Tag: england

Movie Review: Attack the Block (2011)

Seen: At Loews Boston Common.

After what felt like a year of hearing how great this movie is, it finally made it to Boston! Hurray! Written and directed by frequent Edgar Wright-collaborator Joe Cornish, Attack the Block is a fun and tense alien invasion thriller. The twist is its protagonists: the film focuses on a group of lower-class London teenagers, a sort of wannabe gang who mug pedestrians who walk by their neighborhood and assume they’ll eventually be forcibly recruited by a local drug dealer. When hostile alien beasts invade their housing development, it’s up to them to fight them off and save their block.



This movie has such a great cast, it’s crazy. There are hilarious supporting turns from the likes of Nick Frost and Luke Treadaway, both pothead slackers holed up in an apartment with a weed fortress. The focus here is definitely on the kids, though, mostly newcomers who put in intriguing and dedicated performances. John Boyega is SO good as Moses, the hard-faced leader who acts well beyond his years because he has no other choice. This is his first film and I hope he has a long career ahead of him as a leading man (he’s easy on the eyes, too). Jodie Whittaker is a little flat as Sam, the high-strung nursing student who is initially at odds with this hostile group of “hoodlum” teens, but she grew on me as the movie progressed. Plus she wields a kitchen knife pretty damn deftly.

From the thumping soundtrack and high-speed bike chases to the gory kills and silly jokes, Attack the Block is just consistently entertaining all around. It’s got a fun script that balances comedic dialogue with heartfelt characterization, keeping it light for the most part but never allowing the audience to think any character is safe from horrific mutilation. There are definitely some plot points that don’t make too much sense (why would the males of a species want to tear apart the only female?), but it’s such a fun ride I didn’t really think about it while I was watching. I also appreciated the range of interesting weaponry and impressive creature effects, and the almost complete reliance on one location for the story. Their tenement comes off as a concrete maze with a wealth of resources and hiding spots, and Cornish really works the setting to its fullest.

And Nick Frost. Always Nick Frost.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Hmm another alien invasion action/comedy, probably. Let’s see, there’s Alien Trespass, Super 8, Independence Day

Movie Review: Naked (1993)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

After multiple people recommended Mike Leigh’s Naked to me in recent memory it seemed high time I finally sat down to watch it. David Thewlis stars as Johnny, a scruffy intellectual on the run from the family of a woman he raped. He heads to London to see his ex-girlfriend Louise (Lesley Sharp), only to almost immediately sleep with her dreamy roommate Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge). He gets bored of her and wanders around the city, befriending/foisting himself upon basically anyone who listens to his never-ending rants. Meanwhile, a wealthy, sadistic businessman (Greg Cruttwell) with an unknown connection to the other characters yells and rapes his way through several women.

This really is a tough one, both to watch (at parts) and to write about. It’s essentially a study of a despicable but very interesting man, not evil but never very likable. From the opening scene we are introduced to Johnny as a rapist and a coward, and soon learn that he is a well-read, insensitive asshole who thinks his education gives him the right to talk down to everyone he meets. Self-obsessed as he is, he is obviously also starved for interaction as he attempts to befriend a number of people on the streets of London. He talks a lot of shit and believes he is always in the right, but genuinely does want to hear about the experiences and opinions of others. Most of the film depicts episodes of Johnny’s conversations with those he meets, with a loose thread of over-arching plot kept in the goings-on at Louise’s apartment.

With Leigh’s usual (I think?) incorporation of improvisation, the dialogue is natural, funny, and a little rambling. Thewlis is magnetic as Johnny, spewing impassioned philosophies and seductive observations left and right, imbuing most of his talk with bookish references and plenty of cusses. He is a complete jerk but admittedly a compelling one, and Thewlis musters all his charisma and charm for an impressive performance. He plays off of the supporting cast wonderfully, and scenes involving Peter Wight as an upbeat security guard ready for biblical debate stand out as a highlight. Admittedly I found some of his interactions a bit taxing though, as his speeches dragged on or his meaningless sexual encounters became depressing and violent. I was happy for breaks involving Lesley Sharp and Katrin Cartlidge, both excellent as housemates with Problems. They both have great moments individually with Johnny, but their barstool conversation about sex and relationships is one of the strongest scenes in the film.

I guess a film that opens with a rape scene and then offers the rapist as the central character is doomed to be controversial and hard to emotionally navigate. I don’t think Johnny is meant to be sympathetic- personally I felt sorry for anyone he interacted with instead-, and he is never rewarded or forgiven for his act. I thought the subplot involving Greg Cruttwell’s strange and demonic “Jeremy G Smart” was too disconnected; I assume he was meant to present an alternative example of a nymphomaniac/sociopathic asshole? One who is less interesting and much more prone to hang out in his (very tight) underwear? It just felt like a needless unsolved mystery- his appearance at the apartment made little sense to me, but it’s very possible I missed something. Was he a ghost? He was a ghost the whole time, wasn’t he?

Oh well. Still not sure how I feel about this movie. I certainly appreciate it, but probably wouldn’t watch it again because it made me too uncomfortable. But that was probably the point.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Some of the dialogue and staging reminded me of Hal Hartley, especially Henry Fool, which has some similar themes.

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

Yeah no art for today, sorry. I’ll try to make something doubly cool for next week to make up for it. You can always check out my etsy shop for fun stuff.

Seen: In 2-D at Loews Boston Common.

Aw jeez. What can I even say? As one of the many people who pretty much grew up as the Harry Potter kids grew up, the final film is a big deal. I mean, I know the story already ended with the last book, but this is really the END ending, which means the weight of the books’ importance to me piled down on me and I found myself loving this film on nostalgia and emotional impact alone.

If you don’t know the story already, I assume you don’t really care so I’m not going to recap it here. As the second part of the book adaptation, this film is the most action-packed, and ends up being the most inclusive script-wise. There’s a lot less “Oh but they cut out THIS part that was in the book!” and “Wah wah I didn’t get to see my favorite character do his/her THING!” So that’s nice. The performances are the best they’ve been, with Daniel Radcliffe getting into his role a lot more (I’ve always found him a bit flat as Harry) and everyone else amping up their badassery in turn. We all remembered how great Neville is and how good of an actor Alan Rickman is, plus Hermione and Ron FINALLY make out. We are all pleased.

The effects look great, with a lot of exciting action scenes and thrilling magical mischief, though Yates does overly-favor his “start with a wide shot and then zoooooooooooom in!” approach to setting up scenes. The script is solid, but there are few comedic moments that feel out of place in such a serious film. It’s nice to have some sort of relief from all the heavy stuff though so it’s not a huge deal. I took the ridiculous epilogue (JUST GET GROWN-UP ACTORS YOU DINGUS) as comic relief after the bleakness of everything else. I am disappointed they left out the Grindlewald stuff, though, primarily because it gave insight into Dumbledore’s character plus they totally showed him twice in Part 1 and it seems confusing for anyone who hasn’t read the books. Oh well. I guess my dream of seeing those two wizards going at it is crushed. Leave me to my fantasies…

Anyway, this isn’t really much of a review is it? Um. I really liked this movie. I only cried once. I’m glad I didn’t re-read the book beforehand because it made more things a surprise- I couldn’t remember all of the deaths so I spent most of the big battle convinced McGonagall would die which would have made me SUPER DEPRESSED.

I’ll probably find more problems with this movie after a few re-watches, but honestly I have little issue with it, just a few small things (like where was Ginny? Did she speak more than once?). The films have always been uneven, but this is an exciting and heartfelt ending to a collectively wonderful series. And best of all it makes me want to read all the books for the twelfth time.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is the only one that really makes sense, and hopefully you don’t need me to tell you that.

My original art for Harry Potter is for sale.

Movie Review: Orlando (1992)

This post is part of the Queer Film Blogathon over at Garbo Laughs. Check it out!

Virginia Woolf has been one of my favorite writers since I first read her short story “The New Dress” in high school. Her stream-of-consciousness writing style, introspective storytelling, and general insight into the troubled minds of upper/middle-class women never fail to pack an emotional punch. Unfortunately I haven’t yet read her quasi-fantasy, slightly nonfiction novel Orlando: A Biography, but I have utter confidence in Tilda Swinton and knew the film version would be interesting.

Sprawling across several centuries, Orlando begins in the early 1600’s, during which the title character (Swinton)- a young, poetry-loving nobleman- becomes a certain “favorite” of Elizabeth I (in a fun appearance by Quentin Crisp), who commands him to never grow old. Without explanation or surprise, he does just that. After a torrid affair with a Russian princess and a stint as ambassador to Constantinople, where he is disgusted with the violence of men, he wakes up after a long sleep as a woman. Again, there is little surprise and Orlando just goes about her life, learning the special constraints and shame women must endure in the 1800’s. A lengthy lawsuit attempts to wrest her lands and title from her, simply because of her sex, but she refuses to marry as a way out, and stubbornly makes her way into the twentieth century.

Divided into era-specific episodes by both date and theme (“Love”, “War”, “Birth”, etc), Orlando is a deliberately paced and lushly filmed period piece that defies conventions of the genre. It flits about from century to century, wastes little time on exploration of characters outside of Orlando, and never settles on one over-arching storyline. This isn’t a love story, or an intimate biography, or a look at historical British politics. It follows one person who develops over the course of several wars, relationships, and technological advances into a fiercely independent, worldly woman who knows just as well what it is to be a man. It is beautiful and quiet, its script sticking to subtle narrative devices and snarky asides to the audience to keep an atmosphere of slight satire alongside its wondrous premise. Potter doesn’t linger too long on any one scene or idea, but does keep the focus on Orlando at all times.

As usual, Swinton is a marvel. Don’t be fooled by the double billing with Billy Zane, who appears for one scene as one of Orlando’s lovers: this is completely her movie. She excels at this androgynous characterization and aesthetic, with a regal posture and exquisite expression that betray the comedic lilt in her voice as she breaks the fourth wall with farcical observations. As a person who is often mistaken for a man in real life, Swinton is tailor-made for the sex-switching role of Orlando. She embodies a character who seems stuck between the two traditionally-accepted genders, making an argument for the myriad nuances that lie between them both. And while Orlando often feels out of place as both a man and a woman, eventually the character becomes wholly satisfied and accepting of him/herself regardless.

Orlando is a lovely film, both in visual splendor, interesting musical score, and fascinating characterization, and Swinton commands our full attention throughout. It is, however, a bit sparse and meandering in its script with the constant succession of new ideas and side-characters. It also seems to suggest at the end the life-fulfilling aspect of childbirth, which is a concept I’ll never buy into. I look forward to reading the book, which draws from Woolf’s affair with writer Vita Sackville-West.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: For another beautifully-costumed British period piece, something the likes of The Young Victoria would work well. For more exploration of gender (but this time with songs!), there’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

My original portrait of Tilda Swinton is available for purchase.

Me Without You (2001)

Hey! If you are looking for this week’s Movie Sketch Project entry, it was posted on Wednesday!

Note to self: Stop believing the synopses on netflix disc sleeves. You know they lie to you. But you can be grateful that you didn’t heed Netflix’s advice to “watch Me Without You with your best friend” because this movie sort of makes you want to never have any friends again. Sheesh.

Written and directed by Sandra Goldbacher, Me Without You isn’t the sappy comedy-drama I had expected. This isn’t “BFFL go through trials and tribulations and there are tears but also laughter and their friendship will be stronger at the end because of the problems they’ve faced.” No. Disregard the dvd cover. Growing up as next-door neighbors in 1980’s suburban England, best friends Holly (Michelle Williams) and Marina (Anna Friel) come from very different families but develop a co-dependent relationship that lasts into adulthood. Holly’s crush on Marina’s older brother and Marina’s wild nature plant seeds of discontent during their teenage years, and a double affair with an unethical professor (Kyle MacLachlan) while in college hastens their friendship’s disintegration. Eventually they will destroy each other.

This is definitely an example of expectations coloring my enjoyment of a film. I did not expect such a depressing, uncomfortable movie, so I was frustrated with the final product. It sports great performances from Michelle Williams and Anna Friel (far from her goodie-two-shoes American Girl role in Pushing Daisies, the only place I’d seen her), with the former channeling every pushover bookworm you can’t help but love, and the latter getting sexy and remarkably devious. Kyle MacLachlan shows up for a bit so everyone’s happy. It’s got a kickin’ soundtrack, eclectic 80’s-90’s fashion, cute side-characters, and a fairly sweet (if clumsy) romantic subplot.

Unfortunately, Me Without You suffers script and characterization problems. It hops around different periods in the girls’ lives, spending long amounts of time in some moments and scant minutes in others. The development of their personalities doesn’t feel fully realized because so much has to be skipped. The film posits that parental influence played a large role in both of these women’s development, no big stretch there. Holly is more reserved and studious due to her strict upbringing, but also resentful of the personality forced upon her from a young age and unsure of herself and her desires as she becomes an adult. Marina’s mostly-absent father and beauty-obsessed, laissez-faire mother likely contributed to her passive-aggressive nature and sexual practices. But as the story progresses, Marina is revealed to just be an awful human being with less nuance than I imagine was intended, and Holly is the clear heroine. Despite framing the story around their friendship, it eventually boils down to Holly’s romantic aspirations and Marina’s unhealthy manipulations of those around her. It begins to feel flat and untrue to itself by the end, with Marina becoming more and more unsympathetic and one-dimensional and Holly seemingly without flaw.

This is a movie about two women who will eventually destroy each other. Well-acted, well-shot, and interesting in many ways, but ultimately a more intense and uneven script than I was prepared for.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: At several points I was reminded of Jane Campion’s masterful Sweetie, featuring two sisters reminiscent of Holly and Marina.