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500 Days of District 9

By Dustin Rowles | DVD Releases | December 30, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | DVD Releases | December 30, 2009 |

Apologies, but we’ve been derelict on our DVD Releases these last two weeks, due to the holidays.

Week of December 30th

Paranormal Activity: Paranormal Activity cannot help but be compared to The Blair Witch Project. It was made on whatever is less than a shoestring (a sockthread?) for just $11,000, by Oren Peli, a video game designer with no previous film experience of any kind. Cast a handful of unknowns, make them film themselves with a single camera, pretend that the film is actual found footage, do the production work yourself on your computer, and all of a sudden you’ve done made yourself a real live movie. Most of the time this process results in something that looks like the amateur film project it really is, but every once and a while it just plain works. When the director holds up his end of the proceedings and manages to luck out with unknown actors who can nevertheless carry the film, the end result is a film like Paranormal Activity. — Steven Wilson

Jennifer’s Body: Had the phrase “hot mess” not existed before the release of Jennifer’s Body, the film would have presented the perfect excuse to coin it. Screenwriter and producer Diablo Cody’s second feature film, an ersatz horror story set in a small town high school, provides the first real test as an actor for internet-manufactured hottie Megan Fox, until now lost among giant robots and special effects in the Transformers franchise. As it turns out, Fox has neither the acting chops nor the movie star charisma to elevate the disorganized tornado of horror movie clichés and leaden one-liners whirling around her, and with no real base to support the film, Jennifer’s Body quickly careens into an incoherent exercise in high production values glossing over an utter lack of imagination. Fox’s co-star, Amanda Seyfried (“Big Love”), brings nothing to the table beyond some bug-eyed reaction shots, and between Fox’s limp performance and Cody’s Swiss cheese story, it’s hard to say which is the pig and which is the crappy dime-store lipstick. (Director Karyn Kusama certainly deserves to split some blame with Cody, but since Cody gets all the media play, she gets the razzberries as well.) — Ted Boynton

A Perfect Getaway: In the post-M. Night Shyamalan Hollywood, it’s difficult as hell to set up and execute a thriller that won’t bore a jaded audience, who have already been dealt nearly every conceivable plot twist and grown weary with the absurdity of it all. Rogue Pictures, who delivered with The Strangers, doesn’t score a home run with A Perfect Getaway but doesn’t totally miss the ball either. This movie will satisfy audiences seeking refuge from summer blockbusters but won’t truly surprise anyone who’s familiar with the genre. Written by hit-and-miss director David Twohy (Pitch Black), A Perfect Getaway is rather exhilarating in an escapist, B-movie sense, but it’s still a thriller, so it’s inevitable that this film falls victim to the genre’s constraints. That is, only so many possible permutations exist to solve the mystery, so the story, in hindsight, will inevitably appear predictable. Twohy, desperate to avoid such predictability, indulges in a few too many cunning touches, red herrings, and shiny bits of postmodernism. At the same time, Twohy recognizes that he can’t fool everyone, and, no matter which of his six main characters, ultimately, are identified as “the killers,” some people are still going to roll their eyes. I’ll admit that, within the first fifteen minutes of the film, I correctly guessed the main twist of the film, but the smaller twists and turns of the story, well, I didn’t see those coming. And it’s those details that successfully capture an audience and provide for a few jumps and creepy reveals along the way. — Agent Bedhead

Glee Vol. 1: In a network environment that shits out procedurals and lawyers shows like it’s been eating cops on the cob for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it’s refreshing to finally watch a show infused with a little gay. Sure, you may find a few shows on network TV with gay characters, but there aren’t any shows on NBC, Fox, CBS, or ABC that are actually gay. It’s a shame, too. Because the world needs more gay, goddamnit. We should all own our gay. Take off your tops and show us your gay! Sit on somebody’s shoulders and throw your gay at the stage. You don’t have to be an uphill gardener to fly your gay flag, people. Fly it proud. Sorry homosexuals, but you guys don’t have the market cornered anymore. There’s enough gay to go around. And just because some of us prefer a nice pair of breasts and the soft touch of a woman doesn’t mean we can’t be a little gay. Gayness is not just a sexual orientation. Gayness, like Whiteness, doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with one’s love of penis. It’s a state of mind, folks. Ironically, being gay is about removing that dick from your ass and loosening up a bit; it’s about getting some enjoyment out of things that aren’t football or geek-related. It’s about appreciating the beauty of life, diving into it, and grabbing it by its balls. It’s about flair. And drama. And overreacting. And hating yourself just a little bit afterward. - Dustin Rowles

9: Director Shane Acker’s 9 gets full credit for its attention to detail and the voracity with which Acker constructs his CG-animated fantasy world. The boiled-down premise sounds dubious even for a genre movie — a group of sentient rag dolls fight giant robots in a postapocalyptic wasteland — but Acker’s assured tone and belief in his story make the film engaging. And yet, the film feels plodding even at 80 minutes. There are moments when the story begins to drift a bit, not from its desired outcome or eventual resolutions as much from its reason for being. It makes more sense when you realize that Acker’s feature (his first) is based on a short he released in 2005 and which was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award. The feature version of the story is longer but no more fleshed out, and too much of the development relies on random chases and a character’s arbitrary decision to run to a new place. And that lack of focus is a shame, because at its best, 9 is an entertaining and tightly made fantasy adventure, an animated steampunk fable for grownups that would be more worth seeking out if not for the way it runs out gas toward the end. — Daniel Carlson

Week of December 23

500 Days of Summer: 500 Days of Summer isn’t an easy movie to describe. Try explaining to a friend why you’re in love with your significant other. You might say, “She’s beautiful; she’s got a great sense of humor; she’s wicked intelligent; and she has a great rack,” but this won’t do your significant other justice. They’re just words, and words rarely stack up to the effervescent giddiness you feel when you’re falling in love, or the crushing heartache an unexpected end to relationship can often leave.500 Days of Summer, like few movies I’ve ever seen, accurately captures the range of emotions that accompany falling in love and then having your heart shattered. And while the dialogue is witty, and real, and funny, and smart, it’s director Marc Webb’s attention to the details that make 500 Days of Summer such a deeply authentic movie. There are a lot of movie about love, and even more that think they are, but very few successfully capture that helpless uncertainty attendant to a new relationship — the overwhelming need to pin it down, to label it, to gain a sense of security, to know that what he or she is feeling is not fleeting. — Dustin Rowles

All About Steve: She has Asperger’s. That’s got to be it. Mary Horowitz, as played by Sandra Bullock in this (alleged) romantic comedy All About Steve, must suffer from Asperger’s syndrome. If I apply my own gross oversimplification of the condition from my review of Adam - that one has a reduced level of social interaction and similar lack of empathy for others - then it makes sense now. It makes sense that this Sacramento crossword constructor is fond of gaudy red boots and chatting with her pet hamster. It makes sense that she’s prone to spouting trivia and pouncing on unsuspecting blind dates like our eponymous cameraman before they even leave her parents’ driveway, and it makes sense that she then follows him from state to state after he bluffs his way out of said blind date. — William Goss

District 9: At its heart, the film is about the lines we draw around “us” and “them,” and how truly shaky those lines are. We can accept any sort of horror, any torture, as long as it isn’t one of us. The film feeds on the horror implicit in how easy it is to carry a one and move someone back and forth across that line. A man in charge of an operation can in five minutes become nothing more than a pile of resources “worth billions of dollars,” that must be harvested quickly. Anesthesia? That’s for people not things, it might interfere with the procedure. Vivisection first, get the heart out as quickly as possible. It is an intelligent and layered film, but as the old adage goes, ideas are boring, so if you must tell a story about ideas, be sure to wrap it with a bunch of explosions. MNU’s primary concern is in figuring out a way to allow humans to use the prodigiously powerful alien weapons. And these aren’t wee little ray guns, we’re talking exotic rifles that auto-target and detonate people like spam in a microwave. And the jaw dropping kingmaker: gorgeous ten foot tall power armor that single-handedly eradicates entire squads of soldiers sent to take it down. — Steven Wilson

Extract: When director Mike Judge attended a Q&A following a sneak-preview of his latest film Extract (2009) at the American Cinematheque he began by saying, “I wanted to do something like Office Space, but in a factory and I wanted to tell it from the boss’ point of view….I’d never been in a situation where somebody was working for me and, after ‘Beavis and Butt-head’ suddenly happened, I had like thirty to ninety people working for me. And I was just like gosh, these people don’t appreciate anything - I can’t get a break here.” The reason I’m quoting Judge at length here is because, for better and for worse, his description of the focus of Extract is exactly that: Office Space (1999), set in a factory, and told from the point of view of the boss. While the film is quite hilarious, albeit a bit shaggy and awkward in parts, its main flaw is that it feels so terribly familiar. — Drew Morton

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.