RT on DVD

RT on DVD: District 9, Ponyo, Young Victoria

Plus Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock and Vanessa Hudgens in Bandslam

by | December 31, 2009 | Comments


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District 9

Thank god for fallen projects.

Peter Jackson was all set to make a movie-adaptation of the phenomenally successful, but shackled in red-tape, Halo. When that project fell into a hole, rather than walk away, Jackson gave first-time feature director, Neill Blomkamp the nod to adapt his 2005 short film Alive in Joburg and District 9 was born.

An alien spaceship lands in Johannesburg. Cue a multinational, private military corporation to keep the peace and build the slums. This could have been a very solid, hot-looking sci-fi action flick. Instead, Blomkamp and Jackson made a thought-provoking, emotional, powerful allegory about apartheid; that is also a seriously hot looking well-above-average sci-fi action flick.

The realism of the alien creatures is a powerful driver behind the film’s emotional success. Flawlessly constructed, with just enough humanity in their crustacean-like form to be relatable, the plight of the aliens, or ‘prawns’ as they are known in the film, is hauntingly reminiscent of our own asylum seekers pushed into isolated camps in the desert. Characterisation that starts the film feeling stereotyped or forced develop into complex portrayals and the look and feel, though filthy and grimy, becomes very beautiful in its own way.

It is so rare for big budget monster movies to bring this type of originality and intelligence to the screen that this is a must-have for summer; especially as it is filled to the brim with special features. The 2-disc DVD edition offers a three-part documentary: the Alien Agenda — a filmmaker’s log as well as a director’s commentary. The Blu-ray adds an interactive satellite and schematics map of District 9, and a host of featurettes about the special effects and everything that went into creating this gritty world.


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The Young Victoria

Queen Victoria was a remarkable woman, ruling the roost for more than 60 years. Today we remember her as the rather dour, fierce-looking guardian of high morality but before she became that, she was just a teenager.

The film is a little torn between flouncy, romantic bonnet flick and intrigues-of-the-court drama but in the end it is the young queen’s love affair with Albert that is at its heart. Set in a time when true love with a first cousin wasn’t stomach churning, her relationship with Albert is depicted as a major force behind her maturation into a balanced and powerful leader.

Emily Blunt is absolutely the best thing about this movie. She adds life and spark to the young Victoria who took to the throne at the age of 18.

While this film does have more than a whiff of a BBC Austen special, it is a truly original telling of this particular monarch’s story. So original, in fact, that more than a few ‘historical facts’ have been embellished for dramatic effect. You would have to have a heart of stone, however, to begrudge this lovely film a few flights of fancy. It is very beautiful to look at and refreshingly, the performances are strong.

Look out for the 2-disc version to get your hands on the special features. Amongst all the usual fare you will find a fabulous behind-the-scenes look at the costumes and locations, which are simply divine.


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Ponyo

Ponyo is a sweet and magical fairy tale inspired by the Hans Christian Anderson story, the Little Mermaid. It tells the story of a wilful and passionate goldfish named Ponyo who falls in love with a five-year-old human boy, Sōsuke, and longs to become a human girl.

This movie was made by animation royalty. At the helm we have Japanese animation super-god Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro). Not only did he write and direct Ponyo but he insisted on hand-drawing all of the waves and the sea himself. Each cell is a work of art.

The production team of the English version are pretty impressive also: John Lasseter (Up, WALL-E, Ratatouille), Frank Marshall (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Bourne trilogy) and Kathleen Kennedy (Persepolis, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). The English translation script was written by Melissa Matheson (E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) and the voices include Cate Banchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin and Betty White.

This simple story will captivate the kids and leave a smile on the face of all whimsy-loving grown-ups. There is a sweetness and innocence to Ponyo that brings genuine joy and delight.

The special features on both the DVD and Blu-ray releases promises satisfaction to the animation geeks in the form of a lovely featurette entitled “The Five Geniuses Who Created Ponyo” and a stack of creator interviews, Japanese TV spots and original trailers.


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Bandslam

For the older kids we have Bandslam, a coming-of-age teen flick with a little more guts that the standard fare.

The story line is predictable enough. Geek moves to new school, geek meets interesting/bookish girl with undiscovered talents and becomes her best mate while he lusts after the hot girl who is friendly with vaguely ulterior motives. Seen it? Sure, but here the characters are kind of interesting. And while it stars Disney darling Vanessa Hudgens, and is a musical, there is not a Broadway moment or Zac Efron good-boy dance routine anywhere in sight. The music is ska, indie-rock and the music god is David Bowie.

The special features are full of musical numbers and a making-of featurette.


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Charlie and Boots

This film is about as Aussie as you can get. Charlie (Paul Hogan) is dragged kicking and screaming by his son Boots (Shane Jacobson) on a road trip from Victoria to Cape York to do a touch of fishing.

From the moment they jump in the Kingswood we see shot after shot of gorgeous Australian country-side and all the expected ‘characters’ along the way, including a hitchhiker who brings a bit of extra colour to the journey.

The humour is gentle and is more of a backdrop to the unwinding of family history and the analysis of the relationship between the two men.

It is a relaxed, likeable film. There are no great revelations here but the charisma of the two men is undeniable. If you are wondering, Paul Hogan is the old one. The makeover has left him a tad unrecognisable.

There is lots to play with in the special features on both the DVD and the Blu-ray. Alongside the making-of featurettes and commentaries, there are interviews, and some great scenes with Paul and Shane.

Final note, keep the movie rolling right through the credits. It’s worth it!


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Taking Woodstock

We have all seen the footage of one of history’s most famous music festivals. Woodstock. The iconic bands, the tripping hippies, the mud…but this is not what this film is about.

This film tells the behind-the-scenes story of Woodstock and the individuals who accidentally made the concert happen without ever seeing a single performance.

Elliot (Demetri Martin), in a desperate effort to keep his parent’s remote hotel afloat, sees a golden opportunity when he hears a neighbouring town have pulled the plug on hosting a hippy music festival. Desperately needing some guests so he can pay the hotel’s mortgage, he talks a local farmer (Eugene Levy) into providing his paddock for the event to drum up some business. Before he knows it he has 500,000 people beating a path to his door.

This is a fun film. The characters are interesting and generally likeable, and it is a fresh look at a momentous moment in modern music history. It is also an Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Hidden Tiger Crouching Dragon) film which brings with it some enormous expectations. This is not a defining film but it is highly enjoyable.

The special features provides lots of deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes footage, and a wonderful commentary from Ang Lee and one of his favourite collaborators, writer James Schamus.

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