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Tag Archive: Attack the Block


Review by C.J. Bunce

As you look at that great Paul Mann cover art for Blood Sugar, would you ever guess the following describes what is inside?  A modern-day look at the struggles of a teenager in a broken home and broken society in the vein of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (or any of her early books, for that matter).  It has the gritty street life from Attack the Block, Do the Right Thing, or Car Wash, the “being different” of Lucas (the film with Corey Haim) and the coming of age confusion and angst of Stephen King’s Stand By Me aka The Body and issues kids worry about like in Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.  What?

In one way Blood Sugar is the worst written novel you’ll ever read.  And in another way, it’s the kind of story that should already be optioned to become an independent film.  That “bad writing” is tricky, because the story is told in an experimental manner through the voice of a young teenager named Jody, a boy whose life is a mess and whose street sense surpasses any “book learning” he passed up in his life so far.  Author Daniel Kraus, through the voice of Jody, speaks in rambling sentences, stream of conscience thoughts, and with little punctuation and grammar (no apostrophes, etc.).  It’s distracting at first to the point a reader may just walk away, but it doesn’t take too long to realize Kraus’s characters are real if not disturbingly so.  Yes, they are a mess, but this book might be worthwhile in the hands of the right kid.  Kraus is a screenplay writer, known for his script to The Shape of Water and his young adult works.  It no doubt takes some commitment to write an entire story in this strange manner.  His novel reads like a screenplay, and it’s far more a young adult novel than anything you’ve read before in the Hard Case Crime series.  It’s not a fun read–it’s dark, and desperate, and dire–the kids have no good path ahead, and their plight is like that of the doomed kids in Bless the Beasts and Children.  But it’s one heckuva thought-provoking drama.

Jody is a funny, dumb, impressionable kid.  He hasn’t read much but he knows The Lord of the Rings movies backward and forward.  He rarely swears, instead using goofy swapped words for profanity, which drops the serious and sometimes violent nature of the content into something that should pass for a PG-13 rating, something like I would have read in eighth grade.  This is a dark story of drugs and living in a rat-infested, inner-city project, of mental health issues, bad parenting, of youth gone amok, all in that same theme–but in an updated 21st century way–as Rebel Without a Cause, or any of the books referenced above.  And everything in Jody’s life hits a turning point on Halloween.  This is not your typical crime novel.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

iBoy is a 2017 Netflix original movie that may appeal to fans of Unbreakable and Attack the Block starring Bill Milner (Dunkirk, X-Men: First Class) as Tom, a teenager in London readying for exams, who is friends with Lucy, played by Maisie Williams (Doctor Who, Game of Thrones) who he has been infatuated with but never asked out.  After he finally works up the nerve he arrives at her apartment to find masked thugs attacking Lucy’s family and raping her.  His instinct is to run and call the police, but they shoot him in the head as he’s running away and they leave Tom for dead.

A dark and serious film with a sci-fi twist, iBoy is based on the 2010 novel by Kevin Brooks.  The film does not stretch much beyond its title, but it does offer up a British teenage thriller where the two survivors (Lucy of rape and Tom of the hole in his skull) grow together to help each other with their trauma, using sci-fi as a storytelling device.  The sci-fi element makes Tom a superhero in the realm of Bruce Willis’s masked vigilante in M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable or Rami Malek’s hacker Elliot in Mr. ROBOT.  When the bullet hit Tom’s head it went through his smart phone, leaving bits of the phone technology in his brain permanently, too dangerous to be surgically removed.  Those bits soon allow Tom to tap into the electrical power and communications grid and he learns quickly how to harness his power to avenge the pain caused to Lucy, who stays home from school and doesn’t want to leave her apartment.  But Maisie Williams’ Lucy gets her own opportunity for revenge once the higher steps of the criminal underworld ladder begin to hone in on Tom as the mastermind that is putting them in jail one by one.

More drama than thriller, the film offers up a fairly simple plot, yet those intrigued by the life of teens in a big European city in the realm of Attack the Block’s street thugs will see that drugs and guns cause trouble for inner-city kids everywhere.  The visual sci-fi element–Tom pulling data from people and machines from all across the city–is nicely done, and the production overall is something better than a typical made-for TV film.

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It’s been nearly five years since we first reviewed the award-winning, low-budget sci-fi alien invasion flick Attack the Block.  Now that Jodie Whittaker is in the spotlight for her selection as the next Doctor in the BBC’s Doctor Who, and John Boyega will be returning this December for his second stint as Imperial turned Resistance fighter Finn in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, let’s look back to them working together as co-leads in writer/director Joe Cornish’s modern cult classic.  Attack the Block should be in every sci-fi fan’s arsenal.  When we first reviewed Attack the Block here at borg.com, we compared it to another low-budget British sci-fi/horror mash-up, 1985’s Lifeforce (which co-starred a then less-known Patrick Stewart).  After repeat viewings since then, it’s clear Attack the Block is a much better film, full of action, suspense, humor, and good acting by young actors who all feel very real on-screen.  In 2011 only fans of the actors from the Cornetto films would have noticed it, because of the slightly larger than cameo performance by Nick Frost, one-half of the Simon Pegg/Frost comic duo (Shaun of the Dead, The Fuzz, Spaced, Paul).  Attack the Block was an unknown commodity that didn’t get much reaction at the U.S. box office in 2011 because it was not marketed well and it was not a typical, Hollywood-made sci-fi epic.  It was before its time–it’s Stranger Things, UK style.  It’s Judgment Night and John Carpenter’s original Attack on Precinct 13 meets E.T., if E.T. didn’t have good intentions and Elliot wasn’t a nice little kid.

It takes a bit to warm up to the main cast of Attack the Block.  We follow a teen gang of British kids in masks led by John Boyega’s character Moses as they unabashedly and violently mug a nurse named Sam, played by Jodie Whittaker.  From the beginning Whittaker’s Sam really is the only person in the film we are completely sympathetic toward, despite efforts of the writer to get viewers to understand this gang of kids.  We almost get to the point of sympathy for the others once Sam decides she may very well be killed by aliens if she does not join up with the gang, and this film takes a swing at answering the question: “Under what situation would a victim, however reluctantly, join up with her attacker?”  Violent alien beast invasion, of course!  Despite playing the thug, Boyega had charisma even early on and it’s understandable why he has his own band of followers.  He gets in over his head dealing with a slightly older drug kingpin who “owns the block” and takes the kid under his wing for a drug sale.  His followers are a motley sort. Along with a pair of much younger kids that add some comic relief, and an additional wandering, stoned teenager, they must come together to fight the gang leader and worse—the onslaught of big hairy aliens.

The scarf of a future Doctor!  Jodie Whittaker in Attack the Block.

Six years later, Attack the Block easily holds its own.  For alien invasion film fans, it offers one of the best aliens of any 21st century production–big or low budget—giant dark, furry beasts built like hybrid gorilla/buffalos, with phosphorescent blue fangs, able to leap and spring and climb buildings.  We don’t ever see clear views of these creatures, and that mystery and an overall lack of gore throughout the movie helps form the mystique of these creatures–think the uncertainty of when the shark appears next in Jaws–and it makes them just plain scary as they chase their targets down hallways and up buildings.  They aren’t hive-minded aliens from Alien or conniving predators as in Predator, but they don’t need to be.

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You really can’t beat waking up to the biggest entertainment news of the year.  Yesterday the BBC teased that we’d see a reveal of the next Doctor on Doctor Who, the 13th Doctor, to take over for the lead role of the iconic 54-year science fiction franchise currently played by Peter Capaldi.  After the men’s Wimbledon final today, the BBC released the big news:  Finally, the BBC is breaking new ground, for the first time casting an actress as the next Doctor–a woman in the role played previously by 13 men on television (counting unnumbered War Doctor John Hurt), and not only a woman, but a great genre actress at that–35-year-old Jodie Whittaker, who hails from West Yorkshire.

Whittaker is best known for her starring role along with Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ John Boyega in the science fiction cult classic Attack the Block.  She also was featured in the great British ghost story series Marchlands and most recently in the drama Broadchurch.  Replacing Doctor Who’s showrunner Steven Moffat is the previously announced Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall.  Whittaker said in an announcement today, “I’m beyond excited to begin this epic journey – with Chris and with every Whovian on this planet….  It’s more than an honour to play the Doctor.  It means remembering everyone I used to be, while stepping forward to embrace everything the Doctor stands for: hope.  I can’t wait.”

When David Tenant regenerated into Matt Smith for Smith to become the eleventh Doctor on the series, Smith’s Doctor initially thought he was female because of his hair, teasing fans a bit and planting the seed for a gender change to be coming in the near future.  “I’m a girl!” he shouted.  Also, the addition of a female Master (Michelle Gomez) in recent seasons helped prepare viewers for the change.

Check out yesterday’s teaser, followed by the big reveal:

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colossal-creature

Many think kaiju movies–Asian giant monster flicks featuring Godzilla, Mothra, and the like–are comedic in their own right.  Right or wrong, at some point a worldwide disaster apparently brings along its own laughs.  Melodramas, rampaging monsters, usually devoid of a solid plot, kaiju still claims millions of loyal members in its fan base.

A new U.S. film with the look of a J.J. Abrams Cloverfield production or even Attack the Block is coming your way in 2017.  Colossal, screening at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend, is a monster movie, but probably more of a parody of the giant beasty films.  It’s close enough that the company owning the right to the actual Godzilla movies sued the filmmakers of Colossal during production (a confidential settlement was reached in 2015).  Academy Award-winning actress Anne Hathaway stars as a rather ordinary woman who happens to have a psychic connection with a giant monster ripping apart the streets of Seoul, South Korea.

colossal-2

Is there an audience for a Godzilla meets Being John Malkovich mash-up?

Take a look at this trailer for Colossal:

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10-Cloverfield-Lane-Poster

Review by C.J. Bunce

Chances are you skipped 10 Cloverfield Lane when it hit theaters this March 11.  It was one of those movies with a cryptic trailer.  In a world where trailers typically give too much away, this one left you thinking John Goodman was some kind of rescuer of two others in a dystopian underground quonset hut.  But once you’ve seen it, you realize you were better off not having an explanation.  Why?  Spoilers.  10 Cloverfield Lane is now available on Blu-ray, pay cable and streaming services.

It’s the ultimate horror story.  A woman, played by fan favorite Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a smart and resourceful role, wrecks her car and awakens tied to a post in an underground bunker with two men.  The older man, played expertly by John Goodman in a performance that would have garnered him an Oscar nod a decade ago (think Kathy Bates in Misery), claims that the outside world is gone, victim to a chemical attack.  Maybe it’s the Russians.  Maybe it’s aliens.  Maybe he’s a psycho.  Or maybe its zombies.  But we know the movie has the word Cloverfield in the title and is produced by J.J. Abrams, so what’s really going on here?  Does it have anything at all to do with J.J. Abrams’s 2008 monster movie Cloverfield or not?  Is there some sci-fi element lurking around the next corner?  Or is it just a street address, much like Abrams includes the name Kelvin in all his movies?

All will be revealed in time.

Winstead Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane is an expertly paced mystery, plunging you into the question “what genre is this movie?”  It’s that question that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last scene.  Fans of M. Night Shyamalan movies will fit right in here, and at times you get the feeling that Shyamalan is somewhere behind the scenes.  When is the revelation coming?  Who is telling the truth?

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StarWarsEpisodeVII copyright lucasfilm 2014

Does a picture tell a thousand words?

Lucasfilm released today the slate of the main cast for Star Wars: Episode VII and the above photo.  Writer/Director/Producer J.J Abrams (top center right) with (clockwise from right) Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Producer Bryan Burk, Lucasfilm President and Producer Kathleen Kennedy, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill, Andy Serkis, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver, and writer Lawrence Kasdan.  Defying the convention of not wearing the band shirt to the concert is our favorite gentle giant Peter Mayhew sporting a rebel-logo golf shirt.

The studio previously revealed the new film would take place 30 years after Return of the Jedi, but considering nearly the entire main cast for the original trilogy is in England’s Pinewood Studios for this cast read-through, the idea that they will be trivial to the story seems to be out the window.  And after a lot of eyeball-rolling from fans across the globe, this is starting to get a bit exciting.

Maybe we were looking at this wrong.  Disney let Marvel Studios make some good movies with The Avengers, Iron Man, and Captain America, right?  And J.J. Abrams made two Star Trek movies that could easily fit in the Star Wars universe.  Heck–they could have served as auditions for getting this directorial gig.  Lawrence Kasdan is one of the best moviemakers ever, with Silverado and The Empire Strikes Back in his portfolio.  You cannot say enough about John Williams, back yet again for another score.  And George Lucas was solely responsible for the prequel trilogy. ‘Nuff said there.  But we won’t let Disney off the hook until they prove that they won’t ruin the greatest franchise of all time.

Ming the Merciless Von Sydow

But more details were released.  Max Von Sydow, Emperor Ming from the 1980s Flash Gordon, will have a key role in the film.  Recall the original Flash Gordon serials inspired Lucas’s original vision.  Von Sydow is perfect for a role here–right up there with classic Star Wars veterans Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, and Christopher Lee.  The original R2-D2 actor will be back, too: Kenny Baker will return as the guy in the droid suit, joining Anthony Daniels as C-3PO.

It’s fanboy speculation time…

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Numbercruncher

“Dying young, a brilliant Mathematician discovers a way to cheat the terrifying Divine Calculator.  He schemes to be endlessly reincarnated in the life of the woman he loves, no matter how often the violent bailiffs of the Karmic Accountancy cut short each life.”  

Yet the delivery of this quirky story is delivered through the voice of a foul-mouthed British thug in such a way that it… actually works.  Numbercruncher asks questions involving the biggest topics of life and death yet balances humor and despair in a pretty stunning and imaginative way.

Bastard Zane is a thug.  A dead thug.  He speaks in the local accents of the street kids in Attack the Block or Daniel Craig in Layer Cake, and could easily fit into the crime noir world of Road to Perdition.  And he’s experiencing the real afterlife, not one of angels and pearly gates, but of accountants running the grand show—it’s like the worst case scenario for those afraid of tax men and accountants: heaven is run by numbercrunchers.  Writer Si Spurrier quickly gives us his set up in a way that puts this story alongside the afterlife treatments of Steven Spielberg’s Always, Albert Brooks’s Defending Your Life or even the Philip K. Dick-inspired The Adjustment Bureau–and far better than Jerry Zucker’s Ghost.  And then he proceeds to let his characters chase each other down.

Numbercruncher page

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My Yang interior panel 1

At first look at Mickey Lam’s detailed cityscape panels you’ll wonder why he isn’t drawing a regular monthly series.  His first comic book is the black and white Mr. Yang Fights Aliens, Part 1.  By day Mr. Yang is a schoolteacher.  One evening he is awakened in his Peckham neighborhood and observes a kidnapping–a kidnapping of a homeless man by an insectoid alien race.  Can this schoolteacher, who would rather work on balancing his own life issues, like keeping ahead of work and finding a girlfriend, save the world?

Lam is a self-taught illustrator based in London.  He has a degree in biomedical materials and was a secondary school science teacher before committing to illustration work.  In addition to creating art for clients, he creates his own comic books to experiment with his style and improve his skills.  Lam’s cityscapes in particular will appeal to fans of Moritat–DC Comics’ Jonah Hex series artist.

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When I think of good British sci-fi B-movies, one film comes to mind: the 1985 alien vampire sci-fi horror flick Lifeforce.  Now I can add last year’s alien invasion film Attack the Block.  You can rent, stream or stumble upon the random cable TV B-movie and you may never find one you can make it all the way through.  Sometimes bad is bad.  Then you begin watching something like Attack the Block and you find your head spinning saying to yourself “hey, this isn’t half bad–is anyone else seeing this?”  Not since the bizarre but engrossing Lifeforce have I seen a British sci-fi B-movie that, despite making me wonder how anyone ever got this film made, it forced me to watch the movie straight-through.  I had to see where this tale was going and where it would all end because there was something compelling about this crazy show.  Think of it as John Carpenter’s original Attack on Precinct 13 meets E.T., if E.T. didn’t have good intentions and Elliot wasn’t a nice little kid.  Guilty pleasure?  That probably is the right description.  And it is a bit of what I had hoped Cowboys and Aliens would be, but this is much better than that big budget effort.

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