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District 9
DIRECTED BY: Nick Blomkamp
STARRING: Sharlto Copley, William Allen Young, David James
CERT: 15A

Aliens come to earth and become the victims of a new apartheid. A movie pitch like that will get your foot and several large tentacles in the door.
It helped that young South African director Nick Blomkamp’s 2005 short film, Alive In Joburg, had already won the admiration of Peter Jackson – who’s come on board as producer here to help expand that original six-minute story.
A large spaceship has been hovering over Johannesburg for 20-odd years, doing nothing. Just sitting there like an abandoned, broken down old banger. Shortly after its arrival, it was discovered that the occupants were sick and starving to death and, as a humanitarian gesture, they were brought down and cared for in a temporary refugee camp.
But the alien population soon boomed and the camp became their permanent home. District 9 is now a segregated slum where the residents – christened “Prawns” for their less-than-attractive appearance – roam in gangs, scour the rubbish tips for food, pimp their females as prostitutes and trade with the opportunistic Nigerian gang who quickly cornered the market in cat food, to which the aliens are addicted.
They’ve become the social undesirables and the humans have had enough. So now there’s a plan afoot to move them to an isolated area outside the city, headed up the private corporation MNU (Multi-National United), who have taken over the running of the camp. Eager but dense company employee, Wikus van der Merwe (Copley), is the man who has been chosen to lead the eviction programme.
In between serving notices and ordering the incineration of alien homes and unhatched baby Prawns – they pop like popcorn when they burn! – Wikus has a little accident that turns his life on its head and opens his eyes as to what his employers are really about.
He just wants things to return to normal, but the only way that’s going to happen is if the reluctant fugitive steps up to the plate and saves the day.
Which sounds like your bog standard alien thriller – and it is, certainly in the latter stages, when it borrows from Transformers and from Ripley out of Alien.
What sets it somewhat apart is that it clearly has a brain and does at least make an effort at being original. It’s shot largely in a documentary style with lots of queasy hand-held camera, writer and director Blomkamp constructing the impression that what you’re watching is a rolling news story. 
It’s also got plenty of excellent humour and a perfectly excitable leading man in Sharlto Copley. On the downside, it takes itself way too seriously at times and the attempt at profound social commentary often just comes across as heavy-handed and silly.
There’s a few large questions that come to mind, too, as things progress. Like, if these guys are so advanced they can fly a spaceship from some distant galaxy, how do they end up allowing themselves to become the impoverished prisoners of mere humans?
And why, if they have enough weapons lying around the place to swap for cat food, did none of them ever think to start using them against the oppressor?
Maybe there’ll be answers in the sequel, which should be landing with a bang – and no doubt a much bigger budget – in around three years’ time. If not earlier… 

(500) Days Of Summer
DIRECTED BY: Marc Webb
STARRING: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Chloë Moretz
CERT: 15A

(500) Days Of Summer is being hailed as some kind of modern classic of love and heartbreak but I don’t get it. All I see is a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy with notions about itself.
Jumping between the present and various critical points in the past, it’s the story of how young Tom (Levitt) meets the lovely Summer (Deschanel), falls madly in love, believes she is the one, then discovers to his eternal grief that she really does want to be just friends – despite all of her very obvious signals to the contrary.
It’s not a bad movie, it’s just not anything special or unique. For example, Tom is a greeting card writer, but he’s a qualified architect who still has his dreams. He also has two dumb slacker friends and he takes life advice from his 10-year-old sister. And when he finally gets his woman, he stars in his own musical number, complete with little animated birdie.
All so wonderfully smart and original, I think you’ll agree. 
There is some snappy dialogue, a few good laughs and a strong, believable lead performance by Levitt, a likeable actor who will go on to better things. Opposite him, Zooey Deschanel has a beautiful screen presence, but as always when she opens her mouth to talk, she does that self-consciously quirky thing that just makes her annoying.
The biggest thing the movie has going for it is the great soundtrack, though director Marc Webb is clearly using that to establish some pretentious credentials. “Look, I know my Pixies, my Clash and my Smiths. My rom-com is therefore bound to be a class above the rest.”
Not really. It’s just got better tunes.

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