THE WORLD’S END and DARK TOURIST



Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have been very successful in the past in combining two genres and/or styles in one film.  They began, of course, with the hysterically funny, zombie satire Shawn of the Dead (perhaps the only living dead film that has shown one whiff of originality since the early days of Dawn of the Dead and Return of the Living Dead).  Hot Fuzz, their next venture, was a buddy cop film combined with that peculiar genre of the British cinema, the something is rotten in the state of a Miss Marple like quaint English village mystery/horror film.

The World’s End, as their new outing is called, is a combination of the old friends reuniting years later story with a sci-fi, Invasion of the Body Snatchers hook, line and sinker.  The basic idea is that a slacker alcoholic (played by, who else, Simon Pegg) looks to relive his youth by talking his more successful friends into returning to the scene of their high school graduation so they can do what they didn’t do then, travel the Golden Mile—that is, go on the piss and have a pint at twelve different pubs, ending up at the conveniently and titularly named The World’s End; but they arrive at their home town in time to find that immigration reform is in full swing as the city will just let any alien in that wants to come. 
I would like to say that three’s the charm here, but it looks like Pegg/Wright tried to light one two many cigarettes with the same match.   I’m afraid to report that this time the dynamic duo never quite manages to bangers and mash these two genres together in any satisfactory way.  In fact, it’s somewhat of a bollocks up operation all around (FYI, google search is great for finding British slang).
The screenplay is sloppy and never seems well thought out.  The introduction of the sci-fi elements are clunky and out of nowhere at best (elegant is not a word that immediately leaps to mind in describing the structure here).  The story never really makes a lot of sense (though I must say, everybody works their bum off—see FYI note above—to hide the fact, though they can’t quite do it).  It felt like the reason for the invasion took a lot of constant explaining, over and over again, including a lengthy scene at the climax where the movie almost literally stops so it can all be explained yet again.  And even after all that, though I sorta, kinda got it, I’m still not sure I did.
It all ends with one of those apocalyptic finales that is oh, so popular these days (I tell you, an apocalypse follows one writer home, and suddenly every writer on the block wants one of their own).  But for me, this was so out of place with the rest of the movie, it just reinforced everything I had thought about the movie up ‘til then.  In fact, it felt like one of those endings that was thrown together because no one really knew how to resolve the blasted, bloody (FYI, etc.) thing in the first place.  In the end, the whole movie comes across as one of those great ideas that once agreed upon, no one quite knew what to do with it.
What it does have, though, is one of those spot on ensemble casts that outside of perhaps Woody Allen and the late Robert Altman, can only be found in British films (see Quartet, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and almost any Harry Potter film).  It’s a talent we just don’t seem to have mastered locally since the days of the studio.   
This illustrious list of thespians is headed by Mssr. Pegg, who gives a desperate and intense performance playing a desperate and intense character.  Supporting him are Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan, one and all with remarkable chemistry and comic timing of the crack variety.  They lob their often funny and/or witty lines at each other as if they were playing ping pong with a Monty Pythonesque rhythm.  The give and take is so pitch perfect, it’s like being in a storm where the thunder comes almost immediately upon the flash of the lightning. 
Unfortunate to say, I didn’t quite find that enough to compensate for the faults here and all in all, perhaps its best to say that The World’s End is just a bit of a cock up and let it go at that.
I went to see the new indie Dark Tourist (or as it’s sometimes called The Grief Tourist, which is a better name, though perhaps a bit too esoteric—though after watching the film, I did wonder why anyone would ever think doing something not esoteric could possibly help the movie commercially) at one of the local LCD (lowest common denominator) theaters; you know the kind, the one that shows blockbusters and other crowd pleasers.  I’m not sure how Dark Tourist ended up here; whatever else you may think of it, the last thing you would accuse it of being is LCD.
No, Dark Tourist is about as indie as you can get.   It revolves around Jim, a night watchman by night, what’s called a “grief tourist” by day, someone who travels from tragic location to tragic location, often the scenes of monstrous crimes, just to check it out.  That’s not the only odd thing about Jim: he’s scared of germs; has more than a touch of OCD; and is a sociopathic liar.  So far so good, and Michael Cudlitz (of TV’s Southland) does a nice, unsettling job of playing the title roll, at least for the first two thirds. 
But a little more than halfway through, the film starts going a bit wibbly-wobbly.  One problem is that the movie starts at such a high level of tension, mood and anxiety (it’s one of those indies in which everything looks overcast, filmed as if a storm is about to deluge itself at any moment) that when the director Suri Krishnamma and writer Frank John Hughes try to up the ante and throw in a shock or two, the movie suddenly becomes a little camp and over the top (accompanied by unintended tittering).   It probably doesn’t help that the shocking twists are only shocking in that you can’t believe the writer and director would think they are shocking in 2013.   And then as the writer tries to explain why Jim is the way he is, the less persuasive the movie becomes (the basic theory seems to be: gang raped as a young boy and you’ll grow up to become OCD and a serial killer of pre-op transsexuals—I can’t really prove the cause and effect wrong, I’m no psychiatrist, but it does feel a wee bit on the questionable side to me).
At the same time, it must be said that the movie does have is a first rate supporting cast with special to be taken of the sorely, sorely missed Melanie Griffith, an actress who has yet to receive her due, and who gives a touching and deeply moving performance as a kind hearted waitress that Jim treats very cruelly, as well as Suzanne Quest, in a strong performance playing one of the shocking twists.

THE SHOW MUST GO ON: Reviews of Broken Embraces and Me and Orson Welles


Pedro Almodovar is one of my favorite filmmakers working today, so I am sad to say that Broken Embraces simply didn’t work for me. It’s lush and melodramatic (at times) and has a wonderful, Hitchcock like music score (by Alberto Iglesias), but the story was just a bit too much of a mess. It’s about a movie director Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar) who was blinded in a car accident, an accident that also killed his lover Lena (the lovely Penelope Cruz). The events leading up to this crash revolve around a triangle with Lena’s husband who was also producing the film Mateo was directing with Lena as the star. When Mateo and Lena ran off together, Lena’s husband stopped the film and Mateo thought it was lost forever; then in a deus ex machina ending (not satisfying emotionally for me), Mateo’s assistant reveals she had the film all the time; all the sturm and drang over Lena’s death for nothing. There’s also a subplot concerning the gay son of Lena’s husband that has no pay off, gets in the way and just confuses the situation (the gay son also starts out as an effeminate mama’s boy and then reappears years later as an ultra-macho tweeker, a change never explained or commented on). The sexy Penelope Cruz, who is wonderful here, is the main reason to see the film; at the same time, since she is the catalyst and the character that drives the action, she may actually not be in it enough. There is an odd ending; Mateo is editing the film he and Lena were working on when she died. It seems to either be inspired by Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown or actually a recreation of a scene from the movie (I don’t remember Women… that clearly); this little scene is the best part of the movie and proves just how good the original Women… was if it can have the same effect years later with a different cast.

Me and Orson Welles is a real hoot most of the time, even though it doesn’t quite work as well as it might. The main problem is the Me in the title, a 17 year old high school student, Richard Samuels, played by Zac Efron (who is getting a little long in the tooth to play this age that convincingly anymore). In addition, he’s probably the most unconvincing 17 year old I’ve seen in some time. It’s not his fault. The authors Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo, Jr. are brilliant at bringing every real person in the cast alive, but fall short when it comes to the fictional characters; not just Richard, but also Sonja Jones, played by a too skinny Claire Danes. Both seem constructs of the writers, mainly there to get the job done more than to exist in their own right. Richard, on a fluke, gets cast in Orson Welles’ legendary production of a fascist Julius Caesar. He’s supposed to be one of these reactive characters (formerly called passive) through whose eyes and reactions the audience knows how to feel about everything going on. But Richard never seems to react to anything; he takes everything in stride as if he’s been a member of this acting troupe for years; nothing surprises him, nothing throws him off course (until he starts losing Sonja to Orson). It’s hard to say whether this is Zac’s fault or not; he walks through the role with a certain blankness to his face, but I’m not sure the authors really helped. Danes has a different problem; her character never really makes sense. She’s suppose to be an ice princess who refuses to bed anyone in the cast unless she can get something out of it (she beds Welles because he promises to introduce her to Selznick); but suddenly, she just ups and beds Richard for no discernable reason. Is she a wise woman who is using her femininity to get what she wants, or is she an idiot who doesn’t understand being a slut is just that: being a slut—the authors are unclear. The additional problem here is that since Sonja does meet Selznick in the movie, but we know from history she never went anywhere, she comes across more as an idiot. Well, enough about that. I’ve gone a bit overboard there, because in spite of these two characters, the film is still a must see. The main reason is Christian McKay as Welles, who not only looks like the young Orson, but fully embodies both the monster and artistic genius at the center of his personality. This is where the Palmo’s excel. Their creation of Welles is almost as monumental an achievement as the original persona himself. They even go more than one better by also creating very believable renditions of other real people, like a callow Joseph Cotton, a tortured George Coulouris, a fun Norman Lloyd and a fusty John Houseman (played by an almost unrecognizable Eddie Marsan, the driving teacher from Happy Go Lucky). The period detail is excellent and the recreation of the production of Caesar is also a remarkable achievement (here, kudos to director Richard Linklater). For awhile, based on the rehearsals, I was wondering what was so special about this Shakespearian production. But come opening night, the full force of Welles’s vision is revealed and makes one wish one could have been there to witness the whole thing. Linklater even effectively recreates the death of Seneca the Poet, a scene often thrown away in many productions of Caesar, but in Welles’s version became a key part of the production, showing what can happen when fascist rule breaks out. The movie may falter at times, but it’s more than well worth seeing.