Saturday, August 24, 2013

Jason's friend Ira watches the Cornetto Trilogy, including a sneak preview of THE WORLD'S END

Welcome to the start of something that might just become a recurring feature: the first ever Jason Watches Movies guest blogger! Ira is a good friend whom I've seen many, many movies with, and he had the great opportunity to see THE WORLD'S END before it's released nationwide. I'm jealous, but I wasn't able to (as he says) "play quasi-hooky with my job." I think the review speaks for itself, and I'm looking forward to my chance to see it. Thank you, Ira.

--Jason

------------Every word below this line is written by Ira---------

I should preface this by saying that I'm a pretty big Edgar Wright fan.  Not big enough to have hunted down his work prior to Spaced, and not big enough to have become a die-hard fan of Scotty Pilgrim in all it's myriad genres and media formats.  But I fucking loved Shaun of the Dead.  I came in to this party pretty late, because the first I knew of Edgar Wright was a Facebook (Holy crap, I was on Facebook all the way back in 2004?) posting from my cousin back home in NY (Check out her stuff sometime, http://www.amaltheasattic.com, *SHAMELESS PLUG*) about this movie I absolutely had to see.  I'd noticed some promotional material for it the last time I'd been at the California Theater in Berkeley but, as is with most of these things, had no idea what it was about.

Well, about a month and a half later I saw SotD in it's initial limited American release and it was kinda mindblowing.  I mean, it's hard to reflect back on a time prior to seeing it, but at the time I don't believe I'd ever seen a film that so effortlessly blended genres together.  It wasn't purely a slapstick horror parody (we've had plenty of those lately, and most of them SUCK).  It wasn't a simple homage.  It was, in my humble opinion, something new.  A film that transcended barriers and made a right mess of everything that it tried to be, and in a GOOD way.  Even when the story took a dark turn (the death of Shaun's mum..  Oh... wait..  Did I forget to mention there might be spoilers here?  It's A NINE YEAR OLD MOVIE!  GO SEE IT IF YOU HAVEN'T!), and it seemed as if it couldn't return to making me laugh, it DID.  Edgar Wright had found a formula which had started out with the television show Spaced (which I finally saw several moons later) that he'd successfully translated to the big screen.

Three years later, Hot Fuzz did for mismatched partner-police action flicks what SotD did for horror.  Simon Pegg, formerly the rudderless Shaun in the last flick, now portrays, for all intents and purposes, a London super-cop named Nicholas Angel.  He's so amazingly good at his job, in fact, that his superiors decide he's making the rest of them look bad and force him into a promotion that moves him out to a quaint country village.  But all is not what it seems in Sandford, Gloucestershire and shortly after teaming up with man-child police constable Danny (Frost), Sergeant Angel soon finds himself facing incredible odds in England's "safest countryside village".  More slapstick action-comedy than the first film of the trilogy, the references turned from horror films to action films (most notably Point Break and Bad Boys 2).  The cornetto theme is maintained in a small scene early on in the movie, and both films share a "short cut", fence-hopping gag.  One particularly standout performance is turned in by Flash-Gordon-forest-prince/brief-James-Bond Timothy Dalton as a flamboyant supermarket owner.  At many points of the flick, he totally steals the show.

Several weeks ago now, I had an amazing opportunity: to see the Cornetto Trilogy in it's entirety for the first time in San Francisco.  Jessie Hawthorne Ficks (chief "maniac" of "Midnites for Maniax") secured a spot on Edgar Wright's North American Cornetto Trilogy Tour for the Metreon in SOMA.  All three features in 4K digital projection and, of course, a month-early preview of The World's End.  Although I had to play quasi-hooky with my job in order to attend (sadly meaning a fair amount of quick ducks out of the theater in order to field phone calls during the first two movies), both of the first films stand up quite well to the test of time.  To this day (and TWE included), Shaun of the Dead still remains my favorite.

The latest entry in Edgar Wright's filmatic directorship, The World's End, continues to star both Simon Pegg (who also shares a writing credit with Wright) and Nick Frost.  With the sadly notable exception of Jessica Hynes, nearly every member of Shaun of the Dead's minor cast returns for at least bit parts in The World's End.  The film centers around the character of Gary King, a man stepping into his fourth decade of life but finding himself stuck in the glory days of his youth, particularly his last night of high school.  That night, he and his four chums attempted to make the epic pub crawl through their small town: 12 pubs in one night, culminating at The World's End.  Of course, they never completed the crawl and ended up having the night of their lives (at least as far as Gary is concerned), but he is still stuck on the failure of their "mission" and is determined to get the gang back together and conquer the Golden Mile.

The problem?  The rest of his gang have grown up.  Nearly all of them have families of their own and worthwhile careers and absolutely no desire to return to their dead-end hometown, much less relive the pub crawl 20 years prior.  Nick Frost's character has, in fact, become a complete teetotaller following his last traumatic interaction with Gary years prior.  That falling out has led to a complete rift between the two and it is he that Gary has the hardest time convincing.  The cast is rounded out by some relative newcomers to Edgar Wright films: Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine (one of the "Andes" from Hot Fuzz), and Martin Freeman (also a small part in Hot Fuzz, more well known for his roles in the original BBC show The Office, as Arthur Dent in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and most recently as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit films).

There are a lot of themes being explored in the film.  At times, they tend to add a little too much to what should be a simple sci-fi/horror/comedy (emphasis primarily on the last), but the story does manage to reassert itself and you're kept entertained most of the time.  The theme of "You can't go home", represented by the current trend of "Starbucking" (everywhere you go, there's a Starbucks, and every one of them is EXACTLY THE SAME) hit me fairly poignantly seeing my relatively small Long Island town (primarily known for it's risque no-tell motel "The Commack Motor Inn" and being the birthplace of Rosie O'Donnell and Bob Costas) being completely overrun by Targets and Wal-marts where iconic childhood landmarks like the roller rink, drive-in, and arena flea market once stood.  The theme resonates to me seeing as I am one of these old fart at this point, not quite so childhood-retentive as Gary, but I can certainly identify with his character to some extent, having seen most of my friends get married and start families while I'm still basically striving to have a good time.

This, I believe, is really where the crux of the film lies.  Gary, point blank, is an alcoholic, a drug addict, and severely damaged.  Not unlike Humbert Humbert of Lolita, he has found himself stuck, fixated in his teens while pushing 40.  The repeat of the pub crawl is his obsession, perhaps because he feels that, if he finally completes it, maybe he can finally grow up.  This last film of the trilogy, all three of which have at least to some extent revolved around drinking and pubs, is inarguably the "drunkest" of the three, and yet, it is also the most sobering.  The severity of Gary's problems, though mostly the butt of jokes, is made pointedly clear in the climax of the film and, not to give away much of a spoiler, figures prominently in The End of the film.

In short, though I do not consider it the best of the three films (Shaun still holds that place in my heart, and has red on him), The World's End dovetails perfectly into place as the trilogy's caboose.  It is more similar to SotD in that the comedy is mixed and even becomes semi-melodramatic at times as opposed to the utter slapstick of Hot Fuzz.  I highly recommend it, even if you haven't seen either of the first two films though, I'm quite sure once you've seen The World's End, you'll be seeking out both Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and the BBC comedy Spaced which was the first collaboration between Wright, Pegg, and Frost.  Hopefully, even though they have made pointedly clear that the Cornetto Trilogy has been completed, it will not be the last.
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