Saturday, August 15, 2009

District 9 is a cinematic achievement

District 9 is nothing short of a masterpiece. A taught, original and superbly paced story that maximizes it's modest budget and demonstrates that action/SciFi movies can be so much more than just explosions and the destruction of landmarks. The achievement is all the more impressive when you realize this film was really made by novices. Sharlto Copley stars in his first film role (literally FIRST) and gives a solid performance showing range, depth and authenticity that you'd expect from a veteran of stage and screen. Even more impressively Neil Blomkamp is directing his first feature film (he also cowrote the screenplay) as well and it's simply hard to fathom that fact when you see how well structured, paced and shot this film is. Despite having a small $30mil budget the effects in this film are superb. The film flies through exposition at breakneck speed that's a little dizzying at first and you wonder why they are going so fast -- until you get to the unforgettable third act of this film that is absolutely thrilling, edge of your seat excitement. The action is not just for action sake either. The film does a great job of getting you emotionally connected and invested in the well being of the characters.

The film is presented in a documentary style format that utilizes handheld camera shots augmented by cable newscast type coverage that helps the viewer get immersed in the unfolding drama. There are political undertones of segregation, immigration, police brutality, genocide and human rights but the movie handles them subtly and this does not come across in a heavy handed or preachy way. At it's core this is a sci fi action film anchored by a dramatic story that will have your head spinning and your hands clenched as the third act unfolds.

I saw this movie at a crowded opening night showing and was struck by how quiet the audience was during the movie. It was the quietest, most intensely focused audience I've been a member of in years. I credit that to the pacing of the film and the efficiency with which the story is told. There are no wasted moments of this film. No scenes that could have been cut. No special effects just for the sake of special effects (yeah, I'm talking to you Michael Bay). I believe that District 9 will become a classic film in the genre that generations from now will hold up and be a must see.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Biden Selection A Win For Authenticity

Barak Obama's choice of Joe Biden for Vice President on the surface seems like a solid choice. Biden's resume certainly complements Obama's in many ways, the most obvious of which is foreign policy, but there are several other contributions which may pay dividends and certainly will add to the entertainment value of the fall campaign. Besides Biden's propensity for being outspoken, some would say gaffe prone, he provides a nice library of audio video clips in which he is critical of Obama's resume and praises John McCain. Biden and McCain are reported to be long time friends and there has been public praise both ways which will make attacks from one on the other seem hypocritical.

There is little doubt the McCain campaign is already prepared for this choice and will have prepared talking points and ads ready to roll now that the announcement is public. Some of Biden's debate quotes about Obama's readiness are already hitting the airwaves. His past praise of John McCain is sure to see light in videos and reporters and debate moderator's questions. There may also be an opportunity to put the Jewish vote in play as support for Obama was already less than assured in this community and Biden has a history of supporting the Palestinian cause and urging Israel forward in the peace process. This combined with Obama's stated goal of sitting down with Iran and North Korea can't help but give pause to Jewish voters who are concerned about a weakening of the US commitment to Israel.

I do find the Obama campaign's timing of this announcement is a little curious given that bad news is usually released late Friday to relegate the news to the poorly watched weekend news cycle. It's a beautiful weekend here in the Northeast and my guess is lots of people will be outdoors. Not to mention it's the weekend before "back to school" for many families and lots of folks are shopping, not sitting in front of CNN.

Biden once famously characterized Obama as the "…first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean…" running for president. I guess all those who came before him like Jesse Jackson and Alan Keys were inarticulate, dull and dirty? It's this propensity to shoot from this hip and not think before speaking that will have lots of Democrats shaking their heads and lots of Republican's smiling. Combine this with John McCain's proclivity for the sometimes absurd and we're in for a hell of a show this fall. Indian voters will no doubt remember (or be reminded of by the McCain campaign) of Biden's idiotic "You cannot go near a seven eleven or a dunkin donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent…" comment. While Biden certainly has the senatorial and foreign policy resume, if McCain picks Mitt Romney for veep Biden will be way behind in polish at the debate podium. Romney may not be naturally strong on foreign policy, but he has a habit of rigorous debate prep which seldom leaves him seeming to lack answers on any topic. I do believe that Obama picked the right guy though. Picking a too smooth politician to go with a too smooth politician would be a mistake. Obama is already vulnerable to attacks on his image as an experiential light weight that is all show. The Obama campaign has been getting beaten up in the media and has had no attack dog to bite back. Biden provides a resume and a straight talking bulldog who people will not only tolerate aggressive and blunt talk from, but will actually expect it. Like good couples opposites don't attract, but people who complement each other's skills do. What one lacks the skills or desire for the other picks up. In that line of thinking Mitt Romney would be a good choice for McCain. You'd have the polished Obama with the straight talking Biden and the straight talking McCain with the polished Romney. The electorate's tolerance, perhaps even craving for blunt, honest, authentic candidates is clear.

I find this choice and this trend refreshing. I'm tired of the too polished, coached and cleaned up sterile presidential candidate. I think a lot of American's want a straight talker who isn't imprisoned by political correctness. Hell, we know the "created for television" media candidates have these same feelings, they're just better at hiding them. Their anxiety about saying anything that might cost them a vote in any constituency makes them come across like wishy washy neutered men who don't inspire confidence in their ability to be decisive. Many Americans want a decisive leader, not someone who will govern at all times by consensus. There are certain issues, like National Health Care, Social Security, and Energy where you have the time to build bipartisan coalitions and need to in order to make any real progress, but when the Nation is under attack, or a crisis presents itself somewhere in the world, don't we all want someone who can take out Truman's "The Buck Stops Here" desk sign and not be afraid of how many votes it may cost him and really use it as a rule to govern by? I think one of John McCain's greatest statements during the primary was that he'd rather lose an election than lose a war. Such a sentiment reminded voters that McCain is a man of principle and won't always vote the way the polls tell him he should. His support for the Iraq war and immigration reform cost him with voters on both sides and yet (despite some finessing to conservatives on immigration) he stuck to his guns and won the primary anyway. How can you not admire that? Obama would be well served to take an unpopular position or not always seek the least politically committal way to respond to something. My guess is such a risk would cost him some votes on the other side of his stand, but gain him a lot more with those independents that worry he doesn't have it in him, or is hiding who he really is in order to win the election.