“The World’s End” is a ridiculous pub crawl Sci-Fi Apocalypse

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in The World's End

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in The World’s End

Rounding out the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” is Edgar Wright’s The World’s End. Consisting of 2004’s Shaun of the Dead and 2007’s Hot Fuzz these three films starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and a recurring cast, they wrap genre around a comedic drama. Although I haven’t seen the second in the trilogy, I have a hunch that it’s in the same vein of the other two. Edgar Wright is quickly making his mark on the pop scene with these movies along with one of my personal favorites, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and the upcoming Ant-Man Marvel movie. His spark of vision and quick pacing make for a fun and inventive visual experience.

The World’s End begins with a flashback of 1990 in England’s Newton Haven. Gary King (Simon Pegg) narrates his nostalgia of carelessness at the brink of adulthood by recounting his epic pub crawl with his four friends Andy (Nick Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Peter (Eddie Marsen). Despite their youthfulness, the group were unsuccessful in their 12 pub run before the sun rose. The flashback ends we see Gary in a support group circle and one of the others asked if was upset that he hadn’t completed the pub crawl. Gary gains an awakening to reenact the events from 20 years ago, and recruits his old friends to join him.

Even though Gary’s friends grew up from their teenage years, he hasn’t. Gary, or as he claims himself to be “The King,” is his same old juvenile self. Wearing his black trench-coat with matching pants and shirt, he smokes, swears and drinks himself to death. The others, especially Andy, are a lot more tame and mature. They have moved on and found success in their careers and families. They have more to their name through the past 20 years than Gary. This last infamous pub crawl is all that Gary has to achieve. So, it’s only practical to put massive obstacles in front of his way.

A fateful restroom visit makes Gary aware of why the town stayed the same throughout the years. Robotic replacements called “Blanks” have replaced the population of the small town. But this doesn’t stop the gang from gulping down pint by pint until they reach the apex of the last pub called The World’s End.

The humor is the definite stand-out in its run time, so much so it’s difficult to keep up with it. The script is tight with the hilarious with all the cast of characters and their wordplay with each other. It’s jam-packed with one-liners and quotables. By observing this group of friends you can tell their indifference to Gary, only putting up with his crap because they just have to. Nick Frost’s character stands out among the pack when he doesn’t put up with his shenanigans as the others do. As the narrative goes on the unraveling of the reason of why pub-crawl part deux was necessary in the first place.

I didn’t have a lot things to really complain about with The World’s End but I did have a few. There are striking similarities to this year’s other apocalyptic comedy This Is the End although this is heads and shoulders smarter than that one. Also the conceivable regular people in this movie break out in coherent Kung-Fu in a Scott Pilgrim vs. the World kind of way. It worked in that earlier work, but just confused me in this one.

My final verdict: if you want refreshing comedy, GO! It’s great fun, full of witty banter that bends genre with a simple message of reconnecting friendships.

Summer’s Best of List

1) Star Trek: Into Darkness

2) Pacific Rim

3) The Way Way Back

4) Fruitvale Station

5) Iron Man 3

6) Kick-Ass 2

7) Elysium

8) Man of Steel

9) Monsters University

10) The World’s End

11) The Wolverine

12) Now You See Me

13) After Earth

14) This Is The End

15) Only God Forgives

16) The Great Gatsby

17) World War Z

18) The Lone Ranger

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“Fruitvale Station” leaves you with a heavy heart

Michael B Jordan as Oscar Grant

Michael B Jordan as Oscar Grant

With the instant access to smartphones, videos of every day events ranging from toddler’s first steps to civil unrest in another country. When used in the right way, it can raise awareness of injustices and keep people accountable for their actions whether for good or bad. Holding people accountable is one good way to use it, especially if that person is in a position of power.

Fruitvale Station begins with a real cell phone footage of a the last seconds of the main character’s life. Just like last year’s Zero Dark Thirty where Bigelow added sound bits from the 9/11 tragegy, it instills the reality into the audience from the first frames, you grab their attention and you immediately get them into them emotionally into the movie.

We’re introduced to Oscar Grant (Michael B Jordan), a young man who is trying to do good after a rough past of drug dealing. He has a girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and a daughter (Tatiana) to do right for. We get to know Oscar through his actions. It being New Year’s Eve and his mother’s birthday (Octavia Spencer), Oscar prepares for an evening devoted to her. Recently having lost his job at a grocery store, he fights back for it while picking up the seafood for the party. His past continues to get in the way of his happiness. Despite these setbacks, he trudges forward in order to build the life and be the person right for his girlfriend and daughter.

A small scene acts as both heavy-handed but effective foreshadowing. While filling up his gas tank a pitbull is hit by a reckless driver. After yelling at the driver who speeds off, Oscar picks up the pitbull as it dies in its arms. While this is surely inserted just to draw parallels, it is effective and draws comparison between the pitbull and Oscar. With pitbulls and black people there is this unjust stigma ingrained into society of hostility. This scene and movie advocates for the opposite and kinder side of the two.

The natural and unobtrusive directing by first-time director Ryan Coogler is only punctuated by the cast members. Michael B Jordan (Friday Night Lights, Chronicle) truly fleshes out this character with his dog-like bark and his gentleness. Octavia Spencer is that worried but determined mother who only cares for the well-being of her son. You can’t help but feel for her as the last scene passes.

There aren’t many movies out there where you feel just emotionally exhausted afterwards. With high adrenaline flicks tearing through the box office but leaving you as empty as you were when you arrived, Fruitvale Station does quite the opposite. The characters and their actions towards each other is a slice of real life drama that we can relate to. Your heart feels and breaks for them because you invested your time with them in their every action.

Fruitvale Station is a strong and respectful memorial for a man who shouldn’t be forgotten taken away by useless violence. Emotionally draining with rich and relatable characters, it’s one of the best movies of the year.

Library Classic Theater: Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope”

So a while back I was going to make a current list of my “Wall of Shame” movies, which is to say, the movies I haven’t seen but any film-buff should. That came and went. For the past year or so I have been diving into these classics like North by Northwest and recently Citizen Kane. I regret not reviewing them right after, but as we all know there is already enough written about these revered classics already, so my comments would be a drop in the barrel. Despite that, I decided to take on the commitment to refine my writing skills and movie knowledge and plunge into the films that should be seen by someone like me. Movies like Gone with the Wind, Seven Samurai, City Lights, The Good, Bad and the Ugly (and the other two in the “Man with No Name trilogy”) and, Spartacus, and 12 Angry Men are all old classics that I need to expose myself to. Along with new classics that I haven’t felt compelled to watch like Gladiator, Braveheart, American Beauty, Gangs of New York, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Casino, Stand By Me, and Schindler’s List also deserve my attention. So, as long as I have what I would deem a “Classic” I’ll watch and review here. Although I can get movies from Netflix or FYE, I’ll try to limit my selections to my local libraries. Hence the title. James Stewart in Rope

For my first classic of choice is a movie that isn’t as popular of films by one of the most famous auteurs of our time. Rope is Alfred Hitchcock’s first movie to be filmed in Technicolor and one of his most unique movies on how it was staged and filmed. The scene is set with two friends killing an unknown man with a single piece of rope and hiding him in an unseemly coffin sized chest. The two, a courageous Brandon and cowering Philip, bask in their perfect murder A dinner for the deceased is already arranged for his friends and as they arrive and converse around the hidden corpse. As the night proceeds, the two, who rationalize their murder because they feel “superior” to the victim, leave breadcrumbs for Rupert (James Stewart) to pick up to their demise.

What I found especially fascinating from the beginning was the length of the shots. When I noticed that they Hitchcock wasn’t allowing the viewer to blink with the movie, I couldn’t help but to look up how long each shot was. It turns out that there were 10 shots in total ranging from ten to four minutes. Hitchcock was definitely ahead of his time, as the long take has become a daring and ambitious move in modern cinema.

Along with the length of each shot was the camera movement. Hitchcock probably used Steadicam to move in and out of the flat set. This created an interactive eye for the viewer to help us feel right in the action; perhaps sipping down champagne with the hosts and guests.

Even though it felt like a production that any talented High School drama department could put together, it doesn’t diminish the impressive performances by the cast, especially the eminent James Stewart. The action is all dialouge, so it was vital to get those stellar performances from his actors, perticularly since the shots were several minutes long.

Suspense should be Hitchcock’s middle name. By giving us the information that only a select amount of characters only know creates a dramatic irony with our protagonists, Which also calls into question of who are the protagonists and antagonists? A protagonist is someone who ignites the action through choice and has a goal we can root for. Although Brandon and Philip makes an awful choice to kill one of their peers, we surely don’t want them to get away with it. Hitchcock shakes up the common narrative structure.

Rope is a simple suspenseful drama that holds our attention and keeps us on our toes. If you’re looking for a master at work, get a hold of Rope.

“Kick-Ass 2” balances hyper-violence with comic book drama

Kick-Ass and Hit GirlMovies are just that, movies. Moving pictures to create a fictional world inside of our brains. They teach us truth by telling us lies. And that’s fine, that’s the magic of it all. Yes, Kick-Ass 2 is very violent and its setting is supposed to be the real world. The original film was both fun, comical, violent and shocking. Its sequel promised to be as well. Its promise was fulfilled but in a disappointing sort of way.

Kick-Ass 2 picks up right where its predecessor left off. Kick-Ass’ (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) example runs rampant in the streets. Ordinary people are putting on costumes and masks to put some good back into the world through their self-given power. Chris D’Mico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), but don’t call him that, is left with his dad’s death fresh on his mind as well as the person responsible for it: Kick-Ass/Dave Lizewski. He swears revenge, organizes a super villain team and follows the breadcrumbs back to Kick-Ass. Meanwhile, Hit Girl/ Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz) attempts to find her place in a normal life for her new guardian and friend Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut). Kick-Ass along with Justice Forever must band together to fight the threat of The M’Fers forces. That is basically what you need to know going into the movie.

Let’s get this straight right from the start: it isn’t as good as the first and that’s for one reason: the screen-writing. I just went back to my comics, flipped through them and noticed plot point after plot point being hit. See, Kick-Ass 2’s comic and the side-story of Hit Girl were written separately and didn’t really mesh together like the movie tried to do. While Hit Girl is attempting to live a life outside of her vigilantism, her feelings and motives are too on the nose. They do a lot of telling us how the characters feel and not enough showing us. This is screenwriting 101 stuff that writer and director Jeff Wadlow should know. A few distractions seemed to be inserted just for the shock factor and to really earn that R rating. They were both unnecessary, lazy and stupid.

Despite this, it really did deliver on drama, shock and comedy. It was laughing when I was supposed to, gasping at the right moments and cringing at each limb dismemberment.  The action seemed to be on the jittery and unfocused side which only tells me that they weren’t too confident in their action to begin with. But from what I gathered, the actors and stunt doubles did their stunts extremely well. Better direction and less editing would have helped a lot with the comprehension of their work.

What I did really like about this unconventional installment in the comic book vein was the balance with consequence and hyper violence. Mark Millar pointed out that his story is blood filled but because the people in them face the consequences of their actions. This was a theme running throughout and not capitalized on fully. Also, Hit Girl was the center of most of drama having to deal with fitting into a world that she wasn’t a part of. This story arc could have been the focal but wasn’t handled in much of an interesting or subtle way for us to attach to.

All in all, I didn’t have any strong feelings either way. There was some good and there was some bad that all calculated up to a bag of mixed feelings. I know I was entertained but not profoundly moved by the narrative. To use a sports analogy, it wasn’t a home run but maybe a double play.

Verdict: See it in theaters with the right people who can appreciate over-the-top violence for what it is.

Summer’s Best of List

1) Star Trek: Into Darkness

2) Pacific Rim

3) The Way Way Back

4) Iron Man 3

5) Kick-Ass 2

6) Elysium

7) Man of Steel

8) Monsters University

9) The Wolverine

10) Now You See Me

11) After Earth

12) This Is The End

13) Only God Forgives

14) The Great Gatsby

15) World War Z

16) The Lone Ranger

Utopia vs. Dystopia is “Elysium”

Elysium has had a lot of momentum moving behind it following its release from all the way back to director’s Neill Blomkamp’s Oscar nominated alien movie District 9. Recently, a thrilling trailer and some viral marketing put Blomkamp’s sci-fi action on the forefront of every avid movie watchers radar. For me, any original script already has my ears perked up. Despite being a genre I don’t put too much faith in, Elysium left me with a cinematic experience worth remembering.  Elysium

The year is 2154. The brown earth is ruined with pollution, overpopulation and disease; situations that is on every cynic’s mind of the coming years. On ground the dire environment is policed by robots and not much else. Up in the ever-reminding sky floats Elysium, a Utopian society where no disease and poverty dwell. It’s protected from every angle from “illegals” who want to take advantage of their healing technology. When a ex-criminal Max (Matt Damon) falls ill due to a work incident making him desperate for Elysium’s flawless healing capabilities. Max strikes up a deal for freedom fighters who attach a strength enabling exo-skeleton to steal mind data in order to overthrow the perfection in the sky. all while to heal himself. Standing in his way is Elysium’s security secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and the criminal who works for her Kruger (Sharlto Copley).

Even from the short summary given, you could probably tell that there are plenty of political undertones running throughout. I can’t stand when a movie hits me over me over the head with their implications… cough… Wall-E… cough…. The Happening. Even though Elysium had shared these tones, it mentioned them and let them be. We, as an audience, don’t need to be lectured but reminded. The social class struggle is a strong issue at hand in the run time but is never driven home by any character.

The plot, moving from point A to point B, was very cohesive; and this is coming from someone that isn’t fully listening to every word of dialogue is lost. Everyone had clear laid out motivations and reasons for them which drove their actions, which takes me to the performances. Everyone was great, especially Sharlto Copley who had a severe threatening presence. As for Jodie Foster, her character was also vicious but her accent through me for a loop. It’s was like she was trying to make a stand-out intimidating villain with her voice, but only served to distract. Matt Damon didn’t have much to do except action scenes and some drama which he did as good as he could.

What really impressed me from the get-go was the world building. I feel that if the world doesn’t make sense, I can’t be fully invested in the characters. The CGI was believable and intriguing but not in a way where I would want to be there. Along with the CGI was the action that could have been dealt with in a more controlled way rather than the quick cuts, close ups and the chaos cinema that thoroughly plagues our screens these days. My only other complaint I would have is that some of the technology seemed too far-fetched to be believable. Namely, the technology that turned people into fleshy USBs. I can let it slide a tad. 

My verdict is: Go! Especially if you’re one for sci-fi action. It’s smart enough to make the action pieces make sense. It didn’t blow me away but kept me committed to the action and characters. 

Summer’s Best of List

1) Star Trek: Into Darkness

2) Pacific Rim

3)The Way Way Back

4) Iron Man 3

5) Elysium

6) Man of Steel

7) Monsters University

8) The Wolverine

9) Now You See Me

10) After Earth

11) This Is The End

12) Only God Forgives

13) The Great Gatsby

14) World War Z

15) The Lone Ranger