Thursday, March 22, 2012

Teenage Wasteland

So, what with the good old coalition giving young people a break this week (whilst simultaneously stuffing pensioners) - it was an apposite time to see two films that represent two sides of the grim dystopian coin for what we used to call 'yoof': Hunger Games and Ill Manors.

The fount of all sort-of-knowledge defines dystopia as:' the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian.' Although I rather warm to the alternative word for such a state which is Cacotopia, and in both of these films teens had to put up with an awful lot of cac, and in both cases under a government that cares less for the future of a nation but more for maintaining a mythical status quo.

Hunger Games, based on the books of Suzanne Collins, features the somewhat amazing Jennifer Lawrence as Katness Everdeen - the heroine of District 12, the poorest of the rebel states that were punished following a war that delivered near-annihilation. She's tough and can hunt, but to triumph she quickly has to learn to charm, lie and basically do all that nasty grown-up stuff.

It's a mainly efficient piece of work which looks like it's spent its budget on good actors rather than CGI, which is exactly how bloody film makers should do it. Excellent turns by Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson (who's already on my list for performances of the year) and Stanley Tucci (in a wig that puts him about as far away from his fantastic appearance in Margin Call as you can get) add gravitas to a reworking of Battle Royale crossed with Logan's Run. Without the ultraviolence of the first and the lure of Agutter that redeemed the second. A post-apocalyptic world keeps citizens at heel by creating a reality TV show in which 24 teens are put in a Truman Show-style upturned fish bowl and are expected to slug it out to the death. Imagine the horrid peer pressure of your late school years and just crank it up a little.

What's clever about Hunger Games is the time it takes in focusing on the preparation for the games, including makeovers, training camps and live interviews to boost popularity and raise rich sponsors who can choose to aid their favourites (essentially a phone vote that actually counts). It manages to skewer our game show culture whilst also neatly shoehorning in issues such as inequality in a world that has more than enough to share, learning about the venal nature of adult politics, race, even drugs (albeit delivered by deadly mutant wasps).

Already a massive social media success, this one is set to be huge, and for once, rightly so. And this even despite the presence of Lenny Kravitz!

Ill Manors, the latest film by the urban renaissance whirlwind, Ben Drew - with a hip hop soundtrack from his Plan B alter-ego providing a good chunk of the narrative backstory (main theme/single video here) - is frankly amazing. In a bit of a rough week which has also seen me catching up with the raw beauty of Tyrannosaur, similarly this study of the intricate cause-and-effect that leads to killing, sexual violence, rioting and despair in South London (or just about any other grimy estate you care to visit) doesn't sugar any pills it cares to ram down your throat and certainly doesn't attempt anything but the greyest of concrete grey moral landscapes. The central 'hero', played brilliantly by ‪Riz Ahmed,‬ is like some kind of ethically confused tennis table ball in a baseball cap - bouncing between dilemmas, torn between childhood loyalties borne of a lifetime of marginalisation and what he innately senses to be the right thing to do.

No killer insects here: the drug issues are full-on grown up crack and charlie nightmares that casually invade lives, fuel the abuse of women and push the story from a whip smart edited prologue and through a night that sees no one spared, but equally no one outright blamed. We see anger and hopelessness seep through the web of mobile phone interconnectedness like a creeping bloodstain, and yet it leaves us with some small sense of redemption and hope.

Coming off the back of Plan B's recent well-timed words about our relationship with our society and its imbalances, this is a brave, brutal, darkly funny look at a side of ourselves we more often than not ignore or demonise. In other words, don't expect it to be on the oscar list for 2013…

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