Monthly Archives: May 2012

Film review: Attack the Block

Attack the BlockYoung people these days with their music and their hoodies and their hip hop and their bad language and their muggings. This is exactly the kind of stereotype that Attack the Block is trying to smash; that today’s young people, particularly those of a certain class or economic background, are nothing but the bottom feeders of society. It’s a subject that gets perennially trawled through the media and causes plenty of debate that elicits a myriad of responses and opinions.

Moses (John Boyega) and his friends are typical tabloid fodder – a gang of youths who seemingly have nothing better to do than to cause trouble. When their mugging of the innocent Sam (Jodie Whittaker) gets interrupted by a strange explosion, the boys discover that its cause was of an extra-terrestrial nature. After killing the offending alien, they, along with Sam, posh stoner Brewis (Luke Treadaway) and drug dealing layabout Ron (Nick Frost), must protect their block from an impending alien invasion.

There is much to enjoy about Attack the Block; it never takes itself too seriously but also has a certain level of poignancy attached. There are some entertaining action scenes, most notably a chase sequence around the estate’s walkways, and the young actors, many of whom were plucked straight from local schools, do a fine job for the most part. The aliens themselves are an interesting departure from the usual other-wordly beings that visit our planet via the medium of film and give the film a slightly more unique flavour.

Despite all that is good, the message the film is trying to portray can sometimes feel a little muddled. We’re supposed to remember that not all young people are delinquents who go round causing trouble and that they actually have a lot to give to society. That would be all well and good if the film didn’t start with the heroic troupe mugging a woman and then chasing and brutally killing a reasonably defenseless alien. These aren’t particularly nice kids; they exhibit the exact kind of behaviour that gives young people like themselves a bad reputation. We’re also not really given much indication that they won’t revert to that type of behaviour in the future, just that people will start to see them in a better light. But why should we see them in a better light when they go round sticking knives to people and nicking their phones?

The script also suffers from cliché a few too many times and becomes all too predictable. Of course the kids and the woman they mugged are going to end up on the same side with a new found respect for each other; of course the misunderstood protagonist is going to become a hero; and of course the nasty dude is going to get his comeuppance. Also, how Brewis comes up with the solution for why the aliens are attacking them is somewhat absurd. There’s ‘plant and payoff’ but this is verging on deus ex machina territory.

Furthermore, there’s an issues with character development – not in the main cast but in some of the more peripheral characters. Ron and Brewis are clearly the film’s comic relief but, to be honest, it’s not a film where comic relief is needed – the main cast do a fine job themselves. As good as Nick Frost is as Ron, his character simply feels a little superfluous to requirements, and the same goes for Hi-Hatz, the local drug mafioso who thinks he owns the block. There’s a potential plot thread established early on with himself and Moses that never seems to go anywhere and feels like a missed opportunity to explore the characters a little more.

Attack the Block is an enjoyable film that has a lot going for it. For the most part, comedian-turned-filmmaker Joe Cornish’s script is witty and satirical and its young, raw cast come out of it very well; you do grow to root for them as the film develops, which is obviously its intention. However, it’s hardly going to change people’s perceptions of young people in today’s society, although, to be honest, it was never really likely to. As an alien invasion film it feels reasonably fresh, predominantly down to the aliens themselves, and should appease those looking for a more light-hearted take on the genre.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Film review: Tyrannosaur

TyrannosaurTyrannosaur sets its stall out early. Within minutes, a dog has been kicked to death, and that tone carries on throughout pretty much the rest of the film. Make no mistake, Tyrannosaur is not a film to watch if you want some lighthearted entertainment; you will be appalled, shocked, angered, and saddened. This may not be the best advert, but it’s a film that should be watched as a lesson in humanity, tolerance and compassion.

Joseph (Peter Mullen) is a rage-filled down-and-out; he drinks, gambles, has no job, antagonises and abuses any and all who cross his path – all in all a pretty destructive character, both physically and mentally.  When he meets religious charity shop worker, Hannah (Olivia Coleman), he isn’t used to the level of understanding, patience and kindness that she shows him and proceeds to abuse her as he does everyone else. But Joseph keeps finding his way back to Hannah and slowly starts to let her change his life. However, Hannah has some dark secrets of her own, namely her abusive and sadistic husband James (Eddie Marsan), and she ends up needing Joseph just as much as he needs her.

The story, and Joseph’s in particular, is reasonably formulaic for the most part, although there are still plenty of shocks and surprises throughout that will raise eyebrows. Most of the character’s journeys are affecting, from Joseph’s to Hannah’s to Samuel’s, a young boy who’s one of the few to treat Joseph like a real human being, and you genuinely want them to find the happiness they strive for.

As mentioned in the first paragraph, Tyrannosaur is not an easy watch (the happiest scene in the film is a wake) and, at times, it can be a little too brutal. As is the speciality of British cinema, reality is clearly the order of the day, but Tyrannosaur is sometimes so bleak that it can actually detract from the reality of it all. Surely so many people’s lives couldn’t be that dysfunctional? Or maybe they could and that’s the really shocking thing.

Much of the acclaim for this film has focused on Olivia Coleman’s performance, and, quite simply, it deserves every accolade it gets. She delivers a performance so compelling, so gut-wrenching that it truly makes you glad you’re only watching a film; even the thought of anyone going through the ordeals she does is nothing short of frightening. Coleman’s portrayal of a woman pushed to her absolute limits is masterful, although her story threatens to completely overshadow that of Joseph’s. Or rather it would have done if Mullen had not delivered an equally impressive performance, his Joseph delicately straddling the line between psychopath and misunderstood. Like Michael Fassbender’s performance in Shame, it’s an absolute travesty that neither Coleman nor Mullen got an Oscar nod, especially considering the number of other awards the film and the actors have picked up.

Despite the film’s rather dark outlook, there is still plenty to cheer. Watching the the relationship between Joseph and Hannah develop is mesmerising as you never quite now if Joseph will slip back into old habits despite Hannah’s seemingly unwavering belief that he’s a good person at heart.

Tyrannosaur is a film that makes an impression, and if this is Considine’s first feature as a director, then any future forays behind the camera should generate a fair deal of attention.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Movie trailer blowout – Skyfall, Anchorman 2 & The Master

Here are three absolutely belting trailers that have surfaced in the past couple of days…

It seems like it’s taken an age, but we finally seem to be getting somewhere with Skyfall. Following the rather disappointing Quantum of Solace, this teaser trailer is pretty action packed whilst giving us plenty to chew over until we get some new info. We see Bond going through some word association, which may or may not be therapy, suggesting his fragile mindset established in the past two films is very much still an important element of the story. We also catch a glimpse of Bond’s new foe, Javier Bardem’s Silva, a subway train crashing through a wall, and plenty of Daniel Craig being a badass. Sweet.

They certainly aren’t hanging around with this one. Anchorman 2 was only announced a short while back but they already put out a couple of teaser trailers, one of which is above. Everything is as it should be – Champ is a chauvinist redneck, Brian Fantana is a bit of a sex pest, Brick is basically a child, and Ron, well Ron is just Ron.

To be honest, I wasn’t really that aware of The Master, but now I’ve seen this teaser trailer, it’s most definitely on my radar. Joaquin Phoenix looks scarily like Marlon Brando in this trailer, which gives very few story details at all. ‘The Master’ is the head of a faith-based organisation that is catching on throughout America. The film is a 1950s drama revolving around the The Master and a drifter who gets involved in said organisation. Sounds intriguing and Phoenix already looks set to give a superb performance.

Skyfall is released on 26th October (UK), The Master is out slightly earlier on October 12th, and Anchorman 2 is penciled in for sometime next year.

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Film review: Shame

Sex addiction is a topic that has garnered plenty of media focus over the past few years, but it’s a subject that, up until Shame, had not really been examined in film to such a degree. The reasons behind this are unclear; perhaps it’s because many don’t take it seriously as a condition, or maybe it’s that studios feel it would be too much of a risqué subject that would deter people from seeing it. Whatever the reason, the topic has finally been addressed and has been done so in a film that’s intense, shocking and sometimes harrowing.

Brandon Sullivan (Fassbender)

Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) is a 30-something New York bachelor; he’s successful, has a good job and a decent apartment. However, he also has an unflinching sex addiction that he must balance with his regular work and social life on a day-to-day basis. Brandon seeks out different sexual partners nightly and resorts to masturbating several times a day, even at work, to satisfy his urges. He seems relatively at ease with how he manages his life until his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) turns up unexpectedly. This throws Brandon’s life into turmoil as he tries to come to terms with his sister’s arrival and still manage his fervent addiction.

The desire for sexual satisfaction consumes Brandon and it’s a constant search for his next fix, eventually forcing him to do whatever it takes to quell his urges. However, true satisfaction is something that, no matter the lengths he goes to, he never really attains. At no point is the film erotic; Brandon never seems to truly enjoy his encounters, but rather sees them as a means to an end. He’s scratching an itch, merely getting a hit before moving onto the next one. The only time Brandon attempts a relationship approaching normal, he’s awkward, uncomfortable and unable to perform as he otherwise would.

Sissy Sullivan (Mulligan)Shame marks the second time that director Steve McQueen has employed Michael Fassbender as his leading male, after 2008’s Hunger, and it’s clear he manages to get the best out of him. Fassbender’s performance is superb and he shows off the full spectrum of emotions as the struggling Brandon. It’s no surprise that McQueen is using Fassbender again in his next film, Twelve Years a Slave, which is due out some time next year. Mulligan also deserves mention as the clearly emotionally damaged invader of Brandon’s precariously balanced life. She has less time and scope to really develop her character (which is down to the script, not her), but she does well with what she’s given.

In terms of cinematography, Shame is absolutely stunning. The film does a fantastic job of capturing the vibrancy of New York without resorting to showing the big landmarks to qualify the film’s location – this is real New York. We see the palatial offices of the financial district when Brandon is comfortable with his life, but also see the seedy underbelly of a city that never sleeps when he is at his most desperate. McQueen’s use of the long take is prevalent throughout the film, really allowing us the ability to get more from the characters and the scenes and pushing the actors in terms of how invested they can become in their characters.

BrandonHowever, the film isn’t without its flaws, the majority of which come from the script. Whilst we are given an insight into Brandon’s life and how his addiction affects him, we are left in the dark somewhat as to the causes of his behaviour. We are given glimpses as to the root cause, but for some this may be a little obtuse. What is suggested to us may be deemed somewhat stereotypical and even a little easy as a behavioural catalyst. Whilst films shouldn’t have to spell everything out to a viewer, a certain level of exposition is important and perhaps Shame falls slightly short on this front. Fast forward and the film’s resolution is also lacking somewhat. We are given little indication as to the ramifications of the past hour and a half’s viewing or where the characters’ journey is headed. We are left without an answer as to how sex addiction can be overcome, if at all. As a character film, this works well enough, but it is most definitely not the examination of sex addiction that the film is billed as.

That said, Shame is one of the standout films of 2011, and how it was completely ignored by The Academy is, frankly, a little sad. For direction, cinematography and the actor’s performances, a nomination is the least it deserved. The film is not for the faint hearted, and most definitely not for the prudish, but for those curious about the topic of sex addiction and how deeply affecting it can be, Shame is essential viewing.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Film Review: Avengers Assemble

Avengers Assemble shouldn’t have worked; it had no right to work. Trying to fit Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America and others into one film and do each of them justice without it being either unnecessarily long or a downright shambles simply should not have worked. But it did. It worked better than anyone really thought it would and has raised the bar so high that other superhero films are going to have to go some way to top it.

The Avengers

First, a caveat. I love superhero films and have read the odd comic, but i’m certainly no fanboy. I couldn’t care less if Captain America technically wasn’t in the original Avengers or if Loki’s eyes are the wrong shade of whatever – there’ll be none of that here; this is simply a film review. Anyway…

A film version of The Avengers had been in the offing for a while. The post-credits scene in Iron Man in 2008 gave us our first glimpse, with each subsequent Marvel film teasing a little more. Since then we’ve had The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), and Captain America (2011) giving us the backbone of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Add to that assassins Black Widow and Hawkeye, SHIELD agent Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), and Loki returning as the films antagonist, and you’ve got a fair few characters vying for screen time. There was the worry that the film would turn into Iron Man 3 Plus Others, but Joss Whedon has done a phenomenal job in giving each of them adequate screen time and an integral role in the story.

Thor, Iron Man & Captain AmericaGranted Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) probably is the most central of all the characters, but each and every one of them gets their time to shine, with even Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) having a much more important role than many may have suspected. Also, for those wondering if Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) had anything to do in the film following from his virtual no-show in the trailers, let’s just say his role might surprise a few people. Everyone has their chance to be a hero and contribute to the greater cause, and Whedon, proving to be rather adept at handling an ensemble cast, deserves a massive amount of credit for ensuring no-one gets overshadowed.

With probably the most expensive exposition in film history, spanning five films, Avengers Assemble doesn’t need to go into the characters too much, just enough to give us a recap of who they are and where they’ve come from. Instead we’re thrown pretty much straight into the characters’ conflicts with each other and left to wonder whether they’ll resolve them in time to stop an impending alien invasion. Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man don’t get on, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Iron Man don’t get on (in fact, Tony Stark manages to rub most people up the wrong way at some point), and everybody is frightened of pissing off Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo).

It must have been an incredibly daunting prospect trying to write a script of this magnitude and complexity, but it’s been handled with aplomb. The pacing is excellent and the dialogue is sharp throughout, with the perfect level of humour to balance the action. Everyone from The Hulk to Loki manages to draw a laugh at some juncture, and there are enough ‘fuck yeah!’ moments to fill ten other films. Rarely has another film of this ilk managed to intertwine all the necessary elements of a good blockbuster as well as this.

LokiTalking of The Hulk and Loki, it is probably these two characters that really stand out above all others. Mark Ruffalo has stepped into Edward Norton’s shoes as Bruce Banner, and it’s hard to see anyone else now in that role. Ruffalo excels as the slightly awkward, always on the edge Banner, and when he finally ‘goes green’, it’s handled brilliantly. Previous Hulk films haven’t really lived up to expectations and if the same happened here, it could really have dragged the film down. However, seeing Hulk smash and crash his way through New York is nothing short of exhilarating.

As for Loki (Tom Hiddleston), we knew pretty much what to expect due to his role in Thor, but he turns it up a notch here, and somehow manages to be even more evil, conniving, creepy, and pathetic all at the same time. Some questioned whether Loki could carry the antagonist role by himself, but he did so with style, and much credit must go, not only to the script, but also to Hiddleston, who showed he can amply handle such a big burden.

At nearly two and a half hours, Avengers Assemble isn’t a short film, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly it flies by. It’s fast and frenetic and full of over the top set pieces, but at the same time retains a human element that’ll just for a moment make you forget the characters include a Norse god, a genetically enhanced super soldier and a guy in a flying robot suit. For those who like superhero movies, this is a dream come true, and for those who aren’t fussed either way, just go and check it out – you just might like it.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Soundtrack review: Drive

Drive SoundtrackWith some films, you could be forgiven for walking out of the cinema afterwards having not even noticed its score or soundtrack. Drive, however, is not one of those films. The music in Drive is just as important a part of the film’s composition as any other (as it should be) and perfectly reflects the tone and milieu of one of the god damn coolest films released in quite a while. Everything about Drive oozes cool and a big part of that is thanks to its soundtrack, perfectly capturing the retro flavour the film portrays.

The soundtrack starts off with four ‘proper songs’ before heading off into the score, and although the distinction between the songs and score is an obvious one, the feel and atmosphere continues seamlessly.  It kicks off with a superbly grimy electronic track, ‘Nightcall’ by Kavinksy and Lovefoxxx (you might recognise her from CSS), layering lighter female vocals over a heavy synth track, and continues in similar style with the following two track, ‘Under Your Spell’ by Desire and ‘A Real Hero’ by College and Electric Youth. Next is a bit of a curveball with Riz Ortolani’s ‘Oh My Love’, featuring his wife Katyna Ranieri. This wouldn’t sound out of place as the big love song on a Broadway stage and stands out a mile from the rest of the tracks. On its own it’s a bit of an oddity but it somehow works next to everything else and rounds things of nicely before the score kicks in.

The first track of the score is ‘Tick of the Clock’ by The Chromatics and has a certain 16-bit quality to it, again harking back to the good old days of yesteryear. The rest of the score is composed by Cliff Martinez (former drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), and he’s done a fantastic job of carefully blending soaring, uplifting melodies with sinister undertones.

Some tracks grab your attention more than others; some you may pass you by completely on the first few listens, but on the whole it’s a superbly atmospheric score that captures the feel of the film perfectly. As with the majority of (all?) film scores, it’s a huge advantage if you’ve seen the film first – would anyone buy a soundtrack without seeing the film first? With Drive, if you’ve seen the film you can pinpoint a lot of the tracks, which really helps to transport you back to the film’s multiple standout moments – and all the sections in between.

All in all, Drive’s soundtrack is one of the most significant parts of the film and really help make it what it is. It does a great job of cementing the film’s retro tone whilst perfectly charting The Driver’s actions and conflicts through to conclusion. If you’re a fan of Drive, the soundtrack is likely one of the reasons why and is a lesson to filmmakers on how to enthrall your audience aurally as well as visually.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Movie trailer blow out – Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises

For those looking forward to this summer’s blockbusters, the past two or three days have probably seen the excitement levels skyrocket thanks to the new trailers released for Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises. These are probably the two most anticipated films of the year so far, and both trailers give a much more in-depth look at the finished article. Check them out below.

So what do you think? First of all, Prometheus. This is Sir Ridley Scott’s chance to put the Alien franchise back on the map after it steadily (dramatically) went off course, and it looks very much like he’s onto a winner. Each trailer has been more and more epic, and this one doesn’t disappoint, building steadily until all hell breaks loose. It also has a very clever little segment in which Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) tells Fifield (Sean Harris) that the pictograms they’ve found are an invitation. “From whom?” he replies. A title card flashes up – “From Ridley Scott”. Very cool and instantly gets the blood pumping. We also see a lot more in the way of alien life (although no xenomorph life as of yet), with some facehugger style worm and even a couple of Space Jockeys. I just hope that they don’t do something that a lot of prequels do – have technology or anything else that is way ahead of or simply doesn’t appear in the originals/’sequels’ (Read: double-ended lightsabres). Still, Prometheus is shaping up to put Alien back on the map, and it’s about time too.

Right, now onto The Dark Knight Rises. Footage-wise, there’s not been a massive amount released, but thanks to a bit of classic viral marketing, that’s now changed. We see plenty of Catwoman and plenty of Bane (who thankfully is now much more audible), both of which have been kept somewhat under wraps. We also get to see a bit more of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which suggests he’s going to play a bigger role than previously thought, and get a glimpse of The Caped Crusader’s latest method of transport. However, Nolan hasn’t let too much out of the bag yet. Just what will Catwoman’s role be? Why is Bane blowing up half of Gotham? Build up to the film’s release has thus far been a little underwhelming, but this trailer has just reversed all that in a matter of minutes.

Prometheus hits cinemas on 1st June, whilst The Dark Knight Rises is released on 20th July.

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