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Assignment 3 – Part 1 (2 features)

The following two film reviews were written for the ‘movies’ section of Salon.com.

Salon.com is part of the Salon Media Group, and it is an online magazine that covers a range of issues in American politics. It also reviews and produces articles about music, books and film.

“District 9”

Alien spaceship hovering over 'District 9' by Sony Pictures, cc.

Alien spaceship hovering over ‘District 9’ by Sony Pictures

Head to ‘District 9’ to evict the aliens as Blomkamp delivers a remarkable piece of sci-fi cinema.

By Jennifer Sansolis

October 10, 2009| Neill Blomkamp makes his debut in the sci-fi mockumentaryDistrict 9’ (full screen trailer upon clicked entry). Mentored by the award-winning director Peter Jackson from ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Blomkamp constructs an original, heart-pounding sci-fi film that merges with reality. While it’s easy to see that he’s not all that experienced at directing, Blomkamp makes a name for himself with the action and suspense that he builds on throughout the movie.

While most preceding sci-fi movies depict humans in fear of aliens and tease out ideas of what aliens would do to humans, Blomkamp instead invites us to consider what humans would do to aliens. Moreover, in ‘District 9’, humans rescue starving aliens from a spaceship that is hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa, and toss them into an area called ‘District 9’.

In choosing the city of his youth, Blomkamp is able to establish a sense of place, from the accents to the towns to the dusty environment. Additionally, the South African setting hones into a metaphor of the country’s history of apartheid and social problems.

With Nigerian gangs soon operating in the area, ‘District 9’ is quickly transformed into a slum. With nothing to sell but their weapons in exchange for food, the aliens are forced to live in substandard circumstances and feed on cat food, and are derogatorily labelled “prawns” because of their appearance with hard shell areas and thin joints.

Yet, although humans effortlessly buy the alien weaponry, they are unable to use them because their activation requires alien DNA.

Therefore, after 20 years in ‘District 9’, people are getting irritated by the alien presence and want them to leave. As a consequence, the government agency and weapons manufacturer, Multi-National United (or MNU), declare that it’s time to relocate the aliens further away from the city. For this task, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is put in charge, a man who is married to the daughter of MNU’s boss.

While delivering eviction notices to the prawns, Wikus comes into contact with an illegal lab run by an alien named Christopher Johnson and accidentally sprays liquid on himself. Within hours, his DNA begins to change and he becomes the first human-alien hybrid, which makes him a value to anyone who wants to operate alien weapons.

At first, the film seems to focus too heavily on the simulated documentary-style footage, news reports, political commentary and security camera footage. Yet all of the pseudo-footage creates a sense of realism and makes you feel like you’re in the movie alongside Wikus.

The aliens, created completely using Computer Generated Imagery (also known as CGI), are given real substance and appear to have as much character as the human characters in the film. Yet, aside from the little we learn about the alien character Christopher Johnson and his son, it’s a shame that we don’t learn more about the aliens and how smart they are.

Still in training, Blomkamp is not able to capture the other characters aside from Wikus. However, the film wouldn’t have worked without Wikus, who is the only human character who develops in the narrative. This may be why Blomkamp prioritizes Wikus’ storyline over the alien one.

Nonetheless, without a $200 million budget, Blomkamp is able to capture our minds and get our hearts thumping with a budget of about $30 million, indicating his promising skill in filmmaking.

If you’ve seen this movie, we’d like to know what you thought.


Mr. Frederickson, Russell and the talking dog Dug hang on for their lives, by Disney and Pixar, cc.

Mr. Frederickson, Russell and the talking dog Dug hang on for their lives, by Disney and Pixar

Let your imagination whisk you ‘Up’ into the sky as a suburban house takes flight with thousands of multi-coloured balloons.

By Jennifer Sansolis

October 12, 2009 | In Disney and Pixar’s “Up” (movie trailer), a sense of realism is brought to the screen with incredible animation and traditional storytelling, adding to Disney and Pixar’s list of successful children’s films including WALL-E, Ratatouille, Cars and The Incredibles.

“Up” begins as the wishful adventure of two neighbourhood children, Carl and Ellie , who want to explore the mystical place of Andes in South America and who are fascinated by a gallant explorer named ‘Charles F. Muntz’ (voiced by Christopher Plummer). As Carl and Ellie grow up, they fall in love and get married with plans of fulfilling their childhood dreams, but everyday life gets in their way and their plan never eventuates.

“Up” evolves into 78-year-old Carl Frederickson’s (voiced by Ed Asner) attempt to live out his late wife’s yearning to go on an adventure. The cranky widower and balloon-seller, Mr. Frederickson, decides that it’s not too late to make his wife’s dreams transpire.

The night before he is supposed to be taken into a retirement home, he fills up thousands of balloons with helium and attaches them to his home as he takes flight for South America.

Little does he know that he has company aboard his flying-home, until he hears a knock on his door in mid-air. It’s the chubby, annoying boy-scout, Russell, who he shooed away a few days earlier. 8-year-old Russell, voiced by Jordon Nagai (interview clip) accidentally tags along, in need of obtaining his final Wilderness Explorer boy-scout badge for, ‘assisting the elderly’.

When the pair arrive in South America, they realise that they need to cross to the other side of the cliff and rest the house where Ellie wanted it. While walking day and night with the house attached to their backs, the two come across talking dogs and an enormous brightly coloured bird named Kevin.

Their journey is not without danger as they bump into someone who wants to capture Kevin. The pair work together to save him and learn about themselves and each other along the way.

“Up” appears to be a children’s film with bright, boisterous colours, but the narrative itself can be appreciated by children and adults alike. The story is both sentimental and funny; it has a genuine family appeal.

The animation, which can be viewed in both 3D and conventional cinema is exceptional. The three dimensional version used in the film is used to convey height and depth to the forest in Andes, South America.

The writers and directors Peter Docter (WALL-E and Monsters, Inc. co-writer) and Bob Peterson (co-writer of Finding Nemo and Ratatouille) deliver a warm-hearted and amusing tale. It’s no wonder that it was chosen as the first animated feature ever to open The Cannes Film Festival.

If you’ve seen this movie, we’d like to know what you thought.

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