A Small Review for a Short Film: The Snowman


I’ve had a tremendous tendency to focus on animated films from America or Japan. While that could be credited simply to the sheer volume both countries produce, I can’t help but feel like I’m slighting the rest of the world by ignoring their offerings to the world of film. I was recently reminded of the value in watching a verity of films from a verity of geographical locations by watching The Snowman, a 1982 animated short film that was nominated for an academy award. The 26 minute short is based on the wordless picture book by Ramon Briggs.

The story centers on a small boy who, after a tremendous amount of snow has fallen, spends his day building a snowman. As the boy admires his work throughout the day, and even into the evening, glancing out the window every chance he gets, he can’t help but be amazed by the wonder filled snow land that suddenly surrounds his house. At night, the snowman comes to life, and the boy introduces him to the human world, giving him a thorough tour of his home and yard. In return, the snowman takes the young boy on a magical journey to the North Pole where he meets other snowmen and even Santa Claus himself.

The Snowman is nothing short of beautiful. The animation used makes the entire thing look vividly like the picture book it is based on, but the real triumph comes from the sound. The movie is, with the exception of a particularly powerful musical number, entirely wordless. Not only is it wordless, but the sound effects in the movie are generated only from the orchestra whose score resounds throughout the duration of the short. We’re not subjected to background music haphazardly thrown into the mix to loosely convey emotion, the background music IS the emotion. When the Snowman sneezes or starts up a motorcycle, we rely entirely on the talent of the score to convey the sounds and emotional weight of the actions involved.

Short, sweet and somber. The Snowman blends childrens book animation with a near perfect musical score to present a story that is ripe with analogies ranging from the bliss of childhood to the loss of those closest to us. It’s a visually rich and emotionally valuable little title that taps into basic human emotions, without having to use an exclusive language.

Battle Royale vs The Hunger Games

BR index

     Since the premise of the first book in the Hunger Games series was first read, comparisons to the popular Japanese manga and film, Battle Royale have been made. Essentially, both premises can be summed up the exact same way: The government is upset at their people, so they force randomly selected children to compete to the death in a widely publicized spectacle. The details concerning the two separate works begin to show the differences in approach, but essentially that premise is what gets people interested in either franchise. Literally, I had no intention of reading The Hunger Games until someone said “It’s just like Battle Royale”, then my interest was piqued. In the human thirst for competition, something dark lurks. No one really wants to see children compete to the death, but it gets them curious as to how and why someone would describe it. A couple thousand years ago, this was basically a widely accepted practice, righ? But I’m not going to get into the mess of a discussion surrounding the morality of such literature, instead I’m going to explain the differences that these two films (we’re going off of the films, not the manga or novel) have.

     The Hunger Games is certainly a more popular franchise, at least in North America. The story paints a bleak dystopian feel where most of the land’s inhabitants live in poverty, the remnants of a failed rebellion are now forcefully suppressed by the evil President Snow. To remind the nation of their rebellion, every year one child from each of the 12 districts is chosen to compete in “The Hunger Games” a televised event in which, after much pomp and circumstance, the kids go at it until there is only one left. While the premise of the movie “kids fighting to the death” may be what got the attention of many, we don’t actually get to the fighting until the latter part of the film. Instead we’re given an inside look at the residents of District 12, where Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist, is from. We see the suffering of the poor, we see the injustice and the social commentary runs wild before we get to the “juicy stuff”. It’s a smart move. I’ve expressed this in regards to horror movies, but it stands here; we need to know our characters before we kill them in order to have an attachment. Jennifer Lawrence delivers a great performance as Katniss, allowing us to get to care about her before her potential death. Once inside the arena, we become extremely conflicted knowing that the majority of the characters are going to die. Some we’re ok with, others leaves the audience with a gut-wrenching realization that this isn’t going to have a happy ending, regardless of if Katniss wins.

     Then we have Battle Royale. Requiem Mass Dies Irae will forever be engraved in my mind as the opening music for this film. The intensity immediately sets the tone for the film, which is essentially “You’re going to get what we promised you.” The kids wear necklaces that explode if they’re in the wrong zone, for crying out loud! The movie wastes no time in delivering one of the most chilling openings I’ve seen to date. Not in that it’s scary, but the morbid contrast of showing the winner of the previous battle being surrounded  by the press. As the crowd parts we see the winner as she’s being whisked away to get cleaned up. It’s a young, maybe eight year old girl. She’s sitting down with her head down looking at the teddy bear in her arms. She’s drenched in blood, probably not her own. As the cameras get closer, she lifts her head revealing a huge grin. Battle Royale wastes no time getting to the point. A randomly selected school class is selected for Battle Royale each year with no prior notice. Our class in this film is on their way home from a field trip on a big bus, when they’re all knocked out with sleeping gas only to awake at orientation. They’re told they have three days to kill each other off or they all die. Supplies are handed out and they’re sent on their way. This movie crams an odd mixture of high school drama, horror and comedy together. It doesn’t carry as weighty as a social message behind it, opting to show how each of the children involved handles their situation. The fact that these kids all go to school together means you get to see some real clique rivalry go down.

     It’s odd that two pieces of film with almost the exact same premise can be so vastly different in their presentation. You’re going to get a movie tamed down in the violence department, but amped up in the drama department with The Hunger Games. Whereas Battle Royale is going to throw about 500 dramatic situations stemming from school crushes, bad home life and academic aspirations. It’s comical at times and pretty sad at other times. The two are exclusive from each other, I’m not going to say one is better than the other, but I will say they’re both quite entertaining; albeit for entirely different reasons.

Looking at Dark Comedy with Charlie Chaplin and Four Lions

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The most profusely used method of dealing with human tragedy is by laughing at it. Black comedies have a deliciously bittersweet way of dealing with, often times, very tragic circumstances in a way that allows the observer to scoff at the horrific reality that is life. I should specify, the comedies I will refer to in this post are specifically ones that mock the evil associated with the subject matter, rather than mock the victims. Pot-shots taken at innocents are par for the course. As with any comedy, humor is subjective and movies of this genre prove successful at offending as many people as they entertain. Today I will discuss two, very dark, films in the comedy genre. The first film is Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, a film I had the pleasure of discussing earlier this month on another blog that I write for. The second is a lesser known British film entitled Four Lions. Both focus on extremely dark themes.

     The Great Dictator is Charlie Chaplin’s world famous lampoon of Hitler. The movie was made before America had entered World War II and was at, more or less, peace with Germany. This didn’t stop Chaplin from creating a film that openly mocks the dictator’s of the time, with a character that is almost certainly representative of Adolf Hitler. The audience watches as the silly and self important dictator, Hynkel, oppresses the Jewish people by openly attacking them and putting them in concentration camps. It’s important to note that Chaplin didn’t know the extent that the regime went to to persecute the Jewish people when he made this film. That being said, he addresses one of the greatest tragedies in modern history with slapstick and pratfalls. Not only do we laugh at his barber character, but his depiction of Hynkel is downright hysterical. Chaplin’s portrayal is akin to something you might see on SNL, except perfected to an infinite degree, the man was a master at his art.

     Four Lions focuses on something much closer to us, historically speaking. Jihad terrorism, specifically suicide bombers. The movie follows a group of aspiring suicide bombers as they attempt to perfect their technique and hone their knowledge before choosing a target and carrying out an attack in the name of Islam. The humor in this movie is incredibly deadpan, as is often the norm with British cinema. The characters present their lines with such conviction and believability, that if you’re not listening to their absurd logic, you very well could miss the entire gist of the humor, which is that these men are complete idiots.  It was far more uncomfortable of a movie to watch than The Great Dictator, simply because it deals with something that’s historically closer in proximity to me.

     Both of these films have subject matters that, if taking a survey of 100 people would have a unanimous voice in saying that they are not funny. However, if film history has proven anything, it’s that you can make a comedy on almost any subject matter and it will sell tickets, often times the more offensive, the more it makes. The Great Dictator was well received by audiences, and became Chaplin’s highest grossing film, taking a very serious subject matter and making people laugh with it. Four Lions certainly hasn’t garnished the same attention or success as The Great Dictator, it’s a lesser known release with a relatively unknown cast. It’s violent and crass and as I stated before, very uncomfortable at times, particularly in the scenes where the would-be-terrorists are preparing for their attacks. But it uses the same methods as The Great Dictator to fuel it’s humor. Part of the fear that goes along with terrorism is how we view the culprits that commit the violent acts. Just as we laugh at the Hitler-like Character of Hynkel as he dances with a globe, we laugh at Omar and his band of Jihadist brothers as their stupidity and misguided attempts to reason through what they’re doing cause hilariously dark situations. Darkness is often accompanied by a face or a description. It is often the goal of dark comedies to warp that face or description into something goofy and laughable. Humanity, generally speaking, abhors tragedy, but loves laughter. If one can destroy the other, then we have an excellent understanding of why this genre thrives.




Lupin the III: Castle of Cagliostro

The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) 2

    Hayao Miyazaki is an uncontested master of animation. His films have steadily increased in popularity with American audiences, winning him awards, including an Oscar for Spirited Away. His legendary animation studio, Studio Ghibli, produces some of the highest quality animated materiel ever made. I stumbled across an early Miyazaki film, something that he directed before Studio Ghibli. The stories spawned from the escapades of the master thief Lupin the III are somewhat legendary in Japan, having influenced numerous Manga series, television specials and even a music CD. It is this master thief that Miyazaki centers this early masterpiece around.


    Lupin the III is a mix between James Bond and Indiana Jones, a fact that becomes almost immediately evident with an elaborate chase scene at the start of the film involving guns, cars, gadgets and a woman who is the object of desire. Lupin rescues, albeit temporarily, a wedding gowned young Duchess who is fleeing in a car from a group of  gun toting men. Lupin and his partner-in-crime, Daisuke, happen to be driving on the same road and witness the chase. Wasting no time, the flirtatious and adventurous thief joins the pursuit and manages to rescue the Duchess. The rescue is short lived, however, as he falls from the side of a cliff knocking him unconscious long enough for the Duchess to be recaptured. The adventure he embarks on to save the princess is just one of the many intricate aspects of the story in  Lupin the III: Castle of Cagliostro. Among other things there is arranged marriage, Ninjas, a counterfeiting ring, Interpol agents, a Samurai, gadgets and romance. It’s a fast paced action adventure film the likes of which very few measure up to.


    Though this is one of Miyazaki’s early films, his attention to detail and excellent storytelling through visuals is as present as ever. The film may lack a certain polish that comes from Ghibli’s recent offerings, but it’s nothing too distracting. Each character has an entirely unique personality that adds different elements to the plot as a whole. The villainous Count Cagliostro is a square shaped broad man with henchmen to spare, he is calm, collected and all business. His enemy, the flamboyant Lupin III on the other hand is cocky, cleaver and just as devious as the Count. Both the protagonist and antagonist have a veritable army at their disposal. Lupin’s rag tag bunch of friends and allies are far more colorful than the count’s, but the count’s calculating strike force is one of the most frightening aspects of the film. The elements within the movie are just as beautiful and intricate as the animation. It manages to jump from different emotions with absolute ease. It leads the audience to feel fear, joy, anger, laughter and every emotion in between as the events flawlessly parade across the screen.


    While the rumor floating around at the time was that Steven Spielberg claimed Castle of Cagliostro to be one of the greatest adventure films of all time, it’s a praise that has yet to be verified (though the studio thought the rumor credible enough to put on the back of the DVD case). Spielberg very well may not have made that proclamation, but I have no problem doing so myself. The animation allows for rich action sequences and beautiful landscapes alike. The writing is witty and the pacing allowed for a steady understanding of the characters and their personalities while never finding itself in danger of boring the audience.

Shaolin Soccer


When I was a child, Red Skelton was one of my absolute favorite comedic performers. He wrote and performed radio and TV sketches with over the top slapstick routines in which he would contort his face into impossible forms all to make people laugh. One of the many things he was known for were his pantomimes; routines which contained absolutely no dialogue. He loved performing the pantomimes because he knew that humor was one of the few universal languages. Red Skelton performed in front of thousands of people from all over the world, he united them in laughter, and in doing so brought to light the very simple fact that every culture is more than capable of sharing the gift of laughter. Stephen Chow is a Chinese writer/director/actor that made a some waves in Hollywood a few years back by producing some highly entertaining and energetic pieces of screwball comedy. In particular Shaolin Soccer mixes the genres of martial arts epic, sports drama and slapstick comedy; following in the grand tradition laid down by Skelton and countless others.


Shaolin Soccer introduces us to Sing (or “Iron Leg” played by Stephen Chow) a young man who, after dedicating the majority of his life to the study of Shaolin Kung Fu, is trying to find a practical, non-violent way to use his gift. He comes up with the idea of using it to compete in professional soccer. After getting a has-been soccer star to agree to be their coach, he then attempts to reunite his fellow Shaolin students to convince them to pursue a common goal. Once the team is ready to compete, it becomes apparent that their biggest enemy is against the protagonists personal soccer team “Team Evil”, a group of ruthless athletes who are injected with performance enhancing (to the point of having super powers) drugs.


Chow uses physical comedy to great effect in this film. The Kung Fu that Sing and his fellow students learned is far from the real world martial arts, and seems to come straight from the screen of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. While Sing attempts to recruit his brethren, we get a glimpse of just what has happened to these martial arts masters (one of whom could actually fly at one point in his career). One works cleaning toilets, one is a cook, one is a businessman, one works in a local grocery store and one is unemployed. All, with the exception of Iron Leg, have forgotten how to activate their skills. The whole training process is absolutely hilarious as we see these former masters attempt to regain their powers and play soccer at the same time. Once they do, every soccer match basically becomes a choreographed slapstick fest. We’re  treated to one of the most elaborate Kung Fu movies, and all the action takes place on a soccer field. The players aren’t (for the most part) beating the tar out of each other, they’re competing in a non-violent sport.

While the premise is strong enough on it’s own to be humorous, the amount of slapstick and screwball comedy in the movie takes it up a notch. Chow wastes no time in throwing aside reality for the sake of comedy. When the team has their first practice game against a local gang, it soon becomes an all out war zone. Not much gets lost in translation, leaving plenty of laughs to be enjoyed by everyone. Chow does a great job of delivering an almost universal comedy experience that manages to lampoon quite a few genres along the way. The action is over the top and hilarious while still maintaining an exciting and adventurous pace.




Few are given the opportunity to view their comfortable lifestyle from the jaded lens of someone far less fortunate. However, if  given that chance, it can be one of the most eye opening experiences an individual can experience. By living in one environment or “bubble” it becomes incredibly easy to forget about other cultures and people groups and their particular struggles; what is important or a necessity for one people group could very easily be an extravagant luxury to another. This becomes a major theme running through the heart of Monsters a 2010 British alien movie that follows two people as they attempt to cross the “Infected Zone” located in Mexico in order to head back to the United States. The movie struggles in certain areas, however it presents a common movie trope with both familiar sci-fi elements as well as a unique slice-of-life type of story for how people cope and co-exist with aliens (Similar in that regards to District 9)

six years prior to the start of the film, we are informed that a probe sent out by NASA returned with alien life clinging to it. The probe crashed over south America. In Monsters, Andrew is a photographer. He’s in Mexico attempting to capture photos of the alien “Monsters” that have made half of the country their home. He finds out that his boss’s daughter, Sam,  is in the same vicinity as him, and he is then told to get her safely back to the states. That, however, is easier said than done. After losing Sam’s Passport, Andrew decides to personally accompany her via the land route to the states, which leads them directly through the infected zone. As they find themselves in increasingly dangerous situations they’re forced to deal with various emotions, none of which the audience is clued in on entirely. We are observing broken and scared people whose lives we know very little about. That is not a bad thing; we don’t need to know everything about Andrew and Sam to relate with them. We become content to sit back and watch two people with familiar problems face extraordinary obstacles.

The biggest complaint against this movie is the pacing. Those that hated it hated it because “nothing happens”, which is entirely unfair. It’s certainly no Independence Day, but it doesn’t intend to be. While most audiences expect a good fight when dealing with alien lifeforms on film, this is quite simply two people trying to get through a dangerous zone without seeing the monsters, if possible. All the guides that are hired to lead them are apprehensive about the trip due to the time of season. It becomes apparent that these giant, squid like aliens are as intelligent as any other animal on earth. They worry about migrations and attacks just as a camper would be worried about bears. It’s fascinating seeing a world adjusting to a new set of life forms (far larger and more dangerous than any other) that are as predictable as any other animal. What we’re treated to, instead of an action film, is a short look into what types of struggles would be prevalent in a world thrust unexpectedly into this situation.

While it certainly isn’t the most action packed film, it truly is incredible for how little was spent making it. With an $800,000 budget, the minds behind Monsters (Primarily Writer/Director Gareth Edwards) used easily accessible cameras and editing equipment to weave together a beautiful piece of cinema. It becomes a little heavy handed in it’s message about seeing the world through other eyes at points, but it’s nothing to dismiss the whole film over. Monsters shows that with determination and drive, true talent can be put to great use. The overly simplistic plot works well with the type of story it tells. In the film, the monsters are hundreds of feet tall, organic squid-like towers of bio-luminescence. But it begs the question; what are the real monsters in our time and culture?


Shall We Dance? (1996)

shall we dance


Shall We Dance? is both a question that has resonated throughout musical and film history, as well as the title of a 1996 Japanese film centered around ballroom dancing. The title, as you’ve probably guessed, refers to the incredibly energetic scene from The King and I, in which Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr waltz around a massive ballroom, flawlessly displaying one of the best dances committed to film. The passion and exhilaration of that one dance is enough to spur anyone on to imitate such actions in their own living room. In recent years there has been a resurgent popularity in the “dance film” genre. The Step Up franchise in particular has brought dancing back to the screen, showing talented young people perform amazing feats. However, these films are little more than a showcase for the dance moves,often times  leaving story and character development to the wayside. This is certainly not the case with this film.

Shall We Dance? Is just as much about the Japanese social culture as it is about dancing. In an opening monologue it is explained that dancing is socially embarrassing to do in public with your wife, and even more embarrassing with someone that is not. Shortly after this we meet our protagonist, Mr. Sugiyama, a business man with a wife and a teenaged daughter. His life is ruled by routine. He sees a woman in a window of a dance studio on the train ride home, and eventually builds the nerve to visit the studio where he promptly gets talked into joining the class. He, along with a small group of beginners are taught the basics of ballroom dancing. As the film progresses, everyone in the class becomes quite good, to the point where they are entering competitions. What started as a moment of infatuated weakness with another woman, turns quickly into a passion for a socially embarrassing hobby.

Ballroom dancing is an expression of a passion that all the characters seem to be lacking. The beginners start the class nervous and unsure of themselves.  The dancing, though initially stiff, becomes excellent and exciting to watch. It is not, however, the only aspect of the film that is interesting. What we’re treated to with this movie is a charming comedy/drama about Japanese culture, love, trust, friendship, self confidence and forgiveness. To me, the most interesting and engaging aspect of the drama is the relationship between Sugiyama and his wife. She wants so much for him to be happy, encouraging him to go out and have fun. When he finally starts to take secret dance lessons she begins to suspect and affair. Her longing to be a part of his life, and their lack of communication leads to an eventual confrontation that, facilitated by their teenaged daughter, leads to a loving resolve of a complicated and heated issue.

The film is chalk full of some of the funniest and likeable characters you’ll see in a dance movie. Each suffers from some sort of self esteem issue that makes them very relate-able. The embarrassing nature of taking dance lessons is familiar to anyone that has attempted to try something new with no prior experience. It can be the most terrifying thing in the the world, expressing yourself in such a public manner, but it can also be the most rewarding thing in the world. The film delves into the priorities of the characters as well, they are forced to deal with family and professional lives as well as their new hobby of  moonlighting as ballroom dancers. These themes are handled in a manner that is both intriguing to the audience and true to the feelings of all parties involved.

Shall We Dance? is, for lack of a better word; charming. It’s an incredibly sweet film that shows the hiccups of daily life and routine paralleled with the intricate art of dancing. If one area of life is neglected it effects the whole. If Mr. Sugiyama keeps his family in the dark, he’s headed for a collision, in the same way that if he missteps just once on the dance floor, he risks colliding with another couple. Familiar ballroom music pervades our ears as we watch graceful dance routines weave their way through this heartwarming drama.

Gwoemul (The Host)

One of the fascinating things about watching a “Foreign Film” is seeing how one cultures perception of a given situation differentiates from your own countries. In the South Korean monster movie The Host we’re treated to a well put together monster movie that has no over exaggerated ideals of grandeur. A monster is created, it wreaks havoc on a small area and it is hunted. This isn’t a global epidemic, it’s a localized incident, something rare for a monster movie. The amphibious creature grows and mutates into a creature that is able to traverse on land as well through water; A predator that hunts just as openly during the day as it does at night. Rather than follow the governments efforts on destroying this threat, the story follows a single family as they seek to save  (The daughter of Kang-ho Song one, of the main characters) who has been captured by the monster.

The Host offers a unique perspective as we see the relationships between the various family members shortly before they are united in their quest to save the little girl. Kang-ho works with his father at a snack shack type of operation on the Han river. It is quickly shown that he is a loving, yet lazy, man with little ambition. His siblings include a brother who, though unemployed, feels himself more important than the rest of his family, constantly grumbling. He also has a sister who is a professional archer that often lets her nerves interfere with her profession. The family drama is equal parts devastating and hilarious. Through the over dramatic moments however shines a touching story that, though exaggerated, can be all too familiar. Old wounds and hurt feelings are set aside, the family is drawn together by a tragedy that they long to fix.

Along with the drama comes the monster. The great aquatic creature that emerges from the depths of the Han river is a truly unique monster. It’s interesting to look at and fun to see ordinary people fight back against it. The movie doesn’t adhere to the school of thought that keeps the monster hidden for the majority of the film. Within the first 15 minutes we see it in all it’s glory. It happens quick and it happens unexpectedly, which seems to add to the realism of the situation. Part of what makes the monster so hard to destroy is it’s speed and dexterity. It isn’t particularly a very durable monster, a few good hits from a big enough gun just might do the trick. It makes the monster seem incredibly powerful, yet not indestructible. I mention this because it makes the small hunting party that the family forms feel like they have a real chance against defeating the monster.

Ultimately, The Host, though flawed, is a charming little monster movie with humor to go along with the tragedy and terror. The film offers a sobering view of family relationships, responsibility and coping with tragedy. It also happens to be a very fun foreign “scary movie” to boot.

The Orphanage

The foundation for modern horror films can often be linked directly to two elements; 1) Shock: Movies that set out to scare people often rely heavily on the jump-out-of-the-dark-and-yell-real-loud types of scares. While often very effective, they ultimately leave one shaken for only a few seconds. If it’s not the AH!” type of shock, it’s shock through excessive use of  2) Violence: Violence and the gore that goes along with it is almost a necessity in the horror genre. It’s amazing how many franchises are built around the concept of how gruesome and creative a death can be. It is because of this standardization of violence in horror films that the audience has become desensitized to the point that it inflicts a sense of light repulsion, but a very small amount of fear. With shock and violence being the two largest ingredients, it’s important not to forget the others. Atmosphere, music and acting. These tend to take a back seat in the modern horror market. While the genre is fun, it all too often leaves one unfulfilled in their search for fear. A deep understanding of where fear stems from is needed to make an exceptional horror movie. It must be patient, laying the groundwork in which the seeds of fear can germinate in the minds of those viewers willing to engage with it. Violence, shock and gore can certainly be used, but their use is secondary to it’s primary objective; the objective to make people afraid. The Orphanage is an exceptional horror movie.

The 2009 Spanish horror film produced by Guillermo Del Toro follows a woman, Laura, who is haunted by a group of childlike specters. Our protagonist returns to the orphanage in which she grew up, in order to renovate it into a home for disabled children. Laura is forced to face the consequences of her sons “imaginary friend”. Her son, Simon, runs away with this imaginary friend, leaving the remainder of the movie to be comprised of the search for both Simon and the truth of what happened to Laura’s childhood companions. The film is a classic ghost story with a haunting atmosphere and cinematography that more than adequately conveys the sense of gut-wrenching terror that is so familiar with losing someone you love. The film has a dark and supernatural tone. The ghost-children haunt Laura, not in a way that is violent or even all that malicious (though certainly scary). For the most part they haunt her just to play with her, sending her on a scavenger hunt that leads to a truth that lies in the past. The thought of losing a child, even in temporary situations like having them wander off while at the grocery store, is a powerful emotion. Even if you don’t have children of your own, you are no doubt familiar with the sensation, perhaps you were the child that wandered off. This is the sensation that gradually grows throughout the film, however instead of finding the child just around the corner, Laura is led on journey that becomes a steady descent into something truly horrifying.

This is not your scare-a-minute horror film, a fact that becomes apparent by some slow pacing towards the center of the movie. It’s a slow-burning horror that allows the viewer to become familiar with and learn to care about the characters. It’s more of an assault of the idea of terror rather than the actions associated with it. We’re not watching teens get slashed up on a camping trip in the woods; we’re observing something terrifying being discovered piece by tiny piece. We feel the fear in Laura as her fear turns to desperation and her desperation into horror. The Orphanage is one of the most emotionally  powerful films of it’s genre to come along in recent memory. There is no tongue-in-cheek humor; there is just fear, which is something increasingly hard to find in movies by these days.

Attack The Block

Writer/director Joe Cornish tries his hand at an alien invasion flick in 2011’s Attack the Block. We’re shown an invasion unfold before a teenaged gang in south London who quickly decide to defend their “block” a large apartment building in which they all reside. Instead of dealing with aliens with full scale warfare or secret services dealing with them, we’re given something different in that this movie is basically one big turf war between wolf-like extraterrestrials and a group of thugs. It’s quickly realized that the norm of this alien sub-genre is quickly traded for something unfamiliar, which is what makes Attack the Block as fun as it is.
I should note that I had a hard time sympathizing with the main characters of the film. Within the first scene the group of unruly teenagers mugs a woman in the street at knife point. She is unharmed and, as the movie progresses, becomes their ally. A clear point is made that these kids are not good kids, but their “true selves” as the movie would have us believe will shine through when it comes to protecting their own and defending their block. Even as the movie progressed and the characters became more and more sympathetic, it was hard to completely side with them. This didn’t mean that the movie wasn’t fun, on the contrary, it was a blast! Seeing a group of teenagers defend themselves against a highly aggressive, yet unintelligent race of aliens in a suburban setting is something that you don’t see every day, and Cornish certainly gives us amped up entertainment with plenty of action, violence and character.
The characters, though unlikable at times (read: often) are engaging and interesting. The fighting tactics of both sides is crude, with the aliens clearly being more agile and strong than the humans. The advantage that the gang has, however is that they all grew up on the block, they know it like the back of your hand. The movie plays out in the same manner that you may have imagined your friends defending your neighborhood from aliens growing up. Bikes, baseball bats and squirt guns filled with lighter fluid. The director certainly knows his way around the action/comedy genre and he gives the audience plenty to look at and get excited about.
This isn’t the most thought provoking Sci-Fi to come out this decade, nor is it one of the best, but what it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in pure entertainment value. While not the deepest Sci-Fi to come along, Attack the Block shows real production value in the hands of a film maker who clearly knows what he wanted to portray and how to portray it.