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.
Elysium isn’t the worst Sci-Fi film in recent memory. It isn’t unwatchable. It is, however, an enormous letdown from director Neill Blomkamp whose first film, District 9, was a truly great science fiction film. That film was such a surprise being so outside the normal Hollywood summer blockbuster fare. It was more than just a great sci-fi film but a great film. Elysium is bland and safe and well within the parameters of the Hollywood formula. It is, however, professionally made and solid enough to keep you involved, at least in places. But there is no real connection, no real excitement and nothing about it is particularly memorable.
So what, basically, is wrong with the film?
It drags. The film is fairly short but it takes awhile to get going. The establishment of who Max is and what Elysium is takes far too much of the running time. Pacing is a huge part of the problem with this movie. The overall plot is fairly thin too. Is it a comment on immigration? Egalitarianism? Healthcare? Even the final resolution is a little head scratching in its lack of sophistication.
The characters are not particularly well-drawn (except perhaps Matt Damon's Max). There is very little surprising about the movie at all. The villains do what villains do; they sneer, they snarl but are otherwise uncomplicated. The acting is hard to figure. Jodie Foster seems wooden, which is hard to imagine for an actress of her caliber. Sharlto Copley, who acquitted himself so well, as Wikus Van De Merwe in District 9, is pretty close to a Saturday morning cartoon as a psychotic mercenary. Damon manages to give his character some depth but he also has much more screen time to do it.
It isn't that these actors, or others in the film such as Alice Braga (that you may recall from Predators), are bad, they are simply not given very much to do or time to do it in. There are too many characters as well be they friend or henchman. If you want to have a lot of characters to be blown to bits? That is fine. But why add people whose deaths are supposed to move the audience when there isn’t enough time to make the audience care.
Some of the action sequences are decent but mostly they are nothing special, sort of formulaic. There are a few “they blowed up real good” moments but these are too few. This isn’t to say that plot should be secondary to explosions and mayhem but this movie could have done with a good deal more mayhem.
What is good about the movie? Damon puts in a fairly solid performance—making his futuristic felon trying to get his life back on track believable and sympathetic. It looks good. The scenes on earth have a similar feel to large parts of District 9. It never lets special effects take over which is what most thinly plotted sci-fi films do.
While its pace is uneven it isn’t so bad that the audience will completely lose interest either. There are worse movies that come out every year in the genre and part of the problem here may also be the high expectations for Blomkamp as a director. District 9 was that good and Elysium is just mediocre.
Everyone has seen Star Trek Into Darkness by now. But it seems a movie that, even well after the fact, is worth a brief note. This is how you reboot a franchise. If you haven't seen the first or the second? Then I do not feel bad about a spoiler from 2009's Star Trek.
They change the time line.
The villain travels back through time and does things that alter the Star Trek universe. Director J.J. Abrams is given a clean slate to work from. Even better he is given a clean slate with a variety of characters to revisit and re-imagine in a new way. So far Abrams is doing it right.
This film is superior to the first one, in part, because it requires a limited amount of set up. We know the universe has been changed. We know the Vulcan home world has been destroyed. The cast we know from years of Star Trek geekdom but it is great fun watching the new interpretations of these characters--especially by Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Simon Pegg (although not necessarily in that order). Quinto's Spock and Pegg's Scotty are the real standouts. In defence of Pine, however, both Spock and Scotty have more to work with for an actor than the heroic leading man that is Captain Kirk.
Even now, after you should have seen the movie, I won't give away any twists or secrets. That is just wrong. It might even be wrong to let you know that there ARE twists and secrets but by this point you know at least that.
This movie is one to see on a big screen and in 3D. It looks great and the 3D, while not intrusive, is done well enough to add something and not just give you a headache.
One of the reasons this new version of Star Trek works is why other reboots of the series worked--the new movie embraces changed and is not over-worried with upsetting the fanatics. It worked with most of the other Star Trek series as well. The new captains were different from Kirk. In this new version Kirk himself is different because the circumstances of his life has changed. In fact, Star Trek fans have never seen Kirk this young before. We've traveled back before the advent of the series.
It is to be hoped that Star Trek doesn't fall into the trap of each movie requiring larger and larger roles for the bit players in the film, that they do not succumb to the fear of killing off characters in the movies and that they use the universe Gene Roddenberry to its fullest.
So far it is all good. Maybe Abrams can even pull the Star Wars universe out of the trash can George Lucas' last three films dumped it into.
When a movie costs a lot of money and it flops there is glee amongst late night network talk show host writers. They don’t have to think for a week. All you have to do is compare said movie to pretty much anything and the sheep will baaaaah. Part of the reason for seeing John Carterwas to see if the movie was actually worth a joke. Is it Heaven’s Gate? Is it Ishtar? (please do not post about how Ishtar is underrated. It sucks).
John Carter isn’t bad at all. And they charged me the same amount they usually do—despite how much Disney spent on the film.
In the realm of the comic book hero film (and yes I am aware this isn’t from a comic) this is actually pretty decent. People loved Thor last year. Of course that was, in part, because everyone expected it to be unwatchable and it is actually O.K. A couple of the reasons Thor is decent are shared by John Carter; they don’t try to over explain silly bits of the plot and the supporting actors are all top notch. When a movie like John Carter bends over backward to explain something like “the ninth ray” it spirals around the bowl. We get it when you just show us a guy with a “ninth ray” shiny glove frying everyone. And if the actors, even in small or voice only parts, are bad it makes the audience notice silliness more. To be sure there are failures with great casts but bad actors can kill even coherent fantasy and sci-fi writing.
It is kind of embarrassing to like either Thor or John Carter too much. There just isn’t that much there to get too crazy about. Sure, you can pretend that your interest is ironic and you are an intellectual. You can pretend to be looking at a literary comparison with the Edgar Rice Burroughs story (try to get your thesis committee to bite on THAT). All of that is crap. It is just silly crap that is put together well and gets fuzzy on details that bog it down.
Compared to other comic-like films (Captain America...brrr) it moves along fairly well. It is basically coherent, if silly, in plot. We really do not need to know the details of Thune culture or why some Martians have four arms and some look totally human (but with face tattoos..wait…Mike Tyson is a MARTIAN. That explains a great deal).
But there isn’t much more to say on John Carter. It is watchable. It is entertaining. It has attractive people and decent actors in it. It looks good (3D isn’t necessary to enjoy the film go to a cheap 2D showing). Other “fantastical” films like the brutal adaptations of young adult fiction such as The Lightening Thief or The Vampire’s Assistant or comic book hero fiascos like Iron Man 2, Ghost Rider or any of the X-Men related films after the first two, make you want to get more popcorn.
What is it about a movie like John Carter that makes it not connect with audiences when other, similar, films do? Is it really that John Carter cost so much more? Did it just come out too early or too late? It might be hype. Maybe just not enough Tarzan fans are around these days.
Fortunately in catching up with movies this week I also saw a film with a lot of penis jokes. More on that soon.