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Films I Neglected To Review: Attack The Block!
by Peter Sobczynski

A powerful slice-of-life drama from Belgium, a botched attempt at creating a low-budget cult favorite from scratch and an example of the genuine article--these are the things that you will find below in this round-up of short reviews of new movies that I did not get a chance to dissect in detail.

Obviously, the vast majority of people heading out to the movies this weekend are likely to those checking out the eagerly awaited screen adaptation of "The Hunger Games" but if you prefer your dystopian futures in which young people are pitted against each other in grueling battles in which there can only be one winner to emphasize choreography over carnage, you might get a kick out of the bizarre new would-be cult comedy "The FP." In this directorial debut from brothers Brandon and Jason Trost, a turf war for control of the wasteland known as Frazier Park finds two rival gangs battling each other via a dance-oriented video game known as "Beat-Beat Revolution." (Think of the wildly popular "Dance-Dance Revolution" without any messy legal complications.) After his brother is killed in a match against the fearsome L. Dubba E, the heroic JTRO (Jason Trost) vows to never dance again. One year later, with the FP totally in the hands of L. Dubba E., JTRO decides to strap on his dancing boots and set things right once and for all with the help of such essentials as a loyal sidekick, a pretty-but-troubled girlfriend and plenty of inspirational training montages.

With its demented blend of Eighties-era action films and inspirational sports melodramas, "The FP"--which is currently playing at midnights in selected theaters across the country backed by an online publicity push akin to the one that fueled the original "Paranormal Activity"--certainly won't be mistaken for any other movie at the multiplex these days. The trouble is that few people will confuse it for an entertaining one either because all of the energy seems to have gone into coming up with its admittedly singular premise, leaving nothing in the tank with which to help execute it. Instead, the Trosts have merely presented viewers with a concoction of garish set and costumes, a deader-than-deadpan comedic attitude and a wide array of homages and shout-outs to any number of films from the Eighties ranging from "The Warriors" and "Blade Runner" to most of the "Rocky" series--all of which seem to have been included to mask the fact that the Trosts have largely failed to supply any legitimate laughs for the most part. Okay, I did chuckle one or twice at a couple of exceptionally absurd moments and the Trosts deserve some recognition for getting such a bizarre conceit filmed and released in the first place. I will even concede that if you happen to catch it with a crowd that is somehow on the same wavelength as the film (or are at least trying their best to be on that wavelength so as not to seem square), it could make for a mildly diverting night out. However, taken on its own, "The FP" is like too many other films that try to pass themselves off as ready-made cult favorites--it spends so much time trying to demonstrate how hip, cool and knowing it is that it never quite gets around to being particularly entertaining on its own.

Ever since it appeared on the festival circuit last year, "The Kid with a Bike," the latest work from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the fraternal filmmaking duo from Belgium responsible for such powerful dramas as "Rosetta," "The Child" and "Lorna's Secret," has been receiving rapturous acclaim from all over the world. This time around, they tell the story of a lonely and emotionally damaged 11-year-old boy (Thomas Doret) who is essentially abandoned by his wayward father (Jeremie Renier) and left hanging in an orphanage with nothing more than a bicycle that is his most prized possession and the unshakeable belief that his father will be returning for him soon. Through a series of circumstances, the kid is befriended by a local hairdresser (Cecile de France) who agrees to serve as a foster parent on weekends and for the first time, things seem to be slowly looking up for him. Unfortunately, once he finally tracks down his father and discovers that he has no interest in having anything to do with him, things begin to spiral out of control in ways that lead him into potential trouble when he is "befriended" by some local tough kids who want to use him to help commit crimes.

Like the Dardenne's previous efforts, "The Kid with a Bike" is thoughtful, well-made, well-intentioned and heartbreaking without tripping over the line into cheesy melodrama. Also like their previous projects filled with affecting performances--Doret turns in one of the better performances by a little kid to grace the big screen in a long time (if the kid who played the little twerp in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" ever sees this one, I certainly hope that he hangs his head in shame afterwards) and there are strong supporting terms from de France (perhaps best known in these parts for her work in the cult hit "High Tension") and Dardenne regular Renier. I admire this film a lot but while watching it, I have to admit to having a sneaking suspicion that they were not offering viewers much of anything new or fresh this time around. I'm not saying that they should do a caper comedy or anything like that and as purveyors of introspective slice-of-life dramas go, they are among the best working today. However, I for one would be interested in seeing them flex their considerable artistic muscles in a different area at some point, just to see what that might bring to material outside of their comfort zone. That said, "The Kid with a Bike" is an excellent, though often grim, drama that is well worth seeking out.

Ever since it had its premiere last fall in the Midnight Madness sidebar of the Toronto International Film Festival, the low-budget action extravaganza "The Raid" has been the center of an enormous amount of buzz due to the positive reception it received from genre fans there and at subsequent festival screenings at Sundance and at South By Southwest. The premise of the film is simple enough. A young Indonesian cop, Rama (Iko Uwais), is part of a SWAT team that is plotting an all-out assault on a remote apartment block that is filled almost entirely with criminals and with a notorious crime boss residing on the top floor. Inevitably, the team has their cover blown almost instantly upon entering and once they are trapped, the crime boss announces to the other residents that he will provide complete protection to any resident who kills one of the intruders. After the initial bloodbath decimates most of the team, Rama decides that he is still going to do everything in can to complete the mission and bring the mobster down for good, even if he has to kill seemingly hundreds of violent opponents to achieve that goal. Making things slightly more complicated is the fact that Rama's brother is now one of the bad guy's chief henchmen, a secret that could put both of their lives in jeopardy.

Of course, in a film like "The Raid," the plot takes a back seat to the action sequences and the ones on display in this film are enough to astonish even the most jaded connoisseurs of the genre. Actually, "action sequences" doesn't quite do it justice because the whole thing feels more like one gigantic action scene punctuated only by the briefest respites for the characters and the viewers to get a chance to catch their breath and prepare for whatever hard-hitting, gun-toting, knife-wielding insanity is lurking behind the next corridor. This can be dangerous because as anyone who saw "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" can attest, an action film that tries to be nothing but Good Parts can grow wearying after a while but Welsh-born writer-director Gareth Evans does an excellent job of maintaining the pace and excitement without burning viewers out and even if it does run out of steam by the end, the film, like its hero, hits more than it misses and by the time that the end credits roll, most viewers will realize that "The Raid" is that moviegoing rarity--a film that actually lives up to all the fanboy hype preceding its release.

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originally posted: 03/23/12 09:49:18
last updated: 03/23/12 10:11:32
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