District 9

Mentioned that each genre of film gets initialised and then perfected. Alien films have started to tail off nowadays, but there was a time 10-15 years ago when you couldn’t change the channel without stumbling over War of the Worlds. The archetypal alien film that springs to mind is always something like Independence Day, in which a huge spaceship settles over an American city and blows everything up. They come in to kill everyone and leave. How do you know it’s the archetype? Its parodied and copied for years after. Almost every alien invasion film since has the same structure. But it’s nowhere near perfect. The perfect, most realistic, most interesting alien “invasion” film made is District 9.

Set as a documentary, its clear straight away that it isn’t your average invasion film. It’s made obvious that the aliens aren’t there intentionally, and the first sight of them makes the viewer instantly sympathetic towards them. Never has anyone watched an alien movie and immediately started rooting for the aliens. But suggesting that they haven’t come to Earth to destroy the planet seems obvious. In a realistic world it’s unlikely that our first encounter with extra-terrestrial life will be in the form of murdering spaceships and explosions, it’s just a hell of a lot easier to make easier on screen. Independence Day is a horrible plot, clichéd and predictable, but its hella watchable, with big speeches and bigger explosions. When you have that kind of premise, you don’t need an original script or even particularly good actors, you just need the visuals.

This is where District 9 breaks that mould. The acting is excellent by Sharlto Copley, the only human with plenty of screen time, which can put a lot of pressure on the performance. His ability to play a nerdy type, but also angry type without it seeming out of character is flawless. But its where the film keeps you constantly assuming that the aliens are on the verge of destruction that’s the masterstroke. A brief summary of the plot is that the aliens are living in a slum in Johannesburg. A government organisation wants to evict the aliens and move them along. Our man Wikus (Copley) is tasked with moving them out. Throughout the 20-minute sequence of him speaking to the aliens to ask them to move, it seems as though a full scale battle will ensue, because that’s what we think happens in all of these types of movies. But it doesn’t, it never does. The way the story then progresses from this point is exciting because its unpredictable, but never far-fetched, which is a fine line on which most directors struggle to travel. Neill Blomkamp does travel it however, and the result is a twisting story, in which the ending is given away in the first 5 minutes, but still leaves you speechless.

It’d be like a slasher movie with no weapons. Not completely left-field, but so original you need to know how that story develops. And it’s a lot more interesting than what we’re used to.

 

Rating: 85%

Advertisements

The Godfather

There’s a reason The Godfather is so frequently parodied. The reason is that it’s old. This was a film that broke the mould in 1972. Prior to this, the big movies flying around were westerns and romances. For a film to sweep in with such graphic violence, twisted storyline and frankly exceptional acting at a time like this meant it deserved to become an instant classic. Of course its dated, and the amount of parodies doesn’t help the matter. When watching it for the first time now, hearing Don Corleone talk about giving someone an “offer they can’t refuse” is not quite as emphatic as it would have been almost 45 years ago once you’ve heard it on countless cartoons and American comedies. The horse in the bed scene is one of the most chilling moments I’ve witnessed on film, but it’s also difficult to watch without imagining its Lisa Simpson doing the screaming.

None of this is the fault of Coppola and the gang who made this masterpiece. They produced an original thriller, that became the platform for almost every mafia movie to come after. The rise and fall of great Italian/American mob bosses throughout two hours of murder and betrayal. The archetype is The Godfather. It is considered one of the greatest films of all time, mainly by IMDb, but also the 3 Oscars it picked up. Best picture was a given, the story so engrossing, and at moments heart-wrenching, that no one could have ever imagined such a plot. Marlon Brando claimed best actor, and his performance has been considered one of the greatest in any movie ever. The presence he has on screen has obviously been written into the script, but there’s no way the writers could have predicted how good it would look, until they saw him commmand every piece of dialogue and facial expression perfectly. The only surprise would be that best supporting actor did not go to Al Pacino. I am yet to watch Part II, but if anything excites me about watching it, it’s about seeing him playing the same role again. He was incredible, when quietly reacting to action around him, or when playing the main event, particularly in some of the more intense scenes.

The score was obviously also a big bonus, again used in countless scripts since, in parodies and such. It does seem that whenever someone tries to copy a mafia film, The Godfather is always the go-to movie. It’s the archetype, the first, the original. The I would argue, not the best. For example, if Goodfellas had been released in 1972, and The Godfather trilogy in 1990, then there is no doubt that Goodfellas would be considered the better film. Or not, of course it’s a matter of opinion, but there’s no doubt that East Coast mafia thrillers make their own sub-genre, and there’s no doubt that Goodfellas and the Godfather are the kingpins of the organization. Coppola created the genre, but Scorsese perfected it. This is unparalleled in other genres. Star Wars really set up the Sci-Fi genre, but since then has anyone really taken it by the scruff of the neck and improved upon it? Of course not, and its these films that break the mould that become instant classics. Psycho with horror, Shakespeare with romance (all romance films are modern day Shakespeare), and The Godfather with Mafia, these stories that don’t go out to become the best of any genre, they go out and create their own genre. When’s the last time a film came out that did that?

 

Rating: 85%