Big monsters are back. Movies like “The Host” and “Cloverfield” have reintroduced audiences to that rarest, but biggest of beasts, the giant out-of-control monster. Who needs vampires and zombies when you could have a ninety foot tall squid with a bad attitude and a Christmas bulb for a head?
The latest addition to the big monster genre is “Monsters,” an indie movie that reportedly only cost $15,000. Part road trip, part romance and all atmosphere, the story of Andrew (Scoot McNairy), an opportunistic photojournalist, who must escort his boss’s daughter, Sam (Whitney Able), back to the U.S. border through the treacherous quarantine area inhabited by… you guessed it, giant creatures left there when a NASA space craft carrying samples of extraterrestrial life crashed.
It’s a pure b-movie premise and for the first fifteen minutes or so promises to be little more than a Roger Corman film with better CGI. Then something happens. The movie becomes about the relationship between total opposites Andrew and Sam as they bond over their trip’s hardships and the strangeness of their surroundings. It’s a giant monster movie that focuses on the characters and despite some wild plot contrivances, it works.
The character study is a slow burn that leads up to the big reveal, the unveiling of the creatures. For most of the film they are seen and not heard but director Gareth Edwards paces the film carefully building up suspense through use of sound effects to climax with a wild mating dance between two of the Lovecraftian beasts. It’s a strangely beautiful and eerie sequence that brings the movie to a close.
“Monsters” isn’t as effective as “District 9” or “Cloverfield,” two other recent movies that introduced us to new creatures, but it is a complex film with timely messages about immigration (the US is protected by a giant fence to keep the monsters out) and our reactions in times of danger.
District 9 announces itself as a total fanboy geek out in its opening seconds with four small words: Presented by Peter Jackson. Jackson, the director of Lord of the Rings, didn’t helm District 9, but his involvement as producer is enough to guarantee an exciting ride, and the movie doesn’t disappoint.
Based on a six minute short film called Alive in Joburg by South African director Neill Blomkamp, District 9 is a mockumentary that examines themes of apartheid in a sci fi context. The story begins with an alien invasion in Johannesburg, but instead of a “take me to your leader” situation these aliens are refugees, looking for a place to live. While world governments argue over how best to deal with the ETs they are housed in District 9, a makeshift township near the core of the city. As time passes tensions arise between the aliens and the locals. To quell a civil war between the human and alien population a private company, Multi-National United (MNU), is brought in to relocate the extraterrestrials. When a bumbling MNU agent contracts a mysterious virus that changes his DNA—transforming him into an alien being—the corporation’s interests shift from relocation to alien weaponry.
District 9 straddles the line between sci fi and horror. For sci fi fans there is an interesting speculative story about alien invasion and assimilation. For horror fans there’s cool creatures and blood and guts galore. It’s a wild ride, relentlessly paced, that mixes together the standard genre standbys—aliens, killer robots, spaceships against a Blade Runner-ish backdrop—with surprising twists involving African gangs, corporate greed, voo doo and cannibalism. Despite its now old hat mockumentary form, District 9 packs enough new exciting ideas into its running time to make this seem totally fresh and unique.
Like the best sci fi District 9 has roots in reality. The alien township is based on the real life District 6, Cape Town, South Africa’s former inner-city residential area. In the 1970s over 60,000 people were forcibly removed and relocated by the apartheid regime. Using gritty film stock mixed with surveillance camera footage, television images and lots of wobbly camera work District 9 conveys the intensity of human (or alien) rights being violated, and it is powerful imagery.
Couple that with the derisive nickname humans have for the aliens—they’re called “Prawns” because they sorta-kinda resemble giant shrimp—and it isn’t hard to imagine that simply inserting another racial slur and changing up the cast of characters could transform this story into a look back at apartheid or the Warsaw Ghetto.
District 9 is intelligent sci fi with a message but is also great fun. The first hour moves faster than a Romulan warrior on a Red Bull binge and the shoot-em-up climax would make Jerry Bruckheimer envious. Highly recommended.
An animated film, an Iraq war movie and one of the biggest blockbusters of all time were among the expanded list of 10 pictures nominated for Oscars Tuesday morning.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its Oscar nominees in Los Angeles, and the list included some favourites as well as a few surprises.
The list of best-picture nominees:
* The Blind Side
* District 9
* An Education
* The Hurt Locker
* Inglourious Basterds
* A Serious Man
* Up in the Air
Canada AM film critic Richard Crouse said the best picture list, which included 10 films for the first time since 1943, was notable for what was not on it as much as for what was included.
“The movie that surprised me that wasn’t nominated in the top 10 for best picture was ‘Star Trek,'” Crouse told Canada AM Tuesday morning.
“And I only say that because when they first announced that they were going to expand the field to 10, everyone said that’s because they want to have ‘Star Trek’ in there. And ‘Star Trek’ was used as an exemplar of the kind of movies that were then going to get nominated.”
In what’s emerging as a showdown between ex-spouses, James Cameron’s “Avatar” is tied with “The Hurt Locker,” directed by his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow, for nine nominations each, including best director.
While “Avatar” has swept awards shows leading up to next month’s Oscars, Bigelow was named best director by the Directors Guild of America, long a harbinger for directing honours at the Academy Awards.
Bigelow is only the fourth female best-director nominee, following Sofia Coppola for 2003’s “Lost in Translation,” Jane Campion for 1993’s “The Piano,” and Lina Wertmuller for “Seven Beauties” in 1975.
Upon hearing the news of her nomination, Bigelow said she was gratified and humbled.
“It’s a huge, huge compliment to the entire cast and crew,” Bigelow said. “It was a very difficult shoot of heat and sun and windstorms and sandstorms and they had to unite crew from Lebanon and Israel.”
Joining Cameron and Bigelow in the directing category are Quentin Tarantino for “Inglourious Basterds,” Lee Daniels for “Precious” and Jason Reitman for “Up in the Air.”
Daniels is only the second African-American filmmaker to be nominated for best director. John Singleton received a nod in 1991 for “Boyz N the Hood.”
Daniels said Tuesday he was just as excited about his film’s nomination for best picture.
“After 82 years, it’s the first film nominated for best picture directed by an African-American,” Daniels said. “Isn’t that great? It’s so exciting.”
The nominees for best actress include emerging favourite Sandra Bullock for true-story football flick “The Blind Side.” Bullock won the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards for her role as a wealthy woman who helps a homeless teen, Michael Oher, who is now a star with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.
Bullock said winning is less important to her than the opportunity to meet her fellow nominees, actresses she greatly admires.
“You laugh at the absurdity of it all and how they pit women up against each other. We go, ‘Why are they making us out to be fighting when we’re just happy to share this moment?'” Bullock said. “The women I’ve met and gotten to know along the way have made me so happy for this business that didn’t really support women for a long time. It’s been really sweet. I feel really lucky to be working at this time.”
Joining her in the category are Helen Mirren as Leo Tolsoy’s wife in “The Last Station,” Carey Mulligan as a rebellious teen in “An Education,” Gabourey Sidibe as a teen mother and abuse victim in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” and Meryl Streep as chef Julia Child in “Julie & Julia.”
Mirren said she was “very happy and honoured” to learn of her nomination. Mulligan said hearing the news was “like a really good, friendly punch in the stomach.”
Favourite Jeff Bridges, also a Golden Globe and SAG winner, heads up the best actor category for “Crazy Heart,” in which he plays a down-on-his-luck country singer trying to turn his life around.
Also nominated for best actor are George Clooney as a company hatchet-man in “Up in the Air,” Colin Firth as a gay professor grieving his dead lover in “A Single Man,” Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in “Invictus,” and Jeremy Renner as a bomb defusing expert in Iraq in “The Hurt Locker.”
Los Angeles Times film critic Pete Hammond said Bridges is “by far the front-runner here.”
“He’s a veteran, he’s 60 years old, people love him in the industry and they think he’s due and this is a terrific performance,” Hammond told Canada AM. “So look for him over George Clooney in the final race.”
Despite being a long shot in the best actor category, Freeman, who was in Rome when the nominees were announced, pointed out that it is his fifth nomination, “and I’m more proud of that than all the rest of it I think.”
Comedienne Mo’Nique appears poised to add to her award haul for her blistering turn as an abusive mother in “Precious.” She is joined in the best supporting actress category by Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick for “Up in the Air,” Penelope Cruz for “Nine,” and Maggie Gyllenhaal for “Crazy Heart.”
Matt Damon in “Invictus,” Woody Harrelson in “The Messenger,” Christopher Plummer in “The Last Station,” Stanley Tucci in “The Lovely Bones,” and Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds,” make up the best supporting actor category.
The 82nd annual Academy Awards will be handed out March 7 at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre, and will air on CTV.
New Oscar producers Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic promise a livelier, more fun show than years past.
After Hugh Jackman livened up last year’s show with song-and-dance numbers, humour will likely be the order of the day for co-hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin.
While television ratings for the show have sagged in recent years, the presence of the highest-grossing film of all time in so many categories will likely draw in viewers.
Ratings peaked 12 years ago when Cameron’s “Titanic” nabbed 11 nominations. “Avatar” has since surpassed “Titanic” as the number one film of all time at the box office, with $2 billion in revenues worldwide.