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The World’s End (2013)

The World's End #1

by Steve Habrat

In 2004, America had the pleasure of being introduced to Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and director Edgar Wright, a trio of British funny guys who bowed at the cinematic alter of all things horror, action, science fiction, and exploitation. They burst into Hollywood with Shaun of the Dead, a warm and fuzzy romantic comedy…. with zombies. Shaun of the Dead was a surprise hit, even earning praise from the zombie godfather himself, George A. Romero. In the summer of 2007, Pegg, Frost, and Wright returned to theaters with Hot Fuzz, a razor-sharp marriage of the slasher genre and the buddy cop action genre that threatened to be even better than Shaun of the Dead. It was around this time that you started hearing that these films were part of a trilogy that Wright was calling his Cornetto trilogy. After another lengthy wait, the trio have finally brought their Cornetto trilogy to a close with The World’s End, a smashing nod to classic science fiction films from the 1950s all the way to the 1980s. Wright and his starring duo have already proven themselves as experts at mashing up multiple genres of film and The World’s End finds them once again at the top of their game. This midlife crisis comedy flows with laughs, blue blood, brilliant characters, superbly choreographed fistfights, heartfelt drama, and enough beer to have the most seasoned beer drinkers screaming uncle and running for the bathroom.

The World’s End introduces us to Gary King (played by Simon Pegg), a forty-year-old wash up that is stuck living in the past. In his youth, Gary and his four closest friends participated in a pub-crawl called the Golden Mile, which consisted of twelve pubs scattered throughout their hometown of Newton Haven. The boys were unable to finish the crawl, but Gary remembers it fondly as the greatest night of his life. After growing frustrated with rehab, Gary tracks down his four best friends—Andy (played by Nick Frost), Peter (played by Eddie Marsan), Oliver (played by Martin Freeman), and Steven (played by Paddy Considine)—in the hopes of convincing them to reattempt the Golden Mile and this time making it to The World’s End, the final bar in the crawl. Despite having moved on with their lives, the gang decides to join Gary in the pub-crawl. It doesn’t take long for the gang to start bumping into familiar faces from their youth, but it seems that their old friends don’t recognize them at all. After a bathroom scuffle with a group of freakishly strong and blank-faced teenagers, the group discovers that the citizens of Newton Haven have all been turned into robots. Confused, buzzed, and terrified, the group decides to continue on with their crawl in an attempt to blend in, but it doesn’t take long for the group to blow their cover. Teaming with Oliver’s beautiful sister, Sam (played by Rosamund Pike), and a handful of normal locals, the group begins a fight to remain human… and make it to The World’s End.

For those who aren’t cinema buffs or seasoned vets of the Cornetto trilogy, the main focus of these three films has been to pick a genre of film (horror, action, science fiction) that Wright, Pegg, and Frost adore and pay tribute to the classic films within that genre, all while tucking a heartfelt and relatable storyline inside the nods. After giving the viewer a chunk of time to get to know the characters, The World’s End sets its sights on the classic science fiction films from the Cold War/drive-in era all the way to the films like John Carpenter’s The Thing. When the robot-aliens finally make their presence known, the narrative of The World’s End begins to heavily borrow from Don Siegel’s 1956 sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Wright then sprinkles in hints of the 1978 remake, but these lean more towards the visual end. Genre fans should also be on the lookout for nods to The Day the Earth Stood Still and a scene-stealing ode to John Carpenter’s The Thing. Wright smartly understands that these classic films were heavy with politics and social commentary, and he converts these nods into a hilarious comment on modern day conformity. The best use of this commentary comes when the guys start the crawl and realize that the colorful bars that they use to frequent as boys have been scrubbed of their small-town individuality and converted into Starbuck-esque establishments. It’s a running gag that never gets old.

The World's End #2

The theme of conformity continues in the characters, especially Andy, Oliver, Peter, and Steven. These guys have tried desperately to distance themselves from their hard-partying days and embraced a happy family, a cozy desk job with a mound of benefits, expensive suits, and a fancy home in the suburbs. We sense their boredom early on and we roll our eyes when they tell the free-spirited Gary to grow up and get serious with his life. Pegg easily gives the strongest performance of his career as Gary, the ultimate party animal who just can’t say “no” to a cold pint and a bag of weed. I really don’t think I have seen Pegg throw himself into a role with this much enthusiasm before and I thought he was a ball of energy in the Star Trek films! Frost breaks away from playing the slouching slacker that he played in both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and takes the uptight route as Andy, who hasn’t had a drink in fifteen years and is flat out appalled by Gary’s loose-cannon behavior. Watching Andy and Gary try to rekindle their relationship is awkward, hilarious, and moving all at the same time. Marsan is another scene-stealer as the geeky Peter, who appears to be petrified of his own family and bottling up pain from being bullied. When he starts downing the brews and the shots, he is an absolute riot. Freeman’s Oliver is your usual businessman with a Bluetooth shoved in his ear and Considine is a fitness nut dating a younger girl. Pike is sweet and scrappy as Oliver’s sister, Sam, who is pursued by both Steven and Gary. Pierce Brosnan also makes a special appearance as Guy Sheppard, an old guidance counselor from the gang’s high school.

Where The World’s End hits a snag is in the final confrontation between the gang and the alien invaders that are hiding out in Newton Haven. Just before the two parties meet, there is a surprisingly emotional heart-to-heart between Gary and Andy that will have a good majority of viewers getting a bit misty-eyed. The dramatic moment is pierced by a drawn-out war of words with the alien force. Wright is slyly paying tribute to some of the lower-key climaxes of the sci-fi films from the 50s, where the all-American hero came face-to-face with the alien invaders and engaged in a heated discussion about the alien’s intentions. While it is smart on Wright’s end, it does throw the film’s momentum way off and it feels like we’ve hit a brick wall for a good ten minutes. Thankfully, Wright recovers with some seriously epic destruction that will get the heart pounding again. Overall, The World’s End may not be my personal favorite film of the Cornetto trilogy, but I still found myself getting wrapped up in the emotional sweep at the climax, laughing at the quick wit, hanging on the action sequences, and beaming over the love letter homages. This is one cocktail that may suffer from a bit of backwash near the end, but will still leave you with one hell of a buzz that is guaranteed to last for days.

Grade: B+ 

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

by Steve Habrat

Did you ever think you would see a gritty interpretation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Snow White? Well now you can in all its mediocre glory! Snow White and the Huntsman sheds any whimsicality that is associated this legendary tale and offers audiences a bone snapping, grime-under-the-fingernails medieval vision that hopes to lure a male crowd as well as the shrieking Twilight fans who will see anything that Kristen Stewart even thinks about starring in. Director Rupert Sanders has plenty of talent at his disposal but he is cursed with an uneven script and is forced to cover up the rougher moments with dazzling images to distract us from the dips in the story. If Snow White and the Huntsman were converted into a picture book meant for your coffee table, I guarantee it would be a huge hit when you have company over. While the film wins visually (it is stunning in digital projection), there are moments here when the film comes to a screeching halt, pondering what it will do with itself next. Good thing that Thor’s Chris Hemsworth and the seven dwarfs show up to aid you in your battle to keep your eyelids open because I’m sure Snow White and the Huntsman is the cure for insomnia.

Snow White and the Huntsmanbegins with a superbly filmed flashback that shows us Snow White’s royal upbringing. After her mother, Queen Eleanor (Played by Liberty Ross) passes away, her father, King Magnus (Played by Noah Huntley), finds himself in love with the mysterious Ravenna (Played by Charlize Theron), who is supposedly being held captive by the equally mysterious Dark Army. King Magnus marries Ravenna but on their wedding night, Ravenna brutally murders Magnus and then proceeds to overthrow his kingdom with her homely brother, Finn (Played by Sam Spruell) and the Dark Army, who is under her command. Snow White and her buddy William attempt to flee the castle but Snow White is captured by Finn and locked away in one of the castle towers. Fifteen years pass and Snow White (Played by Kristen Stewart) is still locked up in that tower, battling to stay warm from the frigid weather. Queen Ravenna still rules over the once lush but now barren land, giggling over the poverty and suffering that grips the local townspeople. Soon, Queen Ravenna, who has the power to remain young by draining the youth from young girls that are brought to her, is informed by Mirror that Snow White’s beauty is destined to surpass her own beauty. Enraged, she demands that Snow White be brought to her but Snow White escapes, forcing Queen Ravenna to hire the grieving Hunstman (Played by Chris Hemsworth) to track Snow White down in the Dark Forest and return her before she is consumed by old age. Also searching for Snow White is her old friend William (Played by Sam Claflin), who hasn’t forgiven himself for loosing Snow White to Ravenna.

Snow White and the Huntsman is eager to explain away some of the supernatural elements of its story. A scene in which Queen Ravenna speaks with her Mirror while Finn spies on her reveals that the talking Mirror may all just be in her head and not really there at all. Scenes in the Dark Forest, where Snow White begins seeing strange creatures darting around the twisted and charred trees is actually the result of her inhaling a defensive gas emitted from black pods that dot the ground. While it is obviously doing this to lure in a male audience, Snow White and the Huntsman does keep a few fantasy elements in place. We see trolls, fairies that look like rejects from Pan’s Labyrinth, animals that have become one with their settings, soldiers that shatter into black glass, and more. Yet all of these creatures are believable because they look like they have evolved from trees, grass, rocks, and everything else you can find in the woods. Seeing these wondrous critters was one of the most entertaining parts of Snow White and the Huntsman, giving the film a bit of personality, something it is in dire need of.

We should also be thankful for the presence of Chris Hemsworth, who does most of the heavy lifting in Snow White and the Huntsman, making the film bearable for its two-hour runtime. I truly think that Hemsworth is a talented guy and I give him credit for refusing to allow his baritone hero be a tough guy cliché with no depth. He gives this film a wounded soul and you will feel for his character when his eyes well up. The film really picks up when he makes his entrance and every time he steps away, things start to fall apart. Luckily, he has a bit of back up with a group of scene stealing dwarfs that are appropriately grotesque and a whole lot of awesome. Did you ever think you’d see the seven dwarfs kicking ass and killing people? I sure as hell didn’t and was pleasantly surprised when they did. The dwarfs, Beith (Played by Ian McShane), Muir (Played by Bob Hoskins), Gort (Played by Ray Winstone), Nion (Played by Nick Frost), Duir (Played by Eddie Marsan), Coll (Played by Toby Jones), Quert (Played by Johnny Harris), and Gus (Played by Brian Gleeson), could have been an excuse for a couple of laughs to keep the kids busy but miraculously, the film never has them parading around like pint size jesters. Along with Hemsworth’s Hunstman, they make up the emotional core that keeps things sizzling.

The biggest problem outside the stop-go plotline is Theron’s Queen Ravenna and Stewart’s Snow White. Stewart is a one-note actress who is incapable of holding the screen and injecting any presence into her scenes. Her character wanders around the entire time looking for purpose that she barely finds. She may have the looks but I truly think that they could have found someone who didn’t wander around with a dumbfounded look on her face. I was never rooting for her and wasn’t moved an inch when she gives her big rallying speech at the end. Hemsworth is the one who keeps her character from crashing and burning from lack of emotion. When Stewart isn’t busy ruining the movie, Theron is busy overacting her brains out. She is so evil, it becomes overkill and just downright ludicrous. I was pulling for her to be another bright spot in this mostly drab tale but she launches into her role at two hundred miles per hour, annoyingly ready to bear her fangs. The best villains are the ones who have some sort of complexity to their actions and an aura of unpredictability but Theron just makes Ravenna evil with a capital “E” for silly reasons. I hated that you could read every face twitch and every tap of her finger.

Snow White and the Huntsman does have a few action sequences that break up the monotony of the script, mostly the tar-caked final battle that features some nasty smack downs that will get the adrenaline pumping pretty good. Sadly, the finale does end up cramming a bunch of unnecessary CGI into it that really serves no point (We have a Dark Shadows problem on our hands!). It also feels like too much too late in the game. Every once and a while, we do catch a glimpse of what Snow White and the Huntsman could have been, but it just opts to be a predictably moody medieval road movie instead of setting itself apart from the pack. The overall slacking from Stewart, who should have won our hearts early on, and the irritatingly evil Theron end up being the poison apple that sends Snow White and the Huntsman into a comatose state it never wakes up from. It’s a shame because in a summer that has so far only seen one truly great blockbuster (The Avengers), this had potential to be one of the fairest blockbusters of the summer.

Grade: C-