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by Bill Gibron

14 Aug 2009

One hates to think that this is how it would be. After centuries of resorting to internment and segregation as a means of dealing with ‘dissent’, the arrival of a technologically advanced (albeit aesthetically displeasing) alien race should result in something more progressive than an Apartheid-like police state. Yet that’s exactly what happens in Neill Blomkamp’s inventive extension of his 2005 short Alive in Joborg, now titled District 9. By showing us what happens to a derelict spacecraft stranded above South Africa, its entire extraterrestrial contents fenced off in squalid camps for the last two decades, the first time filmmaker offers the kind of sci-fi social commentary that made instantly classics like Planet of the Apes such pointed, prophetic allegories.

Utilizing a mock documentary approach (and then abandoning it when the drama demands it), Blomkamp doesn’t focus on our first contact with an interstellar civilization. Instead, we fast forward way beyond the “Prawns” arrival to their current sordid situation. Nicknamed for their uncanny resemblance to giant crustaceans, the nearly two million members of what was apparently the mothership’s working class crew have been housed in District 9 under the international auspices of the MNU (Multi-National United). There, they are subjected to horrific living conditions, the criminal infiltration by surrounding Africa tribes, and some despicable displays of out and out racism.

It’s up to newly appointed bureaucrat Wikus Van De Merwe (newcomer Sharlto Copley) to evict the unsettled creatures and move them to their new home - a clean and sterile “camp” called District 10. Naturally, a few of these beings don’t want to be relocated, especially ‘Christopher Johnson’ and his young ‘son’. Turns out, these two have figured out how to refuel the spacecraft and are desperate to get it running. But with Wikus in the way, they are prevented from acting. During a raid of their home, our human paper-pusher falls victim to a situation that has him suddenly turned from captor to captive. With Christopher’s help, Wikus tries to uncover the secrets settled in District 9 while getting back to his own uniquely “human” way of life.

By avoiding the typical end of the world apocalypse that most alien invasion movies mandate and illustrating instead man’s continual inhumanity to all things different and diverse, District 9 becomes that most elusive of science fiction films - a serious and thoughtful dissertation on who we really are. Indeed, the best speculative fiction is merely a mask for covering up our true selves. As Blomkamp begins his examination, giving Wikus, his surround government stronghold, and the various residents living near the “Prawns” a chance to air their views, we feel like its Southern American circa the 1950s all over again. Even the silly seafood slur becomes uncomfortable and disturbing after a while.

Blomkamp, clearly inspired by his native land’s unconscionable treatment of its long suppressed population, pours as many references to said history as possible. He wants to make sure we never forget the regrettable, indefensible manner in which the majority (or in the case of South Africa, the far more sly minority) wield power over those without standing or strength. The use of cat food as a metaphor for drugs and (regulated) drug addiction, the exploitive criminal element contained within the nasty Nigerian gangsters, remind one of contemporary urban blight, while the setting showcases how we tend to warehouse people problems (refugees, victims of natural disaster) in hopes that the complications will stay within the fence line. Of course, they never do.

But District 9 takes it further. It ventures dangerously close into Holocaust territory, especially in a sequence where Wikus learns of a Mengele-like lab where aliens are experimented on for their possible technological (and tactical) advances. It also argues for the kind of armed uprising that most cases of segregation and forced separation produce. Yet there is more to this movie than messages and CG civil rights. District 9 inside a solid action film, an infiltrate and investigate kind of military mission that uses the POV gimmick as a way of having us play a part. It also offers an unusual perspective from the character department. Unlike the implication of the trailers, this is not a “prawn” story per say. It is a human saga. As we see the creatures getting harassed, as we witness their own angry and occasional doe-eyed sadness, we sense something bigger at play. Once the last act arrives, Blomkamp delivers on said promise.

It’s hard to talk about the last 30 minutes of this movie without giving too much away. Faith plays a big part in the actions of several characters, as does a desire to do things strictly by the book. The soldiery comes off as faceless and forgettable, as meaningful as the mechanisms of death they bring to this final showdown. With Wikus still at the center, his decision to help Christopher occasionally clouding his judgment, we wind up with a fight for life that also has some cosmic consequences as well. With all these allusions and symbols shuffling around, you might think that District 9 is too “intelligent” to be entertaining, striving for parable when it should be putting on the spectacle. But this is where Blomkamp, along with producer Peter Jackson, really shine. Not only is this movie thoughtful, it’s thrilling as well.

Even better, District 9 doesn’t come up with the easy answers. When all is said and done, when the dust has settled and the smoke has cleared, the differences between man and alien still exist. One character’s motivations have changed forever, while another’s are left up to speculation (and a possible sequel). There is hope in the conclusion, as well as irreversible harm. Indeed, one could look at what happens and see a future where integration is all but impossible. Blomkamp’s tone does tend toward a more genocidal solution, and for all their claimed compassion, the face of the MNU looks like any other badly managed bureaucracy - loaded with waste and competing personal interests. Anyone who goes to District 9 and expects to see a WETA take on Independence Day will be very disappointed. Expect something a whole lot smarter and more subtle and you’ll be richly rewarded. This is one of the Summer’s - and the year’s - best. 

by PopMatters Staff

14 Aug 2009

Soulico
Exotic on the Speaker
(JDub)
Releasing: 6 October (US)

The Tel Aviv DJs return on 6 October with a new mix CD featuring loads of hip-hop with a little bit of the Balkans thrown in for good measure.

SONG LIST
01 El Nur ft. Ghostface, Tomer Yosef & Saz
02 Exotic on the Speaker ft. Rye Rye
03 Pitom Banu ft. Axum
04 Put ‘em Up ft. Lyrics Born & Axum
05 Darboukatron
06 SOS ft. Pigeon John & Ceci Bastida
07 Politrix ft. Del the Funky Homosapien
08 Come Back ft. Onili
09 Avood MeAhava ft. Oren Barzilay
10 We Keep On ft. Rebel Sun & Soul-J
11 Queen of Hearts ft. MC ZULU
12 Bo Be Easy ft. Axum & C. Le
13 1,000 Nights ft. Ravid Khalni

Soulico ft. Lyrics Born and Axum
“Put ‘Em Up” [MP3]
     

by Tommy Marx

14 Aug 2009

Alison Moyet, an incredibly gifted singer with a deep, rich, bluesy voice, first found fame in her early 20s. Joining forces with Vince Clarke, a former member of Depeche Mode, Alison formed Yazoo, a synth-dance band, in 1981.

Yazoo was a major success in England. Their first two albums, Upstairs at Eric’s and You and Me Both, peaked at #2 and #1 respectively on the record charts, and four of their singles became Top 15 hits. In the United States, the duo (renamed Yaz because an American rock band was already using the name) saw three of their singles become number one hits on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart, but they weren’t nearly as successful on mainstream radio.

Alison and Vince decided to disband Yazoo shortly before their second album was released.

Vince Clark went on to form Erasure with Andy Bell and had an astonishing 24 consecutive singles become Top 20 hits in the UK Alison Moyet began a solo career, and while her success hasn’t rivaled that of her former band mate (she’s had nine singles become Top 40 hits in England), she has never particularly strived for success on the radio. Instead, she has gloriously followed her own path.

The only real success Alison Moyet has had as a solo artist in the United States is with a song titled “Invisible” that became a Top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 on April 4, 1985. But that song was enough to make me a lifelong fan.

by Nick Dinicola

14 Aug 2009

Parodies by their very nature give us a different perspective on things. Whether it be a plot, genre, or game mechanic, we see a different side of things when they’re viewed through the lens of humor. There are two recent flash games in particular that, while making fun of popular game mechanics, give us a unique look at the roots of those mechanics and why they’re so popular.

Upgrade Complete is a game that makes you upgrade everything. To begin the game, we have to buy a shop menu screen, but since we don’t have any money in the beginning we have to accept a loan from the developer. Then we have to buy the preloader to actually load the game and menu buttons to actually play it. The game itself is a 2-D top-down flying shooter. We can buy missiles and lasers and guns (all upgradeable of course) to help against the waves of enemies, or we can use the money we earn to buy and upgrade a logo, copyright info, the graphics, or a game over screen.

Achievement Unlocked is game that’s all about unlocking achievements. The game itself is mostly a platformer: there’s a single screen filled with blocks, jump pads, and spikes, all traditionally found in some form or another in platformers. But Achievement Unlocked is really more of a puzzle game, since our only goal is to figure out how to get all 99 achievements. It begins easily enough, giving us achievements for preloading the game, watching the sponsor screen, and pretty much rewarding every other simple action we could make: moving left, moving right, jumping, dying, etc. Everything nets us an achievement; we’re even given infinite lives so the game doesn’t end until we either give up or get every achievement.

Some time ago, Mitch Krpata from Insult Swordfighting tried to come up with new ways to describe gamers’ play styles, rather than use the inadequate “casual” and “hardcore.” One such descriptor was the Completist gamer: “A Completist may be less interested in maximizing his ability to play a game, and more interested in making sure he doesn’t miss anything…The reward is having no mountains left to climb.”

The Completist gamer is just a subset of the larger category of Skill Players according to Krpata, but given the popularity of achievements, I wonder just how “sub” that subset is. Gamers are completist by nature; we’ve been trained to be that way and are continually encouraged to keep it up. Whether it be finding all the collectibles in a game or just trying to beat it, both actions require us to complete a game to a certain degree. Especially in this day of constant hype for new releases, we’re encouraged even more to complete one game so that we can hurry to the next.

In a broader sense, Upgrade Complete and Achievement Unlocked are not just parodies of the mechanics that they’re named after but of our attitudes towards games. These are collect-a-thons in their purest form. Achievements and upgrades are just an evolution of the stars in Super Mario 64 or the puzzle pieces in Banjo-Kazooie. Achievement Unlocked is, arguably, the better parody because it portrays achievements as the old-school collectible they are, while also embracing those roots. When we play it, we’re having fun collecting even as we realize we’re the butt of the joke. Upgrade Complete on the other hand has a message at the end telling us to rate a game more on how fun it is than how complex its upgrade system is. Yet the game is fun solely because of its absurdly comprehensive upgrade system. It undermines its own message. The best parodies embrace what they make fun of, and Achievement Unlocked plays straight to our completist, collectible-loving nature. The fact that I used a FAQ to make sure that I collected all the achievements says it all.

by Jason Gross

13 Aug 2009

Even if you’re not an Aerosmith fan (I happen to like ‘em), you have to feel for a band that’s had such bad luck on their recent tour, or rather, they’ve fallen victim to a common condition for classic rockers now—it’s called age and it ain’t always pretty, especially for a set of heroes who are supposed to be forever young (but can’t be).

It started recently when singer Steve Tyler took an accidental fall off of a stage (not a stage dive, mind you).  The poor guy had to go home to recuperate and the news that slowly dribbled out included show cancellations and the threat the rest of their recent tour could be scrapped.

And this wasn’t even the start of the recent health problems that the band’s had on this tour. Read the list of ailments from the last link above and you’ll see a leg injury, knee infection and surgery, head injury and ‘non-invasive surgery’, not to mention throat cancer and hepatitis C bouts in the last few years. So far only drummer Joey Kramer has escaped maladies recently.

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