Ill Manors – Review

Ill Manors (2012) 

Director: Ben Drew. Cast: Riz AhmedEd SkreinNatalie PressAnouska MondLee AllenMem Ferda.

This is a very hard film to review… And as a matter of fact it was a very hard film to watch too. More than once I found myself having to look away from the screen, just to be able to catch up with my breath and I had to remind myself “It’s only a movie… It’s only a movie”… Or is it? Sure one would want to give the film some credit for attempting to talk about some really serious issues in a stark and crude realistic way. However I find myself wondering: just because a movie touches important issues and goes to places where many don’t even dare looking, does that make it a good film?

Ill Manors (still trying to work the meaning of the actual title) is clearly a film made by a first time director: it’s full of energy and ideas. It’s inspirational too… But  unfortunately some of the inexperience shows up on the screen too. It’s almost as if director Ben Drew didn’t feel confident enough of his own material and felt he had to pepper the film (unevenly, I may add) with a series of flashy visual devices: some of them work, but then, once the story takes over, the film almost forgets to keep up with them. It makes me wonder if Ill Manors could have been a much more powerful film, if the director had actually restrained some of that rather showy visual style and un-linear editing and had just concentrated more of the story. I’m not against time-laps or montage sequences edited to rap music (some of which were actually beautifully done), but I think once you establish a style, you should stick with it. In Ill Manors everything felt rather random and arbitrary: a hotchpotch of visual ideas and devices, borrowed from many other films before (Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting, just to mention the most obvious ones), but all without any real reason. And the proof is in the pudding: the strongest and most interesting bits in the film are also the plainest and the ones where the director focused just on his actors (or actually non-actors apparently) to tell the story of a broken society alive and well right in the heart of London.

Despite the claims of realism, this bleak vision of Britain feels a bit contrived in places: lines like  “Can I try some crack?” the endless prostitution scenes and the final sequence in particular when a fire takes place in a pub, all feel a bit heavy-handed and wildly exaggerated. Also most of the characters are a little bit too stereotypical and the film seems to rely more on the charisma of our main lead, Riz Ahmed (from Four Lions), for the audience to sympathise with, instead of giving him a full fleshed-out and a much more believable persona.

In the end the amount of horror and depressing bleakness is just too much and what was already a fairly long film, with too many subplots, eventually just imploded. An exhausted audience during my screening even burst into laughing during the final climax (yes, it might have been a hysterical laugh, but still a laugh… and that’s just the wrong reaction to have for such film!). The points  Ill Manorswants to make are made quite earlier on and after a while it all becomes just too repetitious, over the top and indulgent. All this makes it loose its edge and diminishes its important message.

It is a brave film and certainly must be commended for trying: there are some very intense and good moments, which I am really praising, however, even though I might talk to people about Ill Manors, I don’t think I’ll ever reccomend anyone to watch it (aside for our prime ministers and politicians).

6.5/10

Sunday Times (June, 10th)

For all its gritty realism, Ill Manors has a streak of sentimental fantasy to it. It’s one thing to suggest that the char­acters aren’t all bad, and that they are capable of moral virtue(…) But when we see an uncaring thug risking his life to save a baby from a burning building, we have left the mean streets of London for the fantasy world of Hollywood. So much for keeping it real.  

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

Hereafter – Review

HEREAFTER (2010)

Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Cécile De France, Thierry Neuvic, Jessica Griffiths,Frankie, McLaren, George McLaren

I just can’t believe this film has been getting some good reviews. If it hadn’t been directed by CLINT EASTWOOD I’m sure people would have looked at it in a different way, but it seems it’s become a sin to bad-mouth a Clint Eastwood‘ film. What’s the matter with people and Clint Eastwood?

Just because the guy is 80 we should forgive him films like these?

First of all let’s all admit that Clint’s recent work has been rather inconsistent, and then let’s try to see how with this film he’s really touched rock bottom.

On paper HEREAFTER could almost work. It is the story of 3 different people in 3 different countries having to deal with death in 3 completely different ways. In the first story, Matt Damon has psychic abilities and he’s able to communicate with the dead (or rather listen to them).

The second story is about a French woman, Cécile De France (probably known to the US audience from the latest “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS“) who has survived a near-death experience and she’s now dealing with the post trauma.

And finally the third story is set in London and it’s about a young schoolboy who’s just lost his twin brother and he’s also trying to deal with the loss.

Unfortunately the film doesn’t really manage to go beyond these simple intriguing plot lines and what should have been an interesting story about loss, grief and death, told by an old aged man (who certainly must feel this subject very close to him, given his age) slowly (very slowly) becomes a heavy-handed gush of sentimentality, with a script riddled with a series of spoon-fed clichés.

People may argue that since Spielberg is the executive producer of this film, all this was meant to happen from the start. However , not only Spielberg had very little to do with the film itself, but also “subtlety” hasn’t been a word present in Eastwood’s dictionary either, especially in the last few years (Clint’s family in GRAN TORINO for example was so over the top and it almost felt like a parody). Hence the obviously gratuitous images like the one of the “lonely person” shown eating alone in the kitchen, or the poor boy you’re supposed to feel sorry for, or the business woman who’s not listening to his colleagues during a meeting at work, because she’s really concerned about more important stuff…

The whole film is a series of telegraphed sequences where you can tell exactly what’s going to happen miles before it actually does. Everything feels so formulaic, remote and non-engaging that after a while it all gets rather boring as the film unravels towards the most terrible and sentimental ending of all (with the added bonus of a musical surge in strings which feels like you’re watching “Airplane!” ), and yet all this sentimentality lacks of any emotional truth.

Yes, of course, some of it might be quite emotional, but it’s easy to make people cry when you’re dealing with a subject like death. The film is incredibly manipulative to the point of being almost offensive. The way we are introduced to the kid who’s going to die, for example, is one of the most glaring examples of that manipulation (and example of a scene being telegraphed before it happens) as the kid gets depicted as the perfect boy, who takes care of his drug-addicted mother: not only very smart but also very well-behaved, so that we can be even more depressed once he dies.

All the characters are so sketchily drawn out that it’s hard to see something more in them than their one dimension personalization: they do things just because the plot requires them to do so. Let’s take Matt Damon for example: he has a gift but he thinks it’s a curse, well, at least that’s what he says… The film never really properly explains why he thinks what he does. The script makes sure he tells us that he’s tired of having to live with death, but his character does nothing to show us that . All the way trough the film we get constantly told things in very forced lines of dialogue which are never really translated in action or pictures on the screen. For example, what on earth makes him change his mind towards the end of the film. Seeing a kid suffering for the loss of his brother? Is that really different from seeing a husband grieving for the loss of his wife, or a poor woman crying outside his door, begging for help? How’s that different? The film won’t tell us

Clint Eastwood‘s direction comes form a place of belief, something which might alienate a great deal of the audience. He also makes the terrible mistake of showing us what the afterlife is like right from the start, and the film never recovers from it.

The film lacks subtlety: it would have been much more interesting (and stronger) if it had remained less “Sci-fi” and more introspective. All those silly things like the twin’s blowing off the cap in the underground seemed to belong to a different film… Ghost maybe?

That to me is the main problem with the film (aside from the fact that it’s very slow, something which I don’t particularly mind, but I am sure a lot of people will): the fact that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Is it an introspective drama about death? Is it fantasy story? Is it a religious propaganda? At one point it even seem like an action flick with that massive (and unexpected) Tsunami sequence (which I have to admit took me by surprise and yet it seems to belong to a different film, especially once you’ve seen the rest). Unfortunately the film tries to be all these things and more and in the end by trying too much ends up being quite unsatisfactory on pretty much all fronts. The script is just very clunky and the direction this time doesn’t make it any better.

It’s interesting to see how the trailer makes it look like a cross between the Sixth Sense2012 and even (once again) Ghost… Probably not even the publicists knew what to make of it.

Even the music is fairly forgettable as it keeps on re-hashing the same sort of cues we’re quite used to hear in a Clint Eastwood’s movie. Everything seems half-improvised on the spot without a real unifying theme.

The performances are probably OK, but it’s hard to judge with the weak material they’re given.

In the end this film proves that you just can’t make a film every year, whether you’re Clint Eastwood or Woody Allen: eventually the rush of putting all those ideas onto the screen without having enough time to make them work properly will begin to show. Just because a movie is about important things like death and loss doesn’t make it a good film. In fact this is a fairly pointless one.

5.5/10

PS: Having said all this, a very good friend of mine saw it recently and loved it. There you go. Once again, it’s all subjective.

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