Monday, September 2, 2013

Allegorical Alien Alcoholics

The World's End: written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg; directed by Edgar Wright; starring Simon Pegg (Gary King), Nick Frost (Andy Knightley), Martin Freeman (Oliver Chamberlain), Paddy Considine (Steven Prince), Eddie Marsan (Peter Page), Pierce Brosnan (Guy Shephard), and Rosamund Pike (Sam Chamberlain) (2013): The third film in the Cornetto Trilogy (so named for the British ice-cream treat that appears in Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and this film) is a lot of serious fun.

40-year-old alcoholic Gary King's greatest life moment was the night in June 1990 when he and his four best friends attempted the Golden Mile, a 12-pub pub crawl in their quaint English home town. Now, 23 years later, Gary wants to get the band back together so as to actually finish the crawl, which ended at pub 9. But he's a genuine toxic screw-up whose friends haven't talked to him in years. And he lives entirely in the past, still listening to the music and wearing the clothes of 1990. He's frozen in time, a Goth time traveller still decked out in dyed-black hair and a Sisters of Mercy t-shirt.

But primarily through skullduggery and guilt-tripping, he gets the crawl going. And then things go bad. Science fictiony bad. And it ends up looking like the fate of the Earth will rest on Gary's drunken shoulders, and the shoulders of his friends. All this in a small town whose main claim to fame, as a giant road sign tells us, is that it's the site of England's first roundabout (in 1909!).

The science fiction in The World's End holds up better here, in a comedy, than it does in pretty much all the 'serious' releases of the summer. It's a droll homage to science fiction British (Village of the Damned, Quatermass, and any number of Doctor Who episodes) and American (most pointedly the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but also The Day the Earth Stood Still, classic and remake). And the movie, while making something of a serious point about addiction and man-children, doesn't necessarily suggest any personal growth by the end of the picture. Or the hope of it.

As in other projects from Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Nick Frost, The World's End teems with pop-culture riffs and references, though here they're as much to the music of 1990 as they are to science fiction and comic books. It's a great, fun piece of work, and maybe the most consistent in tone of the films in the trilogy. Highly recommended.


Elysium: written and directed by Neill Blomkamp; starring Matt Damon (Max), Jodie Foster (Delacourt), Sharlto Copley (Kruger) and Alice Braga (Frey) (2013): The allegory is thick as syrup in this second project from Neill Blomkamp, whose first foray into feature-film science fiction, District 9, was a bit lighter on its metaphoric feet (though admittedly not much). It's a film that could easily have starred Charlton Heston and been released in 1972. It's exactly that sort of science-fiction film. It's Silent Running, but the plants are made of people, and the people are jerks.

That this is a heavy-handed allegory about the Haves and Have-nots short-circuits an awful lot of plausibility in the film, which looks great but just has too many ridiculous moments crafted entirely to allow the allegory to lurch towards its endlessly telegraphed conclusion. To name just one, the air defences of the giant orbital habitat of the rich that gives the movie its title consist of...a guy on the ground with a rocket launcher. Seriously? And that goofiness occurs in the first 20 minutes. Further goofiness is to come.

The acting is fine, so far as it goes -- no one's really playing a character here, so there's only so much anyone can do. Damon is Christly as action-Christ Max, and Jodie Foster is cool and sinister as the power-hungry defence minister of Elysium. Sharlto Copley, who played the mutating nebbish-hero of District 9, seems really miscast here as Elysium's kill-crazy enforcer Kruger. It doesn't help at all that much of his snarled Afrikaaner-inflected dialogue is nigh-incomprehensible. He sounds a lot of the time like an Australian with marbles in his mouth.

In any case, this is an enjoyable action-allegory that doesn't bear any scrutiny for plausibility. And I wish filmmakers would assume that we could come to believe in a hero's actions by observing those actions, rather than telling us how someone (in this case, a loveable nun) tells the child who will become the hero how he someday will become a hero who does great things. Because, you know, foreshadowing or whatever. Lightly recommended.

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