam makes a few ominous discoveries- starting with the identity of his replacement who looks all too familiar and realizes his life may not be entirely his own. Written and directed by Duncan Jones.

I really liked the thought provoking, psychological thriller. The slow buildup works to its benefit, though some may find it too slow. Gerty is reminiscent of Space Odyssey‘s Hal, but with smileys :).  Saying more would give everything away.

District 9: The South African government setup a district for extraterrestrial refugees 28 years ago. As the humans grow wary of the aliens, Multi-National United is assigned the task of controlling them. But MNU is more interested in understanding their advanced weaponry, which requires alien DNA. When MNU agent Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is exposed to biotechnology that causes his DNA to mutate, tensions intensify. Wanted by MNU and locals, Wikus retreats to District 9 in desperation. Directed and written by Neill Blomkamp, written by Terry Tatchell, and produced by Peter Jackson.

It’s the best action film I’ve seen in a long time, mainly because of its intriguingly deep plot. It took about ten minutes to get into it and understand the documentary style beginning, but then I was hooked for the rest of the emotional and psychological wild ride.

Star Trek: James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is a sharp but aimless young man prodded by captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) to enlist in Starfleet. At the Academy, Kirk  and Spock (Zachary Quinto) are off to a bad start. Starfleet’s new Enterprise and crew respond to an emergency call from Vulcan. Meanwhile, a vengeful Romulan (Eric Bana) has particular interest in Spock. Undergoing trial by fire are the Enterprise‘s crew: McCoy (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), Chekhov (Anton Yelchin), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and Scotty (Simon Pegg). Leonard Nimoy, the original Spock, also makes an appearance. Directed by J.J. Abrams and written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.

It was a good, entertaining prequel and homage to Gene Roddenberry’s classic TV series. There’s action, humor, good ole fun, and even some insider references. I’m not a Trekker, but I enjoy watching the old and newer series once in awhile.

Avatar: Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic veteran continues his dead brother’s job for a corporation wanting to mine on the planet Pandora. Unfortunately, the ore’s biggest deposit lies beneath the home of the indigenous Na’vi, who have been at war with the company’s security led by Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang). Through the use of DNA and host bodies called avatars, humans can experience Pandora, the scientific team led by Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore) can work and research, and Jake can use his limbs. Jake’s avatar is rescued by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who brings him to her tribe to give the humans a second chance. As Jake becomes familiar with the Na’vi and Pandora, he’s torn between worlds and battle lines are drawn. Written and directed by James Cameron.

The graphics were absolutely stunning, but it didn’t offer much more than 3-D eye candy in my humble opinion. I was really looking forward to the film because the premise sounded good and Cameron hadn’t done a film since Titanic in ’97 and that was good. However, the subplots of boy meets girl, destruction of one for the benefit of another, and new ways vs old were too transparent and stale for me so the movie fell flat. On the upside, it’s the first film where a friend’s 16-year old didn’t talk except for a whispered “cool!” and it helped make a memorable Christmas Eve. I also got a kick out of his mom asking if she could tag along.

Up: Carl Fredricksen, a retired balloon salesman, sets out for the paradise of his childhood dreams by tying balloons to his house. After lift off, an eight year old Wilderness Explorer named Russell pleads to come in. During their adventure, the unlikely duo befriend a talking dog named Dug and a large rare bird dubbed Kevin. They discover things aren’t always what they seem and that sometimes the biggest adventures are those not sought. Written and directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson.

As with most Pixar films, Up was cute and funny. It was also touching with a few “aww” moments. Ed Asner giving voice to crotchety Mr. Fredricksen was a pleasant surprise. When I was young I thought I could be carried away by balloons so it was fun to see. It’s a good film for explorers of all ages.

I was inspired this year to start watching the films nominated for the Hugo Awards. A friend annually watches Academy Award nominees, but five films of the science fiction and fantasy variety are more my style and doable. It took eight months just to watch the handful, Up was last night. I don’t know why I didn’t do this previously, but better late than never. I’m curious to see which film the WorldCon community selects to receive a Hugo on September 5th. Actually, I’m looking forward to hearing the outcome for all the awesome writers and artists recognized.

If you’ve seen any of these, what did you think?

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Responses

  1. I loved Moon — what a strange pair — Moon and District 9 — drastically different sci-fi feels! Rarely do we see a one man show (Moon) in film these days!

  2. The only one I’ve seen so far is Avatar and I would agree with your assessment. Great graphics, stupid and predictable plot. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest based on what you have said.

  3. Don’t remind me of Avatar’s “so-called plot.” hehe

  4. Joachim: Yes, strange pair! Moon was especially refreshing and awesome because of its minimalism. I’ve gotten so tired of Hollywood screwing up what would otherwise be really fantastic SF, like Inception. Just because there’s a billion dollar budget does not mean it all needs to be spent on extraneous explosions, cool toys, and then some.

    I’ll have to take a more in depth look at your blog later. Some interesting stuff.

    Sherry: “Ugh-atar”. It’s stupid, annoyances like that which keep me from going to the theatre more than a few times a year. I’m not sure your taste in movies, but I’d be curious to hear what you think about the others.

  5. Mish: Inception — awful. I mean, the Labyrinth concept had NO PAYOFF. That really annoyed me… Christopher Nolan’s dreams are directed by Michael Bay…

  6. I’ve seen all of those except Star Trek. District 9 easily the best, in my opinion, followed by Moon.

    District 9 for having the courage to be original and gritty; basically not feeding us the same self-satisfied formula. And set in South Africa. Refreshing and apposite.

    Moon was clever and intriguing. And I have the soundtrack on my i-pod.

    Avatar I enjoyed. Admittedly it didn’t do a lot. A few tentative criticisms of ‘shock and awe,’ and environmental terrorism, but still… there are times when schlock fits the bill.

    Up; desperately sad. Made me cry! Kids’ film? Pah!

  7. Definitely some good films here. Moon was amazing. I was so glad I heard some buzz about it and picked it up. Saw District 9 in the theater and really enjoyed it. And of course I loved the Star Trek reboot, despite thinking before it came out that there was no way I would like it.

  8. Joachim: The Labyrinth could have worked if done another way without screwing it up.

    Sarah: I was so caught up in Moon I barely noticed the soundtrack (for once).

    Carl: In hindsight, I would have liked to see District 9 on the big screen. Oh well. I think a lot of people were apprehensive about Star Trek, I know I was. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the delicate operation was executed.

  9. I don’t remember the sounds track to Moon either — I suspect it was quite minimal as well….

  10. *sound track

    But yes, I think Nolan played his cards way too early in Inception with the Paris folding scene — that should have been in the climax! Or on some level of the final dream sequence… As a result, I expected something truly visually original at the end and all I got was a white wasteland and some snowmobiles.

  11. Chuckling in agreement about the wasteland and some snowmobiles. Yeah, too early on the folding. I think part of that was dumbing it down and trying to show off a cool concept early on for interest sake.

    Now I want to actively hear the subtle soundtrack.

  12. Me too. I was actually pretty amazed that they did with Star Trek what I was sure they couldn’t do, which was make a movie that I enjoyed that did not take away from my love of the original series.

  13. District 9 is the best movie in 2009, everything about the movie is so perfect. I’ve watched it 3 times now and have become Sharlto’s fan.

    But I know someone who refuse to see this movie simply because she doesn’t like Peter Jackson..

  14. Now that is too bad, because Moon is awesome.

    But of course I think PJ is the bomb, so my opinion may not count. ;)

  15. I’ll probably end up buying District 9. To each their own, but like Carl I’m biased towards Jackson.


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