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.
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.
Only one film for review this week: Paul is the third feature to be written by and star Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, responsible for two of my favourite films of the last decade, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. This time around they’re not joined by director Edgar Wright (busy with his own Scott Pilgrim picture from last year) and the flick is directed by Greg Mottola (Superbad).
Pegg and Frost play Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings, two very English sci-fi and comic book fans on a dream holiday: Comic-Con in San Diego then rent an RV and drive to the most famous UFO sites in the States (Area 51, Roswell New Mexico, etc.) While nerding it happily around the place they witness a car crash and discover the only survivor is a three foot tall alien (big head, big eyes) named Paul. He’s a wise-cracking smart-ass with the entirely appropriate voice of Seth Rogen and he’s been enjoying the hospitality of the US government for fifty years until they finally decide to cut him up to see how his brain works. So he escapes.
Your correspondent is a big fan of young English director Edgar Wright. His first two features, in collaboration with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, were the redoubtably entertaining Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. There’s a wonderful percussive energy to Wright’s filmmaking which brooks no boredom. So, I was looking forward to his latest film, the heavily promoted comic book adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. the World which opened worldwide this week. And I really wanted to like it. No, strike that. I did like it. I just didn’t love it the way the film so desperately wants to be loved.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera from Juno) is a young Toronto slacker who plays bass in a terrible band and has just begun dating a high school girl. If he seems without much in the way of ambition that may be because he is still grieving after being dumped a year ago, or it may be that he simply lacks ambition.
My normal, equable, approach to Hollywood blockbuster product has been upset this week by the news that, in a decision of quite breathtaking cynicism, Warner Bros. are going to split the final Harry Potter film (The Deathly Hallows due in 2010) in to two parts and thus, with a wave of a Potter-like wand, make $500m appear where no money was before. Normal service may well be resumed next week but for now I am grumpy and it may show.
Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) leaves his hit-making collaborators, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright, behind for a while for his new comedy Run Fatboy Run. He plays loveable waster Dennis Doyle who could easily be a cousin of Shaun (or Tim in “Spaced”). Five years ago he ran out on his beautiful pregnant girlfriend, Thandie Newton, on their wedding day. Now, she has hooked up with handsome, rich, American marathon runner Hank Azaria (The Simpsons) and Dennis (with the help of very funny best friend Dylan Moran from “Black Books”) decides to win her back by proving he can finish a London Marathon. Competent and energetic but with the occasional bum note, Run Fatboy Run is like a pub band cover version of a great British romantic comedy. One of the reasons why it doesn’t always work must be down to first-time feature director David Schwimmer (Ross from “Friends”) whose timing, sadly, isn’t always on.
They say you never come out of a film humming the structure, which in the case of plucky little thriller Vantage Point is a shame as the structure is really all it has going for it. An attempted assassination of US President Ashton (William Hurt) in Salamanca, Spain is told and retold from the differing perspectives of several protagonists and witnesses, including Dennis Quaid’s ageing Secret Serviceman and Forest Whitaker’s handicam-toting tourist. The plot is never fully unravelled, though, leaving too many questions unanswered not least of which why Spanish terrorists would collaborate with jihadists. There’s one great car chase, though, involving what looks like a Holden Barina. Everything else disappoints.
With The Other Boleyn Girl, The Queen scribe Peter Morgan turns his attention to another chapter in Britain’s royal history: the bed-hopping, neck-chopping, Tudor soap opera starring Henry VIII and his search for an heir; a prequel, if you will, to Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth. Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman play the Boleyn sisters, competing for the attention of Eric Bana’s handsome but unstable Henry (if they only knew he was going to turn into Charles Laughton they might not have tried so hard). The original novel was bodice-ripping romantic fiction dressed as literature and the film serves the same purpose. Entertaining.
Steve Buscemi takes the director’s chair (and stars in) Interview, a low-key two-hander also featuring Sienna Miller. Buscemi plays cynical political journalist Pierre who is forced to interview a famous soap star. Based on, and far too respectful of, a film by murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, Interview feels like a stage play – and not in a good way.
Ever since West Side Story (and possibly earlier) dance has been used as a metaphor for urban violence but in recent years the trend has got some commercial legs as filmmakers realise they can present hip-hop music and urban situations in a PG environment. In Step Up a white urban freestyle dancer (Channing Tatum) tried to make it at ballet school. In the sequel (Step Up 2 The Streets), a white freestyle urban dancer (Briana Evigan) tries to make it at the same ballet school. But she’s from The Streets, you see, and she’s an orphan so she gathers the other outcasts and ethnics from the school so they can compete with the gang-bangers in an “illegal” dance competition. I’m fascinated, obviously, by these films not least the promotion of dance as competition over dance as expression. But I’m over-thinking as usual.
Finally, 10,000 BC is fitfully entertaining twaddle. Historically and anthropologically inaccurate not to mention ethnologically offensive, my recommendation is to wait for the video, get stoned with your mates and then talk all the way through it.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 19 March, 2008 although space constraints saw the last few items cut. So, Interview, Step Up 2 The Streets and 10,000 BC are like web-only bonus items.
Nature of Conflict: Interview is distributed in New Zealand by Arkles Entertainment who I sometimes do a little work for.
It is, of course, completely brilliant. And loud. And while it’s not quite as perfect as predecessor (and cinema re-definer) Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz is as entertaining a night out as you’ll find anywhere.
Co-creator Simon Pegg plays PC Nicholas Angel, top cop, so good he’s making the rest of the Met look bad. He’s reassigned to the sleepy west country village of Sandford where, apart from a one-swan crime-spree, the peace is never breached. Of course, in a picturesque English village nothing is what it seems and Angel and partner Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) are going to bust this thing wide open, whatever “it” might actually be.