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DID YOU READ

“Attack the Block,” reviewed

“Attack the Block,” reviewed (photo)

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A version of this review first appeared as part of our coverage of South by Southwest 2011.

A satisfying genre movie is good. But a satisfying genre movie with a brain — a film that combines visceral excitement with cerebral smarts — that’s the film geek holy grail. And that’s “Attack the Block,” a mash-up of 80s alien horror and sci-fi films like “Critters,” and “Predator” and gang flicks like “The Warriors” and “Streets of Fire” with a sly metaphorical critique of rebellious youths who defend their poor behavior as “protecting their territory.” If the five kids at the center of “Attack the Block” are wary of outsiders in their neighborhood, you can imagine how they react when the ultimate outsiders, a bunch of toothy, “gorilla-wolf” looking aliens with no eyes and glowing neon fangs, start invading their turf.

Writer/director Joe Cornish — a collaborator of Edgar Wright’s on their as-yet unproduced Ant-Man screenplay and Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Tintin film — begins things with a bold stroke: by introducing his protagonists as cruel thugs. This ragtag bunch of British teens jump a woman named Sam (Jodie Whittaker) on her way home from the bus, and steal her wallet and jewelry. The robbery is interrupted by a falling meteor; inside is the first alien, which attacks ringleader Moses (steely-eyed future movie star John Boyega), prompting the gang to pursue and then kill it in retaliation. While the crew tour their trophy around the giant housing complex (or “block”) where they all live, a whole bunch of bigger, angrier aliens of gorilla-wolf looking variety arrive. Refusing to call the police (you don’t trust the 5-0 on the Block, yo), they dump the corpse in the local weed dealer’s stash room, grab some baseball bats, fireworks, and a samurai sword, and head out to rid their hood of the extra-terrestrial terror.

It feels a little strange to call a movie about bloodthirsty gorilla-wolf aliens authentic, but that’s exactly what “Attack the Block” is. From the characters to their conversations to their home to their reactions to those aliens, everything about the movie feels real to life. Though “Block” has its share of crazy cool moments, these kids aren’t super-heroes. They don’t have artfully choreographed wire-fu moves or big shiny handguns to fire whilst leaping through the air and screaming. The kids of the Block (who, I suddenly realize, could really use their own gang name) might not realize it at first, but they are sorely out of their league, and their actions have intense unforeseen consequences. Because Cornish grounds the film so believably in this world and these characters, we personally feel every single one.

That’s not to say “Attack the Block” isn’t also very funny, thanks to Frost’s deadpan disinterest as Roy the weed dealer, and especially Luke Treadaway as one of his rich kid customers, whose perpetual bad luck is the audience’s comedic good fortune. Balancing laughs and scares in this sort of movie is no easy task. If the film’s too funny, the horror isn’t horrifying, and if the horror’s too horrifying, we’re too scared to laugh. Cornish manages to find the sweet spot.

He also manages to find something to say with this story too. Buried none too deeply beneath all the alien excitement is a critique of territoriality and the dehumanizing effects of the housing projects like the Block, which turns neighbors into complete strangers. Cornish deconstructs our preconceived notions about the people we live with and around, and then he blows them all up, figuratively and literally.

“Attack the Block” opens in limited release on Friday. If you see we want to know what you think — tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.