Attack the Block – Review

Here’s an interesting concept.  Take some rough, hardened South London hooded teenagers and pit them against an array of deadly, mysterious alien forces.  Set it up in a dangerous council estate on Bonfire night.  Add Nick Frost in for good measure.  Then finally, mix in a perfect blend of comedy, action and horror and then you have Joe Cornish’s latest film, Attack the Block.

The film focuses on several youths whose lives equate to nothing more than Call of Duty and the odd mugging.  That is until one night, when the teens realise they’re about to encounter a full on alien invasion on their streets.  To protect their loved ones – and more importantly, themselves – they hit back at the aliens tearing through their block of flats.  To ensure their survival, they have to improvise and work together.

It’s a unique set up which sells itself fantastically well.  Aided with some fantastic concepts, Attack the Block becomes more than just your standard invasion fare.  There are real scares to be encountered throughout, as the vicious creatures bring forth the carnage.  Thankfully enough, the teenagers are infused with depth and realism too, bringing their characters to life.  Cornish somehow manages to perfect the characterisations of the South London hoodies, along with the others throughout.

When the aliens begin their full frontal assault, the youths retaliate with any form of weaponry they can find.  The action steps up a notch when they do fight back, providing some incredible scenes which are also blended well with elements of horror.  Specific moments in the film leave you on edge, as the creatures plough through the block of flats.

The film balances its various elements with ease, merging horror and comedy effortlessly, reflecting the perfect blend of a similar film; Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead.  Due to Edgar Wright’s involvement as the executive producer, there’s no surprise as to how the film tackles the different ingredients so well.

The special effects work as an advantage towards the creature’s simple but effective design.  The ‘blacker-than-black’ fur and luminescent sharp teeth make for a unique and scary threat.  The effects utilise this look brilliantly, fitting into the dark landscape of the film perfectly.

There’s never a dull moment to be had whilst watching Attack the Block.  Regardless of their skewed moral compass, the thugs are a thrill to watch.  They’re engaging, entertaining and more importantly, real.  Whilst fighting for survival, great camerawork and scripting is employed.  Scenes are framed perfectly, such as the few slow-mo segments which are included, truly bringing forth tension and excitement towards the final moments of the film.

Thankfully enough, Cornish realises the sheer horror of the invasion needs to be escalated, and the stakes are raised to an extent which makes you fear for the hoodies’ survival.  This coincides with a great final sequence and a rather satisfying ending.

Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block harks back to old 70s b-movies, but he perfects his film with a great script, entertaining characters and explosive scenes.  For a genre which is stale with overused concepts (see – Cowboys and Aliens), Cornish introduces his unique take on an invasion, including terrifying monsters and memorable characters.  He understands the language of the hoodies, as well as their actions. 

Attack the Block really is one of the best films of the year, so here’s to Joe Cornish’s future projects.  Shizzle.

Cowboys & Aliens. Review.

Cowboys & Aliens was released on 17th August and is directed by the great Jon Favreau, known for his directorial work on the Iron Man films and possibly the greatest holiday film ever, Elf.  Favreau now comes at us with an adaptation of Fred Van Lente’s graphic novel, based on the same name.  Starring the legendary Harrison Ford and suave Daniel Craig, the film surrounds itself with the concept of two genres finally clashing with each other.  The western and science-fiction have finally been blended together for the big screen, in a package which promises to deliver the biggest blockbuster of the year.

It has been a long time coming, but Han Solo and James Bond now star in the same film.  Craig plays the unknown gunslinger that wakes up in the middle of the desert, strangely armed with a mysterious alien device.  With a severe loss of memory and a nasty scar, he attempts to find himself in the wicked West.

Along his journey of self-discovery he meets a number of characters, including Olivia Wilde’s Ella Swenson, Sam Rockwell’s ‘Doc’ and more importantly, Woodrow Dolarhyde – played by Harrison Ford.  During his time in the town of Absolution, he finds himself in the middle of a brutal alien attack.  Destroying homes and abducting loved ones, the aliens are a deadly force to be reckoned with, leaving a destructive path wherever they choose.  The cowboys soon gather together to find and dispose of this new high-tech threat, by heading north – towards the unknown.

It’s no surprise, but the actors are fitted perfectly for their specific roles.  Ford has no trouble playing the hardened bitter cowboy and alongside him Craig perfects the sly rogue.  Sam Rockwell presents the much-needed comedy towards the film with an entertainingly funny role, which comes as no surprise.  Olivia Wilde unfortunately serves as the slightly uninteresting Ella, whose role takes an unconvincing and unnecessary turn halfway through the film.  Look out for other familiar faces though, such as the great Keith Carradine and Paul Dano.

The film boasts a large number of impressive action scenes which are ultimately let down by lengthy scenes of dialogue and uninteresting explanations.  When a film boasts such a ridiculous concept, there is no need to explain the developments in such a dire manner.  When it also hits a peculiar twist, it almost complicates the film further than it should have.  These issues cause a jarring effect on the pace of the story, including the interrupting flashbacks of Craig’s character, which are done in such a manner that would be embarrassing even for television standards.

When the film focuses on its Western roots it works perfectly, but when it begins to focus on its sci-fi elements it lets you down ever so slightly, with ropey designs which never truly differentiate the aliens from any other sci-fi threat.  The action scenes are spectacular and it’s incredible witnessing a bunch of horse-riding cowboys fight off against flying behemoths, as the CGI never falters.  It’s just a shame that it’s let down with boring exposition, leaving you with just an average popcorn flick composed of just a few great scenes.

Thankfully though, Cowboys & Aliens never really meets the poor standards of Wild Wild West, but then it does unfortunately remind you of the travesty which was that film.  For a film which stars ragtag cowboys shooting down aliens, that shouldn’t happen.

It is a massive surprise to see such a film fail on quite a few levels, especially regarding the talent involved.  Sure, the roles are perfect and the action is amazing but unnecessary elements break down the flow in an inexcusable manner.  It is a shame to see this occur, but perhaps a different cut of the film would have worked to balance out the story properly.  All in all, it may be worth checking out Cowboys & Aliens for the great exchanges between characters and the impressive set pieces and action, but don’t expect to be blown away.

It is a shame to see this happen, as this was expected to be Favreau’s return to form.  Iron Man 2 received many mixed reviews and this was initially material he should have been perfect for.  What went wrong is anyones guess, but at least we finally got Bond and Solo together.