Friday 2 December 2011

District 9 - Movie review

District 9 - 2009
Director - Neil Blomkamp

1. District 9 - poster

Plot summary /  review:
District 9 is the first feature from South African Director Neil Blomkamp and is produced by Peter "Lord of the Rings" Jackson. Breaking the format of traditional summer blockbusters, District 9 starts with a mockumentary style opening. A collage of news clips and hand held camera footage neatly informs the audience of the back story and sets up the rest of the film. 

In the not to distant future, a space craft has entered Earth's atmosphere and has settled above Johannesburg, South Africa. Hovering menacingly but seemingly inactive, the military eventually break into the ship. There they find an entire population of aliens huddled together in unsanitary conditions, starving to death. The aliens are relocated to the ground and governed by a private corporation called Multi-National United. The lobster / grasshopper looking aliens (nicknamed prawns) are despised by humans, who demand they are moved further away from town.  A task entrusted to the films protagonist and MNU employee Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley).

2) Wikus Van Der Merwe - Mockumentary

A camera crew joins Wikus as he cheerfully (annoyingly cheerful) rounds up the aliens and begins relocating them from District 9 to District 10. It's in these scenes that the films political message is most effective, paralleling the racial segregation enforced in South Africa from the early 50's to mid 90's. The posters that can be seen throughout the film (and skilfully used to market it), are a hard hitting reference to this. David Bradshaw of the Guardian Newspaper comments "This overt satire effectively encourages the audience to ask questions the movie is uninterested in answering. Do the aliens unite white and black earthlings in an ironic common front of caste-paranoia?" (Bradshaw.2009) Blomkamp doesn't answer this question, it can be argued his motive is simply to get the audience to ask the question.

3. Racial parallels

As Wikus blunders his way through District 9, he accidentally comes into contact with some form of alien slime that alters his DNA. His body mutates, enabling him to use the aliens machines and weaponry which until now, could only be operated by the aliens. Coveted by the MNU and Nigerian gangs operating within District 9, Wikus teams up with an alien called Christopher Johnson and his son CJ. Together they seek a way of returning the refugee aliens to their planet and reversing Wikus' mutation. 

The computer generated aliens are extremely well designed and realised, interacting with the live surroundings seamlessly. With their grotesque appearance and strange eating habits (cat food), it's hard to root for, let alone emphasise for them. However Blomkamp achieves this as Roger Ebert explains, "what Neill Blomkamp somehow does is make Christopher Johnson and his son, Little CJ, sympathetic despite appearances. This is achieved by giving them, but no other aliens, human body language, and little CJ even gets big wet eyes, like E.T." (Ebert. 2009).

4. Prawns

District 9 sets itself apart from traditional summer blockbusters by incorporating political messages on racism and xenophobia into an enjoyable, slick sci-fi / action film. Blomkamp interestingly made it on a low budget in conjunction with Peter Jackson after their "Halo" video game adaptation fell through. He shows remarkable talent behind camera with scenes reminiscent of David Cronenbergs many body horror flicks and Ridley Scott's Alien. As a review in the Dailytelegraph confirms "it reboots motifs from classic extra-terrestrial and urban catastrophe movies such as Silent Running and Planet of the Apes, and transposes them to the contemporary ghetto context that in recent years has given urgency and kinetic charge to the likes of Slumdog Millionaire and City of God." (Dailytelegraph. 2009) The gritty realism of the documentary style approach adds to it's believability. This combined with fantastic visual effects and an intelligent viral / marketing campaign make Blomkamp one to watch.


Bradshaw, David. Guadian Review 3rd September 2009 Accessed 02/12/11

Ebert, Roger. Chicago Sun-Times Review. 13th August 2009

Unknown author Dailytelegraph Review. 3rd September 2009


1) District 9 poster accessed 02/12/11

2) Wikus Van Der Merwe - Mockumentary style

3) Racial parallels

4) Prawns

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Mars Attacks! - Review

Mars Attacks! - 1996
Director - Tim Burton

1) Mars Attacks! - Poster

Plot Summary / review:
Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! is a mix of genres combining action / adventure with sci-fi and fantasy with comic references to classic alien B-movies. In order to fully understand what genre the film belongs to, it is necessary to look at the differences between pastiche, parody and spoof.

Pastiche - used when the work or piece imitates that of another, paying homage to the material it is referencing in a respectful manner.
Parody - also imitates the work or piece of other material but in a satiric or ironic manner to mock, comment on or trivialise the material it is referencing.
Spoof - again is used when the work or piece is imitating that of another but with exaggerated characteristics for comedic effect.

So where does Mars Attacks! sit? It is a funny film, with extremely well designed, exaggerated aliens based on old trading cards from which the film gets it's name. This would suggest that it is a spoof. However, it can also be argued that it is a pastiche of classic 1950's alien invasion B-movies. An example of Burton paying homage to these films is evident from the start of the film when the UFO's descend to earth from their home planet. The design of these flying saucers are strikingly similar to Klaatu's saucer from 1951's The Day the Earth Stood Still. Roger Ebert comments "The art direction is first-rate in creating the kinds of saucers and aliens that graced the covers of my precious old issues of Imagination Science Fiction magazine". (Ebert. 1996).

2) Aliens mobilise

The aliens arrive on earth and are greeted by a crowd of people and the US army. In a scene again reminiscent of The Day Earth Stood Still, the crowd await to see if the visitors are hostile or friendly. Unfortunately it is the former and the alien attacks with iconic ray guns and blasters which vaporize humans and tanks alike. Further evidence of Burton paying homage to the 1950's can be seen here. Although set in a contemporary world, the army vehicles and clothes are all from the 1950's.

3)1950's attire
Mars Attacks! clearly had a big budget and attracted a host of stars, both established and up-coming. Jack Nicholson stars as the President, Glen Close the First Lady and a young Natalie Portman as their daughter. Pierce Brosnan shows acting range from his established Bond playing a scientific advisor to the President. His strange love triangle with TV personalities Michael J. Fox and Sarah-Jessica Parker add good comic timing to the films bizarre nature. It's the Hollywood A listers that let it down as Tom Coates from the BBC explains 'Nicholson, (Annette) Benning, and Close - camp up their screen time until they are neither funny nor interesting.' (Coates. 2001). The stars of the show are undoubtedly the aliens. Originally intended to be physical puppets, Burton was convinced by ILM (Idustrial Light Magic) when they showed him early test footage of them in CGI. Although they have not aged well, they were cutting edge at the time.

4) CG Aliens

Mars Attacks! is artistically inventive, goofy and fun in some places, however it does suffer from some pacing issues. It often feels disjointed, over-long and in some cases boring and is let down by some established Hollywood actors. Burton is clearly knowledgeable and affectionate about the material he is referencing. However,Todd McCarthy of Variety explains it "will appeal to specialized student-age audiences and older sci-fi fans but will fly over, under and around the general public". (McCarthy. 1996). The movie makes up for this with fantastic artistic direction and zany alien designs. The funniest parts of the movie come when the aliens are attacking and take great sport in doing so.


Ebert, Roger. Chicago Sunt-times review. 13th December 1996.

Coates, Tom. BBC review. 21st June 2001

McCarthy, Todd. Variety review. 1st December 1996


1) Mars Attacks Poster Accessed 10/11/11

2) Aliens mobilise

3) 1950's attire

4)  CG Aliens

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Post Modern Essay Introduction@PHIL

Hi Phil. 

Below is a rough draft of my introduction for my essay. I have also sent you an email with a basic structure and what I have so far. Can you have cast an eye over it and tell me if I'm heading in the right direction? 


This essay will briefly examine the movement of modernism, or modern thought and the resulting emergence of postmodernism theory. It will critically study the postmodern concept of hyperreality and determine if its ideology is evident in modern day cinema. Specifically, it will investigate director Christopher Nolan’s 2010 release Inception as an example of hyperreality in contemporary film. To support this evidence, this essay will discuss the works of; Jean Baudrillard and his essays Simulacra and Simulation and The Ecstasy of Communication. Followed by, Jurgen Habermas and his essay An Incomplete Project found in Robert C. Holub’s book Critic in the public sphere ; Hal Foster and his book Postmodern Culture and Anne Friedberg’s Window Shopping; Cinema and the Postmodern.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Character Design Presentation Final

Character Design Final Presentation

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Character Design -Week 9

This week we talked about environments. I was given words at random and told t do some sketches based on these words. They were a civilised arena.

Monday 14 November 2011

Character Design Presentation Progress

Maybe jumping the gun a bit, but I've started to put together my presentation for Thursday week. The blank pages are reminders of what is left to do. Watch this space!

University Yr 2 Project Character Design Presentation

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Albert Snare - Villain development

Character Design -Week 8

For this lesson we were split into teams and given a synopsis for a show called Jetpack Jones. We were then told to design the characters.

I got Jetpack Jones, the hero archetype and his sidekick / love interest Tessa Brainstorm. I also had to design logo's for their division the "Galactic Aviator Force: Rocketeer Division.

Monday 7 November 2011

Character Design Problem @Justin

Hi Justin, hope you are well? Can you have a look at the image below. I'm having a problem drawing my hero character (Dylan) in the front profile. My problem is in the face. I can picture him in 3D but can't seem to to join up his snout with his jaw line and then the jaw line with his neck. I just can't make it work! Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Mustang Modelling progress - Window details and Bumpers

The Day The Earth Stood Still - Review

The Day The Earth Stood Still - 1951
Director - Robert Wise

1) The Day The Earth Stood Still - Poster

Plot Summary / Review:
Robert Wise's classic sci-fi drama tell's the story of alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his menacing robot Gort and their visit to post World War 2 Earth. Wise's intelligent, culturally significant film would subsequently become the blueprint for all sc-fi drama's that followed. Everything from it's opening titles to it's flying saucer designs and it's subtle score have been endlessly parodied and referenced.

2) Classic Sc-fi titles

Landing on the outskirts of Washington, Klaatu emerges from his spacecraft and is immediately surrounded by a nervous US army. Followed by his 8ft robot protector Gort, Klaatu is shot by a frightened soldier before he can deliver his message. Responding to the act of violence, Gort comes to Klaatu's defence, vaporizing tanks and soldiers weapons.  Modern audiences' will smile mockingly at the outdated effects, however this view was surprisingly shared with critics at the time of release. For example, Bosley Crowther's examines Klaatu's robotic companion, stating "His giant mechanical assistant, which someone named Lock Martin animates, is also oddly unmenacing, for all his grossness and his death-ray eye. We've seen better monsters in theatre audiences on Forty-second Street." (Crowther. 1951). Crowther's review suggests the frightening aspect of the film does not come from the visual aspects of the film.

3) Klaatu and Gort

The wounded Klaatu  is taken to hospital after shutting down Gort. Miraculously recovering from his injury, he is interrogated by Government officials. Frustratingly still not able to deliver his message to the representatives of all nations, he escapes from the hospital. Hiding in a boarding house with some natives, Klaatu seeks an alternative approach to deliver his message. Eventually gathering a group of scientists and respected figures of society he completes his mission. It's here that this "superbly crafted, landmark film which invested a much-derided - and frequently ludicrous - genre with a welcome degree of dignity and respectability" (Errigo. 2006) delivers it's biggest scare. Warning the world that nuclear war would not be tolerated, Klaatu explains that Gort is a race of robot enforcers; invented to keep the peace but holds the power to destroy if peace is threatened.

Wise opted for a strong script and storyline over big budget monster thrills to deliver a truly terrifying film. 1951 Post World War 2 America was in the midst of the Cold War. Nuclear fallout was a very real threat following the invention of the atom bomb. Anyone watching the film at this time must have found it's underlying message a sombre thought. This combined with "Bernard Herrmann's effectively alien-sounding score reinforces the atmosphere of strangeness and potential menace." (Timeout. 2006). With multiple viewings "The Day the Earth Stood Still" subtlety reveals religious undertones, comparing Klaatu and his god like powers to Christ. At the command of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), Edmund North's screenplay was famously adapted. After being revived by Gort from another gunshot wound, Klaatu explains that his resurrection is only temporary. Ultimately the power over life and death "is reserved to the Almighty Spirit".

4) Religious undertones - Klaatu's resurrection


Crowther, Bosley. New York Times Review 19th September 1951 Accessed 07/11/11

Errigo, Angie. Empire Magazine Review 4th March 2006 Accessed 07/11/11

Timeout review. 26th January 2006 Accessed 07/11/11


1) Day the Earth Stood Still - Poster Accessed 07/11/11

2) Classic Sc-fi titles Accessed 07/11/11

3) Klatuu and Gort Accessed 07/11/11

4) Religous undertone - Klaatu's Resurrection Accessed 07/11/11

Saturday 5 November 2011

Character Design -Week 7

For this lesson we talked about environments and how they can shape the look and feel of characters populating them. Using elements of existing creatures I was assigned the environment space and told to design a character that would live there. I brainstormed ideas, referencing deep sea creatures. I liked the idea of a creature using solar rays to travel, like sails capturing the wind, so I also looked at butterflies. I then moved onto a whale inspired creature and a creature with multiple limbs, floating around space able to grasp asteroids and meteors to travel.

Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story - Review

Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story - 2007
Director - Jeffrey Schwarz

1) Spine Tingler! - Poster

Plot Summary / review:
Spine Tingler is a fast paced documentary charting the life and work of William Castle, a legendary Hollywood B-movie director and producer. Filled with clips and trailers of his most infamous films and a host of interviews from fellow film makers / fans and family, you get a real sense of the man behind the movies. Considered a cheap alternative to Alfred Hitchcock, Castle followed Hitchcocks lead by making himself as famous as his films. His trademark, cigar smoking profile was just as recognizable as Hitchcocks fat silhouette.

2) William Castle

Castle built a good reputation amongst Hollywood producers, his d├ębut film as a director was made on time and more importantly on budget. In stark contrast to Hitchcock's big budget, flamboyant productions, Castle was very cautious with his money. An astute businessman, he understood the importance of a good box office return. However, his films didn't always go down well with critics. Reviewing Castle's "The Tingler" at the time of it's release, Howard Thompson of the New York Times writes; "For some time producer William Castle has been serving some of the worst, dullest little horror entries ever to snake into movie houses. This one, which he also directed, is about a rubbery-looking lobster." (Thompson. 1960).

3) The Tingler

Despite critics panning his films, Castle still managed to draw crowds and huge box office returns. It's here that the documentary explores the brilliance of the man. Castle was one of Hollywood's great showmen, devising fantastic, often bizarre gimmicks that ran along side his films. Starting with 1958's "Macabre", Castle offered each member of the audience a $1000 insurance policy from being scared to death. From here they get more elaborate. 1959's "House on Haunted Hill" spliced a scene from the film with a plastic skeleton flying through the theatre. Popular with the public, but still not with the critics. Thompson writes; "This bore also introduces "the amazing new wonder, Emergo." What is it? Not much of anything." (Thompson. 1960). Despite the lack of support from critics, Castle still pushed the envelope, using early forms of 3D and "Illusion-O", a hand held ghost viewer / remover. Perhaps his most successful and best remembered gimmick was used in "The Tingler". For this he employed a team to wire a number of seats in theatre's with electric buzzers to shock certain members of the audience.

4) Interactive cinema

"Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story" sufficiently captures the buzz and excitement Castle brought to his audience in a fun, fast paced documentary. However it also captures his struggles with studio exec's and his efforts to work on more respectable projects. Most notably "Rosemary's Baby", originally intending to direct, he gave way to "Roman Polanski", controlling the maverick directors spending. Although "Rosemary's Baby" was his most commercial success, he will be remembered for his innovative idea's and contagious personality. "Castle's homegrown genius lay in knowing that the movies weren't enough, but had to have something extra to lure crowds." (Koehler. 2007).


Koehler, Robert. Variety review 20th November 2007

Thompson, Howard. New York Times Review of the "The Tingler" 10th March 1960

Thompson, Howard. New York Times Review of "House on Haunted Hill" 12th March 1960


1) Spine Tingler - Poster Accessed 04/11/11

2) William Castle

3) The Tingler

4) Interactive cinema

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Monday 31 October 2011

Mustang Modelling progress

Character Design -Week 5

For this lesson we were assigned a persona and told to do quick silhouettes, trying to emphasis a character archetype. I was given Elvis impersonators. The second part was the same theme but with more detail with emphasis on folds in clothes. For this I was assigned pirates.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Best Worst Movie - Review

Best Worst Movie - 2009
Director - Michael Stephenson

1) "Best Worst Movie" Poster

Plot Summary / Review:
Best Worst movie is a documentary about a film made in 1992 called "Troll 2". Made by Italian director Claudio Fragasso, "Troll 2" quickly became considered the worst film ever made. Written by Fragasso's wife Rosella Drudi, the film doesn't actually have any "troll's" in the feature. Instead, vegetarian goblins with sub-par prosthetics and visual effects, terrorize their victims; morphing them into trees.

2) Young Michael Stephenson

Starring a group of inexperienced actors from suburban America, "Best Worst Movie" documents the effects starring in the movie had on their lives. Suffice to say, none of them pursued their acting careers. However, one of the young stars of "Troll 2" Michael Stephenson, steps behind the camera to direct this documentary. Stephenson and his co-stars give an honest account of their experience making the film. Although nothing came from the film initially, a clear bond between the actors is evident. Particularly between Stephenson and his co star George Hardy.

3) Grown up Stephenson
4) The nicest guy in America

It's through Hardy (possibly the nicest guy in America), we discover that "Troll 2" evolved from the worst movie to a cherished cult classic. Now running his own practice as a dentist, Hardy recollects gradually being recognised by his patients as "the guy from that movie". We follow him to numerous screenings and events with crowds of adoring fans. Hardy clearly revels in his new found stardom, perhaps getting a bit carried away with it. "Stephenson follows Hardy to conventions where only half a dozen people attend his panel. He films him standing at the “Troll 2” table at a horror exhibit, completely ignored. Hardy is reduced to drumming up business: “Have you heard of ‘Troll 2'? You haven't? You should see it! It's the worst movie of all time!” (Ebert. 2010). In this curiously emotional scene Hardy is clearly deflated when he realises cult fans can be often considered bizarre or eccentric.

5) Hardy at conventions

"Troll 2" demonstrates that a bad movie can still find an audience. Through late night screenings on American TV and word of mouth, "Troll 2" found it's audience. It is a fascinating insight into the world of cult fans and how far the movie has spread; however "it never digs particularly deep in its examination of why this film, rather than untold others, has so fully captured the imaginations of so many bad movie lovers." (Scheck. 2010).

This is not to say it is not an enjoyable watch, "in its more amusing and accepting moments, Best Worst Movie captures the geek-joy fizz when fame morphs into notoriety, and artlessness becomes its own art." Stephenson shows skill behind the camera and has put together a well made documentary. Some scenes involving Stephenson and Hardy trying to re-assemble the entire cast for a screening seem unnecessary, almost mocking their former co-stars. Stephenson's tongue in cheek approach maybe over stepping the line. However it is amusing to see deluded Fragasso's response to the fan's and actors some 20 years after he made the film. Perhaps the funniest moment is the news that he and his wife are working on a script for "Troll 2: Part 2."


Able, Robert. Los Angeles Time Review

Ebert, Roger. Sunday-Times Review 28th July 2010

Scheck,  Frank. Hollywood Reporter review 7th July 2010


1) The Best Worst Movie poster. Accessed 25/10/11

2) Young Michael Stephenson Accessed 25/10/11

3) Grown up Stephenson Accessed 25/10/11

4) The nicest guy in America. Accessed 25/10/11

5) Cult status Accessed 25/10/11