Wednesday 27 April 2011

Attack The Block review (The List, Issue 680)

Coming from the same production team as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs the World, this confident debut from Joe Cornish (one half of duo Adam and Joe) is much less a comedy than might have been expected. Rather it’s a very accomplished sci-fi horror, and a properly exciting one at that, evidencing Cornish’s clear love of the genre classics from its atmospheric synth soundtrack to its flourishes of gory splatter.

Sitting between Aliens and Gremlins in terms of tone, the story straddles reality and fantasy as a gang of errant teenagers attempt to defend their inner-city tower block against an army of bloodthirsty alien monsters. Cornish’s breathlessly-paced script entwines thrilling action set-pieces with a gently provocative portrayal of urban youth, effectively challenging audience preconceptions while never letting up on the entertainment. It’s sporadically funny (most often when accurately skewering the attitudes of modern teenagers) but the science-fiction scenario is played straight rather than as parody, and as the body count rises Cornish generates palpable tension and scares. Despite shaky acting from some of the young cast, leads Jodie Whitaker and newcomer John Boyega are excellent, providing strong characters amidst the action.

General release from Weds 11th May. This review first published in The List magazine.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Your Highness review (The List, Issue 679)

Before Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy heralded a resurgence of the ‘fantasy quest’ movie, this much-derided genre enjoyed a kind of golden age in the late 1980s, when Labyrinth, The Princess Bride and Willow captured the imaginations of thousands of young moviegoers. Danny McBride and David Gordon Green, respectively writer/star and director of Your Highness, were clearly front and centre in that bewitched audience, and in its best moments this film recaptures a hint of the magical, adventurous power that those films possessed. Unfortunately that is the only positive thing to be said about Your Highness, which is otherwise a vulgar, unoriginal, soulless, stupid folly, featuring a squandered cast of such quality that their involvement and co-operation must surely have been secured by means of dark magic.

McBride, recognisable from memorable bit-parts in Due Date, Up in the Air and Gordon Green’s previous film, stoner-comedy Pineapple Express, here steps up to leading-man duties as Prince Thadeous, the slovenly brother of the kingdom’s favourite warrior Prince Fabeous (James Franco, literally looking as if he could fall asleep any moment). When Fabeous’ bride-to-be Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel, vacant) is kidnapped by the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux, actually quite funny), the King (Charles Dance, bored) sends the brothers off to rescue Belladonna and rid the kingdom of Leezar forever. Along the way they are first saved then joined by a mysterious female warrior (Natalie Portman, rigid) whose quest becomes entwined with theirs.

If you think the plot sounds slapdash, just wait until you hear what passes for dialogue. There’s barely a line uttered in Your Highness that doesn’t contain either the word ‘fuck’, a mention of genitalia or some reference to sex. Vulgarity is substituted for wit, and it’s conclusively not funny. Evidently, McBride and Gordon Green have forgotten that a key element of those aforementioned films’ success was their innocence, an epithet that emphatically does not apply to Your Highness. For Gordon Green, who began his career with the excellent character studies George Washington and All The Real Girls, this is surely as low as he can go. His Lowness, you might say.

Your Highness is out now on general release. This review first published at

Monday 4 April 2011

Monsters DVD review (

Released into cinemas at the end of 2010 to glowing reviews and lots of ‘next big thing’ talk, British filmmaker Gareth Edwards’ impressive debut feature failed to prove as big a hit with audiences as with critics, comfortably recouping its small budget at the UK box office, but arguably falling short of the peaks of success that some critics (this one included) may have expected. So the release of Monsters on dvd brings a twofold opportunity; firstly for the film to find a new audience in a more significant way, and secondly for a reappraisal: to ask if the film really is as good as we all thought on first viewing, and whether it stands up to repeat plays.

Monsters takes place in an alternate version of our world where alien life has made its way to earth, and the resulting titular beasts – massive octopus-like creatures hundreds of feet tall - are contained in what used to be Mexico, now known as the ‘infected zone’. This sci-fi scenario is the backdrop to a very simple story - part mismatched romance, part road movie – in which photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is given the thankless task of escorting his boss’s stranded daughter Sam (Whitney Able) back home to America, preferably avoiding the infected zone en route. Of course, events conspire to force them through the zone, where they face attacks by the monsters, and ultimately discover a surprising truth about these alien creatures.

Writer/director Edwards’ real triumph with the film is his use of subtle visual effects in real-world locations, creating a wholly convincing alternate reality. Happily, this is just as effective on the small screen as it was in cinemas. ‘Subtle’ is the operative word when describing Monsters, as the creatures themselves play very much a supporting role in the film, always in the background apart from in one brilliantly realised attack sequence and at the film’s striking conclusion. Edwards is much more interested in what is happening with his human characters, and the film is possessed of a pensive, atmospheric mood, achieved in no small part thanks to the brooding score from Jon Hopkins, complementing Edwards’ dazzling photography very well.

On the downside, the flimsiness of the characters and story become much clearer on second viewing, and it is evident that the sci-fi scenario is actually much more interesting than the couple leading us through it. The performances are good - McNairy is really convincing - but Edwards doesn’t give them much of consequence to actually say to each other; the development of their relationship feels more like a conventional inevitability than a realistic occurrence.

This is not a major flaw though, especially in the context of what is an otherwise incredible achievement in budget filmmaking; Monsters looks and feels like a major studio film, and Edwards is clearly a talent to watch. The dvd/Blu-ray will also prove incredibly useful to anyone keen to follow in Edwards’ footsteps, as the exhaustive feature-length making-of - covering pre-production, shooting, editing and visual effects - shows in no uncertain terms how they pulled it off, as well as showing how important it is to get the right team in place. Editor Colin Goudie deserves particular praise, as it’s clear from the special features that without his tireless contribution, Edwards would have had a significantly harder time bringing his vision to the screen.

Monsters is released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 11th April. This review first published on Read my Monsters interview feature from December 2010 here.