#94 - Movie Movie

Dedicated To
Larry Gelbart
1928 - 2009

Added 9/15/9

Hey, gang! Last time, I mentioned that every so often, a strange serendipity is at work that creates a nice, unintentional double feature between the Electric Theatre and Tales From The Queue. This is not one of those weeks. The two movies we’ll be checking out this week couldn’t be less alike. Unless someone is programming an Animation and Apartheid festival, they’ll probably never appear together again. It’s all part of the fun of playing Movie Roulette.



Despite the fact that animated feature film production is no longer exclusively dominated by Disney, the vast majority continue to be slanted heavily toward younger audiences. If you’ve seen an animated film geared toward older kids or adults in the last couple of decades, odds are you were watching something from Japan (or, if you really dig deep, Eastern Europe). Shane Acker’s 9, an expanded remake of his Oscar-nominated 2005 short film, goes against this trend. This is not a cartoon to bring your youngest to see. Older animation fans, though, are in for a visually dazzling and often genuinely creepy treat.

The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland decimated by machines. 9, a burlap rag-doll full of gears and mechanical odds and ends, awakens in this world, given life by the scientist whose robotic creations destroyed the world after the totalitarian government took control of them. 9 soon meets up with his eight predecessors, a scattered bunch who mostly live in fear of The Great Machine. But the scientist has given 9 the key to destroying the Great Machine and the plucky little guy must convince his new friends to fight back.

Visually and stylistically, 9 is absolutely flawless. This is a wonderful movie to look at, with rich backgrounds and bizarre, frightening robotic creatures so detailed you’ll want to hit pause and study their every nuance. Acker has assembled a top-notch vocal cast, including Elijah Wood (surprisingly effective as 9), John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau and best of all, Crispin Glover as the artistic, not quite all there 6. What’s disappointing is that the story needs just a bit more dramatic weight. Everything wraps up rather quickly and you sense that Acker and screenwriter Pamela Pettler are doing their best to keep things simple. But the movie’s premise and first half suggest loftier themes and ideas that never quite materialize. I frequently criticize movies for dragging on too long. 9 is the first movie I’ve seen in I don’t know how long that felt too short. The movie could use at least another 20 minutes to flesh out some of the bigger ideas bubbling just under the surface. I truly appreciate any filmmaker that works to keep their movies to a reasonable length but Acker’s world had not even come close to overstaying its welcome.

Shane Acker is unquestionably a director to follow. He has a unique vision that he communicates with razor-sharp precision. There is much to enjoy about 9 and I certainly liked it very much. I wanted to like it even more. It’s an easy movie to admire but more difficult to fully embrace. 9 is frustratingly close to being a great film but isn’t quite. But it’s good enough to persuade me that Acker may yet have a great film in him. (* * *)


A Dry White Season

It’s all too easy to forget that the oppressive rule of apartheid in South Africa really only ended in 1994. That’s a shockingly late date for a system of racial segregation that dates back to colonial times. Based on the novel by Andre Brink, director Euzhan Palcy’s 1989 film effectively dramatizes the racial conflict that was still boiling at the time the film was made.

Donald Sutherland stars as history teacher Benjamin du Toit, a gentle, caring man who has lived in South Africa his entire life. He’s close friends with the school gardener, Gordon (Winston Ntshona), even paying the school fees for Gordon’s son. Tragically, the boy is arrested and killed during the infamous Soweto uprising of 1976 and the government refuses to disclose where the body is buried. Gordon starts digging for the truth and is himself arrested, tortured and killed. Ben hires an attorney (Marlon Brando) to represent the family’s interests at the inquest but gets nowhere. He decides to help the family pursue a civil suit with the aid of the family’s own lawyer (Zakes Mokae) and a crusading journalist (Susan Sarandon).

Movies like this are often criticized for placing a white hero at the forefront of a black story but that really isn’t fair in this case. The story of apartheid has always been a biracial one and the question of how this could have continued for so long must be asked of both sides. A Dry White Season shows us by vividly illustrating the corruption and brutality of the system. This is a world where injustice is frequently met with the response, “There’s nothing to be done.” The riot scene is appropriately shocking with police gunning down unarmed children in the street. Sutherland does a fine job showing us a man whose eyes are opened when he realizes that the country he’s lived in his entire life is built on a foundation of lies. Brando strikes just the right balance between idealism and frustrated cynicism in his brief appearance. And both Ntshona and Mokae are excellent as men who are all too aware of the danger of fighting back but feel they must.

A Dry White Season is by no means the definitive film on apartheid. I’m not entirely sure if one has been made yet. But it is a compelling and important story, a sad reminder of a brutal chapter in history that should never be forgotten or repeated. (* * *)

Thanks to Mychal Bowden for this week’s Tales From The Queue recommendation! Remember, TFTQ is a renewable resource but only as long as you keep those suggestions coming. Make sure you do your part and recommend your own favorite flick that got away!

Your pal,