One of the many good things about the August 5, 2014 DVD and VOD release of the 2013 Christina Ricci drama "Around the Block" is that it provides a nice introduction to indie film home video distributor Random Media, which is bringing this story of introducing Shakespeare to inner-city kids in Australia to home video. Finding high profile titles, such as "Sellebrity" and "Escape from Tomorrow" in the Random catalog is awesome.
The "Block" title refers to the slang term that the Aussie youth (a.k.a. Funky Bunch) use for the area where they hang out in the same manner that collegians announce going to the quad to play hacky.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the largely spoiler-free trailer for "Block" provides a good sense of the performances and "Dangerous Minds" aspects of the film.
Ricci does a nice job as "new girl" American drama teacher Dino Chalmers living with her fiance (and hanging out with his buddies) in Sydney.
Dino getting a job at a largely aboriginal school in the low-income Redfern District of the city is the event that proverbially changes everything. The performance that Ricci provides clearly conveys the compassion, dedication, and overall (sometimes frustrated) devotion of this stereotypical teacher with a heart of gold and another body part of brass.
The ambitious effort of Dino to get her Year 11 students to perform "Hamlet" leads to a stereotypical recruitment of a sensitive street kid, whom Dino witnesses figuratively sniffing around the edge of the auditions for the play that is the thing. The stereotype ends with young actor Hunter Page-Lochard blowing Dino and the "Block" audience away with his performance of the most famous great Dane in history in Page-Lochard's role of Liam.
The talent of Page-Lochard further provides some of the best humor in "Block." Watching him stumble through his initial audition despite his unusual talent being clear is highly amusing.
The overall interesting twist on the standard story of life-changing teacher striving to help dead-end kid have a brighter future is that "Block" is set during the 2004 Redfern riots, which is a period of especially strong animus regarding aboriginals. The more personal aspect of this is that Liam has the twin obstacles of having a father who is serving a 20-year prison term and an older thug of a brother who is determined to avenge the death of a beloved uncle.
Of course, these real-life events tie in nicely to Hamlet specifically and Shakespearean themes in general. This dynamic is an explicit topic in a discussion that Dino conducts with her class.
The conflicts in "Block" predictably come to a head, but realistic suspense exists regarding whether Liam will get to share his talents with his schoolmates and the "honored guests" at the play.
The events at the center of the film additionally prompt both anticipated and unexpected changes in Dino. Her advocacy of her students is no surprise; the changes in the nature of her sexual behavior are less predictable.
The special features include deleted scenes and a music video of the classic '80s song "Broken Wings," which is featured in "Block."
The year-end report for this intriguing variation on the devoted teacher/troubled kid with potential genre is that the story itself and the performance by Ricci make it worthwhile. Discovering Page-Lochard removes any doubt regarding whether it is worth 1:45 hours of your time.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Block" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.