Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 at the Trylon Microcinema: A Devotee's Year in Review

Guest post by Ian Lueck, a good friend of Movie Matrimony and a regular patron of the Trylon Microcinema, the best little theater that could in the Twin Cities.

My name is Ian Lueck.  I’ve been a movie lover for, well, pretty much all my life.  So when Dave, friend and co-worker, clued me in on a theater in the Twin Cities which shows films from virtually every time period (not just the new stuff that AMC shows), I had to check it out. 
It's the best.
The theater in question was The Trylon Microcinema, a modest theater in an unassuming, nondescript building in Minneapolis.  Heck, the first time I went there, I drove by it at first because it didn’t have the typical “look” of a theater.  But as they say, never judge a book by its cover, and the same applies to the Trylon.  What the theater lacks in large amounts of seats (there are about fifty), it makes up for in its friendly (mostly volunteer) staff, great presentation (they try to get the original 35mm whenever possible, but in the few times they don’t, they show the next best thing, Blu-ray), and a wide variety of films.  Because of these reasons, I’ve been a frequent visitor to the Trylon in 2012 and 2013, and it’s given me the chance to see movies I missed out on.

So, you might be asking, what movies did I see at the Trylon in 2013?  Settle in, because by my count, there were about forty.  That’s almost one movie a week!

Spring 2013

8 ½ (1963):  This screening was special because it’s Dave’s favorite movie, so he had a big filmgoing party where most of the theater that night was filled with Dave’s friends, including myself.  To be honest, I have more fond memories of the pre-movie party (mmm, jerk chicken…) than I do of the film itself.  That’s not to say the film was bad; the whole movie, about a director who is unable to think of what his next project should be, feels like a dream, with bizarre set pieces that don’t really lead anywhere, symbolism that is up to the audience to decide its meaning, and some odd imagery.  When I left the theater, I did enjoy the experience but wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.  It felt like a movie I hadn’t seen before, which I obviously give it points for, but I couldn’t really get into the characters because they more existed as props for the elaborate (and at times, surreal) sequences.  Still, I’m glad I saw it, especially since I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Stanwyck and Cooper
Ball of Fire (1941):  This is a good example of a film which starts out GREAT, with a wonderfully whimsical premise, but feels conflicted about what it wants to be.  It also runs out of steam way too early.  The premise is basically a live action, modern day parody of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, with the dwarves in this instance being stuffy, upper crust bookworms who are writing the encyclopedia.  Problem is, they don’t know what to write about modern customs, which is where Barbara Stanwyck’s character comes in.  She agrees to teach the group “hip” talk (much of which isn’t in use today, making the film rather dated).  That part of the film works, and is quite funny, even if the various brainiacs are more caricatures than fleshed-out characters.  What doesn’t work so much is Stanwyck and co. escaping the Mob.  That felt like it belonged in another movie, and didn’t really fit into the “Snow White” motif, I felt.

Lots of suggestive fruit,
a distinct lack of bellybutton.
Gang’s All Here, The (1943):  A Busby Berkeley musical with lots of tall fruit hats and elaborate dance choreography and camerawork.  As with many musicals of the time period, the story isn’t really anything special; it’s just a love triangle situation amidst the backdrop of the war homefront.  The highlight is the soundtrack; I love “old-timey” music so the songs were appealing to me.  One cosmetic thing bugged me, though:  As this was the ‘40s, showing your bellybutton was considered risqué, so they covered up all midriffs with flesh-colored tape.  So what you’re left with are a bunch of anatomically-incorrect dancers, like they’re all Eve.  Or hatched from eggs.  Or aliens.  Other than that distraction, this was moderately enjoyable.

Utterly chilling.  I'm frozen with fear.
Makes your blood run cold.  Etc.
Jack Frost (1996):  Unlike other films I have seen in the Trash Film Debauchery series, this entry managed to stay engaging all the way through.  The premise alone is hilarious:  A killer snowman.  But the film manages to avoid the cult film trap of starting off good but getting monotonous because of three aspects:  The quirky townspeople who the snowman picks off one by one, the creative snow-related methods that the snowman uses to decimate his prey, and the surprising amount of comic relief for a slasher flick.  I think that was the right decision; you can’t take a film about a serial killer snowman seriously, so why not be goofy about it?  Just don’t go in expecting anything like the poster.  It’s a perfect example of false advertising.

MinnAnimate (various):  I had the pleasure of going to what will hopefully be a long-running film festival devoted to local Minneapolis/St. Paul animation.  It ran about two hours; the first hour consisted entirely of shorts, while the second hour was a feature.  While I can’t say all the films were enjoyable or well-made, I’m just happy to see such an anthology exists, and I hope it does well.  I would love to submit something of mine at a future showing.

Poor, poor George.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969):  Oh, poor George Lazenby.  He only got one Bond film before his agent convinced him that spy movies were on the outs.  As such, this remains an “oddball” entry in the series.  The plot, about Bond investigating a Swiss Alps clinic where Blofeld is secretly brainwashing his female patients into doing his evil deeds, is pretty thin, and doesn’t allow for as much globe-trotting as your typical Bond entry.  I also didn’t care for the editing in the fight scenes, which tried to look dynamic and arresting by using a lot of jump cuts, but just ended up looking sloppy and lacking in visual continuity.  Telly Savalas was a rather weak Blofeld, not nearly as visually memorable as Donald Pleasance’s portrayal in “You Only Live Twice”, nor as snobbishly curt as Charles Gray’s version in “Diamonds Are Forever”.  And (spoiler!) while I had a general sympathy for Bond losing his new bride, we never really got to know her all that well (heck, she’s absent for most of the movie until she abruptly shows up in the last twenty minutes!), so her sudden assassination didn’t have the impact it could have.  After all that, you might think I hate this movie, but I don’t.  It actually has a lot going for it:  While the plot is lean, it’s more focused and easy to follow as a result.  The Alps setting is gorgeous.  The chase sequences (such as the village car case, or the bobsled finale) are quite exciting, and is one area where the hyperkinetic editing works in its favor.  The score is one of John Barry’s best.  Perhaps most importantly, this was one of the first instances of giving a Bond movie some emotion, making the series more than just a secret agent delivering smarmy one-liners while kicking bad guy butt and bedding the ladies.  A mixed bag, but certainly not a disaster like some claim.  And it fared much better on the big screen than on DVD.

Now this is a Bond villain.
Spy Who Loved Me, The (1977):  This is easily in my top five James Bond flicks.  It has memorable set pieces; a villain with a plan that, strangely enough, sounds plausible (that is, the future of civilization lies at the bottom of the sea); some grin-inducing Bond one-liners (“Oh James, I don’t have the words!” “Let me enlarge your vocabulary.”); exotic locales (Egypt being a major one); a heart-stopping ski jump in the opening sequence (helped by the music stopping when it occurs); and one of the most menacing henchmen ever:  The towering, metal-mouthed Jaws.  It also puts a twist on the Bond formula, in that Bond killed his female partner’s fiancée, and it’s interesting how that works itself out once she finds out.  Oh, and one of the best opening theme songs, “Nobody Does it Better”.  Only flaws?  The tanker scene feels a little protracted, the villain’s death is pretty abrupt, and Barabara Bach’s acting is pretty flat.  Otherwise, I always have a good time watching this.

Summer 2013

All the President’s Men (1975):  The timing of this movie was serendipitous, having been shown around the time the NSA surveillance scandals began to hit the press.  So watching this movie in 2013, it has held up extremely well.  Unfortunately.  Watching Woodward and Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) take seemingly unimportant details and follow those clues from one big break to another is exhilarating, both from a directorial and acting standpoint and also because its theme resonates with everyone in the audience:  The people desire (and deserve) the truth, so we root for these underdogs to uncover it against all odds.  Easily one of the top five movies I saw at the Trylon this year.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004):  While I didn’t embrace this movie as a comedy classic like some, there are quite a few genuinely hard laughs in this Will Ferrell comedy.  Things go awry at a San Diego news station when a woman dares to be a reporter, sending sleazy anchor Ron Burgundy’s man-centric world upside down.  There is a plot here, but it mostly exists to hang lots of gags and set pieces off of, most of which work.  I especially loved the “gang” fight between competing news stations, and Burgundy’s accidental F-bomb to San Diego in his sign-off.

Bringing Up Baby (1938):  If there was ever a movie which defined “farce”, it would be this vintage comedy, which put a big smile on my face.  The basic plot is that Cary Grant’s character is engaged to be wed, but he gets tangled up with a free-spirited woman (Katharine Hepburn) and her pet leopard.  To describe any more than that would be pointless, as not only does the story go in one crazy turn after another, but I’d hate to give away all the jokes.  But the movie is never dull to watch, as the madcap pacing keeps things moving at a brisk rhythm.  And I love how virtually every character in the film aside from Grant is a kook; the director Howard Hawks thought that was a mistake, but I loved it because you’re grinning watching Grant’s patience repeatedly tested.
The Blues Brothers (1980):  This was on a double-bill with “Animal House”, another John Belushi vehicle.  Of the two films, I prefer “Blues”, not only for nostalgia but because it still holds up as an entertaining musical comedy epic.  And “epic” is the key word here, not only due to the crazy car chases and large-scale physical destruction, but the very idea that the sunglasses-donned duo are on a “mission from God” (that is, saving an orphanage where they grew up from being closed).  It really makes the whole ordeal larger than life, yet it’s juxtaposed nicely with the taciturn, low key reactions from the pair.  Top it off with some of the catchiest songs in the last thirty years, and you have a movie that’s a lot of fun.  I might’ve shaved a few minutes here and there, but considering that the original screenplay by Dan Akroyd was –hundreds- of pages long and virtually unfilmable, we should put the film’s length into perspective.
Cronos (1993):  The first of the Guillermo Del Toro-directed movies.  Of the four I saw, it was my least favorite, though it wasn’t awful or anything.  The plot concerns an old man who is bitten by a mysterious mechanical bug, whose bite causes him to regain his youth.  The downside?  He now craves blood.  Meanwhile, another old man wants the bug for himself and uses his brutish aide (played by Ron Perlman, one of the few English-speakers in the film) to steal it.  I don’t really remember much about the film, other than its visual style and distinct Spanish “feel”.
Giant, stony justice.
Daimajin (1966):  A Japanese movie about a giant stone statue which comes to life and wrecks havoc on a village which has a corrupt, tyrannical leader.  Admittedly, this movie is a slow burn; the first hour or so is pretty boring.  But when Daimajin awakens, the movie redeems itself.  Seeing Daimajin destroy buildings representing the evil villains is highly satisfying, considering all the crap they put the villagers through for the whole movie.  There’s a sense of justice being laid down.  In particular, there’s one point in the climax when some villains taunt Daimajin, and he just does this ominous slow turn to face them.  That put a big ol’ grin on my face.  My advice is, if you watch this movie, just be aware that it starts off slowly, but don’t worry, because it builds to a satisfying conclusion.

Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris (1999):  I’m not really a giant monster movie fan; part of that is due to the hit-and-miss English dubbing, which makes it hard to get into the story, but also because the special effects are… not good.  So imagine my surprise when I actually enjoyed “Gamera 3”.  Now I had seen all five “Gamera” flicks that had been lampooned on “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, but this was leagues better than those.  You really got a sense of scale in the battle scenes, the special effects are actually pretty decent, and it has some themes that are executed well, particularly sacrifice and hatred (specifically, how deep-seated grudges can manifest into negative ways).  Not bad.

Looks great, and... yeah, we'll stop there.
Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012):  Kind of a letdown.  Which is a shame, because the trailer made it look stylish and quirky.  This musical love letter to ‘50s B-movies and culture (with an emphasis on sci-fi and zombies), shot entirely in black-and-white (on Eastman Plus-X film, the last of its kind!) should be more engaging than it is.  I’m not sure if it was the editing or the performances or the thin plot, or all three, but it just doesn’t come together.  It looks great, and that’s the biggest compliment I can give it; the director clearly knew how to make shots look interesting and dynamic, whether that be through the staging or the lighting.  It’s a shame it couldn’t have been put to use on a better script.

Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001):  Of the two “Godzilla” movies at the Trylon this year, “All-Out Attack” was the better film.  The battles (and special effects) were better, the storyline had a more interesting character to follow (a plucky reporter who wants to cover the mayhem), and there was even a little symbolism in there.  Of the three giant monster movies I saw, I still liked “Gamera 3” the best, though.

Godzilla battles plantzilla.
Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989):  The “Godzilla” movies frustrate me, because even this late in the game, the Japanese military keeps trying to destroy the monster with conventional firepower, which we all know doesn’t work.  Those sequences just feel like filler, because you know the big guy’s going to get away unscathed.  Such is the case here.  Now to be fair, this time they do eventually attempt a different way to subdue Godzilla; that is, shoot missiles into certain parts of his body which contain a lethal injection.  But it feels like an afterthought at times, and doesn’t arise until much later in the film.  And I was disappointed by the villain, Biollante, a giant plant-esque thing.  The first time they fight, it’s pretty boring because Biollante barely moves.  The second fight fares a bit better, because Biollante changes forms into something more formidable.  But it’s still not very exciting because the special effects aren’t that convincing and you know Godzilla will win.  Also, the whole “mercenary” subplot could’ve been explained better, and at times these “Spy vs. Spy”-esque scenes felt like they belonged in a different movie.

Hellboy 1 & 2 (2004, 2008):  These two films could be technically be classified in the “superhero” genre, though compared to the likes of Batman and Superman, Hellboy certainly doesn’t feel like your typical superhero.  But I think that’s what makes these films so fun; it follows standard superhero movie tropes while playing with them at the same time.  Of the two films, I liked the second better; not only does it not have to worry about exposition and origin backstory, but it ditches the human male lead from the first film (who didn’t really do much aside from almost taking Hellboy’s girlfriend away from him), and is quite a bit funnier.  I also enjoyed the final battle scene more than the first, with Hellboy and the villain fighting amidst a bunch of rotating gear floors.  Del Toro has a thing for gears, I find, but he put them to good use here.

National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978):  While I had seen this previously, it was still a lot of fun to watch on the big screen.  John Belushi steals the show in any scene he’s in.  The second half isn’t quite as strong as the first (and there’s a “road trip” scene to a black bar that goes nowhere), though the chaotic ending (with a main street parade sent off the rails by Delta House) makes up for it.  John Vernon plays a great part as the no-nonsense dean.  My all-time favorite scene in the movie is when Delta House is on trial for all their shenanigans, and one of the DH members gets the audience on their side by spouting patriotic statements that are noble but ultimately irrelevant to the trial.  I love it.

Network (1976):  This is still one of my favorite movies.  The mad dash for TV ratings, no matter the cost (whether it be journalistic integrity, taste, and even a person’s life) is skewered in this dark comedy.  I know it’s an overused line, but this film really does get more relevant (sadly) with each passing year.  The performances?  What can I say, they’re all fantastic.  William Holden is at the top of his game, and paired with the (comparatively) younger Faye Dunaway yields great chemistry, both positive and, later, negative.  Peter Finch as the ranting anchor Howard Beale is similarly dynamic, with diatribes that are funny AND insightful at the same time, deriding how much our political and cultural societies have been bastardized.  And of course, even though Ned Beatty only has one scene, it’s a highly memorable one, as he harshly lambasts Beale for daring to criticize the monetary NWO.  If you haven’t seen “Network”, what are you waiting for?

The inside of a changing world.
Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011):  A fascinating documentary about the slow death of the print medium, with the long-running New York Times’s lifeline in constant jeopardy.  A good chunk of the movie also explores NYT’s coverage of the WikiLeaks scandal, which is made engaging despite the fact that it occurred almost three years ago.  One moment in the film which I had to smack my hand on my head in annoyance:  When one of the veteran reporters was reading a digital version of the NYT on their iPad, and touching the screen so that they’re turning virtual pages like an actual newspaper.  What’s wrong with this picture??

Pan’s Labyrinth (2005):  The final film in the “Guillermo Del Toro” series at the Trylon, and also one of his most critically acclaimed.  While I don’t share the high praise that some critics had for the movie, it definitely has some positive aspects.  The movie has elements of “Alice in Wonderland”; that is, a girl goes down a “rabbit hole” and encounters a world of fantastic creatures, some benevolent, some… not so much.  Unlike “Alice”, though, she ventures to and from the real world a few times, sent on missions to collect things.  The real world, in this case, is post-World War II Spain, where the girl’s stepfather is a ruthless military leader.  While these real world scenes of conflict are done well, it gave the film a disjointed feel.  I suppose you could argue that’s the point, since it’s meant to contrast with the otherworldly feel to the underworld scenes, but at times they felt like two totally different movies colliding.  And since I thought the underworld was more original and creative than the WWII stuff, it was disheartening that more of the movie didn’t take place there.  Oh, and (SPOILER) I really had a hard time suspending disbelief that a villain who is stabbed in the back, through the area where the heart is, and through the shoulder, and has his mouth cut open, would be able to pick himself up and sew himself back together.  I know this is a fairy tale (albeit a dark one), but come on now.

Safety Last! (1923):  I’m not well-versed in silent film (I’ve seen “Sunrise” and “Battleship Potemkin”, and maybe a couple others), but I very much enjoyed this Harold Lloyd comedy, about a small-town guy who gets a job in the big city.  For some reason, he moves there without his wife, but he writes home to tell her what a success he is.  Problems arise when the wife comes to visit him, and hijinks ensue as he pretends to be something he’s not.  Of course, the scene everybody remembers from the film is Lloyd’s character hanging from a clock tower, which has been given homages in many other movies, but there’s plenty more to laugh at here, so long as you don’t mind physical comedy.  And luckily, I don’t.  (Side note:  As with all silent films, a soundtrack was never part of the original film, so those had to be made later.  The music used for this particular print was very appropriate for the time, with ragtime-esque music accentuating the light-hearted tone)

Sweet Smell of Success (1957):  Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis are well-cast in this gritty drama about press agents and the power that their words hold.  The plot is convoluted and tricky, so I won’t type it all out here, but needless to say, it takes a lot of twists and turns, in directions even the characters didn’t anticipate.  While a downbeat film in a number of ways, that’s to be expected from a film noir.  And I thought it captured the “dog eat dog” lifestyle quite well.  Still, it’s lacking something undefinable that prevented it from becoming one of my favorites.  I feel like I need to see it again; this might be one of those movies that you appreciate more and more upon repeated viewings.

To Have and Have Not (1944) [The Heights]:   “You know how to whistle, don’t you?”  One thing I enjoy about some of these old movies is witty banter.  This Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall vehicle has it in spades, almost making this a comedy, despite its serious wartime setting and some near-deaths due to it.  The film has some similarities to “Casablanca” (particularly Bogart being pressured to helping the resistance during WWII) but is able to stand on its own, partially due to Bogart’s character being a fishing boat captain, but also the different dynamic between Bogart and Bacall compared to with Bergman in “Casablanca”.

Yoyo (1965):  Much like “8 ½”, this could be described as an “art house” film, in the sense that it’s in a foreign language and, if made today, would probably not be shown in a mainstream theater.  This French comedy/drama is interesting because it has fun with the film medium in a variety of ways:  For example, the movie begins in the silent era of film, so there’s no music, the sound effects are minimal, and the dialog is spoken through title cards.  Cut to the sound era, and suddenly there’s a narrator, dialog, and music.  That’s really neat how they did that.  The film also plays with the visuals; certain objects will appear to be something, but will change into something else just from how it was shot and lit.  The story is basically a “rags to riches” story in reverse, as a wealthy man loses everything in the 1929 crash, and his son (working as a clown) strives to rebuild his legacy.  I can’t say I loved the film (though a couple people in the audience that night found it to be one of the funniest things they’d ever seen, an attitude which I didn’t share), but it was worth seeing for its visuals and the film’s exclusivity; it has rarely been shown outside of its original release, especially not in America.

Fall 2013

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) [played at The Heights]:  The original “Frankenstein” was good, but this sequel blows it out of the water.  It helps that because it picks up roughly where the first movie left off, there’s action right away.  In the first film, it was kind of a slow burn until the monster was created.  Here, there are a lot more set pieces and it moves faster as a result.  Most importantly, I was genuinely surprised how funny this movie was!  There’s a scene where the monster visits a blind man living in solitude, and the kindly man teaches the monster how to smoke.  It was so bizarre seeing this creature light up that you can’t help but love it.  My only complaint?  Despite the title, the bride of the monster doesn’t appear until the last ten minutes!  Kind of a letdown.  Still, once she appears, she leaves quite an impression, with that crazy tall hairdo that would make Marge Simpson green with envy.  A winner!

Clue (1985):  A hoot.  As with the board game, various colorful characters are summoned to a mansion for a dinner party, where various staff is picked off, one by one.  What helps this film are two things:  The harried pace, which enhances the over-the-top performances, and the physical comedy (watching the group hide the bodies from the cops is pretty morbid, but hilarious in how it’s executed).  Tim Curry steals the show as the eccentric butler.  My only real complaint is that I didn’t particularly care who the killer was, which I only felt MORESO when the theater showed all three alternate endings back to back.  But when I had that much fun with the movie anyway, I didn’t mind too much.

Dracula (1931) [played at The Heights] / Dracula (Spanish) (1931):  I managed to catch both of these classic horror movies; one was playing at The Heights theater in Columbia Heights (which occasionally does themed tie-ins with The Trylon), and the other played at a cemetery in Minneapolis.  The latter was worth going to strictly for the atmosphere (I can’t say I’ve ever watched a movie in a CEMETERY before!), but sadly neither version had me truly invested.  Bela Lugosi is, of course, iconic as the titular character, and there are some spooky shots and lighting.  But to a modern audience, the film isn’t scary at all.  Part of this is due to the lack of background music.  This was a film just barely out of the silent era, and it shows in the absence of a score.  Now I’m not one of these people who needs music playing over every second of a movie, and I also can see the viewpoint that a movie doesn’t need unsubtle music to tell its audience how to feel.  But I would counter by saying that a score can create a mood just as much as the visuals; imagine if “Jaws” lacked the memorable “duhn dun…” ditty, for example.  But besides the music, it’s a really slow-paced film, even moreso in the Spanish remake, which is a good half an hour longer despite covering the same material.  It was worth going to for the experience, but I really don’t think it’s held up all that well.

Frankenstein (1931) [played at The Heights]:  Unlike “Dracula”, this classic horror movie has held up a bit better.  For one thing, it has a theme which is still relatable, if not moreso (that is, scientists trying to play God, not to mention science running amok).  But it also gets the creepiness across better than “Dracula”; the first time we see Frankenstein’s Monster alive, with its dead, emotionless eyes, it’s pretty effective.  And to me anyway, there are more iconic scenes in here, like the monster having fun with a little girl until things go awry, the townspeople chasing the monster with fire and pitchforks, and of course, the “lightning bringing the monster to life” scene.  Like “Dracula”, it lacks background music most of the time, but it doesn’t seem as distracting here, probably because there’s just more sound to make up for it.

From Here to Eternity (1953):  Yes, this movie is more than just its iconic “kissing on the beach” scene, which lasts about four seconds.  It’s actually a really well-done wartime drama, tackling some of the same themes as “Sweet Smell of Success”, particularly of feeling “trapped”.  Two of the bigger plots in the film involve Burt Lancaster’s character feeling pressured into accepting a higher-ranking military ranking even though he doesn’t want to (because he doesn’t feel it fits him), and Montgomery Clift’s character daring to defy unfair orders from a jerk of a superior officer, and paying the price.  Frank Sinatra has a memorable role as Clift’s wiry, temper-laden friend.

Hausu (1977):  I actually didn’t see this at the Trylon (long story), but it was playing on Hulu for free, so I just watched it on there the same night it played at the theater.  Boy, am I glad I didn’t pay money to see this.  The premise is really thin, and involves a group of Japanese teen girls vacationing in a haunted house and getting killed, one by one.  I really don’t see what’s entertaining about this genre; it’s not inherently fun, so unless you don’t have the chops for it, it just comes across as unpleasant and sad.  Unfortunately, the sunny, campy ‘60s-esque tone of the first twenty minutes is abandoned for a depressing tone once the gang arrives at the mansion.  It’s a perfect example of mood whiplash.  And there was a haunting, slow piano piece that played so many times in the second half, I almost wished I was deaf so I wouldn’t have to hear it ever again.  I know what you’re thinking:  “But Ian, the charm of the movie is in the cheesy special effects!”  Here’s the thing:  Low budget special effects can be amusing (and even believable) if done right.  But all I could think when watching this is, “This is really shoddy.”  Like, a ten year old could easily make this stuff on their computer.  A huge disappointment, considering the trailer made the film look like hilarious cheese.

Ice Cream Man (1995):  One of the recurring programs featured at the Trylon is called Trash Film Debauchery, where bad films are shown.  The only difference is, unlike Mystery Science Theater 3000, you can’t talk back to the screen.  Which is a shame, because it would’ve been nice to talk back to this stinker.  Clint Howard plays a serial killer ice cream man, and kidnaps one of the kids in the neighborhood.  I will give this movie a modicum of credit for one thing:  No kids in the movie are actually physically harmed.  It’s so cheap to generate sympathy out of an audience for showing kids in jeopardy, and luckily the victims in this movie are adults.  But it’s perhaps because of that that the film doesn’t work; it portrays all adults as idiots, and it’s up to the kids to save the day.  So it ends up feeling like an episode of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”, except it’s surrounded by gruesome imagery (like appendages in the ice cream), gory death scenes, and four-letter words.  So what we end up with is a movie made for nobody in particular; it’s too dumb for adults, but too graphic for young children.  I will admit there were some “so bad it’s good” moments, such as how Howard’s character as a child witnesses his own ice cream man getting murdered right in front of him, and laments that nobody will give him ice cream now.  But the casting gag about Clint Howard playing a creepy murderer in an ice cream hat gets old after about twenty minutes, so the movie just drags after that.

Murder By Death (1976):  I know this send-up of murder mystery movies is revered in some circles as a classic, but I honestly was bored by this “comedy”.  I’m not sure if it was because of seeing “Clue” (which was IMO far superior) a mere day prior, but I do know that I wasn’t laughing at most of the antics here.  Which is a shame, because there are some classic actors in the picture:  Alec Guinness as a blind butler (not as funny as it sounds, sadly), Peter Sellers as an Asian stereotype (which was dated even when this movie came out), and Peter Falk as a Humphrey Bogart parody (which puzzled me more than it entertained, because Falk, while he does a decent vocal impersonation, looks NOTHING like Bogart).  This film’s idea of funny is for the butler to say that he’s prepared a fire in the room, and he opens the room to reveal that the bed is on fire.  That’s more groan-worthy than funny.  I walked out after fifty minutes, the first time I’ve ever walked out on a movie in my life.  It was liberating; you should try it.

Professionals, The (1966):  A revisionist Western set in the early 1900s.  Much like “Daimajin”, this gets off to a slow start.  The plot kinda reminded me of “The Expendables”, with the whole “rescue a captive woman in the enemy’s camp” operation going on.  And like that movie, I didn’t really care about the characters or feel they were that well-defined at first, and the villains were pretty one-dimensional.  But what helped is that there were some twists and turns different from what you’d expect, and eventually, the film made its character motives clear.  So ultimately it was worth seeing.  (Sorry to sound vague, but I don’t want to give anything away!)
Rewind This! (2013):  Simply put, I loved this documentary.  It chronicles the VHS format, and explores every facet of the home video medium, from the vibrant collector’s market to the rise of adult entertainment to digital destruction to quirky movies that never would’ve gotten a theatrical release, and a whole lot more.  What I liked most is discovering movies that I’d never heard of, really obscure stuff that few outside of ultra-hardcore film buffs would know about.  The tone to the documentary is just right:  It’s pretty light-hearted, with many colorful people interviewed, but it still gets across the facts and history.  Yet it does so without feeling like a history lesson.  Highly recommended, and who knows, maybe you’ll discover something new.  It’s almost impossible not to.  (Side note:  The showing at the Trylon was memorable in itself, because each person could take home a free VHS tape of their choice from a big box.  I picked out the 1991 film “JFK," on two tapes.)

Rock n’ Roll High School (1979):  This movie acts like one big commercial for The Ramones, but luckily it’s a fairly fun commercial.  The story is a classic “students vs. hard-ass principal” scenario, and while that’s not very original, the female principal is a riot in any scene she’s in, just because of how comically uptight she is.  Every “student rebellion” story needs a good foil, and she fits it perfectly.  While not every gag works, there are plenty that do, like the call back where the principal tests rock n’ roll music on a lab rat, which explodes; later, a life-sized rat tries to get into the Ramones concert, and when told he can’t because he’s a rat, he holds up some ear muffs and it’s all good.  Uneven (and it has some filler, such as a daydream sequence), but has some funny moments and some classic ‘70s rock.

Scanners (1981):  While not a bad movie by any means, this David Cronenberg film was disappointing, though it is probably partially due to certain expectations.  Nearly everybody has seen the infamous clip from the film of a bald man’s head exploding.  Sadly, that moment is the only instance of exploding heads in the film.  I went in expecting lots of exploding heads, and I only got one!  The more typical use of telepathy involves slamming people against walls or reading their thoughts, which isn’t nearly as entertaining or over-the-top.  Still, the plot manages to stay interesting, as it involves corporate conspiracies and “the last of his kind” themes.

Shadows (1959):  Unofficially billed as the first independent film, I’m glad I saw this for historical purposes, even if the film didn’t do much for me.  My main problem is that the characters seemed to be living really aimless existences, so I didn’t really care about what little plot there was.  Now I know that’s the point, but it didn’t make for very engaging storylines.  About the only moment that really did anything for me was when a guy wanted to date a woman and her co-worker repeatedly told him to beat it.  That at least had some conflict to it, whereas most of the rest of the film didn’t have the same emotion.  Of note: the movie’s dialogue was improvised.  That’s not exactly a common thing, and did give the movie a unique feel.

He's real and he's alive!
Viva Knievel! (1977):  The first (and only) film to star legendary stunt rider Evil Knievel, this film has “made-for-TV” written all over it, despite being released theatrically.  It has ordinary direction, mostly ordinary stunts, and flat acting from our lead.  Despite those issues, however, this was a watchable flick, with Knievel in the middle of a conspiracy to murder him and smuggle his body back to the U.S. with a bunch of drugs.  I absolutely loved Leslie Nielsen as the bad guy; this is a few years before he had a change of direction with “Airplane!”, but it’s this role association that makes his performance here so amusing.  As RiffTrax said:  “If you’ve seen him in “The Naked Gun” and “Airplane!”, every line he says will sound like a joke to you, and trust us friends, this is a very good thing.”  The film also contains two really silly moments:  Knievel driving his motorcycle through a mental hospital to bust out his friend (who was wrongfully incarcerated), and Knievel’s apparently psychic ability to know the exact location of a semi passing through a tunnel below him so that he can ramp his motorcycle at the exact moment and land on top of it.  Guy’s got skillz.  Unfortunately, the print used at the Trylon was pretty beat up and faded; everything was all yellow.  They can’t all be winners; on the other hand, it could be argued that palette only added to the campy ‘70s charm.

Winter 2013

Paths of Glory (1957):  I loved this film.  People often know Stanley Kubrick for his better-known works like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and A Clockwork Orange, but this World War I film, one of his lesser-appreciated works, is arguably one of his best and deserves more attention.  It involves an unsympathetic General Mireau ordering some troops to secure a hill, a task which is virtually impossible.  But when the soldiers retreat, he’s furious and demands three of them be executed for being cowards.  Kirk Douglas does a fine job as Colonel Dax, who was actually on the battlefield at the time and, thus, perfect for the role of defendant in the trio’s court martial.  What I like about this movie is that there’s a natural flow to it; too many times in war movies, the narrative is pretty loose, just going from one action set piece to another.  But here, you get the set-up, the battle, the fall-out from the failed battle in the trial, and the aftermath of the execution.  It’s extremely compelling.  And unlike some of Kubrick’s films, this isn’t full of weird symbolism; it’s pretty straightforward, but it’s not hampered by that.  Other aspects that work?  The cinematography is, typical for Kubrick, gorgeous. There are some wonderful tracking shots as we follow the soldiers through the cramped trenches.  Also, this is a movie that might not have worked as well in color; it looks so rich in black and white, and gives the violence more gritty realism.  Finally, the film has a bit of dark humor, akin to Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.  The way Mireau plainly describes how many soldiers he expects to lose, without any emotion at all, is really disturbing but strangely humorous in the way it’s delivered.  Easily a top five for the Trylon this year.

Looking back, it was a great year at the Trylon.  Needless to say, I can't wait to see what 2014 brings - I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

David's Top Ten - #1 - 8 1/2 (Fellini, 1963)

1. 8 1/2 - Federico Fellini, 1963

          I have yet to see a character study more complex, challenging, or innovative than Federico 8 ½.  While it is not the most perfect film I have ever seen, it is the most cinematically exciting, fluidly interweaving moments pulled from its filmmaker-protagonist Guido’s dreams, daydreams, memories, and present realities while also commenting on the nature of the creative process, both for an artist and an audience.  It is a film that humbly speaks to the burden of success while also challenging viewer suppositions regarding the authenticity of its subject matter.  Fellini creates a protagonist that mirrors himself, and his pains feel inspired and true, but he also playfully pokes his audience to ask how much is reality, how much is fiction, and whether that matters in the end.  The film is ultimately profound not because it provides answers, but because it pushes us to ask questions.
          From a broad view, the film is about the pressure to produce.  As Guido struggles to conceptualize his next film in the face of his producer, screenwriter, and cast’s pleadings, we lament with him the burden of achievement and the monetization of creativity.  Fellini, of course, does not really decry his status as a famous filmmaker, but he does draw attention to the many influences on artists if they are so lucky to find fame.  Likewise, all who display their own talents, whether they be artistic or otherwise, and are found desirable will face a similar reality – they can never return to their humble beginnings, and will always be held to the standard of their previous work.  As the film builds on this theme, it becomes increasingly exhausting and harried until catharsis is finally found in defeat.  The film’s conclusion negates many of its questions without trivializing them.  While there certainly are reasons to be wary of business interests in the creative process and the unduly worship of artists, Fellini ultimately calls his fellow artists and viewers alike to celebrate the joys of life apart from the expectations of others.  By recognizing his own inability to control or appease others, Guido is free to enjoy the process rather than any resulting acclaim.  After all, due to the collaborative process of producing films, his films are not purely his own anyway.
Guido, Guido, Guido
          What is amazing about 8 ½ is that these themes are communicated in the midst of an engaging and very personal portrait.  Fellini’s presence as the film’s creator is intentionally evident, and he creates a sense that he is actively fighting for the film to be about Guido as a man.  By injecting his voice into the film, and concurrently commenting on the forces working against the presence of such a voice, there is a feeling that each scene represents a battle lost or won.  For Fellini, each film represents is a fight to preserve a personal voice; a fight many filmmakers understandably concede.  It is amazing to me that this fight feels genuine despite the fact that, on reflection, it is intentionally communicated.  There is no denying that, despite the many and varied influences on his work, Fellini was an artist strong enough to recognizably assert his voice above the shouting demands of his audiences and collaborators.  With 8 ½, we are invited to witness his victory.

Chelsea's Response: 
          By the time 1963 rolled around and Fellini began work on his ninth film, 8 ½  he had already made quite a few masterworks and was a celebrated director.  8 ½ is, in turn, about a celebrated director attempting to make his ninth film.  As such, it is incredibly postmodern, and certainly way ahead of its time.  It still feels new and exciting today.  While Fellini may have in reality struggled to come up with 8 ½  the film's protagonist Guido truly comes up blank.  As many of us do, he searches and longs for that perfect bit of inspiration which will somehow save the day, but finds it doesn’t exist.
Staggering Setpieces
          I first saw 8 ½ many years ago, when we were dating, and I must admit I was confused by 8 ½ on 35mm.  What could I do but throw a birthday party that included a screening of 8 ½   By my second viewing, I had seen and grown to love several other Fellini films and had come to appreciate his contemplative rhythms, and I found that I loved it.  It was exciting and entertaining, throwing dizzying dreams at its audience and never once holding our hands.  It was visually beautiful, full of staggering and audacious set pieces.  And it was oddly honest, even as it was full of artifice.  I was thrilled.
it.  I didn’t understand Fellini’s cinematic language.  While it was still entertaining and had a brilliantly drawn central character, I didn’t quite know what the fuss was about, sighing that I would have to wait and watch it again.  Years later, David’s birthday rolled around and our local (read: two blocks away) microcinema decided to show
          Moral of the story: some films require a second look to reveal their riches, and like someone developing a taste for fine wine, sometimes those riches can only be found with a fuller and more experienced understanding of cinema's language.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler

By Lee Daniels

            It is hard to resist the feeling that with Lee Daniels' The Butler, Lee Daniels is daring his audience to criticize his work.  The film so unabashedly and lackadaisically preaches to the choir as a celebration of civil rights that it seems Daniels was simply banking on the fact that he could finger anyone pointing out its glaring flaws as a bigot.  “What, you didn’t like The Butler?  What are you, racist or something?”
            But here is the thing: throughout the film, Daniels seems bored with his material, caring more about economically progressing the film’s timeline than much else.  We are rarely given any time to process the subject matter, though this is perhaps a blessing considering the film’s matter-of-fact arguments.  Rather than provide a thoughtful contemplation of the civil rights movement and its far-reaching socioeconomic impact, Daniels provides a cursory and simplified history filled with tired character types and broad moral declarations.  Dispassionately carrying out Danny Strong’s amateurish script, which seems to have been researched using nothing but a poorly written 8th grade history textbook, the film relies heavily on musical cues and pandering voiceover commentary to tell its story.  With many aspects of the film being underdeveloped, such cinematic tools fall flat and far too often feel forced.
            These lazy efforts from Daniels to instruct his audience how to feel and think quickly become tedious.  One the one hand, he seems to rely on the fact that he is preaching to the choir to gain the audience’s sympathy, but on the other, he directs the film in a sententious way that communicates he is presenting groundbreaking ideas.  Either way, it feels condescending and obnoxiously self-important.

** out of ****
            More than anything else, The Butler is contrived.  And in its contrivance, it is lazy.  Lee Daniels has provided a thoughtless film that is somehow boring while plowing through its timeline at a cut-rate pace.  Based on a true story, The Butler follows the life of Cecil Gaines, a black man who served eight presidents in the White House (real life name Eugene Allen).  It attempts to parallel and contrast Cecil’s life and work with the plight of his son, a young man who is strongly involved in the changing civil rights movement.  To Louis, Cecil is an Uncle Tom, but to Cecil, Louis is a delinquent law-breaker.
Louis, arrested again.
            There are several scenes, played for tension and emotion, in which Cecil struggles at work with his position, intercut with scenes of the son, Louis, in famous civil rights moments (including being at the very hotel of the assassination of MLK, Jr.!).  The coincidences just don’t add up, and the themes lack nuance, so Daniels’s cookie-cutter thesis ends up being poorly drawn and argued.  Forest Whitaker tries his hardest here, and is joined by a lot of other actors who are doing their best, but the material is just too badly written to be believable.  Even Oprah is pretty good in a part that is unnecessary and almost ridiculous, and that is coming from a person who doesn’t like Oprah at all.  You’re right, David - it does seem like Daniels is daring his audience to take issue with his work.  The Butler is a pandering and lazy movie that tries to skate on its message.

* ½ out of ****

            With films like this, you can sense that the filmmakers were sniffing for Oscar gold in their conception of the film.  The film just has that sense of self-importance about it.  Rather than thoughtfully consider the motivations and relational dynamics of the characters, this film relies on cardboard-deep personalities to act out stiff melodrama, paying lip-service to its themes.  It is the kind of movie that will leave many people feeling good about themselves for watching it, but will in the end do little to challenge anyone.  In a climate of persistent racial tension, I struggle to see what Daniels hoped to achieve.

Look, it's Lyla!  And she's first lady.
            Daniels is clearly trying to say something about race – but he makes it so reductive that it is almost harmful.  Take for example the end *SPOILERS* which seems to portray the election of Barack Obama as the ultimate expression of how far we’ve come as a nation in terms of race.  And while it was a historic moment and certainly does exhibit that the nation has taken a lot of positive steps forward, there are still monumental problems in America’s race relations.  Everything isn’t better just because we elected a black president and Cecil got a raise, and we have a lot of difficult, complex work ahead of us.

            I had the same uncomfortable feeling in the climactic moments involving Obama’s election.  This kind of uninhibited celebration is disconcerting, to say the least, especially coming from a black filmmaker.  I think this kind of oversimplification is not only dangerous because it makes people think that there is no need to make any more strides for equality in this country, but because simple answers that cut out the messy realities of the issues only further conflict in American politics.  You get the sense that Daniels is furthering a tendency to suppress voices that want to discuss the complexities of this topic, making anyone who wants to find real solutions into an enemy.  Daniels is allowed an opinion, and in this case it is safe enough that few will disapprove, but it is the fact that he states it without really arguing it that is disappointing.
            I think the development of Cecil’s character is a good example of how Daniels suppresses complexity.  *SPOILERS*  The entire film develops Cecil as a goodly rule-follower and does a good enough job presenting his disapproval with his son Louis.  Yet, late in the film, with little explanation, he changes his mind about civil rights protests and spends the last half hour of the movie reconciling to his son and preaching the virtues of the political demonstrations he spent the entire film opposing.  As viewers, we are supposed to applaud this change, but any thoughtful viewer is left asking, “What in the world created such an abrupt shift?”

            You’re right – it was extremely abrupt.  Daniels attempted to show that Cecil was tired and downtrodden, but it was so sudden a shift that it wasn’t very palatable.
In a completely unnecessary scene.
            Also abrupt were the many shifts in Oprah Winfrey’s character, Gloria Gaines.  While I understand the inclusion of her character – she is Cecil’s wife – the family drama was shoehorned in.  It’s fine to be both a film about race and a family drama, but to have both notched to 11 on the melodrama scale just serves to wipe each other out.  Gloria goes from being a lovely woman to an alcoholic cheater to on the wagon to off the wagon each time we see her.  There is no gradual change, and although Oprah sells the heck out of it, the character just constantly feels odd.   The scenes of the home life of Cecil vary in tone significantly to his work life, and they never work together to form a whole.

            Couldn’t agree more – her character felt completely out of left field and did nothing to contribute to the film’s larger themes.  As a filmmaker, he seems to think that simply inserting scenes of infidelity or alcoholism is profound, but someone needs to tell him that to make an impact, he must comment on these issues rather than simply showing them.
            You could say much of the same for Cecil’s youngest son Charlie who, due to the film’s lacking sense of time progression, startlingly appears looking ten years older without warning and stands in moral opposition to his older brother.  Yet, there is a goodly amount of fun in Elijah Kelley’s limited role here, as his comedic timing is pretty great, providing my favorite moments of the entire film.  I wish I could say the same for Cuba Gooding, Jr. – whose obscene comic sensibility and standard Cuba Gooding, Jr. delivery feel out of place.

And Mariah Carey, in the film for about 2 minutes.
            How about the long string of stunt casting for each of the presidents?  We have Alan Rickman as Reagan, James Marsden as JFK, John Cusack as Nixon, and Robin Williams as Eisenhower.  Some of them, like Marsden, work very well, but some are just awkward and laughable, like Cusack, whose Nixon is a depressing, tone-deaf sad-sack.  In general, Daniels paints a broad political stroke - each of the Democrat presidents is wonderful, while each Republican is evil.  It’s very odd and naïve to trivialize politics that way, as Daniels attempts to simplify something as complex and problematic as the political system.
           Meanwhile, Cecil’s son is attending lectures by Malcolm X, getting a first-hand speech from MLK, Jr., and is one of the very first in the Black Panther movement.  It’s all so over-the-top and contrived, I found myself occasionally laughing out loud.    Not to mention the completely unnecessary role for Terrence Howard that never goes anywhere except to mention that Oprah is having an affair – she’s falling apart!

            It is all so ridiculous.  And yet, the most ridiculous thing about the whole movie to me is that Lee Daniels had the ego to make sure every time you saw the film’s title, it was associated with his name.  The film is not The Butler, but Lee Daniels’ The Butler.  With his film looking and feeling like a Lifetime special apart from the occasional fuzzy glow of overexposed photography, what makes him think he should tout himself as an auteur?

            This being my first Lee Daniels film, I don’t think I can accurately answer your question, but he certainly does have some name recognition at this point.  You wonder how long he can ride the coattails of his success with 2009’s Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire before people stop paying him much attention.

Two-as-One Rating: *¾ out of ****


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Chelsea's Top Ten - #1 - Ordet (Dreyer, 1955)

1. Ordet - Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1955

          When I first read about Ordet, I knew immediately I would really like it.  When we finally got ahold of a copy of a DVD at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee library, my suspicions were confirmed.  We watched it, loved it, discussed it, told everyone about it, and subsequently watched all of the other Dreyer films we could get our hands on.  Based on a play by Kaj Munk, a Danish priest and WWII martyr, the story follows a family with three sons in a small Danish town with two major Christian sects.  The eldest son is an kind, agnostic man, but is married to a woman with great faith and hope that her husband will return to God; the middle son believes he is Jesus, having gone nuts studying Kierkegaard at University; the youngest son is in love with the daughter of one of the elders of the other Christian sect – a Romeo and Juliet of sorts.  As the family prepares for the birth of the newest grandchild – the child of the eldest and his wife, they try to seek God and discover who He is and how He works on Earth.
          Munk’s was the only name that appears in the credits in the original release, emphasizing the audience should pay close attention to the words and themes of the story.  Even so, Dreyer directs the film simultaneously tenderly and starkly.  It is a beautifully crafted film: the lighting, mise-en-scene, the patient way the camera moves all build up to the climax.  And what a climax it is!  The entire story hinges on one moment at the very end, the belief systems of each of the characters sharply seen, sometimes shattered, until finally…!  Not that everything that came before it was a trifle – far from it – each scene is deliberate and careful, capturing glimpses of the internal and external conflict of all of the characters and focusing on each of the characters closely held belief systems.  Although it’s slow, deliberate pacing may not work well for some modern audiences, it has a modern sensibility in the honesty with which it approaches its themes and characters.  It is a deeply challenging film, spiritually and artistically, and I encourage each of you readers to dive headfirst into this incredible work of art.

David's Response:
The middle son, believing himself the Christ
          Carl Theodor Dreyer is to film what Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky are to literature – a prime example of a brilliant artist operating from a Christian worldview, expertly expressing his faith through his work, not with pompous overtures, but in earnest humility.  As a result, his films are not off-putting for those who do not share his convictions.  Instead, they invite all to a shared discussion of difficult and weighty topics.   Ordet (which translates as “The Word”) is his best, most heartfelt film.  No, it is not his most visually stunning film (that prize goes to his silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc), but its visuals are suited to its purposes, and it is his most well-structured and affecting film.  As a Christian, its call for ecumenicity is deeply convicting, as Dreyer’s own heart and sadness over conflict within the church is clearly felt.  His rebukes, as with any Godly rebuke, are gentle and mournful, rather than brash and prideful.
Beautiful composition
          What makes this film work so well is that it gives us time to process its events.  Its visuals are simple and its pacing is deliberate, which draw our attention to its characters and the weight of their plight.  All characters are complex and deeply troubled, and Dreyer does not seem to be content to discard the importance of any of their stories.  In every moment, there is unrest, but its characters’ discontentment is hard to place.  What we see is more than the simple existential angst of Bergman (who was in many ways a disciple of Dreyer himself) – it is a buried sense of stubborn resentment for God in the recognition of guilt.  It is not so much that the characters are angry with God, but simply that they refuse to recognize they are disappointed in their own weakness and petty scruples.  Rather than run to God in weakness and find true solace, they pridefully suppress their pain and frustration.  Dreyer uses his camera to achieve much of this feeling, which subtly puts his audience into a similar place of discomfort, emphasizing the confusions of faith and the brokenness of our present reality.  The film’s final image answers with powerful impact – there are no easy answers in this world, and pain is unavoidable, but we are never alone.  In the midst of our doubts, God loves us and seeks to comfort us, calling us to shed our pretenses, put our silly quarrels in perspective, and recognize His power and wisdom is infinitely greater than our own.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The World's End

By Edgar Wright

          The “Cornetto Trilogy” as it has come to be called, is a loosely linked collection of three films by collaborators Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright.  When I say loosely, I mean loosely.  Each of them is a comedy, but each has different settings, characters, and wildly different plots.  The only thing besides the collaborators connecting them is the sighting of a different flavor of Cornetto ice cream treat, a British drumstick type of thing.  Besides that, they are all connected because they are all extremely funny in a wild, over-the-top way.  What is wonderful about Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and now The World’s End, is that Pegg and Wright seem to understand that with cinema, anything is possible, no matter how outlandish.
          The World’s End centers on a group of five high school friends who reunite in their late 30s/early 40s to complete a 12-pub crawl that they were unable to finish at age 18.  Almost all of them are tentative in their engagement with the night’s activities, and Wright and Pegg do an excellent job of gradually teasing out the shared history that pulled them apart.  There are a lot of satisfying character beats because they aren’t all expositional and are revealed with time.  It’s also electrifyingly funny, filled with quotable throw away lines and ridiculous conversations pulled off by the very talented cast of known and unknown British actors – there is not a weak link in the bunch.  Full of twists and turns along this “Golden Mile”, it’s hard to not spoil, but the ending was a bit disappointing, in that it didn’t quite tie things together as it seemed to try to.  Regardless, this is a good capper to this loose “trilogy”, and if you enjoyed Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, as I did, then you will certainly laugh your way through this one as well.

*** out of ****

          Edgar Wright’s films abound with energy and move with a driving and insistent rhythm.  As a director, he reminds me of a punk kid in high school who can’t sit in his seat or stop talking, but mysteriously gets really good grades and loves to talk deeply about the intricacies of his favorite comic books.  In other words, though his films may be an acquired taste, and don’t bring anything all that profound, they are surprisingly smart and worthy intermittent entertainment – not something you would like to spend time with regularly, but a lot of fun when you do.  They represent the cinematic equivalent of the kind of fun partier who actually invests in his friends rather than using them.
The oddballs.
          Which is, essentially, the heart of The World’s End.  The film thrives when it hones in on the relational dynamics of its oddball cast in the context of chaos.  As you said, the further the film goes into crazyland, the more Wright peels back the layers of his story and reveals motivation.  Ultimately, however, I found this method of revelation to undercut the film’s proposed values of honesty and perspective in relationships.  While the film’s major twists are admirably batshit, they are too big of a distraction from what was most engaging in the film’s exposition – the characters themselves.  I couldn’t help but feel that Wright and co-writer Pegg were too enamored with the direction they take the film in its second half to pay proper attention to the quality stuff what they established in the first.  As a result, I found the more explosive second half far less engaging than the nuanced interplay of the first.  In the end, though, this isn’t a major complaint, for the direction the film goes, though more shallow, is a lot of fun and brashly represents the unique vision of its very talented collaborators.

*** out of ****

          So we both said we enjoyed the film's characters.  I felt as though Pegg and Wright did the characters a great service in how they became fuller and richer as time progressed.  The writers provide a fast-paced exposition from the protagonist's perspective and then reveal immediately how things had changed, followed by a gradual return to the past dynamics and unveiling of the shared history between them all. However there were a few characters whose development was stopped short.  *SPOILER* About halfway through, Oliver (played by Martin Freeman of Bilbo Baggins fame), is replaced with a robot version of himself that was obvious to the audience, and seemed cheap because it was given so little weight.

The dynamics.
          Like you, I appreciated the crash-course in the history of the ensemble, but felt like, perhaps, the filmmakers didn't appreciate it quite as much.  There is a lot of attention given to establishing the group’s relational dynamics, but much of this is abandoned when *SPOILER*, oh look, robots and explosions and aliens, oh my!  With the film resolving its romantic subplot in a matter of fact fashion and wholly abandoning the development of some characters it spent a lot of time to develop (Oliver being the main example), it feels kind of unfinished.  Furthermore, I found the most satisfying comic interactions to be built on the years of frustration and resentment amongst these friends, so when the film moves away from its characters in favor of formula, it also relies too heavily on more shallow slapstick for laughs.
          The protagonist Gary King (Simon Pegg) is, perhaps, the most interesting character of the bunch, as he stands out from the pack as someone who cannot let go of the past.  I found this character to be a nice little microcosm of how many people of today’s delayed-adolescence generation are unable to find joy in growing up.  Yet, the film also portrayed the other friends, who did move on to grown-up things, as quite stodgy and unhappy as well.  I am not sure the film provides a satisfying answer to the questions it poses in relation to all this.  What did you think?

          That’s an interesting thought – that the film presents both adolescent and adult lifestyles as unsatisfying without showing us what is satisfying.  But I’m not really sure that the filmmakers had to show us anything ultimately satisfying – the film would have had to have taken an odd turn for that to work and not feel preachy.  The only character who seemed mostly well adjusted was Sam, and we didn’t get to know her quite as well.  Speaking of, I liked Sam and Steve quite a bit, even though the romance was cliché. I liked that Wright and Pegg drew comedy by winking at the genre conventionality of this relationship in the end, at least.

Same old Gary King.
          I still find much of the film’s themes be a bit off because the film actually does attempt to inject a happy-ish conclusion.  While there is clearly a wink with Sam and Steve’s romance, I feel like we are supposed to think Gary and Andy have found themselves, but I am not sure that makes much sense.  Yet, I suppose this is mostly a misplaced complaint, as the film ends up using its characters effectively enough as simple springboards to its over the top, entertainingly madcap plot.  While it may not be the deepest or most fully developed comedy you could see, it is undeniably an amusing experience.

Two-as-one-rating: *** out of ****