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DISTRICT 9

Studio: Sony Pictures

Rated: R for bloody violence and pervasive language.

Starring: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James, Mandla Gaduka and William Allen Young

Directed by: Neill Blomkamp

What it’s about: After an alien craft comes to earth 28 years ago, the creatures on board are restricted to a refugee camp in Johannesburg, South Africa. Now, the South African government is evacuating the alien prawns to a new location. When a bureaucrat leads an evacuation force into District 9, he stumbles into a secret among the aliens that puts him on their side of the conflict.

What I liked: District 9 embodies the essence of speculative fiction, which allows storytellers to present concepts and ideas to an audience, using a fantastic element that reveals something insightful about ourselves. This film holds a mirror up to its audience and dares us to look into it and decide if the reflection is accurate.

District 9 is in at a perfect balance between science fiction action, horror movie, drama and biting allegory. It manages to be thought-provoking and have awesome action sequences as well. You would expect this sort of tour de force of action and effects from someone like director Neill Blomkamp, but you might not expect the film to have as much to say as it does.

There are some great allusions to other science fiction and horror movies, including David Cronenberg’s The Fly. Oh, and that big alien gun is really frakking cool!

What I didn’t: As well constructed and thought-provoking as this movie was, it does dumb down a bit in the second half. Not only do we see a slight rip-off on a Transformer model (which has been showing up in everything from Meet the Spartans to G-Force), but we also deteriorate slightly into an excuse for explosions.

Also, if you get squeamish at movies like Cloverfield and anything Paul Greengrass directs, you might want to skip this one or risk vomiting all over the people in front of you. The camera movement isn’t as bad as these movies, but it’s not something to watch in the front row.

Who is gonna like this movie: Science fiction fans and action movie buffs.

Grade: A-

THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE

Studio: New Line Cinema

Rated: PG-13 brief disturbing images, nudity and sex.

Starring: Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana, Ron Livingston and Jane McLean

Directed by: Robert Schwentke

What it’s about: Rachel McAdams plays Claire, a woman who has been in love with Henry (Eric Bana) her whole life. The big problem here is that Henry has this strange ability to randomly travel in time over the course of his life. Claire deals with his sporadic availability and marries him anyway, and together they deal with his problems of disappearing at any moment, conceiving a child and randomly showing up naked throughout recent history.

What I liked: Like last week’s snoozefest for me, Julie & Julia, The Time Traveler’s Wife is not a movie for me. I was actually dreading it for weeks. However, after finally forcing myself to see it, I can respect the movie for a fine piece of filmmaking. The movie may be a chick flick through and through, but it’s not awful.

The cinematography is beautiful, and the look of the film is warm and inviting, even in the most dreary of moments.

Likewise, the acting is top notch, and both Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana bring a humanity to their character that makes their long scenes of yearning bearable.

Fans of the book – and people who like movies like The Notebook – should adore this movie. As I understand it, the adaptation is pretty decent, and it pushes all the right emotional buttons for a date flick.

What I didn’t: As a self-confirmed cynical S.O.B., I just couldn’t get into the characters. There’s a certain dishonesty to them, considering Henry manipulates Claire throughout her life – as she reciprocates to him. There’s also a slew of logic and morality problems, many of which are just ignored to keep the show going. (For example, the couple struggles with miscarriages because presumably the fetus time travels out of the womb, but no one questions what might happen if a six-week-old infant would do the same… miscarriages are bad enough, but flat-out neglect leading to the death of a child would be terrible in a relationship.)

Case in point, you don’t want to think too hard about this movie. Rather, let yourself get wrapped up in the emotion. And try not to get too creeped out by the scene where six-year-old Claire meets a thirty-year-old naked Henry who convinces her to give him a blanket and shake his hand. I just have to think that somewhere at some time, this worked out quite well for a child molester.

Who is gonna like this movie: Romance fans, those who looooooooved The Notebook.

Grade: B-

BANDSLAM

Studio: Summit Entertainment

Rated: PG for some thematic elements and mild language.

Starring: Alyson Michalka, Vanessa Hudgens, Gaelen Connell, Scott Porter and Lisa Kudrow

Directed by: Todd Graff

What it’s about: A high school misfit befriends the edgy yet hot independent chick and the popular girl turned amateur social engineer, then plans to manage their band so they can win a massive battle of the bands, which has a top prize of a recording contract.

What I liked: Not a lot. And Vanessa Hudgens even used a cell phone to shoot some of her scenes. Not naked, though, which was a really pisser.

What I didn’t: A lot of critics out there malign the Disney Channel Original Movie formula. However, they can’t deny that the formula works. Unfortunately, movies like Bandslam come around that try to capitalize on the formula and end up creating a mess.

This film uses the basic constructs of the formula – Disney Channel stars (with Hudgens and Alyson Michalka), a bunch of kids in a band and some misfits – but just execute it poorly. Bandslam gets really dark in the third act, needlessly dark. I’m sure that’s going to make some critics go all giddy because it offers something different than the Disney formula. However, it just gets seedy and depressing.

Similarly, the main character is possibly the nerdiest kid on the planet, yet he has knock-outs like Hudgens and Michalka coming after him. And he still manages to screw things up. He is a chode, and I eventually hated him by the end of the film.

Oh, and David Bowie throws down for one of the most inappropriate and unrealistic cameos ever. Shame on you, David Bowie!

Who is gonna like this movie: Tweens and teens who want a dark, mopier version of a Disney Channel Original Movie.

Grade: D

PONYO

Studio: Disney

Rated: G

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Noah Cyrus, Matt Damon, Tina Fey and Frankie Jonas

Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki

What it’s about: A young boy in a seaside Japanese village finds a fish-like creature and takes it on land. They bond, and he soon discovers it has magical powers. The fish, whom he has named Ponyo, decides it wants to be a little girl and morphs into one. Meanwhile, Ponyo’s father from the ocean is trying to track her down.

What I liked: In general, you can’t go wrong with Hayao Miyazaki. His films are always visually stunning and offer a brilliant look at a fresh story. Elements of Ponyo might seem familiar, but the presentation gives it a unique feel that just glows on the screen.

The animation is relatively simply, yet inspired. It’s a beautiful film to watch, and there’s a level of mystical happenings in the movie that make it vastly different from anything you’ve seen here in America.

I brought my eight-year-old son to this movie, and he was mesmerized by it. The story, like a Pixar movie, is thoroughly enjoyable for a young child, yet it has something special in it to connect with the grown-ups in the audience as well.

Like My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo takes a very small, self-contained story and makes it as big as a child’s imagination.

What I didn’t: Not much. Ponyo is brilliant. I dare you to see it and not fall in love with it.

Who is gonna like this movie: Kids, their parents and anyone who likes Hayao Miyazaki’s work.

Grade: A


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