Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Beards, Boobs and Bean

Here's a song about the popular HBO series "Game of Thrones":

Monday, 16 May 2011

Attack the Block: Homeboys and Aliens

If you'd told me, back in the day, that one half of the bedroom-based comedy duo Adam & Joe would one day be working with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson and directing movies of his own which didn't involve cuddly toys and action figures... Well, I probably would've said "Chinny reckon!" or some other such archaic schoolyard denial. Come to think of it, I'd probably have said the same about the director of "Braindead" making "Lord of the Rings", but that's besides the point.

So Cornish follows Richard Ayoade in the leap from small-screen funster to big-screen megaphone-shouter, but his film is far from the warm, stylised introspection of "Submarine".

"Attack the Block" is the tale of a bunch of what you may refer to as "chavs", but I prefer to call "scrotes"; basically a gang of teenaged scummers on a London council estate. When their night of loitering and mugging is interrupted by an alien falling from the sky, all hell breaks loose in and around their tower block.

If you've seen the trailers, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was the new "Shaun of the Dead", but that is a bizarre piece of misdirection on the part of the marketing team. This is a tight, pacey sci-fi thriller with a sense of humour, but it is by no means a comedy.

Neither is it a slave to pop-culture references, Cornish allowing his cinematic influences to inform the film rather than dominate it. Most of the comedy derives from character and the incongruity of the situation the people are faced with.

The young cast make a good impact, spouting often impenetrable street-speak like naturals, with particular standouts being Alex Esmail's cocky Pest and John Boyega coming on like a black, teenage Jason Statham as the pack-leader, Moses. They are backed up by Nick Frost as an amiable dope-dealer, Luke Treadaway as a middle-class stoner, and Jodie Whittaker as a young nurse whose night begins with being mugged and goes downhill from there.

It's certainly not a perfect film, following some typical sci-fi/horror story-beats and logic-leaps, but it is zesty and punchy enough to engage for its duration.

A criticism that has been levelled is that, after witnessing the boys threatening and robbing Whittaker in the opening scene, it is impossible to root for or care about them throughout the rest of the film. I would argue that perhaps the true strength of the film is in showing us the side of these people we may be familiar with - hooded, intimidating figures on darkened streets - in the early scenes, before slowly and subtly humanising them til we see them as what they truly are: scared, confused, selfish, angry kids, trapped in a situation they have little to no control over.

But, lest we get bogged down in socio-political commentary, it must be re-stated that this is a fun, fast ride with thrills, chuckles, a few surprises and bags of ambition, which is only occasionally hampered by the constraints of the dinky budget.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Submarine: in association with Dean Learner

Obvious posterquote-style comparisons out of the way first:

"it's Napoleon Dynamite meets Rushmore in Wales!"

Here is the debut feature from Richard Ayoade, who you may know as Moss from "The IT Crowd", Dean Learner from "Garth Marenghi" and "Man to Man", Seboo from "The Mighty Boosh" (or the original Dixon Bainbridge, if you're really old-school), one of the idiots from "Nathan Barley" or the museum tour guide from "Bunny and the Bull". Or you might not have a clue who he is, in which case: never mind.

Ayoade adapted the screenplay from a book, but he obviously had a deep affinity for the skewed worldview and awkward protagonist. "Submarine" is the coming-of-age tale of Oliver Tate, an oddball outsider of the type frequently seen in indie films of this variety. The story deals with his tentative relationship with a spirited classmate and his attempts to rescue his parents' stagnating marriage.

Nothing too original there, and neither is there in the way it's presented. Oliver is a self-consciously studious and pseudo-intellectual individual, so the artistic affectation and new-wave stylings of the editing and photography fit perfectly, almost as if Oliver himself made the film with the power of his mind.

Some will accuse this picture of twee pretentiousness, but what allows it to rise above such charges are the uniformly excellent performances and the fact that it's very, very funny.

The two kids - Craig Roberts as Oliver and Yasmin Paige as Jordana, the object of his bumbling affections - are both fine little talents, with him a deadpan marvel and her a cheeky firecracker, and the adults hold their own as well. Sally Hawkins is brilliantly aloof, yet strangely warm as Oliver's mother; and Noah Taylor is hilarious as his emasculated, emotionally neutered dad. And then Paddy Considine shows up dressed as a ninja with a massive mullet.

It takes an actor of unfathomable (I done an unintentional submarine pun!) talent to not be upstaged by such ridiculous hair (just ask Nic Cage), but Paddy manages to create an all-too-plausible creepy self-help guru with designs on Oliver's Ma.

The script is tight and sharp, with each character drawn in perfect oddball detail, and the plot manages to surprise and at least feel unpredictable, even as it hits many familiar beats.

I feel like I should write more, as I did enjoy this film, but all that remains to be said is: if you like your coming-of-age movies a little off-beat, beautifully shot, damn funny and with a big, awkward heart, check "Submarine" out. It shows much promise from its director and young stars.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Obama/Osama Karma Drama

In a slight departure for me, here's a song about some current affairs.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Insidious: Spooky Same Old?

Here's the latest from some people who made "Saw" (remember that one good "Saw" film, way back in the mists of time before the series descended into slapstick splatter-porn sequels? That's the one they made, I think) and "Paranormal Activity" (which I enjoyed. The first one, anyway) and, with resum├ęs of that calibre, this movie must be presented entirely in spooky-vision, surely?

"Insidious" tells the story of a young family moving into a spooky new house. The eldest kid falls over in the spooky attic and bumps his head. Then he goes into a spooky coma that the doctors can't explain. Then shit gets really spooky.

Basically, we have here a generic haunting film which ticks all the boxes (spooky house, spooky kids, demonic possession, seances, psychic investigators, spectral photography, etc) familiar from films like "The Exorcist", "The Entity", "Poltergeist", "Beetlejuice" and "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey", yet manages to slither its way into the coveted position of "above average horror-movie" in spite of its obvious ancestry.

Where the film scores is with a neat twist on the formula (the comatose kid is the focus of the spookiness, or "it's not the house that's haunted, it's YOUR SON..." in trailer-talk), and with several consistently creepy and memorable images and genuinely surprising jumps. Most of the shocks are slightly cheapened by the typically unnecessary LOUD NOISES variety of musical cue so often employed as substitute for genuine surprise, but you can't have it all.

We also get a nice variety of vaguely derivative apparitions clamouring around the sleeping kid: the Darth Maul-faced bastard offspring of Freddy Krueger and Satan, a creepy old woman in a funeral shroud, a burly fella with long hair, slightly older versions of the twins from "The Shining" and a weird midget child-thing dressed like a chimney sweep.

The plotting is also formulaic and functional, with conveniently placed characters turning up to deliver outlandish exposition and explain leaps in logic which the characters and narrative must take to survive. We are graced with mostly above-average performances to help the increasingly absurd medicine go down, however.

Rose Byrne is particularly effective in the potentially one-dimensional mother role. She deals with trauma, loss, terror, confusion, isolation and determination in an entirely convincing manner, and her Aussie accent never pokes through. Having only seen her humorous portrayal of Russell Brand's airhead ex in "Get him to the Greek" previously, I was very pleasantly surprised by her successful grapple with the horror-movie heroine monster.

Patrick Wilson is also good value as the slightly douchey father. He seems to excel at playing emasculated men who have to dig deep to find some inner strength, and he does so with skill here.

The supporting cast is mostly made up of amusing oddballs, including screenwriter Leigh Whannell (remember him? He was the one who wasn't Cary Elwes in the first "Saw"! Which he also wrote) as a twitchy paranormal investigator who can draw spooky pictures real quick, Magda from "There's Something about Mary" as a psychic medium-type who seems to have all the answers, and Barbara Hershey following "Black Swan" with another weird mother role.

Some of these off-beat turns grate against the fairly natural work of Wilson and Byrne, but they do offer a much needed sense of humour which helps a little to diffuse the absurdity when characters begin seriously discussing astral-projection and whatnot.

Overall, it's a gloomy, ultimately predictable horror film built from a patchwork of familiar material and some shiny new bits, displayed in such a way to hold the interest for its duration and maybe, just maybe, seed a few images in your brain-theatre that might come back to haunt you when you switch out the light...