The World’s End

August 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

Edgar Wright made quite a splash on the horror comedy scene with 2004’s “Shaun of the Dead”, one of the freshest films of the decade and one of my favorite horror comedies of all time–and one of the best zombie films of all time. He followed it up with the darker but still fun and entertaining “Hot Fuzz” in 2007. Now comes the third in what he calls the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy”, “The World’s End”. The plot is quite simple: a bunch of boyhood friends gather together after over 20 years of being apart to try and conquer The Golden Mile, a 12 tavern pub crawl in one night. The man behind the plan is Gary King (Simon Pegg, always appealing, if a little over the top this time), and he is stuck in the past as he wants to recapture the glory days of youth and finish the pub crawl that they could not finish when they were teenagers.

His group of friends, however, have grown up and gone their separate ways. His closest friend, Andy (Nick Frost), has quit drinking and become a business man. His other friends, Pete (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman), and Steven (Paddy Considine), have also matured into adults. Not all successful, but certainly past being pub crawlers. As for Gary, he hasn’t grown at all. Still has the same car from that night, and the same cassette tape that was playing when they drove there.

The pubs all belong to a town called Newton Haven, where they grew up. They haven’t been back since, nor have they cared to. In some ways, all of their skeletons were left there and they were more than happy to leave them–especially for Andy, who had a falling out with Gary one night that Gary thinks Andy should just get over.

Gary finds all of his buds and is able to convince them to come with him based on telling them a sob story about his Mum dying, and their fascination with him being able to persuade Andy to come along piques their interest. Once together, it’s off to the pubs. But something is different. Each pub is identical, sterile, and the people are different. They’re colder, and quiet. The ones that should remember Gary and the gang don’t seem to recognize them at all.

In the bathroom, Gary finds out what is going on just as the rest of his friends grow restless with the evening. Oliver had invited his sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike), who Steven has had a crush on all these years, and Gary has tried to put moves on her as well. She leaves, disenchanting the others. Andy, who has been drinking water instead of beer, decides it’s time to go. But when they try to collect Gary, they are swarmed with kids resembling androids complete with blue blood and T-1000-like mobility. They’re convinced they’re surrounded by robots, but there’s actually a bigger plot going on. It’s an invasion. Flooding us with technology and brainwashing us with pseudo-pacification, the gang tries to escape being assimilated.

But Gary still wants to get to the World’s End, the last pub of the crawl. Through the chase sequences, we learn more about their relationships with each other and why there was a falling out. It’s almost like “The Big Chill” meets “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. But Wright doesn’t completely rip off either film. He also merely touches on an apocalyptic story about the downfall of human civilization as we become more and more reliant on technology. It would have been a nice thing for him to really satirize, as it seemed to be leaning in that direction.

It’s still good fun, though; and if you’re a fan of either or both “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”, this won’t let you down. The performances are strong, the action sequences are exciting, and most of the film moves at a good pace. The only time the film lags is near the end. It’s almost as if Wright didn’t have a real tight grasp on how he wanted to end this one, so it is a bit anticlimactic. While some of this is used for comic effect, it almost starts a whole new story with only about 10 minutes to go in the film. The film’s last scene feels like it could be the first scene of the next film, should he want to make a sequel. Although, since this was part of a “trilogy”, I guess Wright would have to bend the rules.

This is an enjoyable film, but I think it’s the weakest of the three. It’s certainly ambitious and it has some great moments. There are some very funny scenes, and the characters are very likeable, especially Sam and Pete. But there’s something more that could’ve been done with the plot, I think, that would have put it even above “Shaun” and really made a criticism about modern life. Instead it’s nothing more than a heady pint. While that can be satisfying, it still leaves something to desire. Especially if it’s an India Pale Ale.

My rating: :-)

The Cabin in the Woods

April 29, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

As a fan of the horror genre, I’m always intrigued by any filmmaker who sets out to tear down the genre and build it back up. Wes Craven achieved this with “Scream” back in the late 90’s, a film that was released during a desperate era for the genre, when it had been bled completely dry (pun intended) by the saturation of slasher franchises such as “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. We were starved for something new, and “Scream” provided a fresh but somewhat all-too-hip alternative to the routine slasher genre. It turned it on its head by being more self aware, while still telling a decent story and having a fun twist at the end.

Now that we’ve been inundated with remakes and “found footage” movies left and right, perhaps it’s time for another shot in the arm. That’s at least what Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon set out to do with “The Cabin in the Woods”.

But this movie may be one of the biggest miscalculations of a genre critique I’ve ever seen. Any fan of these types of movies should see right through the criticisms of Goddard and Whedon fairly quickly. And then we are left with a very arrogant, cynical, and extremely self-serving horror comedy that neither chills nor amuses.

First misstep: the characters are too bland and irritatingly stock to be made into funny caricatures mocking what we usually find in these kinds of films. We have the dumb blond, the jock, the quiet smart guy, the homely (but insanely beautiful) down to earth girl, and of course…the stoner who turns out to be right about everything. I guess Whedon wanted him to be the “audience”, catching onto every little inconsistency in a horror story. He’s played quite nauseatingly by Fran Kranz. I hope I never have to see this actor in another film in my life.

The second misstep can only be described while describing the plot: take a couple of kids and have them go to a cabin in the woods (because it’s the jock’s cousin’s), and then as the story progresses, illustrate that these kids are part of a scheme by oddly button down suits who are part of some cult that sacrifices people for ancient gods that will destroy the earth if the sacrifices are not executed (ahem). Did I just ruin the surprise for you? I don’t think I did, but even if I did, I did you a favor.

The idea is that these suits are going to control what happens to the kids at the cabin. They display all kinds of creepy things you find in these types of places. Creepy dolls, creepy paintings (which came the closest to actually scaring me), and of course…Pandora’s Box. So the kids actually raise the dead and the suits then try to make sure the kids die one by one until the sacrifice is complete.

I actually liked the premise of this film because it would give you a chance to make fun of the standard horror “cabin in the woods” story while still telling a bigger story with the real horror being that if these stereotypical things don’t happen, we all die. Unfortunately, Whedon and Goddard are far too interested in being cute and clever that once we’re let in on the joke, they’re already telling you how funny it is.

I think in a horror comedy, you have a very thin line to walk. You don’t want to be too jokey, because it becomes self aware and then you take the fun out of it. But you do still want to scare people. I think one of the best examples of when it works is the original “Fright Night”. Another would be “Evil Dead 2”. I can even point to Whedon’s introduction into the genre with his own “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. But here, this is beyond self-aware. This is purely self-congratulatory. Whedon and Goddard want you to know how cool they are by throwing in a ton of horror film references (everything from “Hellraiser” to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to “Night of the Living Dead” to “Aliens”) and how great it is that they are being critical of bad horror films that are full of cliches and bad dialog.

However, in their attempt to mock the genre, they simply just come off as snobs as far as I’m concerned. I’ll be honest–I love bad horror films. I love the stereotypes, the cliches. Why? Because these films aren’t meant to be film classics. They’re meant to be drive-in fodder. An excuse to put your hand around your date’s shoulder and make a move. In many cases, these films mock themselves already enough and become parodies of themselves to the point where “The Cabin in the Woods” is the equivalent of the NYU film school grad sitting in a showing of “Friday the 13th” and telling you how adolescent it is.

We get it, guys. How about instead of wasting time telling me what I already know, make your own film fun and entertaining? “Cabin in the Woods” has its own problems, too. Logically some of the steps these guys take to sacrifice people don’t make sense, and sometimes they’re too convoluted if the end result is supposed to be death for the ancient gods. Why would you give anyone a chance of surviving if it means the end of the world for all of us? Which by the way, leads to a very anticlimactic ending. All the while I kept thinking…what is really at stake for any of these characters? Can we really believe the world will end if these kids aren’t killed? What’s at stake for the kids is far more relevant and credible, and yet we already know what has to happen with them so there is no tension going into the third act of the film.

I wanted to like this movie and appreciate the level of detail that Whedon and Goddard took with the horror genre. If they didn’t try so hard to manipulate me so much, maybe I would’ve actually enjoyed it.

My rating: :(

Zombieland

October 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

“When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.”

That’s the famous line from George Romero’s classic horror satire “Dawn of the Dead”. I’m guessing hell isn’t full–or, that guy was totally wrong. There’s no such thing as zombies. Right?

Well, in the last few years, we’ve been introduced to a new kind of zombie. Richard Roeper, God’s gift to film criticism and wonderful hair, once stated that he likes this new angle of zombies–basically, the “this ain’t your daddy’s zombie!” attitude. Let’s make them fast and furious! But wait–were these zombies, that were “created” in “28 Days Later”–really zombies? I’ve had this debate so many times it makes *me* brain dead. No, they’re not zombies! At least, they’re not zombies in the Romero sense. They’re functioning people, they’re just “infected.” This worked in “28 Days Later” because like “Dawn of the Dead” and most of the “Dead” series, this was a social commentary rather than a straight up zombie movie.

The remake of “Dawn of the Dead” was a straight up zombie movie–and it got the idea all wrong, as fun as the movie was.

But here, in “Zombieland”, it kind of crosses the themes. We have people that are “infected” with some kind of virus that began with someone eating a rotten hamburger somewhere (I guess they had to come up with something…) and so they are somehow blood thirsty and want to eat people–you’d think they’d just have a hunger for lousy hamburgers, and just raid McDonald’s–but they’re also…zombies. They look dead, they have rings around their eyes, their mouths are full of disgusting ooze, and when they’re not rampaging, they’re making strange jerky motions that’s somewhere in between the zombies in “Night of the Living Dead” and Linda Blair in “The Exorcist”. In fact, in a way, you could say they look more like they’re possessed than “infected”.

But “Zombieland” is not really about plot. The movie is only about 81 minutes, so it gives you as thin a narrative as possible: a kid with many phobias is teamed up with an alpha male who loves Dale Earnhardt, and twinkies (inside joke about male sexuality/security? you decide), go on the road and wind up with two attractive and manipulative females and all of them end up being chased by zombies, and killing a lot of them.

There is also a very funny cameo by a great actor of our time–probably one of the greatest. And there’s a tie-in with the twinkie, for a moment.

So, the question is–does “Zombieland” work? Well, you have to look at it from this stand point to really understand what it’s getting at–do you find zombie killing funny? I don’t know that anyone’s really broached that before, not in a clear and crisp way. There always seems to be some kind of social satire muddled in the mix, and we have to wonder if we’re laughing at zombies, or ourselves.

Well, rest assured–there is no question here. The zombie killing is pretty hilarious. And Woody Harrelson as Talahassee (everyone’s name in the film represents where they’re from; i.e., Columbus, who is the kid with phobias) provides a lot of laughs because of his comic ability as an actor. Not every joke works, and some seem forced. There’s also a twist in something we learn about Talahassee’s past that seemed a bit morbid, especially when the scenes surrounding it are comparatively more comical. The pace of the film is a bit off, as well–sometimes it seems like we’re learning too much about people that are essentially placed in an arcade game like “House of the Dead”, just knocking off zombie after zombie, trying to come up with the Kill of the Week (but an old lady and a piano make the top of that list). You’d think for a film so short that clunkiness wouldn’t be an issue; but at times, some of the scenes do actually seem as though they drag.

As for the rest of the performances, Emma Stone (Wichita) is emerging as a fine young actress, and pulls of manipulative sexy just as well as she can pull of sweet and sensitive. Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus) proves you can out-Michael Cera Michael Cera, and Abigail Breslin (Little Rock) is good as well but I still couldn’t take her seriously as a schemer. Mike White (“The Good Girl”, “Chuck and Buck”, “School of Rock”) also makes an amusing appearance as a gas station attendant.

Probably the funniest element of the film comes from Columbus’ rules of survival: Cardio (rule #1), Beware of Bathrooms (rule#2), Seatbelts (rule #3), and Double tap (rule#4) among others. Each rule is given an example, and each time he performs a rule, a caption for said rule appears somewhere on the screen. It’s charming in its own way (and somewhat of an homage to Max Brooks’ “The Zombie Survival Guide”) and eventually, as always, some rules are meant to be broken.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable movie. It’s almost like a cute, dolled up Troma film. There’s just enough heart and just not enough gore, but it’s a good way to…ahem…kill…an hour and a half of your time.

And it really gives  you a craving for a Hostess Twinkie.

My rating: :-)