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Entries in nick frost (2)

Friday
Aug192011

Attack the Block

It’s that time again: time to go against the grain. Resting at a comfortable 89% on Rotten Tomatoes as of the time of this writing, Attack the Block seems to be a critical darling, praised for its irreverence, wit and constant sci-fi thrills. To call those critics wrong is not something I’m willing to do (after all, movies can be interpreted and experienced in many different ways); perhaps I simply saw a different movie. As a couple colleagues of mine joked, there must be a non-suck version and that version must have eluded me.

Attack the Block comes from Britain and takes place in a small area of South London. An unruly gang of hoodlums are marching the streets and robbing those who venture into their neighborhood. After terrorizing one innocent pedestrian, an alien crash lands on their block. The boys kill it and think it’s over, but more are on their way. Considering the block their territory, they decide to defend it and take to the streets to exterminate as many creatures as they can.

A lot goes wrong in a lot of movies, but most problems can be overcome with strong characters. Unfortunately, Attack the Block hasn’t one, human or otherwise. The members of the gang, who I’ve neglected to name because, frankly, it doesn’t matter, are carbon copies of each other, lacking in distinct personalities. If not for their differing clothes, you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart. They all act the same, as members of gangs often do, and until the very end, none have real motivations for doing what they do; they just do because, well, the movie wouldn’t have been much of a movie if they hadn’t.

The script overlooks (or simply neglects) giving them separate personalities, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise because these characters don’t even act like real people. They’re missing the most basic of human behaviors, never properly or realistically reacting to the fact that they just found and killed an alien. As far as the audience can tell, this is a natural occurrence for them. Amazement and curiosity are nowhere to be found.

Even if they had been fleshed out, however, the simple fact remains that the characters are delinquents, a bane on society and the epitome of what’s wrong with much of the world. They’re so unlikable and devoid of most redeeming qualities, you quickly begin rooting for the aliens to take them out. But then you realize the aliens are just as uninteresting. Sporting one of the most bland and unimaginative creature designs in recent memory, the aliens in Attack the Block are essentially shadows with blue teeth. It’s one thing to keep your monsters deliberately hidden, but these are in plain sight, yet you can't really see them. It’s a lazy effort, a design that required little to no creativity.

Of course, this is a low budget film, which I’m sure explains why they look the way they do, but that’s hardly an excuse these days. Look at last year’s Monsters, for instance, which was made on a shoestring budget of, according to Box Office Mojo, only $500,000. The aliens in that film had a unique look (though they were, admittedly, shown much less), but what really stands the two films apart is that Monsters had real characters and emotional depth. Attack the Block is shallow and stupid. Its jump scares are cliché and predictable (if a character is looking through a peephole, crack, window, etc., you can be sure something’s going to pop up) and the direction, while not terrible, is noticeably amateurish; first time film director Joe Cornish leaves little or no headroom for his actors, a distracting oversight. Attack the Block is no doubt reveling in the praise its getting, but that praise is beyond me.

Attack the Block receives 1.5/5

Friday
Mar182011

Paul

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are unquestionably one of the greatest comic duos working today. When separated, their abilities are easy to scrutinize (as seen with Pegg in the atrocious How to Lose Friends & Alienate People), but put them together and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. If Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were grand slams, consider their latest, Paul, an inside-the-park home run. The reaction may be the same, yet you can’t help but feel like it isn’t entirely deserved.

Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are sci-fi nerds. They produce their own science fiction comic book, they staunchly believe in aliens and they even speak Klingon. Their dorky personalities mean they belong at one place: Comic-Con. And that’s where they are when the film begins. When the event is over, however, they embark on a tour of American UFO hot spots, only to accidentally run into an alien. His name is Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) and he has just escaped Area 51 where the government was planning on cutting out his brain and studying it. He needs to get home, so he convinces Graeme and Clive to help him.

Paul is funny. Getting that statement out of the way seems necessary because that’s what most people want to know. Its primary goal is to make you laugh and it mostly succeeds. What disappoints the most about Paul, however, is that it also aims to be a satire of the science fiction genre, but mistakes satire for references. The film features some clever nods to everything from Mork & Mindy to Star Wars and includes a particularly funny bit that shows how Steven Spielberg came up with the idea for his classic hit, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but aside from a few moments, like a great joke poking fun at how slow spaceships take off at the end of sci-fi movies, Paul doesn’t so much satirize as it does pay homage. Their previous, aforementioned films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, wickedly satirized the horror and action genres, and the former was even able to make an interesting statement on apathy in regards to a generation that lumbers around like they’re already dead. When compared, it’s easy to see that Paul is empty. It lacks the intellectual depth of those films and instead relies on four letter words to garner laughs.

So I suppose it’s good I’m immature. I couldn’t help but get a kick of the foul mouthed Paul, who in one breath denounces religion in front of a Bible thumping, trailer park owner, played by Kristen Wiig, who finds logic in what he says and begins to go down the path of impurity, which includes cursing for the first time (a trait for which she just can't find a rhythm). Along with Wiig, there’s a great supporting cast here, including, but not limited to, Bill Hader, Jeffrey Tambor, Jane Lynch and Jason Bateman. With the exception of Bateman, whose comedic talent is wasted playing the straight faced, no nonsense FBI agent, everybody lends some much needed help to the film by making otherwise unfunny jokes funny through their delivery.

The would-be best supporting player, however, the one who is known for playing one of the greatest sci-fi heroes of all time, is seen and not heard until the end, a reveal that would have been amusing had this person’s voice not been so recognizable. It’s a wasted opportunity and an easy laugh is lost, which is similar to how the whole movie plays out. Paul hits just enough right notes to be passable, but if you’re familiar with Pegg and Frost’s previous collaborations, it’s impossible not to feel somewhat underwhelmed.

Paul receives 3/5