J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Invasion Brixton: Attack the Block

These kids from South London do not have much of a sense of wonder. That’s okay, the aliens they stumble across are not exactly cuddly E.T.’s. A juvie street gang and a marauding pack of aliens take it to each other real good in writer-director John Cornish’s sci-fi invasion mash-up Attack the Block (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Council estates (a.k.a. the projects) are not a fun place to live. Just ask Sam. The over-worked under-paid nurse is mugged by Moses and his cronies on her way home from work. Much to everyone’s surprise, a crash-landing alien distracts the delinquents, allowing her to give them the slip. After a few tussles with the critter, Moses draws first blood, but there are plenty more on the way from who knows where. Before long, the kids will need the services of a nurse, even if she did finger them to the coppers. It is a reluctant alliance, but the screaming balls of teeth are a strong motivation.

As a mere fifteen year-old, Moses is the oldest amongst his mates. Though poised to become a junior drug dealer for High Hatz, the estate’s top dog, he still has limited access to weaponry. Fortunately, they have well developed survival instincts and killer attitude. Some might see it all as an allegory for the inner city’s ever-repeating cycle of violence, but it is definitely game on regardless.

Cornish has a great ear for dialogue (when Yankee audiences can discern it), keeping the super cool banter flying fast and furious. Frankly, Block has the sort of the knowing genre edge overly broad spoofs like Black Dynamite sorely lack. Yet, the film works rather well as an invading horde movie in its own right, capitalizing on the specifics of the council estate environment, like the notoriously slow elevators and winding hallways, for some cleverly staged thrills.

Sam the nurse is also a refreshing surprise, showing some backbone rather than merely assuming the role of passive victim. Indeed, Jodie Whittaker clearly plays her smart rather than dumb, which helps keep viewers rooted in the story. The young cast also bounces off her rather well in their scenes together, particularly the intense John Boyega, who is Block’s real find as Moses. He convincingly portrays the young tough growing up and coming to terms with his life choices, which is almost as hard to do in character as it is for real.

Wisely, Block largely eschews explicit politics, trusting those inclined to find class-consciousness in the council estate setting will duly find it. What is on the celluloid is an energetic, consistently inventive space alien smack-down. Definitely recommended as a high-end summer roller coaster, Block opens this Friday (7/29) in New York at the AMC Empire and Regal Union Square 14.

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