Monday, August 22, 2011

Attack the Block

Another quick break from Fantasia stuff as I hope to call a tiny bit of attention to another pretty darn good movie playing on one Boston screen through at least Thursday. It's at AMC Boston Common right now (screen 13, digital projection, because they apparently don't do 35mm film there any more - all 19 screens are projecting one digital format or another this week), and if you like good sci-fi action, it's worth a look.

At some point, when people can look back with a little perspective, the way Attack the Block has been handled will likely make a fascinating case study. It got a lot of praise early on, although some of that might be the result of being in a very favorable situation - a midnight screening at an Alamo theater during SXSW, where they ply the audience with alcohol.

I jest, a bit, but I do think that a lot of the buzz that came out of SXSW was the result of a lot of like-minded people seeing something that appealed to them directly, and with the current social infrastructure of linking and retweeting, a small group can seem like a larger one, especially if you're tuned to that smaller group. And for a few weeks, Attack the Block got a lot of coverage in the blogs I follow, talking about it getting picked up, whether it would be subtitled (although, seriously, there aren't many problematic accents here). Then a big push over which theaters would get previews, and then a fair amount of previews, then a limited release...

Up until this point, there's a few things that I wonder about. I think Sony probably should have squashed any talk of subtitling early - and I mean, as soon as they saw the first tweet about it, because while it gets people talking, it also puts the message out that the movie might be hard for Americans to understand. And then, I wonder about all the previewing. The way these things are handled today, I don't know if they hit as many random people who could spread good of mouth to different places any more. There's so much information available about when these previews are (especially since Sony was pushing directly at fans) that they wind up being mostly people who would have paid to see the movie anyway.

Then the release date comes, the same sites are back pushing it, some acting like it's some sort of civic duty of those of us who like good genre flicks to make sure that this movie makes money so that it can get an expanded release.

And then, funny thing - between the expansion being announced and it reaching its second tier of cities, folks start rioting in London, and they're the same sort of kids who are the protagonists of Attack the Block, and suddenly there's zip to be heard about this movie. Now, maybe that's just my selective attention - perhaps it's getting attention in different circles, but it certainly seems like the hype which had been going more or less non-stop since March just died. I suppose that could be classified under "surprisingly respectful", but it seems unusual that everybody would be on the same page like that.

I don't know if the riots actually changed the way Sony handled this release, but I bet that they might have liked to have it go wider earlier, because even if current events didn't have much of an impact, it was riding a four or five-month wave of hype that had to break sooner or later.

Attack the Block

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 August 2011 in AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, digital projection)

Attack the Block got ridiculously high praise from genre fans at festival showings this year, and it's not quite that good. Then, in between its US opening and its expansion to Boston, the London riots started, and talk about the movie dried up immediately (the film's protagonists would more likely be rioters than victims), and a full North American rollout now seems unlikely. It doesn't deserve that, either. It's a pretty good youth/sci-fi/action/comedy flick, which is not a bad thing to be.

The film opens on Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a nurse just getting home from a late shift who is held up by five teenagers in hoodies - Moses (John Boyega), Jerome (Leeon Jones), Dennis (Franz Drameh), Pest (Alex Esmail), and Biggz (Simon Howard). Something falling from the sky and smashing into a car allows her to get away, but the creature that emerges from it scratches Moses, so the his lads chase it down and kill it. While Sam is talking to the police, the boys take the corpse to the closest thing they can think of to an expert - pot grower Ron (Nick Frost) watches a lot of nature docs but can't identify it - and that seems to be that. Except that there are a lot of other shooting stars falling into this London neighborhood that night, and the creatures coming out of those are bigger and meaner.

Writer/director Joe Cornish gets the basics right with Attack the Block - he establishes his characters and creatures well, and then sets them against each other in a series of well-shot action sequences that increase in scale and complexity as they go along, but never exceed what one might reasonably think the characters are capable of. There's plenty of comic relief, but it never undercuts a genuine sense of danger. What exposition is necessary is relatively painless. In theory, this stuff shouldn't be that hard - we've been making movies for roughly a century, and people making silents seemed to get it - but a lot of action/adventure movies come out every year that don't manage these basic things. This one does it pretty well, and that's worth commending.

Full review at EFC.

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