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Attack the Block: A teen gang in South London battles aliens

4 Aug

Attack the Block One SheetAttack the Block is a fast-paced Science Fiction/action/horror/comedy film that won’t disappoint its audience.   Joe Cornish (writer/director) expertly weaves a mutli-genre narrative  into a tense, fun and entertaining journey of terror and… self-discovery.  Yes.  Self-discovery.  All this for a £9,000,000 budget.

Moses (John Boyega) is the leader of a London street gang, a group of young juvenile delinquents who have far too much time on their hands and too much testosterone coursing through their veins (the affliction of most males, teenage and otherwise).  We follow the narrative that begins with Moses’ bad decision to have his group rob a nurse, Sam (Jodie Whittaker), which puts him and his group in the spot where an alien crash lands into a car.  Sam escapes the group who were holding her at knifepoint, and honestly, at this juncture of the film, I was wondering how Cornish was going to turn this around for me.  I was so disgusted with the group of mini-thugs, I was hoping the aliens would crash-land into them and the film would end.  I don’t have a lot of patience for armed robbery.  Moses forgets about Sam and is far more curious about the car the alien has crash-landed into.  He goes to investigate and in the process, almost gets killed.  He’s so mad the alien attacked him, he and his gang follow the alien to an abandoned structure and they rush in.  We don’t see the fight, but the boys come out victorious, with a dead alien that looks a lot like a gorilla with lots of shark teeth.  And yes, these aliens are cheesy but as the film progresses, their presence becomes increasingly menacing.  I enjoyed them far more than the aliens from Cowboys & Aliens or the one from Super 8.

SPOILER ALERT FROM THIS POINT FORWARD.

It’s Moses desperate need for acceptance and inability to control his emotions that actually causes all the peril in the film.  His desire to kill the alien, and the direct action of the killing, starts the narrative of horror in motion.  Cornish essentially makes Moses a complete wanker at the beginning of the film, challenges us as viewers to see if we can look beyond his violent interior and exterior and somehow identify with him.  Moses takes the audience on his journey:  from being a self-serving juvenile  to becoming a man willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the community.

When the aliens (who as I said are basically scary looking gorillas with ice blue glowing teeth that like to tear people up and bite them) come after Moses’ block, it’s a matter of pride in the beginning.  Turf as well.  The neighborhood drug dealer, who attempts to recruit Moses early on in the film warns him though, that the block Moses is living on isn’t really Moses’ territory, it’s the dealer’s.  In this assertion lies a challenge for Moses, so while defending his block against the aliens, he inadvertently angers the drug dealer who becomes his nemesis, so now Moses and his gang must avoid not only an alien threat but the human threat as well.

If Moses hasn’t brought on enough problems for himself and his group of friends, they end up having to seek help from the very same woman, Sam, who they robbed.  This challenge for our anti-hero becomes one of his greatest tests in the narrative:  to look beyond what he perceived as someone outside the block, apologizing for his actions and accepting her as a trusted friend.  In that same spirit, Sam, the nurse, must put aside her anger and fear of Moses and his friends, attempt to help the injured party in the group, and ultimately, trust Moses with her life.

Now, you might ask yourself if this is an action/horror comedy movie or a tender coming of age/tolerance movie.  It’s all of the above – because the coming of age elements come out of the action/horror/comedy narrative.  It is no small feat to pull that off and Joe Cornish must be given his due.  Whenever things get far too intense we are allowed a moment of comic relief either through dialogue and familiar issues in the lives of every teen (the guys can’t call for help, they’re all out of credit on their mobile phones (cell phones if you’re reading in the US), or watching two young residents of the block trying to get accepted by the gang.  They look like they’re about 8 or 9.  They do get their moment though – which is another gold star for this script – Cornish pays off the plot points that he sets up.  Things are not left hanging or unanswered, they are always dealt with, which is more than I can say for many Hollywood studio films that suffer through the development process with multiple writers.

Although this is primarily a horror film and there is plenty of blood and nerve-wrecking scenes, this film is about far more.  It is well worth the price of admission – full price.  I rarely say that.  I liked it so much that I would probably go again.  Now I never say that about any horror film out in the theaters.  I’m looking forward to watching Joe Cornish’s career.  It’s also nice to see Nira Park got it right again (the producer that brought us the UK horror/comedy zombie film, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World).   Don’t miss Attack the Block.  You’ll be sorry if you do.

Watch my Vlog Review on YouTube.

Trailer for Attack the Block:

Cowboys & Aliens: A misplaced action hero in a mixed up genre

1 Aug

I liked the trailer for Cowboys & Aliens. Enough to make me go to the movie. The trailer was better than the film itself. I didn’t hate the movie. It was fine. But that’s the problem for me. It was just fine. And if Hollywood thinks they can pass one over on me by selling this as a mixed-genre action film that is new and exciting, they’re sorely mistaken.  There was Wild, Wild West which was a comedy in addition to the Science Fiction-Western hybrid but that movie felt a bit more – organic.  I never thought I’d say that but compared to Cowboys & Aliens, I’d watch it any day.

Jon Favreau (Iron Man) directs this misguided vehicle.  To be fair, I’m not convinced that anyone could tackle a Science Fiction-Western and come out shining.  Actually, I can’t believe I’m saying this because I have issues with him but Quentin Tarantino might pull it off.  Perhaps the issue with the movie that I find troubling is that Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) is technically a comic book action hero.  And while his role might have been consistent with the action hero genre, it feels like the rest of the cast was patched together for part alien/part western films to satisfy the plot devices.  In fact, it felt like they threw in the whole kitchen sink into the film.  It was simply too much.  Too many creepy aliens by the third act when the big showdown begins.  Too much western riding across the range, etc. and no science fiction action to equalize it.  Most importantly, I never felt that I had a grasp on why the aliens so desperately wanted to mine gold from earth.  It felt like a plot device because gold mining was a part of the old west.  And, if you are going to make such a big point about how important the gold is to the aliens, then seriously, explain it to all of us a bit better.  We deserve that much for contributing to your opening weekend with $11+ depending on where you are in the U.S. watching this film.

SPOILER ALERT FROM THIS POINT FORWARD.

While Jake Lonergan’s character was consistent for an action hero, that is, his character adhered to the rules of the genre for the most part, there were still issues that arose.  His character was one-dimensional.  This was the result of Lonergan having to react to his environment and the plot points rather than us being able to watch his character drive the story forward.  We must follow Jake on his journey to figure out who he is.  But I never truly believed he really cared who he was.  He seems to follow Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) because he suddenly cares about the same community that just allowed him to be arrested and shackled to go to New Mexico to stand trial for a host of crimes he doesn’t remember committing.  Yes, he has his mysterious bracelet/shackle on and it is the only defense against the aliens that suddenly fly into town but the whole thing seems – disingenuous.  Why bother attacking the earthlings?  They’ve already had a giant sampling of what makes earthlings weak.  They’ve decided they can kill them at any time.  Are these attacks pleasure-seeking behavior for the aliens?  Or… are they attacking because they have located some sort of beacon/homing device on Jake’s wrist (the shackle/bracelet we discover he stole in a very late flashback)?  Or, was it because he pissed off an alien and escaped with the wrist bracelet/shackle?  I know I wasn’t clear on that.  The writers certainly weren’t clear on that.  And therein lies the problem once again, with this film.  Things just randomly happen to  move the plot forward.  And –  if while everything that happens technically is touched off by Jake’s heist and stealing of the gold from the train robbery we never see but hear about, then guess what?  This film becomes noir as well.  Because in noir, your anti-hero’s action from the past, if it is a crime, will come back to haunt him and he is somehow doomed from before the film began.  That fits into noir guidelines.  So, now we have a noir/action hero/science fiction western.  I hope you can see why I would argue this film just doesn’t quite fit the bill.

Jake’s foil, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford) is even more disappointing.  No, not because of Ford’s acting.  Because of the way it was written.  This is what happens when they have had 7 writers on a project (and those are just the writers that were credited after WGA arbitration).  Everyone associated with Ford’s storyline is such a cliche that I knew what would happen and how it would happen through the entire film.  When I am able to predict those things, I’m disappointed with the writing.  I want to be surprised.  I can think up a story myself, at home, for free.  In contrast, Jake’s love interest Ella (Olivia Wilde), was a small bright spot.  She gets killed by an alien in the second act but miraculously regenerates on a funeral pyre when the group is captured by Indians.  I didn’t see that coming.  Then we discover she’s an alien.  Now, a bold choice would have let her live happily ever after on the range with Lonergan.  But no, for once these writers don’t break the rules (which sometimes are meant to be broken) and Ella must leave (remember aliens have to leave), so she dies spectacularly, sacrificing herself to bring down the alien ship.  The moment she does this, she makes Lonergan a sissy.  Come on, this is the western, an action film and science fiction and we have just witnessed a woman doing ‘a man’s job.’ Now before anyone gets angry with me for asserting that, I’m simply saying that it would have been more interesting for him to die.  Or seemingly die.  Maybe with her.  Now that would have been a much more exciting ending.  Then, at the end, we are supposed to believe she revisits Lonergan as a hummingbird, or has the hummingbird let him know she’s ‘in a better place’ because at this point, I’m just not clear and hoping the movie will end.

Overall, for special effects, especially if you love to see things blown up and people killed (like a giant video game), then you’ll enjoy the third act of this film.  Because that was one of the longest drawn out battles between humans and aliens I’ve ever seen.  It did kind of feel like a B-movie where they were just recycling aliens at some points.  I started worry more about the horses falling over than the people on them.  By the time the humans (including the Indians who miraculously killed many aliens with their spears) defeat the aliens, it almost feels like an empty victory.

I’d like to recommend this movie.  I’d say, see it as a matinee or wait for Netflix.  Or cable.  Or, if you haven’t seen it yet, watch Starship Troopers or Galaxy Quest, two science fiction films that aren’t westerns or noirs but at least entertained me.  Better yet, go see Attack the Block.  A British film done for a fraction of the budget but a far superior film in every way (because I honestly don’t need special effects to make my film-going experience a good one).   I’ll be looking at Attack the Block next.

Watch my Vlog Review on YouTube.

Watch the Trailer:

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