REVIEW: The World’s End

23 06 2017

Edgar Wright might be known for his visual comedy and genre pastiche, but he’s also not afraid to throw in a little social commentary with his trademarks. Like many contemporary directors, he’s concerned with the effect of cell phones and technology on society. Part of the joke in Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead” was how little separated the undead zombies from the barely living humans on a treadmill of electronic stimulation.

His 2013 feature “The World’s End” takes that comparison to newly absurd heights. In this reunion comedy-cum-apocalyptic action flick, cell phones are the tool that’s turning residents of a sleepy British town into robotic versions of themselves. (Hit them hard enough in the head, and they’ll spew blue liquid!)

Wright’s clever twist on the genre is to focus on replacement over annihilation. As an exposition-heavy section of dialogue tells us, “They want to make us more like them.” Social change happens not as an invasion or hostile takeover, although the horror films that speak to our anxieties about it usually portray it as such. Rather, the decline of civility takes place as a gradual erosion until our humanity is barely recognizable.

Wright (and co-writer Simon Pegg) are smart to set this observation against the backdrop of the pub tour of five estranged friends brought back together by Pegg’s lonely alcoholic. As he yearns for the mythical past of his glory days, he finds the present-day changes to the people of the town make his nostalgia impossible. Yet the social commentary, which is not anything particularly monumental, comes at the expense of Wright’s usual cheeky fun. It’s nice to get a reminder that friends and happiness are two things worth fighting for – these characters just aren’t always the best merchants for that moral. B

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 22, 2017)

22 06 2017

I’d been a little iffy on Edgar Wright as a brand-name director for years … that is, until I saw his latest film, “Baby Driver,” which was so good that it inspired me to go back and revisit his entire filmography. I’d given “Shaun of the Dead” and “The World’s End” second chances before but never returned to “Hot Fuzz,” his 2007 crime caper. Wow, was I missing out.

A second watch revealed “Hot Fuzz” to be an obvious “F.I.L.M. of the Week.” It’s smart, stylish and subversive – all the things that mark Wright’s best cinema. He can successfully play with genre like few other working directors, and this re-teaming of Wright with comedic muses Simon Pegg and Nick Frost exhibits his most seamless blend.

The adventure starts as a fish-out-of-water comedy when the impressively efficient London Metro Police officer Nicholas Angel (Pegg) gets transferred to the sleepy country town Sandford. He’s used to his presence being necessary to enforce the law in the big city. Here, Angel finds that the police have made themselves largely ornamental. There’s a strong amount of social trust in the community, and the existing police officers take a hands-off approach to handling any misbehaviors and misdemeanors they observe. Not Angel, though, who takes thwarting underage pub drinking as seriously as foiling a terrorist plot.

But lurking under the blissful bucolic facade is a cabal that threatens the townspeople by exploiting their trust and naïveté. They’re certainly lucky to have Angel around for this, although he’s hamstrung by the provincial local police chief (Jim Broadbent) and his aloof son Danny Butterman (Frost) … who just so happens to be Angel’s partner. Danny’s chief preparation for the job, aside from his lineage, is watching lots of ’90s action movies. As it turns out, that proves most helpful for combating the menace facing Sandford.

Wright pulls off the tricky task of paying homage to a series of influential films (“Bad Boys,” “Point Break”) while humorously sending them up and one-upping their antics. His comedy goes far beyond the lazy “Scary Movie” spoof; Wright works in how people interact with film and how it tints their view of the world to hilarious ends. Furthermore, he’s not just cribbing an incident or a feel from the genre and calling it a take on them. He’s mimicking their aesthetic with loud, smashing cuts and big pyrotechnics. Just appropriately adjusted for the real world.





REVIEW: Paul

10 08 2013

2011 saw one movie, J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8.” corner public interest on the influence of Steven Spielberg’s filmmaking on modern moviegoing.  I’m a little upset that “Paul” couldn’t bask in a little of that light.  It’s a fun, spirited send-up of science-fiction tropes featuring a hilarious self-aware alien, Paul (the voice of Seth Rogen).

“Paul” also puts science-fiction, comic-book culture under the microscope to be sent up.  And for that task, there’s probably no one better than Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, two men whose humor seems to play particularly well to that crowd.  Pegg and Frost both wrote the film, and they also star in it as Graeme and Clive, two Brits who come across the pond for comic-book Mecca … Comic-Con.

Traveling the United States in an RV, they encounter crude, crass extraterrestrial Paul.  He’s the masterstroke of the movie, perhaps the best manifestation of Pegg and Frost’s comedic brilliance to date.  He’s got ties to all sorts of conspiracy theories and is incredibly connected to the entertainment industry.  The problem is, the rest of the movie just falls short of the character’s shrewd construction.  Though it is a satire of the human-meets-alien movies of the past two decades, “Paul” often allows itself to lazily slip into the trappings of the subgenre.

And, lest I forget to mention it, “Paul” has Kristen Wiig as one-eyed fundamentalist trailer trash taught to sin by Paul.  Sure, her character’s a little juvenile, just like the rest of the movie when it isn’t cleverly harkening back to ’80s sci-fi classics.  But Wiig, and “Paul” as a whole, somehow make the stupidity seem more fun than they probably are.  B-2stars





REVIEW: Pirate Radio

21 01 2013

Musical theatre thrives on the creative sparks of others.  Not to diminish the many accomplishments of that art form, but in recent years, just about everything has been an adaptation.  (Except “The Book of Mormon” – you go Trey Parker and Matt Stone!)  Many have been taken from books, but recently, the trend has become to adapt films onto the stage.

One of the greatest advances has been the invention of the “jukebox musical,” where a story forms around immediately recognizable music, whether a fictional tale like “Mamma Mia!” or a biographical one such as “Jersey Boys.”  (It also gave us “Rock of Ages,” but we can pretend it didn’t.)

Before you ask, no, “Pirate Radio” is not an adaptation of a Broadway or a West End musical.  There’s plenty of music, but the record player does all the singing.  However, I felt that while watching Richard Curtis’ film, it was practically BEGGING to be staged as piece of musical theatre.  The music is phenomenal, and there’s so much capability for it to define a generation – because it does.

The story of the film isn’t all that interesting: banned from playing rock and roll on normal British airwaves, a group of rebels broadcast it in international waters.  The gang is full of eclectic types, ranging from characters played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bill Nighy to then unknown Chris O’Dowd (the cop from “Bridesmaids“).  There’s little character or story development, and when the boat finds itself in peril, I could have cared less what happened to whom.  Not to mention that it feels interminable even at 20 minutes shorter runtime from its British release under the name “The Boat That Rocked.”

But with some slight tweaking of the story – a little bit less of the people on the boat, a little bit more of the people on land, the same amount of the government censors led by an uptight Kenneth Branagh – “Pirate Radio” could actually play quite well on stage given the caliber of music.  Think about it … and I’d like to request royalties if it happens because of this review.  C2stars





REVIEW: The Adventures of Tintin

7 01 2012

You don’t need to know who Hergé’s Tintin is to enjoy the “The Adventures of Tintin,” all you need is to be primed for an exhilarating and fun adventure with the man who introduced many of us to adventure itself, Steven Spielberg.  Whether it was “Jurassic Park,” an “Indiana Jones” movie, or “E.T.,” the director – whose name has become synonymous with cinematic virtuosity – has once again vividly realized the power of technology to invoke an old-fashioned sense of wonder in movie watching.  With the motion-capture technology looking more real and life-like than ever, it makes for an interesting paradox that “Tintin” removes you so easily from reality while so seamlessly replicating it.

Thanks to Spielberg’s partnership with Peter Jackson and his visual effects team at WETA, the two filmmakers take leaps and bounds from the early Zemeckis films like “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf” to fully capture the complexity of human anatomy and emotionality.  As a result, there’s nothing to distract you from getting fully engrossed in this old-fashioned Spielbergian adventure, no moment where you can think that a character looks fake or like an out-of-place animated replica.  It has been remarkable to watch this technology improve over my lifetime, and “Tintin,” along with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” makes 2011 a landmark year for its progression.

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