District 9

District 9

This week’s Culture Warrior looks at District 9’s place amongst the very best of smart science fiction.

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IntroFirstContact

There seems to be some kind of popular misconception that if aliens were to land on our planet, they’d somehow want to beat us up. In reality, it’s probably going to be the other way around. Want proof? How about the fact that we assume they’d do it to us. But not every film paints the extraterrestrial as the bad guy, as the following eight clearly show us, good old humanity, as the total asshole side of the exchange.

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Tetra-Vaal-robot

This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career.  Years from now (let’s say 2154), Neill Blomkamp’s significance in film history books will be that he was discovered through his short films. Specifically by Peter Jackson. And for a while he became a sort of poster boy for the situation where a young talented and economical filmmaker catches Hollywood’s eyes with a remarkable short film showcasing computer-generated special effects that make it look like it cost a million bucks. He will also be known for being part of the related trend of a new filmmaker turning his calling-card-functioning short into a debut feature. And as it turns out, another short of his is set to be adapted for his third feature. And another was a test for what was supposed to be his first (the famous failure of the Halo movie). Following film school and a short time working as an effects artist in Vancouver (he’s credited with animation on such things as 3000 Miles to Graceland and Smallville), the South Africa-born director made four notable shorts, one of which is really a commercial, before he moved into the big pictures courtesy of the mentoring Jackson. A fifth short was what originally came about through that partnership. You can watch all five below followed by links to watch six of his exceptional early ad works.

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blom

Neill Blomkamp became kind of a big deal after District 9. That film was the surprise hit of 2009, and it showed why Blomkamp was initially tapped to helm Halo. After a debut film makes that much coin, a director is fielding offers left and right, and Blomkamp was no different except that instead of jumping into bed with a big studio franchise-starter he took another risk with Elysium: an original 98 million dollar R-rated action movie. The movie plays with a relevant allegory, but for writer/director Blomkamp that’s just the sprinkles on top of his sci-fi actioner. The movie doesn’t dwell too much on its allegory or exposition, and for Blomkamp, it was important to give the audience just enough information to throw them into the deep end. Blomkamp had to plenty more to say in a roundtable interview about his specific approach to Elysium.

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district9-commentary1

Four year ago, Neill Blomkamp directed the surprise hit District 9, a speculative sci-fi film about the integration of aliens into human culture. Based in his home country of South Africa, District 9 was embraced by critics and audiences, earning three somewhat expected technical Academy Award nomination and a completely unexpected Best Picture nod. However, before the film was released anywhere, Blomkamp recorded his commentary on the film, giving a unique insight into its production with no knowledge of its eventual success. At the time of recording, Blomkamp had been present to show the film in public once, at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Com, and he was feeling pretty good about the movie based on the audience reaction. At least this time, the Comic-Con love translated into box office success and critical acclaim.

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Rian Johnson’s new film, Looper, is a pretty awesome time travel flick, one with as many elements that are clever and original as there are purposefully derivative and influenced. It’s the kind of smart and stylish sci-fi cinema we expect every once in a while on the festival circuit, like Sound of My Voice (which hits DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday), rather than from a major Hollywood studio. Looper does fit the indie model, though, since Sony/Tristar picked it up for distribution only after it was done shooting, yet as Brian’s review of the film attests, we can still consider it a good sign for mainstream movies of this genre, and we can hope that Hollywood will see Johnson as the sort of directorial talent they need. But is it the best science fiction film since The Matrix? That’s a question posed in a headline from Time magazine yesterday, though its respective post doesn’t address such a discussion let alone attempt to answer the inquiry. Well, if we exclude superhero movies, animated features (Pixar, Miyazaki and The Iron Giant among them) and the Star Trek reboot, Looper is currently one of only two original studio films of its order to be battling for the status of best reviewed since the Wachowskis’ groundbreaking modern classic. The other is Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men.

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Elysium at Comic-Con

When you venture into the multiplexes anymore, one thing becomes abundantly clear: the suits are firmly in control of Hollywood. Sure, movies have been a business since practically the dawn of the medium, but lately the corporate and marketing stranglehold is so tight that the cold plastic from the action figures and the wax from the fast food drink cups can be tasted in the air by the time the first reel gets moving. So with this near insurmountable obstacle of commercial influence, any time an intelligent, well-crafted genre film sneaks through the board rooms and the  farcical focus groups is a victory for geeks like us.

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Like the dinosaur blood found inside ancient, tree sap-encased mosquitoes, short films can often be cultivated and grown into something bigger and more rewarding: a feature film (sorry if you were hoping for a T-Rex). Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, there are more and more quality short films popping up everyday (and we’ve been trying our darndest to pay them their due around here), many of them hoping to hit it big and make a name for the filmmakers. It’s not an impossible dream — in fact, while you have heard of most of these writers and directors, they weren’t all that famous back when they made their shorts. Here are twelve films that started small before hitting the cineplexes:

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Just last night on a whiskey-bent episode of Reject Radio, I was re-lamenting that Neill Blomkamp hadn’t gotten back on the directing horse again despite the serious acclaim of District 9 and the hot iron that was inevitably cooling. Fortunately, he’s struck, and is currently taking meetings to find a distributor for Elysium. He’s already got a star in Sharlto Copley who has done the hard work of regenerating a human arm. Beyond the familiar pairing, Blomkamp is tackling the subject of aliens again, although this time it’s in the far future on a planet other than Earth. The political commentary is also promised to make a return. It’s good to know that the director is working on fresh material, sticking in the sci-fi world, and using his popularity (and box office results) before it wanes. Hopefully the days of intelligent, action-filled science fiction are here to stay. [Deadline Daytona]

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It had to be coming sooner or later. The linking of Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 to the World Cup, that is. We tried to do it with our own Movie World Cup, only to see District 9 and its native South Africa lose to France and Amelie. The folks at Atom have had a bit more luck with the tie-in with this mokumentary about the invasion of South Africa, by tribes of alien life forms dressed in brightly colored gear and attracted to a strange little round ball.

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Here were are in the first match of Round Two. The Elite Eight is at stake with every pairing, and this might prove to be a tough one. District 9 defeated Sin Nombre in Round One, and Amelie blew Whisky out of the water, but now they face off against each other. Two heavy-weights in a bare-knuckle brawl for supremacy, and we’re not even to the finals yet.

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On the opening of Round One of our Movie World Cup, we see host country South Africa face off against Mexico with two strong films. District 9 is somewhat of a fanboy favorite, so it might be hard to beat, but Sin Nombre came out of the gate strong last year and impressed almost every audience it touched.

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What’s the bare amount of news that’s fit to print? A rumored start date and title for a District 9 sequel!

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According to the Heat Vision, Sharlto Copley (District 9, The A-Team) is in talks to co-star in Dreamworks’ I Am Number Four.

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Tonight, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will hand out the 82nd Annual Oscars. And like any great movie site would, we will be updating our site live along with the ceremony. We will also be live-blogging the event, with much of the FSR staff providing up-to-the-minute commentary on the winners, the speeches, and everything in between. Come join!

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Last year, we live-blogged the Academy Awards from a large yacht. This was, of course, in honor of the fact that the characters from Slumdog Millionaire could not afford such lavish luxury, at least not until the end. This year, in honor of nominees like Avatar and District 9, we considered live-blogging Oscar night from space. We’re still waiting on a few call-backs on that one…

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Oscar Predictions: Best Picture

Read as we break down the films nominated for Best Picture and what their chances are of taking home the prize. We’re pretty sure it won’t be Crash.

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Visual effects are an often overlooked and underappreciated aspect of film making. It’s surprising that VFX has traditionally been one of the last things considered in budgeting/schedule and VFX houses often get the bad end of the money stick when it comes down to the last minute studio changes. But this year’s VFX Oscar nominees (Avatar, District 9 and Star Trek) are all great examples of how being mindful of the importance of VFX can gain your film box office and Oscar success.

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It’s Academy Awards time again, and even though we all know the awards are basically an irrelevant exercise in mutual masturbation it’s still fun to watch. This year sees a wide variety of films gain entry into Oscar history via nominations for Best Screenplay, Original and Adapted. Some deserve the honor, while others are based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire.

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Need to keep track of your picks for this year’s Oscar night? Want to challenge your friends on Twitter to pick against Sandra Bullock for Best Actress? Well, there’s an app for that.

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published: 10.30.2014
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published: 10.29.2014
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published: 10.27.2014
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published: 10.24.2014
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