The World’s End

Cornettos for everyone!

Cornettos for everyone!

The World’s End comes with some rather large baggage, namely the two previous movies in the ‘Cornetto Trilogy’, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, two of the best comic films of this century. Added to which, just a few weeks ago saw the opening of a film littered with star names from America, all about an impending apocalypse, This Is The End which, while flawed, was certainly better than expected.

As it turns out, despite the title, The World’s End is less of a direct competitor to This Is The End than might have been thought. Not that that matters, seeing as it would trample that film into dirt, if that were a thing films could do. But it’s not so it doesn’t.

However, compared to its Cornetto predecessors World’s End does start from a position of weakness. Shaun of the Dead is telling a story that has been told hundreds of times before (witness the myriad films that end ‘of the Dead’) so it was always working from the basis of familiarity. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg subtly engineered it to have the scares required of it, hit all the familiar beats of the story and have laugh-a-minute jokes throughout. But so much of that worked because we were so familiar with the story.

Hot Fuzz is broadly the same, but instead of zombie movies at the heart it has the brash American action films, personified in Bad Boys 2. While the precise machinations of the story aren’t quite as set in stone as they are for a zombie movie, it’s a genre that is familiar enough to have a well-worn series of tropes to send up with a nicely British twist (ie by way of Midsomer Murders).

The problem World’s End has to face up to is that there isn’t the same kind of audience familiarity with body-snatcher movies and so it’s not as easy to send up (not that the other films were merely simple pastiches, just to say that the lack of familiarity is another barrier World’s End has to clamber over that the previous movies didn’t have). In fact, going in I was nervous that it wouldn’t be able to live up to the weight of history for precisely these reasons, and the fact that I was won over so wholeheartedly is testament to the writing, directing and acting (and everything else) that has gone into it.

Pegg plays Gary King, the ringleader of a group of kids who finished 6th form college 20 years ago. He wants to pull his group back together to finish the pub crawl they never completed when they finally completed college, but his whole group are reticent about the idea. They have moved on with their lives while Gary is still ‘living the dream’. Upon returning to Newton Haven, the town of their youth, it soon becomes clear there are strange things going on, something the group tries to fight back against while Gary tries to spur them on to complete the crawl.

There are two things that make the film such a success, and they are common with the collaborations that have gone before, as well as being completely entwined. Firstly, the strength of charactisation present. These are all fully realised people, with the word character almost being derogatory. You wholly buy into the people presented to you and every twist and turn in the story works perfectly because the decisions the characters make never feel false.

Secondly, the humour comes from the characters. Where This Is The End draws paper-thin personas for each of the leads and grants an opportunity for them to tell jokes, here the humour develops organically. The funny things people say are entirely in keeping with the characters that have been created, and those lines are both funny and move the plot on. This is a key element of the entire Cornetto trilogy and lays down a path that you wish all comedy films would follow. Far too often people say things that are funny or say things that are plot, and never the twain shall meet.

The one reservation here would be with the finale. It’s not as satisfying or as fitting as you would perhaps hope, but, as with the pub crawl, it’s not the destination that counts, but the journey, and this journey is one of the most enjoyable you’ll see on screen all year.

A-

Film length: 1hr 49mins – Feels like: 1hr 45mins

The Best and Worst Films of 2012

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The best and worst films of 2012

I saw 59 films at the cinema in 2012, plus another 2 that were released at the cinema during the year at home. I also have Berberian Sound Studio on blu ray waiting to be watched. That’s just to give some context. As a disclaimer, there are a few other films that I have not seen which could potentially make it onto the list (judging by other lists I have heard), including the aforementioned Berberian Sound Studio, A Royal Affair, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, Life of Pi and You’ve Been Trumped (which is on my Sky+ box).

Neither have I seen The Hobbit, but unless it is significantly different from the Lord of the Rings, I can guarantee that it’s not my thing, no matter how impressive the technical achievement. I admired those films, but I did not enjoy them on any level, I’m afraid.

So just for comparison’s sake here are the top fives from the last few years:

2011
1. Senna
2. 127 Hours
3. Submarine
4. Black Swan
5. Source Code

2010 (exc the Back To The Future re-release, which would be number 1, otherwise)
1. Toy Story 3
2. Inception
3. Kick Ass
4. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
5. Four Lions

2009
1. Milk
2. Moon
3. Gran Torino
4. Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs
5. In The Loop

2008
1. There Will Be Blood
2. King of Kong
3. The Dark Knight
4. Son of Rambow
5. In Bruges

2007
1. Hot Fuzz
2. The Bourne Ultimatum
3. Enchanted
4. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
5. This Is England

It’s interesting for me looking back at those (and yes, I do keep track of all the films I see) to see how different the films are from one year to the next. In 2011, for example, there are only 3 films I would call proper blockbusters in my top 20 (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Super 8 and Bridesmaids), with Source Code being mainstream but more low-key and films like Black Swan, The Artist and Tinker Tailor crossing over to have mainstream success while clearly being films with an art-house sensibility. Compare that to 2010, when the top 3 were all mainstream films, 2 of them amongst the biggest of the year.

The point being, it really is a mixed bag, and that I don’t favour one over the other – there is something clearly to be said for documentary, art-house, foreign language and blockbuster films. When they are done right, each can be just as powerful, emotionally and visually, as the other. So, with that in mind, on to the top 10, in reverse order. And, a little like Mark Kermode, I have cheated ever so slightly…

=10. The Raid – The best action movie of the year, fantastically choreographed fight sequences feel almost as bruising to the audience as they undoubtedly did to the performers themselves.

=10. Ted – The funniest film of the year. Seth MacFarlane shows he can do it on the big screen as well as he can do it on the small screen. The plot isn’t the strongest but it’s solid enough to hang a lot of jokes on, a significant number of which hit home, many out of the park.

9. Silver Linings Playbook – Somewhere between a romance, a romcom and a serious look at mental illness, this was a surprising treat with Bradley Cooper putting in a great performance. I have to admit that when he first came on the scene I thought there wasn’t much more to him than his looks, but I was wrong. With this and Limitless he has made two very good films and put in two very good performances.

8. The Muppets – a film guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Great songs by Brett McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords. Fun for all ages and a great way to introduce kids to the Muppets and have an excuse to go back to the old films.

7. Martha Marcy May Marlene – couldn’t be further from The Muppets and the first movie form the art house end to make it onto the list. A very disconcerting film about a girl who returns to her family some years after leaving to join what at first seems like a hippy-ish cult, but later reveals itself to be something all together more disturbing. Brilliant central performance by Elizabeth Olsen.

6. Holy Motors – A film unlike any other and probably the hardest to describe. I don’t just mean on this list, I mean ever. What’s it about? Erm… Well, who are the characters? Now, you see, umm… A surreal masterpiece. Is it about the history of cinema? What cinema is capable of? What acting does to the soul? I don’t know, you’ll have to make your own mind up.

5. Magic Mike – Soderbergh’s arty take on a sleazy B movie about male strippers. It certainly has something to say about the sex industry and the type of person you need to be make it work for you. It also has plenty of flesh to keep the more aesthetically motivated members of the audience happy. Far better than it really has any right to be.

4. The Imposter – A beguiling documentary/reconstruction of the story of French/Algerian who claims to be a boy who has been missing from Texas for several years. Best not to say any more for fear of giving away the story. Let’s just say that if it weren’t a true story you’d walk out in disgust that any writer could ask you to believe a word of it.

3. ParaNorman – Brilliant stop-motion animation about an outcast boy who can see the dead who becomes his town’s only hope when a curse unleashes zombie hordes. There are enough surprises along the way and a more low-key ending relying on emotion and character is much more satisfying than the usual destruction derby that comes at the end of many films of this ilk. The best children‘s film of the year, without doubt.

2. Looper – Brilliant, barmy science fiction, following in the footsteps of Source Code and Inception as something you go with whole-heartedly but which probably doesn’t make too much sense if you try to unpick it. Rian Johnson shows how brilliantly he can create a world again (after Brick) and Joseph Gordon Levit continues to show how ready he is to step up to A list status (with both Premium Rush – great fun – and The Dark Knight Rises – underwhelming – also out in 2012).

1. Argo – A proper adult thriller, judged to perfection (how many movies were too long this year? A lot, but not this one) and keeping you on the edge of your seat until the last moment. Not only that, a very serious and dangerous true story is given just the right amount of humour in the right places. Ben Affleck is developing into a brilliant director (with Gone Baby Gone and The Town under his belt already), and he also takes the central role here, playing it to perfection. There were a lot of good or very good movies this year, but this one stood out to me as easily the best.

So, there we have it.

Related to all of this, I have a bit of a new year’s resolution for 2013 and that is to post some kind of review of every film I see this year. They may only be as long as the thoughts above, but some will undoubtedly turn into something much more…

Now, on to the worst films:

5. Taken 2 – Worthless, nonsensical, toned down sequel. That’s nonsensical in a bad way, not in the good way that goes with the original film.

4. The Cold Light Of Day – An attempt to make a euro-thriller in the mould of Taken and Unknown with Henry Cavill (the new Superman) in the lead role. Fell very flat indeed.

3. American Pie: The Reunion – Any smiles to be found in this are over and done with in the first 5 minutes. Incredibly tedious.

2. John Carter – Like the deserts on Mars, this was both massive and very dry. What people who dislike science fiction think of when they think of science fiction. Dull.

1. Dark Shadows – A mess. The tone is all over the place and Burton seems to have taken up the mantra “Tell, don’t show”. One sequence involves a character walking on the beach with Johnny Depp, telling Depp how much her brother has grown to like and indeed rely on him since he’d been staying with them. The brother’s screen time to that point was probably under a minute, and he had shown no sign of communicating with Depp, let alone growing to like him. Disgraceful story-telling like that peppers the film. It might be possible to turn the film into something passable with some judicious editing of the current content, the addition of some deleted scenes and a few reshoots, but as it stands it is just awful. I have not been more bored in the cinema for a long time. It’s even worse than Burton’s Alice In Wonderland.

 

Now, some stats – you can probably skip this as it’s really only interesting to me…

This year I only saw 2 documentaries at the cinema, down from 5 in 2011 (3 of which were in my top ten). I saw 4 foreign/foreign language films, plus one that sort of was (more on that later), up from 3 (and a half) the previous year. Out of the 61 total films released in 2012 that I saw (again up from 2011 where the total was 53 in the cinema, plus 4 more at home, so far), I would call 12 of them outright art-house films, with a further 9 being kind of half-way houses between the art-house and mainstream. That leaves 40 mainstream movies. In 2011 it was 10 art-house and 10 half-way. Pretty similar numbers.