Sean K. Cureton

Archive for August, 2013|Monthly archive page

Sci-Fi Ribbing, Without a Lack of Substance

In Movie Reviews: 2013 on August 30, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Theatrical Poster

The World’s End
Directed by Edgar Wright
3 ½ out of 4 stars

The World’s End is the third film to be released in what has come to be known as the “Cornetto Trilogy,” a series of comedic genre films created collaboratively between director Edgar Wright, actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and British television and film producer Nira Park. What began in 2004 with the now seminal classic romantic comedy/zombie picture Shaun of the Dead, and continued in the 2007 action spoof Hot Fuzz, is now concluded with this summer’s The World’s End, which pays tribute to the legacy of science-fiction motion pictures, most notably Invasion of the Body Snatchers, á la the 1978 release starring Donald Sutherland. What’s more though, and keeping in line with the intelligence and range of the previous films in the series, Wright’s new film is not only a tongue-in-cheek ribbing of sci-fi, pop cultural references, but is also a wonderful portraiture of contemporary consciousness, informed, and at times stunted, by the very same sort of self-aware satire which the film itself is an example of. Where Shaun of the Dead was a critique of the malaise and apathetic resignation of young adulthood, The World’s End is an approach at understanding nostalgia for one’s youth, something which is both intimately human and necessary, as well as potentially dangerous and encumbering. The World’s End is hysterically brilliant, pointedly satirical, and heartwarming, making it one of the best films to come out so far this year, as well as a more than worthy conclusion to the now much beloved “Cornetto Trilogy.”

Much of the brilliance of Wright’s new film centers upon the humanity and charming appeal of the film’s protagonist, Gary King (Simon Pegg). In the film, Gary is an alcoholic who we meet in an AA meeting at the beginning of the film, where he is seen regaling an audience of not-so-eager listeners to a tale of his exploits as a youth, when he and his four best friends attempted the “Golden Mile,” wherein one drinks twelve pints of beer in one night, one coming from each of the twelve pubs located in Gary’s hometown. After engaging in this reminiscence of what to Gary was the best time of his life, Gary decides to harangue his old school friends, all of them married and settled down at this point, into attempting the “Golden Mile” once again. What becomes increasingly clear though, if it weren’t already from the shock of seeing the stark juxtaposition of a young and vibrant Gary of yesteryear with the grimy and defeated looking Gary of today, is the fact that Gary’s idealized youth was not quiet as cheery as he has remembered. Where Gary’s old friends are constantly reminded of the ways in which Gary used and abused each of them for his own gains, Gary willfully chooses to paint a romanticized picture of the actual nature of their long history together, in order to prolong his own recklessness and selfish hedonism.

In wrapping a story of moral platitudes and perennial life lessons into a big budget comedic genre film, Wright and company have made their mark as truly gifted filmmakers. Instead of sticking to the more obvious pop cultural references, which abound in each of the installments in their “Cornetto Trilogy,” as be-all, end-all aesthetic flourishes, all sound and fury while signifying nothing, Wright, Pegg, and Frost aim higher. Whether it’s over the top, George A. Romero zombie gore, Bad Boys style action-comedy, or over the top sci-fi theatrics, each of the films in the “Cornetto Trilogy” utilize film genre elements as a means by which the film’s characters may become more relatable and fallibly human. In The World’s End, the audience gets a kick out of seeing an entire town turn into pod people, and witnessing a large scale alien invasion generated by a contemporary dependence upon the clean efficiency of digital technology, but the film’s focus and drawing power resides principally in Gary King’s engagement with an infantilizing obsession over a nostalgia for one’s youth. While you might be able to get by watching The World’s End based purely on its elements of superficial genre ribbing, it would ultimately leave you feeling empty, and you wouldn’t have engaged the film to its full psychologically human capacity.

Edgar Wright’s The World’s End just might be one of the best movies of the year, and deservedly so. Supported by a brilliantly witty and clever script, an exemplary cast, and filmed by one of the best directors currently working, Wright’s final film in the “Cornetto Trilogy” boasts all of the humor and humanity of its predecessors, while upping the ante a little in terms of blockbuster level theatricality. Not only is the film an expert level satire of science fiction genre fare, but it also keeps its pop cultural references in check, using them as aesthetic flourishes rater than substitutes for actual dramatic substance. After the tepid offering of Pegg and Frost’s co-written sci-fi romp Paul, The World’s End will allow Pegg and Frost fans a sigh of relief, offering proof that the duo still has it in them to make a quality comedic genre picture. The “Cornetto Trilogy” may have come to end, but here’s to hoping that Wright, Pegg, and Frost still have a few more tricks up their sleeves, collaboratively or not.

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Recommendation of the Week: It’s a Disaster (2012)

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on August 23, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Theatrical Poster

It’s a Disaster (2012)
Directed by Todd Berger
Netflix Rating: Really Liked It

It’s a Disaster is an independent film that had its world premier at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June of last year, went on to screen at a number of other festivals within the independent film circuit, and was released commercially in April of this year. It was written and directed by Todd Berger, a member of the comedy group “The Vacationeers,” and is an alternative comedy about the end of the world, vis-a-vis bio-chemical warfare. It stars various members of the aforementioned comedy group, as well as unaffiliated comedian David Cross in an unexpectedly dramatic turn, and proves to be a film that is subversively hilarious, psychologically engaging, and utterly realistic in tone and approach. Instead of taking its clichéd premise and running the gambit of exhausted cinematic apocalypse fodder, Berger takes his subjects into a personal hell that proves to be more frightening than the very real one which lies right outside the relative safety of the quiet suburban home which serves as the film’s setting. Berger’s characters are collectively selfish, vapid, and dysfunctional, which serves to create some incredibly funny interpersonal situations of which the film’s impending doom influences and propagates to dramatic effect, creating a comedy about the end of the world that is appropriately dark as well as existentially ridiculous, much like an actual end of the world scenario.

One of the more striking aspects of Berger’s cinematic debut that separates It’s a Disaster from more pedestrian end of the world fare, such as this summer’s This is the End, penned and directed by Judd Apatow’s creative prodigies Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, comes in Berger’s wealth of dialogue that is ultimately more interested in character types than outlandishly bombastic punch lines. Berger’s film allows space for his characters to grow, and in growing provides the means for a clever satire to develop which pokes fun at the most recently established line of end of the world fictive fare, of which Rogen and Goldberg’s aforementioned comedy is a part. The characters in It’s a Disaster are wrapped up in themselves to such a point where the end of the world comes as a complete surprise to them, which proves to be more annoying than genuinely terrifying. Instead of meditating on their now threatened mortality, Berger’s characters are more concerned with the scores of a current football game, the dissolution of their own privatized worlds, or who can be trusted as a capable ally in a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max, anarchic wasteland which is sure to follow in the aftermath of the impending disaster. In other words, It’s a Disaster is a clever character study wrapped up in a post-modern take on the end of the world fictive tradition, and its characters are self-aware players in Berger’s inimitably brilliant farce.

And yet, despite Berger’s post-modern distancing from any sentimentality, which might be more realistically, or melodramatically, attached to an end of the world fictive scenario, the film is still imbued with a sense of realism which allows for a somber appraisal of an actual end of the world scenario, as Berger’s characters react to their situation in much the same way that viewers might react to the situation themselves, post-modern posturing and self-aware detachment accounted for. Instead of using his own understanding and knowledge of the end of the world fictive tradition to influence comedy strictly for comedy’s sake, Berger applies such knowledge to produce a film that draws attention to, rather than encouraging, an unsentimental reaction to the fictive material and scenario. Berger’s film is thus more interested in satirizing the very notion of satirizing the end of the world cinematic tradition, but in a way that feels more genuine and sincere than the aforementioned attempt made by Rogen and Goldberg. Berger’s characters are often painfully detached from what is going on around them, and their selfishness knows no bounds, which is a major reason why the film is so predominantly comedic. In despite of this fact, however, Berger’s characters are meant to be stand-ins for ourselves, marking their plight and actions as implicative of our own probable emotional detachment in a culture which has become so super inundated with apocalyptic cinematic fare, which is decidedly more sincere than comedy for comedy’s sake.

With all of the end of the world comedies and dramas which have been released in the past couple of years, you’d be hard pressed to find one that will stick with you as offering something not found, or at least parodied, in any one of the others. Each of these films, from Rogen and Goldberg’s This is the End, to last summer’s admittedly affecting melodrama Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, it would appear as though Hollywood has ceased to think critically about just what end of the world fiction says about our own socio-cultural identities as people, born with the knowledge that we will die one day, before or after the world as we know it inevitably comes to an end. Thankfully, Todd Berger is thinking critically about the implications of creating yet another end of the world film, and offers a film which is clever, dark, and sincere in its appraisal of the end of the world fictive tradition without becoming too bogged down in post-modern, ironic, self-aware posturing. It’s a Disaster doesn’t feel overly sentimental, and yet its accurate portrayal of its decidedly ironic and self-aware characters lends the film an authenticity of approach and understanding that is lacking or just not present in other more recent comedies trying to do many of the same things. Todd Berger’s cinematic debut is a blast, and it deserves to be seen by anyone who thinks they’ve already seen every iteration of the end of the world comedy. Trust me, you haven’t seen this one.

It’s a Disaster is available on Netflix Instant View, and is my Movies on Netflix: Recommendation of the Week.