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October 28, 2011

Movies You Missed 10: Attack the Block

Attack-The-Block-1This week in movies you missed: Inner-city kids fight aliens in a summer '11 movie that was not a remake, sequel, prequel or adaptation.

What You Missed

When it comes to landing sites on Earth, movie aliens — both nice ones and nasty ones — prefer suburbs full of sheltered, precocious white kids. That's the Spielberg template, and it still sells tickets, as we saw last summer with Super 8.

But what if, just once, aliens invaded the inner city? What if they did it on a night when rampant fireworks would keep the police distracted? What if they claimed a low-income housing project as their territory, and what if the only people who fought back were a group of teenage thugs?

Writer-director Joe Cornish decided to find out.

Attack the Block takes place over one eventful night in South London. Jodie Whittaker plays Sam, a young nurse who's ambushed in the park and mugged by a group of teens led by the laconic Moses (John Boyega, pictured below). But when furry critters with glowing teeth — "gorilla-wolf motherfuckers" — start running wild in the neighborhood and ripping to shreds anyone who gets in their way, the law-abiding nurse and her attackers become allies.

Why You Missed It

Attack-The-Block-2Attack the Block played in 66 U.S. theaters, none of which was around here. Maybe the distributor or exhibitors were concerned that we wouldn't understand the accents, identify with the multicultural cast, etc.

This is kind of ironic, considering that industry folks seem to love Attack the Block. They're already talking about a sequel, a TV version and, yes, an American remake. Why not just show us the actual movie? District 9 had some pretty crazy accents, and it did fine with a wide release.

Then again, going by Box Office Mojo, Attack the Block hasn't sold that many tickets. With any luck, it will do better on DVD. This article helps explain why lots of people (especially SF and action fans) are so excited about the movie.

Should You Keep Missing It?

If you like sci-fi action with '80s-style B-movie grit and colorful dialogue, no, no and no. Don't get me wrong: AtB is no towering original achievement. It's just a fun movie that happens not to be a CGI hash based on a comic book.

Remember Cowboys & Aliens, last summer's high-concept film that was going to put a whole new spin on alien invasions? I barely do, to be honest, because the whole movie was one genre cliché after another, without enough humor to keep them fresh. AtB isn't a flat-out satire like Shaun of the Dead (though the director of that flick, Edgar Wright, exec-produced this), but it has plenty of funny, unexpected lines and touches, like the girl who attacks an alien with her ice skate. I love how the kids refer to the aliens as "Gollums" and other pop-culture fixtures. I also like that Whittaker's and Boyega's characters develop a rapport but not a romance. (Good thing, really, since we eventually learn he's just 15.)

Some viewers haven't been able to get past the fact that the film's heroes aren't just mischievous kids, but muggers. True, but the script gives them a moral arc of sorts. Also, for better or worse, the young actors are personable and fun to watch. Spike Lee has already cast Boyega in his upcoming HBO series based on his intense presence here.

The action is exciting, and the creatures are ... different, because they're actually guys in creature suits (with the help of some rotoscoping and minor CGI). When they chase people, they're scary, and that's all that really matters.

Verdict: My only regret is that I didn't see this on a big screen with bad popcorn, because that's where it belongs.

Other New DVD Releases You May Have Missed:

  • Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Finnish movie about town menaced by an "evil Santa Claus." Just in time for the season!)
  • Father of Invention (comedy with Kevin Spacey as a fallen mogul)
  • A Little Help (Jenna Fischer of "The Office" in a dramedy about widowhood)
  • The Countess (Julie Delpy directed a film inspired by the legend of Elisabeth Bathory. Whose descendant lives right here in Vermont.)
  • Shaolin (Hong Kong epic with fighting monks)
  • City of Life and Death (acclaimed Chinese war drama brings the Rape of Nanking to life)
  • Island of Lost Souls (1932) (horror classic based on H.G. Wells' mad-scientist novel. Here's a review of the reissue.)

Special Halloween Note:

If you like Edgar Wright, check out the 24-hour horror movie marathon he assembled for the A.V. Club. Gave me some new ideas for Halloween viewing.

And, if you want to see a haunted-house movie like no other (that needs to be emphasized) rent the Criterion Collection disc of House (Hausu). It's not a scary Japanese horror film, like Ju-on. It's just ... it's something.

If you've been watching "American Horror Story," the new F/X show that tries far too hard to creep us out while camping us out and weirding us out, you'll recognize a similar mixture in Hausu. But with less winking at the audience and more murderous fluffy white felines and fluttering white scarves. Thanks, Burlington Psychotronic Research, for introducing me to this one. Happy Halloween!

Each week I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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