Review: Attack the Block, The Women on the 6th Floor, The Lorax, Mirror Mirror and Wrath of the Titans

Attack the Block posterIt has taken ten months for Joe Cornish’s brilliant Attack the Block to make its way to New Zealand and one of the first questions will be, is there still an audience left for it considering the most rabid fans will have found – licit and illicit – ways to watch it months ago. I certainly hope there is because Cornish has produced a highly original take on a classic genre – a low-budget alien invasion movie that is thrilling, funny and socially aware.

It’s Guy Fawke’s Night and the attempted mugging of off-duty nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is interrupted by a the explosive arrival of a strange creature. The leader of the young hoodlums, Moses (a star-making performance by John Boyega), manages to kill the beast and they take the carcass as a trophy, not realising that there are others following – and that they will want revenge.

Attack the Block delivers some astute social comment between the thrills. Moses believes that the monsters have been sent by the government to kill more black people – because the drugs and guns aren’t doing it fast enough – and his heroism is destined to go unrecognised in an inner city Britain where working class black youth are only ever portrayed one way.

The monsters are of the extremely low budget men-in-hairy-suits variety but the editing (by Scott Pilgrim’s Jonathan Amos) keeps them mostly out of sight for the first act after which they become extremely fast-moving and occasionally terrifying. But it’s the character aspect of Attack the Block that will stay with me – a misunderstood generation turning the tables on prejudice as well as an alien threat.

The Women on the 6th Floor posterThe Women on the 6th Floor is a French comedy-drama for people who are uncomfortable with too much drama – or too much comedy for that matter. Like so many French films, it is about a bourgeois city dweller getting lessons in authenticity from the lower classes. The only twist here is that the teacher isn’t a gardener or a taxi driver – and isn’t even French.

It is the 1960s and Jean-Louis (Fabrice Luchini) is patron of the family stockbroking firm, and has never thought for a moment about his privileged position in society. Like his contemporaries, the smooth running of his household is dependent on the imported Spanish maids who live – mostly uncomplaining – lives in the attics of their homes. Jean-Louis gets a crush on his new one, María (Natalia Verbeke), and suddenly becomes the saviour of the downtrodden.

Intolerably patronising, The Women on the 6th Floor, is marshmallow soft and destined only to reinforce the complacent worldview of its (male) maker and its audience.

The Lorax posterMuch more sophisticated – and for a film aimed at eight-year-olds that’s saying something – is the animated version of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, a plea for environmental awareness that manages to carry with it the most anti-consumption, anti-corporate, message I’ve seen in a Hollywood film in ages. Young Ted (Zac Efron) has a crush on pretty Audrey (Taylor Swift) but she only dreams of trees – there aren’t any you see, they were all chopped down years ago and now everything in Thneedville is made of plastic.

To find the secret of the trees, Ted has to venture outside the city walls and find the mysterious Lorax (Danny DeVito) who was once the protector of the trees but who didn’t do such a fabulous job of it the first time around. The Lorax will please all ages, provided older viewers put some kind of cuteness filter on over their 3D glasses as director Chris Renaud (Despicable Me) piles it on pretty thick.

Mirror Mirror posterThere are two Snow White and the Seven Dwarves movies due out this year and the first has been rushed into cinemas to try and gain first advantage. Mirror Mirror stars Julia Roberts as the wicked Queen, trying to dispose of her beautiful stepdaughter so she will remain ‘the fairest of them all’. The stepdaughter is of course Snow White – that’s first name and surname like Meat Loaf – and she is played by Phil Collins’ pretty daughter Lily.

Mirror Mirror reminds you of great family movies like The Princess Bride and Time Bandits without approaching the greatness of either. Director Tarsem has a brilliant eye for colour but not much of one for comedy. There are some good people involved in front of – and behind – the camera but nothing sizzles.

Wrath of the Titans posterTwo years ago, a hastily 3D’d Clash of the Titans was rushed into cinemas to take advantage of all the post-Avatar hype and was justifiably panned by critics. Audiences must have responded though as we now have a sequel, Wrath of the Titans, which follows Perseus (Sam Worthington) into the next chapter of his mythic career: cyclopses, minotaurs, labyrinths and the bowels of Mt Tartarus. If this seems familiar it is because it was the basis for last year’s Immortals (coincidentally directed by the aforementioned Tarsem).

This film isn’t the visually incoherent mess that the first one was. Director Jonathan Liebesman made Battle: Los Angeles which for all its faults had great 3D and this film also appears to actually have writers: newcomers Dan Mazeau and David Johnson. The actors playing the gods (including Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes) have dialled their performances down a little more to human scale and everyone has been told to use their own accents (except for Bill Nighy who is a law unto himself). Even Worthington seems to have relaxed into his own skin a bit.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 4 April, 2012.

Dan

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