Monday, September 2, 2013

Wishing The World's End Never Ended.

Movie Review: The World's End

Director: Edgar Wright

Reviewed: 2 September 2013

jamesintexas rating--***1/2

The World's End completes a trilogy of delightful films about friendship from director Edgar Wright and featuring lead performances by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The first two films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, both riffed on their original genres (zombie film, cop-buddy pic) while also being really fun in their own rights. With The World's End, Wright has crafted a film with a propulsive tone right from the start, launching into a tale of an early nineties pub crawl in England being recreated many years later with the same crew of high school friends. Ostensibly the leader, Gary King (Simon Pegg) serves as a troubled yet supremely confident believer that life never got better for him that fated night when he failed to complete the Golden Mile, a pub crawl of twelve of the town's drinking establishments. With his black trench coat, sunglasses, high school car nicknamed 'The Beast' complete with cassettes of the Soup Dragons, Gary travels to see each of his old mates in order to recruit them for a chance to recreate the fallen glory of their past. Andy Knightly (Nick Frost) is now a lawyer, wanting little to do with Gary because of something that happened that night. Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) lives a mildly unhappy life, unaware of a love lost in the past. Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) was always the oddball of the group, and finding himself in an unsatisfying family business and surrounded by a stressful family, he shows up at the reunion. And last is Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman) who sells real estate, wears a bluetooth phone on his ear at all times, and has the very attractive sister Sam (Rosamund Pike) for which one or more of the guys carries the torch. Their reunion carries the weight of a group of former friends trying to recreate a magical night while also maybe falling even farther apart. Friendship, Wright explores, can fade or burst back depending on the situation. Here, Gary pushes the group forward from pub to aptly named pub, anchoring the film with his wisecracks and myopic pursuit of his quest as well as his own troubled relationship with his own past.

I refuse to spoil this film as its level of fun and surprise stems from some of its turns and twists. The World's End has many laughs, deep ones, that build not from giant set-ups or complicated plotting but from the quintet of fine actors playing well-written characters marinated in the steady stream of alcohol provided by each pub. Pegg is wonderfully manic with high-energy as Gary, and I loved watching his charming performance. The mates are well-written as well, each offering different takes on Gary's behavior, showing the little alliances and animosities within the group. The film's pub crawl takes a delightfully wacky turn, the less of which I say the better, but it has something to do with Considine's character observing the "Starbuck-ing of pubs," meaning the synchronicity of sameness that accompanies our modern world. The humor is quick and steady, and Wright displays a wonderful sense of timing and space in several action scenes (most wonderfully when Pegg's character is determined to drink from his glass despite all the chaos around him). The framing devices at the beginning and ending of the film are confident and fun, though I will admit to be a bit lost by the last few minutes of the film. I liked how Wright chose a conversation to provide the climactic moment of the film opposed to something more conventional. Like its predecessor this summer, This Is The End, the film embraces a special effects budget at the end that may be completely superfluous. Unlike that film, The World's End feels more crafted and less improvisation, more sure of where it is going as well as its characters. This film won me over with its characters and physical comedy and its commitment to fun.

I think it is one of year's best films.

Elysium: No Paradise.

Movie Review: Elysium

Director: Neill Blomkamp

Reviewed: 2 September 2013

jamesintexas rating--**

Watching the new film Elysium is like reading a promising student essay that begins with an engaging hook and a strong thesis, offering depth and care in the pages ahead. And then I start reading the essay, and it gets worse as it goes on. Leaps in logic are made; claims are not backed up by proper evidence. And by the end, the sloppy and incoherent mess on the last page does not even align with where the paper said it was going on its first page. Blomkamp has fallen from being Academy Award nominated for his last script, the brilliant District Nine to being clunky and nonsensical here. The result is a film with too many flaws to overcome.

Matt Damon plays Max, an assembly-line worker in futuristic Los Angeles 2154, a militarized shantytown with rampant crime and illness. The elite have abandoned the earth for the shining space station in the sky, the jewel named Elysium, known for its abundance of clean water, green spaces, and scanning medical pods that can cure any disease. After a terrible accident at work, Max decides to risk everything to travel to Elysium, even though it is heavily guarded by the ruling class, best personified by a terse Jodie Foster as Delacourt, a ruthless Defense Minister. There is a childhood friend that he encounters who has a terminally ill daughter as well as a government assassin Kruger (Sharlto Copley) who could help deliver him (and some important secrets uploaded to his head) to his destination. In essence, Max aligns himself with Los Angeles's criminal underworld in order to steal the secrets to earn his ticket to Elysium, though he barely understands what he will do when he arrives there.  

Blomkamp missteps by not showing more than just passing glances at the Elysium world. At times, his script feels heavy-handed, overstating its connection to modern immigration practices or drone warfare. A shift in the final third of the film sidesteps the more interesting villain of ideas and offers a villain of muscle, and I had a difficult time understanding how one character could defeat the other. Copley's brute was difficult to understand in moments, and Foster's politician needed more to do (one of our finest actresses, she seems criminally underused). Matt Damon is fine, but the work here requires him to be so serious that it robs him of his charm and laughter, two of his strongest weapons. That can be okay in the Jason Bourne movies when watching the actor think and make decisions becomes compelling, but here, the character is not as compelling. His qualities consist mostly of being told he was special by a kindly Spanish-speaking nun when he was a child.

Most of the film's emotional moments fall flat, and the film presents an ending that seems designed to please the crowd but not the mind. If the earth is scarce of resources and rampant with pollution, will abandoning it completely be the best option? Does the ending suggest a sharing of resources that simply would not exist? The premise of Elysium still intrigues. What happens if the earth becomes a third world nation and the elites abandon it for another planet or space station? Who leaves and who stays? How was that facilitated? Blomkamp's film suggests we are headed toward a world of hoarded resources, of robotic police incapable of nuance, and poverty for many. I wanted more intelligence and deep thinking about big ideas while the film wanted to fire cool weapons and to clumsily show robotic men slamming into each other. As both a science fiction film and an action picture, Elysium misfires.