I don’t go to the cinema much these days (boo hoo, poor me). I did get out to see Amazing Spider-Man last week, though. Enjoyed it – didn’t feel I wanted to reclaim the three hours of my life seeing it involved or anything – but for almost everything I liked about it there’s something that didn’t quite work for me to put on the other side of scales.
Liked: the grounded, realistic feel; the casting and perfomances, especially Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone; the first half hour, maybe the first hour; Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Not so much: the CGI Lizard; the studio editing job, which I’d guess has chopped out big chunks of the movie, some of which I suspect should have stayed in there – or at the very least the focus on making what was left coherent, flowing and evenly-toned needed to be a notch more obsessive; the last half hour plus, especially hokey elements (like the thing with the cranes) that to me undercut the aforementioned grounded, realistic feel.
There’s a lot more I could include in both lists, but instead I thought I’d talk about a movie I saw on TV recently, and probably enjoyed rather more: Attack The Block, written and directed by Joe Cornish. Amazing Spider-Man exists mostly for corporate, commercial reasons (entirely, in fact. I don’t know why I feel compelled to qualify that with ‘mostly’); Attack the Block mostly – I suspect – for creative, enjoyment ones. That’s a gigantic difference, right there. Either set of motivations can deliver satisfying entertainment, but only one of them’s really likely to generate something you haven’t seen before.
Attack The Block, which came out last year, is a pretty low budget British sf/horror romp set almost entirely in and around a tower block on a housing estate (would that be apartment block on a housing project for American readers/viewers?). For long stretches, it’s great fun and well worth the watch.
It has absolutely nothing in common with The Wire (world’s greatest ever TV series) save this: it’s loaded with street-level accents and argot. It’s not quite as uncompromising in its realism in that regard as is The Wire, but it’s nevertheless a mode of speech that, to put it mildly, you don’t see all that often in sf movies. It’s not at all hard to follow for any Brit with a passing familiarity with contemporary urban yoof culture (I’m pretty confident of that, because my familiarity with said culture is passing at very best), but I’d guess it might take non-Brit viewers a bit longer to get their ear in. Other than that, it’s perfectly accessible to anyone, and I’d recommend it to all who’d like to see what a bit of imagination, the British sense of humour and a limited budget can do with alien invasion sf.
A bunch of furry aliens with big, lumniscent teeth go up against the local gang on a housing estate, and chaos ensues. That’s all there is to it, really. It’s done with a heavy dose of dark humour, a great sense for visual action and a lively pace. The dialogue’s slick and snappy, and it’s delivered pretty well, especially by the young members of the cast. That’s something I always used to think was a bit of a weakness of UK films: child actors over here tended not to be quite as preternaturally (disconcertingly?) polished and accomplished as their US counterparts. But I’ve thought for a while now that that’s been changing, and the performances from the youngsters in Attack the Block are seriously good. The lead – John Boyega – actually has one of the less colourful, more monotonic parts, but I think that’s down to scripting and directing and he looks a highly promising prospect for future stardom, if you ask me. A British Denzel Washington in embryo.
The design and execution of the aliens themselves is cleverly effective, capitalising on – rather than compromised by – budgetary constraints. Texture-less black voids in the shape of wild-furred ape-things, with glowing jaws that draw the viewer’s eye and make for very effective creepy frights. There’s a good deal of violence, a fair amount of blood and death, but it doesn’t descend into an out and out splatterfest, relying as much on energy and implication to keep things moving.
I thought it lost just a fraction of its oomph towards the end, and the actual conclusion isn’t quite as violently cathartic as it could have been. It’s also ever so slightly too feel-good for me, with a bow of neighbourliness tied atop an otherwise potentially quite nuanced ending. But all in all it’s a big breath of fresh air compared to Spider-Man and its ilk, the extruded product of the hyper-budgeted entertainment-industrial complex. Go search it out, if you fancy something a bit different and distinctive. And fun.