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what i watched last week

Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, 2011). What a terrific movie! io9 called it The Wire with aliens, and if that sounds silly, I can only add that my wife and I said the same thing in the middle of watching the damn thing. It’s a cheap English movie full of unknown actors speaking a London slang that is practically unintelligible to an American ear, which somehow just makes it funnier. Yes, funnier … while Attack the Block delivers big time on action, still finding time within its brief 88-minute running time for character development, it is also hilarious. The setup is silly: a group of gangbangers find their mugging attempt interrupted by an alien invasion. What is sillier is that the bangers are all about 15 years old … when they are on the lam from the aliens, they hop on their bicycles like the suburban kids in E.T. But they are also full of pride, so when the aliens disturb their mugging, the thugs get pissed and decide to kick alien ass because the aliens picked the wrong neighborhood to land in. (There are even a couple of little tykes, nine years old at most, who want to join the gang … they fight the aliens with toy guns and super-soaking water pistols.) Yes, it is stupid, but it’s not just stupid, and if it’s not quite as good at social analysis as it pretends, well, there’s always another alien to kill. I can imagine seeing this in a year, wondering what I saw in it, and giving it a 6/10. I can also imagine seeing it in a year, liking it even more than I already do, and giving it 10/10. So I’ll give it a tentative 8/10.

They Live (John Carpenter, 1988). Much like Attack the Block, They Live is a genre piece that also works in “something to say.” Carpenter’s attack on consumerism is interesting, but it doesn’t go much beyond interesting. Piper is fine, the fight between him and Keith David is great, and there are some good action scenes. It’s a very good Saturday afternoon popcorn movie, very enjoyable, but I don’t think it comes close to reaching the heights it strives for. 7/10.

Page Eight (David Hare, 2011). British film, possibly made for television (I can’t tell for sure, but it turned up in the States on PBS), with a mind-boggling cast (Bill Nighy, Rachel Weisz, Michael Gambon, Judy Davis, Saskia Reeves, Felicity Jones, Ralph Fiennes, Alice Krige, Marthe Keller), about an MI-5 officer discovering shenanigans that emanate from important places. There’s nothing new here, but it’s well-done in that good British TV way, and Bill Nighy is always worth seeing when he escapes from those pirate movies. It is reminiscent in some ways of Rubicon, the American TV series that never found an audience. But Page Eight only takes up two hours of your time, which makes it preferable for most folks. You'll know in advance if you’ll like it: if you’re a fan of low-key British spy thrillers with excellent casts, you’ll like this. 7/10.

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