The World's End is a funny movie. No doubt about it. Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost all involved in a movie seems to be a pretty solid recipe for actual laughter. Is it as funny and original as Shaun of the Dead? Probably not but it is probably a hair better than the also amusing Hot Fuzz.
There is one problem with the movie and it isn't actually WITH the movie but a broader problem that Hollywood needs to deal with right NOW; they need to stop telling us so much in previews.
I would have been much happier if I hadn't KNOWN this film was about robots? As an avid movie goer I should, at least, have the opportunity to not know. If I want to have a movie spoiled there are tons of reviewers willing to do that for me. I didn't need to go see the Harrison Ford/Gary Oldman movie, Paranoia, because the previews pretty much told me what was going to happen in the film. Even more egregious are the previews for the remake of Carrie, the new Vin Diesel film, Captain Phillips...hell pretty much every single preview I've seen for months.
Hollywood thinks we are stupid and won't understand if they don't spell it out for us. Please, stop! It actually stops me from going to certain movies and I am sure I am not alone in this.
But let's get back to The World's End.
How many of you recall high school as the pinnacle of your life? It is to be hoped very few. Even so it is a certainty that you know someone who feels this way. They have never gotten past their "glory years" which were usually far less glorious than they recall. That is the starting point for this film.
Pegg plays Gary King, the vaguely goth high school superstar who decides (at a little too much length) to get his old friends together to relive their youth via a particular quest. He wants them to return to their hometown to go on a pub crawl--having a pint at each of a dozen pubs, culminating at The World's End.
Frost is decidely NOT Ed from Shaun of the Dead in this movie, instead being cast in the sober, responsible role. He and Gary's other friends are all gainfully employed, fairly successful and only moderately nostalgic for days gone by. But with clever lies and manipulation Gary gets them all on board for the trek.
All along the way gags ensue. Much like Hot Fuzz before it this movie will improve upon second viewing. Some of the early jokes are put into context by what happens later. That is one of the beauty of the "Cornetto Trilogy" all the films stand up well to repeated viewings.
There are some lessons in this one but these are never used as a bludgeon. And also the ending sort of leaves it open for interpretation what, precisely, these lessons are. Maybe it is ok, under some circumstances, to live in the past? Perhaps when the present is miserable?
But life lessons are not really the point here in any case--humor is and The World's End gets that part right. It does it in a way that induces more chuckles than uncontrollable laughter but that is by design. It is to be hoped that this isn't the final curtain for this group working together.
The Woman in Black is not a particularly memorable film. But that doesn’t mean it is a bad film either. If you walk into the theater expecting something other than what the film is you will be disappointed. If you walk in with no preconceptions and are a fan of old style ghost stories you will be entertained. The film looks good and is paced well, even if it is allowed that it is quite slow, but what really matters is Daniel Radcliffe. He makes the movie work and he does it with very little dialog, with nervous looks and a stiff, Victorian, upper lip (distinct, of course, from a Georgian or Elizabethan upper lip).
It is to be hoped that Radcliffe will take a few more shots at the genre as well. He is a solid actor and he has a certain “gravitas” about him. It is a different sort than when that term is generally used, however. He seems like one of us; he isn’t a giant of a man, he doesn’t come off as a movie star. He seems like a regular person. He is the sort of actor you want tossed into a supernatural maelstrom.
One of the problems with a film like this is its marketing; how it is presented in ads and trailers creates an expectation. And marketing nitwits often don’t seem to get that tricking people into a film is less desirable than just telling the truth about it. The truth about Women in Black is that it is a moody, old fashioned, slow moving ghost story. It has more “creeps” than “leaps” in it. But the film’s promotion shows a woman sitting in the theater with patrons as if to say “This movie will scare the crap out of you.”
Not even if you were five.
Again, that doesn’t mean it is bad. It does a solid job of creating a mood and a place—rural Britain in the late Victorian era (more or less). The mood is heavy, dreary and palpable. As noted, the only character that really matters, played by Radcliffe in his first post-Harry Potter role, is well developed. We know who is; he is a grieving man with a small child. His career is in tatters and his last chance is to sort through the papers of a deceased woman in an old, scary-ass house. The locals are leery of him and jittery. No one wants him there but he has no choice.
That is all we need to know. The other actors in the film are fine. They just are given very little to do. We know what is coming; we know who they are without too many details.
Some of the scenes in the house where Radcliffe moves from room to room seeing a parade of creepy scary things (man, Victorian-era parents gave their kids some spooky-ass toys) go on a little longer than they should. But really what ELSE is the movie going to do? The more detail given the sillier it would get. This never gets silly. It never seems overlong but it never quite 100 percent satisfies either.
In the past year two other horror films spring to mind when watching The Woman in Black. One of these is Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark. It features Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes (who does a fine job) and has the Guillermo Del Toro cachet as well. It is nominally better than The Woman in Black.The other is Insidious, the silly, fun, also old fashioned (but from a later period) horror film released in February 2010. While I am sure Daniel Radcliffe was paid more than Insidious’ entire budget, again, I have to say Insidious succeeds SLIGHTLY better in what it intended than The Woman in Black.
Part of the problem, and it can be debated whether this is actually a problem, is that this has been done before. Really what hasn’t? The trick is for a filmmaker to FOOL us into thinking we haven’t seen it before. That is why they make the big money. That is why we remember a film. You will be entertained by The Woman in Black but it is unlikely you will recall much about it—excluding Radcliffe.