The New Youth: Attack the Block

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All of the best horror movie lists for 2011 I’ve read include Attack the Block directed by little known filmmaker Joe Cornish. The entire film reminded me of Misfits in it’s dark urban portrayal of youth in Britain. The film follows the lively gang pictured above, and seemingly the only ones who realize that an alien invasion is threatening their block. A plethora of questions arise throughout the film (Such as why only this block of London? Why only this group of hooligans?) but all are answered satisfyingly within a tightly wrapped mystery.

The film centers around the main gang member, Moses, who is quickly being swept into a world of muggings, drug dealing, and general debauchery. This trope of “angry young men” is by no means a new one in the world of British literature and film studies. And this film exemplifies it beautifully: a group of angry young men, frustrated and lashing out at the world which suppresses them. Seeing no real future for themselves they turn to general rough housing and illicit activities. Does this ring bells? Perhaps to these colourful young characters?

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Or even these memorable ones?

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And those are just two examples off the top of my head. Obviously this is a long standing tradition. What Attack the Block offers is a delightful twist on the trope. Aside from the obvious one of aliens, this film watches as these young boys begin to work together, instead of allowing the world around them to burn they join forces and fight for something they truly care about, perhaps something they didn’t even realize they cared about until it came under fire: their block, their neighborhood, and their home.

This adaptation of the trope is a unique one and offers a hopeful twist on the bleak trope. It even suggests a shift in consciousness after over 50 years of this anger (Think John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger, 1956). Instead of accepting ones “fate” they are taking the quality of life into their own hands and using a shared common experience to unite one another rather than further alienating themselves.

Peeping Tom: Mise-en-Abyme After Mise-en-Abyme

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I just discovered this cult gem of a film. Peeping Tom (1960) directed by Michael Powell is masterful in it’s use of horror, its psychological explorations and its use of Freudian themes. The film follows Mark, a reclusive film maker, who films young women’s deaths in order to capture their final moments of terror. As a child, Mark was the subject of his father’s Freudian experiments. He was constantly tormented and its suggested, forced to watch his father murder other women as well. Of course this was all captured on film, and Mark’s life seems to follow suit.

What I really enjoyed about this film was the beginning and the POV shots which riddles so many horror films today (REC, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, Grave Encounters, etc.). Right off the bat we understand the killer’s modus operandi. The entire film however is not filmed in this mode, subjected to only certain scenes.

One particularly illuminating scene is when Mark after shooting for the day has a date with one of the extras on set. Mark begins to film the young woman as she dances, but tries to get her in “character” for a horror scene he is shooting (little does she know…). Basically what we are watching is a movie being filmed within a movie, being filmed within a movie. Mise-en-Abyme. Or literally a mirror within a mirror within a mirror etc. One particualrily illuminating scene which aptly articulates this concept can be found in none other than Orson Welles’ (1941) seminal film Citizen Kane:

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A reflection within a reflection going on forever. This is the concept at play in Peeping Tom in regards to filming and also viewing. We are subjected to the Lacanian concept of scopophillia, or the pleasure in the gaze. We watch as Mark takes pleasure in his murders, but we also take pleasure in watching mark commit his atrocities. There is another level of viewing which we don’t discover until the very end of the film as well, in that Mark has a mirror on top of his camera which forces his victim to watch their own face of terror as they die. Another level of viewing, another level of mise-en-abyme.

Following it’s less than critical reception, the film garnered a massive cult following, even from influential filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese. Scorsese has said of Peeping Tom that one can learn everything they need to know from the film:

“I have always felt that Peeping Tom and  say everything that can be said about film-making, about the process of dealing with film, the objectivity and subjectivity of it and the confusion between the two.  captures the glamour and enjoyment of film-making, while Peeping Tom shows the aggression of it, how the camera violates… From studying them you can discover everything about people who make films, or at least people who express themselves through films.”

The film further follows my belief that horror films can be about far more than the murders. This is also why I don’t just watch torture flicks, I feel they have nothing more to “offer” the viewer. This is truly a tasteful horror film, on par with that of Hitchcock, in terms of psychological involvement and interaction with the filmic diegesis. It comes as no surprise that Powell and Hitchcock were lifelong friends.

Moonrise Kingdom: A Fantastical Adventure for Children of All Ages

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There’s really nothing to review here because I absolutely loved this film. I really can’t think of anything I didn’t enjoy. Even the “lightning scene” was illuminating to me because it mirrored the fantastical novels Suzy would read throughout the film. The film showed not only the power of children’s imagination, but the power they have when working together.

Of course, my favorite element of Wes Anderson’s films mise-en-scene was impeccable. It was like a slice right out of 1965, and I don’t know about anyone else but now I’d really like to live on Penzance Island… And of course the cinematography was delightful, the acting superb, and the story utterly charming.

(You can watch wonderful clips from the film here: http://movieclips.com/8sNtB-moonrise-kingdom-movie-new-penzance-island/17.195/46.858/)

The film centers around an impossible love story between Sam and Suzy, who run away to be together. On the sidelines lies a broken marriage, an affair, summer camps, and an impending storm. All of these elements come together to both conspire against and eventually support Suzy and Sam’s love story.

Throughout the film Anderson employs many homages to other famous directors such as Jean-Luc Godard (and his famous roll-shots), Peter Greenaway, as well as notible art figures such as Canadian artist (Pride!!) Alex Colville’s famous painting “To Prince Edward Island”:

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What I loved so much about this film in particular was that the action for once centered around children and focused on their innocence and wonderment with the world, rather than aging adult angry and lethargic with how their life turned out. And while that’s not a critique of any of his other films, this film was just a breath of fresh air from some of the conventions we’ve come to expect from his films.

Final verdict? Would watch again. Over and over.

In Review: Damned

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(I swear, does it say “author of Fight Club” on every single one of his novels??)

Well, just finished the newest installation from the wickedly depraved mind of Chuck Palahnuik. And while not his best, it certainly is not his worst (Cough, Diary, Cough). Damned presents a delightful blend of homages to both popular literature (Judy Blume, etc.) and culture (Breakfast club, etc.) as well as classic literature (Paradise Lost, Charlotte Bronte, etc.). Mixed masterfully, all these elements begin to mingle in hell, mirroring the timelessness of hell itself.

The novel follows Thirteen year old Madison Spencer, daughter to infamous billionaire parents, who “overdoses on marijuana”* and end up in hell (*The real cause of her death is part of the mystery of the novel). Damned soon becomes a novel for looking back and understanding ones life, a meditation on the trails of being a teenager, as well as a vessel for reinventing oneself.

Without giving too much away from the plot, what follows is the notable mentions of can’t-pry-your-eyes-away-from-the-page moments:

  • Madison and her comrades watch as an old roman man plunges into the sea of insects only to be horribly eaten alive.
  • The various geographic locations of hell: The seas of insects, the sea of wasted sperm, the swamp of aborted fetuses, the desert of fingernail clippings, the hills of broken glass, etc.
  • Psezpolnica a giant towering demon receives cunnilingus from a severed head.
  • Charles Darwin flips the bird.
  • A description of a strange “kissing game” Madison learned at an all girls boarding school involving choking and the “kiss of life”.
  • Madison beat’s the crap out of Hitler and forcibly rips off hissignature ‘stash, which she then carries around with her on her belt… along with other “souveniors” she hijacks from notable monsters throughout history.

In short, the novel is frightfully entertaining, if not for the various references, characters and homages, but for the plethora of reasons one may enter hell… it seems as if everyone is doomed from the very start, if not for honking your car horn one too many times.

And most frightening of all? In the novel, it turns out all the creationist bible thumpers were right.