Thursday, August 29, 2013

Back with Three Movies


Coco Hits NYC took about a month-long hiatus, since yours truly went on a physical and emotional vacation that ended up demanding much more than I anticipated. Anyway, I'm back! I had a great time and have already visited the theater three times since I arrived in New York. Here are some thoughts on what I saw... 

The World's End
Director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost re-team for the last part of their unofficial Cornetto Trilogy, which started with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. This time, Pegg stars as a man who can't let go of his glorious past as a youth, who decides to reunite his high school friends to attempt the ultimate "pub crawl". Wright is undoubtedly one of the best directors out there, I'm a big fan of all his past movies, but The World's End left me a little cold.

Pegg and Frost really good in their roles. Their characters are very well defined and developed and there are a lot of very smart jokes, but something didn't quite work for me. These collaborator's previous movies focused on the relationship between the Pegg and Frost characters. This time, they add three more characters to their gang (played by Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Consadine) who the filmmakers are not all that interested in. They can't seem to find the time to give them satisfying character arks. By the end of the movie, we see what happened to each of this characters and it's telling how little impact the fate of these three supporting players had on me. There's also a character played by Pierce Brosnan who doesn't serve any purpose. I guess I would have liked more focus.

Even if it isn't quite as good as the previous entries, The World's End is still an entertaining film. I mean, it still features wonderful performances by Pegg and Frost, great jokes and Wright's talent behind the camera. As a matter of fact, Wright has turned out to be one of the best action directors around. Even if the fights get a little repetitive towards the end of the movie, an early fight in a bar's restroom may be the year's best action sequence yet.
3/5

The Spectacular Now 
This movie came out of Sundance with a lot of positive buzz. It was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who wrote 500 Days of Summer, a movie that I actually liked quite a bit. It is based on a young adult novel and does feature many of the genre's typical characteristics, which ultimately make it feel rather familiar (especially the ending). 

But -and this is a big but- it has so much more going for it than any other teenage-romance-based-on-a-young-adult-novel movie of the past few years. Unlike something like last year's Perks of Being a Wallflower it avoids most cutesy and quirky moments in order to bring forth a much more naturalistic and visceral point of view. The performances are all around great, especially Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley in the lead roles. Teller embraces the role of the popular, funny kid wonderfully and it is to the movie's credit that he stands out as the wittiest character. He might be a little too clever at times, but it's made better by the fact that everyone and everything (the art direction is dull to the point of perfection) around him feels so real. Meanwhile, Woodley is incredibly adorable and believable as a regular high schooler delivering one of the year's most natural performances. 

The first half of the movie sees the relationship between these two kids develop in fantastic fashion due to long takes and a slowed-down pace that leaves the perfect room for the actors to do their job and for us to immerse ourselves in their lives. There is a alcohol-abuse plot that is handled pretty well for most of the film but resolves itself a little too quickly as the ending approaches and the film must leave its naturalistic pace to meet an acceptable running time. However, this is a minor complaint when you can watch these two young actors be so fantastic together. 
4/5

Blue Jasmine
Woody Allen's last few years haven't been all that great. I'm a big fan of Midnight in Paris, but you'd have to go all the way back to Match Point to find another of his films I truly liked. Thankfully, this year's Blue Jasmine is very, very good. A lot has been said about the movie, and I agree with most of it. The movie is obviously a Madoff-inspired version of A Streetcar Named Desire, it is probably Woody's most interesting film in a long time and Cate Blanchett (whom I am not a huge fan of) is, in fact, fantastic in the title role. 

Nathaniel Rogers from The Film Experience noted in his review that the movie feels like a dark companion to Midnight in Paris and I couldn't agree more. Both films, and Woody himself, seem to be fascinated with nostalgia and the ways we look at the past. Blue Jasmine is very much about leaving the past behind and trying to construct a new future, only in a much darker and realistic fashion than Midnight in Paris. 
4/5