Tuesday, January 29, 2019

MotM: Attack the Block

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’m broadening the scope of my “Bad Movie of the Month” feature to “Movie of the Month” – henceforth known as “MotM” – because as much as I enjoy bad movies, I also enjoy movies that are legitimately and unconditionally good. And those deserve some love, too…

There’s no place like home. Home is where you hang your hat, where your heart it. 

Is it any surprise that people fight that much harder to defend their home? Sports teams do statistically better on their home turf. The upstart colonists were major underdogs against the visiting British in the American Revolution. Unfortunately for us, the same rule was in effect when we went into Vietnam. 

People just naturally fight that much harder when defending their home. Even when they’re delinquents, and home is some crummy low-income housing.

Attack the Block kicks off at night in a sketchy part of town, where a nurse named Samantha (Jodie Whittaker, who you may know as the 13th Doctor) is mugged by a gang of teenagers. The mugging is interrupted by a meteor crashing into a nearby car. But instead of staying with the fleeing Samantha, as most movies would, Attack the Block remains with the muggers. Turns out there was some kind of creature inside the meteor and the gang, led by Moses (John Boyega) chases it down and kills it. Seeking recognition, they bring the body to a pot dealing friend (Nick Frost!) and ultimately to the local crime boss who lives at the top of their high rise apartment building. Unfortunately, that’s when more meteors fall from the sky…

Let’s get this one right out of the way: the creature design is amazing. Most of the aliens look like some kind of wolf/bear/ape hybrid, but with glow-in-the-dark fangs. 

Oh, and with fur that’s blacker than black. I’ve never seen anything like it (neither had the characters). The fur is blacker than the cover of a Spinal Tap album.

Told you so.

Apparently the creatures were created with a combination of suits, puppetry and animatronics, with CGI used sparingly and only to enhance the physical effects. And from what I read, the approach succeeded in scaring the piddle out of the actors during the film’s shooting.

Of course, you need more than a great costume design to make a great movie. The performances of the kids in the gang – all young and unknown actors – are solid across the board. They may be streetwise hoods, but the film makes sure to show that they are still kids, even allowing them to show flickers of fear through all the bravado during the opening mugging scene – where they’re the ones doing the mugging. And Boyega is captivating as the quiet, serious Moses. It’s no mystery why he was cast to star in the new Star Wars trilogy.

It doesn’t take long for the gang to realize they have no choice but to face the aliens head on. This isn’t the thug life they’d been aspiring to and while they come off as very flip about the Block, it is their Block. 

Given their age, it’s no surprise that when the gang suits up to take on the aliens, they look more like The Goonies than The Crips. No heavy ordinance here (this isn’t the U.S.), they mostly carry bats and knives and ride bikes and scooters. The script is smart enough to come up with ways for the gang to get themselves in and out of trouble, to have the gang and Samantha team up in a way that’s plausible, and to not pull any punches.  

Attack the Block was the directorial debut of Joe Cornish, whose career up to that point consisted mainly of the sketch comedy The Adam and Joe Show and some behind-the-scenes documentaries for Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. It’s the helluva debut, handling action sequences, special effects and inexperienced actors with clarity and confidence. 

Attack the Block is fantastic fun, and quickly establishes Cornish’s career as one to watch. If you haven’t checked this out yet, it’s absolutely worth the rental. Believe.

Congratulations, Attack the Block: You are the Movie of the Month.

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