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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thugnificient: Attack the Block

Won some passes from Hollywood Chicago for an advance screening of Attack the Block at Landmark Century Centre tonight.

And OMG OMG OMG! I am sooo glad we did.

This was released in the UK back in May. It'll have a limited US release starting July 29. (And since that slashfilm link already goes there, let me just say that Super 8, which was fine, is not fit to sift through Attack the Block's poo. In fact, I said to the ZK as we came out of the theater, "And THAT's how you do Goonies in 2011.")

I can't think of a single thing I didn't love about this movie. (Oh, wait. There's the dog. Hrumph.) The cast is wonderful. The script has exactly the right balance of humor, horror, character development, and a nice story arc. The pacing is excellent, and the exposition is flawless. A car that's destroyed in the first scene is later revealed to belong to a supporting character; a British flag visible in every exterior shot of the block . . . well, that would be telling.

The "block" in question is estate housing in South London (roughly equivalent to housing projects in the US). Moses is the leader of a group from the block that's just on the verge of graduating to gang. In fact, the movie opens with them mugging a young nurse (Sam, who is later revealed to also live in the block).

Baby's first mugging (later revealed to have been carefully planned by the group to minimize their chances of pissing themselves) is interrupted by a ball of fire from the sky, destroying the aforementioned car. When they go to investigate, Moses is attacked by something mysterious. He puffs himself up and vows to hunt it down. They do (in grisly, foley-tastic fashion) and drag their trophy back to the block, where they decide to hide it in Ron's weed room ("It's a room. And it's full of weed. And it's Ron's.") until they decide how best to make a profit from it.

At Ron's (beautifully, disgustingly played by Nick Frost in a deeply, deeply wrong leather jumpsuit), we meet High-Hatz, the local gang boss (or the Moses of Christmas Future, if you'd like to rock the Judeo-Christian-Dickensian canon). High-Hatz decides that it's time to accelerate Moses along his career path and hands off some product to him, specifying how much profit he expects. Moses is elated, terrified, and uncertain all at the same time, but doesn't neglect to swagger for his ecstatic followers.

Just then, though, they notice more and more great balls of fire streaking to earth. Although none of the "grown ups" believes them, they recognize the situation as a full-blown invasion. There's a lovely series of scenes of each member of the group turning back into the little boy he is as he gathers weapons and makes excuses to his family, pleads for 10 more minutes, or gets stuck taking the dog out. We pointedly do not see the inside of Moses's home until a very nicely done scene late in the movie. That scene is understated, but conveys a wealth of information about how Moses has gotten to the tipping point we see at the beginning of the movie.

I don't need to do a blow-by-blow plot synoosis, because I KNOW YOU ARE ALL GOING TO SEE THIS, but it just unfolds beautifully. Having seen what Moses is on the road to becoming in High-Hatz, we also see what he was or might have been in "Probs" and "Mayhem," the would-be gangstas with their cap pistols and supersoakers. And as the group gets into deeper and deeper shit along the way, we get to see how race, class, gender, circumstance, and yes, personal responsibility contribute to their highly localized apocalypse.

Ok, I know I ragged on Super 8 above, so that bears some comment. It's true, I lack some, but not all, critical J.J. Abrams receptors: Thought Cloverfield was a boring-ass piece of shit. You can see for yourself what I thought of Star Trek. On the other hand, I enjoyed many things about Lost, and I absolutely love Fringe (granted, I refer to it as the All-Denethor Comedy Power Hour). I liked Super 8 ok, or at least the first 2/3 of it. And I certainly was impressed that they'd assembled a cast of really solid young actors.

What. Ever. The cast of Attack the Block blows them away. John Boyega is just outstanding as Moses. Alex Esmail and Luke Treadaway are the pinnacle of comic relief as Little Stoner (Pest) and Big Stoner (Brewis). As Sam, the victim-turned-ally-turned-White-Street-Cred-With-The-Po-Po, Jodie Whittaker gets to be profane, bitchy, concerned, brave, selfish . . . . you know, a real human being. (Although it's worth noting that the movie probably passes the Bechdel-Wallace test, but only just, thanks to a conversation between Sam and a helpful neighbor just after she's mugged.) The female counterparts of Moses et al. also get to try their hand at saving themselves, saving the blokes, and leaving the blokes behind because their tired of the trouble they bring.

Love. Just lots of love for this movie. Might be the best horror movie I've seen since The Host.

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