Sunday, July 31, 2011

Attack The Block (2011) Review


When newly relocated nurse, Sam is walking home from the train station, and into the darkened streets of Lambeth, she is faced down by a hooded gang of would-be toughs, and is mugged. And as the robbery drags on into the fireworks laden Bonfire Night, what looks to be a straight-shooting comet bursts into a car near them, breaking up the vehicle, and allowing Sam to escape. Naturally startled, and curious, the boys, led by the imposing Moses(Joe Boyega) decide to look into the damaged car in hopes of seeking loot, when what comes from out of the crater is roughly the size of a small child, and seems far from friendly. The ensuing struggle leaves Moses' face injured, and instantly leads to the entire crew cornering the little beast, and unleashing the small-town beatdown, killing it. And as the boys flaunt the creature's corpse by taking it back to their elders in block-leader Hi-Hatz, along with local drug-dealing Ron in hopes of making bank off of this unprecedented discovery, unbeknownst to any of them that their troubles run deeper than trying to impress the local kingpin. Outside, a small army of the beasts in adult form are amassing, and ready to wreak intergalactic havoc on this broken down South London council estate. But not without a fight. (with fireworks, baseball bats, swords...etc..)

Coming into this film, and witnessing it all unfold, growing up in none-too-prosperous neighborhoods came center stage. Right on to where I happen to live now. You see, from the outset there was instant identification with the world of this as someone who has experienced a mugging, and been looking to better understand the plight that leads one into a situation such as this. The divide between victim, and perpetrator can sometimes be a blurry one, when the discussion deepens. And having also grown up in areas where local kids create something of a pecking order based on who would make the best footsoldier, and the small fries just looking to be respected by anyone- parents notwithtstanding, is something of an urban reality that many are not familiar with, but is a daily one for many. And one of the many things I appreciated from the getgo from Joe Cornish's writer-directorial debut was that none of this comes off as anything less than the dystopia of contemporary life. Which only makes the more cartoonish element of an oncoming alien invasion that much more interesting. When the block is all one knows, or cares about, outsiders are likely put upon, or warded away with a glare. It is the kid life of AKIRA, only it isn't in some near-future Through The Looking Glass version of Showa-Japan.

Set in a South London projects area over the course of one fatefully haywire night, the boys we are stuck with aren't the most ideal of heroes, and would sooner take on the alien horde with mischievious glee than ever try to comprehend what exactly is happening. Along with fellow teenage punks, the prideful Dennis, would-be charmer Pest, reliable Jerome, and mama's boy Biggz, their troubles go triple bad when not only do they have to contend with the alien menace, but even the nurse they attempted to victimize this evening, as well as the ridiculous Hi-Hatz who refuses to buy into Once the true threat is revealed, and our boys are forced to enlist the help of someone they had just mugged, we are in thematic territory that raises the bar for films of this ilk. The film has quite a bit for viewers to chew on regarding not only urban plight in a most unexpected place, but of what it means to live diametric lives whilst amidst economic and social pressures. Even as ATB doles out some truly exciting action & editing, granting us a peek into who the kids are, it finds the time to inform how each half lives, all bound together by how they and authority figures look at each other with fixed distance; never knowing the full story.

This is best evidenced when both the alien plot and Sam with police set out to finger the boys who recently attacked her converge. The themes of action and responsibility weave around Sam's natural instinct to make sure justice is done, and Moses' decisions which have created something of a fateful web for all around him. It isn't very long before it is made clear that within the titular Block, very few actions go without consequence, and that a lack of community is tantamount to greater despair. And it is within this clevery executed framework that Attack The Block strives for more than a special effects romp with kids as the protagonists, and with a roughly miniscule budget, goes all out in delivering the scares & laughs with just the right amount of sincerity. It embraces the dystopia of now, and makes its points without ever feeling wooden save for one tiny moment, and even then, the action kicks right back in again to remind us of the film's genre roots. It's a tricky balancing act that works not unlike the amazing soundtrack implies.

Performances are solid throughout, but the biggest revelation here is with Boyega's who's troubled Moses makes for a truly credible anti-hero, who's arc binds the film entire with a quiet, hard-bitten vulnerability that is rare for young actors. One can easily see him as the one the local little fish look up to, and yet has troubles clearly his own. And as the rest of the boys deftly deliver their individual circumstances, it is all done on a move, which is something of an astonishing achievement. With everything else happening throughout the film's short running time, we are privy to who they are, what they offer to the group, and makes for a uniquely diverse look into an urban life we rarely see in mainstream film. It is refreshingly tangible, and feels light years less put-upon than so many youth-based genre films of the past and present. Also delivering great presence is Jodie Whittaker, who's Sam is something of the film's initial identification figure. Not to mention the ever welcome presence of Nick Frost as the ever-disconnected Ron, and Luke Treadaway as the potentially smart, yet hopelessly off-the-grid, Brewis. But again, the film belongs to the kids who ground the film in ways unexpected.

So merely labeling this 90-minute ride as little more than an Edgar Wright, Nira Park produced comedy in the ranks of Shaun, or Hot Fuzz is a misnomer, and doesn't do enough justice to describe just how incredibly cool & illuminating Attack The Block is. It is as much a film that harkens back to the latter days of Spielbergism & Fred Dekker's Monster Squad, as it is its very own complex creature. A monster actioner with a brain and a heart that demands to be experienced.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

State Of The Kaijyu: Exceeding The Obvious

Was recently explaining to a podcast cohort my thoughts on film, and realized that in many ways it only felt proper to share them here as a sort of spiritual backbone to The Wandering Kaijyu as a whole. A means of helping illustrate where I stand with the kinds of works that comes out on a regular timeline, without having to crank out a review here and there for everything under the sun. I still see the blog itself as something of an experiment in seeking out the rare, along with just a taste of what the mainstream is eating. And while the last several years have been flushed with works tailor-made for cult enthusiasts, it does ring false notes all over, leading to me either watching them and having things to share (ala Scott Pilgrim last year like crazy), or watching it, and not feeling enough passion to write about it with the right kind of vigor necessary for a giant monster traveling the wild. This is an adventure blog, designed to not only shared what I've found, but to illustrate a deeper need to challenge via the visual arts. Particularly in the worlds of genre.

So here are my words regarding film, and what I often seek out..

It is important to see film as a wide realm, and like anything else, has a certain criteria to meet with the public at large. Anything deviating from either tried and true formulas, or common sense tends to fall into bad because they fail to connect on a deeper level than merely candy. A distraction. I give it more of a pass when it has a low budget simply because without the backing, it is imperative that a work maintains some kind of integrity and intent. The larger the budget, the less excuses it has because these productions have a great deal more support, and should strive to a higher caliber.

 My whole reasoning in a nutshell is closer to the idea that film can be more than a distraction, and that it can actually mean something to those who made it as well as the public. And one doesn't get this with most major studio productions. It clearly just looks like work.(IE-80% of Hollywood films in the 90s) Passion is clearly the objective here. And there are few places better to find this than in low-budget productions. One feels the pressure with this when the budget is low. One has to have passion to make it work then. It's very rare when a studio production has that same level of fanaticism & yet obvious care. Without it, much of this doesn't really matter at all.

With major studios now taking the idea of comic books as film material, it truly now feels as the inverse of my growing up has become the norm, which can only signal a need for the normal to again exceed the obvious. It all comes back to the concept of precedent, and a need to perpetuate motion beyond each new plateau. Otherwise it's all spinning wheels, idling simply for the fact that it pays the bills. And while the current climate can only hope to achieve this, it's also equally as important to continually inspire new generations of viewers with stories, no matter how wild, and unusual. Imagination and the ability to connect are of incredible importance, and is always in danger of being ignored in favor of what keeps the lights on for another month. 

And it can be a Japanese monster film, and anime, a horror piece, a science-fiction drama done on the cheap, or a foreign hybrid work. The point is that the Kaijyu is here to help that passion flow, even when it occasionally gets clogged by any number of random variables.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Talkin' Things That Make Monsters Squirm (New Podcast!)

After several months of unwanted dead silence, two thirds of the Combo Attack team reunite for a stammerific breakdown of the summer's endless parade of superhero films! Alain joins me for a last-second recap of what we caught, including thoughts on X-Men:First Class, as well as Captain America: The First Avenger - and we even segueway into talking the latest trailers for next year's offerings. Can the Kaijyu Survive?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

With Love: Year 5 Of Oshii-Week


                        Without a need to stop along much of the same territory covered by friends who have actually published work regarding the film and art of Japanese auteur/anime legend, Mamoru Oshii, it felt right to go ahead and let readers in on what has become something of an annual ritual. That's right, at least one week out of the year becomes the time in which I turn the domicile into a bunker, as I break out all the films I own directed by the enigmatic Tokyoite. There isn't so much any rhyme or reason for this, except that there are many times in which I get on something of a contemplative kick, with a need for something a little more artistically ambitious. More interested in questions than declarations, and aesthetically beguiling to boot. And this side of only a handful of the world's filmmakers, Oshii's signatures fit this challenging bill nicely. 

Starting from last Monday thru Friday, I started up my player with films ranging from his animated to his live action output, and often in no specific order. (perhaps going from least to favorite- but even "off-day Oshii is far more interesting than the average jobber director.) And strangely enough, I went out of my way to avoid Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer(1984), as well as perhaps his most famous work, Ghost In The Shell (1995). And not because of any measure of dislike, except that these get more play per year than most, so it only felt proper to allow these to sit this year's edition out.

Monday:  Talking Head (1992)
Still something of a personal work among what are almost all personal works. This quasi-satirical look at the anime world from the view of a crew seeking to finish a famous director's latest opus after his disappearance is something of a film-school grade curiosity, rather than an actual film. Something that can still render most curious parties disinterested, packs some fascinating punch as it holds little back about the dregs of working on what is ostensibly product. With actors as representations of each level of what seems to be a three-legged table of undertaking, Talking Head is a bizarre, yet miraculous peek into the mind of a director who had yet to reach the peak of his popularity.

Tuesday: Innocence: Ghost In The Shell 2 (2004)
Still something of a status report, and not so much a sequel to the mid-90s landmark, Innocence is in many ways still a marvel of production that is weighted down by Oshii's inability to decide what it is he's trying to convey. Even when his lead Batou quotes passages left and right from Milton to La Mettrie, it is clear that our director is taking the support from Ghibli, and running with it towards making his own euro-styled art-house piece with cybernetically augmented agents. And while there are many astonishing images and moments to be had in the film, it is almost clear that success has only made Oshii that much more disinterested in the medium that granted him prominence

Wednesday: AVALON (2001)
Some might call it more ponderous beauty by Oshii, but is that really a bad thing? In the years before World Of Warcraft and Call Of Duty became monoliths of the gaming cyberspace, this post-Matrix vision of a society addicted is still a small wonder to behold. Filmed in Poland, and with an all-Polish cast, AVALON remains one of my personal favorite pieces of speculative science fiction art, and it seems to gather more power as time goes on. And a lot of it may be due to Oshii's often cool-handed treatment of the scripts he works out with frequent collaborator, Kazunori Ito. When they work together, there almost always seems to be a set of central relationships that are hinted at, rather than explicitly depicted. So when changes hit our leads, the are clocked via a facial expression, a sudden verbal outburst, or even an act of violence. For as much philosophy is shared and contemplated in his films, the humanity is almost always seen peeking from the corners..

Thursday: Patlabor: The Movie (1989)
Now this one's a bit of a cheat, I must admit. Because as fun as this one is, it does rank among my lesser favorite Oshii films. It is a compromised work, there is no doubt of this as the hands of not only the franchise's creative collective, HEADGEAR are looking to maintain the flavor of the television series, while Oshii clearly seems to be wishing to tackle the speculative baggage head-on. And what results is a fun, but fractured mess. Still, there are many great cast moments to be had, including "PIZZA DATE!" and Ohta beating the snot out of a runaway labor as the operator hangs inside helplessly. Much of the spirit of the series and OVAs is here, but one cannot help but feel like a creative tug-of-war was taking place. Which could only lead to...

Friday: Patlabor 2 (1993)
Not only my personal favorite Oshii piece, but possibly one of my favorite pieces of animated filmmaking, period. Taking an almost spiritual about-face from the franchise that spawned it, P2 is something of all things Oshii is capable of doing, and offers up one stimulating experience. Taking the premise of a world dependent upon machines to handle humanity's more arduous tasks, Japan is suddenly taken to task for all the sacrifices made to become an economic powerhouse. Unafraid to ask questions of Japan's roles in affairs of state, as well as the role of it's military, Oshii envisions a Japan in the grips of a conflict that may or may not reveal a longstanding array of facades to a public weaned on technical innovation. Not unlike neglected relationships, despite position, and social stature.  As difficult as it must have been to construct on a story level, this is perhaps the story Oshii had long been wanting to tackle with such an interesting world. While the fallout of this led to the eventual ending of HEADGEAR, and to the making of Izibuchi's lesser WXIII film, Patlabor 2 remains something of an anomaly in anime, something of a novel in animated form- ready to welcome repeat viewings from any point in time & bookmark.

A Schoolyard Brawl Gone Awry: Project A-ko At 25 Years

For those looking for a barrage of words obsessing over yet another anime favorite might do well to take a peek at my last big post over at Anime Diet, where I shared some long unshared thoughts regarding a wild 80s gem!

"Project A-ko by its very nature, is anime broken down to its most base components, packed with nitro-glycerin for blood, and shamelessness on its sleeve in its wanton reverence for otaku fantasies & lack of regard toward anything resembling conventional narrative. This is a penultimate example of a medium fully at the mercy of a mad group of artists in love with their work. An animator’s anime. All the wild takes, inside-gaggery, and hyperbolic action one expects- and yet in the realm of these seemingly stock-card thin characters, there is a life that veers well beyond the borders of the screen(and possibly bounces off into another universe). We’re talking a film that does for seifuku what 2001: A Space Odyssey does for viewers as David Bowman enters Jupiter And Beyond The Infinite."

For the full review, go HERE!

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Google + Effect

While I struggle to finish transcribing a Q & A from last weekend, this little nugget of news felt just ready enough to be shared.

As mentioned today via Twitter, through some good pals I am at last within deeper clutches of the Google Beast as I have joined the ranks of those now using the Google +  social networking tool. And since this will make for roughly my third venture into the social blobbosphere, I've decided to make it an extension of my W.Kaijyu Twitter feed, sharing news of just about anything that inspires, energizes or enrages regarding the genre universe. So should readers/followers wish to add me, please feel free to do so. I would be more than happy to do the same.

Monday, July 4, 2011

So-Cal Con Weekend 2011: The Quickening

The incense continues to fill the room as the ritual has just come to a close for fans this holiday weekend. From the unprecedented next leap for virtual idols, to hearing about an 80s favorite from its humble genesis, it was a better than average year for this weary junkie. It was especially tricky this year, considering the new kid in town in the form of a fledgling new contender for the local fan event crown. Competition was in the air, and so was a feeling that for all the difficult months Japan has been through, an incredible spirit of admiration and affection remains undeterred- and possibly, ready for great change.

So join us over at Anime Diet for continuing coverage, as well as their Flickr for visual highlights. There's still so much to share & discuss(And don't miss my thoughts regarding a certain digital diva's historic appearance to a packed NOKIA Theater.) as AD's scrappy & diverse crew share impressions, and absorb the energy of a unique double-threat fandom event.

For those still attending what remains of this year's Anime Expo, or perhaps even the adventurous souls who took the plunge a few miles away at AM2, the upcoming pieces being cranked out are dedicated to you.