Featured Posts

Aug 17, 2009

Fletch's Film Review: District 9

You know how it's said that we now live with a 24-hour news cycle? I'm fairly certain that the criticism cycle runs even faster.

A film is released, brought to us by a famous, well-respected director. It takes place in a faraway, exotic (to North Americans, anyway) land. It tells a story that features many familiar concepts, yet takes such an angle that it feels exponentially fresher than its contemporaries. As a result, it receives nearly unilateral praise, with some even (gasp!) intimating that it is worthy of Best Picture consideration.

(A short) time passes. More and more see the film. Soon, detractors speak up. They claim that this film is superficial; its exotic locale merely hypnotizing its non-exotic audience from seeing the numerous flaws contained within. Its politics are flawed, its praise unwarranted. It is clearly overrated, if not altogether stupid.

As you might have guessed, I'm not talking about District 9 above, but rather Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire. While I'm not personally advocating a Best Picture nomination for District (though I did for Slumdog), the rest of the analogy remains intact. And damnit, I'm sick of this crap.

It's easy (and acceptable) to hate on movies like Transformers, G.I. Joe, and anything with Mummy in or near the title. They have no aspirations beyond a) entertaining their audiences and b) making sh*ttons of money, not necessarily in that order. They are not deep, and they typically feature subpar acting, which, when admitted to by the actors, seems to implausibly be covered by the media as if the man were biting the dog. At the same time, despite our low, low expectations, they seem to continually let us down. All we ask for is an action movie with a brain, with a pulse, with a clue. We want Blade Runner and Children of Men and The Matrix and Back to the Future. But what do we do when we get one, such as District? We immediately declare it an overrated piece of hackwork. We pick nits as if nit picking were going out of style. We ignore all that is good and original about it in favor of its flaws and its predictability. Basically, we do our best to sh*t on it as fast and as good as we can, because, after all, dissenting opinions are waaaay more popular than the ones that go with the flow.

Don't believe me? Just go to Rotten Tomatoes' D9 page, sort by how many comments there are for the reviews, then tell me how many of the top 10 results are for Fresh ratings as opposed to Rotten ratings. I tell you what - I'll save you the trouble: the answer is two. Two of the top ten are for positive reviews; what's funnier is that even that number is flawed, given that one of those two happens to be the most famous critic alive right now (Roger Ebert). Even then, he only cracked number 10 on the list.

Well, I guess I'm not one of the cool kids. I don't have a dissenting opinion. I stupidly thought that District 9 was the most original science-fiction film that I've seen since Neo faced off with Agent Smith 10 years ago. I thought District was fresh, engaging, funny, violent, brilliant (at times), flawed (at others), beautiful, ugly, intense, invigorating, well-acted, pretty well-directed, sometimes-confusingly shot, inventive, insanely frugal ($30 mil budget), action-packed, and all-around pretty goddamned good, and I can't wait to see it again.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"You're the best...around!"

P.S. - You know what? I probably am rating this a tad higher than even I think it deserves, but I really don't care. I guess I'm just as guilty of being a reactionary as anyone else.

P.P.S. - Crap, I almost forgot.

The Mrs. Fletch Memorial Shaky Cam Rating (go here for details if ya need 'em):

16 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: District 9"

Conrad Walton said...

I loved it too. I posted that on my Facebook page and immediately got slammed with people who hated it. I still love it.

Ryan McNeil said...

I'm with you - this movie has a lot of good things going for it. It ain't perfect, but is perfection what we've suddenly come to expect in our movies?

If I can convince just one person to choose this movie over G.I JOE, I've fulfilled my goal as a movie blogger.

Jason Soto said...

Um...Neo was Mr. Anderson. The guys Neo went up against was Agent Smith.


Fletch said...

Thanks, CW.

Hatter - that is indeed a noble goal.

Raising our expectations isn't exactly a bad thing, especially given the movie climate overall, but hell, you'd think that when a film has ambition to be something more that it would be praised as such. Of course, I should say that it is indeed being rightly praised and that my 'review' was a knee-jerk reaction to other knee-jerk reactions I'd seen. I think I'm just growing ever tired of the predictable process.

Jason - you can take your facts and, um, go somewhere else with them or something. :D

Ugh, what a horrible error. When I think of Smith, I think of him saying "Miiiister Anderson!" every time.

Or, I might could argue that Neo was indeed battling with his virtual self, Mr. Anderson, in that he was battling to free himself of his place within the Matrix.

Heh? Heh? You buying?

Ok, I thought not. Thanks for the correction.

blake said...

Brilliant movie. Totally agreed with everything you said. Except the comparison of D9 to Back to the Future. That made me a little uncomfortable... ;)

Zach Murphy said...

I absolutely loved District 9. A lot of other people I know thought it was terrible, but those are the same people that rave about stuff like Transformers....

Nick said...

I really liked District 9. I didn't absolutely love it, but I really liked it. (Okay, I absolutely loved the alien weapons and the action scenes they were involved with). I respected the themes of the story. But I had some issues with the film that bothered me too much for me to give it a perfect, though I doubt anything as knee-jerk or superficial as all those other negative reviews.

Though I agree. I really hate that it's a popular thing to hate what's popular... yeah.

Farzan said...

Interesting take Fletch, I just saw it yesterday night and I really enjoyed it. I gave it a B+ and thought it was the best Summer movie this year. I know some will argue that Star Trek was more enjoyable, but District 9 just felt more entertaining in a weird way.

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

The camera wasn't really that shaky.

Similarly, Ebert wrote about Armond White's views on D9. Check it out. Very interesting.

I laughed at the comment on RT that said Ebert wasn't a big sci-fi fan. If anything, he's a huge old-school sci-fi fan, which is why he rates sci-fi with huge, popcorn endings less than hard, realistic sci-fi.

Daniel said...

I'm surprised, and encouraged, that people commenting here are able to have a nuanced opinion about this one. I'm not necessarily saying you don't, Fletch, and I read enough of your reviews to know better, but I think you're feeding the love/hate backlash/defense cycle here (which you admit in your P.S.).

Where is the room for middle ground? People flip out on Armond White because he didn't love it, and people "slammed" Conrad because he did love it? Makes you not even want to share your opinion for fear of what you'll be labeled. I guess it's kind of like the PC dilemma that people have to face around controversial issues.

Fletch said...

Blake - the comparison to BTTF was only in that they are both sci-fi/action movies with brains.

Farzan - yeha, I'm really not sure where my final rankings for the summer flicks will fall. According to the ratings I've given out, D9 is the tops, but as I said, I might've artificially inflated it a tad. But if so, it's really just a small tad. A tiny tad, even. I enjoyed the hell out of both, but Trek is hurt somewhat by not having any significance beyond being a heckuva good time.

Paul - sure it was. It might have calmed down as the action took off (ironically) since they went away from handheld more and more as the film went on, but it was at least 50% handheld and there was plenty of high-motion action. At worst it's a 3/5, but I felt a 4 was a fair Shaky Cam Rating.

Thanks for the tip on Ebert's defense/non-defense. The funniest thing is the chart someone made showing "films White think are good" versus those he thinks are bad. We'd all do better to just stop feeding the trolls, I suppose. Or imitating them.

Hell, I'm already halfway there with my ambivalence towards 'classic' films. :D

Fletch said...

Daniel - you're spot on. In this case (and maybe in the case of 500 Days of Summer; I regret having written two so similarly themed reviews), I'm most definitely not helping matters. Specifically by addressing these types of reviews (FYI: I've not even read White's review; there were plenty others to choose from), I'm fueling the fires.

But so long as I don't make a habit of it, I'm okay with having a moment of weakness every now and then. :) And I'm glad you know me better than to assume this is the norm.

Daniel said...

But of course - and I'm no one to tell another what they should or shouldn't do with a review. I have like six different formats...and even then I'm usually wishy-washy. This movie was a real tough one for me, as I went between loving it and hating and loving it and liking and disliking it and so on. I'm still not entirely sure where I ended up.

Reel Whore said...

Fletch, I'm with you and Farzan. I wound up putting D9 above Star Trek in my best to worst sidebar just because it seemed so much more substantial than the shallow thrill ride Star Trek was. I may have been a bit too generous with my rating, but this is movie that deserves legs and I'll help it gain traction anyway possible.

Tony Tanti said...

Nice rant, I agree with you. It's the new cool thing to try to have a dissenting opinion against what is popular. Sometimes its valid but I find that those types of dissenters wait until early reviews are in and then try to find a way to disagree just to be unique.

District 9 was very good. It didn't blow my mind like the Matrix so many years ago but it was fresh and a welcome departure from the cookie cutter action movies everyone else is making.

Heather said...

*stands in applause*

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I haven't even seen D9 myself yet, though my intents are there for a viewing this week, I opted for Inglourious Basterds instead this weekend, but I agree with the point you've made about it entirely. I am SO SICK of the popular backlash involving anything of substance anymore. It almost feels like a trendy stance to take just to disagree because something becomes so agreeably good. Every film ever made can be viewed with certain flaws by anyone, but this desire to pick everything apart anymore is absolutely infuriating to me as a fan of cinema. Whether I in turn agree with your declaration of D9 (most of the opinions I respect have said just as you have though)or not, I am glad you've taken a stand against these twats that feel like pooping in everyone elses cheerios! Enough already!