Movie Project #4: Fast Times at Ridgemont High [1982]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High [1982]

Fast Times at Ridgemont High [1982]
Director: Amy Heckerling
Writer: Cameron Crowe
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy
Starring: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Phoebe Cates
Running Time: 90 minutes

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a fun movie. It’s a bit strange saying that about a film involving statutory rape and an abortion, but there’s something to be said about its assortment of entertaining characters and future movie stars.

Based on Cameron Crowe’s novel in which he went undercover at a California high school, Fast Times covers the whole spectrum of student types. Jocks, stoners, nerds, middle-class kids and sexual deviants all have an equal amount of time to show us a glimpse into their worlds.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High [1982]

There’s Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold), a fast food manager who hates wearing their awful uniforms. Nevertheless, he is a strong older brother to Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a 15-year-old virgin who becomes obsessed with sex thanks to her best friend Linda’s (Phoebe Cates) constant praise of it. Stacy has a budding relationship with nice guy Mark Ratner (Brian Backner), though he may be too shy for his own good. Mark’s buddy, Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), a ticket-scalping slacker, tries to help him with the ladies.

At the center of it all is Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), a surfer dude who has been “stoned since the third grade.” He is the best character in the film, hands down, mostly due to Penn’s hilarious performance. Spicoli is the kind of guy who just goes with the flow, getting high with his buds while showing up to class whenever he gets around to it. His constant truancy is the cause of a feud between him and his history teacher, Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), leading to some of the film’s most amusing moments.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High [1982]

There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and many of the random subplots are left unresolved, but the film never fails to be engaging. Much of this can be attributed to the screenplay, as well as its impressive cast of young actors. Fast Times served as a bit of a launching pad for so many careers. Aside from those listed earlier, others with memorable parts include the likes of Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz and James Russo. There’s even a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role from Nicolas Cage (then Nicolas Coppola).

Although Cameron Crowe did not direct the film, his musical fingerprints are all over it. The music — which includes the likes of Jackson Browne, Don Henley and Billy Squier — is spot-on for its time period. There is a satisfactory amount of raunchiness, a seemingly obligatory part of any good teen film, with the highlight being one of the most paused scenes in movie history: Phoebe Cates emerging from the water and deciding her bikini top was no longer necessary. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is very much an 80s film and very much a teen film, but it earns high marks as both.

8/10

Fun fact: three actors in this film would go on to win an Oscar for Best Actor: Nicolas Cage, Forest Whitaker and Sean Penn.

Movie Project #3: Say Anything… [1989]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Say Anything... [1989]

Say Anything… [1989]
Director: Cameron Crowe
Writer: Cameron Crowe
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: John Cusack, Ione Skye, John Mahoney, Lili Taylor
Running Time: 100 minutes

Is there a more iconic image of 1980s teenage romance than a young John Cusack standing outside of his ex-girlfriend’s window while holding a boombox over his head? Going into Say Anything…, that scene was pretty much all I knew about the film. It was a bit of a surprise then that this scene was so short. I sat there waiting for this magical moment, and then… she didn’t even look out the window! That’s cold, man. Cold.

John Cusack is Lloyd Dobler, a recent high school grad who is all about punk rock and kickboxing. On graduation day, he gets a wild idea: he decides to ask out Diane Court (Iona Skye), the smartest girl in school. His friends, a group of girls including Corey Flood (Lili Taylor), scoff at his idea, but he’s a man on a mission. He works up the courage to make a phone call and gets her dad, James (John Mahoney), instead. They have an awkward conversation (it ends with Lloyd saying “Good afternoon” in response to the dad’s “Good luck”), but it proves to be fruitful as she calls him back the next day. Much to Lloyd’s (and everyone else’s) surprise, she accepts his invitation to a party later that night.

Say Anything... [1989]

The two of them hit it off immediately and fall into a heated romance. However, there are two obstacles in the way of their relationship: 1) her overprotective father, and 2) Diane is moving to England after the summer. Her father means well — he has even taken certain illegal risks to make sure she can be as successful as possible — but he immediately looks down at the “basic” Lloyd. It’s a matter of two completely different social classes coming together due to an undeniable connection, but it’s a relationship that is difficult to sustain.

What impressed me about this conventional tale is that Lloyd is genuinely a great guy. Sure, he may not be sure what he wants to do with his life, but he knows how to treat a girl. Diane realizes this, too, but it’s her that has to do some growing here. It’s rare that a guy in romantic comedies comes across so well, so it’s refreshing to see things from this perspective.

Say Anything… [1989]

For this being a Cameron Crowe film, I was a little surprised to see music take a bit of a backseat here. There’s the seminal boombox scene in which Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” is the main focus, but other than that, the soundtrack is rather subtle. This is not a fault at all, just a bit unexpected.

There is a bit of melodrama near the end that feels caked on, but for the most part, Say Anything… hits all the right notes. It also certainly says something that such a small scene in the film has made an incredible lasting impression over the years.

8/10

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]

The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]

The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Terence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (book)
Genre: Biography/Comedy/Crime
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
Running Time: 180 minutes

The Wolf of Wall Street is exactly what I expected it to be — a wild, drugged-out ride through the career of a larger-than-life criminal. Sex, drugs and profanity profilerate the screen. It’s so over-the-top in its debauchery that it’s bound to infuriate those sensitive to such content. One of the very first scenes, in which Leonardo DiCaprio snorts cocaine off the backside of a hooker, tells you all you need to know about what the next three hours hold. If that doesn’t deter you, well, sit back and enjoy one of the craziest films you’ll see all year.

Set in the late 80s and into the 90s, the film follows the rise and fall of a cocky young stockbroker named Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio). While he starts out fairly mild-mannered as a married man, he begins spiraling out of control after accepting a profitable job selling penny stocks. As his wealth begins to accumulate, so does his lavish lifestyle. He forms his own company, Stratton Oakmont, hires a handful of friends (mostly drug dealers) and then molds them into successful brokers. Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) becomes his right-hand man, and Belfort scores himself a new hot wife, Naomi (Margot Robbie).

The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]

Belfort’s excess and fraudulent behavior catches the eye of FBI agent Greg Coleman (Kyle Chandler). The two of them play a bit of cat-and-mouse as Belfort starts shoveling his money to a Swiss bank account. He always seems to be one step ahead of the game, yet he simply doesn’t know when or how to stop. Naturally, his habits lead to his downfall.

Does Belfort change? No, not really. The more money he makes, the more out of control he gets. He throws spectacular parties for his employees, most of which are full of cocaine, Quaaludes and orgies. He’s a pretty awful guy all around, yet DiCaprio manages to make him so damn charismatic. Leo’s performance here is both batshit crazy and also one of the best in his career. Watching him dance, scream and jumble around while strung out on ‘ludes is worth the price of admission alone.

The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]

The supporting cast is absolutely terrific as well, with no weak links anywhere. Jonah Hill often goes into frightening territory with his character, but his drug adventures with DiCaprio make for many of the film’s best moments. (On a side note, who would have ever thought Hill would have *two* Oscar nominations? Dude deserves them though.) Matthew McConaughey has a great scene in which he acts as a bit of a mentor to Belfort, leading him in an awkward-but-amusing chest pounding chant. Rob Reiner, Spike Jonze and Jon Favreu all have notable bit parts, but perhaps the biggest surprise of the film is Margot Robbie. This Australian actress is the perfect counterpart to DiCaprio, even managing to steal a scene or two from him. She’s definitely one to keep an eye on in the future.

The Wolf of Wall Street‘s excess may be a bit too much at times, and it does bear quite a few similarities with Goodfellas, but Scorsese is still in top form here. The dark humor is so twisted and off-the-wall that I found myself laughing often, and quite frankly there is never a dull moment within the film’s three hour runtime. If you can handle the vulgarity, this one will not disappoint.

9/10

Movie Project #42: Withnail & I [1987]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Withnail & I [1987]

Withnail & I [1987]
Director: Bruce Robinson
Writers: Bruce Robinson
Country: UK
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths
Running Time: 107 minutes

On paper, Withnail & I sounds like a film I would absolutely love. Two downtrodden actors, both of whom are drunk more than sober, take a road trip out to the country where they struggle to fit in with the country folk. This all takes place in 1969, the end of “the greatest decade in the history of mankind”, as one character states. Throw in some intelligent, well-crafted dialogue and a few spot-on performances, and it sounds like my kind of film.

Yet Withnail & I is missing something, and I can’t quite place what it is.

Withnail & I

The main characters in the film, Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and “I” (Paul McGann), have basically hit rock bottom. Both are unemployed and struggling to get by, mostly due to their love of the bottle. Withnail, in particular, is especially hard up. At one point, out of desperation, he begins chugging lighter fluid. He seems to have a death wish, with little regard for his wellbeing. “I”, also known as Marwood (though it is never stated as such in the film), is basically just along for the ride.

When the two of them decide they need a change of scenery, they hit up Withnail’s rich homosexual uncle, Monty (Richard Griffiths), who loans them his country cottage for a quick holiday. Their getaway is less than extravagant, as the cabin does not have proper heating, and they have little in the way of food and supplies. Monty comically (and unwantedly) shows up and hits on Marwood, making their miserable vacation even more uncomfortable. That’s pretty much the extent of the plot.

Withnail & I [1987]

In many ways, it feels like we are just witnessing a random week in the lives of two washed up blokes where nothing of any real substance happens. They drink, they talk, they complain of their situation, and then they drink some more. The two characters are clearly intelligent, as evidenced by their oft-witty dialogue, but they are difficult to connect with. While many of this cult film’s fans find their banter to be very quotable, nothing really stuck with me afterward.

The performances are quite good, especially that of Richard E. Grant, but they are not enough to elevate what is a mostly dry film overall. Perhaps I just don’t get this sort of British humor, or maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for the film. This is one that I truly wanted to love, but ultimately it just didn’t work for me.

6/10

Movie Project #39: Life is Beautiful [1997]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Life is Beautiful [1997]

Life is Beautiful [1997]
Director: Roberto Benigni
Writers: Vincenzo Cerami (story), Roberto Benigni (story)
Country: Italy
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini
Running Time: 116 minutes

Life is Beautiful is a brave film in many ways. It starts off as a comedy about a man, Guido (Robert Benigni), who is so desperately trying to win the love of a beautiful school teacher, Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni’s real-life wife). He drums up a series of “coincidences” that leads him to falling off his bike into her arms, and he even infiltrates her school just to see her by posing as an Italian fascist inspector. His big speech to the students praises the superiority of the Italian race and their perfect earlobes and navels, all in jest, of course.

To Guido, everything is a joke. His sense of humor and comedic timing are what gets him through an increasingly hostile Italy in 1939. See, Guido is a Jewish man, and he is becoming a more and more frequent target of hate by the locals. His uncle, Eliseo (Giustino Durano), is already dealing with the newfound animosity, as his storefront is wrecked by some fascist vandals.

Yet Guido perseveres, putting on a smiling front and taking it all in stride. Eventually, he gets his girl (in the most epic fashion, riding a white horse spray painted in racial epithets), and things seem to be looking up.

Life is Beautiful [1997]

Fast forward five years later. Guido and Dora are now married with a young child, Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini). They own a book store, and despite a crude sign announcing the owner is a Jew, they make the best of it. That is until the Nazis come into town, rounding up every Jew in the area, Guido and young Joshua included. Dora, after learning of their seizure, runs to the local train station, demanding to be brought on board with them. After some deliberation, she is allowed to board the packed train, which has the most horrific destination imaginable: a concentration camp.

Guido, bless his heart, continues to try to make the best of the situation. He spins this trip into a game for his young son, telling him that he will get a tank if he wins the game. Surely Guido knows the chances of this ending well are slim, but his outgoing demeanor tries to cheer up the spirits of those around him, especially his son.

Life is Beautiful [1997]

Now, this is where the film grows bold in its delivery, and it has received a great deal of criticism for its approach. Guido is constantly cracking jokes (“Buttons and soap out of people? That’ll be the day!”) about a very sensitive and very real atrocity. Sometimes his attempts to be funny are just flat out obnoxious and inconsiderate, such as when he pretends to speak German just so he can jokingly translate orders from a Nazi officer. I get that Guido (and Benigni himself) is just trying to make the best of a horrible situation, but he really should know his limits.

Still, even with these potentially inappropriate moments, there is a great story underneath it all. This is a tale of the strength of a family, and the bond of love between father and son, and husband and wife. This is about a man who can find the beauty in life, even in the most dire situations. While Benigni can overstep the line past obnoxiousness, his Chaplin-esque antics are visually appealing. There is a certain type of charm to his character, and we could all learn something from his optimistic views.

8/10

Movie Project #39: Life is Beautiful [1997]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Life is Beautiful [1997]

Life is Beautiful [1997]
Director: Roberto Benigni
Writers: Vincenzo Cerami (story), Roberto Benigni (story)
Country: Italy
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini
Running Time: 116 minutes

Life is Beautiful is a brave film in many ways. It starts off as a comedy about a man, Guido (Robert Benigni), who is so desperately trying to win the love of a beautiful school teacher, Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni’s real-life wife). He drums up a series of “coincidences” that leads him to falling off his bike into her arms, and he even infiltrates her school just to see her by posing as an Italian fascist inspector. His big speech to the students praises the superiority of the Italian race and their perfect earlobes and navels, all in jest, of course.

To Guido, everything is a joke. His sense of humor and comedic timing are what gets him through an increasingly hostile Italy in 1939. See, Guido is a Jewish man, and he is becoming a more and more frequent target of hate by the locals. His uncle, Eliseo (Giustino Durano), is already dealing with the newfound animosity, as his storefront is wrecked by some fascist vandals.

Yet Guido perseveres, putting on a smiling front and taking it all in stride. Eventually, he gets his girl (in the most epic fashion, riding a white horse spray painted in racial epithets), and things seem to be looking up.

Life is Beautiful [1997]

Fast forward five years later. Guido and Dora are now married with a young child, Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini). They own a book store, and despite a crude sign announcing the owner is a Jew, they make the best of it. That is until the Nazis come into town, rounding up every Jew in the area, Guido and young Joshua included. Dora, after learning of their seizure, runs to the local train station, demanding to be brought on board with them. After some deliberation, she is allowed to board the packed train, which has the most horrific destination imaginable: a concentration camp.

Guido, bless his heart, continues to try to make the best of the situation. He spins this trip into a game for his young son, telling him that he will get a tank if he wins the game. Surely Guido knows the chances of this ending well are slim, but his outgoing demeanor tries to cheer up the spirits of those around him, especially his son.

Life is Beautiful [1997]

Now, this is where the film grows bold in its delivery, and it has received a great deal of criticism for its approach. Guido is constantly cracking jokes (“Buttons and soap out of people? That’ll be the day!”) about a very sensitive and very real atrocity. Sometimes his attempts to be funny are just flat out obnoxious and inconsiderate, such as when he pretends to speak German just so he can jokingly translate orders from a Nazi officer. I get that Guido (and Benigni himself) is just trying to make the best of a horrible situation, but he really should know his limits.

Still, even with these potentially inappropriate moments, there is a great story underneath it all. This is a tale of the strength of a family, and the bond of love between father and son, and husband and wife. This is about a man who can find the beauty in life, even in the most dire situations. While Benigni can overstep the line past obnoxiousness, his Chaplin-esque antics are visually appealing. There is a certain type of charm to his character, and we could all learn something from his optimistic views.

8/10

Movie Review: Enough Said [2013]

Enough Said [2013]

Enough Said [2013]
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Writers: Nicole Holofcener
Genre: Comedy
Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Ben Falcone
Running Time: 93 minutes

Enough Said will always be remembered for being James Gandolfini’s final lead role before his premature death last summer, and it’s a bittersweet performance.

Gandolfini plays Albert, a sweet, gentle giant of a man who catches the interest of a masseuse named Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Both are single parents and relatively recent divorcees, and they are each struggling to come to grips with their daughters leaving for college. When the two of them meet at a party, they amusingly bond over how they aren’t attracted to anyone there. A little bit of flirting leads to a first date, and the two seem to hit it off from there.

Both characters are lonely souls with little in the way of friends. However, at that same party, Eva gives her business card to a poet named Marianne (Catherine Keener). At their first meeting, the two of them start talking and develop a friendship of their own. Things seem to be looking up for Eva, who now has a new love interest as well as a good friend.

Enough Said [2013]

Naturally, there’s a wrinkle in her newfound relationships. There’s a pretty significant plot twist here which I won’t reveal (though you will probably be able to guess it within moments of the film starting), and it causes the film to dig deeper into Eva’s personality. She learns things about Albert from a biased perspective, and it causes her to look at him in a different light. This actually amounts to a fairly conventional romcom plot, but it works here because of the great characters within.

Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini have a strange, enigmatic type of chemistry between them, and they are completely believable as a new couple. Albert is a self-proclaimed slob (though not the hoarding type, he says) and maybe a bit too simple-minded, but it’s clear he has a good heart, and Eva is drawn to him right away. The banter between them is well-written and often funny, and nothing feels forced.

Enough Said [2013]

Gandolfini plays against type here, and his performance is so strong that it makes it even more depressing that he is no longer with us. I would have loved to have seen him take on other parts like this, which is about as far from Tony Soprano as you can imagine. Louis-Dreyfus is also in excellent form, and it’s great to see her in a rare lead role. Catherine Keener, Toni Colette and Ben Falcone round out the supporting cast, with each playing small but pivotal roles.

Enough Said isn’t a complex film, but it is a well-made one. It’s the rare romantic comedy (a middle-aged one, at that) that isn’t too saccharine, and it’s genuinely funny more often than not. Don’t let this one slip under your radar.

8/10

Movie Project #31: To Be or Not to Be [1942]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

To Be or Not to Be [1942]

To Be or Not to Be [1942]
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Writers: Melchior Lengyel (original story), Edwin Justus Mayer (screenplay), Ernst Lubitsch (uncredited)
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/War
Starring: Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Stanley Ridges
Running Time: 99 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I had never seen an Ernst Lubitsch film.

Accolades: One Oscar nomination (Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture), National Film Registry, #49 on AFI’s 100 Laughs

While watching To Be or Not to Be, I couldn’t help but be amazed that such a bold political satire (and spoof of the Nazis) was filmed and released during the thick of World War II in 1942. Here is a film that pulls no punches, even including multiple Hitlers, cracking jokes about a real-life horrifying situation. Yet most astonishingly, it remains tasteful.

The film takes place in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation, and it follows a Polish theater company caught in the middle of it. Josef Tura (Jack Benny) and his wife, Maria (Carole Lombard, in what is tragically her last role), are the biggest names on the bill, but both have such out of control egos that they bicker back-and-forth more often than not. Their rocky relationship leads Maria to fall for a starstruck young pilot named Stanislav Sobinski (a 23-year-old Robert Stack), who has been sending her flowers during her shows.

To Be or Not to Be [1942]

Sobinski leaves Warsaw to join the fight against the Nazis, but he eventually returns on a top secret mission to find a possible spy. This traitor, Professor Siletsky (Stanley Ridges), attempts to recruit Maria to join the Nazi cause. At this point, the film gets more and more farcical, as the theatrical group becomes entangled between the two sides, with many of the actors posing as important members of the Nazi regime.

While it can get a bit tricky following the surprisingly complex plot, especially as there are multiple people playing both the “real” and “fake” versions of the same character, it all comes together quite nicely in the end. What I loved most about the film is how it combines so many different genres and ideals. Take a political satire, throw in a bit of screwball comedy, a dash of startlingly effective suspense, and some romance, and the end result is masterful.

To Be or Not to Be [1942]

To Be or Not to Be represents a number of firsts for me. Not only is this my first Lubitsch (and certainly not the last), but it is also the first I have seen from either of its co-stars, Jack Benny and Carole Lombard. Benny is someone I have heard a lot about over the years, and his hammy, over-the-top performance in this is great fun. Lombard is the perfect counterpart, both stunning in appearance and quick with her tongue. They are both ripe with razor sharp dialogue, and each member of their theater group is given their chance to shine as well.

To Be or Not to Be is loaded with witty one-liners and a number of unforgettable scenes (“Heil me!”), and its influence is still felt today. The theater scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds bares more than a passing resemblance to its counterpart in this film. Bottom line, this is a hilarious yet suspenseful film, and it has made me eager to see more of the famous “Lubitsch touch.”

9/10

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: Drinking Buddies [2013]

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Drinking Buddies [2013]
Director: Joe Swanberg
Writer: Joe Swanberg
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston
Running Time: 90 minutes

From the day it was announced, Drinking Buddies seemed like a film after my own heart. Director Joe Swanberg’s latest “mumblecore” effort combines two of my favorite things: craft beer and the city of Chicago. Better yet, this was filmed on location at one of the city’s finest breweries: Revolution Brewing. Fans of good beer will appreciate all the little winks and nods at the Midwest’s many craft breweries (my own personal favorite, Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter, makes a cameo), but there is plenty to enjoy for movie lovers as well.

The film revolves around two co-workers at Revolution Brewing: Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson). They are great friends, always fooling around at work and then getting drinks afterward. Kate appears to be “one of the guys”, able to hold her own with the seemingly male-dominated brewery. Luke and Kate have an infectious chemistry and there is an undeniable air of sexual tension between them; the only problem is that their relationship is strictly platonic.

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Both co-workers are in separate relationships. Luke has been dating Jill (Anna Kendrick) for six years, and they have been talking about getting married. Meanwhile, Kate is in a relationship with music producer Chris (Ron Livingston). Everyone seems happy at first, but it’s awfully hard not to notice how much of a connection there is between Luke and Kate.

A couples weekend retreat to a Michigan cabin makes the differences especially glaring. While Luke and Kate are perfectly content to just sit around drinking and playing blackjack, Jill and Chris prefer to hike in the woods. These four couldn’t be more different, but then again, can a relationship really thrive if two people have all of the same interests?

This question and many more come into play in Drinking Buddies, and the “will they or won’t they?” stigma is always lingering. Yet what makes the film work is that it doesn’t go down the conventional route. While it sounds and even feels predictable, it isn’t. This film changes directions and takes detours before reaching an abrupt conclusion, one that is sure to split audiences.

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Through all of this, the film manages to remain incredibly authentic. All of its dialogue is improvised, further adding to the sense of realism. These characters all feel like real people, and hell, you may know some just like them. The entire cast here does a phenomenal job, and Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde deliver what may be their finest performances yet. The connection between the two is indisputable; they know it and we know it, but they also know it’s unacceptable.

Drinking Buddies is one of the better mumblecore films I have seen, and it examines male and female relationships in a way that isn’t usually realized on screen. While a bit more closure would have been nice, the performances alone make this well worth seeing (preferably with some craft beer on hand, of course).

8/10