Weekend Movie Forecast: <em>District 9</em> Vs. <em>Cloud Nine</em>

<p>Wow, this movie's weird. Well, the first two-thirds anyway, after which <em>District 9</em> turns into a formulaic shoot-'em-up, albeit an entertaining one. The premise involves illegal aliens who raid Earth's border from outer space; when their mothership breaks down over Johannesburg, they're forced into the titular squalid refugee camp, where Nigerian warlords ruthlessly exploit their lust for cat food. <em>District 9</em> begins some two decades after their arrival, when a shady multinational corporation is contracted to clear the aliens' ghetto and relocate them to a tent city out of town, to be called<em> District 10</em>—like the probable sequel.</p><p></p>The protagonist here is a weaselly chap named Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) who's put in charge of the eviction mission because he's the CEO's daughter's wife. To say more would be to spoil, but Neill Blomkamp's smart film, which begins as a fake documentary before dropping that artifice, reveals Wikus to be a cowardly jerk, and though he suffers immensely, his flawed character keeps any treacly empathy and melodrama from clogging up works. Which is appreciated; unlike most self-serious sci-fi films, <em>District 9</em> is often very funny. It's also disgusting, surprising and suspenseful—sometimes all within the same scene. The third act hews to traditional action flick parameters, but overall it's a weird, wild ride worth taking—as long as you don't mind seeing the occasional head ripped off or graphic self-mutilation.

<p>German film <em>Cloud 9</em> tells the story of a 67-year old married seamstress who rediscovers passion and her sexuality when she falls in love with a 76-year old man. <a href=",31659/">The Onion's Noel Murray</a> writes, "The level of sensuality and sexuality in [director Andreas] Dresen’s simple slice-of-life can be startling at times, and either elevates <em>Cloud 9</em> or ruins it, depending on how bothered viewers are by the sight of GGILFs getting it on. Repeatedly. In close-up." We'll leave it at that, but anyone even slightly familiar with the freakishness of German porn won't be surprised at <em>Cloud 9</em>'s country of origin. </p>

<em>The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard</em> is a zany, vulgar comedy directed by <em>Chappelle Show </em>co-creator Neal Brennan, starring Jeremy Piven as an over-the-top car salesman who, with his two co-workers, execute one outrageous stunt after another to get the wheels off the lot. Jennie Punter <a href="">at The Globe and Mail</a> says "<em>The Goods</em> suffers the same problem as so many other comedies made by TV folks: It gets stuck in one place (the used car lot) and is primarily a series of sketches, in this case not particularly successful ones.<strong> In the end, this film is like a piano falling on a car – it may sound funny, but not when it happens to you." </strong>

<p>Teen rom-com<em> Bandslam</em> concerns a cute ex-cheerleader singer-songwriter (Alyson Michalka) and her mission to get back at (or on) her musician ex-boyfriend by besting him in a battle of the bands. But when she turns to music-geek new kid Will (Gaelan Connell) for help, the plan gets complicated by an unexpected romance! Surprisingly, <a href=",31661/">The Onion's Nathin Rabin says</a> it's not as awful as it sounds: "Like a less oppressively hip Juno, <em>Bandslam</em> captures the way young people too smart and pop-culture-savvy for their own good let the music and movies they love define them during adolescence’s crucible of humiliation and self-doubt. </p><p></p><strong>"Throughout its first two acts, <em>Bandslam</em> is charming, sweet, and funny enough to merit inclusion in the upper echelon of teen comedies.</strong> Then comes a third act weighed down with arbitrary romantic conflicts, leaden melodrama, and a tiresome subplot involving Connell’s ne’er-do-well father, which should have best been left on the cutting-room floor."

<em>Ponyo</em>, from Academy Award-winning Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki, is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale <em>The Little Mermaid</em>. Concerning a goldfish who wants to be human, the American version features the voices of Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, and Tina Fey. <a href="">Roger Ebert raves</a>, "There is a word to describe <em>Ponyo</em>, and that word is magical. This poetic, visually breathtaking work by the greatest of all animators has such deep charm that adults and children will both be touched. It’s wonderful and never even seems to try: It unfolds fantastically."

<em>The Time Traveler's Wife</em>, Robert Schwentke's adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger's hugely popular 2003 novel, stars Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams in a story about love that transcends time. And let's have a moment of silence for those poor fellows whose girlfriends want to see it this weekend. <a href="">Salon's Stephanie Zacharek</a> writes, "Although it's supposed to be supremely romantic, there's no daring in it, no go-for-broke passion. It's a nice little movie about romantic compulsion, just big enough to fit in a teacup... <strong>The movie's tone is shaky and uncertain, and its actors seem lost not just in time, but in space."</strong>

<p>Sundance graduate <em>Grace </em>concerns an expectant mother (Jordan Ladd) who discovers that her unborn baby has died. But she decides to carry the child to term anyway, and then the baby is born alive…<em>sort of. </em> <a href="">Mike Hale at the Times</a> calls it a "chilly and slow-moving horror film, which plays with ideas of mother love, obsessive child rearing and liberal spinelessness, adding a helping of trendy vampirism...[Director Paul] Solet does not possess anything close to Roman Polanski’s storytelling or image-making skills, but with the help of his sound crew (four people are given sound design or editing credits), <strong>he keeps you on the edge of your seat, or perhaps the edge of fleeing the theater."</strong></p>

<p>Documentary <em>Earth Days</em>, <a href="">screening at Quad Cinema</a>, is a look back at the beginnings of the environmental movement, mixing personal testimony from big-name green pioneers with rarely-seen archival media. <a href="">Eric Kohn at NY Press</a> says that "by exploring the original seeds of the modern environmental movement in the 1950s and ‘60s—through its eruption in the following decade with the first Earth Day April 22, 1970—Stone reveals that there’s nothing inherently “new” about green politics except that they have fallen back into favor.</p><p></p>"That <em>Earth Days</em> follows a simple routine in its construction does not detract from the beauty of its earnest design. Stone contrasts expressive images of nature with ugly visions of factory-produced waste, as the principle talking heads behind Earth Day recount their initial wake-up calls. Though publications such as <em>The Population Bomb</em> and <em>Silent Spring</em> married scientific reasoning with desperate calls to action, their needs undoubtedly benefited from euphorically motivated flower power support. Hippies may have been clueless, <em>Earth Days</em> argues, but they sure knew how to mobilize."

<em>Spread</em> stars Ashton Kutcher, who, for anyone still actually reading, portrays a lothario who's slept his way into a life of privilege with a lawyer cougar played by Anne Heche. But it all falls apart when he falls for a bombshell waitress (Margarita Levieva) who beats him at his own game. <a href="">Colin Covert at the Star Tribune</a> has the take-down: "It's hard to know where to begin on how awful this is. <em>Spread</em> is a love letter to Ashton Kutcher produced by and starring Ashton Kutcher... The film aims to be moody and serious about lack of intimacy and commitment, but the tone is more <em>Deuce Bigalow</em> than <em>Shampoo</em>... The film is well-photographed, bearing a surface resemblance to <em>American Gigolo</em>, but that's hardly enough to carry a movie in which the acting ranges from mediocre to wooden. <strong>Kutcher's expression is locked on bad-boy smug, and his how-to-hustle narration seems to be composed of Tweets.</strong> If there was an idea that took more than 140 characters to express, I missed it."

<p>Set in December 1944, German comedy <em>My Fuhrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler </em> finds Hitler depressed and unable to give an important speech to rouse the faltering Reich. And the only person who can now help is his former acting teacher, Adolf Grünbaum… a Jew. Ha? <a href="">The Village Voice's Nick Pinkerton</a> says "the main taboo busted by "My Führer" is cinematic: 'Thou shalt not bore the audience.' <strong>I chuckled approximately once during this 'blistering satire,' when Hitler dropped his German shepherd headfirst out a window.</strong> This was actually unexpected, therefore funnier than that same German shepherd pissing on and humping Der Führer—<strong>what's 'subversive' in making an Ubu Roi piñata out of History's Most Despised Man?"</strong></p>

<em>Taxidermia</em> is a wildly surreal and sometimes grotesque fantasia that spirals through three generations of Hungarians, from director Gyorgy Palfi. <a href="">Stephen Holden at the Times</a> calls it "a meditation on the bestial appetites of humanity by the Hungarian director who made his 2002 debut with the much-admired, nearly silent <em>Hukkle, Taxidermia</em> relentlessly focuses on sex, food and innards. It might also be an allegory about repression and Hungarian national identity over the last 70 years. <strong>Beautifully lighted, with elegant, fluid cinematography, it includes some stunning, magic-realist flourishes."</strong>

<p>Documentary<em> It Might Get Loud</em> brings together The Edge, Jimmy Page and Jack White for a rock n' roll summit. <a href="">A.O. Scott at the Times</a> calls it "a group portrait of three musicians and also, more intriguingly, a free-form historical and philosophical essay on the instrument that unites them... <strong>For rock geeks of any age or taste, the lore in this documentary will be catnip. </strong>But <em>It Might Get Loud</em> is more than a narrowly focused fan artifact. It gives those of us with tin ears and clumsy fingers a chance to linger in the presence of serious artists with formidable chops and big, if not always clearly expressed, ideas about what they do. And it will put you in the mood to listen."</p>

<p>This weekend at midnight <a href="">the IFC Center screens</a> the Coen brothers' underrated black-and-white gem <em>The Man Who Wasn't There</em>, which stars Billy Bob Thorton as a cuckolded barber whose scheme to blackmail his wife's (Frances McDormand) lover (James Gandolfini) backfires extravagantly, in classic Coen fashion. With a stellar performance from Coen regular Jon Polito, as well as Tony Shaloub and Scarlett Johansson. </p>

<p>Take your last big bite of summer with a midnight screening of <em>Jaws</em> <a href="">at the Sunshine this weekend</a>. </p>