Movie Review: The World’s End [2013]

The World's End [2013]

The World’s End [2013]
Director: Edgar Wright
Writer: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Genre: Action/Comedy/Sci-Fi
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan
Running Time: 109 minutes

It’s amazing what a difference 20 years makes, especially those years immediately after high school. Friends come and go, many start families, and some find lucrative jobs elsewhere. However, there are some that simply don’t change.

Gary King (Simon Pegg) is one such stalwart who is stuck in a high school mindset. A recovering alcoholic and drug addict (though obviously not fully committed to sobering up), Gary reminisces at an AA meeting about an epic pub crawl he and his mates once attempted during high school. The crawl, a 12-pub trip through their hometown of Newton Haven, was never fully completed. While telling his story, he realizes that he badly wants to see the pub crawl through to the end.

Gary starts reaching out to his long-lost pals, convincing Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Steven (Paddy Considine) to join him fairly easily. The wild card is Andy (Nick Frost), who hasn’t had a drop of alcohol in 16 years after being involved in a serious accident. Yet even he manages to agree after being told a sob story by Gary; the caveat being that he drink tap water instead.

The World's End [2013]

And so the gang gets back together, some 20 years later, all living vastly different lives. Gary hasn’t changed a bit since high school — in fact, he is still wearing the same Sisters of Mercy t-shirt he wore during the initial pub crawl attempt — but the others seem to be well off. It takes some time for the five of them to bond, especially as Gary is all over the place with his childish behavior and inappropriate comments.

As the beers start flowing and the guys begin opening up, it’s a blast to listen to them shoot the shit over a few pints. However, it doesn’t take long for them to realize that something is a little off with their hometown. I won’t get into spoilers here, but the film goes in a *completely* different direction around the time the fellas hit the third pub. Things are not at all as they seem in little old Newton Haven.

The World's End [2013]

This jarring transition still brings plenty of laughs and some surprisingly spectacular fighting choreography, but it loses a little something along the way. There was potential for a genuinely great film about old friends catching up and trying to relive their “glory days”, but the zany direction the film takes feels like a bit of a setback. As such, this doesn’t quite live up to those from the rest of the Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz).

At the same time, there is still a lot to like here. The mashup of movie genres means you never know what’s going to happen next, and every member of the cast has their fair share of humorous lines. It’s also cool to see Simon Pegg play such a foul, lowlife character who still somehow manages to get us on board with him.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that The World’s End comes after two brilliant comedies from Wright/Pegg/Frost. This is clearly the weakest of the trilogy, but then again, it was always going to be hard to top its predecessors. The World’s End is an enjoyable film, albeit a messy one, but I hope it’s not the last we see from these guys.

7/10

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012]

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012]

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012]
Director: Peter Jackson
Genre: Fantasy
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage
Running Time: 169 minutes

Right from the start, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was destined to divide its audiences. Peter Jackson’s decisions to not only film at 48 frames-per-second — double the normal rate — but to also split J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved novel into three full-length films were unabashedly controversial. As someone with fond recollections of reading The Hobbit in my youth, I met these announcements with large sighs and lowered expectations. Was it really necessary to stretch a 200-page novel into three epic films? Quite frankly, no, it wasn’t, but this move didn’t become the disaster it easily could have been.

After a bit of an expendable prologue documenting the demolition of a dwarf kingdom by the immense dragon, Smaug, the story begins as expected. Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) is sitting alone on his eleventy-first birthday, writing out the details of his crazy un-hobbitlike adventure some 60 years prior. We are then sent to follow along on this “unexpected journey,” as young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is granted with a surprise appearance by famed wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen). Soon thirteen dwarves, led by the proud Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), are at Bilbo’s door ready to embark on a quest to take back their homeland. Per Gandalf’s recommendation, they have sought out Bilbo to fulfill their need for a “burglar.” After much deliberation, Bilbo eventually concedes to leave his hobbit hole, and so the real story begins.

Along the way, the crew runs into trolls, orcs, goblins and gigantic mountain creatures. There’s far more action than expected based on the source material, and one or two of the chase/battle scenes could have been omitted with little consequence. In fact, more content in general could have been removed entirely.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012]

As expected by stretching out a relatively short novel into three long films, Peter Jackson has dipped deeper into the Middle Earth lore, including a handful of characters seldom mentioned or not found at all in the book. Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) has a noteworthy role despite only being mentioned in passing in The Fellowship of the Ring. The Orc chieftain, Azog, also has an expanded role, predominantly to give the film its own central antagonist. This is not a faithful adaptation of the book by any means, which can be both a positive or negative depending on one’s viewpoint. Those wanting to see Tolkien’s words brought to life without any changes will be disappointed, but those who enjoy spending as much time in Middle Earth as possible will surely get a kick out of this.

For me, I’m somewhere in the middle. Certainly a few scenes could have been excluded in order to make a more compact, arguably greater film, but damn if I didn’t get sucked into this fantasy world. This is a beautifully realized vision with well-designed characters and environments, and the special effects are amazing. The difference between the CGI used in The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy is mind-boggling — this is especially notable during the film’s centerpiece, the much-loved riddle scene between Bilbo and Gollum. Although he looked great before, Gollum really comes to life here, with his wild-eyes and spastic movements. Once again, Andy Serkis delivers an incredible performance.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012]

Now, most people will know right away whether they want to see The Hobbit or not, but the big question here is: should I see it with the high frame rate? Yes, yes you should. I had little interest in this new gimmick, but was persuaded to indulge by some friends. I’m glad I did. Seeing the film in 3D at 48 frames-per-second (not to mention with the fantastic Dolby ATMOS sound system) was an experience unlike any other I have had in a theater, and it is absolutely worth checking out if only for the sheer novelty of it all. The general consensus has largely been a “love it or hate it” type deal, and I’m surprised that I fall in the former camp. It takes some time to get used to the quicker movements and video game-like visuals, but the high frame rate makes the 3D much more bearable.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey isn’t a perfect film, but I respect Peter Jackson for trying something new while undoubtedly pleasing countless fans begging for more Tolkien. Despite its excess length, I greatly enjoyed my time in the theater. Anyone even remotely curious in the film should seek it out, preferably with the higher frame rate.

8/10