Monday, September 14, 2009

District 9

The temptation to write only about the blatant political allegory on full display is going to be extremely hard for me to resist, so I'll try my best to avoid it if I can. Having said that...

South Africa and Sci-Fi. Not the two most obvious bedfellows you could ever envisage, but think about it for a moment, and it does make complete sense. A country that has had a tumultuous history to say the least, it does provide a rather unique environment to base a movie on with the sort of themes that District 9 deals with.

The story starts with the fact that a massive alien spaceship has been hovering silently over Joburg for 30 odd years, with no sign of going anywhere. Inside, over 1 million alien beings (Dubbed as "Prawns" by the locals-for their rather obvious physical similarities) are dying, and need urgent help. These creatures are the last from their homeworld, but this detail fades into the background when the true plight of their situation is revealed to us. Forced down to earth into a shantytown, the prawns just mope about aimlessly, seemingly without any hint of an optimistic future, forced to endure third world squalidness, begging for food, operating black markets with Nigerian warlords - all to survive another bleak day in a place which is more akin to being in a concentration camp.

Enter the MNU (Multi National United) corporation to run District 9-as they see fit. We meet the exuberant Wikus Van Der Merwe, the 'friendly' face of the corporation sent to be the bearer of some rather disturbing news for the prawns. They are to be moved to another camp-which is going to be much better than the current one. Supposedly. Little does the ever smiling Wikus realise it, but he is just a pawn in a much bigger game. Namely the key reason why MNU are so keen to move the unsuspecting prawns. They want to acquire the aliens' superior biotechnological secrets behind the very formidable weaponry they have. Unlocking these secrets would make a company extremely rich beyond belief.

Whilst conducting the eviction, Wikus is accidentally infected with an alien virus, which causes his DNA to mutate. Into something neither he-nor anyone else could imagine. Slowly, but surely, transmogrifying into a prawn. District 9 picks up speed after this event, taking us on one hell of a ride as the increasingly distraught Wikus struggles to convince anyone that he is OK, when its fairly obvious that he isn't.

Meanwhile, some enterprising prawns are hatching plans of their own-unbeknown to MNU and the general public...

Everything about this seminal piece of Sci-Fi just works perfectly. The story is totally believable (With, yep, you guessed it-the fairly obvious political parallels represented here), the acting first rate (Even though some supporting characters are rather cliched), the alien design (and movements) very convincing, the set & production design's totally realistic, to name but a few seperate aspects that stand out in my mind.

This is a great Sci-Fi movie, one of the very best this year so far. Maybe even, one of the best this decade possibly.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Second Skin

An addiction can manifest itself in a staggeringly wide variety of forms in this modern digital era, so it shouldn't come as a great surprise to many, that some people are completely & utterly addicted to online gaming. And its not hard to see why this is so. Some of these games are so much fun, that you can easily suck up massive blocks of precious time for a never-ending quest for world domination, complex missions, slaying dragons & demons, rescuing fair maidens, fighting the forces of evil to name but just a few diversions! Having played many PlayStation 1 games way back in 1996, I can attest to the compelling nature of games. "Just 5 more minutes babe, just 5 minutes!" is a very familiar phrase that was thrown in the direction of my PlayStation widow-and of countless millions of other people... You get totally lost in the moment, desperate to get to the end of the next stage, goal, better time, end result. Its not the race, its getting to the end that transforms seemingly rational people into monosyllabic grunting neanderthals!

This wonderful documentary gets into the lives of a small group of players whose lives have been profoundly altered by their own unique addiction to an online game called WOW (World of Warcraft). By creating an onscreen character (avatars), these gamers then immerse themselves in this world absolutely, shunning everything else in their own personal lives, concentrating with a obsessive zeal to be further ahead, more heroic, more legendary than anyone else. The commitment alternates between intense-and undeniably, extremely unhealthy in more than one instance. Second Skin delves into these worlds, asking the gamers the necessary questions that are being raised onscreen. Just why on earth, do you guys (And ladies) let yourselves be in thrall to this game? How has playing it affected your own life? And what about the other people in your life-how has your playing WOW affected them? Without much surprise, this film is mainly focused on mainly young guys who've opened up to the camera's to reveal the real impact that their addiction to WOW has created. Their respective stories are all similar-but unique to their own situations. For some, the personal cost has been very high. Some learn to deal with their addiction, some don't acknowledge any problem whatsoever! Complete denial is always useful when you can't deal with the stresses in your own modern life.

Second Skin is an absorbing & entertaining documentary that immerses you very convincingly into the mindset of the online gamer, creating empathy & understanding for these people whose lives have been irrevocably changed by their addiction to this virtual world.

Watch it before you start on your own quest!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures

Here's a taster of something big that's happening in the world of rock!

See if you can guess the various musicians-and what bands they are associated with....

More to come soon. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Jeff Beck: Performing this week... Live at Ronnie scott's

Short review: Buy it-or rent it now!

Long Review: Finally, the guitars gods have smiled-and bestowed a Jeff Beck DVD on us fans! And its only taken 50 years...

One of the pleasures of the digital age we live in, is getting an ever increasing selection of great music-related DVD's, from complete concerts, documentaries, conceptual works-and many hybrid versions of the aforementioned. Some artists seem to have an endless supply of DVD's-others are notable for their absence. And Jeff Beck definitely fell into the later category! Just why some artists take their time getting to this format is a mystery, possibly it may come down to factors like record company indifference, squabbles over royalties, artist differences-and a myriad of other complicating reasons as to why they have empty spaces in the visual medium.

After reading various rave live concert reviews in the English rock press, I knew that when this DVD was first slated for release, it would be a foregone conclusion that my battered credit card would take another unavoidable hammering, to acquire this masterpiece.

I wasn't disappointed...

In fact, It was revelatory to say the least. Not only at the ripe young age of 65 is Jeff Beck still a master of the guitar, but the backing band were something else as well. That would be the combined skills & talents of: ultra-skillful drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, the shy-ish but stylishly impressive Jason Rebello on Keyboards and last-but not least, the precocious pint-sized Aussie wonder-girl Tal Wilkenfeld on bass guitar. Her facial expressions back to Jeff are both very entertaining-and revealing at the same time. The look of unadulterated joy is absolutely irresistable! Having pointed that out, the rest of the band are clearly having a ball as well. In fact, the audience joins in as well; feeding off on watching the jaw-dropping talent on close display - and the band respond in kind. When Jeff announces later on, that its been "The best week of my life", you are very much inclined to agree with him. To have witnessed this first-hand would have been something else. Again, thank god for the DVD medium. Now, we get to share what those few lucky enough to have been at Ronnie Scott's witnessed in the flesh. Pure musical magic on an unprecedented scale.

To single out any particular song is redundant with a DVD of this magnitude. The whole thing rocks-from go to whoa!