FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON: Reviews of District 9 and Moon

I know I’m absurdly late in reviewing District 9 (as well as Moon, but no one cares about Moon that much, which is a shame because it’s just as worthy as District 9 in being talked about). Both are sci-fi stories about an idea: District 9’s is political and in your face while Moon’s is existential and introspective (which may tell you why District 9 got all the press).

District 9, written by Terri Tatchell and Neill Blomkamp (who also directed) has a clever premise (though not an original one; it’s already served as the basis for a couple of films and TV series) and is ultimately moving, but it’s also one of those movies in which I turn out to be a party pooper. I’m sorry, but I simply didn’t like it as much as other people did. The most interesting aspect of the story was how four people, three of them white and one black, all think they are the center of the universe and simply can’t conceive of the idea that they aren’t, in spite of the fact that the earth has now been visited by aliens. For three of these people, this leads to their death (though the hero, played by Sharlto Copley, finds redemption) while one, the owner of a private security firm (can you say “Blackwater”), who also happens to be the hero’s father-in-law, escapes totally unscathed. For me, the whole movie suffers from structural weakness (it starts out with one plot and then halfway through changes horses and goes in a different direction) and a story that doesn’t always convince. The first half revolves around a mid-level bureaucrat (Copley—see my review of Inglorious Basterds) having to railroad a group of space aliens out of their ghetto into a new, even worse ghetto. The move, backed up by the private security firm, is so poorly organized and sloppily carried out, it’s never really believable (though it’s difficult to say whether it truly is poorly organized or if the director thought a well organized, more believable relocation would be too dull to put on camera, so he jazzed it up with hand held camera work and a lot of manufactured chaos). When the hero gets infected by something and starts turning alien, his father-in-law abducts him for his own nefarious reasons; at this point, the story has one of those twists that is utterly ridiculous—once the father-in-law determines that the hero is no longer useful, he plans to off him. This would never happen since the hero is still very useful; there is still too much to study and the hero is worth more alive than dead. But if the father-in-law doesn’t make the decision to kill the hero, then the second half of the movie can’t transpire (isn’t it nice when one of the characters knows they’re in a movie and is willing to do what needs to be done to keep the plot going the way the author wants). Once the hero escapes, the movie becomes a rather routine, though exciting and well executed, chase picture in which the hero decides to help some aliens return to their home planet. Here the hero goes through that traditional character arc so beloved of books and film school classes on screenwriting. In one way, I don’t want to knock the movie; considering the relatively small budget, the writer, director and technicians have achieved something somewhat remarkable. But, though enjoyable, I’m just not convinced it rises above what it is. And perhaps I wouldn’t even have a problem with it not rising about what it is if everybody else didn’t keep saying that it does when it doesn’t.

Moon, written by Nathan Parker from a story by director Duncan Jones, in many ways had a deeper emotional effect on me, perhaps because its themes, for whatever reason, have a deeper resonance for my life. In the future, Earth needs supplies and is getting them from the moon by way of a mining factory run by a single person, played by Sam Rockwell. Rockwell is counting down the days until he can return home to his wife and daughter on earth, but then something strange happens. He has an accident while out investigating a malfunction and wakes up in sick bay, saved by his 2001 type Hal robot (with the silky voice of Kevin Spacey, an existential nightmare in itself). Well, accidents happen; the problem is that when Rockwell reinvestigates the incident, he finds that he’s still there. He brings his double back to the mining base and slowly discovers the real truth: he himself, along with his twin, is actually a clone of the original Rockwell, who is still on earth, much older and now a widower. Every so many years, as a Rockwell clone runs down, it is replaced by another clone (there are thousands of them) with a false memory of having been in an accident where they lost consciousness and are now waking up. But now that Rockwell is aware of who he is, the question then becomes, who is he? Moon asks the same question as movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and Screamers: if one can’t tell the difference between a robot, android, clone, etc. and a human being, then is there a difference? If you can’t tell them apart, then what makes a human being a human being? Of course, this is in many ways a philosophical question that one usually only deals with late at night in college when one is drunk, mainly because no robot or android has been created that one can mistake for a human being; the question is academic. At the same time, that doesn’t stop it from being haunting with a deep emotional resonance for many people (including moi). So when Rockwell decides to fight for his existence, I became deeply involved in his desire to be considered fully human. As I said, this suffers from the same structural problems as District 9. Moon starts out as a meandering story about someone trying to survive being isolated on the moon. Then it changes when Rockwell discovers his double and the story arc changes. In addition, the transition between the two story threads is weak. In District 9, it’s not believable that anyone would want to kill the hero; in Moon, Rockwell’s reaction to finding his double is too low key and not convincing. Neither story really takes off until they get past these problematic areas. Both are examples of scripts with week first acts, but strong final ones.


I’ve been catching up on my Beineix (I’m ashamed to say I’ve only seen Diva) in a slate of films that are making the rounds in Los Angeles. I saw The Moon in the Gutter, the movie he made after the success of Diva where he thought he could do anything and found out he couldn’t. It stars a young and thin Gerard Depardieu who was probably right when he called it “movie in the gutter”. The director’s cut of Betty Blue (an extra hour in length) was a much more interesting film. It doesn’t always work, but it’s ultimately very moving.
But the main point of my blog here has to do with an interview in the LA Weekly in which Beineix came to the U.S. after Diva to see about making a film and was shown a script about Amelia Earhart. He was interested in the project, but didn’t think the script was quite right, so he wanted to have a go at it. The studio said fine, but wouldn’t pay for it. He thought they were trying to pull a fast one, and left town. I hate to say it, but I’m on the studio’s side. If Beineix disliked the script to the extent that he didn’t want to work with the original screenwriter, he should never have expressed interest in the project. To me, it was Beineix who sounded like he was trying to pull a fast one on the studio by getting them to pay for a screenplay when they already had one they had paid for that they were more or less satisfied with.


A fascinating and wonderfully catty article that calls into question the validity or honesty of the Fade In screenwriting competition was in the blog The Wrap. Fade In demands a retraction while many of their contest winners just want their prizes.

Harve Preznel is now the latest celebrity to pass on. I remember him from singing They Call the Wind Maria from Paint Your Wagon which made one wonder why, if they had this singer available, they actually wanted to use those wonderful warblers Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood (hey, I try never to miss a Clint Eastwood musical) and Jean Seberg. Where is Simon Callow when one needs him. He was also making a nice comeback ever since Fargo. It would be great to know what made the Coen brothers do that Quentin Tarrentino/David Lynch routine and cast someone from the past like that.

Tuesday night I did some movie catch up and saw The Seven Ups. Directed by Philip D’Antoni who also produced this as well as Bullitt and The French Connection, suggesting an interesting trilogy for American Cinemateque some time. It had a good idea, but the story never made sense and it reminded me of an Italian Gaillo film in which everything sounds dubbed and often has stories that never make sense. But it was still kind of entertaining in the “I wouldn’t have liked it when it first came out, but now in a look back at the 1970’s sort of way, it’s kind of fun”.

Tonight starts a retrospective of French director Jean Jacques Beineix at the American Cinematheque. I’ve only seen his film Diva for some reason, but can’t wait to see others. I remember the excitement in the movie world when Diva premiered. It was so exhilarating. Nuart is also showing the director’s cut of Betty Blue. Tonight is the Moon in the Gutter.

I have a friend who hates directors cuts because he thinks they’re a rip off way of trying to make more money off a film. I find them interesting, so interesting I may even go see the director’s cut of 1776 on Saturday.

I’m still thinking about the Woody Allen interview I saw on TCM. One thing that came to mind was some statements on the Purple Rose of Cairo. Allen’s films usually made money, but never a lot of money, though just enough to make it possible for him to make his next one. People viewing said they loved Purpose Rose…, but that if he gave it a happy ending, it would be a huge hit. But Allen said that the only reason he wrote Purple Rose… was because it was a tragedy and he wouldn’t have even made the movie if it had a happy ending.
This made me think of the movie Garden State, which was so enjoyable until the end when the resolution, the actor character decided not to return to L.A., was so ridiculous it spoiled everything that came before it for me. At the same time, I had to admit: It’s very doubtful the movie would have been nearly as successful without the happy ending.