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Badmovies.org Forum  |  Information Exchange  |  Movie Reviews  |  District 9 review by Armond White « previous next »
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Author Topic: District 9 review by Armond White  (Read 19053 times)
Frogger
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« on: August 19, 2009, 09:50:23 AM »

Quote
From Mothership to Bullship
District 9 trucks in trash and South Africa’s apartheid history
By Armond White
. . . . . . .

District 9
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Runtime: 112 min.

HOVERING OVER JOHANNESBURG like a CGI outtake from Close Encounters or Independence Day, the Mothership of District 9 looks like a far-off hallucination, something unreal shrouded in atmospheric mist. It is both ominous and ridiculous, yet the movie gets no more creative than that secondhand “gotcha” spectacle—which is also central to its promotional campaign. Newsflash: Just because a film is advertised one way doesn’t mean that’s what the film is really about.Visiting extraterrestrials stuck on earth are forced to live as second-class citizens enduring humans’ degradation; and from there on, preposterousness rules in District 9.

That cartoonish Mothership image suggests the high-concept inanity featured in Children of Men and Cloverfield: It’s apocalyptic silliness. Not ominously beautiful like the civilization-in-peril tableau that caps Roy Andersson’s You, the Living (critic John Demetry described that climax as a “revelation out of [Morrissey’s] ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’”). Rather, the immanence in District 9 suggests a meager, insensitive imagination. It’s a nonsensical political metaphor.

Consider this: District 9’s South Africa–set story makes trash of that country’s Apartheid history by constructing a ludicrous allegory for segregation that involves human beings (South Africa’s white government, scientific and media authorities plus still-disadvantaged blacks) openly ostracizing extraterrestrials in shanty-town encampments that resemble South Africa’s bantustans.

It’s been 33 years since South Africa’s Soweto riots stirred the world’s disgust with that country’s regime where legal segregation kept blacks “apart” and in “hoods” (thus, Apartheid) unequal to whites. District 9’s sci-fi concept celebrates—yes, that’s the word—Soweto’s legacy by ignoring the issues of self-determination (where a mass demonstration by African students on June 16, 1976, protested their refusal to learn the dominant culture’s Afrikaans language). District 9 also trivializes the bloody outcome where an estimated 500 students were killed, by ignoring that complex history and enjoying its chaos. Let’s see if the Spielberg bashers put-off by the metaphysics in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will be as offended by District 9’s mangled anthropology.

District 9 represents the sloppiest and dopiest pop cinema—the kind that comes from a second-rate film culture. No surprise, this South African fantasia from director Neill Blomkamp was produced by the intellectually juvenile New Zealander Peter Jackson. It idiotically combines sci-fi wonderment with the inane “realism” of a mockumentary to show the South African government’s xenophobic response to a global threat: Alien-on-earth population has reached one million, all housed—like Katrina refugees or Soweto protesters—in restricted territories. “Before we knew it, it was a slum,” says Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley, a nervous, Daniel Day-Lewis type) who is a white executive for multinational corporation MNU. He brings a camera crew when he serves eviction notices to relocate the aliens. These restless, hostile (thus dangerous) foreigners resemble bi-ped crustaceans and are derisively referred to as “prawns” just as South African blacks were derogatively tagged “kaffir.”Wikus tells the camera, “The prawn doesn’t understand. One has to say ‘This is our land. Please, will you go?’”
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Wikus’ semi-polite attitude is a reversal of the European imperialism that started South African colonization. But the allegory is also misapplied because the prawn, who resent their mistreatment, primarily yearn to beamup back to their Mothership. Blomkamp and Jackson want it every which way:The actuality-video threat of The Blair Witch Project, unstoppable violence like ID4 plus Spielberg’s otherworldly benevolence: factitiousness, killing and cosmic agape.This is how cinema gets turned into trash. Blomkamp and Jackson’s outrageously stupid idea boasts comicbook logic—Wikus gets infected alien fluid and starts to metamorphose into a Prawn Like Me monstrosity. But this cheap, darkhumored pass at empathy disgraces any greater cinematic potential.

When Luc Besson produced the 2007 parkour action film District B-13, he adapted genre mechanics to real-life historical problems in an attempt to come to terms with the current class and race conflicts in Parisian banlieus and their rising social tension. Besson understands how pop cinema can exercise and alleviate social frustration. District 9 becomes sheer exploitation—a sign of decayed compassion like the perverse vampirism as AIDS-and-homophobia allegory in HBO’s True Blood. Amidst the grotesqueries and social squalor, Blomkamp and Jackson interject the satiric mode of the Down Under mockumentary Cane Toads to depict the fearful encroachment of Others. It brings back ugly profiling from the bad-old-days of Apartheid: Scared humans describe Prawn satirically (“They steal sneakers, then check for the brand”) but the disdain has unfunny familiarity.

Even older racial stereotyping occurs when Nigerian immigrants enter the game as interlopers who operate a criminal underworld that exploits both aliens and the South Africans. Because the Prawns (“called bottomfeeders”) subsist on canned cat food, the Nigerian mob run a scam selling cat food at exorbitant prices.Their viciousness is almost comical in its Sam Jackson–style exaggeration.These malevolent blacks are also grinning cannibals who later threaten Wikus’ life. They’re a new breed of racist swagger; the kingpin sits in a wheelchair, big, black and scary. By this point, District 9 stops making sense and becomes careless agitation using social fears and filmmaking tropes Blomkamp and Jackson are ill-equipped to control.

“You f**king mizungo [white person], I’m gonna get you!,” screams the menacing black Nigerian cannibal.This contemporaryset dystopic, sci-fi flick never becomes fun. (Michael Bay bashers who stupidly complain about the cultural-status of the twin Autobots in Transformers 2 should park their rectitude here.) Instead, District 9 illustrates the strange new state of racial and political identity. It suggests some lingering Afrikaans’ fear or, possibly, how Jackson really thinks about the Maori and Aborigines.

Fools will accept District 9 for fantasy, yet its use of parable and symbolism also evoke the almost total misunderstanding that surrounds the circumstance of racial confusion and frustration recently seen when Harvard University tycoon Henry Louis Gates Jr. played the race card against a white Cambridge cop. Opening so soon after that event—and adding to its unending media distortion—District 9 confirms that few media makers know how to perceive history, race and class relations.

http://www.nypress.com/print-article-20206-print.html

Interesting review. I had heard mixed views of this film but I don't think this is worth wasting my time on. O well lets just hope zombieland will be much better.  Cheers
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« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2009, 12:49:32 PM »

Armond White is an ass.  His reviews are always all about him demonstrating his own vast intelligence, rather than about the movies.  It is interesting to read his opinions, but I would never decide whether to see a movie or not based on his reviews. 
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« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2009, 02:41:36 PM »

Wow, just wow. That review was written by a man who just plain hates fun. Yes the movie can be a bit heavy handed with its implications of racism, and segregation. But some people just need to be reminded about how some of the world still thinks of other cultures/races.
All in all, the movie was fun and entertaining. It has spaceships, aliens, expolsions, and a moral lesson to be learned. I give it two thumbs up.
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3mnkids
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« Reply #3 on: August 19, 2009, 03:49:25 PM »

He really is full of himself. He needs to remember this quote from William Safire~ It behooves us to avoid archaisms. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do. Or Mark Twain~ I never write metropolis for seven cents because I can get the same price for city. I never write policeman because I can get the same money for cop.  TeddyR
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Jim H
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« Reply #4 on: August 19, 2009, 08:08:05 PM »

He really is full of himself. He needs to remember this quote from William Safire~ It behooves us to avoid archaisms. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do. Or Mark Twain~ I never write metropolis for seven cents because I can get the same price for city. I never write policeman because I can get the same money for cop.  TeddyR

Yeah.  That was one of the most obnoxiously written reviews I've ever read.  Truly appalling. 
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AJ
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« Reply #5 on: August 28, 2009, 03:14:51 AM »

Wow, what a lot of insight on South Africa's political and social situation from a white (I'm assuming, correct me if I'm wrong) American! I'm impressed by your lack of understanding. Tell me, have you even spent a day in South Africa? As a black South African, I'm personally quite impressed with the movie. Yes, the movie is somewhat indicative of South Africa's social stucture, extreme poverty and our discriminatory past - and I think it makes an excellent representation of that. None of us here in SA are offended by the movie in any way, and we're proud of it. A local boy has hit the big time, we're happy for him. So, get off that high donkey of your Armond, you obviously lack an understanding of South African culture. Like they say in Afrikaans, gaan kruip in jou moer!
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Trevor
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« Reply #6 on: August 28, 2009, 04:33:09 AM »

Like they say in Afrikaans, gaan kruip in jou moer!

 BounceGiggle BounceGiggle BounceGiggle  Smile

If translation of what AJ said there is required, please PM me and I will enlighten you.  TeddyR Dankie, AJ, dit het my laat lag. [Thanks, AJ, that made me laugh]

I haven't seen this film as yet ~ I'll probably see it on my birthday like I did with In Bruges last year but as a South African, White's "review" leaves me quite angry.

Sure, we've had a bad past but name me a country which hasn't? I have friends in Germany who get very p**sed off when people remind them of what happened there during the thirties and forties. Why the f*** pick on South Africa every time?

The reason that the aliens are referred to as "prawns" is because they resemble the dreaded, ugly but harmless insect called a "Parktown Prawn" ~ Parktown being an upmarket suburb of Johannesburg, not for any racial reasons. And where were YOU  during the liberation struggle, Mr White? What were you doing? Yeah, I know. Sitting on the toilet, sh*tting yourself in fear.  Buggedout

Ag nee man, jou ma se tottie se punt.  Hatred
« Last Edit: August 28, 2009, 04:38:10 AM by Trevor » Logged
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« Reply #7 on: August 28, 2009, 11:24:05 AM »

Wow, what a lot of insight on South Africa's political and social situation from a white (I'm assuming, correct me if I'm wrong) American! I'm impressed by your lack of understanding. Tell me, have you even spent a day in South Africa? As a black South African, I'm personally quite impressed with the movie. Yes, the movie is somewhat indicative of South Africa's social stucture, extreme poverty and our discriminatory past - and I think it makes an excellent representation of that. None of us here in SA are offended by the movie in any way, and we're proud of it. A local boy has hit the big time, we're happy for him. So, get off that high donkey of your Armond, you obviously lack an understanding of South African culture. Like they say in Afrikaans, gaan kruip in jou moer!

Armond White is African-American.  That doesn't mean he understands South African politics, of course. 
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daniel sher
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« Reply #8 on: August 30, 2009, 05:18:43 AM »

Trevor: “Sure, we've had a bad past but name me a country which hasn't? I have friends in Germany who get very p**sed off when people remind them of what happened there during the thirties and forties. Why the f*** pick on South Africa every time?”

To answer your question, I don’t think that South Africa, or any ethnic group within the country, is being “picked on”. The reason issues pertaining to Apartheid are constantly being brought up, and constantly need to be re-addressed, is because the effects of apartheid didn’t end in 1994. It has affected the majority of black South Africans negatively, and continues to put them at a disadvantage today. For this reason, it’s important, not necessarily to blame anyone, but to acknowledge the impact that apartheid had on people, and the way that this affects inter-racial equality today.

Although I don’t agree with everything that Armand says, he raises some very important points. And whilst I don’t think that his claims are grounds to boycott the movie on, it’s important to understand what he is saying (specifically about naturalizing and incorporating issues pertaining to segregation, downplaying the extent to which apartheid affected black South Africans and continues to do so today), and to consider such factors when watching movies like this.
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« Reply #9 on: August 30, 2009, 02:06:51 PM »

Arnold White comes across as the most miserable person alive.
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Jim H
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« Reply #10 on: August 30, 2009, 03:04:44 PM »

Quote
Sure, we've had a bad past but name me a country which hasn't? I have friends in Germany who get very p**sed off when people remind them of what happened there during the thirties and forties. Why the f*** pick on South Africa every time?

I'd hazard a guess and say because it is in more people's living memory, at least that's a part of it.  I mean, I'm 25, and I remember the trade embargo crap, the ending of apartheid, and the world media then basically forgetting the country even existed afterward. 

I might add District 9 itself doesn't seem to portray the country badly, at least to me, though it does comment on the current problems (especially crime and, obviously, immigration) in Johannesburg. 
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« Reply #11 on: August 31, 2009, 01:45:11 AM »

and the world media then basically forgetting the country even existed afterward. 

How could they forget South Africa if I and my undies are there?  TeddyR
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« Reply #12 on: August 31, 2009, 02:43:18 AM »

and the world media then basically forgetting the country even existed afterward. 


How could they forget South Africa if I and my undies are there?  TeddyR


I think it involved the careful and repeated use use of a large hammer, several nails, and a screwdriver.  The details are pretty sketchy though.   TongueOut

On another note, Ebert commented on this Armond White review.

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2009/08/in_defense_of_armond_white.html
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« Reply #13 on: August 31, 2009, 06:35:12 AM »

I think it involved the careful and repeated use use of a large hammer, several nails, and a screwdriver.  The details are pretty sketchy though.   TongueOut

 BounceGiggle TeddyR

That Roger Ebert review makes me a little concerned about going to see the film next week ~ if the film is in fact an indictment of SA by a South African, I will walk out of it. I love sci-fi, but bleeding heart / anti-SA sci-fi isn't my scene.  Buggedout
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« Reply #14 on: August 31, 2009, 10:21:13 AM »

I didn't take it as anti-SA, , more like anti-human. Maybe not 'ANTI', , but I did find myself rooting against the humans by the end. I took it more of how humans in general treat others more than a reference to Apartheid only. I may have interpreted it incorrectly, but I thought there was little governmental involvement, but rather the 'bad guys' were big business. There are some scenes with bad, nasty crimelord types that are South African, but they were presented (in my interpretation) as the exception, not the rule, so to speak. Had the scene been in the US during WW2 and the Japanese Internments, we would have had a similar nasty crimelord type, and he would have been American.

My suggestion is that you go see it, I don't think you'll find it to be as heavy-hearted as some make it out to be. It was good fun.
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