The Movie Goat Reviews: Surrogates

av-phil.jpgI had a lot of energy on my drive home from work today.  I was all set to take care of some stuff at home, return a few phone calls that had been piling up, you know, that sort of thing.  Then I remembered that I had advance tickets to Surrogates at 7:30, and figured I would still be OK.  Nothing like a good action movie with Bruce Willis and a bunch of robots to start off the evening, right?

That question unfortunately remains unanswered, because what I saw was not a good action movie with Bruce Willis and a bunch of robots.  Nor was it one of those horrible action movies that are fun to rail on for all their blatant shortcomings.  It was 88 minutes of medium-paced, shoddily-written-but-capably-acted “meh”.

The first thing that pops to mind is that the writers (who before this gave us other such “meh” as Terminator 3 and Catwoman), approached this project with the same attitude I did before I knew anything about it.  Bruce Willis.  Ving Rhames as a villain.  Robots.  Sexy actresses.  People are going to see this by the boatload, regardless of what we write in this script, so let’s just get a case of Mountain Dew and slam this thing out in a weekend, then start clearing out our schedules so we can spend weeks and weeks counting all of the money we’re going to make.

Opens today in theaters everywhere

Opens today in theaters everywhere

A lot of the plot elements, and particularly any pieces of exposition, just seem phoned in.  The concept is a solid one:  15-20 years in the future, we invent lifelike robots that can be remotely controlled by people.  This is an awesome concept for several reasons.  Everyone can be hotter, stronger, faster, and basically invincible.  Did you get run over by a car on the way to work?  No problem, your robot might be hosed, but you can always just go out and buy a new one.  Perfect, right?  Of course, with every trend there’s a counter-culture movement, and in this movie it’s the “dreds” (or “dreads”, the movie wasn’t really clear on that).  This is a group of people who are fine with how they are, don’t want to be using surrogates, and don’t want to associate with them either.  They live in little enclaves near major cities that are basically autonomous and pretty trashy.  They make a big deal out of showing solar panels and windmills to remind us that they’re generating their own electricity and therefore disconnected with the outside world.  A few scenes of surrogate-on-human “hate crimes” demonstrate some degree of racial (i guess) tension?  What I just laid out demonstrates two huge flaws in the whole basis of the movie that I just couldn’t get my head around.

First: you have two societies.  One is composed of people so insecure that they need to prance around represented by robots, and because they are represented by robots, there are virtually no consequences for any of their actions.  They are all gorgeous, super-strong, and completely anonymous to the world.  The other one is filled with people who are either confident and comfortable enough with themselves to not want such a robot, or pragmatic enough to reject the whole concept.  One of these is a smooth-running, orderly society, and the other one is a dystopian wasteland loosely-governed by Ving Rhames in a Bob Marley costume.  Can you guess which is which?

Second: Robots, controlled by humans, calling humans “meat bags.”  Robot cops, controlled by human cops, calling a fellow cop who is not currently using his robot a “meat bag.”  How can this group of humans be so smart that they invent an army of lifelike robots, but so stupid that they hate…themselves?  Each other?  Bueller?

The Bottom Line: Maybe I’m thinking about this too hard.  It’s an OK movie.  The acting is good, and I guess most people who can suspend their disbelief enough to accept humanlike robots can ignore the rest of the contrived stuff this movie’s plot throws at you.  One last thing:  this movie is set at least 15 years in the future, so why is Bruce Willis driving around in a 2006 Toyota Prius?  More to the point, why is anyone driving anything anywhere, when most of them don’t have to leave their houses, and they can park their robots that never get tired wherever they want and…oh, never mind.  I can’t wait to see what these clowns do with xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, coming our way in 2011.


Music Goat: Pearl Jam, “The Fixer”

Dear Jimmy Carter, Take It Ease

Enough About Kanye, But…


Why The VMAs Were Fun

nor21Not like I went to it.  Nor did I watch it since the True Blood season finale was on.  As of right now, all I have seen from the show is when Kanye pooped all over Taylor Swift’s moment.

So how is it that I ended up partying at one of the post-parties?  Angie.  That night, we ended up going to the In Touch VMA party and ended up seeing a slew of celebs.  Despite having big names like Kim Kardashian and Gerard Butler there — the biggest celeb ended up being JON GOSSELIN.

More to come on this.  Gotta’ get back to packing!

Before Kev Calls My Ass Out

nor21I’m in the process of moving.  It’s pretty miserable.  Especially since I will be moving again in a month.

So if I get quiet again, that’s why.


The Movie Goat Reviews: District 9

av-phil.jpgRight out of the gate, this movie has a lot going for it.  For whatever reason (counter-intuitively), sci-fi/fantasy is cool right now.  Comic book movies are getting fat budgets and fatter box office grosses, Disney bought Marvel in one of the biggest recent mergers in the entertainment industry, and every TV network seems to be looking outside the common formula for their new shows debuting this fall.  It seems that in this time of economic strife and unstable geopolitical climate, people are clamoring for more escapism in their everyday lives.

But, as the trailers might let on, District 9 is not your run-of-the-mill sci-fi.  It has a grittier style closer to reality, which makes it an excellent movie, but at the same time a movie that the general public unfortunately won’t be as attracted to.

Now Playing

Now Playing

The premise, which people who have never seen it will tell you is based on apartheid (it’s not, really) centers around an alien invasion of sorts.  The computer-animated ones are the “Prawns”, a group of aliens who arrived at Earth (specifically South Africa) twenty years ago with seemingly benign intentions, but then were marooned here when their ship, a giant saucer hovering menacingly over Johannesburg, refused to start back up again.  Light-years away from the nearest space mechanic, the prawns (not their real name, but a derogatory term cooked up by humanity because of their appearance) began an uneasy life aside the indigenous humans of Johannesburg.  This inevitably came to a head as inter-species tensions rose, and the movie kicks off at the beginning of a resettlement plan which would remove all the prawns from their homes in “District 9”, the joint human/prawn community near Johannesburg, and move them into a tent-filled refugee camp where they would no longer commingle with humans.

Organizing this resettlement plan is the other central group, Multi-National United, or MNU.  MNU is a sort of NGO-defense/military contractor hired by the story’s equivalent of the UN to carry out the resettlement and policing of the prawn colonies.  Led by Wikus Van De Merwe, the closest thing this movie has to a protagonist, MNU tries to serve eviction notices to every one of the 1.8 million aliens living in District 9.  This is a plot engine which effectively shows us the living conditions and subcultures present in the community, while not seeming overly exposition-y.

The movie is shot in a documentary style, (seemingly) almost completely with handheld cameras, a feature which makes the special effects much easier to generate in a realistic-looking way.  For this reason, and because the entire cast is unknowns, District 9 was made for a mere $30 million, a figure it more than made back on its opening weekend.

It is set in more or less the present day, and the only advanced technology is that which the aliens brought here (and that humans are unable to use because it is somehow locked to their biology).  There are no gripping scenes of panicked meetings at the pentagon or some over-arching plan on the part of the developed nations of the world.  There’s no up-and-coming scientist with everything to prove who specializes in alien technology and wants to save the planet.  Twenty years ago, the movie says, aliens landed here.  It was a pretty big deal when it happened, but because they’re stuck here and because they’re mostly harmless, we outsourced their handling to this company and the rest of the world is moving on.  It’s an interesting concept, and is executed very well by the director Neill Blomkamp, who before this (like the rest of the cast) didn’t do anything of consequence.  It was produced by Peter Jackson and a few other members of the Lord of the Rings team, who no doubt helped them out with some of the visuals and locations.

All this is just the set-up, there’s a ton more to the story which I won’t discuss here.  But you don’t have to take my word for it, go see it for yourself!

Bottom Line: District 9 is a great example of what can happen in science fiction when the writers give the audience the benefit of the doubt.  It’s doing very well on rotten tomatoes, even without all the nostalgia/sympathy votes that Star Trek had (Star Trek was still very good).  It has the most realistic computer-animated portrayal of aliens I have ever seen, and the plot, so often overlooked in this genre, is instead front-and-center and engaging.  You should see this movie.