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last update 16.Aug.09
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District 9
dir Neill Blomkamp
scr Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
prd Peter Jackson
with Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Louis Minnaar, Vanessa Haywood, Eugene Khumbanyiwa, Marian Hooman, Mandla Gaduka, David James, Melt Sieberhagen, Kenneth Nkosi, Hlengiwe Madlala, Siyabonga Radebe
copley and a prawn
release US 14.Aug.09,
SA 28.Aug.09, UK 4.Sep.09
09/South Africa 1h52

29th Shadows Awards

district 9 district 9 district 9 With a relentless pace and seamless effects, this offbeat alien invasion thriller combines non-stop action with real emotion and provocative political themes. So not only is it thunderously entertaining, but it also makes us think.

In the mid-1980s, a giant spaceship stalled in the sky over Johannesburg, leaving its crustacean-like crew members, nicknamed "prawns", at the mercy of the South African government. Moved them into the city's 9th district, they live in squalor for 20 years. Now the city wants them out, hiring a mega-corporation to relocate all 1.8 million of them. The job goes to Wikus (Copley), son-in-law of the company boss (Minnaar), but just as he begins his work, an accident changes everything. And he turns to a prawn named Christopher Johnson (Cope) for help.

The film's documentary prologue sets the scene perfectly, and the style continues with hand-held camerawork, surveillance images, time-coded footage and to-camera interviews. In addition to creating an urgent, foreboding narrative, this lets the filmmakers add key plot information without clunky expository dialog. Without pausing for breath, we're propelled through a spiralling odyssey alongside Wikus, from his discovery of a horrific medical experimentation lab to his confrontation with Nigerian gangsters.

The effects work (by Weta) is so raw that we accept it as real, both the giant ship floating in the Jo'berg haze and the intense interaction between humans and prawns. And by keeping the imagery so organic, the film achieves an almost epic scale that's rooted in the humanity (and inhumanity) of its characters. Copley is terrific as the everyman at the centre--a goofy, cowardly nerd who must turn into an action hero as events progress far beyond his imagination.

Director Blomkamp casually reveals details in every scene that make the place and time a thoroughly believable. And of course, the politics are packed with meaning: echoes of apartheid, government-employed private contractors, paranoid news media, military over-reactions, local mercenaries. Each astonishing set piece takes our breath away, with big battles and huge action that are rooted in the characters. And without ever sentimentalising the prawns or making it easy for us to warm to them in any way, we are both thrilled and moved by their story.

15 themes, language, grisly violence
15.Aug.09 mc
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Easier With Practice
dir-scr Kyle Patrick Alvarez
prd Cookie Carosella
with Brian Geraghty, Kel O'Neill, Marguerite Moreau, Jeanette Brox, Jenna Gavigan, Kathryn Aselton, Danielle Lozeau, Lucas CorVatta, Lauren Petzke, Allison Hensel, Tracey Horsley, Z Ray Wakeman
o'neill and geraghty release US 26.Feb.10,
UK 3.Dec.10
09/US 1h40

edinburgh film fest
raindance film festival
easier with practice Solid twists in the tale add depth to this quirky American rom-com, which plays out with a breezily casual tone while building a surprising amount of tension along the way. It's also surprisingly endearing and funny.

Sean (O'Neill) is helping his nerdy brother Davy (Geraghty) sell his collection of short stories through a series of bookshop readings. More importantly, Sean hopes to help Davy get over a breakup with his ex-girlfriend (Moreau). Yet despite having a girlfriend (Brox) back home, it's Sean who keeps hooking up with women along the way, including one (Gavigan) who quite likes Davy. Then Davy gets an anonymous call from the sexy Nicole (Aselton), and without ever meeting they develop an explicit relationship. Or maybe it's just phone sex.

Alvarez has a terrific cinematic language, using static camera shots that let the characters roam around in the frame (or that let our eyes wander around the backgrounds). Even though we never see Nicole at the other end of the line, this actually makes the phone conversations more interesting to watch, as it maintains a vivid sense of both perspective and space. And the escalating relationship between Nicole and Davy cleverly blurs lines of fantasy, reality and expectation.

Geraghty is excellent in the role, giving Davy a scruffy charm that's irresistible. Cute, painfully shy and sharply funny, Davy is a terrific central character because we both like him and long for him to get his life on track. His interaction with O'Neill is played with realistic brotherly intensity that creates both levity and pain. And it's the relationship between these two men that's the real core of this film, because the plot is otherwise rather loose and undefined.

The story both wobbles and takes a telling turn after the book tour ends, as Davy's continuing conversations with Nicole reveal his true loneliness and aimlessness, as well as a growing sense of resolve. Meanwhile, the dynamic between Geraghty and O'Neill is stretched in extremely well-played scenes with Moreau and Brox, plus a final sequence that shies just short of being truly revelatory. It's a complex story that's perhaps not as daring or profound as Alvarez wants it to be. But is so warm and likeable that it's hard to resist.

15 themes, language, innuendo
16.Jun.09 eiff
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dir-scr-prd Lynn Shelton
with Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore, Lynn Shelton, Trina Willard, Stellan Matheisen, Steven Schardt, J Martin Dunn, Monica Fisk, Julian Martlew, Eric Richards, Jane Hall
duplass and leonard release US 10.Jul.09,
UK 18.Dec.09
09/US Magnolia 1h34

los angeles film fest
edinburgh film fest
raindance film festival
humpday Shot in a disarmingly improvised style, it's not clear whether this is a dramatic comedy or a very funny drama. Whatever it is, it boldly faces one of the biggest taboos of American society: male intimacy.

Ben and Anna (Duplass and Demore) are a happy couple trying to get pregnant when Ben's globe-hopping university buddy Andrew (Leonard) turns up for a visit. The two guys go to a raucous dinner party where they drunkenly decide to make a porn film for an upcoming festival. The hitch is that they will star in it as straight best friends having sex in the name of art. The next morning they begin to realise how stupid this is, but neither of them is willing to back down. And then Anna finds out.

Within this ridiculous premise, there's a ring of truth that keeps us watching. Filmmaker Shelton is provocatively exploring cultural barriers, and she pushes her cast to engage in some strikingly honest (and nervous) dialog. The film is essentially a series of conversations between these central three characters, with only two side roles for the filmmaker and Willard as a couple who tests another male limitation.

Perfectly cast as average Joes, Duplass and Leonard are natural as two guys awkwardly avoiding the elephant in the room and then making sure that, when they talk about it, they remain as ludicrously macho as they can be. And both have terrific scenes with Delmore too. All of the dialog is both hilarious and squirm-inducing. In some ways, this is more a razor-sharp look at interpersonal communication than an examination of masculinity.

And it's very funny to watch these guys' egos kick in. Neither wants to be the one who chickens out, so they waffle on about creating art that pushes boundaries while ignoring their own mid-30s crises. Along the way, the film knowingly explores how relationships require outside interests to survive, and how a truly loving partner is willing to talk and listen without judgement. And by the time we get to the fateful night, both men realise that they might be confronting the thing that scares them more than anything else. Which is a shocking revelation if you think about it.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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dir Simon Pearce
scr Darren Flaxstone, Christian Martin
prd Christian Martin, Robert Shulevitz
with Wayne Virgo, Marc Laurent, Alice Payne, Tom Bott, Garry Summers, Bernie Hodges, Louise Fearnside, Christian Martin, Oliver Park
bott, payne and virgo release US May.09 mglff,
UK 11.Sep.09
09/UK 1h28

See also:
CAL (2013)
shank Locally produced in Bristol with an up-and-coming cast and crew, this drama is remarkably tough, constantly challenging our preconceptions. It also transcends its budget to create interesting characters and some truly harrowing situations.

Cal (Virgo) is a teenager afraid to reveal his real desires to his friends, a gang of happy-slappers who torment anyone who's different from them. Sneaking around having anonymous sex with men, Cal is terrified his gang will discover that he's gay. But he goes out on a limb to rescue the French student Olivier (Laurent) from a beating, and the two become more than friends. Meanwhile, a former one-night stand (Summers) offers Cal a way out of his violent world. But his pals Jonno and Nessa (Bott and Payne) won't leave things alone.

The real revelation here is 21-year-old director Pearce, who with his first film creates a fresh and provocative atmosphere that focuses on the characters while allowing us to feel the fierce, emotionally charged world they live in. It's a bracingly honest approach to chav culture, capturing complexities of sex and sexuality, as well as the violence, with remarkable insight. It's rare to see a film present homophobia as honestly as this, combining paranoia with confusion and self-loathing.

This style of filmmaking also creates characters who, even though they take sides in the ensuing drama, have layers of complexity woven through their back stories. Virgo and Bott are especially good, creating a strong physicality between Cal and Jonno that suggest all kinds of issues and reveals itself in unexpected ways. And beyond their strong chemistry, they're remarkably effective in their own intensely dramatic scenes. The other standout is Payne, a star in the making who's simply astonishing as the ruthless ringleader.

The film is punctuated by some fairly intense violence, and the brutal climax is pretty hard to watch. This sequence is both full-on and overwrought, while some other scenes feel somewhat cliched. And the script is held together by rather too may coincidental connections between the various characters. But none of this weakens the film's raw depiction of youth culture. This is as exciting and urgent as street-level filmmaking gets; see it before the cast and crew are gobbled up by the industry.

18 themes, strong language, violence, sexuality, drugs
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall