IHAO ... on the Cornetto Quadrilogy (The World's End review)

(Side thing: This poster was my favorite poster ... and it is missing one of the pubs!  
Why the heck is that?!  After the Beehive and before the Hole in the Wall, they go 
to the King's Head.  Put it on there, poster!  ARG!)

Yeesh ... ok, I have a lot to say, but I'm going to do the short version right now.  Here it goes - this film is for the most part awesomely acted with lots of touching moments and a new topic for the Cornetto trilogy that has an interesting central conceit, but it falls incredibly hollow and flat at the end, and is kind of hamfisted in the beginning.

Still with me?  Ok.  Like I said, I have a LOT to say on this.

This movie's ending is the absolute most mediocre ending possible.  But it is worse than that, too.  Instead of ending, which implies plot, let's go with "epilogue."  That is much better.  The ending, the actual run up of the climax, is entirely contradictory to every single them they set in motion throughout the ENTIRE film.  There are huge gaps in logic, and is so sadly standard that it just feels beneath what I know Edgar Wright can do.  A lot of the shots in the film are just a little too close up, and the action is for the most part shakey cam, though not terrible, still prevalent, which is not good.

The opening is an expected (and subverted) monologue that sets up the plot of the film, and then a really really lazy introduction to the five leads via passing vignettes of what each one is currently doing and how that reflects their personalities: Steve is now about fitness and has a hot young girl; Peter is unhappy in his married life; O-man is ... all about business and talking on the phone.  You get the picture.  Instead of learning about the characters organically, we are force fed "these are the traits you need to know about these characters in the first 3 minutes so that you aren't lost, stupid audience!"  And that's incredibly terrible.

I'm avoiding spoilers, which is why I didn't elaborate on the finish ... but I have to reiterate: on the car-ride home, I came up with a better finish that was more in-line with the themes they presented throughout the entire film.  But perhaps that is just ego on my part.  I'll gladly share it if anyone wants to know, I'll just do it privately so that it doesn't spoil things.

Now it might feel like I'm just complaining and hating on the whole movie.  And that's INCREDIBLY wrong.  I am complaining about the first 3 minutes (which were awful) and the last 5 minutes (which were as Jason Schmidt put it "as if they were all just like 'ok, we just need to go ahead and wrap this up'").  But as soon as those first 3 minutes are done, we have Simon Pegg (playing the stunted Gary King who is still dressing like he dressed 23 years ago and still trying to relive those days, playing against his normally considered type and doing a fabulous job) going to each of his 4 childhood friends one after the other to convince them to go with him on this nostalgia trip.  And that is MAGICAL.

The chemistry between the 5 leads is unbelievably good.  And the way they relate to each other, now all 20ish years removed and telling about how their lives are now and remembering how it was then and seeing the subtle changes even though they are all the same kids they were, just more grown-up ... it was glorious.  And different from anything the Cornetto Quadrilogy (I include Paul now that I've seen it because it has all the same themes so it is a spiritual part of the films I believe, if not a direct one) to this point.  A special note to just how amazingly well done Nick Frost is.  I hated him in Shaun of the Dead and tolerated his goofiness in Hot Fuzz, but I find that the more "realistic" he plays, the more I love him and his performance.  He was so good in this movie, as well as in Paul.  Just truly phenomenal.  Well, that might be an overstatement.  This isn't Oscar-award worthy or anything.  But still, he is so much better playing "straight" to Simon Pegg's character-based antics instead of the other way around.

And from there, you get everything you expect.  Fun, high energy action (that is shakey cam shot, so your mileage may vary on how good you think it is) that has these guys doing a bunch of pro-wrestling and wu-shu/kung-fu moves which was glorious.  "Subtle" hidden meanings in little details just like Edgar Wright always works on.  And really, the rest of the ride is WONDERFUL ... until we get to the titular World's End, where everything goes ... not downhill, because that implies it hits the bottom.  More it becomes so ... boring, and standard, and hollow feeling.  It just isn't good.  It is "fine" but not good.

I cannot watch this without comparing it to the three other films.  And ranking them, because they each have different strengths and weaknesses.  But they all deal with nostalgic love to tropes and themes of particular genres the writers/creators love (zombie/horror, action/suspense, spielberg-ian sci-fi, apocalyptic sci-fi/kung-fu) and all deal with post-coming-of-age stories, with adults that are having a hard time being adults.  So I'll give grades for all of them, and put them in order, and try to give a reason why I believe they deserve to be where they are in my rankings.

First I'll do this one, the World's End, the last of the films of this type from these guys collaborating.  I really liked it, and thought it was very good for the most part.  I really want to rewatch it and try to absorb more (I think I found a hidden Edgar Wright -style meanings throughout the plot that is not immediately apparent, but I want to see more.)  Much like how when I watched Looper I loved the opening and hated the rest of the film, I feel like I need to grade this movie twice: The vast majority of the movie is a B+.  Little tiny things like at the end making everything orange/blue like ALL (hyperbole) movies nowadays and the shakey-cam fight scenes that made it difficult to actually see what as happening a lot end up making me unwilling to give it an "A", but it is very solid and the acting and writing for the 5 leads is amazing.  The ending is a solid C- for being so incredibly hollow and shoe-horned, and really unnecessary.  An edit of the film to remove a lot of that epilogue could help a lot.

Second, I'll remind about Paul, which I gave an A+, with a caveat to one scene which I feel deserves an F.

Third, Shaun of the Dead.  I don't actually like it very much.  I cannot deny the good in it, but overall, I just didn't care for it.  It felt small and uninteresting.  Shaun was the only character I really liked, which made me want to see everyone die (basically) which is the opposite reaction I should be having.  And the quirky twisty-twoo ending rings just as forced and hollow for me as World's End.  There are bits I like, but overall, I didn't care for it much.  C+ 

Fourth, Hot Fuzz.  Simon Pegg playing a brilliant character, great twists and turns, awesome cinematography and high stakes action!  If I hadn't seen Paul, this would have easily been the best film of the bunch.  The only "problem" is I feel it misses some heart.  Just some.  Just a little.  Just enough to keep me from going "man, I really want to put in Hot Fuzz" when I am just feeling like watching a movie.  It is just missing some spark of extra.  The "it factor" that is so hard to put down.  But still absolutely great.  A

That means ...

the Cornetto Trilogy (Quadrilogy) Report Card: 

Shaun of the Dead ............ C+
The World's End ............. B+*
Hot Fuzz .............................. A
Paul ................................. A+*

So if I've learned anything, it is that the shorter the title the better the movie.


IHAO ... on "Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest"

I finished reading A Lee Martinez's newest novel "Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest" the other day and I very truly loved it.  Who is A. Lee Martinez, you ask?  Well he is one of the best writers writing the best novels with the best schticks.  He is a guy who writes about awesome things with amazingly relate-able and complicated characters that all flow like amazing films and really, they all should be.  Divine Misfortune, the Automatic Detective, Gil's All-Fright Diner, Monster (it is a crime that only one of the five I just mentioned have wikipedia articles), and the one I just said above that I just finished, which I'll review below!

I am a sucker for the "quest" motif in fantasy and adventure stuff, and I think it was handled great here. I loved the orcs, I loved Helen and Troy's relationship, I loved the world. It is a great book, and would make a great film, to boot.

It isn't a perfect book, but my complaints are very minor. Sometimes the way the action is described, while nice and bloody like a quest is back in the old legends, is a bit jarring from the rest of the tone of the book. It is one thing to be smashed to a pulp (a semi-cartoony sounding bit of violence that is consistent with the tone Martinez set up) and to have your jaw all but hanging off and teeth being knocked out, which is a much more visceral and harsher bit of violence. It is a minor distraction that is in and of itself well written, though.

I also found it odd that there were moments where the books, which is mostly centered on Helen, seemed to think it gave equal weight to Troy. The limited perspective was probably (when on the protagonists) 70/30 in Helen's favor. I think the goal was to have it really be equally balanced, but Helen just ended up taking more of the protagonists perspectives, so when it did switch to Troy's perspective it didn't feel as natural.

Those two things might sound like big complaints, but they really truly aren't. They are minor things I noticed that in the end had no real impact on the fantastic story. I loved how the concepts of villains/heroes were twisted and turned. I loved the world that was set forward and the modernization of the old legendary Quest tropes. I loved the defiance of Fate (or fate) and how the book never answered really if fate was truly in control or just a good guess. Martinez's Helen is one of the best female protagonists I've read in a very long time, and Troy is a difficult character to write in the same veins as Superman (which Martinez has stated in the past on his website) that he took to very well and because a very good "mostly perfect" yet still flawed and intriguing character.

And the orcs! They were my absolute favorite characters, Nigel and Peggy and James and Franklin, all of them.

I could keep talking, but in the end, I think I've said everything that's important. You should read this book. Touching, adventurous, tense, funny at points, and thought provoking all throughout, which is the BEST thing a book can do in my opinion. Read this.

A or *****