The World’s End

In their third collaboration together after the awesome zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead” and the badass action movie spoof “Hot Fuzz”, writer-director Edgar Wright, writer-star Simon Pegg and co-star Nick Frost tackle sci-fi, though that is not obvious at first.

For a long while, we’re watching the straightforward, grounded, realistic story of a longtime fuckup (Pegg) who somehow convinces his four childhood friends (Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine) to try to complete a pub crawl they attempted 20-some years ago.

Five friends, 12 pubs, all in one night. Their goal is to finally reach the last pub, The World’s End. But eventually, it becomes to simply survive the night, as they discover that their hometown has been taken over by an alien force that has replaced with robots-who-aren’t-really-robots…  

This leads to a few big brawls and chases which are entertaining, if not that extraordinary. Likewise, I found Wright’s direction to be less dynamic and spectacular than what he has used us to, though I did enjoy the riffs on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, among other things.

The best thing about “The World’s End” is probably the cast, starting with Pegg and Frost, who enjoyably trade places as far as who’s playing the wild and crazy guy and who’s playing the straight man. But I have to admit that while I liked the flick, I did feel a bit disappointed. Especially coming after “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”, one of my absolute favourites of the last few years. Maybe my expectations were too high?


The Spectacular Now

One of my very favorite movies is Cameron Crowe’s “Say Anything”, so I was excited to hear that this film was being compared to it. It turns out that the two are actually quite different, though I can see why people draw a link between them.

The central relationship in both movies is a somewhat unlikely romance between a cool, fun loving guy and a geeky, awkward girl, beginning at around the time of the end of high school up until the girl leaves for college, at which point it’s unclear whether the couple will survive.

There’s also the fact that star Miles Teller’s charismatic, easygoing, funny performance as Sutter does remind of a young John Cusack. But that’s about where the similarities end. Sutter is hardly as nice a guy as Lloyd Dobbler was. We cringe a little bit at the way he seems to be playing with Shailene Woodley’s Aimee, in part because he’s apparently still hung up on his ex… Plus he might be a bit of a dick and, as we gradually realize, an alcoholic.

“The Spectacular Now” isn’t afraid to be harsh and to go to some dark places, notably in depicting Sutter’s difficult rapport with his mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and his attempt to reconnect with his father (Kyle Chandler).

I was really moved by all of this and I thoroughly enjoyed the many shades Teller gives his character. Woodley is great as well as the slightly naive Aimee, and the two have real chemistry together.

Director James Ponsoldt keeps their scenes feeling very natural and he shows a keen skill at maintaining a consistent tone, somewhere between comedy and drama. “(500) Days of Summer” screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, working from the book by Tim Tharp, also have to be praised for presenting such well-rounded characters and crafting a plot that flows smoothly without being too predictable.

Altogether, “The Spectacular Now” is a truly wonderful picture.

2013 log (8-9-10)

(2 Aug) The Wolverine (2013, James Mangold) [ review ] 64(6 Aug)   The World’s End  (2013, Edgar Wright) [ review ] 60

(16 Aug)   The Spectacular Now  (2013, James Ponsoldt) [ review ] 88

(17 Aug)   Dazed and Confused  (1993, Richard Linklater) [ review ]  70

(18 Aug) Nine to Five (1980, Colin Higgins) 42
[ It starts out interestingly enough, depicting the rampant sexism that was still very much present in the workplace circa 1980. Then there’s a series of fantasy sequences that are amusing enough. But it’s after that that it all goes to hell, when the plot suddenly grows sillier and sillier, with a near-poisoning, the theft of a corpse (!), a kidnapping that goes on for weeks and weeks... Thankfully, even at its worst, the movie can count on winning performances from Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and especially Dolly Parton. ]

(29 Aug)   The Dictator (2012, Larry Charles) 17
[ Wha’ happened? Director Larry Charles and star Sacha Baron Cohen previously made the absolutely hilarious “Borat”. Then why is this so unfunny and boring? I barely made it to the end… It tries really hard to be edgy and offensive, but it just felt blah to me.  ]

(30 Aug)   To Rome with Love (2012, Woody Allen) 62
[ With this film, Woody Allen continues to shoot in great European capitals, in this case Rome. We get to see a lot of gorgeous images of the city and we get a great feel for it and its people. At least half of it’s in Italian, too! But what of the movie itself? It’s minor Woody for sure, but it’s pleasant enough. It jumps back and forth between four stories: a retired opera director (Allen) who comes to Italy to meet his daughter (Alison Pill)’s fiancé (Flavio Parenti) and who discovers that the latter’s father (Fabio Armiliato) is an amazing singer, at least in his shower; a schmuck (Roberto Benigni) who suddenly becomes famous for no reason; an architect (Alec Baldwin) who revisits the time spent in Rome as a young man (Jesse Eisenberg) when he was tempted to cheat on his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) with an actress friend of her (Ellen Page); and newlyweds (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi) on their honeymoon who find themselves cavorting with, respectively, a whore (Penelope Cruz) and a movie actor (Antonio Albanese). It’s all kind of silly and uneven, but there are some good lines and good moments here and there, the cast is wonderful and, again, the Rome setting is pretty wonderful. ]

(31 Aug) Midnight in Paris  (2011, Woody Allen)        86
[      The opening sequence, a jazz-scored series of postcard-perfect shots of the City of Lights, wonderfully sets the mood. This is a love letter to the French capital, as seen through the eyes of an American who has a thoroughly romantic vision of it. I’m talking about Woody Allen of course, but also about his on-screen alter ego, played by Owen Wilson. His character, a Hollywood screenwriter who dreams of moving permanently to Paris to become a serious novelist, is a typical Woody protagonist, down to the existential crisis, the dysfunctional relationship with a nagging woman (Rachel McAdams) and the temptation to go for another girl (Marion Cotillard)... Except that said girl happens to live in 1920s Paris, hanging around the same circles as Picasso, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzerald, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, Dyna Barnes, Luis Bunuel, Man Ray, T.S. Eliot, Matisse and other legendary artists! As such, “Midnight in Paris” is pretty much a pure fantasy, a delightful time-travel tale driven by nostalgia, “Golden Age thinking” and, maybe, denial as well...  But you can’t deny how gorgeous and pleasant it all is. I particularly enjoyed Alison Pill as Zelda Fitzerald and Adrien Brody as Salvador Dalí, plus the present-day cameo by Léa Seydoux. And while it’s mostly feather-light, it eventually leads to Wilson’s character having an insight - an admittedly minor one, but still! I don’t want to overpraise it, but I’m thinking this might be somewhere close to being, say, one of Allen’s ten-best pictures.

Note: this is a repost of a blurb written in August 2011 after I first saw the film. ]

(31 Aug)    Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984, Steven Spielberg)  [ review ]   94

(1 Sep)   Eat Pray Love (2010, Ryan Murphy) 58
[ Now, I’m not the most spiritual person, and I’m a bit skeptical about people who go on journeys of enlightenment around the world…  So I can’t say this movie, based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, was all that moving or thought-provoking to me. That being said, I still enjoyed it quite a bit thanks to all the gorgeous sights, awesome music, delicious-looking food and beautiful people it features. It’s a very sensual picture throughout, full of light and color, and it takes us to Italy, India and Bali in the course of two hours and change. What’s not to like? Oh, and Julia Roberts remains awfully charismatic. That smile! ]

(7 Sep)   The Last Stand (2013, Kim Ji-woon) 22
[ I was relatively excited for this first starring role in some 10 years for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Relatively, because I somehow skipped it in theatres so I must not have been that excited… Having now seen it, I can’t say I regret waiting for the DVD. This is a badly paced, oddly lifeless, ultimately pretty dull movie. And Arnold is barely in it! It takes a simple plot - bad guys want to help an escaped drug lord cross the border into Mexico, Sheriff and his deputies want to stop them - and stretches it out needlessly. And while there are ultimately some bloody shoot-outs, they aren’t awesome enough to make up for how long it takes to get to them. ]

(14 Sep)  Stéphanie, Nathalie, Caroline & Vincent  (2001, Carl Ulrich) ???
[ Writer-producer Simon Boisvert also stars in this ultra low budget feature as Vincent, a real jerk who treats his girlfriend (Diana Lewis) like crap, who sleeps with his sister (Mélanie Elliott) and who hooks up with a 19-year-old (Natasha M. Leroux)... Who, in a twist, ends up making him the victim of abuse, for once. The writing, direction, acting and production values are all rather poor, but the movie is still not unenjoyable, somehow. Vincent is the kind of character you love to hate and he’s got plenty of shockingly macho lines. Likewise, it’s pretty crazy what a bitch Leroux’ character turns into and how she keeps belittling Vincent. I don’t know, this is clearly not a “good” film, but I had a good time watching it.  ]

(14 Sep)  Jay and Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie  (2013, Steve Stark) 31
[ Kevin Smith movies have always included dick and fart jokes, but there has always been a second level. Here, not so much. This is a pretty uninspired superhero spoof starring Bluntman and Chronic, Jay and Silent Bob’s costumed alter egos, who get into all kinds of crazy nonsense. It’s watchable enough, but I can’t say that I laughed much. ]

(21 Sep)  Gabrielle  (2013, Louise Archambault) 65
[ Here’s a nice little film about a mentally challenged young woman who yearns to be more autonomous and to be allowed to experience her first romantic relationship with a like-minded young man. Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, who has Williams syndrome in real life, is very endearing in the title role and I also liked Alexandre Landry, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Vincent-Guillaume Otis and Benoit Gouin in supporting parts. Also wonderful is all the music in the film, particularly the songs performed by the choir that Gabrielle is a part of, including a couple of numbers by Robert Charlebois, who cameos as himself. Yet there’s a feeling that this could have been a stronger, more moving picture. I liked it alright, but I can’t say I absolutely loved it like so many other critics. ]

(24 Sep)  Prisoners  (2013, Denis Villeneuve) [ review ] 90

(5 Oct) Don Jon (2013, Joseph Gordon-Levitt) [ review ] 89

(7 Oct) Gravity (2013, Alfonso Cuarón) [ review ] 90

(14 Oct) La vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 (2013, Abdellatif Kechiche) [ review ] 90

May-June-July / November-December


The Wolverine

First of all: yes, this is a much better movie than the atrocious “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”. Thank God for small favours!

It does interesting things right from the striking opening scene, in which we learn that Logan (Hugh Jackman) was actually in Nagasaki when the bomb fell. We then cut to the first of many dream sequences involving the ghost of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), our hero’s one true love who he actually had to kill with his own claws when she went all Dark Phoenix in “X-Men: The Last Stand”.

When the Canadian mutant wakes up, we see that he’s now all long-haired and bearded, apparently living in the woods somewhere in Yukon. There’s a nice beat involving a grizzly, with whom the Wolverine seems to have an unspoken agreement, then after another incident involving the noble animal, Logan meets Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who convinces him to go back to Japan with her at a dying old man’s request.

Up until then and for a while afterwards, the film is moody and deliberately paced, almost like a film noir. But before too long, as we’re plunged in modern and traditional Japanese iconography, the action picks up and we’re suddenly hit with a rush of martial arts, shoot-outs and swordplay.

Yet “The Wolverine” remains a rather atmospheric picture, as Logan multiplies efforts to protect the lovely Mariko (Tao Okamoto) while dealing with the fact that he mysteriously seems to be losing his healing factor. Once in a while, there’s a big action scene like the particularly insane bullet train sequence or the big ninja attack, but this is hardly the wham-bam comic book flick you might have expected, for better or worse.

I’m personally all for a more thoughtful, stylish superhero movie, though I wish in this case that the screenplay was more solid. As mentioned, there are interesting little things throughout, like the idea that Logan is a ronin, i.e. a masterless samurai, but the plot is ultimately kind of a mess. I especially hated everything having to do with the Viper woman (Svetlana Khodchenkova), and the climax stretches the audience’s suspension of disbelief a bit too much.

I still rather enjoyed “The Wolverine”, thanks in no small part to the unwavering commitment of Hugh Jackman, who does wounded animal and badass antihero like the best of them. It’s quite telling that after starring in 5 features (plus that memorable cameo in “X-Men: First Class), Jackman’s Wolverine has yet to wear out his welcome.