“District 9,” “Inglorious Basterds” round out week’s releases

Posted Dec. 25, 2009, at 4:25 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:56 a.m.

“District 9”

DVD, Blu-ray — Neill Blomkamp’s satisfying science-fiction movie features an intriguing twist — who is the monster in this monster movie? The nearly 2 million misplaced aliens from outer space who find themselves stuck on planet Earth, or us? Given the rough way the aliens are treated in District 9, a fenced shantytown coming apart at the seams in Johannesburg, South Africa (apartheid references abound), there is no question that it’s us — our treatment of them is barbaric, and tensions are rising. To quell them, a movement is underfoot to transplant the aliens outside the city. Leading that charge is Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a bumbling caricature at first (and an irritating one) who must go from door to door in an effort to get the aliens to sign eviction notices. Those who refuse to move are obliterated by armed forces. Those who agree usually do so only because there’s a gun in their faces. Chaos is about to burst free when Wikus accidentally sprays himself with an alien-created virus that has the side effect of turning him into one of them. Here is where the movie starts to hum. Now that he’s infected and physically undergoing a buglike metamorphosis (cue the Kafka influences), Wikus shakes off the trappings of caricature and becomes a more believable character. He now is someone you pull for, particularly because he’s a good man who wants to do right by the aliens. This low-budget film with its unknown cast is recommended because it ultimately is thought-provoking and smart. This isn’t a sci-fi thriller so much as it is a sci-fi drama. It poses several serious questions about the state of humanity, many of which go unanswered. It sees outside of the genre and works hard to create something new. It considers the situation it poses seriously, understands the cold limitations and brutality of man, and brings together a gathering storm of political unrest, bloodshed and personal change that lingers when the film is over. Rated R. Grade: B

“Extract”

DVD, Blu-ray — Jason Bateman is Joel Reynold, a rich, likable schmuck having one of those weeks in which he can’t get a break. His wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), won’t sleep with him; he finds himself under fire at the factory he owns when a mishap partly castrates co-worker Step (Clifton Collins Jr.); and he has a friend in Dean (Ben Affleck), who insists that he use all sorts of drugs, which over the course of the movie extracts from Joel’s life almost any chance of him getting it back on track. Director Mike Judge wrote the script, which is the flip side of his funnier 1999 film, “Office Space.” Here, instead of the staff being pounded by life (they get their share of it, but they aren’t the focus), it’s the boss who must wade through a minefield of mishaps. Mila Kunis, Gene Simmons, Dustin Milligan and David Koecnher all lift the movie in supporting roles. So does J.K. Simmons as Joel’s screwy manager, and also Bateman himself, whose Everyman performance is as grounded as the film’s direction. Trouble is, a comedy shouldn’t be as grounded as this — you want it to fly. What you hope for in “Extract” is a run of keen, silly laughs. It does, after all, come from the creator of “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “King of the Hill.” But the story lines fail to create an unhinged comedy. Instead, you come away feeling as if somewhere along the way, Judge also was neutered. Rated R. Grade: C+

“Inglourious Basterds”

DVD, Blu-ray — Quentin Tarantino’s best movie to date turns out to be his latest, “Inglourious Basterds,” which clashes together history and fantasy, intentionally echoes back to many of the World War II movies that came before it and uses them to inform it. Based on Enzo Castellari’s 1978 movie, “The Inglorious Bastards,” Tarantino’s movie is quite different. It opens in 1941. We’re in Nazi-occupied France and the smoothly evil Nazi Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, superb in a performance that will win him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor), has stopped to question a farmer about whether he’s hiding Jews. Turns out the man is, which leads to a tense game of cat and mouse that results in a horrific blast of bloodshed. One girl escapes her family’s slaughter — Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) — who several years later comes to run a movie theater in Paris. Her ownership of the theater proves critical to the film’s ending in ways that allow Shosanna the possibility for revenge. Running alongside this story is that of the Basterds them-selves, a group of American Jews led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), whose unit is driven to “kill Nazis.” He and his team mean business. Director Eli Roth also is a Basterd, and no one would want to be on the business end of his baseball bat. Meanwhile, another plot thread tightens its noose around the movie. Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) has made a film about a Nazi war hero (Daniel Bruhl) that will have its premiere at Shosanna’s theater. Hitler will attend, as will many other undesirables, which means in one night, a bounty of Nazis will collect under one roof to celebrate their war crimes. Thanks to a gorgeous German movie star (Diane Kruger) working as a spy, the Allies are aware of this. So are the Basterds. Then there’s Shosanna, who has ideas of her own. If she burns down the house with everyone caught inside, the war would likely end. But how to get there? Tarantino maneuvers and shifts, swinging the plot among characters as the tension mounts, mostly thanks to the careful eye of Hans Landa, who also is attending the event and senses that something is about to go down. Not that he’s about to allow that to happen. And not that viewers are about to be bored in the process. Rated R. Grade: A-

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“Boogie Nights”

Blu-ray — Paul Thomas Anderson’s insufferably long film offers a treasure-trove of tragic characters who try our patience with their weaknesses and neuroses. Whether drunk, high on cocaine or performing sex in parking lots for sweaty onlookers, these characters may find themselves in interesting situations, but it would be a mistake to assume that they are interesting as a result. They should be considered for what they are: a dim group of unlikable losers hellbent on a path of self-destruction by way of the porn industry. When the movie was released to great praise in 1997, many critics thought that Anderson’s characters were victims of that industry, when they clearly are victims of their own greed and hubris. These people want fame so badly, they willingly launch themselves into the sack with unabashed glee and bravado in an effort to achieve it. Never forced, they freely choose to snort the cocaine that leaves several dead by film’s end, choose to screw up their lives by having sex on film, choose to murder and cheat, choose to drop out of school and steal. Are we to pity these people and hold none accountable for his actions? “Boogie Nights” does have its moments, particularly in the suspense Anderson builds at the end. But for all the time the director gives his characters to engage us on film, few do. Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler, the 17-year-old who flees his abusive family to find an extended family in porn, may have a sizable surprise that suits his newly chosen profession, but, much like Julianne Moore’s Amber Waves and Heather Graham’s Rollergirl, he never becomes someone we care about. The film’s one great performance belongs to Burt Reynolds, who shines as blue movie director Jack Horner — the man who discovers Dirk, directs him to stardom, then sits back, powerless, as the ‘80s usher in the cheaper medium of video, his movie empire is threatened, and Dirk becomes mired in a haze of drugs and violence. If only we cared. Rated R. Grade: C-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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