Saturday, July 30, 2011

Four Films Worth Mentioning

On a recent flight back to the US from Albion I watched four (count 'em - FOUR!) films. All were fairly decent, and worthy of a mention. If they have anything in common, it was that all four did something slightly different than expected.

I expected District 9 to be a standard aliens v. humans film (ala Independence Day), with standard battle scenes and some political overtones relating to apartheid and private military contractors. Instead, it is much more of a drama, centered on a small number of characters. There are some fun action moments, but that is hardly what the film is about.

Sticking with aliens, I next watched Battle Los Angeles. Small, intimate stories must be in: this movie followed a single small unit of Marines through the battle. Although there were occasional allusions to the larger conflict, really all we as viewers care about is the fate of roughly a dozen men and women. Humanity as a whole is not really a factor. The other surprising thing here was that when there were not aliens in the frame, much of this looked like a war about Iraq today. In that sense it is much more of a war movie, and less of what you might traditionally think of as sci fi. (Oh, yes, the aliens also have crew-served weapons.)

Aakrosh (2010, not to be confused with the 1980 and 1998 films of the same title) is a fairly standard story: two cops from the central government visit a small town where the locals are kept in the thrall of corrupt leaders due to fear and ignorance. Outsider cops have to win the trust of locals and solve the murder mystery before all the witnesses end up dead. The unusual thing here is that it is set in India, and most of the film is in Hindi. (Yes, there are also a couple musical numbers - could it be Bollywood without them? - but they're integrated fairly well.) In fact, I learned afterward that the film is a scene-by-scene recreation of Mississippi Burning.

I finished the flight with The Adjustment Bureau. If you are expecting Dark City or The Matrix, you are likely to be disappointed. The plot is simply too predictable, the weirdness not nearly compelling enough. Curiously, if all you ask for is a romantic drama with a few moments of comedy, and you don't mind a strange sci-fi type resolution, it works considerably better.

I doubt any of these films will go down in the annals of cinematic history as canonical works. If you never saw them you'd do all right. But all four have points of interest in terms of genre and expectations and what they do (or don't do) with that.
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