Thursday, 1 August 2013

'The World's End' and 'The Wolverine': review round-up + Interview with 'Frances Ha' director Noah Baumbach

My laptop went and broke the other day, so that's why (or, should I say, the latest reason why) I haven't been updating. Got a quiz to write for tonight (if you're Brighton-based, and fancy a challenge, get to Dukes at Komedia for 6.30ish), so I'll keep this short.

First up, I did an interview with director Noah Baumbach a little while ago for What Culture. That's available to read online here. Next up, reviews:

'The World's End' - Dir. Edgar Wright (15)

Full disclosure: I didn't grow up with Spaced and have only ever rated 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'Hot Fuzz' as "alright", so take my opinion of this conclusion to Edgar Wright's "Cornetto Trilogy" with a larger than usual pinch of salt. This one takes on aspects of the sci-fi genre as a small town's inhabitants are slowly replaced with, what I'm going to call (to make it easier to explain in shorthand), robots - though in a way that feels like the zombie horde from 'Sean' meets the strange, rural-folk conspiracy stuff of 'Fuzz'. In 'The World's End', Simon Pegg plays Gary King, a middle-aged man who hasn't moved on since the greatest night of his life: attempting "the golden mile" - a 12 pub crawl across his home town - with his closest mates. However, decades later, everything has changed except for Gary.

The pubs themselves are now identikit chain pubs and all his mates have moved on with their lives and moved away from the small town of their youth. Many of them, including Nick Frost's Andy, actively hate Gary - making things all the more uncomfortable as he pathetically attempts to get the gang back together for one last crack at the mile. It doesn't go well and only gets worse when the robots turn up. That was originally meant as descriptive, but actually forms a pretty good anchor point to start my critique because, for me at least, the film was far more entertaining and engaging before the science fiction elements kicked in. The "former friends coming back together in their sad little home town for a pathetic pub crawl" story was actually really well worked for the first half-hour, with nuanced characters and genuine pathos for Gary: a complete prick, but one you feel crushingly sorry for nevertheless. With his mates played by Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman and the ever-dependable Frost, the film trundled along very nicely for the first 30 minutes as a bitter-sweet comedy-drama.

And then the film gets lost in long (admittedly well choreographed) fight scenes, exposition about this alien/robot threat and all manner of other things that actually detract from what's really appealing and interesting about the film as was: the human drama and the character arc of Gary King - who, reservations about the overall film aside, I think is the year's best original character [more on that to follow at a later date, when I have time]. Gary's arc is maintained and still carries the film, of course, but it gets bogged down in everything else that's going on. It also doesn't help that the film - nominally a comedy - isn't really very funny. It has a few chuckles and it's never less than pleasant to watch, but it's uncharacteristically gag-light by the standards of the creative team. I will say this for it though: what this film has to say about friendship is far more mature and rewarding than pretty much ever other "bromance" movie. There are a lot of similarities between this and the summer's US comedy 'This is the End' - yet, whilst that film is far funnier, this one is the more interesting and emotionally affecting.

'The Wolverine' - Dir. James Mangold (12A)

It's the wrong side of the two-hour mark and goes by extremely slowly - with far more green tea-sipping than claw-knucked action - but 'The Wolverine' is watchable and oddly compelling if mainly because of Hugh Jackman's charisma as the title character. Loosely based on Chris Claremont and Frank Miller's celebrated and far-better-than-this-movie 1982 mini-series, which sees Logan on a solo adventure in Japan, the film takes the character out East where he becomes embroiled in the familial intrigue of a large corporation, a few fights with the Yakuza, and a punch-up with an unconvincing CGI robot samurai. There's a neat action sequence on a train and some nice moments for fans of the character (he even throws in a "bub" at one point), but James Mangold's film - strangely reliant on the maligned 'X-Men: The Last Stand' through extensive Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) dream sequences that might have been better left on the cutting room floor - requires prior investment in the character to be of any interest.

There are some odd cinematic allusions to great Japanese works, for instance one ninja fight sequence borrows imagery from Kurosawa's Macbeth adaptation 'Throne of Blood', and these might help explain the logic behind the film's mannered style and extremely slow pacing. This is probably the quietest blockbuster made this century - and that's admirable and makes for something weirdly fascinating, even if it doesn't really work as intended. It feels boring rather than intense or dramatic, but it's clear (and, again, admirable) that they were really trying to make a character-driven movie about regret and coming to terms with loss. I'm left wondering if they might have succeeded had Darren Aronofsky accepted the long-rumoured offer to direct, but - like his aborted 'Batman Begins' - it was sadly not to be. I will say this for 'The Wolverine' though: if modern superhero movies exist in large part as extended trailers for their inevitable sequels then the film did its job. Even before the post-credits scene, the film left me more excited about next summer's 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' than I was going in.

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