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Attack the Block: A teen gang in South London battles aliens

4 Aug

Attack the Block One SheetAttack the Block is a fast-paced Science Fiction/action/horror/comedy film that won’t disappoint its audience.   Joe Cornish (writer/director) expertly weaves a mutli-genre narrative  into a tense, fun and entertaining journey of terror and… self-discovery.  Yes.  Self-discovery.  All this for a £9,000,000 budget.

Moses (John Boyega) is the leader of a London street gang, a group of young juvenile delinquents who have far too much time on their hands and too much testosterone coursing through their veins (the affliction of most males, teenage and otherwise).  We follow the narrative that begins with Moses’ bad decision to have his group rob a nurse, Sam (Jodie Whittaker), which puts him and his group in the spot where an alien crash lands into a car.  Sam escapes the group who were holding her at knifepoint, and honestly, at this juncture of the film, I was wondering how Cornish was going to turn this around for me.  I was so disgusted with the group of mini-thugs, I was hoping the aliens would crash-land into them and the film would end.  I don’t have a lot of patience for armed robbery.  Moses forgets about Sam and is far more curious about the car the alien has crash-landed into.  He goes to investigate and in the process, almost gets killed.  He’s so mad the alien attacked him, he and his gang follow the alien to an abandoned structure and they rush in.  We don’t see the fight, but the boys come out victorious, with a dead alien that looks a lot like a gorilla with lots of shark teeth.  And yes, these aliens are cheesy but as the film progresses, their presence becomes increasingly menacing.  I enjoyed them far more than the aliens from Cowboys & Aliens or the one from Super 8.

SPOILER ALERT FROM THIS POINT FORWARD.

It’s Moses desperate need for acceptance and inability to control his emotions that actually causes all the peril in the film.  His desire to kill the alien, and the direct action of the killing, starts the narrative of horror in motion.  Cornish essentially makes Moses a complete wanker at the beginning of the film, challenges us as viewers to see if we can look beyond his violent interior and exterior and somehow identify with him.  Moses takes the audience on his journey:  from being a self-serving juvenile  to becoming a man willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the community.

When the aliens (who as I said are basically scary looking gorillas with ice blue glowing teeth that like to tear people up and bite them) come after Moses’ block, it’s a matter of pride in the beginning.  Turf as well.  The neighborhood drug dealer, who attempts to recruit Moses early on in the film warns him though, that the block Moses is living on isn’t really Moses’ territory, it’s the dealer’s.  In this assertion lies a challenge for Moses, so while defending his block against the aliens, he inadvertently angers the drug dealer who becomes his nemesis, so now Moses and his gang must avoid not only an alien threat but the human threat as well.

If Moses hasn’t brought on enough problems for himself and his group of friends, they end up having to seek help from the very same woman, Sam, who they robbed.  This challenge for our anti-hero becomes one of his greatest tests in the narrative:  to look beyond what he perceived as someone outside the block, apologizing for his actions and accepting her as a trusted friend.  In that same spirit, Sam, the nurse, must put aside her anger and fear of Moses and his friends, attempt to help the injured party in the group, and ultimately, trust Moses with her life.

Now, you might ask yourself if this is an action/horror comedy movie or a tender coming of age/tolerance movie.  It’s all of the above – because the coming of age elements come out of the action/horror/comedy narrative.  It is no small feat to pull that off and Joe Cornish must be given his due.  Whenever things get far too intense we are allowed a moment of comic relief either through dialogue and familiar issues in the lives of every teen (the guys can’t call for help, they’re all out of credit on their mobile phones (cell phones if you’re reading in the US), or watching two young residents of the block trying to get accepted by the gang.  They look like they’re about 8 or 9.  They do get their moment though – which is another gold star for this script – Cornish pays off the plot points that he sets up.  Things are not left hanging or unanswered, they are always dealt with, which is more than I can say for many Hollywood studio films that suffer through the development process with multiple writers.

Although this is primarily a horror film and there is plenty of blood and nerve-wrecking scenes, this film is about far more.  It is well worth the price of admission – full price.  I rarely say that.  I liked it so much that I would probably go again.  Now I never say that about any horror film out in the theaters.  I’m looking forward to watching Joe Cornish’s career.  It’s also nice to see Nira Park got it right again (the producer that brought us the UK horror/comedy zombie film, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World).   Don’t miss Attack the Block.  You’ll be sorry if you do.

Watch my Vlog Review on YouTube.

Trailer for Attack the Block:

Rubber: this tire should be shredded and burnt

24 Jul

The only reason I actually watched this film, Rubber (2010), was because it was a selection in Phillip DeFranco‘s movie club, Like Totally Awesome.  I figured this was a way for me to watch some films I might not have heard of or never got to.  Well… I’m wishing I never heard of this film and I’ve got to say this was the longest hour and a half that I’ve endured for awhile.  I think my root canals have been less painful to endure.  Maybe even getting my teeth pulled while awake with not enough novocaine.

This movie is about Robert, a psychic tire that goes on the lam (if you can call it that when a tire goes on a killing spree and is on the run from the cops) and kills everything and anything that crosses its path except an attractive girl.  “He” almost kills her but fate intervenes at the last moment.  Their paths cross a bit later at a seedy motel where she conveniently leaves her front door open as well as the bathroom door so she can take a shower and I suppose, let anyone who would like, watch.  Because that is completely logical.  I know that when I stay at a seedy motel in the desert that’s the first thing I do.

The director of this cinematic atrocity, Quentin Dupieux, is actually a French record producer, DJ, composer and songwriter.  Dupieux also likes to go by Mr. Oizo.  Okay.  Whatever.  I’d like to give Dupieux some credit, and if he’d just made the straight horror film with the psychic pathological killing tire, I might have actually enjoyed it.  An inanimate object as a protagonist who kills is a clever idea.  Yes, it has been done before but not with something as mundane as a tire (to the best of my cinematic knowledge).

My issue with this film comes with the other half of it.  Dupieux decided to get fancy.  To try and flaunt his cinematic knowledge of audiences/spectators and how they function in a film.  Hitchcock (Rear Window, 1954 and Vertigo, 1958) and Powell (Peeping Tom, 1960) did it on a level that doesn’t warrant Dupieux worthy enough to exist in the same milieu.  However, he tried to insert himself there by invoking the avant-garde and the French New Wave into the mix by having his character speak to the audience in the film and the audience off-screen.  Now, that could be forgiven on its own.  I’ll chalk it up to an over-zealous love of film theory (I’m sure I’m giving him more credit than he deserves).   What I believe is a giant cinematic faux-pas is that he informs us we will be watching a film that doesn’t happen for any reason then proceeds to justify that his ‘film’ doesn’t need to have any reason, using examples from blockbuster films as if his could ever hope to attain that status.  Here’s a piece of advice to you Dupieux:  audiences don’t need to be told they are watching crap.  They can figure it out for themselves.

I’m sure Dupieux feels he is a highly intellectual and clever filmmaker because this film was shown at Cannes.  I just think that a worthy film that could have been made got the shaft and yet another piece of shlock is out there, taking up space.  I find it a sad commentary on who is financing films and what they are thinking.  Because whoever financed this film must have been high on crack.  And that’s me being kind.  Oh, and if you ever watch this film, you would probably be better off watching it high on crack as I can tell you right now, watching it on sinus medicine isn’t enough.

You can watch my Vlog Review on YouTube.

Trailer for Rubber:

The trailer is better than the film.

 

Jennifer’s Body – a fatale teen horror comedy

3 Oct

I must admit that I was sickly intrigued by the Jennifer’s Body ad I saw pop up on my Facebook page.  I have only recently found myself strangely drawn to horror films because usually, I have adequate nightmares without the help of Hollywood.

I will concede that my slightly negative attitude toward horror films did soften in graduate school when I read one of my favorite genre criticism books:  Men*Women*And*Chainsaws:  Gender in the Modern Horror Film by Carol J. Clover.  For me, being able to analyze the scary sequences made watching them a bit less frightening.  Now, when I see a horror film, I ask myself questions about the narrative structure and genre expectations along with the idea of who fits the bill of what Clover calls “the final girl” (who in all the 70s and 80s horror films was most likely the virgin or most virtuous girl in the film and usually the sole survivor of the carnage).

But I digress…I intended to discuss Jennifer’s Body and not my inability to watch a horror film.  One thing that appealed to me was the label the distributor’s plastered on this film — horror/comedy.  I figured, anything with comedy in it can’t be that bad in terms of giving me nightmares.  And it really wasn’t.  It did help that I had a diet coke and a box of Goobers to comfort me in case there was anything actually scary in the film.  Now, if you are looking for a masterpiece of horror, I would say, this isn’t it.  If you are looking to be scared, don’t waste your money (side note: there are definitely some gross scenes but I found myself laughing at them which is making me wonder if instead of being a grown woman, I have somehow become a teenage boy).  If you are looking for a horror movie with a sense of humor, you’ve come to the right movie.  My viewing companion and I found ourselves laughing through most of the movie…which made me start to think…we’re adult women enjoying this film.  And I didn’t see that many teenagers in the audience, and obviously with a title like Jennifer’s Body and the star of the film, Megan Fox, one expects to see an overabundance of teenage boys and that wasn’t the case.

Like many horror movies, we (the audience) are forced to identify with a female character, in this case, Needy Lesniky (Amanda Seyfried), the more bookish of the two bffs.  The two girls literally represent the (o)ther side of their selves.  Needy is bookish, amenable, virginal and conscientious while Jennifer (Megan Fox) is outgoing, aggressive, sexual and overly-confident.  These girls do everything together which does not seem to leave a lot of room for boys in their lives.  Needy does have a boyfriend and is in a committed relationship but that doesn’t preclude her from blowing him off at Jennifer’s request to go to a bar and watch a band perform because the lead singer is ’salty’.  Needy’s boyfriend voices his resentment at this arrangement yet accepts that he will always be second to Jennifer, and as the film progresses we see that this film is as much a story about the special relationship between Needy and Jennifer as it is about the problems that arise when the male characters in this film transgress boundaries which ultimately will bring dire consequences for them.

Spoiler Alert:  if you haven’t seen Jennifer’s Body and you don’t want to know what happens, you probably don’t want to read any further.  The first male transgression occurs by the entire indie band, Low Shoulder, against Jennifer.  The lead singer (Adam Brody of The OC fame) has decided that to achieve fame, he and his band must sacrifice a virgin to the devil and stupidly chooses Jennifer, who he believes to only actually be a tease, not an actual slut.  Now, one must remember that this film was not only written by a woman (Diablo Cody) but also directed by a woman (Karen Kusama/Girlfight).  Cody is placing the disaster on the male’s shoulders in this film.  It is through stereotyping of female desire that these band members ruin everything for Jennifer and Needy.  Male desire and selfishness are what leads to the demise of the male characters in the film.  In fact, if the male characters thought beyond their sexual needs (teen boys) and professional needs (the band), nobody would have died, but then there wouldn’t have been a need to make a film…Essentially, this is a cautionary tale, perhaps not intentionally written as one but when analyzed it conforms to the classic horror elements that serve as a blueprint of dos and don’ts in male-female sexuality.  Unlike the horror movies of the 1970s and 1980s, though, both females, the slut and the virgin, end up paying the price for their respective sexuality – Jennifer is ultimately killed by Needy and Needy is not only incarcerated in a mental hospital/prison, she develops some of Jennifer’s succubus qualities in order to take up where Jennifer left off and ultimately kills all the band members of Low Shoulder, in not only an act of revenge but one might assume, pleasure.

All the male-killing started making me hungry, so as I contemplated the other sexual relationship (Jennifer and Needy) in the film, I went through the Dunkin’ Donut drive thru (yes, they have drive thrus for donuts here in Connecticut) and got some chocolate coconut donuts so I could move onto the other issue at hand – female desire – and nothing represents female desire better than baked goods with chocolate.  One can argue that it is Jennifer’s sexual appetite that causes her demise, which on one hand it definitely is; alternately, it is Needy’s constant desire to please Jennifer that reinforces bad decisions by both girls and causes Jennifer’s sacrifice to the devil.

The relationship between Jennifer and Needy, it can be argued, is the actual love relationship in the film.  Not only are these girls bffs, they wear jewelry to reflect their status as exclusive ‘friends’ to each other.  Needy puts Jennifer before her boyfriend, which is a constant source of friction for Needy’s heterosexual relationship.  Needy will even accompany Jennifer to go trolling for boys instead of spending time with her boyfriend when it is apparent that Needy has no interest in finding any other guys to hook up with.  She is there as not only Jennifer’s emotional support (although watching Jennifer, we are not sure why she would even need emotional support), but to almost endorse Jennifer’s wild actions.  When Jennifer is loaded into Low Shoulder’s ‘tour van’, both Needy and the audience know that only bad things are going to happen to Jennifer in that van and yet she doesn’t really try to stop this event from happening.

The relationship between Jennifer and Needy is characterized as sexual from the beginning.  In the first school scene, Jennifer is out performing at a pep rally and it is clear she is dancing only for Needy, sitting in the bleachers.  A girl near Needy comments on them being lesbians, which Needy shrugs off.  We don’t get a hint of this lesbian activity again until the night Jennifer becomes a succubus and stalks Needy, pinning her against the wall in what can only look like a sexual embrace and it begs the question:  is she going to screw her or eat her?  Needy’s virginal status is reflected by Jennifer’s question into Needy’s ear as she’s pressing against her:  are you scared?  A question which can be interchanged between one’s first sexual experience or when one is about to die.  The interlinking of sex, death and this particular relationship is crystallized in this moment.

The next significant sexual moment between the two girls is when Needy arrives home to find Jennifer in her bed and ‘the lesbian kiss’ occurs and although we think it might be their first kiss, as the girls proceed to make out, they look all too familiar with each other and it becomes apparent that this isn’t the first time this has happened, and it is confirmed when Jennifer suggests they play ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’ like they used to.  This particular line is significant since it is the same type of sexual suggestion that has been offered to all Jennifer’s male victims thus far in the narrative.  Unlike the rest of Jennifer’s sexual conquests, though, Needy rejects Jennifer who leaves and it is this rejection that sets into motion Jennifer’s ultimate demise.

Jennifer, who does not deal well with rejection from the one ‘love object’ that counts to her, Needy, makes a fatal mistake by attempting to seduce Needy’s boyfriend, who does initially fall prey to Jennifer’s advances and causes Needy to go after Jennifer.  The fight between Needy and Jennifer that starts in a swimming pool and ends in Jennifer’s bedroom (it could be argued, the continuation of the first bedroom sequence between the two girls) illustrates the power of their bond.  At this point in the narrative, Needy begins to mirror Jennifer and is slowly becoming her, beginning with the fact that she has become Jennifer’s stalker (a role reversal from the time in the film that we feel on more than one occasion, Jennifer is stalking Needy), watching Jennifer through the bedroom window, breaking into Jennifer’s bedroom, and attacking Jennifer in bed.  Their fight, which includes thrashing, intertwined bodies levitating from the bed that looks more like an unholy coupling than a girl fight at times, is a mixture of sex, violence, love and hate, and only when Needy breaks the bonds of their relationship by ripping off Jennifer’s BBF necklace does her adversary suddenly lose the majority of her power and Needy is able to fatally wound Jennifer.  And, once Needy’s wounds from Jennifer heal, she absorbs some of Jennifer’s power (a metaphor for surviving a bad relationship with supernatural battle scars?) and begins to become the other she fought so hard to free herself from.

Watch the trailer for Jennifer’s Body:
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