‘Attack’ very clever; ‘Key’ runs on emotions

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, July 29, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

Here’s a pair of Euro-indie films, with absolutely nothing in common except the ability to work variations on Hollywood forms: one action, one melodrama.

“Attack the Block” is a breathless British picture about an interplanetary invasion that lands squarely on a low-income housing block in South London.

The teens who roam the rundown apartments and rough streets of their neighborhood are suddenly thrown into a novel situation: Instead of engaging in petty thievery and the occasional mugging, they’ve got to be the good guys. You know, save mankind and all that.

That they must join forces with a recent mugging victim (Jodie Whittaker) in fending off the aliens is a nice wrinkle, and maybe a nudge that if we could stop attacking each other and actually work together on the important stuff, we all might stand a chance.

Director-writer Joe Cornish peppers his John Carpenter-like scenario with a string of hilarious one-liners and slangy non sequiturs, without ever easing up on the danger involved. I even understood most of them, despite the ultra-thick accents.

In newcomer John Boyega the movie has a strong, silent type to lead his crew, and “Shaun of the Dead” stalwart Nick Frost turns up to lend his zonked-out counsel. Fans of that movie will be the target audience for this one.

The alien design is ingenious for a modestly budgeted movie: scary dark wolflike creatures with glowing fangs. But for all its cool aliens and snarky humor, this one turns out to be about people in the end.

“Sarah’s Key” is the second film this year to reference a terrible moment in the Nazi occupation of France: the 1942 mass arrests of Parisian Jews by the French police. (The first was “The Round Up.”) A journalist (Kristin Scott Thomas) becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to a little girl arrested in the round-up, a path that leads her to the United States and beyond.

For much of the movie these modern scenes are paralleled by scenes from the 1940s, which follow the terror of the arrests and the eventual deportations to concentration camps.

Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s clunky TV-movie style can’t entirely dampen the emotional tug of the film’s somewhat far-fetched but effective plotline, as the journalist pieces together decades-old clues in her quest.

I didn’t buy it, but thanks to the subject matter, Kristin Scott Thomas’s customary honesty, and good supporting turns by Aidan Quinn and Niels Arestrup, “Sarah’s Key” hits its storytelling targets with authority.

“Attack the Block”

An interplanetary invasion lands in a low-rent housing block in South London, and the thuggish teen heroes must rise to the occasion to save the world. This very clever British film has thrills and laughs in abundance, if you can understand the accents.

Rated: R for violence, language, subject matter.

Showing: Meridian .

“Sarah’s Key”

A little too pushy about its own melodramatic story, this Holocaust-themed picture nevertheless has an emotionally effective plotline. Kristin Scott Thomas does her usual choice work as a journalist investigating what happened to a missing Jewish girl many decades before. In English and French, with English subtitles.

Rated: PG-13 for subject matter.

Showing: Guild 45th.

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