I can imagine some people not enjoying The World’s End. People who don’t care about — or even notice — cinematic craftsmanship, people who think that being self-referential means being self-indulgent, audiences who prefer their action sequences to be cosmic in scale and measured in megabytes per second rather than laughs per minute — I expect those people might feel that the latest masterpiece by Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost goes sailing over their heads. After all, a film like The World’s End rewards concentration (and second and third viewings) whereas most blockbusters rely on increasingly destructive spectacle for audiences to get their kicks.
That’s not to say that this film is light on apocalypse — it promises the end of the world after all — but its core remains the deep friendships between men of a certain age and how those friendships grow when tested — the same theme that infused their previous two films together, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
[pullquote]Pacific Rim shows how loving bad films sometimes means you make bad films.[/pullquote]Pegg plays Gary King, middle-aged lost soul, pining for the glory days of High School and desperate to complete his masterpiece — the 12 pub crawl through Newton Haven known as “The Golden Mile”. He and his mates failed back in 1993 and he’s rounding them up for one last crack at it. His four old mates (played by Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and the wonderful Eddie Marsan) are reluctant to leave their tidy grown-up lives behind but, persuaded, they get to their old stomping grounds only to find they are humanity’s only hope to avoid inter-galactic colonisation.
Regular and attentive readers to this column will know that I heartily endorse membership of the Film Society as the best value cinema-going in town. For example, a few weeks ago this year members (and prospective members) were treated to a sneak preview of a lovely little film not yet released to the general public.
Get Low is the kind of film that gets made all too rarely these days: a thoughtful, detailed, slow paced meditation on character and personal history. It’s a drama, but with plenty of amusing moments, and it’s a showcase for two great screen actors — two actors who spend far to much of their time these days repeating old performances but here they prove that they’ve still got it when it counts.
Screen legend Robert Duvall (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) plays Felix Bush, a lonely hermit living in Tennessee in the 1930s. Unkempt and irascible, the locals steer well clear because of his dangerous reputation and that’s just the way he seems to like it. But something is eating away at him and he decides to throw a party — a funeral party for himself so that people can tell their stories about him to his face and, maybe, he can tell one or two of his own. He enlists the help of local undertaker Bill Murray and, with the help of his assistant (Lucas Black), the old man gets a chance to set some records straight.
Oh dear, what a disappointment 90% of Iron Man 2 is. Rushed into production after the original became the surprise runaway hit of 2008, relying far too heavily on the deadpan charisma of a coasting Robert Downey Jr. – the first time I’ve ever seen him this disengaged – and with a story that does no more than tread water until the arrival of the inevitable episode 3, IM2 offers very little in the way of character development and not enough action to compensate.
Downey Jr is Tony Stark once again, milking his fame as saviour of the free world while the secret power source in his chaest that fuels Iron Man (and keeps him alive) slowly poisons him from within. Just when he doesn’t need an adversary, along comes a crazy Russian physicist/wrestler named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) looking for revenge on the Stark family who stole his father’s research. Vanko’s technology is co-opted by Stark’s greatest business competitor, weapons developer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and between them they attempt to destroy Stark and corner the market in high-tech military gadgetry.
God is in the house this week. He turns up in the values of a wealthy Tennessee family who adopt a poor black kid and turn him into a champion, He features in a big leather book carried across a post-apocalyptic America by enigmatic Denzel Washington, and He is notable for His absence in a Lars von Trier shocker that is unlike anything you will have seen before or see since.
First, the good version. Based on a best selling book by Michael Lewis, The Blind Side would not have made it New Zealand screens if it wasn’t for Sandra Bullock’s surprise Oscar win earlier this year and it’s easy to see why distributors might have left it on the shelf. Personally, I’m glad they didn’t. My companion had no knowledge of, or affinity for, American Football or the complex and baffling college sports structure and was, therefore, a bit left out of a story that managed to push all my buttons fairly effortlessly.
Computer programmers have a concept called ‘garbage collection’ whereby useless and redundant items are automatically disposed of by ‘the system’. We film reviewers don’t have access to such technology, however, and are responsible for tidying our own rooms so, while all sensible cinephiles have their attention focused on the Festival, this column is playing catch-up with the commercial releases still playing in your local cineplex.
First up is Will Smith’s traditional 4th July epic, Hancock. All the major distributors know to steer well clear of Independence Day weekend as Smith totally ‘owns’ but that grip may loosen after his latest effort left many underwhelmed. But, what’s that you say? $453m worldwide gross? He turns out to be absolutely critic proof and I feel even more redundant than usual.
As a Smith admirer, I was terribly let down by Hancock. A promising first two acts in which the eponymous superhero-bum seeks redemption under the guidance of PR flack Jason Bateman turns to custard in a final third that seems to have been made up as they went along with poor Charlize Theron having to explain the nonsense plot in an embarrassing extended monologue over a hospital bed containing a dying Hancock. Total balderdash.
Although, not as awful as Meet Dave in which Eddie Murphy plays a spaceship that looks like Eddie Murphy, piloted by Eddie Murphy, walking stiffly around Manhattan looking for a lost orb that will steal all of Earth’s seawater and save the home planet. As bad as it sounds, if not worse.
Much more fun, though very messy, is Mamma Mia!, the star-studded tribute to ABBA and platforms that, in it’s musical theatre incarnation, has romped around the stages of the world for nearly ten years. On a Greek island, Meryl Streep is preparing for her daughter’s wedding not realising that said daugter (Amanda Seyfried) has invited all three of her possible fathers (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard). All the ABBA hits are performed with considerable karaoke-style energy from the mostly non-singers and Streep provides a lesson for the likes of Robert De Niro that when you take on a frothy commercial comedy you don’t have to leave your talent in your trailer.
Finally, let us praise director Jay Roach who it would appear (on the evidence of Mike Myers’ new “comedy” The Love Guru) was the real talent behind the Austin Powers movies. Somebody with the unlikely name of Marco Schnabel directs this one and Myers produces, co-writes and stars in this facile vanity project about a self-help spiritualist who tries to become the new Deepak Chopra by saving the marriage of a star ice hockey player (Romany Malco) so he can then lead his team to “Stanley’s Cup”. The most diverting thing about this miss and miss affair is wondering why the Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t called the Toronto Maple Leaves — a mystery on a par with how this putrid and insulting effort ever got off the ground in the first place.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 23 July, 2008.
Notes on screening conditions: Hancock was at the Embassy. So was Mamma Mia! which was not done any favours by a damaged digital soundtrack on the print supplied by Paramount — very disappointing for a worldwide day & date release. Meet Dave was screened by the lovely people at the Empire in Island Bay. The Love Guru was only on at Readings in Wellington and they don’t supply media with comp tickets. Normally, I would work around that by seeing a film with Graeme Tuckett of the Dominion Post (or, hell, even borrowing his pass on occasion) but this time that wasn’t feasible with the Festival kicking off at the same time. So, I’m ashamed to say I downloaded it. Yes, I torrented a file that had originally been a preview DVD supplied by Paramount Pictures, with the watermark pixellated out. I would apologise except I’m waiting for Mike Myers to apologise to me first for making me watch it. And by the way, torrenting ain’t free — The Love Guru would have cost me a couple of bucks for the bandwidth and it wasn’t worth that.