It’s wasted youth weekend at the Spotlight. Beabetterbooktalker.com‘s Andrea Lipinski joins Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons to first cast a wary eye at the teen fantasy film, THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES, finding little enrichment in its melange of demon hunters, vampires, werewolves, and CW caliber lead actors. Then the panel splits opinions on THE WORLD’S END, the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost comedy in which a group of friends reunite to complete a pub crawl started in their teen years, only to have it derailed by an invasion of robots. Finally, Steve and Larry give their thoughts on the home-invasion horror film YOU’RE NEXT, which has absolutely nothing to do with stated theme, but, hey, life just isn’t convenient like that. Plus, what’s not coming to theaters next week.
Sitting down after watching the third chapter in the “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy” (a.k.a., the Cornetto Trilogy, so named for the brand of ice cream that appears in SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, and now THE WORLD’S END), I would like to write a lengthy, detailed review noting intricate virtues of the triumphant final flavor (mint chocolate chip, for those keeping track). Unfortunately, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg neglected to craft a triumphant film, so I cannot write that review. Far from the crowning conclusion, the third serving of Cornetto melts slowly for 109 minutes, its initial lustre resolving into a gooey, sticky mess on the sidewalk. Yes, technically it’s still mint chocolate chip, but you wouldn’t want to eat it, except to prove your unswerving fealty to the Wright-Pegg tribe.
This time out, Pegg plays Gary King, a middle aged former big fish in a small pond, who laboriously explains the back story in a prologue sequence that turns out to be a monologue at some kind of group therapy session. Gary regrets never finishing the quest he and his friends attempted years ago, to pub-crawl their way through all twelve local establishments in their home town. With nothing else going on in his life, Gary cajoles and badgers his old mates into having a second go. What follows is a fitfully amusing but dramatically trite exploration of middle age, but wait – and you knew this was coming – there’s a twist: the small British town has been taken over by alien robots!
The sci-fi element is intended to put a jolt into the otherwise mundane story (god knows that watching Gary and company work their way through a dozen pubs is not enough to sustain a feature film), and to some extent it does enliven the proceedings. Unfortunately, the alien invasion is also intended to lend a new perspective to Gary’s predicament, forcing him and his friends to realize what’s truly important in life. Well, sort of.
You see, what’s really happening is something else – perhaps not fully intentional, but not entirely accidental, either. Gary, frankly, is a self-centered jerk; although he presents the pub-crawl as a chance for him and his friends to reunite, the exercise really serves only his needs, and everyone else is just along for the ride, because he would feel incomplete without his posse. In his context, the threat of alien invasion does not force a revaluation of Gary’s personal priorities; it serves to reinforce – or at least, eclipse – his personal failings. Along with his friends on screen, we in the audience are supposed to forget about what a louse Gary is, because how important is that when the world’s end is nigh?
Unfortunately for THE WORLD’S END, it is nearly impossible to overlook Gary’s shortcomings, because Pegg nails them so perfectly in his first few minutes of screen time. What he never manages to do – ever – is convey the charm that would coax his friends into following him like trained puppy dogs. Throughout Gary’s interaction with Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), Peter (Eddie Marsan), and Andy (Nick Frost), we wonder why they ever put up with him, let alone agreed to get back together with him. (He convinces Andy to come along by lying about his mother’s supposed death; Andy is too stupid to see through the obvious deceit, which the film reveals later as if it were a surprise.)
We also find ourselves yearning eagerly for one of Gary’s “friends” to punch him in the nose; when it finally happens in the third act, it is about an hour too late. By this time, whatever flavor the film had has melted away. Gary’s insistence on completing his quest – even after the aliens have snatched two of his friends – is incredible and absurd, but never really funny, and he never has a change of heart or one of those personal growth moments that might make us think there had been a reason for making him the protagonist.
Instead, THE WORLD’S END leads up to cornball conclusion in which the Voice of the “Network” (Bill Nighy) tries to coerce Gary into joining the aliens voluntarily. The aliens turn out to be less interested in violent take-over than a simple merger; they would rather win allies than replace them with Stepford Clones, but they are willing to use force if necessary, because otherwise it would not be so obvious that they were the bad guys – which is necessary in order to make Gary seem like a good guy. In response to the alien’s offer, Gary’s penchant for fucking up everything he touches is provided as a counter-point, as if it were a point of honor – proof of the superiority of the human race. We are supposed to cheer Gary’s individuality – his desire to be free and do what he wants to do* – but he provides such a miserable example of the human race, that it’s easy to see why the aliens thought we needed a little help up the evolutionary ladder. In fact, our final image of Gary sees him starting a bar fight – lethal judging by the weapons on display – over a drink of water, in the post-apocalyptic world that results from the aliens’ departure. Presumably, Wright and Pegg intend this message to be taken with a heavy dose of irony, but they offer no evidence for this onscreen.
In spite of everything that is wrong with THE WORLD’S END (the title is taken from the last pub the boys reach), Pegg and Wright are too talented to his their target completely. The supporting characters are nicely played, engendering whatever sympathy the film evokes. Pierce Brosnan shows up in a bit as a former professor, lending a touch of class that the rest of the proceedings lack: he almost sells you on the idea that the alien invasion is a good thing. The shift from character comedy to sci-fi spoof is handled in a nicely matter of fact way, and Wright is fine with handling the tonal shift. If nothing else, his films are a distinctive change from the usual cookie-cutter approach: AT THE WORLD’S END is not much better than THE WATCH, but at least is is disappointing in a more interesting way.
Wright’s handling of the fight scenes is mildly amusing in a dumb-movie kind of way. Our boys are surprisingly adept at defeating the supposedly intimidating aliens – at least until the the third act arrives and the script realizes it’s time to gin up a crisis, at which point our heroes start loosing or at least have a harder time winning.
THE WORLD’S END exudes the lazy, knock-off aura, examplified by by the appearance of a giant robot – that doesn’t actually do anything interesting – and by the title itself, which is justified in the final reel almost as an afterthought. The film may not, in a literal legal sense, but the equivalent of a “contractual obligation album,” but nine years after SHAUN OF THE DEAD, it certainly feels as if Wright and Pegg are simply delivering the film out of a sense of obligation to their fans, recycling the old motifs with little new inspiration. Once again we have the small English town with the sinister secret (HOT FUZZ), and once again we have Pegg as a man on a mission, which is interrupted by monsters (zombies instead of aliens in SHAUN OF THE DEAD).
The difference is Shaun, unlike Gary, wanted to win back his old girlfriend – a worthier goal than drinking twelve pints at twelve different pubs – and SHAUN OF THE DEAD truly felt like a Working Title romantic-comedy rammed headlong into a zombie apocalypse film, with all of the Working Title virtues intact and augmented by the bizarre context. THE WORLD’S END, on the other hand, has all the virtues of a pub-crawl – if any. Adding robot aliens into the mix does not create some brilliantly original genre hybrid, combining the best fo both. It just gives us a pub-crawl with alien robots.
THE WORLD’S END (August 23, 2013, A Universal Pictures Release of a Working Title Films production). Directed by Edgar Wright. Written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. Rated R. 109 minutes. Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan.
2 out of 5 on the CFQ Review Scale: not recommended, but with some redeeming qualities.
- Gary’s creedo is provided in voice via an audio clip from THE WILD ANGELS: “We wanna be free! We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. … And we wanna get loaded. And we wanna have a good time. And that’s what we are gonna do. We are gonna have a good time…”
Probably looked good on paper. A “grown-up” retelling of Snow White, featuring the stars of THE TWILIGHT SAGA and THOR, with additional star-power in the casting of the wicked queen and the seven dwarfs and a lush, stylish mounting courtesy of the director of many, visually innovative commercials, here making his feature film debut — what could go wrong? Well, forgetting to put the term “entertaining” into the precis for SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN may have been the first problem. Ripping off concepts from far better films such as NEVERENDING STORY and TIME BANDITS for no particular reason certainly didn’t help.
Come join Cinefantastique Online‘s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons as they discuss how one film manages to confound not only the talents of the easily susceptible, such as headliners Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth, but also such seasoned performers as Charlize Theron, Ian McShane, and Bob Hoskins. Then: Steve gives his capsule review of the satiric gore-fest PIRANHA 3DD, and Dan weighs in on the animated adventure A CAT IN PARIS. Plus: What’s coming to theaters.
Time to close the year off with some rip-roarin’ adventure, so why not throw in a little, continental flair in the process? Steven Spielberg has decided to take that route, and make his debut in the animation field, with THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, a cg-animated film using AVATAR’s performance-capture process and based on the charmingly audacious comic books by the artist Hergé. Starting with a mysterious message found in a model boat and spinning out into grandiose tapestry of action that includes pirate raids, fictional Arabian kingdoms, motorcycle chases, and talented opera singers, the story takes the classic boy reporter/detective (performed and voiced by Jamie Bell) and gives him the kind of adrenaline-filled exploits that only Spielberg can orchestrate.
Click on the player to hear the press conference featuring Steven Spielberg (who fields most of the questions), producer Kathleen Kennedy, stars Bell and Nick Frost, and WETA effects master Joe Letteri.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are the actor-writers of two the very best comic horror films of the previous decade: SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ. SHAUN OF THE DEAD brilliantly and humorously used zombies as a metaphor for braindead slobs working braindead jobs, an appalling fate to which much of the populace can easily relate. HOT FUZZ tackled the excesses of the police-action-drama with a dollop of serial cult killers in an out-of-the-way town for good measure. Both of these films were brilliantly directed by Edgar Wright, who last year offered the incredibly offbeat videogame contest-as-comedy-movie SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, a film which connected more with its audience on video than it did in the theater. Unfortunately, Pegg and Frost’s latest offering, PAUL, doesn’t scale the same heights of inventiveness, though it is not without humor and some charm.
This time Greg Mottola (SUPERBAD) directed, and the setting and humor are pitched more to an American audience rather than a British one. PAUL gets off to a reasonably good start as two Brit fanboys, illustrator Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and writer Clive Gollings (Nick Frost), achieve their lifelong dream of attending the San Diego Comic Con, literally the world’s largest genre convention. Mottola effectively limns the milieu from costumes to dealer’s room to author meet-and-greets. The pair are particularly excited to meet their favorite sci-fi author Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor), who has inspired Clive to write his own sci-fi novel featuring a green female Amazon with three breasts.
To round off their trip to America, the pair rent a Winnebago and tour famous UFO sites across the country, from Area 51 to Roswell, New Mexico. Along the way, they witness a car crash and encounter an escaping alien who has named himself Paul (Seth Rogan’s voice). Paul needs a lift north to sync up with his fellow aliens, and cajoles the starstruck pair into helping them. While he is a knowledgeable alien gifted with invisibility and other powers, he is also has a bit a fratboy; he smokes, drinks, and moons others in pursuit of his own amusement. Though Graeme and Clive are initially fearful of their saucer-eyed friend, they become fond of him and vice versa.
Adding to the fun is the introduction of RV park attendant Ruth Boggs (Kristen Wiig), a brainwashed Bible Belt babe who wears a T-shirt depicting Jesus shooting Darwin in the head with the slogan “Evolve This!” Confronted by an actual alien, Boggs finds all her preconceptions challenged and winds up embracing the kind of life she daydreamed about but never had the courage to pursue. Wiig demonstrates a very sure sense of timing, though jokes concerning her inept attempts to curse, unfortunately, don’t improve with repetition.
PAUL benefits for a great supporting cast who play mostly underdeveloped characters. Jane Lynch is mostly wasted as a waitress at an alien-themed café, though she reappears and gets off an amusing line to Wiig at the end. Adding a sense of peril, Clive and Graeme put a dent into a truck belonging to a pair of insensitive locals, David Koechner and Jesse Plemons, who accuse the pair of being gay. Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) is charged by the Big Guy (Sigourney Weaver) with the task of bringing the escaped Paul back to Area 51, where for the past half century he was being pumped for information (including, in an amusing flashback cameo, the voice of Steven Spielberg) while his image was promulgated to keep the public from panicking once his existence became known. Zoil brings in a pair of inept but determined detectives (Bill Hader from SNL and Joe Lo Truglio from Reno 911!) to aid him in the recovery.
Adding to the fun are a series of references and insider gags best appreciated by long-time genre fans, with bits of dialogue and business copied from STAR WARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, THE X-FILES, E.T. (Paul specifically requests some Reese’s Pieces at a gas station stop, gets disguised as a kid in a costume, and possesses magical healing powers), and ALIENS. Some of the bits are obvious, while others, such as a bluegrass band playing the “Star Wars Cantina Theme” in a bar, are less so.
Though he sounds and acts much like the regular Seth Rogan, the Paul character comes off pretty well. The motion-capture animation here is not exceptional, but the character is emotionally expressive and demonstrates personality. The main difficulty is that the movie’s story loses direction near the end and resorts to replaying action movie clichés as the agents trying to recapture the alien close in while Paul visits his first human contact (touchingly played by Blythe Danner). Mottola simply doesn’t have the flair for action scenes that Edgar Wright does, and so these come off as slightly generic.
Like many modern movies, PAUL leaves a lot of destruction in its wake (the RV gets trashed, a house blown up, a couple of characters are killed in nasty ways), but there is no sense of consequence to these actions. Clive and Graeme proclaim the experience the best in their lives, but the movie doesn’t give any hint of what their regular lives were like, or whether they can afford to fix the things broken in their wake.
Pegg and Frost clearly work well together, but once again Pegg is the nervous Nelly who winds up romancing a girl, while Frost is the hopeless best buddy who becomes jealous that Pegg’s attention gets focused elsewhere. The film takes potshots at close-minded religious fanaticism (“You just can’t win with those people”), but doesn’t offer anything particularly profound or controversial.
PAUL is a pleasant enough diversion for science fiction fans, but in the end leaves us hungry for the conclusion of Pegg and Frost’s “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy.
PAUL (March 18, 2011). Director: Greg Mottola. Writers: Nick Frost, Simon Pegg.
- Simon Pegg…Graeme Willy
- Nick Frost…Clive Gollings
- Jeffrey Tambor…Adam Shadowchild
- Seth Rogen…Paul (voice)
- Jason Bateman…Agent Zoil
- Sigourney Weaver…The Big Guy
Universal Pictures releases this science-fiction comedy, about two British comic-book geeks (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) who encounter a smart-ass alien who wants to escape from the top-secret military facility at Area 51. Taking their new friend for a ride, our hapless heroes are pursued by federal agents and by the father of a young woman whom they accidentally kidnap. Greg Mottola directed, from a script written by Frost and Pegg. Seth Rogan provides the voice of the epynomous alien. Jane Lynch, Sigourney Weaver, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Blythe Danner, and Jeffrey Tambor fill out the cast.