Attack the Block – Review

Attack the Block (2011) 

Directed by Joe Cornish. With John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Nick Frost

Director Joe Cornish is obviously a boy from the 80s and his latest film “Attack the Block” was certainly inspired by the likes of the GooniesGremlins (and its Z-list of derivates Critters, Ghoulies, Troll) or other 80s Monsters-films (even the soundtrack of this film seems to be reminiscent of the early Carpenter too). Not surprisingly Spielberg himself has chosen him to write his Adventures of Tintin.
All this retro-sci-fi sensibility is mixed up with the grittier settings of a typical British gang movie, like recent Harry Brown for example, just to mention one.

I must say it did take me quite a while to settle into the film, mainly because we are expected to like a gang of scumbags who attack people in the street at knifepoint and who speak with the uncompromising accents, only some of which I was able to fully understand.

And yet despite an early sequence where a nurse is assaulted (thus your liking for these kids reach rock bottom) director Cornish during the course of the film still manages to make these characters quite likeable and I guess that can only be considered an achievement. Obviously some of the credit has to be given to the realistic and natural performances from the gang of inexperienced actors, headed by the taciturn Moses, perfectly played by John Boyega.

The film on the whole is probably way too silly to take any of the message underneath too seriously: in fact we are supposed to understand the motivations behind these street kids and even excuse the gang’s behaviours. The film tells us that their resentment is justified by the fact that they are just unlucky kids who are not given a chance by the system.

However, beyond this intellectual (and not-too-subtle) reading, “Attack the Block” is mainly a comedy  about aliens versus hoodies and that’s what people will take out of it. It is also a rather unusual mish-mash of genres and I must confess in the beginning I found it all bit jarring, but if you are willing to go with it and suspend your disbelief, I’m sure you’ll end up enjoying the ride.

In fact, just like in Gremlins, the film tries to combine comedy with horror the same way cult films like Shaun of the Dead had done years ago. However whist there are some genuinely funny bits in the film, they are never really out-loud moments, nor particularly memorable. Even Nick Frost‘s part in the film feels more a  last-minute addition to the script than rounded character, functional to the plot. And knowing how funny Nick Frost can be, it all seems like a bit of a waste.

As far as the scary sequences are concerned, some of them are skilfully choreographed, photographed and filmed and on the whole are quite effective, however I’m sure that an audience familiar with the horror genre will find them all pretty standard and never as scary as they should actually be.

Cornish opted to use old-fashioned mechanical special effects for his weird alien/gorilla-like/furry-monsters. However the threat from these fluffy beast is never quite “real enough” and in the end the aliens are more ridiculous than menacing.

It’s hard to know what the target audience for this film is supposed to be. The Horror fans would  have seen it all before, the US kids will be put off by the accents, the snobby/arty elite will certainly find it all a bit too silly to care about its message, but  I must confess, I came to it with very few expectations and even though it took me way too long to get into it, once I was finally with it, I actually found it all rather enjoyable for the its slightly trashy fake-B-movie sensibility (but a lot more clever than it claims it is) and I was happy I saw it.

6.5/10

Super 8 – Review

Super 8 (2011)  

Director/Writer: J.J. Abrams Stars: Elle FanningAmanda MichalkKyle ChandlerRiley GriffithsGabriel Basso

To say that I couldn’t wait to see this movie is an understatement: ever since the trailer was released a few months ago “Super 8” smelled like the best Spielberg with whom I’ve been growing up during my childhood: it looked like a mixture of E.T, The Goonies, Poltergeist, Gremlins and all those Spielberg classics from the early 80s I used to love, but also it had something from Stand by Me, or It (a terrible movie but a great book).

All the elements seemed to be there: the teens friends, the suburban environment, the secrets “grown-ups” are not supposed to know about, the bicycles, the fat kid, the bad US army, the single parents, even the same time period (1979) and the same style of cinematography (night-time flares on the lens) and big soundtrack (a rousing score, mixed in with gentle and intimate piano cues).

But are all those elements enough to reach the perfection of films like E.T.- The Extra-Terrestrial? If you were cooking from a recipes book and you had all the right ingredients, would you still get it the cake right? You can easily guess the answer.

J.J. Abrams is certainly a talented man. His TV credentials are some of the most solid ones of the last decade (Alias, Lost, Fringe), his Mission: Impossible III brought some credibility back to the franchise (and some pretty amazing action sequences), his Star Trek was not only very reverent to the original but also engaging enough for the newbie injecting some new energy on a series which was on the verge to becoming just about OK for the Trekkies out there.

Unfortunately with “Super 8” that energy seems to have faded away a little. Despite all the good intentions and this being a sort of love letter to the Spielberg he too admired, J.J. hasn’t been able to replicate that sense of wonder and discovery, nor the exciting action and edge-of-the-seat thrills of those early classics. There are some really good scenes in the first act between all the kids (and some very good acting!) but after a while it all felt too much by-the-book and gave us nothing new or unexpected.

It’s as if everything was a bit too calculated and clinical, even its sincerity and honesty and its well-observed sense of nostalgia (not just for the era, but for a certain kind of film-making) was not enough and never really went beyond the ovbious clichés you would expect from this sort of story. The kids did everything they were supposed to, the army was bad as you would expect and it all worked as a well-oiled-machine.

Even its film-making style, though handsomely made,  wanted to ape those 80s classics so much that it in the end it forgot to give us the kind of magic  those films were really great at: in the end I can’t quite point out a single memorable “cinematic” imagery or moment out of “super 8” (there was definitely no bike flying over the moon, nor mash potatoes shaped like a mountain but not even some classic line like “they’re here….!”).

There was really nothing massively wrong with Super 8 (the film is well done, well acted, is even under two hours and I’m sure it will please most of the crowds out there), but sadly there was also nothing original or surprising either: even the big monster, so much teased throughout the whole movie, once it’s finally revealed cannot be anything else but disappointing. But most crucially the film seemed to lack that humour films like Stand by me or even the Goonies had.

Maybe my expectations were too high, but from a duo like Abrams and Spielberg I wanted something a bit more than just a half life-less homage.

Once again, I’m not saying that “Super 8” is bad (in fact I wish all the summer blockbusters were as honest, pure and simple like this one: thankfully this was a film that cared about its characters more than just explosions and one-liners!!), but despite loving its intentions and its heart, and its style, I couldn’t quite love it as a film… Or maybe I just wanted to like it too much…

6.5/10

If you liked this, you might be interested in reading about my review of STAND BY ME or my post A REAL MOVIEGEEK or a TIRED OLD CINIC

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