80s Comedies, Batman, Ben Affleck, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Discussion, Ebert, Finale, Hannah Montana, Leaving Las Vegas, Lucas, Miley Cyrus, MTV, Mud, Podcast, Precious, Robin Thicke, Scorsese, Siskel, Spielberg, The Butler, The Shield, TV, VMA
By Shane M. Dallmann
This is one of the more challenging reviews I’ve ever had to face; because whenever I want to describe how THE WORLD’S END affected me, the result quickly becomes a personal confessional as opposed to a film review. I don’t think that’s quite fair to the readers–but on the other hand, if a film plays me this efficiently, shouldn’t I at least offer an explanation?
Okay, to get your attention right away, those of you who know me at all know how far “horror” and I go back and how thoroughly impressed I was with SHAUN OF THE DEAD: I thought Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright had provided the ultimate tribute to all things Romero while making it raucously entertaining with their own unique flavor (as opposed to merely restaging all of their favorite scenes and winking at the audience). HOT FUZZ was also great fun; and if I didn’t enjoy it QUITE as much as SHAUN, it’s only because Romero’s “Dead” films always appealed to me more than police actioners in the first place. (Okay, I’m aware that PAUL “doesn’t count” because Wright wasn’t involved, but Pegg and Frost gave the fanboys a thoroughly amusing love letter all the same.)
THE WORLD’S END is the best thing any of them have ever done. Yes. Even better than SHAUN. I said it. And THAT said, I wonder how many people are going to miss out on this one because they’re simply confusing the title with THIS IS THE END (which I haven’t seen). Well, the title YOU’RE NEXT! was already taken, but it might have fit nicely… I digress. “The World’s End” is the final stop on a twelve-establishment “pub crawl” that our protagonist Gary King (Pegg) is determined to see through to completion two decades after he and his four closest school chums fell short of their goal one fateful evening…
Through glib, rude talk, the nostalgia card and shameless emotional manipulation, Gary manages to get his now forty-something, professionally established comrades together to recklessly walk “The Golden Mile” and down a total of twelve pints of beer (among numerous side libations) during the journey. The hardest sell is Andy (Frost), who ranked as Gary’s most stalwart and formidable defender back in the day… of course, he’s the one who suffered the brunt of Gary’s carefree (not to mention careless) attitude and wants nothing more to do with him. But of course, Gary knows how to push even HIS buttons.
Gary still even has “The Beast,” the very car he drove those many years ago. Of course, just about everything in and on it has been replaced over those years, but it’s still the Beast, right? His friends have jobs and/or spouses, but they’re still the same old gang, right? And Gary hasn’t changed, not a bit of it. He’s still the King, right? He used to shag his pal’s sister (Rosamund Pike) in the disabled toilet, and he can pick up right where he left off with her, right? WE haven’t changed… it’s the TOWN that’s different… RIGHT?
I don’t have to answer any of that, do I? But just as Gary’s disgusted friends are about to force-feed the King a nasty dose of cold, hard reality, it becomes apparent that Gary’s not entirely mistaken about the town being different…
I imagine you’ve seen the trailers and posters and know just what sort of hell is about to break loose. I didn’t need any of that to sell me this film. By now, I would follow this crew anywhere, and I would have been perfectly content to enjoy a straight-up comedy/drama about aging friends taking one last shot at reliving their youth. But the beauty part is that nobody can assemble movie mayhem into a “real life” situation like Pegg, Frost and Wright. You’re in for cleverly-choreographed action, spot-on musical selections on the soundtrack, and gut-bustingly funny banter… all of which comes with a price. Oh, they’ve played fairly from the very beginning. We were so into the characters of SHAUN that when “Mum” got bitten, it was every bit as traumatic as when it happened to someone we liked in a straight-up horror film. Just because they made us laugh out loud throughout never meant that we didn’t actually care. And you know from the very beginning that Gary’s hiding some serious pain: his boisterous opening monologue is actually being delivered to an unspecified support/therapy group, and it’s obvious that he’s there under protest. Confessing to strangers, to Gary, is pure bollocks. The only way to resolve the present, to him, is to recapture the past. And it hurts.
I’m not that much older than Pegg/Gary himself, and I saw more of myself in that character than I was personally comfortable with. Of course, now that I’ve said that, I feel compelled to share that I didn’t live for pub crawls and hangovers in my youth. You don’t NEED to know that about me, but I wouldn’t feel right about you forming an incorrect picture of me. Still, that’s beside the point. If you can empathize with Gary (or any of his friends), you’ll ask yourself questions like “Would you avenge yourself on your old bullies if you could?” (I actually HAVE had the opportunity.) “What would you say to your old flame today?” (Highly unlikely.) The list goes on. But THE WORLD’S END had me reliving countless episodes from my past and taking stock of all my blessings in the present. And it did it while making me laugh out loud and nearly moving me to tears… all at the same time. As a comic powerhouse, this is prime Pegg/Frost/Wright. And beyond that, it’s right up there with the best of Rod Serling (yes, I’m talking to you, THEY’RE TEARING DOWN TIM RILEY’S BAR).
THE WORLD’S END is one of the funniest, most exciting and most profoundly moving films to come along in a great while. Do NOT miss it.
By Shane M. Dallmann
Whoa… it’s happened again. We may be only two-thirds through the year, but I’m sorely tempted to call “winner.”
Despite the familiar cry of the title, YOU’RE NEXT! has nothing to do with body snatchers… it’s something the movie’s antagonists like to scrawl on windows and walls for no particular reason but to inspire a title. Fair enough–the title IS plenty evocative.
(And if you’ll forgive my second gratuitous reference to Mick LaSalle in a row, when a man who has as much contempt for “slasher” films as he does–even referring to the genre as the “lowliest” in his review of this very film–grudgingly admits that this is “one of the better ones,” you know damn well it’s going to be more than just “pretty good.”)
So. You’ve seen the trailers, I’m sure. Mom and Dad invite the family to their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary celebration. Arriving on schedule are their three sons, their daughter, and their respective spouses and significant others. They don’t know (well, SOMEONE knows) that their only neighbors in their remote, woodsy abode were hacked to death during the prologue.
Well, no sooner do they say grace around the table than the sibling rivalry barbs start flying. And then the first crossbow bolt hits. And the stalkers in the white animal masks aren’t anywhere near done with the family.
(By the way, this was actually filmed in 2011, so let’s drop any comparisons to a certain creepy pro-wrestling family that also likes to wear similar masks.)
I’d tell you more about this collection of characters, but I won’t, because the only problem I had (or seemed to have) with YOU’RE NEXT! was that it was all too obvious to me what was happening and who was behind it, and if I describe the dynamics here, you’ll be on that same path in no time. Now, mind you, I didn’t actually tell you whether or not I was right, did I? But thankfully, that wasn’t the point… even when this film plays its plot cards, we have a LOT more to deal with.
So I’ll only mention three characters. Yes, Ti West shows up as an “underground filmmaker” because his friends Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard wrote and directed this movie, respectively. Far more significant for an old-timer like me is the presence of Barbara Crampton as the matriarch. I won’t say that I “grew up” with her because I was already 20 by the time RE-ANIMATOR came out, but just as I admired Elisabeth Shue in LINK back in the day only to eventually see her play mother to Jennifer Lawrence in the under-rated HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET, I’m equally pleased to see Ms. Crampton mature gracefully into roles like these.
And finally? Australian discovery Sharni Vinson OWNS this movie. You’ll see.
The team of Wingard and Barrett is relatively new to my experience: I never did see A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE; I liked some of their work in V/H/S more than their other contributions; and their “Q” segment in THE ABCS OF DEATH was quite amusing. So this was my first solid, feature-length exposure to their work and I was profoundly impressed. I’ve mentioned more than once that I’ve been happy to see the genre finally get over the “post-SCREAM” kick and take even the most basic stories seriously again… to play them as if they were being played for the first time. Now, given the actual two-year vintage of YOU’RE NEXT!, I’m tempted to think that this transition in attitude started somewhere around here.
The movie is, indeed, played for straight-out shocks with nobody taking time out to remember how things went in other movies. Nevertheless, we’re still given such 80’s seasonings as some brief nudity (something the SCREAM films constantly talked about but never actually delivered): I was about to call it ‘gratuitous’ but changed my mind on reflection because it primes the viewer to fear something genuinely perverse at a later point in the film.
And violent? You thought the KICK-ASS movies or THE PURGE were violent? You’re in for a world of hurt… the vicious, bone-cracking, flesh-tearing mayhem is keyed to make you personally feel every bit of it vicariously. If this WERE still the 1980s? We’d be watching a cut of this film that someone put through a paper shredder on the big screen and we’d be watching THIS cut on a bootleg tape. I haven’t wondered about the limits of the “R” rating for quite a while, but I can’t begin to imagine how an “unrated” cut of YOU’RE NEXT! could be stronger.
Not until the film reaches its final act is the effect sealed with Carpenter-esque electronica on the soundtrack; unexpected (but well-timed) laughter; and even permission to “enjoy” some of the goings-on (I guess we STILL haven’t exhausted the possibilities of kitchen appliances after all). And after all that? You’re not going to see a better ending this year. Don’t even look for one. That doesn’t happen.
I’ve seen it. You’re next.
By Shane M. Dallmann
As much as I often disagreed with him, I genuinely miss Roger Ebert and it’s times like this that I miss him the most. You may recall that Ebert gave KILL BILL VOL. 1 a four-star review when Mick LaSalle railed against what he insisted was pornographic violence. But when KICK-ASS came out? It was MICK with the equivalent of a four-star review and ROGER condemning the brutality (for the sake of Hit Girl more than anything else). I would so, so love to know what Roger would have said about KICK-ASS 2, because Mick, while he essentially liked the film, complained that the enjoyment came at too high a price… because of the brutal violence. As for me? I, too, find the sequel somewhat problematic… but NOT because of the violence.
The various characters have had a chance to lick their wounds after the extreme events of the original KICK-ASS. Dave/Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has bowed out of the superhero business so long as he can’t team up with Hit Girl (Chloe Grace-Moretz), who believes she’s doing just fine on her own and refuses to look at Big Daddy as anything but a treasured, heroic memory. But the traumatized Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) will not let go of his obsessive desire to avenge his father’s death at the hands (and bazooka) of Kick-Ass, even though his mother and even his mob family members are desperate for him to live a “normal,” crime-free life.
As fate would have it, each of our principals winds up with a single parent (or surrogate thereof) eager to mentor and nurture. Morris Chestnut is Mindy/Hit Girl’s appointed guardian who strives to protect his charge from what her father molded her into… and much to Mindy’s shock, she realizes that maybe she DOES care about the sort of things that high-school age girls are supposed to like (it’s no wonder she was tapped to play Carrie–her performance is perhaps the most effective amongst many fine ones to be seen here). John Leguizamo has a terrific turn as Chris’s valet/protector: he, too, tries to steer his new boss away from vengeance and violence (not to mention racial stereotyping), but he knows on which side his bread is buttered, so he reluctantly allows the rise of a new, pathetic “supervillain.” Red Mist is out… enter the… twelve-letter obscenity you don’t repeat in polite company, although the Paper Wing is on the verge of showcasing one with a hat, if you take my meaning. And Garrett M. Brown? He offers a fine, sensitive performance in the role of Dave’s father, but the character is just a bit TOO Uncle Ben. And you know what that means.
In the effort to bring the stories of these characters to a proper resolution after what was started in the first film, the demand to impose “real life” consequences on them ironically leads to the deployment of certain predictable devices. When Dave, caught in the act (as it were), angrily tells his father off? Need I say anything more? And while you just KNOW that the high school bitch princesses who pretend to befriend Mindy are going to get theirs? The payoff is merely a gratuitous gross-out gag (with REALLY bad special effects, to boot). The futility of revenge is amply demonstrated throughout the film, but the best thing KICK-ASS 2 has going for it is the codes of honor (or lack thereof) that cause the various characters to form their teams.
On the one side we have “Justice Forever,” honored to have Kick-Ass finally in their midst but actually led by Commander Stars and Stripes, played by Jim Carrey as a former mob enforcer who’s found Jesus (which is NO laughing matter here). Carrey has reportedly disowned this film thanks to (all together now) the violence… did he not read the script?? It’s his loss if he turns his back on one of his best roles in a long time; he’s the perfect glue for the band of crime victims who come together to heal themselves and hopefully protect others. On the other hand, we have the whiny, petulant MF’er who’d never last a second on the streets, but whose vast wealth is gratefully accepted by a cadre that can dish out more than mere protection (oh, wait till you meet Mother Russia…).
So yes, the bad taste jokes continue to fly and horrible things happen to people you care about. But you’ll want to see how it turns out in the end (and I should warn you that this film’s disappointing box-office take isn’t the difference-maker, because KICK-ASS 2 was designed as an ending, not as a mere second chapter). While not quite as fresh and exciting as the first film (and not nearly as disturbing as SUPER), KICK-ASS 2 is well worth seeing.
By Shane M. Dallmann
Well, we’ll see how the new DIE HARD does, but it seems that action films are on the “outs” in this country these days whether they’re “old school” or not, if THE LAST STAND and PARKER are any indication, and I’ll be the first to admit that the timing was NOT right on these shores for a movie named BULLET TO THE HEAD. But just to clarify, this is NOT a remake of John Woo’s BULLET IN THE HEAD: it’s an adaptation of a French graphic novel, and it’s a most satisfying throwback for both fans of Sylvester Stallone and director Walter Hill.
Stallone is James “Jimmy Bobo” Bonamo, a New Orleans hitman who manages to survive a “no loose ends” rubout attempt at the end of his latest mission. His partner doesn’t. Washington D.C. cop Taylor Kwon (Sun Kang of the FAST & FURIOUS series) has an interest in the case and attempts to acquire Jimmy’s cooperation. Jimmy wants nothing to do with a cop, but subsequent events demonstrate that working together would, indeed, be in their mutual best interest.
Hill is back in his comfortable 1980s action mode: the bayou setting allows him to indulge in some lively Cajun music, while the mismatched partners invite comparisons to 48 HRS, but BULLET TO THE HEAD plays significantly differently (neither protagonist gets to be “the funny one,” for instance). Kwon’s the one with the smartphone and the police computer that makes it easy for the duo to climb the conspiracy ladder, and Jimmy’s the one that can’t be bothered to take a suspect “downtown” but who also proves invaluable when it comes to saving Kwon’s bacon.
Interestingly, Jimmy’s stereotypical Asian putdowns at Kwon’s expense continue as a theme throughout, but the films seems to have downplayed Kwon’s retaliatory “old” wisecracks (the line “Can we listen to something from this century?,” heard in every trailer and TV spot, does NOT appear in the film as released)–but that’s not terribly surprising, as Stallone essentially DARES you to make fun of his age. Mug shots of Stallone’s much younger self are defiantly displayed, and Jimmy’s got a grown daughter (Sarah Shahi is most appealing in the role, despite the fact that she exists almost exclusively as an excuse for an eleventh-hour crisis), but Stallone carries his fight/action scenes as convincingly as ever (would YOU let him take a swing at you?), particularly in a bathhouse brawl that recalls Cronenberg’s EASTERN PROMISES but for the fact that the antagonists get to keep their pants on in this case.
BULLET TO THE HEAD also benefits from a terrific supporting cast of villains: Christian Slater has one of his most entertaining turns in a while as the wealthy weasel Baptiste; while Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Mr. Eko from LOST) shines as an oily African fugitive (with a streak of Ayn Rand in his philosophy) at the top of the criminal food chain. Of course, he’s so polite and straightforward (one of the most surprising moments in the film involves his actually keeping his part of a suspenseful bargain) that you can’t imagine for a moment that he’ll be involved in the big finish: everyone’s going to be waiting for Stallone to square off with fire axes against Jason Momoa (the new CONAN is top-drawer as the nemesis who actually “did it”).
The reluctant buddy formula still works, Stallone still works, Hill still works, and Sung Kang more than holds his own throughout without any phony, back-slapping BFF resolution in his playbook, making BULLET TO THE HEAD as satisfying as anyone could hope.