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Attack The Block

Night falls over the city, and if you look up, you can see a shooting star and make a wish. But the kids in Joe Cornish's Attack The Block rarely look up. All they can see is what's right in front of them. No fathers around, no job prospects besides drug runners for the local kingpin Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter), these kids are trouble, because trouble is all they know.

Well, that and "the block," their neighborhood in East London with the high-rise council apartment building. They have a curious respect for that, and when they see a young woman (Jodie Whittaker) walking down the street, they figure her for a stranger and fair game for a mugging.

This will be a night the boys learn a few things, but it all starts when a shooting star lands on the block and reveals itself to be a savage little alien. If this were an American movie, they might learn a heart-warming lesson about the differences of others as they play with this creature.

But this isn't one of those movies, unless you go to the low-budget movie Critters. After the alien attacks them (was it misunderstood? Just afraid? Does it matter?), the boys chase it into a park and beat it to death. Even if they don't know it, they've just taken action against an alien invasion, but it's about to get much, much worse.

If you can get past the accents (and some people really won't – a shame), writer/director Cornish has offered up one of the most fun and thrilling movies of the year. Maybe it's easier to skillfully build a world that's just slightly over a city block in size, but this movie feels lived in, and the people real.

That doesn't say much for the prospects of the kids, who despite being thugs come to be somewhat endearing. Led by Moses (John Boyega), they rob to have something to do and to build a rep, but underneath it's clear (but not hammered home) that they wish it were otherwise.

Especially Moses. All his friends look up to him, and when he doesn't have a real idea, he leads with violence and toughness. But in exchanges with Hi-Hatz, Boyega subtly plays being both honored and trapped by the druglord's trust.

Almost everybody wants something more. The boys want a future, Hi-Hatz aspires to rap stardom and Sam, the woman they mugged, wants to help. Only Ron (Nick Frost) lacks ambition, quite content as the keeper of Hi-Hatz's special hydroponic stronghold. Somebody has to be comic relief, and Frost does that with the best of them.

The threat, too, may be more than it seems. In Cornish's view, it also seems like as long as the lower class are getting invaded, the rest of the city doesn't seem to mind. Despite clear evidence that teen boys could not commit the slaughter the aliens do, authorities never look past Moses and his gang.

But the aliens are exactly what they seem: frightening and yet somehow amusingly familiar. Even when seen in full light, they demonstrate less is more. Cornish found a way to keep them hidden in plain sight.

From a distance they look like iPod aliens, shaggy black outlines with two electric blue eyes. But they open those eyes wider to reveal that's actually their mouth, a species locked in a perpetual anime snarl. So their teeth are bioluminescent and like a shark's, while their skin and fur are so black that you cannot make out the slightest detail. It would be funny if they weren't so scary.

Attack The Block is both. If you're willing to look, it's also deep, with scattered social comments that never stop the action; this is life, turned upside down by an alien invasion. This is also, hopefully, a star-making movie for Boyega, who absolutely owns it.

For American audiences, it should be a star-making movie for Cornish, as well. This guy keeps it moving, makes his points with giddy efficiency, It's not a summer blockbuster, because of its budget. But the point would be anyway that nobody, NOBODY, can bust the block.

Derek McCaw

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