“The World’s End” is one of the Year’s Best

Hanajun Chung.

The trio that delivered “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” ends their unofficial “Cornetto Trilogy” (an inside joke about ice cream) with their latest collaboration entitled “The World’s End.”

Former entries in the trilogy are clearly homages and deconstructions of their respective genres (zombies for “Shaun of the Dead,” cops for “Hot Fuzz”), receiving acclaim and approval from viewers.

“The World’s End” is slightly different. It doesn’t deeply poke fun into a certain type of genre (even for being a genre film). Audiences expecting such satire will not find as much with this film, and the film clearly knows it doesn’t want to do that. Director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost deliver a more personal story that drives a sci-fi scenario.

The resulting film isn’t as zany as its predecessor, but it’s still incredibly funny, smart and heartfelt. “The World’s End” uses a sincere and fearless approach in its storytelling, making it one of the year’s most enjoyable releases.

The film is about a group of middle-age 40-somethings that reunite in their hometown to complete an epic 12-pub crawl that leads them to their final stop: “The World’s End.” Gary King (Simon Pegg) drives this reunion despite his former friends’ (Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddy Marsan, Rosamund Pike) clear indifference to the idea.

They are ultimately convinced when they learn that the most distant Andy (Nick Frost, also at his best) agrees. During their drunken activity, the gang slowly realizes that something has changed since their departure many years ago.

In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, this film would be nothing but gags loosely connected by caricature performances. “The World’s End” has many hilarious set pieces and sight gags, but the comedy has impact because Wright’s characters are fully realized and have relatable dimensions.

Pegg and Frost pull a reversal from the usual dynamic combo of “straight and daft.” Pegg is the carefree dream-chasing slacker, while Frost is the responsible, morally-upright company man.

Pegg’s character Gary is an interesting choice for the audience to follow because Gary can almost become unlikable enough for the audience to detest. This, however, doesn’t happen, as Pegg’s performance really makes him sympathetic for the character to work.

Director Edgar Wright does a fine job once again. The references, foreshadowing, rapid-fire pacing, and dialogue are just as manic and laugh-inducing as his past work.

What’s really impressive is that he didn’t deliver what could’ve repeated the formula and truly solidify the trilogy of films with a concrete identity. Instead, Wright and his team wanted to tell a different, more intimate story about aging, identity and the bonds of friendship.

The first act is somewhat slow in comparison to the rest, dedicating much of the beginning to develop the past and current status of the main characters. It’s a slightly awkward transition when things start to become crazy, but the character work done in the beginning does eventually pay off in a satisfying fashion.

“The World’s End” isn’t as rapid-fire as the preceding entries of the trilogy, but it succeeds through its own charm and crazy. The trio has once again delivered a fun little film for the fans to enjoy with their mates over a nice cold pint. Responsibly, of course.

The Good: “The World’s End”
The Bad: Might be slow in the beginning. Almost repetitive in some scenarios.
The Weird: It’s British, so if one has a hard time with accents, then this might not be the best choice.

Overall: A-

Kick Ass 2 is a crude, unbalanced sequel
Some filmmakers would rather go through the hassle of blowing up cars, buildings, even people than make a comedy. An explosion can be fine if it conveys the proper amount of destruction needed in a scene, but will a comic scene work if only a few audience members laugh? It’s hard to judge and handle humor when people have varying degrees of what they consider funny or not. Matthew Vaughn’s 2010 film “Kick Ass” was (for the most part) celebrated as a film that competently balanced dark humor with action, but for the most part played everything for laughs.

“Kick Ass 2” (directed by Jeff Wadlow) retains much of what made the first film great, but an inconsistent tone coupled with offensive attempts to get laughs lessens the film greatly.Which is too bad, because the film starts out quite well.

The story picks up years after the first. Our hero Dave (Aaron Johnson) and his alter-ego Kick Ass have hung up the costumed-life for a chance to live normally. But after normalcy becomes  boring, he decides it’s about time to try again. Along for the ride is the foul-mouthed, incredibly lethal teenager Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz), fan-favorite Hit Girl. Also returning is Chris, aka Red Mist, who is now the film’s main antagonist after Kick Ass and Hit Girl murdered his father at the end of the previous film. Red Mist (now with an incredibly vulgar moniker) will assemble a league of criminals to finally hunt down and kill Kick Ass in the name of vengeance.

The plot — in a bare bones sense — is a setup that can be handled in several ways. Here it’s taken in a ludicrous direction, but it works, because it’s meant to be mostly comic. When the film introduces other costumed vigilantes and their villainous counterparts, the home-made look of their costumes and alter-egos is meant to be goofy and tongue-in-cheek. It’s almost as if the director told the talent onscreen that they should stop acting altogether, and just pretend to be children playing superheroes during lunchtime. It’s mostly playful, even when things get bloody.

It’s a fun time that many can relate to outside the context of the film, and that’s enough to keep audiences engaged. Some might argue that the blend of ultra-violence and camp takes the humor to a whole other level but it’s when the crazy moments fail to gain laughs that the film fails hard.

The attempt to add an emotional arc and weight to the main characters seems completely out-of-place, like many of the film’s attempts at humor. With exception of one side-plot, every other character thread feels forced and unnecessary. Sure, many people die in this film, but it’s quite twisted  to feel  terrible bout the death of a certain character, only to be reminded later “wasn’t there a poop joke like a minute before?”

The filmmaker is not completely at fault here. Being adapted from a comic book series by Mark Millar, the source-material is known to be a conscious critique of the comic book industry, genre, and its fans, pushing the limits and boundaries to outright offensive levels. Comic books aren’t shy about being dark and challenging. Still, onscreen, it’s highly imbalanced. A villain naming his henchmen (or women) to slightly racist effect can actually be funny in the context of the scene. A threat of rape? Nope.

It’s sad, because some of the ideas might  be compelling enough to explore with the characters. For example, a few of these characters lose their parents and the film could’ve spent time seeing how that not only affects the young-adult psyche, but the psyche of a young-adult who has senses heightened enough to wear a costume and fight crime. It’s no surprise that Batman is the go-to character for that kind of study, but we could’ve have something fresh and interesting here. Instead, it’s a cheap plot convenience.

Still, “Kick Ass 2” is a fairly successful comedy, and fans of the first film will most likely enjoy it. The cast is great, especially Chloe Grace Moretz and Jim Carrey in their supporting roles. There’s a manic playfulness to the whole proceeding and it’s hard not to have a good time with everyone in the theater. “Kick Ass 2” is pretty much designed for the late-night college crowd. Though when things get serious or the humor doesn’t land, it’ll remind audiences how it might  feel when they’re near someone who actually believes they’re a superhero: nervously uncomfortable.

The Good: It’s a funny movie. It’s playful and an overall fun time in the theater.

The Bad: Certain scenes and moments fall flat to detrimental effect.

The Weird: Jim Carrey is boycotting the film because of the violence and how it reminds him of the Sandy Hook Shootings. Carrey can feel anyway he likes, even though it’s a bit – WTF?!

Overall: C 

Fruitvale Station, a moving, powerful film

This summer’s blockbusters have shown us a lot. Whether it be aliens, superheroes, college-bound monsters or even the classic buddy-cop comedy, these genre films have made the cinema an entertaining experience that’s sufficiently apt for the season.On the other hand, there are smaller, more independent releases that provide an alternative to the big studio production.One of these smaller films is Fruitvale Station, written and directed by first-time filmmaker Ryan Coogler. Based on a true-story, the film swept up the 2013 Sundance film festival awards, gaining acclaim and accolades from critics and audiences, earning itself a summer release.

A day in the life of 22-year old Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) has proven to be the most heart-wrenching  emotional experience this summer. Fruitvale Station is one of those important films that makes social commentary, but through a compelling story and character examination.

On New Year’s Day 2009, Oscar Grant was detained and disarmed in the titular station located in Northern California, but through escalating tension was unexpectedly shot in the back by authorities responding to a conflict. He was soon after taken to the hospital, but doctors were unable to revive him.

The film follows Grant on New Year’s Eve as he frequents friends and family, all the while re-examining the choices he’s made in life  and how he plans to improve life for himself and his daughter. When Oscar is not with his daughter, he’s meeting his girlfriend, trying to get his job back, preparing for his mother’s birthday and planning for the night’s countdown. It’s through these slice-of-life moments that the film triumphs in its realism.

What happened to Grant is tragic, but the tragedy isn’t used to glorify his life. Instead, the film uses these small moments to make Grant feel incredibly real.

A lot is due to Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Oscar. He’s endearing, frustrated, but also genuinely considerate of others, and Jordan performs the role so well that we can’t help but empathize with his emotionally turbulent day. Grant isn’t perfect, and both Jordan and the film realistically convey that notion to full effect.

At first I wanted to fault the film for trying to purposefully have the moment loom and foreshadow in certain bits during scenes, cheapening the experience by undercutting the realism. But each reveals something new or deeper about the characters and the relationships they have.

One instance is when Grant’s mother (in an Oscar-worthy performance by Octavia Spencer) suggests to him that he and his friends take the BART trains. It could’ve just ended there, but the scene further reveals a relationship between mother and son that would resonate with many audiences.

If anyone deserves special mention it’s Octavia Spencer, Michael B. Jordan, and director Ryan Coogley. Spencer disappears into the role of Wanda Grant and becomes our mother, or the concerning kind that one might easily take for granted.

Jordan — once again — is fantastic, working the same charisma he used in Chronicle to really shape Oscar into someone likable even for all his faults.

Finally, Coogley succeeds in making us live through Oscar’s last day, through every text he sends, or through his final thoughts of playing with his daughter.

Fruitvale Station treats us like the sentient friend that follows Oscar through the highs and lows on the eve of 2009, where the new year brings new beginnings .

I’ll admit  I was in tears by the end of this film, completely moved by the film as it made me feel like I had myself lost a friend.

But Fruitvale Station should be celebrated not for it’s depiction of tragedy, but for introducing a story that realistically shows the desire to improve one’s life, while appreciating the things that make it worth living.

The Good: A great film. Outstanding leads and debut.

The Bad: None.

Overall: A

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY still schools the competition!

Pixar’s great, many will agree. While their canon might not all be Oscar-winning films, their massive popularity is indicative of the care and quality put forth in their stories and characters. For Pixar, some worlds are just too big to be left without a sequel or spinoff. The Monster’s Inc. universe is not only big, but one that could produce as many stories as there are closet doors. But a prequel?

In Monsters University, the leap back in time not only provides a sufficient backstory for series leads Mike and Sully, but really differentiates itself from the original by being a completely different experience altogether. As a result, Monsters University is a great, funny film that should please all ages, while delivering the quality that fans are used to from Pixar.

In this film, Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) both meet at the eponymous Monsters University to find themselves on opposing ends. Mike – the one-eyed goof of the original – is the idealistic, wide-eyed (no pun intended) freshman who’s looking only to succeed the semester in the most optimal way.  Sully, on the other hand, is a large, lazy and dismissive beast, overplaying the stereotypical  frat boy. When both characters find themselves in jeopardy of failing together, they  join the lowest ranked fraternity and enter a campus-wide “scaring contest” in hope of some redemption.

While this film might share similar locations and characters, it’s quite different from its predecessor. The original is an adventure with very large stakes attached to their world. Monsters University is smaller and more intimate, telling a very focused story about school, friendship, and identity. The film pays more attention to the dilemas that are specific to that environment, so that anyone who’s either attending, or have attended college before,  should relate quite well. How the characters become friends –- even when they’re monsters –- feels real because the personalities and situation are relatable.

As serious as the film gets during the characters’ more emotional moments, it’s also incredibly fun and laugh-out-loud hilarious. The jokes about college –- while nothing new –- are pretty funny when seen through this film’s perspective. While the second act has a predictable plot mechanism that does make the rest seem predictable, the Monsters University has fun with audience expectations and delivers on all counts. Now there are quite a few jokes and gags that are clearly aimed for children, but the film is directed (by Dan Scanlon) well enough that it doesn’t grate or halt the pacing.

Fans of the comedy genre –- especially college comedies –- will have much to enjoy as it not only alludes, but plays homage to classics in the genre. To name some would potentially spoil the experience as some plot elements are lifted straight from those genre favorites.

Technically, Monsters University is a beautifully made film. The world and characters are so well realized that the film can introduce  many different elements that might not be important in the end, but help really shape the identity of the setting. People coming  to see different types of monster designs will not be disappointed, especially when each design is meant to portray a certain type of person that’s usually associated with college-life.

The main problem that this film faces is that it probably won’t surpass the original in terms of story and quality. Monsters University has a great story, but it’s still a story that’s been told quite frequently, only this time through a different world. Even understanding the outcome of Monster’s Inc. somewhat undercuts the entire point of watching the film. But it’s still a story that’s told well, and many other filmmakers struggle to match even the lowest quality-rated film that Pixar has produced.

Monsters University is a film that’ll entertain both adults and children, reaching either audience in its own unique way. A college degree, while important, is not required to enjoy this film. As one will learn at the end of the film, there are other legitimate ways in life that’ll happily make your dreams come true.

The Good: Monsters University
The Bad: Doesn’t aim big. Not that original.
The Weird: For a film about college, I was expecting to see how Pixar would handle some of the darker elements of that lifestyle. But they didn’t.

Overall: A-
Spread the word.

This entry was published on August 14, 2013 at 6:19 am and is filed under Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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