2 posts categorized "mockumentary"


Apocalypse now; and how

While it can be construed as an allegory to Apartheid and South Africa's Soweto uprising of 1976, "District 9" is primarily a creature feature yarn.  A dressed-up "B-movie," if you will.

And a pretty compelling one.

Director/co-writer Neill Blomkamp, a first-time feature filmmaker born in South Africa, goes beyond the usual alien vs. human standoff.  One-on-one collaboration, brought to pass by plot twists, lurks at the root of this action-packed tale of Earthling violence toward non-violent visitors from outer-space.

You won't recognize any of the actors, but the producer is a marquee name.  Blomkamp was hand-picked by producer Peter Jackson ("The Lord of the Rings" trilogy) to do another film.  When "Halo," the big-screen version of the video game, fell through, Jackson commissioned Blomkamp's alien visitation thriller.

You get a little bit of everything with "District 9."  It's part standard sci-fi thriller, part alternate history (Is that even possible?  Isn't history either history or not?) and part mockumentary.  There's also more than a little shaky-cam "reality" reminiscent of last year's "Cloverfield" and "28 Days Later" (2002) tossed in for good (if you like cinematic redundancy) measure.

The mockumentary angle takes center stage in the opening act.  Visitors from another planet have parked their mother ship over Johannesburg, South Africa and hovered for 28 years.  After a few years, humans, tired of waiting for either invasion or a close encounter, finally boarded the ship. 
They "rescued" the emaciated space travelers and placed them in a shantytown encampment dubbed District 9.

When the insect-looking aliens began mingling a little too closely with the locals, the government hired a private security firm, Multi-National United (MNU), to evict them and move them further from the populace.

In documentary style, Blomkamp shows one of the field operatives, Wikus van der Merwe (newcomer Sharlto Copley), preparing to vacate his desk for field duty to lead the eviction forces. 
A bureaucrat given the leadership role by his scumbag father-in-law, Wikus speaks into the camera with the company line of relocating the aliens to a better place.

Things get very ugly in shantytown.  Without giving too much of the plot away, let's just say that our mousy bureaucrat lets the wrong vile of alien bile spray in his face.

From this aisle seat, "District 9" truly fascinates only in its attempt to form a human-alien alliance.  Copley, the director's old pal who produced Blomkamp's short film (also about aliens in Johannesburg), adequately, if not magnificently, orchestrates one man's transformation into something very different than what he was at the beginning.

Jackson is correct about his young protégé, however.  Blomkamp shows promise both as filmmaker and screenwriter (along with Terri Tatchell).  The aliens, mostly computer-generated and not at all "E.T." cuddly, turn out to act more human-like than most of the Earthlings.

I'm looking forward to Blomkamp's follow-up effort.  Once the smoke and mirrors of special-effects, aliens and a jerky hand-held camera are out of the way, we'll know more about what this promising filmmaker who has spent his adult life in Canada can really do.


Love, but not fun is where 'Heart' is

If it feels like a documentary, acts like a documentary and sort of looks like a documentary, it might instead be "Paper Heart," a poser mockumentary.

Fledgling actress/comedian Charlyne Yi, who had a small role in "Knocked Up," and established cinematic shy guy Michael Cera ("Year One," "Juno") share the screen in an odd little film with some charm, but which doesn't work.

If we could put  "Brüno" and Sarah Silverman's edgy TV show in a blender and mix feverishly, something like the best moments of "Paper Heart" might pour out.

The trouble is, there aren't enough good moments to justify spending even just less than 90 minutes watching this lukewarm stealth documentary.

Yi, who can't quite believe in falling in love, sets off cross-country to interview professors at Texas Tech in Lubbock, biker barflys in Oklahoma and even a couple of gay guys in New York City to try to understand if true love exists.

That would be fine if she were funny, which she is not, or a decent interviewer, which she isn't.  This all plays like a fairly amateur student film to me, but shifts into a slightly higher gear every time Cera shows up. 
Most performers will admit that the toughest role to play is themselves.  Cera, perhaps parodying himself just a tad, plays Cera amusingly enough.

Yi, who obviously wants very much to be good at what she does, falls flat playing herself.  Her usual response to anything that either surprises or amuses her can best be described as a cackle and a laugh.

Some of the members of the audience I saw "Paper Heart" with seemed befuddled at first.  Is this awkward, coy fifth-grade level romance that stumbles along between Yi and Cera real or not?

Here's a hint.  The "documentary's" first-time director, Nick Jasenovec, is played by actor Jake Johnson.

Perhaps it's fitting that one of Johnson's TV credits is "Lie to Me."