Arthur Christmas

Arthur Christmas (2011) movie poster

(2011) director Sarah Smith
viewed: 11/25/2011 at Platinum Theater Dinuba 6, Dinuba, CA 

After a dearth of worthwhile-seeming kids flicks during the autumn, the day before Thanksgiving saw the release of three films that my kids were interested in and that I was not averse to seeing myself.  Arthur Christmas was the least of the three in my mind.  I was more interested in the new The Muppets (2011) or the new Martin Scorsese-directed Hugo (2011), but the fates being what they are, Arthur Christmas was the first that we managed to see.

“Wallace and Gromit” studio Aardman, whose best work is done in stop-motion animation, is behind this latest in holiday movie-making (Christmas truly is a sub-genre unto itself).  Aardman’s first digitally-animated feature, Flushed Away (2006), done in the same visual style even though no clay was employed in the animating process, was surprisingly fun (I loved the chorusing slugs and the villainous frogs and toads), so despite the fact that the Arthur Christmas trailer hadn’t done a thing for me, I was more than willing to believe that the studio generally released quality products.

Despite being an original story, the whole thing felt vaguely familiar.

Arthur is Santa’s second son, the retiring, dweebish, uber-sincere Christmas fan who works as a cog in the whole complex Santa empire.  The Santas are meant to have been a generational group who hand down the title and responsibilities to the younger sons, but by present day (I mean, the current moment in time) the operation is run like a finely-honed military machine, with a horde of highly-skilled elves, a giant sleigh-shaped spacecraft, and a huge amount of NASA-like technology.  And Arthur’s special-ops, beret-wearing older brother, is the one at the controls, waiting his time to take over for his aging father.

The adventure kicks in when one present is accidentally not delivered and Arthur kicks into action with his goofy grandfather and his old-fashioned sleigh and reindeer attempt to deliver the gift before the sun rises.

The whole thing is about how important it is that Christmas is about every child being recognized (gift-wise), no child left behind.  The spirit of Christmas, of giving, of maintaining that magical quality of belief is what’s delivered ultimately by the one who most sincerely believes in the reason it exists.  That would be Arthur.   But it’s an ironical commentary, really, this passion and zeal for a sincere belief in a system completely concocted by the film.  I mean, this is not the traditional image of St. Nick, this is a comically modern vision.  This is not the religious traditions behind the holiday that the film seeks to fight for.  This is something about making each child believe.  Not believe that they matter, but believe because they get just what they wanted.

It’s a miry message, leaning heavily upon the sentiment that most holiday movies trade in, but what ultimately is being achieved here?  Really, that is a good question for the film itself, adding to the swollen cornucopia of Christmas entertainment, of which a multitude of varieties of versioning of the Santa myth already glut the occasion.  Why do we do it?  Why add to the pile?  More stuff to consume?  More gifts to deliver?  More carrying forward of the corporate culture of consumerism?

I may have taken a particularly cynical slant here, Scrooge-ish, even, but when I spent any time considering Arthur Christmas, I came a lot less to its small joys and momentary laughs, and much more down to its ultimate message.  And it’s not very heartening.

Children of the Damned

Children of the Damned (1963) movie poster

(1963) director Anton M. Leader
viewed: 11/20/2011

After watching Village of the Damned (1960), Clara was keen to watch the sequel, which was included on the DVD, so we popped it in.  Not nearly as compelling as its predecessor, Children of the Damned is a much different animal.  Whereas the original is horror/science fiction whose focus is a not fully-defined menace of creepy Aryan children spawned by aliens, the sequel is about a group of children not linked by the similarity of their looks but are representative of a broader world.

One is English, one America, one Indian, one African, one Chinese, and one Russian.  A United Colors of Benetton of psychic alien kids.

Wherein the first film, there was a world-wide phenomenon of the incidence of births of groups of these kids, here these are individuals who are united in England as a study of their intellect has recognized their uniqueness.  The children are considered a menace pretty quickly, especially after they develop a sonic weapon of some advanced technology which they use to protect themselves.  Like the children of the first film, they kill people who threaten them, but this time people threaten them both with death and in weaponization.  These children are a Cold War metaphor big time.

Still not fully certain of their purpose in the world, the why of their being on Earth, the children are clearly not as malevolent as their predecessors.  This is made most clear in the film’s finale, a Deus Ex Machina of great size, in which the children are surrounded by a ready to fire military, more prepared to destroy than to negotiate.  When the political leaders stall the attack and seek words from the children, the kids emerge from the church in which they have holed up in, holding hands, united, a little “It’s a Small World After All” pan-world representation of races united, innocence in their youth, while unknown their potential.

And then a guy drops a screwdriver on the switch signaling the military to open fire.  The kids are shot down, bombed, crushed beneath the falling church tower.  The horrible accident is underscored by the image of the children’s hands still united in a clasp beneath the rubble.  And if this weren’t clear of poignant enough, the film ends with a shot of the screwdriver that screwed them all.  Actually, that kind of takes away from the potential poignancy.  The image of the hands, sure, unity and peace, but the odd basic tool accidentally triggering the massacre?  Just weird.

While it doesn’t quite reach the qualities of the original, it does take a very different tack on the whole concept, making for a truly original sequel, not treading the ground laid out in the original and regurgitating the story.  It’s a good film.  Clara agreed it wasn’t as compelling as the first, though.

Village of the Damned

Village of the Damned (1960) movie poster

(1960) director Wolf Rilla
viewed: 11/20/2011

I don’t know how I managed to have never seen Village of the Damned, considering my childhood and beyond interest in horror films, but I had not seen it before.  I was familiar with the images of the tow-headed children and I vaguely knew what it was about since childhood.  For my Halloween collection of horror films to watch (which I’m obviously still clearing out), I had queued up the film to watch with the kids and finally one rainy Sunday, we got to it.

I watched it mostly with Clara, who had some vague curiosity about the film and its sequel, Children of the Damned, though she would call it “Kids of the Damned”.  Felix flitted in and out on it.

Actually, it’s a pretty great movie.

In a rural English village, a sudden sleeping spell comes over everyone therein.  As the military starts to cordon off the village and test what’s happening, everyone revives, after being out cold for several hours.  It turns out in the coming months that all able women have become pregnant, even the virgins.  Their pregnancies result in a group of white-haired children who mature quickly and have a shared knowledge.  Tell one something, everyone immediately knows it too.

As they become about 8 or 9 (which doesn’t take the normal amount of time), it becomes clear that these kids are different from everyone.  They’re creepy.  And when threatened, they can make their eyes glow and force people to do things like kill themselves.  They can read minds, too.

George Sanders, the supposed father of the lead child, has taken to teaching them and has sympathies with them.  The menace that they represent grows and grows.  They are human but they are not human, an advanced form of human being.

The kids themselves are eerie, but the mixture of mystery of the impregnating of the women, the children’s lack of an agenda, the glowing eyes trick…it’s all a pretty effective scary movie.  Easy to see why it’s remained iconic.  Still hard to believe I’d never seen it before.

Clara also thought it was good.  She was eager to watch the sequel.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010) movie poster

(2010) director John Turteltaub
viewed: 11/20/2011

File under: Nicolas Cage, teen action films, Michael Bay explosions.

Though I’ve been writing about Nicolas Cage for several years and have been an admitted, though now mitigated, fan, it’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve committed to the concept that I’ll watch any and all of his films.   Without the kids’ interest, this might have taken a lot longer to get to, but this one appealed to both of them, though to Felix more than Clara.

I haven’t tried to explain Nicolas Cage to them.  I have a hard enough time explaining it to sympathetic adults.  And though the kids do understand irony, I think it’s a bit hard for them to understand a guilty pleasure such as Cage is to me.

Based extremely loosely on “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence from Fantasia (1940), which was an animated interpretation of the musical piece itself, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is more of a stab into the  Percy Jackson or Harry Potter franchises, these magical fantasy films about a loner kid who discovers that he has a connection to some ancient, super-power magical history plus adventures.  In that sense, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is more original, not adapted from an already popular book series.  But original is a highly relative term in Hollywood, especially in the realm of films for the kid market.

The film opens with its weakest point, a flashback to over 1000 years ago into a complicated back-story including Cage and Monica Bellucci and Alfred Molina, three magicians fighting the evil Morgana Le Fay, winding up with all but Cage entrapped in a babushka doll, awaiting the birth of the “prime Merlinian” who will be able to defeat Le Fay when the time is right.

Flash forward to 2000 (interestingly 10 years prior to the film’s release…remember when 2000 was the future, not the past?) and a boy gets pulled into a strange shop, and an unchanged Cage awaits, realizes that the boy is his long-awaited ‘prime Merlinian” and is about to begin teaching him when Molina’s villain is released, only to be recaptured again by Cage in a cage that will hold them both for 10 years.

Flash forward again.  See?  It takes a long while, not only a long while, but a complicated while to get to the point at which the actor who plays the apprentice in the present is actually onscreen.  Now he is played by the dweebish/cool Jay Baruchel, who talks like Christian Slater but looks a lot nerdier.  He’s had a tough life as a science geek with issues that his prior experience with Cage 10 years earlier led him to.

The adventure ensues on the wings of lot of Michael Bay explosions and action, which makes for entertainment of a certain ilk.   Really, it’s not half-bad.  It’s hardly dire.  Though it’s also not a Cage masterpiece of either irony nor true quality.  It’s still probably one of his better films from last year.

Felix did enjoy it.  Clara didn’t pay a lot of attention.  And I was able to scratch another Cage film from my list and continue my pursuit of his entire oeuvre.

Watership Down

Watership Down (1978) movie poster

(1978) director Martin Rosen
viewed: 11/19/2011

Watership Down is one of those other films from my childhood that I could probably file under “most influential.”  Not so much for the film itself, perhaps, but I did really love it, but more so because it led me to the Richard Adams novel from which it was adapted with which I developed an even more intense relationship.  In retrospect, I still had a fondness for the film, but it went years and years and years and years and years…

When I introduced the kids to Watership Down, I did it in the opposite order of my experience with it.  We read the novel, which I read to myself in the 4th grade.  They were really engrossed in the story, as much as I could have hoped.  For myself, I found reading the book again after so many years rife with memory, powerful with narrative, with strong,  characters, and rich in natural details of the English countryside.  While I wasn’t as personally wow’ed as I’d been as a child, I still found it very moving and worthwhile.

When we finished the novel, it was logical to watch the film.

The kids were disappointed with the way that the story was truncated to streamline the narrative (though I thought they did a pretty admirable job of it).  The fact is that this is one of those quite typical cases where a movie is actually quite good but of course pales vastly in comparison to the book.  The book has more time for the breadth of epic detail, more delving into the mythologies and the idea of heroism that is at the heart of the novel.

The animation is actually quite good, though diminished a bit by the period in which it was produced.  In the late 1970’s, traditional cel animation was on its last legs, expensive as it is to produce, and took as many cues as it could from the limited style of cel animation used for television production.  The backgrounds are lovingly rendered in watercolors, painterly in contrast to the fairly naturalistic though classically rendered “animation”.   It’s interesting the writer/director Martin Rosen was not a director nor animator when he came to produce this film.  It kind of shows, lacking a stylistic vision, but still strong in storytelling and true to the novel’s most important qualities, its characters and largest dramatic events.

The music (not so much the Art Garfunkel “Bright Eyes”, but the more classical theme music) resonated again with me, reminding me of how much this film meant to me back when I was 9.  Clara has clung to the book since our reading of it and is slowly trying to read it herself.

It’s still a great and powerful thing.

Cannibal Holocaust

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) movie poster

(1980) director Ruggero Deodato
viewed: 11/18/2011

An exploitation film that uses exploitation to critique exploitation winds up somewhere between the “meta” and the ironic.

Controversial in its day, perhaps in parts still as shocking as ever, and doubtlessly innovative in its narrative approach, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust is an icon of outreness.

A team of documentarian film-makers from NYU head into the “Green Inferno”, an area of Amazonian forest in which primitive cannibal indigenous tribes dwell.  But when they head out to make their latest hard-hitting foray into the world of documentary, they disappear, not to be heard from again.  So another professor sets out with a new guide to find them.  As he and his crew dig into this dangerous landscape, they come upon many horrors and clues, and ultimately find the skeletal remains of the film crew and their film canisters.  The professor treks back to New York City, where he has the footage developed.

So while most of the film is a regular narrative film, a key component of the narrative is the “found footage,” which depicts much of what happened on the documentarians’ sojourn, and ultimately depicts what became of them.  Unlike the more recent surge in “found footage”-style horror films, the whole of the film of Cannibal Holocaust is not made out to be “real”, only the documentary-style portion.  When the film was made, the footage still stoked controversy and question.  Was this real footage?  What happened to these people?  Was this the equivalent of a “Snuff” film?

Deodato does work the angles to evoke the most from these segments.  First, we are shown some documentary footage, supposedly from a prior film of the crew, which depicts real human executions in Africa.  In a sense, the gauntlet is thrown down here.  Here is real death.  Interestingly, it is at this point that one of the professors suggests that these documentarians would “fabricate” their documentation by creating events in which these things happened, getting “the perfect shot” by working with staged activity.  So, here, just where the veritable death is depicted, the question is raised over its verity.

Furthering this sense of graphic violence in reality are sequences of slaughter of real animals: an opossum-like rodent, , a baby boar, and most graphically, a huge aquatic turtle.  These scenes continue to be controversial as animal abuse, but really drive home this sense of truth to the violence.  Like the Mondo film genre that used a lot of real world violence and somewhat influence this film’s aesthetics and sensibilities, there are levels of reality within whatever context these images were created or how they were presented (in the context of a narrative).  They are exploitational in and of themselves, animal snuff films, if you will.  Though these images are perhaps also not a-typical of animal slaughter for food preparation.

Deodato portrays the documentarians as true exploiters, both of the native people, but even more extremely in creating situations that are by no means natural and real.  They terrorize the villagers with their weapons and ultimately set fire to the village, killing their pig, raping women.  Deodato gives his moral center of the film, the professor who sought out the footage, the words that question who are the savages, the primitive cannibals or the a-moral urbanite intellectuals.  Because even when most of the truth has been uncovered, there are still executives who want to air the footage for the public to consume and respond to.  Though ultimately, they decide to burn the footage.

Only this is the added irony.  Surely it’s all fake (except for the animal slaughters and other documents or executions, right?), but the whole thing is still created for titillation and shock value.  I find the film to play on those multiple levels of critique and irony, of shock and shame.  It has some disturbing elements, certainly.  But for a movie with such a clearly “shock value” title, Cannibal Holocaust, it isn’t without a self-awareness much more elevated than your average exploitation film.  Strangely much more thought-provoking for me than I was expecting.

Who Can Kill a Child?

Who Can Kill a Child? (1976) movie poster

(1976) director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
viewed: 11/15/2011

I’d never heard of Who Can Kill a Child? until a year or so ago when I started hearing about it in some Halloween round-ups of “the scariest movies of all time”.  Or maybe just “the super freakiest movies of all time,” which would be a better column in which to file it.

A Spanish horror film from 1976, it’s a unique vision and a timely one, political, strange, social critique.  It falls perhaps into the vague grouping of “When Nature Attacks”, a grouping more associated with animals, such as The Birds (1963) or more recently in The Happening (2008) in which the trees attack people in a form of biological warfare.  In Who Can Kill a Child? it’s neither wildlife, domestic animals, nor an embodiment of Mother Nature.  This time, it’s the kids.

What is perhaps most radical about Who Can Kill a Child? is the opening sequence, which starts with a news-like report and a narrator documenting some of the world’s more recent atrocities, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam, Biafra, Cambodia.  With both still and moving documentary images of real death, real bodies, real emaciated children, corpses, statistics are laid out of the numbers of people killed in these horrors and the shocking percentage of children that make up the numbers of the dead.  Who knows if the numbers are accurate.  The point that the film makes is clearly spelled out: children suffer the most from all of the wars, famine, crises of humanity.

So when a young English couple come to a small island off the coast of Spain and surprisingly find it devoid of adults, they really have no clue what is going on.  The story unfolds in slow moments, and the images get more shocking and brazen, as the truth comes out.  The children are killing every adult, slaughtering them, even using their bodies for morbid pinatas and using a scythe as a hitting stick.

It’s sinister.

Apparently this film was one of those that made quite a sensation with a cult crowd back in the day but until recently hadn’t been available in the United States.  Since it was released on DVD a few years back, more and more people have gotten to see it, so it’s kind of unsurprising how I managed to finally come across it.

When I mention it, which I haven’t done much so far,  people are brought to mind of Children of the Corn (1984), which was adapted from a Stephen King story from 1977.  Sure, the children are the scary monsters here, which is the sick twist to an extent, but director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador taps into something of a deeper zeitgeist, especially during the political upheavals of the mid-1970’s, this sense of the world ready to revenge itself on human kind.  And to take a mankind’s most precious innocents, turn them into voiceless, malevolent killers, the sense of the chaos of the world overpowering everything is visceral.

All that said, the film’s qualities have more to do with its tone and creeping dread.  There is a very creepy twist toward the end, which I will not detail, but this isn’t a film that is “scary” per se.  It is unsettling, strange, interesting and unusual.

Sutro’s: The Palace at Lands End

Sutro's: The Palace at Lands End (2011) movie poster

(2011) director Tom Wyrsch
viewed: 11/12/2011 at the Balboa Theater, SF, CA

From my earliest times of living in San Francisco, now over 20 years, I, like many others before and since, developed an appreciation for the Sutro Ruins at Land’s End near the Cliff House.  Just a month or two ago, I walked the kids up there and we explored the cave that the waves shoot under, traipsed across the stone bulwark and traced the leftover walls by foot.  It also sparked their imagination.  Hardly the ruins of old Rome or Stonehenge or anything, it is the footprint of the Sutro Baths, a Victorian-era creation which most locals know of via some iconic photographs that suggest its immensity.

I even knew that Adolph Sutro, who had the thing built, was a mayor of San Francisco and had once owned most of the Western part of the city, including the nearby park that also bears his name.

But what I didn’t know…

Sutro’s: The Palace at Lands End is a documentary by local film-maker Tom Wyrsch and is presently playing at the Balboa Theater, not a whole long way from where Sutro’s once stood.  Wyrsch has also had another film that ran similarly, Remembering Playland at the Beach (2010), also about a seaside treasure of San Francisco’s that went the way of the dodo.

The film about Sutro’s does indeed shed light on what must have been an amazing place, even more amazing than the famous poster-sized photo of the huge baths.  The building had any number of restaurants in it, over 500 changing rooms, and a massive collection of collections, from Egyptian mummies to stuffed animals, one diorama after another, things weird and wild, all under glass true to the Victorian sensibilities.

The film is shot on video, mainly of a couple of local historians or patrons who recall the place in its later years.  But the film is loaded with images from the collections of a woman who fell into the treasure trove of photographs and negatives and other memorabilia.  For San Francisco locals or anyone interested in the city’s rich past, it’s really quite eye-opening.  I certainly came away far more amazed and appreciative (and disappointed that it is lost to time).

The quality of the production is good but vaguely amateurish.  Locally, even our Public Broadcasting channels tend to make more polished work than this.  Actually, the film could have used a bit more structure and cohesion.  For instance, after starting out with Adolph Sutro’s birth, his career, and his build of the fantastic place, his death is mentioned only briefly in passing.  It wouldn’t be too hard to bring it together more.

Still, I don’t mean to complain.  I think that Tom Wyrsch’s efforts are all in good intent and appreciation.  I think the kids found it interesting.  They certainly learned a thing or two and it’s nice to be able to tie it to a place that they know and have tramped across (and no doubt will tramp across again).

Star Wars

Star Wars (1977) movie poster

(1977) director George Lucas
viewed: 11/11/2011

The other day, I was stumbling among various childhood effluvia of mine and showed it to my kids.  When I showed Clara a picture of Darth Vader, she told me that she kind of knew who he was (from Lego Star Wars video games, various household items, and general culture) but had never actually seen the movie, Star Wars.  In fact, she’d never seen any of them.  I realized that while Felix had been introduced to these films at an early age, she was probably too young at the time to be interested.

I felt vaguely ashamed.  Of all of the films that we watch together, I was overlooking one of the most culturally significant film series of my generation, something that is a major cultural touchpoint for apparently all generations that have followed.  You can criticize it from here to kingdom come but by goodness, everyone has seen it, knows Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, R2D2, C2PO, Chewbacca, Yoda, and the rest.

I also saw this as a great opportunity.  At age 7, she is kind of an excellent age to introduce to the films without cynicism.   In many ways, she’s at an age to enjoy the films as much as any time in her life.

The funny thing was, she really had no clue about the film.  She couldn’t name or recognize any of the characters, Darth Vader included, with the exception of Yoda, who of course doesn’t show up until the second film.

Interestingly, Felix has his own take on the whole series.  Part of a generation who has all six films to work from, he sees the story as starting with Episode 1 and ending with Episode 6 (Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)).  For those of us of my generation, and perhaps other people trying to watch the films in the order of their production, you start with the original film, Star Wars, before it had a subtitle and work your way through the chronological productions, ending with Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005),

Apparently, this touched some sort of hidden nerd nerve within me.

Clara started by asking lots of questions (which she does a lot of on any occasion).  “Who is the baboon guy?”  “Where is the green guy with the big ears?”  “Why does she roll her hair up so weird?”  But as the story got going, she got into it.

This time through the film, what was I thinking?  So focused on Clara’s experience, I wasn’t pulling it all in quite the same way as I would on my own.  At first, I was struck by some of the dated design and the lesser moments.  But from the first striking notes of John Williams’ score, I was struck, the way that I was struck back when I was 8 years old, first experiencing the film, being as in love with a movie as much as I ever became.  Numerous scenes resonated similarly.  Lines of dialogue, echoed in my brain, nuance for nuance.

In some ways, perhaps many ways, I’ve been fighting the fact that I truly loved Star Wars myself.

My feeling has generally been that, yes, I did love Star Wars as a kid, as much as anybody.  My experience was personal, visceral, real, but as I grew up and realized how universal this experience was, it kind of cheapened it for me.  And as Star Wars has gone on to such weird extremes of cultural saturation that I’ve felt more alienated from it.  That other people had more intense relationships with the movie.  For all the times that I saw the film in the theater (before home video), many, many others had wound up seeing it many, many times more than I ever had and many, many others have been more obsessed with it than I ever was.

In some ways, it caused me to develop a distance with the film(s).  In this post-modern world, where it is very hard to experience anything with fresh, unjaundiced, not pre-influenced eyes and mind, I had been in some denial of my own genuine relationship with the movie and its sequels.

It’s hard to know how Clara ultimately felt about it.  She said she liked it and I believe she did.  Felix enjoyed it, but not overtly.  I think it’s likely that we’ll revisit (or in her case “visit”)  it’s sequels, at least the original sequels, in the coming weeks.

We shall see.

Attack the Block

Attack the Block (2011) movie poster

(2011) director Joe Cornish
viewed: 11/06/2011

The alien invasion movie meets inner-city London youth in Attack the Block.  Of all of the alien invasion movies of recent times, it does have a little more contemporary zeitgeist going for it.  The summer of 2011 featured aliens in the Old West (Cowboys & Aliens (2011)) and an alien in the late 1970’s (Super 8 (2011)), and quite often we have ones set in the relatively near future.  Attack the Block is meant to represent the now.

England has a long history of depicting working class lives in film and television, more so than is portrayed in the states.  Whether glimpsing the north or the west or the center of London, it’s usually the housing estates that are the site of these stories, and Attack the Block is no different.  I’m not familiar enough with London to talk specifically about the region depicted here, so I’m limited in what I can say there.

The film starts with a young woman returning home to “the block” from work, only to get mugged by five boys who mask themselves with their shirts and hoodies, though they certainly don’t mask those thick London accents.  The mugging gets broken up by a comet-like crash into a nearby car, which turns out to be a small, vicious dog-like creature that the boys run after and beat to death.  They take the dead beast to a local drug dealer in the tower to house it for them.  Only this is not the only thing falling from the sky this Bonfire night.  And not the largest thing either.

The next things that come down are these larger, black wolf/gorilla things, with glow-in-the-dark teeth and no eyes.  These things hit all over the neighborhood and the boys, who probably live a fairly hardscrabble existence are suddenly in life or death struggles with an alien invasion of vicious, vicious beasties.  Actually, I thought the alien designs were rather cool, very different from the more generic designs of creatures that make little impact these days.  Their simplicity is certainly part of their charm.

You get the feeling that there was meant to be a little more subtext to the film.  The boys are mostly Afro-Caribbean and this is likely a tough part of London.  Maybe a verite-style film in this location would portray a very different version of these boys.  This is a pretty mainstream film, after all, and more a popcorn movie than a social critique.  Still, it’s hard to pretend that the opportunity for critique was not perhaps more glaringly available.  At one point, the leader of the gang, Moses, suggests that maybe the beasts were sent by the government to “take care” of the blacks (like crack cocaine).  But this idea is glossed over so quickly that no one really even responds to it.

And really that’s about all its got going in that way.  So it’s kind of a zeitgeist taste of “the flavor” of the inner-city without having to take a whole mouthful.  After all, this is more about action and scares (and humor) than about social realism.  And it is pretty damn fun.