Tag Archives: Shaun Of The Dead

The World’s End: one for The Road

WorldsEndI feel a bit churlish about not having enjoyed Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s new  movie The World’s End more. It is after all exactly as zippy and witty an effort as one would expect from the makers of the cheekily post-modern flat share sitcom Spaced and the classic zombie romcom Shaun Of The Dead and even the small-town shoot-em-up-com Hot Fuzz (although actually, I didn’t really get on all that well with that last one either, come to think of it. Maybe I need to adjust my expectations). Its central conceit of Pegg’s erstwhile coolest kid on the block rounding up his former schoolmates for another crack at a twelve stop pub crawl they failed to complete twenty-three years previously functions nicely as the plot mechanism that delivers an astute and timely satire on the increasing homogenisation of suburban British life. It features a bunch of reliably funny and likeable actors (Pegg’s onscreen collaborator in chief Nick Frost, obviously, but also Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and the much-in-demand Martin Freeman), a pithy script that often makes telling points about the dangers of not growing up versus the possibilities of mid-life crisis, a few very nicely orchestrated surprises and a whole load of punch-ups in drinking establishments. The question would seem to be: what’s not to like?

And the answer is, for me anyway, that it’s just not that funny. And I think the reasons for that are partly to do with pacing, partly to do with the thinness and generic nature of what becomes the main plot (details of which I will not go into, though that title wasn’t chosen just because it’s the name of a pub), partly to do with an excess of scenes of men, and only men, drinking (there is a token woman, played by Rosamund Pike, and she is, as is generally the case in this kind of set-up, as mature and sensible and generally well-adjusted as the male characters are not) and quite a lot to do with Pegg’s character Gary King, who is fantastically irritating and punchable, particularly in the early scenes when he’s persuading his reluctant mates to come out on the town with him. It’s really laid on with a trowel that his personal development stopped when he was about seventeen, and after twenty minutes or so of the others raising their eyebrows at each other as they gently indulge him in his outmoded catchphrases, juvenile nicknames and puerile half-remembered anecdotes I was internally screaming “OK! We get it! He’s a dick! Can we get on with it now?”

And to the film-makers’ credit, they do. Probably the best sequence in the whole film is when its abruptly revealed that Things Are Not What They Seem and the whole trajectory of the thing changes…but even after that, we’re still getting scene after scene of blokes rehashing old differences while they get gradually rat-arsed, even when insidious and mortal peril is revealed to be lying in wait literally everywhere in this seemingly bland and anonymous dormitory town. Shaun Of The Dead handled both this theme of the ordinary incrementally coming off the rails and that of the man-child stuck in a rut much, much better by letting things go awry almost imperceptibly in the background while establishing an ordinary and sympathetic man struggling to balance everyday pressures of friendship and commitment – here, we’ve just got an unrepentant tosser dropped randomly into an arbitrary apocalypse and there doesn’t seem to be too much of a reason to care that much about any of it. And, crucially, the jokes and pay-offs and call-backs in Shaun were much better – I really wouldn’t be whining so much about a sci-fi comedy not being believable if I had something to laugh at every couple of minutes.

But it’s not completely irredeemable. Edgar Wright knows how to keep things interesting visually, and there are quite a few imaginative and exciting (and probably highly expensive) setpieces and effects that play out in ways you probably wouldn’t predict. And, as I said before, the script’s pretty smart in fingering dispiriting trends in modern life even if it’s lacking in hilarity. The climax is explosive, even if it doesn’t really convince as a piece of drama, and the epilogue is intriguing, even if it seems to be more like the prologue for another, very different, sort of film. And you can bet this film’s going to be the basis for a whole bunch of drinking games as soon as it’s out on DVD.

Attack The Block: beat on ET with a baseball bat

A rundown inner city 20 storey building becomes the target of vicious extra-terrestrials in the sci-fi/horror comedy Attack The Block. The film is the directorial debut of Joe Cornish, as in the comic double-act Adam & Joe, the former TV and current radio show presenters and all-round pop cultural deconstructionalists, and as such you might well be expecting it to be a spoofy and ironic take on its subject matter. Surprisingly though, it’s played pretty straight, with most of the generally very successful funny bits arising naturally from the characters and situations rather than through cheap references to other films. Also quite unexpected are both the level of horror and suspense, with some classic edge-of-the-seat moments and liberal splatterings of blood once the action gets going, and the skill with which your sympathies are manipulated towards a bunch of initially pretty unpleasant-seeming characters – underneath the B-movie trappings this is in many ways a highly accomplished film, and it gets bonus marks for coming in at under an hour and a half.

Cornish’s boldest step may be to make the heroes of his film a gang of teenage muggers, who are seen threatening a nurse with knives in an early scene. Their behaviour here is not excused or apologised for, and it makes for an interesting dynamic when later on their personalities come to the surface and they find themselves making the choice to use their facility with weapons to defend rather than menace other members of their community. The threat to them comes mainly from a swarm of shaggy and fluorescent-toothed aliens, who are surprisingly frightening given that they’re basically men in gorilla-style costumes, although there’s a subplot about an unsavoury drugs baron living in the tower block who also doesn’t have particularly benevolent intentions towards the teenagers. It’s very refreshing to see a monster movie that doesn’t rely on computer generated effects, and it’s unusual to get moments of tension this heightened in a plot where the basic trajectory is as clear as this one. The final resolution is neat and carefully set up, and the redemption of the lead character is earned.

Attack The Block is probably the best favourite horror/comedy I’ve seen since Shaun Of The Dead (which also featured Nick Frost, clearly channeling Danny the dealer from Withnail & I in the newer film), although there isn’t much of a direct comparison to be made: Shaun was basically an extended sitcom with added zombies, whereas Attack is horror with funny bits. Joe Cornish should be able to secure a bigger budget for his next project, and it’s to be hoped he doesn’t get so beguiled by Hollywood that he compromises on the script quality. On the evidence of this film he could be a major talent.

Submarine: you were all yellow

Richard Ayoade’s (you may know him better as Moss from The IT Crowd) directorial debut Submarine is a minor marvel: a postmodern comedy liberally peppered with self-awareness, irony and references to other films that still manages to be charming, funny and unexpectedly touching in places. I’m getting increasingly impatient with stuff that’s self-consciously quirky and offbeat (for example, I’ve stopped watching the films of Wes Anderson, to which Submarine seems particularly stylistically indebted), but sometimes things just click – Gregory’s Girl is probably my yardstick for unconventional teen romances, and it’s to Ayoade’s credit that his film doesn’t look at all shabby by comparison.

It’s a small-scale story told from the point of view of Oliver, a bookish and solitary 15 year old living in a run-down but still reasonably scenic Welsh town, with one of the two main plot threads being his mission to secure a girlfriend and lose his outsider status and the other being his concern over the reappearance of his mother’s former lover. Both of these strands may sound a bit formulaic, but they play out in ways that are surprising, frequently laugh-out-loud funny and occasionally slightly unsettling. A lot of the stock characters and scenarios you’d expect are present and correct (the school bully, the wry teacher, the repressed mother and insecure father) but all come up feeling fresh due to thoughtful scripting and excellent performances that keep the situations credible, despite the overabundance of freeze-frames, voiceover and ostentatious fade-outs to red or blue. Craig Roberts is an ideal bit of casting for Oliver: most of the time he’s utterly convincing as the nerdy and naively calculating loner, but he handles some more challenging material just as well, such as when Oliver acts badly out of self-absorption or when he tries to restore the balance of his parents’ marriage. Yasmin Paige is also excellent as Oliver’s love interest Jordana, a wilful and bluntly mocking girl whose motivation is initially impossible to fathom. Also worth mentioning is Paddy Considine’s ludicrous but constantly hilarious new age psychic, whose ridiculously pompous seminars and videos are worth going to see the film for alone.

Submarine is probably destined for cult status, on the same shelf as Shaun Of The Dead and In Bruges in terms of quotable dialogue and memorable set-pieces. I wouldn’t be too upset to see it there.