Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fun film of the year so far: Joe Cornish's hilarious and exciting ATTACK THE BLOCK

How can a movie that steals so much from so many different genres (alien, thriller, inner-city kids, damsel-in-distress -- to name a few) seem so damned inventive and first-hand? So wonderfully new, hold-your-breath exciting, laugh-out-loud funny? Ask writer/director Joe Cornish, whose marvelous mash-up ATTACK THE BLOCK (his first full-length feature) opens this week after knocking the socks off festival audiences around the circuit. I'd heard a lot about this movie -- all of it great -- prior to sitting down in the screening room to finally take a look. Perhaps the highest praise I can give is that it did not, in the least, disappoint.

Mr. Cornish, shown at right, posits an alien invasion, timed -- by plan or by chance -- to hit Britain on the night of celebratory fireworks. When there are so many bright flashes of light and color ascending, who's gonna notice a few of 'em descending? Scene after scene works near-perfectly, beginning with the initial "mugging" of a young women (a fine and feisty Jodie Whitaker, below center) by a pack of not-so-awful "hoodies," led by young actor John Boyega (below, left), here making his screen debut  If this talented, charismatic man plays his cards even half right, he's going to be a very big star. The chemistry -- including power, vulnerability, grace, intelligence and sex appeal -- Mr. Boyega exudes via-a-vis Whitaker, the rest of the cast members, and most memorably with the camera itself, is simply stunning. This fellow is the "find" of the year.

Once the aliens arrive -- immediately post-mugging -- the pace quickens and only lets up slightly during the scenes that take place on a "pot" farm located atop one the project's buildings. This farm, along with its keepers and users (below), is good for a number of the movie's best laughs. (I would not have imagined I could still find funny a scene in which characters hold on to that first lengthy drag before exhaling. But I did.)

The medium-size cast is made up of the usual tossed-together misfits, but each is given a strong enough character to embed in your memory. (There's even a little dog in the group.) When, from time to time, one of our friends expires amidst all the humor and excitement, this even carries its own jolt of sadness -- no small achievement in a movie such as this.

The aliens themselves are mid-size miracles of humor, terror and economy.  Except for the first one, which we see in close-up alive, dead, and midway between, the rest are fuzzy black bundles of shaggy fur and very sharp, iridescent teeth -- a great combo that's easy to do anything with, while still scaring the pants off us (as we giggle merrily).

Along the way, a lot of sociology/politics/economics are aired, but glancingly, as they should be. This is a very smart movie, and perhaps the smartest thing about it is that Mr. Cornish refuses to unduly show off. But them why would he need to, when he's produced one of the best and most screwball/memorable movies of the year.

My only quibble with the film is that the constant chatter amongst these kids is generally so on-target and delightful that I wish I could have understood more of it.  Rat-tat-tatted in the vernacular of the projects, with British accents, of course, too much of the dialog gets lost in the tussle. (Not enough to lose your interest or excitement, however.) I definitely want to see the film again, and it will be on DVD, where English sub-titles,  one hopes, will be available.

Attack the Block, distributed in the USA by Sony's Screen Gems division, opens Friday in seven major cities: Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Toronto. More assuredly will follow.  One more note: the movie's "R" rating once again demonstrates the stupidity of our ratings board.  If Hanna, with all its violence, could get a PG-13, why not this film -- which kids absolutely ought to see, despite -- hell, even for -- its real, really funny, and often four-letter dialog.


a fog of ideas said...

Typically for a British movie this was a blink and you'll miss it release in most British cinemas specifically the one near me... and I blinked... and I missed it... which is a shame but I'm waiting on the DVD release... Joe Cornish is one half of comedy pairing Adam and Joe... you may have seen Adam (Buxton) as reporter Tim Messenger in 'Hot Fuzz', a film that also featured Joe as one of the scene of crime officers at the beginning of the film hidden from view behind a mask... very much looking forward to seeing 'Attack the Block', even more so after reading your review

James van Maanen, said...

Hard to believe that this film wasn't a huge success in Britain. Must be one of those typical "a prophet goes unrecognized in his own country" kind of thing. I didn't know about the Cornish and Buxton comedy team, but I'll pay better attention from now on. (And maybe even rent Hot Fuzz again.) Thanks for the info -- and enjoy that DVD when it finally comes out!