When I was in grade school paper fortune tellers were all the rage. For the uninitiated, they were a lunchtime diversion that worked like this: a kid would write some predictions on a piece of paper, then they would fold it into an origami box, and then they would ask an audience member to pick a number and a letter. Once the rube had rotated the box the appropriate number of times they would then lift up the appropriately lettered flap, and voila, they would see their future. (Or at least what an 8 year old would imagine their future to be.)
Now, I don't bring this up because I'm nostalgic for half-assed predictions. (In fact, the idea of having a small child give me life advice just makes my head hurt.) No, I bring it up because I've been thinking about how it might be fun to do a fortune teller style movie review - meaning that I would write down some possible discussion topics on a piece of paper, fold it up into an origami box, and then ask my audience to choose their own adventure. Of course, that is an eminently unworkable project - I don't have the time to perform an individualized review for every single person that might end up reading this blog - but nonetheless I'm still fascinated by the idea...
...Which is why I've decided to do a half-assed digital version. So here's what's going to happen: I'm going to act like you, the reader, have chosen a particular letter / number combination, and then I'm going to "lift up the flap" to reveal your "customized" review. And then I'm going to do it again and again until I've covered all of my bases - after all, I don't want to give you a 7A review if you are more of a 4D person. Sounds fun, right? Let's do it:
Let's say you chose 4D. Left, right, left, right, and... lift up the D... And you picked: "meat and potatoes".
Ah, bummer, you got the straight forward review, which goes like this: Attack the Block is a sci-fi comedy from 2011. It is about a group of delinquent teens who have to fight off some furry gorilla-bear looking aliens that are trying to invade their London slum. Its plot is kind of flimsy, as it is built on a lot of coincidences. In the first scene the teens mug a woman... And then later in the night they end up sharing a police van with her... Then when aliens attack the police van all of them have to work together to survive... And then after they've been teamed up for a few hours both parties start to realize that they aren't that different after all. It is that kind of movie.
Ok, let's say you picked 9C. Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left... and C. Ah, it looks like you got: "genre stuff."
Your review compares Attack the Block to other similar monster movies, and it goes like this: this movie is an efficient but uninspired creature feature. It has enough well-shot chase scenes that it won't disappoint action fans, but it doesn't have any big ideas - it is basically nothing more than ninety minutes of desperate people trying to outrun some scary lookin' beasts. Which is fine, but, you know, not exactly groundbreaking.
However, Attack the Block does have one very distinctive feature - its monsters don't look like any other monster I've ever seen. The gorilla-bear aliens have pure black bodies and neon blue fangs, which means that when they are running all you see is a toothy blur, which is an interesting and also frustrating combination. When it works it really works - the dark-light juxtaposition can be really evocative. Unfortunately, when it doesn't work all that rustling blackness just looks like an incomprehensible blur. Overall they feed into the movie's fun-but-forgettable vibe: I definitely prefer these aliens over your average tentacle-y thing, but I also wish they had a few more discernible features.
Or let's say you picked 1A: left, and A. Uh oh: your flap says "racial sensitivity?"
Well, I hope you are the PC type, because you're getting a review that discusses this movie's semi-questionable racial attitudes: you see, all of the black teens start out as thuggish caricatures - they mug helpless white women, they sell drugs, and they are constantly using crude language. However, as the film goes on it tries to subvert those stereotypes by revealing that those kids are more complex than they initially seem - it tries to give them backgrounds and characteristics that contradict their aggressive initial impression.
Which leaves us with a very basic question: is Attack the Block reinforcing racist stereotypes or is it actually undermining them? Well, your mileage probably varies. I personally think that the script does a reasonably good job of humanizing its characters, and I want to give director Joe Cornish some credit for making a movie with a mostly black cast - but I also understand why some people find this movie to be pretty offensive; its early scenes are undeniably drawing on some pretty unpleasant archetypes and once you've dug yourself into that hole it can be awfully hard to climb back out.
Alright, we only have one letter left to explore, so let's give the fortune teller one last spin: 6B, left, right, left, right, left, right, lift the flap, and it looks like you got... "joke answer!"
Your review goes like this: "Knock knock." "Who is there?" "Attack the Block." "Attack the Block who?" "Knock knock." "Who is there?" "Attack the Block." "Attack the Block who?" "Knock knock." "Who---" "INTERRUPTING GORILLA-BEAR ALIEN"
Okay, so that joke isn't very good. (I'm hoping that I'll be able to come up with a better knock knock joke when I revisit the fortune teller format for my review of Martin Scorsese's Who's That Knocking on My Door - Harvey Keitel puns ho!) But you know, that's the way the fortune teller crumbles - if you keep pushing your luck, its only a matter of time before you open the wrong flap and get an unpleasant outcome. And as far as that goes you're actually getting off pretty easy - uncovering an underwhelming knock knock joke is still a lot better than discovering that you're destined to marry the lunch lady. I mean, eww.