We’ve seen just about every film that’s been released this year, including all the big summer movies that Hollywood’s tossed our way over the past few months. Some have been good, some have been bad (actually, more than “some” have been bad), but the best film we’ve seen in 2011 is one we actually saw all the way back in March…and one that you’ll be able to see this weekend: Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block. Oh, Attack The Block, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways below, my gentle Examiner readers…
At this year’s SXSW Film Festival, Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block was easily the hottest ticket in town: the film screened just three times during the festival, and the word on the hipster-filled street was that Cornish’s darkly comic, action-packed, geek-tastic homage to the creature-feature sub-genre was the film to beat at SXSW. The film went on to earn SXSW’s “Midnight Award” (chosen by the Fest’s audience), and since then it’s popped up in a series of “pre-screenings” all over the country…and been endlessly talked about by those who’ve seen it.
But unless you happened to be at SXSW or you were one of the lucky few that got to catch the film during one of those “pre-screenings”, Attack The Block is still on your “To-Do” list. Luckily, that changes this weekend, when Cornish’s film finally hits theaters (in limited release).
But tonight, there was one, last screening of the film here in Austin, TX. This was my third viewing of the film (I caught it at SXSW– read our initial review HERE– and again last month, during a special screening hosted by Ain’t It Cool News), and I’m happy to report that Cornish’s film has maintained its punch through every viewing: Attack The Block isn’t just the best “creature-feature” that anyone’s bothered making in about two decades, but it’s also the best movie we’ve seen this year. It flies by at a brisk 88 minutes, never letting up for a minute once it gets started. Over the course of that run-time, you will laugh, you will jump in your seat, you will cheer, and you will marvel that a first-time director has put together a piece of entertainment this sharp, this effective, this brilliant.
Attack The Block is the kind of film that announces a heretofore unknown talent, but it’s hard to pick which talent it’s introducing: is it Joe Cornish the writer, whose razor-sharp script ought to be taught in film schools for those interested in learning the basics of “economical storytelling”? Maybe it’s Joe Cornish the director, who delivers rain-soaked, South London streets that’ll remind you of John Carpenter’s best, badass aliens that put the one featured in Super 8 to shame, and a cast of unknowns who turn in better performances than most of the “established” talents currently working in Hollywood. Or maybe it’s the cast itself: you’ve never seen 99% of the faces in this film, but you’ll be hoping to see them all again by the time the film wraps. Again, hard to tell.
In case you’re just joining the conversation, Attack The Block is actually a lot more than a “creature feature”: that’d be like calling Pulp Fiction a “drama”. Cornish combines comedy, sci-fi, urban-drama, horror– hell, there’s even a little romance tossed in for good measure– into something altogether original. Here’s the setup: a South London street gang composed entirely of teenagers (teenagers in the early stages of teenage-hood, actually) is in the middle of mugging a poor, defenseless South London white-chick when something comes streaking out of the sky, smashing through the roof a nearby car. When the street-punks investigate, they discover…an alien. A very ugly alien, one that immediately runs off into a nearby shack of some sort. The gang tracks the creature to its hiding place, kills it, and then heads back to “the Block” (the name they’ve given to their highrise housing project) to score a little weed.
After kicking the creature’s ass, the kids are all feeling pretty tough, but soon enough they learn that this first alien isn’t exactly representative of the rest of its kind: as soon as they’ve settled into their dealer’s living room for a nice smoke, the sky outside lights up as dozens (if not hundreds) of other aliens crash to Earth. Upon further investigation, it’s revealed that this round of aliens is a lot bigger, meaner, and…toothier than the first alien they met, and from there Attack The Block follows a path you might recognize from Tremors: the kids have to defend their home-turf from the aliens; figure out why the aliens seem so focused on the gang’s leader, Moses (John Boyega, in a star-making turn); and evade both the police and the for-realz gang member that runs “the Block”…all while staying alive.
We’ve seen alien-invasion movies done about a hundred different ways, but Cornish manages to make the premise feel fresh again for the first time in…God, who knows how long? Maybe it’s the “exotic” location (complete with “exotic” British slang), maybe it’s the creatures themselves (which look like no other aliens we’ve seen before), or maybe it’s the fact that the kids themselves are so disarmingly charming in their roles: whatever the case may be, Attack The Block will make you feel like you’ve never seen an alien invasion movie before.
A few other things worth noting: the effects in the film are top-notch, and you’ll have a helluva time trying to figure out what’s practical, what’s CGI, and what might be some dude in a suit. The score by Basement Jaxx is the most compulsively listenable film score we’ve heard since Trent Reznor’s Oscar-winning Social Network score. The film’s got a satsifying ending, one that doesn’t feel the need to shoehorn in a “Will there be a sequel?!” moment. There’s enough gore to satisfy those that attend horror films for that sort of thing, but not so much that it’ll turn off the prudes.
Really, I could go on and on about how great this movie is, but there is one qualifier worth noting (though let it be known that you should absolutely see Attack The Block as soon as is humanly possible): If there’s going to be a sticking point here for any viewer, it’s going to be the sometimes-thick British accents the film’s leads speak with. Awhile back, before a studio had stepped up to the plate to release the film, Hollywood was concerned that American audiences would be thrown by the somewhat-obscure slang and sometimes-impenetrable dialogue. There was talk of remaking the film (a thought that you’ll find personally insulting after seeing how great this version is), then talk of subtitling it. While I have yet to watch the film with someone who “didn’t get what they were saying”, I can imagine some viewers– perhaps those who’ve never seen an episode of Monty Python, or people who’ve never encountered Ricky Gervais– being a little out of their element.
But, come on: this is a minor gripe, one that doesn’t even apply to me (or– as was already mentioned– to anyone else I’ve seen the film with). All summer long, theaters have been inundated with half-assed Hollywood fare, big-budget FX extravaganzas that studios will tell you to “turn your brain off” to watch. Here’s a film that allows you to keep your brain running at full capacity, one that will engage, entertain, thrill, and move you. It’s 88 minutes of perfect filmmaking, the kind of thing we rarely see anymore– and something we haven’t seen matched by even the best Hollywood directors over this summer. If you’ve been waiting for a summer movie that’ll knock you on your ass with pure, unadulterated entertainment, Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block is it. See it immediately, and take as many people with you as possible: you’ll be their hero.
My Grade? A+
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