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Twins vs. Aliens - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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August 15th, 2009


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10:06 am - Twins vs. Aliens
I had been intrigued by The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield, for years, having seen it displayed in airport bookstores and finding the concept interesting: a woman is called upon to hear the true story of the greatest author in the world, but as she begins to dig into it, she questions how "true" it really is. Also, there's a ghost or something.

At times, it reminded me of The Name of the Wind, House of Leaves, Midnight's Children, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. But I did not like it as much as any of them. By all rights, I should have loved the book, given that it features an unreliable narrator, identity issues, stories about stories, and bibliophilia. But I could not get into it, so much so that halfway through the book, I seriously considered giving up because I didn't care. I started reading more quickly, not bothering to read every word and just getting the gist of things so I could get to the end and figure out all the *~secrets~* of Vida Winter's fucked-up childhood.

It's a very gothic, Victorian story, so Setterfield writes in a very gothic, Victorian style, emulating the Brontë sisters, but the prose is too...too. It's overly ornate, and the fact that she never pins down a time period makes it seem kind of contrived. I didn't like the protagonist, whose love of books made me question my own love of books since it was taken to such a flowery, burbling extreme. Plus, she has ongoing melodramatic angst about a conflict that makes no sense. The story focuses solely on Vida Winter's fucked-up childhood, when I had expected it to have a larger, more interesting scope. I didn't actually care about any of the characters except maybe Aurelius, a kind man Margaret befriends during her investigations. And the book is almost completely humorless.

I was glad I stuck it through to the end since the reveals were pretty cool, but I just didn't care. The book had never grabbed me, and it continued not to grab me. Several people had recommended it to me—and most people like it—so I wouldn't not recommend it. Because if you get into it, it's a good book with puzzle pieces and surprises. But it was not an enjoyable reading experience for me. I hate reading books I don't like because it completely confuses my sense of reality and makes me wonder whether I actually like reading at all.



The premise of District 9 is that, for once, aliens do not land in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles but instead hover above Johannesburg, South Africa. They appear to be stuck there, stranded. So we humans Do the Right Thing and...put them in slums! Yeah, we rock.

The first fifteen minutes of District 9 establish the world of the movie, which is startlingly close to the world we live in. Using documentary and security camera footage, director Neill Blomkamp gives the story a frightening fictional veracity: this, this is what would really happen if we were visited by aliens. We would segregate them from the population. We would exploit them for their weaponry. We would give them a derogatory name, "prawns," and you can't tell me that's not what they look like, they look like prawns.

But despite the obvious allegory for apartheid inherent in the setup of the story, this is not a Message Movie. It does not beat you over the head with the idea that institutionalized racism is wrong. It's actually a very exciting sci-fi action movie with a simple plot centered around a complex character: Wikus van de Merwe, a regular guy who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets swept up in the alien-human conflict in ways he never would have imagined. Wikus represents what Seanan calls the "cheerful racist": he's so prejudiced against the aliens he doesn't even realize he's prejudiced. He doesn't see anything wrong with the way they're being treated; he rationalizes it all. And, yet, he's not a complete jackhole with no respect for their lives like some other characters. I found him a very interesting protagonist since he's not your typical Good Guy: he's likable but unsympathetic.

(And now I am randomly tearing up about a scene near the end. No, not that one. Before that. When he's in the thing doing the stuff.)

The special effects are fantastic; I often forgot that the aliens were CGI because they looked so goddamn real. And they have personalities and characters as well. But this isn't a "special effects movie." The special effects aren't supposed to look special. You're not even supposed to notice they're not real because the strength of the film is that it all looks and feels real. People talk naturally (the actors were encouraged to improvise their dialogue), and there are no Dramatic Hollywood Moments. We're just following along with the story of this one man.

(It is a very violent story, by the way. There are some gross scenes. And lots of people dying in grisly ways. Some of the audience found it funny because it was over-the-top, but I was always cringing every time someone died. Even the bad guys.)

Because District 9 spends most of its time being a thrilling adventure, it tricks you into getting caught up in the story without having to process all the backstory. It's designed to make you think without telling you what to think.
Current Mood: awakeawake
Current Music: Lenka - Trouble Is a Friend
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(15 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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From:bookie85
Date:August 15th, 2009 05:23 pm (UTC)
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I read The Thirteenth Tale in June, and I am still not quite sure what happened in the end of that book. Just a lot of stuff thrown at the reader in the last couple chapters that were, I suppose cool reveals but I also felt that tying them into the story a little more would have been good.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:August 15th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I also got a little lost at the end as to what the hell had really happened and who everyone was and how everyone was related and all. But I didn't care enough to sit there and try to make sure I had it all right.
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From:lareinenoire
Date:August 15th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
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I really liked The Thirteenth Tale, but I have a deep-rooted weakness for Victorian bibliophiles in particular. That being said, I haven't reread it since the first time back in 2006, so my recollection is a bit hazy.

I quite liked District 9 as well -- in particular, the narrative setup, with the interviews before and after the fact, and how all the pieces finally came together. Also a big fan of the Not-Heroic Hero and the fact that he really was sort of a jerk who (eventually) did the right thing.
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From:ariiadne
Date:August 15th, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC)
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Duuuuuude, put that district 9 stuff behind a cut! I saw it last night and LOVED it, but I really really feel that it is much better knowing less (or nearly nothing) about it before viewing.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:August 15th, 2009 10:27 pm (UTC)
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Oh, yeah, I am with you on that. But if someone wants to know nothing, they can just skim right past. I still tried to reveal as little as possible while still recommending the movie for what it is. (I have seen some newspaper reviews that freaking give away the actual plot, which is annoying. I just gave away that there IS a plot.)
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From:sdwolfpup
Date:August 15th, 2009 10:54 pm (UTC)
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But despite the obvious allegory for apartheid inherent in the setup of the story, this is not a Message Movie.

Absolutely. Which I actually didn't realize going in. That was the expectation it took me the longest to get over, and what had me chewing the movie around afterward. I loved the film, but I had to reset where it, and I, was coming from.

I was SO impressed by the CGI and the aliens specifically. I never once wondered which one was the guy in the suit, or how they got the aliens to affect certain physical elements - I just accepted it.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:August 15th, 2009 11:01 pm (UTC)
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There was never a guy in an alien suit. It was a guy in a motion-capture suit.
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From:chrryblssmninja
Date:August 16th, 2009 06:03 am (UTC)
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I found him a very interesting protagonist since he's not your typical Good Guy: he's likable but unsympathetic.
That's what I thought too!


What really squicked me out were the scenes with body parts getting chopped or pulled off. aaack.


AND IT HAD MECHA-FIGHTING! okay, just one mecha for a little bit but SO MUCH BETTER THAN TRANSFORMERS 2


I've been following Neill Blomkamp's work ever since stumbling upon "Alive in Joburg" a few years ago. So glad to see this movie do so well (at least, for first-day tickets)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:August 16th, 2009 08:36 pm (UTC)
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It was #1 this weekend! $37 million.

AND IT HAD MECHA-FIGHTING!
When he was in the thing doing the stuff!
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From:chrryblssmninja
Date:August 16th, 2009 08:41 pm (UTC)
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YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS


VICTORY


I hope there isn't a big drop-off for next week- doesn't have to be #1
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From:the_narration
Date:August 16th, 2009 04:06 pm (UTC)
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I've been wanting to see District 9 ever since I saw a trailer for it. Hope I get a chance to before it leaves theaters. I don't manage to see a lot of movies.

You're right: If special effects are doing their job right, you don't even notice they're special effects. That's why I find animation such an effective medium: all visual elements are created in the same way, so all things look equally real or unreal.
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From:ethanvahlere
Date:August 17th, 2009 03:12 am (UTC)
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I liked District 9, but I found the main alien character to be a little too much like a "noble savage" stereotype.
From:birdsarecalling
Date:August 17th, 2009 11:56 pm (UTC)
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How so? Christopher wasn't particularly innocent. He didn't live in harmony with nature, nor was his wisdom a product of being kept ignorant of civilization or technology. He was a very capable engineer and his entire goal was to get back to his own advanced society.

Sure, Christopher was more sympathetic than Wikus, but that's not exactly a difficult feat to pull off.
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From:ethanvahlere
Date:August 18th, 2009 02:07 am (UTC)
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But it seemed like his main function was to help out the main character.

On reflection, maybe more of the "magic Negro" stereotype than the "noble savage" one, but still a bit of a stereotype, to me anyway.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:August 18th, 2009 02:18 am (UTC)
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But it seemed like his main function was to help out the main character.
It's the other way around. He was only helping Wikus because Wikus was helping him. They both had individual stories that just became intertwined.

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