Film Review: The World’s End

Gary says:

Following 2004’s bloody brilliant rom-zom-com brainwave Shaun of the Dead and 2007’s action-packed comedy cop caper Hot Fuzz, booze-fuelled sci-fi The World’s End calls last orders on writer/director Edgar Wright’s hilarious and much-loved Cornetto Trilogy.

Simon Pegg stars as Gary King, a carefree drunkard approaching his forties and refusing to grow up; like a pissed-up Peter Pan. Nick Frost is Andrew Knightley, Gary’s tee-total former best friend. In the summer of 1990, the pair and three other schoolmates attempted and failed to complete the infamous Golden Mile – a legendary pub crawl that covers twelve drinking establishments across their hometown of Newton Haven.

Since then, Andy and his friends have moved on, got married and built careers, but Gary is intent on conquering the Mile. Determined, he tracks the old gang down one by one and reassembles his band of merry men for one last crack at the crawl. However, upon returning to Newton Haven, it soon becomes apparent that much has changed in this once idyllic village.

The film features an impressive ensemble cast of British stars, with several returning from previous Cornetto films, such as Paddy Considine and Martin Freeman. There are also some new faces to the trilogy, including walking caricature Eddie Marsan as the pricelessly pitiful Peter Page, and an appearance from Pierce Brosnan as the gang’s old school teacher; with whom Gary had a special bond. The World’s End also provides plenty of fan appreciation, with a multitude of cameos from stars of cult-classic TV comedy Spaced.

Edgar Wright has clearly learnt much from his time spent directing the outstanding Scott Pilgrim vs the World. The camerawork is mindblowing, particularly during the dynamic, entertaining fights between humans and the blue-blooded blankbots, who have taken over Newton Haven. The story is perhaps not as strong as Shaun of the Dead’s, but it’s an incredibly funny and richly detailed film that includes an interesting, underlying social commentary celebrating the diversity and flaws of the human race, all whilst bemoaning the ‘Starbucking’ modern society we live in. If you’re a fan of Wright’s previous work, you’ll love The World’s End; a fitting finale to a thrilling trilogy.

Tom says:

With The World’s End, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost dish up the final serving in their Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy and, after the incredibly satisfying Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, The World’s End acts as the delicious dessert in this three-course meal of Blood and Ice Cream.

Woven with the same apocalyptic and sinister thread of the two previous films, The World’s End is the story of five childhood friends getting back together in later life to re-attempt a pub crawl that they failed to complete in their adolescence. Andrew (Nick Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Peter (Eddie Marsan) are rounded up by Gary King (played brilliantly by Simon Pegg), a black-haired, shades and trenchcoat-wearing alcoholic who, unlike his four mates, is still a teen at heart. Gary takes them “home” to Newton Haven on a mostly-one-man quest to conquer the Golden Mile, but an apparent robot invasion gets in the way.

Having seemingly learned a lot from his work on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Edgar Wright isn’t afraid to flaunt his penchant for extravagant fight sequences in The World’s End, with plenty of time spent on man vs. robot bar brawls. Unlike many fight sequences in modern movies, however, the fights in this film feel dynamic and fluid which, alongside the multiple-stage-based linear structure (which is reflective of the boss battles in Scott Pilgrim), provides a constant sense of progression.

Fans of the hilarious sitcom Spaced, as well as the other two films in the trilogy, will no doubt spot a few familiar faces in The World’s End, which of course boosts the chemistry between the characters, making the already funny lines even funnier with their rapport. One small gripe I do have about the casting, however, is with Nick Frost’s character Andrew. With Frost being so comfortable playing Simon Pegg’s goofy sidekick in their previous work, it feels a little strange seeing him play a straight-edge humourless businessman – thankfully he does loosen up after a while.

As expected from Wright, Pegg and Frost, The World’s End doesn’t fail to provide a fitting conclusion to their decade-spanning trilogy and, although maybe not reaching the incredible heights of Shaun of the Dead, they clearly haven’t lost their ability to create visually-entertaining and quick-witted comedy.

by Gary Woodcock & Tom Woodcock

Film Club: Prisons

In Film Club, Gary and Tom each select three films that share a similar theme – then both choose a top three from those six. This time, we’re going behind bars with prison films!

Felon (2008, Ric Roman Waugh)

Gary says:

Ric Roman Waugh’s Felon is a brutal and gritty depiction of life inside a maximum security prison block, as criminally unfortunate family man Wade Porter, played by Somewhere’s Stephen Dorff, finds himself plucked from his idyllic life and locked up for involuntary manslaughter. It soon becomes clear that Porter will need to adapt to survive in Corcoran State Prison’s Secure Housing Unit; a place packed with terrifying inmates, where gang affiliation and racial identity rule supreme.

Harold Perrineau, perhaps best known as Michael in TV series LOST, provides an excellent performance as Lt. Jackson – the SHU’s ruthless and tyrannical guard with a genuine hatred for his prisoners. The opening third of the film feels slightly disjointed but, once it hits its stride, Felon is a thrilling and complex prison film with a very satisfying ending.

Tom says:

Corrupt prison wardens, race gangs and bare-fisted death-matches, Felon is a white-knuckle ride through the American prison system, and is based on real life events at the infamous Corcoran, California State Prison. Harold Perrineau’s performance as Lieutenant Jackson will have you hurling abuse at your screen as he commits questionable act after questionable act, and the intimidating yet wise cell-mate John Smith, played by Val Kilmer, is also worth a mention.

The main drawback for me, however, is just how unrealistic some of the twists-and-turns feel; lead character Wade Porter, played by Stephen Dorff, seems like the unluckiest man in the world: first he accidentally kills a burglar, then gets forced into being an accessory for murder and then gets shacked up in a cell with a notorious hard-man – after a while, it just begins to feel contrived. However, just on how much tension is built up in this claustrophobic setting, I feel it’s worth a watch.

Down by Law (1986, Jim Jarmusch)

Gary says:

Gravel-tongued singer-songwriter Tom Waits stars as Zack, a laid-back, but troubled, DJ who gets sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, in Jim Jarmusch’s stylish, independent black-and-white film, Down by Law. Sharing Zack’s cell is the perhaps even more laid-back Jack (a pimp who was framed by a former friend), and the hapless Bob (a lovably funny Italian idiot with a penchant for idioms). Once inside and acquainted, the three men hatch a plan to escape their cell and then wade and paddle their way through a bayou in the hopes of finding freedom.

Although not much happens in terms of story, the film’s straightforward narrative provides the opportunity to spend a large amount of time developing the relationship between the three central characters. There are perhaps a few too many long, lingering scenes – particularly inside the prison cell – but the film’s striking originality, and the outstanding performance of Roberto Benigni as Bob, ensure that Down by Law remains a uniquely enjoyable experience.

Tom says:

Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law tells the story of three inmates: a disc-jockey named Zack, played by Tom Waits, a pimp named Jack, played by John Lurie and an Italian tourist named Bob, played by Roberto Benigni, who escape from a Louisiana prison. Those looking for something in the vein of The Great Escape should look elsewhere because Down by Law forsakes any intense action and the details of the escape itself, instead focusing on the relationship between the inmates.

Some may find the long takes and the occasional periods of silence to be tedious, and admittedly the film does drag a little in places, but the chemistry between Zack, Jack and Bob is great to watch. Roberto Benigni’s performance is definitely the best part of this film, as his character Bob adds the much-needed comedy element to this grim setting. If you don’t mind slow-paced, character-driven films, and you can forgive the occasionally iffy acting from Waits and Lurie, then you should definitely consider watching this.

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Film Review: Pacific Rim

Gary says:

When enormous alien creatures, known as Kaiju, emerge from deep beneath the Pacific Ocean and start smashing their way through an A-Z of the most important cities on earth, humanity develops a fleet of colossal, mechanical fighting machines to fend them off.

Termed the Jaeger Program and effectively led by the authoritative Stacker Pentecoast (played by Luther’s Idris Elba), this defence is initially very successful and the pilots of the Jaegers are idolised and worshipped like rock stars. However, the tide turns when the monstrous Kaiju grow bigger and their attacks become more frequent. Pilots start dropping like flies as the world begins to lose the war; leaving the Jaeger Program facing the scrapheap.

Despite slightly rusty performances from Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi, the film’s diverse group of characters are a well-oiled unit and are suitably troubled by the deadly effects of the Kaiju war. Ron Perlman, who previously worked with director Guillermo del Toro in the Hellboy series, is cool and slick as Hannibal Chau – a black market trader who has profited hugely from the conflict. Charlie Day is also great at bringing his trademark comedic energy to the role of the Kaiju-mad scientist, Dr Newton Geizler.

The dramatic, spectacular battle sequences in Pacific Rim are like a ten-year old boy’s imagination is being projected from the toy box and onto the big screen. They are tense and exciting, with some surprises and impressive special effects that see buildings broken down as easily as Lego. The vivid and eye-catching use of colour really helps this blockbuster stand out amongst the bland, desaturated wastelands typically seen in the apocalypse genre.

Pacific Rim is del Toro’s enthralling and visually stunning love letter to classic Japanese monster movies. The plot and characters are very engaging, the battles are incredibly intense and it deserves to make a gigantic splash at this summer’s box office.

Tom says:

Guillermo del Toro returns to directing in style with Pacific Rim, a beautifully stylized war story between monster and machine on a gargantuan scale.

In Earth’s near future, colossal monsters, or “Kaiju”, began pouring through a portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and laying siege to cities all over the world. The Earth’s governments started the Jaeger Program to combat this threat, building gigantic mech-suits, the two pilots having to share minds – which is a great way of providing key back-story for important characters – to control the machine and storm into the sea to slay the alien beasts before they reach the shore. But the monsters began spawning faster and faster until the Jaegers became too overwhelmed with the attacks, and the Jaeger Program was terminated. This is all nicely explained in the first 5 minutes of the film as we, the viewer, are thrown into the deep end of a world on the brink of defeat.

One thing I love about this film is that del Toro makes it clear that these events are not taking place in our current time. The entire world has been affected by the kaiju: the language has adapted, kaiju bones have been fitted into the architecture, the Jaeger pilots are celebrated like sports stars – it really does feel like another chunk of the Earth’s history. And del Toro also makes it clear that it is the Earth in this war, not just the army of a superpower. The Jaeger pilots are ordinary people from all over the world, specifically trained to control these machines. Because of this, Pacific Rim is as human as a monster movie can be.

But the greatest thing about Pacific Rim is the visuals; even on mute, this film would make a captivating watch. del Toro proves that the apocalypse doesn’t have to be grim by saturating the picture with a colour palette that spans the entire spectrum, which is especially noticeable in the neon-infused city of Hong Kong and, even though I don’t usually enjoy fight sequences, the wide variety of the bio-luminescent monsters and unique Jaegers make sure the fights feel fresh and fascinating.

Although perhaps Charlie Hunman and Rinko Kikuchi were not the best choices for lead actors, and there are a few clichéd plot points throughout, Pacific Rim stays inventive enough, with its incredible visuals and fictional history, to ensure that it is a monster of a movie.

by Gary Woodcock & Tom Woodcock

Film Review: The East

Tom says:

In Zal Batmanglij’s The East, former FBI agent and intelligence operative Sarah Moss, played by Brit Marling, is tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group known as The East in an effort to discover their next target. In this politically-charged thriller, we see Sarah’s loyalties and morals tested as she gets to know The East and what they stand for. As formidable as The East sound, they certainly give off a different air when we see them in person.

Although there are around 10 members of The East in total, the main four members are Izzy (Ellen Page), Doc (Toby Kebbell), Luca (Shiloh Fernandez) and the leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), who resembles Jesus in both status and appearance. As well as being anarchists, The East are devout environmentalists, and their attacks, or “jams”, are often reactions to environmental abuse.

Although I agree with these philosophies, The East tend to take it too far. With their dumpster diving, mutual body washing and dinners while wearing straitjackets, the group sometimes feel less like fierce anarchists and more like a bunch of university students that decided to become hippies. Of course people do make these drastic life changes in real life, but perhaps the film would have benefited from adding an older member to the group. The great thing about this film, however, is that no side is either definitively good or bad. If you don’t agree with The East’s pro-environment sentiments, then it’s perfectly fine to root for the corporations. Like Sarah Moss, we have this choice.

But the best part of The East has got to be the jams themselves. Scenes such as the corporate party in which The East attempt to dose a pharmaceutical company with their own faulty drug will have you on the edge of your seat and perhaps even questioning your own morals.

In summary, The East is a fairly entertaining eco-anarchist thriller that has some great suspenseful moments. Unfortunately the group themselves don’t live up to their reputations.

Gary says:

The East is a thought-provoking and politically-relevant thriller starring Brit Marling as Sarah Moss, an undercover agent who is assigned the job of locating and infiltrating a mysterious group of anarchic eco-warriors known only as The East, in order to obtain knowledge of their upcoming targets, as well as their true identities. However, Moss struggles with her own sense of morality when she eventually locates and joins the group, and finds herself sympathising with their cause.

Under the charismatic and caring leadership of Benji, played by Alexander Skarsgård, the group proceed to hatch some truly thrilling, eye-for-an-eye plans (referred to as ‘jams’) against several seedy corporations, with the aim of gaining revenge for the harmful injustices they have caused to the Western world. Their questionable methods and self-righteous attitude create an interesting dilemma for both Moss and the viewer, as it’s often difficult to fully determine which side to root for.

The great cast provide strong, believable performances as the cult-like East, who live in a secluded area of the woods and partake in some frankly bizarre rituals. However, the breakdown of Sarah’s relationship outside of her undercover work, and eventual romance with Benji, would have benefitted from further development.

Drawing inspiration from their own personal experiences with the ‘freeganism’ movement and their time spent as part of anarchist groups, director Zal Batmanglij and co-writer Marling make their eco-friendly message clear throughout. The film opens with upsetting shots of oil-drenched birds, which understandably provoke sadness and anger but, although the intentions are mostly good, the script is heavily polluted with an overbearing, anti-corporate message that does eventually become fairly tiresome.

by Tom Woodcock & Gary Woodcock

Film Review: Chasing Mavericks

Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted’s Chasing Mavericks is an overly-sentimental and clichéd biographical surfing film that attempts to ride Gerard Butler’s celebrity wave, but finds itself crashing against the rocks due to its lifelessness and bad writing.

Jay Moriarty (played by Jonny Weston in the film) was a Californian surfer who gained notoriety in 1994 when he attempted to ride the infamous waves known as Mavericks at the age of 16. In Chasing Mavericks we follow Moriarty from when he first became interested in surfing at 9-years-old, until the big moment 7 years later, which is made possible due to the intense training from his mentor and friend, Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler).

I’m sure, in real life, Jay Moriarty had a pretty interesting life, but this film doesn’t reach the same peaks. The script is packed full of trivial (though intended to be inspirational) talk and is anything but subtle; when Moriarty’s friend tells him his dream girl is too old for him, and Frosty dictates that he won’t train Moriarty to ride big waves, the film is blatantly telling us what is going to happen. Unfortunately those big moments are building far in the distance and there’s nothing we can do but wait for them to reach the shore.

If you have no interest in the mechanics of surfing, then you may find yourself, like I did, completely bored until the last 30 minutes – which is admittedly thrilling. Many of the scenes take place, expectedly, in the sea, but the writing is as dead as the water that Moriarty and Frosty often find themselves in. The two of them seem to be unable to have a normal conversation and, even though I agree with the sentiments of being passionate about hobbies and goals, they take it to another level. Chasing Mavericks breaks right through the barriers of seriousness into completely cringe-worthy cheesiness.

The writers and directors did seem to realise that you can’t make a film consisting entirely of conversations while treading water, so they tried to keep things fresh with some extra story-lines. However, this filler content is comprised of a clique rivalry and a childhood sweetheart love story that feel like they have been pulled straight from a high school drama on the Disney Channel.

One thing the producers didn’t seem to realise was the importance of casting. Not including Gerard Butler, who acted comfortably, the cast didn’t seem experienced enough to make anything out of the badly-written script, and many of the actors, even the main star Weston, found themselves being overly-dramatic. As a whole, there is a strong sense that the film is taking itself a little bit too seriously.

The good moments, rare as they are, all seem to happen near the end of the film. There are some big character developments, and with the huge finale you will find yourself caring (even if just a little) for characters that just weren’t interesting for the first hour-and-a-half. But this great gasp for air at the end doesn’t save Chasing Mavericks from its inevitable fate.

by Tom Woodcock

Film Review: The Internship

Gary says:

The Internship reunites nobody’s favourite comedy duo, the stars of 2005’s Wedding Crashers, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, in the roles of Billy and Nick – two ageing watch salesmen who realise that time is against them when they’re made redundant and forced to find new jobs.

Billy takes to the internet in search of opportunities, before solving the age-old question of what happens when you type the word “google” into Google. No, it doesn’t break the internet; instead, it lands the pair an internship at the Silicon Valley giant. Aided by their younger, more tech-savvy teammates, the two then proceed to botch their way through a series of challenges – including a bizarre task where they’re judged on their Quidditch playing ability – all in the hope of earning a full-time role at the company.

The laughs come few and far between and, when they do finally arrive, they’re never really worth the wait. The film’s comedy highlight is a cheesy, slapstick moment which sees Billy throw a slice of pizza that hits a fellow intern in the face. Most attempts at humour fail to produce so much as a titter, and some viewers may have trouble sleeping after sitting through Anchorman star Will Ferrell’s nightmarishly unfunny cameo as Nick’s creepy, bed-salesman brother-in-law.

The Internship’s opening scene sees the two protagonists driving a car and singing along to Alanis Morissette’s nineties anthem, Ironic. It’s a fitting soundtrack to a film that preaches the importance of change and keeping with the times, all whilst starring two ancient relics who trudge their way through the same-old comedy narrative that moviegoers have paid to sit through hundreds of times before.

Tom says:

Shawn Levy succeeds in creating the longest advertisement since Michael Bay’s series of Chevrolet commercials with The Internship, a two-hour long promo for Google, starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as two out-of-the-loop salesmen that get a chance to work for the world’s largest search-engine.

Having just lost their jobs as watch-salesmen, Billy McMahon (Vince Vaughn) and Nick Campbell (Owen Wilson) stumble upon an opportunity to reconnect with the modern world and apply for an internship at Google. Billy and Nick are not the only interns, however, as they are thrust into a huge crowd of incredibly stereotypical and unrealistic characters, such as the parentally-pressured Asian guy, the socially-incapable genius and Hollywood’s favourite portrayal of a “geek”: the attractive girl with thick-rimmed glasses. What follows is a series of five tedious tasks created to see if the interns are worthy of working at Google. Tasks such as: finding a coding bug, working a help-desk and creating an app. It really is as thrilling as it sounds.

Those expecting to see the same comedic chemistry between Vaughn and Wilson as seen in Wedding Crashers are going to be sorely disappointed as the mere handful of gags are submerged under wave after wave of Google-love. The writers clearly wanted us to know how fun and relaxing it is to work for Google, be it due to the free food, the nap area or the volleyball court, they pushed the point so far forward that it begins to feel like a recruitment video.

With little-to-no likeable characters, empty “geek” humour to rival The Big Bang Theory and constant Google adoration, The Internship feels like a monotonous piece of propaganda for a company that needs no publicity.

by Gary Woodcock & Tom Woodcock

Film Review: Hummingbird

Always the anti-hero, Jason Statham is back again to clean up the streets in Steven Knight’s Hummingbird, the story of a now-homeless war veteran who turns vigilante after his fellow street-dweller Isabel is murdered. Unfortunately for Knight, the plot is anything but killer.

Jason Statham plays Jason Statham Joseph Smith, an ex-Royal Marine living on the streets while on the run from the Military Court for committing a heinous act in Afghanistan. As we were introduced to Smith, with his long dirty hair and grimy tracksuit, I thought to myself: “Finally! A Jason Statham film where he isn’t smartly dressed and rich – or bald!” and when the two cockney gangsters started pummelling him: “And he doesn’t know how to fight!” Well I soon felt like an idiot for thinking that would be the case because not 5 minutes later he just so happens to stumble into the house of a very wealthy photographer, who also, coincidentally, is out of town for months. And the first thing he does when he breaks in? He shaves his head and puts on a suit – damn it. Well there’s still the lack of fighting ability, right? Nope! By shaving his head, Statham pulls some sort of reverse-Samson and never gets hit by a single punch, kick or bullet in the remainder of the film. This is the exact type of role that I’m bored of Statham playing. I would be much more interested in seeing The Adventures of Hobo Statham but, as in a lot of his other films, he always finds a way to become the perfect street-fighting action hero.

Well he’s not entirely perfect. One thing that did stop Hummingbird from being a total disaster is the way that it shows Smith’s damaged mind. Occasionally Smith will experience surreal, sometimes disturbing, visions and flashbacks, such as the vision of a man hanging by a noose with a bag on his head or the imaginary hummingbirds flying around his bedroom. I found these dream-like elements to be an entertaining way to show Smith’s state of mind and how his days in the war still affect him now. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen frequently enough, as most plot elements – including avenging Isabel, which I assumed was the main storyline – is pushed aside to make way for what I believe to be the most ridiculous part of the film: his relationship with a nun named Cristina.

Cristina, played by Agata Buzek, is a sex attack victim who turned to the sisterhood at a young age after being raped 17 times by her ballet instructor. She met Smith while serving food to the homeless on the streets of London and, when Smith luckily becomes wealthy, he decides to thank her by giving her £500. Now, bearing in mind that, at this point, Smith has made it his aim to avenge Isabel, he seems to lose all chivalry as he attempts to woo Cristina by buying her a dress and inviting her to a gallery of male nudity photos. And, of course, it works, because nothing would get a sexually-abused nun to give up her lifelong vow of abstinence than a date with Hobo Statham In A Suit in a museum of dick-pics. It’s one of the most ridiculous and pointless displays of masculinity and vanity that I have seen in a long time.

Not everything is terrible, however. I can’t fault the camera-work, fight choreography or psychological aspects of the film, and despite not being the greatest actor, Statham certainly knows how to play these kinds of roles. But unfortunately all of this does not save Hummingbird from being an unfocused mixture of happenstance and needless male prowess.

by Tom Woodcock