Friday, 28 August 2009

District 9

A fascinating delight ...

After over 20 years of keeping a mysterious alien race, referred to as Prawns, in check in an area known as District 9 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is given the job of relocating the aliens away from the city so as to ensure that they pose no threat to the citizens of Johannesburg. But during a raid on one of the alien's shack, Wikus comes into contact with a substance that causes him to become the number one person of interest throughout the world.

District 9 is a remake of sorts of a short film from 2005 known as Alive in Joburg, and is filmed in two manners; the traditional film-making process and a documentary approach. The latter is mostly used for the first arc of the films narrative. It combines interviews and news reports, with documentary segments relating to Wikus and the relocation work he will be doing with the aliens. This film perspective is masterfully controlled by Neill Blomkamp and the integration of, and eventual change to, a more formalized camera work seems effortless and natural. This also provides the narrative with some added depth: instead of a linear exposition of Wikus and his reassessment of the whole situation, the audience is provided with history prior to the events taking place, even recalling vital information as to why the aliens are informally referred to as 'Prawns'. However the greatest strength of the narrative is how it parallels Apartheid. While the events in District 9 could relate to events such as the Holocaust, it is quite obvious that Apartheid is the core starting point of interest. This even goes as far as replicating the xenophobia which is strife within South Africa. For instance, replacing the African majority being subjugated against, are the technologically superior aliens. And even though the film is science-fiction, great strides have been taken to make the material as real as possible. These include the poor living conditions; an almost picture perfect representation of shacks through South Africa; and even finer details such as the African SWAT member calling Wikus by the term 'boss'. These are not just randomized stereotypes, but rather real life occurrences of South African living. This combined with the well structured story results in an entertaining and engaging narrative. However there are some points of interest which seem to get very little attention and any audience without an understanding of Apartheid might be feel something is amiss. For instance, the aliens who are clearly superior to humans seem to show little resistance to the poor conditions they are forced to live with. This may appear as a plot-hole, but essentially is only mimics how the White apartheid government were able to exert control over every other racial group, even when they were outnumbered nearly ten-to-one by the African population.

Continuing the believability of the South African context is the actors department, most notably Sharlto Copley who uses an incredibly authentic Afrikaans accent. Wikus is clearly a second language English speaker and Sharlto replicates this well, combining his characters need to speak English with instances of resorting to Afrikaans when swearing. Sharlto is only a first time actor in District 9, which is incredible to note considering how believable his acting is. Wikus goes from being a jerk to desperately fearful for his own life because of how the odds change against him. Regardless of how Wikus develops, Sharlto conveys his character with great realism. The remaining cast are all essentially secondary, and while they perform good jobs of keeping the level of acting high, they do at times falter a bit, but thankfully very rarely.

There is no nudity and sexual activities are only talked about and on a rare basis. Language is strong and consistent with a variety of expletives being used with the F-word uttered at least around 70 - 90 times. Most of these are spoken by Wikus and in Afrikaans, but considering how the F-word sounds similar in both Afrikaans and English, it is not difficult to know what is being said. The language is contextually fit though there is the odd scene where it does feel a bit too much or unnecessary. The intensity of violence matches that of the language with some fairly graphic scenes. Granted many of the deaths happen at a very quick pace but people are essentially vaporized into bloody matter or hacked apart, and this does not even account for the many instance of gunfights and psychosocial cruelty which takes place. Unlike the language at times, the violence is very fitting for contextual purposes in order to emphasis the brutality that existed during Apartheid and even in current day South Africa. South Africa is a violent country, and Neill Blomkamp does not shy away from this.

Both cinematography and the CGI are stunning. Neill Blomkamp is slightly experimental at times, such as filming from just above the barrel of a gun. He never does so frequently, but they surprisingly work. Another factor which is nicely executed are the action sequences which are viewable enough for the action to appreciated, but also slightly frantic to heighten the atmosphere. Accompanying this is some stellar CGI which blends into reality very well: the alien mother ship is the best example as it appears so natural while hovering over Johannesburg.

District 9 is being heralded as one of the best science fiction films to ever be showcased and its not difficult to understand why: it has a mature and exciting narrative, even if unclear at times, which brings about enough material to further the created universe in many directions. With a brilliant example of acting by Sharlto Copley, fascinating cinematography from Neill Blomkamp, high quality CGI, and engaging violence, District 9 is one of the most exciting films of recent years with only a few hitches. And as for this year, it easily relegates other recent blockbusters to the levels of mediocrity they deserve.


Screen date: 28 August 2009
Release date: 28 August 2009

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

GC 2009: Sony Conference Overview


Eyepet - bundled with the PlaystationEye
Heavy Rain - new character
Home -
Singstar space with video jukebox and music quiz; Audi space ;new dance moves, animations, character customizations and a camera item
Uncharted 2

Motion controls -
Teaser video for now but fully shown at TGS 2009
Playstation 3 Slim - 120gb, 33% smaller, 36% lighter, available 1st week September at 299 Euros


Playstation Portable

Eye of Judgement
Minis - New titles for PSP on the PSN store with a 100mb size limit; 15 titles on launch October 1st with 50 titles through 2009. Includes Tetris, MiniGore, Fieldrunners, and Hero of Sparta
Gran Tursimo PSP - Anyone who registers their PSPGo in the first 10 days from launch get GT PSP free!
Loco Roco Midnight Carnival - exclusive download title

PSP 3000 -
new colours -- Turquoise Green, Lilac Purple and Blossom Pink.



Digital Reader - graphic novels, indie titles; includes Marvel; not just for comics.
Firmware 3.0 - interface changes; whats new section; animated themes
PSN - relaunch design for September 1
Video Download Service - Rent and buy films - PSP and PS3; launches November
Vidzone -
expanding to new PAL territories

Monday, 3 August 2009

An Education

A cushioned lesson ...

Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a 16 year-old girl who is attempting to get into Oxford University and has high promise of doing so due to her exceptional intelligence. However, she feels that life is far too linear and she wishes to be able to express herself by listening to French music and going to the cinema and theatre whenever she can, but her parents forbid this for the most part. On a chance encounter Jenny meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), an older man who allows her the freedom to live life the way she wishes to do so.

An Education is adapted from the memoir of the British journalist Lynn Barber, and is a coming-of-age drama set in 1960's London. The story unfolds in a very standard fashion but it is the very core themes of the narrative which keep it engaging. The main theme of the film revolves around the importance of a rationalized living, such as getting a formal education and having the chance of being boxed into a typecast, versus living life to the full and having an existence on the foundation of enjoyment. The films is also evenly paced and while it is a fun and interesting watch, there is a slight mishap to the overall narrative structure which hinders the film greatly. While the film is set up by trying to understand how Jenny feels about her current life compared to the life she could have, the film does little to dwell on the realistic consequences of the actions made by many of the characters, especially Jenny. Any poor decisions she makes in her life are gazed across far too quickly, and those by other characters are none the better. It is a disheartening aspect to the story, and one which would have made the film more cohesive with it's message.

Nevertheless, there is not much else to criticize the film for. The acting, for instance, is superb with some natural performances. Most of the screen time is dominated by Mulligan and then Sarsgaard. While the chemistry between both never really works all the time, they are still appear amply suited. The rest of the cast all support these two and even the likes of the talented Emma Thompson and Alfred Molina never imbalance the fine equilibrium. Each character also comes across as unique. For example, where Mulligan's Jenny is rational and tries to act sophisticated, Rosamund Pike's Helen is ethereal and frivolous. These contrasts seem simple but they work in addressing the core concerns of the film.

Director Lone Scherfig does an amazing job with her creative vision of the script even though she does not create a unique cinematic experience. For the majority of the film, the camera work is understandably controlled, and helps to convey the characters as they ought to be. However, as if to aid the thematic notion of the film, when Jenny in introduced to a more a world of artistic expression, Scherfig is quick to make the camera work more loose and free, heightening the film's very premise of rationality versus emotion.

Beyond some implied sex and nudity, An Education contains little in terms of content with violence and language.

There is a charming simplicity to An Education which allows the narrative to unfold without any hindrance. The acting is great, the direction is just as good, and the story has some important messages to impart to audiences. Though as a coming-of-age story, An Education steers clear of trying to have an impact with its core themes, and ultimately suffers for convenience.


Screen date: 31 July 2009
Release date: N/A (Durban International Film Festival 2009)