The World’s End (2013)

The World's End (2013)

It’s weird how most successful film franchises come in threes. It seems we all like a trilogy, but get a bit bored when a series hits four or five films, for some odd reason. Indeed, the era of the four-to-five film franchises seems to have ended in the early 1990’s / late 1980’s. Well, on the whole anyway, as it seems that horror movies have no problem pumping out sixth and seventh instalments in franchises (I’m looking at you Saw). But then again, they’re typically low budget, high return films, so it’s no surprise. That’s not always the case with the pricier films. So with all that said, we now see a film emerging to conclude a trilogy. And this is no typical trilogy. In fact, the only tenuous link between the three films are its two lead actors and director / writer… oh, and an obsession with talking about that classic coned ice cream treat: the Cornetto. Yes, the thrilling conclusion to the The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy is here… enter, The World’s End.

Strawberry, vanilla or mint? Pick your flavour!

Strawberry, vanilla or mint? Pick your flavour!

Confused how this is a trilogy? Can’t remember the films that went before? How can this be true?! Almost a decade ago we had the awakening of Shaun of the Dead: a film about romance set to the backdrop of the zombie apocalypse in London. Three years later we had Hot Fuzz, a buddy cop movie about life in rural England with murderous, bombastic undertones. And now, some six years later, we have The World’s End, a film about a pub crawl with an apocalyptic setting. What ties the films together? The Cornettos, the acting talent on display and the most valuable asset of all… British humour.

The World’s End, at its core, stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, along with director Edgar Wright who co-writes with Pegg. This time around, Pegg plays Gary King – the leader of the gang (from school). He’s intent on reliving his youth and completing a 12-pub pub crawl he couldn’t finish with his buddies when he was 18. So, he reunites the gang, rounded out by estranged best friend Andy (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Peter (Eddie Marsan) and Steven (Paddy Considine), to once again undertake his crawl some 20 years later. But things are awry in Newton Haven (a typical British town)… everyone’s acting somewhat oddly. Yes, Gary and the gang uncover a somewhat sinister secret of a global takeover by an extra-terrestrial force. Best reach for the Cornettos then.

The World's End (2013)

Shaun of the Dead is a hard act to follow for Pegg, Frost and Wright. I’d argue that Hot Fuzz didn’t live up to my expectations and fell somewhat flat. Others would say that Hot Fuzz was superior to the zombie-fuelled exploits that went before it. And obviously, people will argue where The World’s End fits into this threesome. Plus, for the sake of argument, we’re not including Paul in this debate, as Wright had no part in the film… and it’s set in the US. We’re strictly British here I’ll have you know! Where do I figure that The World’s End lands? Keep reading… Or skim to the end if you’re bored of reading already.

What I particularly enjoyed about The World’s End was the dark tone of the movie, particularly Simon Pegg‘s Gary King. In previous films you’ve been able to warm to Pegg‘s character almost instantly. Particularly in Shaun of the Dead. But here? I found myself strongly disliking him almost immediately. I was worried actually, as the first 20 minutes dragged somewhat for me, as I found myself unwilling to take Pegg‘s King under my wing and care about him. He has issues. He needs to grow up. And therein lies the message of this film… we all have to grow up and move on at some point. Life marches onwards and sometimes you have to march on alongside it or be left behind.

The World's End (2013)

Sorry, I went a bit deep there didn’t I? Aside from Pegg‘s character and the plot’s undertones, the film is replete with laughter-inducing moments. Not many belly laughs, I must add, but a lot of smiles and sniggers. But then again, I’m a hard Phage to impress; some might say I’m a snob for comedy. What I like? I really like. What I don’t? I detest. But The World’s End worked in the humour stakes. It also worked well in the plotting stakes too. The film constantly twists and turns to try and buck the viewer off its back, right up to the final scenes. I like this. Especially when it’s coupled to the deliciously British dark humour that the film draws on.

The World's End (2013)

As for the acting talent on show… we’ve got some fine British acting on show here. Recently, we’ve seen an explosion of talent marching across the world stage thanks to “newbies” such as Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbach and James McAvoy. You can also say the same of Simon Pegg nowadays, as he’s in hot demand, which is good to see. Arguably, it’s Nick Frost‘s character that was the highlight for me. A somewhat stifled lawyer who’s clearly shellshocked from his past. But when he lets rip? He lets rip. His character had the most interesting arc for me here. But having said that, the whole ensemble add real weight here thanks to Wright and Pegg‘s scripting fleshing out each character. Similarly, this is definitely an Edgar Wright film, from the stylistic shots of pints being pulled to the flavour of the dialogue. Let’s hope he can bring the same bold style to Marvel’s Ant-Man when that hits in 2015…

The World’s End will definitely be a hit with old Cornetto fans; it brings back the humour, the bromance and the clever social commentary that was present in the previous two films, but adds a new plot on top of it. Having said that, there are slow moments and it’ll take you time to warm to all of the characters, but once the film really starts rolling towards the apocalypse you’re sucked into the world entirely. Once again, us Brits show the world how humour should be done… less raunch, dick jokes and boobs, and more sarcasm, wit and use of the c-word. Yeah… we know how to offend and amuse in equal amounts!

So which Cornetto flavour is my favourite? Is it strawberry (Shaun of the Dead), vanilla (Hot Fuzz) or mint (The World’s End)? In the real world, I’d plump for mint. But perhaps it’s telling that my last trip to the supermarket saw me return with a box of five strawberry Cornettos (for 99p! Cheap!)… it was an omen. For me, Shaun of the Dead will remain the best in this series of three films, like your first true love, it’s sometimes hard to top (but can happen). The World’s End is a very close second though and is one I could go back and watch again. I’m always partial to a bit of mint, especially if its sprinkled with some truly dark chocolate / humour…

Phage Factor:

4 Star

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Oblivion (2013)

Oblivion (2013)

Oblivion. It’s such a startlingly powerful sounding word isn’t it? But what image does it conjure up in your head? Think about it. For some, it’ll be the true definition of the word: the state of being unaware of what’s happening around you – to be oblivious, you might say. Others may take it as something akin to an abyss – an impenetrable mire, from which nothing can escape. Others still may actually conjure up images of a video game from several years ago starring some demons, portals and wizards. It’s amazing what imagery can be conjured up from a single word! But which of these descriptions actually sums up Oblivion, the latest Tom Cruise-manned vehicle? Does it carry the word well, or is it too destined to just fade into oblivion?

Oblivion... looks kinda icy!

Oblivion… looks kinda icy!

Quite a lofty introduction to a film review, don’t you think? But how well does the title describe the film? Well, Oblivion is the first of two big movies this season to talk about a post-apocalyptic Earth that’s being revisited for some reason or another (the other being Will Smith‘s After Earth). This time around, we’re told that an alien race appeared and destroyed our moon. This threw the whole world into disarray and caused a cataclysmic meltdown of society. But the aliens weren’t done there… no no, they then landed on Earth and tried to take over. They failed, but the Earth is a husk, grossly damaged by the subsequent use of nuclear bombs. Now, some years later in 2077, we follow Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) – an engineer who’s tasked with repairing security drones down on the surface of Earth. These drones are there to protect various other large vessels that are draining the Earth dry in order to generate power to be shipped off to Titan – one of Saturn’s moons… but things get a little weird for Jack, as he starts to remember some facts that were erased long ago…

Simply put, the film has a rich back story and a great lore. You can’t fault director / writer Joseph Kosinski for really thinking about his world! It goes without saying that the film looks absolutely incredible too. Kosinski‘s view of the future is bleak, but totally mesmerising. I wouldn’t quite say I was as hypnotised as I was with the visual splendour of some of Spring Breakers‘ scenes earlier in the week, but nevertheless it looked great. Even better in iMAX if you have the option for that too. So far, so good…

Oblivion (2013)

But what of the acting? Well, once again – it’s solid work. The core cast, which includes the aforementioned Tom Cruise, plus his co-guardian Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), the mysterious Beech (Morgan Freeman) and the newly-salvaged Julia (Olga Kurylenko) are all perfectly comfortable in their roles. It was nice to actually see Freeman in a role that’s not as typical as usual – he’s not playing the kind, older guy that helps out the hero of the film. Thank you! If anything it reminds me more of his role in Wanted – a film I’m not particularly keen on, but that’s what came up in my mind. As for Riseborough and Kurylenko? Solid performances, but I can’t say that their roles really sold their acting skills all that much. Tom Cruise however, is once again on great form doing exactly what Tom Cruise does. If you don’t like the guy’s acting, you probably won’t enjoy Oblivion, but if you do – you’re getting what you’d get in any modern era Cruise film… Once again, so far, so good – the film doesn’t spiral into an abyss yet.

But it does come a bit closer to that hole… You see, the film makers have made a great deal of fuss over the winding plot, replete with its twists and turns. The trouble with this is that I expect the twists to be a) semi-logical, and b) unexpected. I’d say the film has two, perhaps three big twists, which I’m of course not going to spoil here. But one of them is hinted at if you have even a basic grasp of planetary facts. Now, let’s not pigeon-hole me here – The Phage is not a physicist, an astronomer or anything even remotely close. I just seem to absorb random facts that I’ve heard over the years, a bit like Bradley Cooper‘s character in Limitless. This is one of those times where I instantly recall something about the moon of Titan, which doesn’t really stack up with the rest of the above narrative. If anyone’s curious as to what that is – drop a comment below and I’ll use my Cooper-esque recollection abilities for you.

Oblivion (2013)

That’s not all I have to say about these twists either. If you recall, in Side Effects I took umbrage with the fact that the main twist of that thriller was so out of left field that it seemed like the writers had somehow cheated you out of a proper plot. Well, we’re going back into the field on the left in Oblivion too. Whilst I’d already guessed what the “big” twist was, some of the minor ones were totally bonkers and got more and more surreal as they progressed, right up until the very end of the film. In fact, the end just made me feel a bit cold to it all… You’ll see what I mean. Damn, this is a hard movie to review without spoiling anything whatsoever! But I’m determined to not do it, lest I feel your wrath. Let’s just say that some of the twists once again made me think of Wanted… but for the wrong reasons.

Having said all that, Oblivion is a solid slice of sci-fi and is set in a beautiful world. It deserves praise for that alone. It’s just that I sensed the film was a bit too drawn out at points and down-right daft at others. Sure, this is sci-fi – I should expect some ludicrous ideas and premises because it’s the future. Hell, the guy has a pulse rifle and flies around in a cool looking jet whilst living in an apartment in the sky. I can buy all that. I just wasn’t sold on some of the other plot details. Whereas some seemed too obvious, I was just oblivious to why they were included (see what I did there?).

So, which of the definitions does Oblivion live up to? It’s certainly not destined to be thrown into an abyss, that’s for sure. It’s a solid film that deserves to be seen… but it also does seem a bit too “video game” like for my tastes. No, it didn’t feature any demons or wizards, but it did seem somewhat familiar, as most games do. You almost get the feeling that Oblivion is a Frankenstein sci-fi that welds together various other film plots to suit its own means. But if you’re oblivious to some of those other films then the film will be a lot more appealing. OK, I’ll stop using words beginning “oblivio…” now… Ob(li)viously, as it’s the end.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

Dark Skies (2013)

Dark Skies (2013)

The truth is out there… Are you hearing that theme song in your head yet? Yes, The X-Files did wonders for getting the concept of aliens “out there” into the public domain. It triggered an unhealthy fascination in what’s up in the skies for a lot of people. The same people (mainly guys) also developed an unhealthy obsession with Gillian Anderson. Me? I’m just fascinated with how David Duchovny looks almost exactly the same now as he did back in 1992. Whatever alien gloop he’s using on his skin, I want some! Sure, aliens have taken many forms in the movies too – from the horrific “tongue-y” xenomorphs in the Alien franchise to the little guy who’s got a really long glowing finger and is obsessed with going home – but none are more famous than the “Greys”. You know the ones: really tall, long limbs, huge black eyes… oh, and they’re grey. Think Roger from American Dad! or any alien seen in South Park. Got it? Good. So how does Dark Skies, the latest alien horror movie, deal with the deities from the sky?

The Signs of Dark Skies are evident for all to see...

The Signs of Dark Skies are evident for all to see…

Well… have you seen Signs? You know, when M. Night Shyamalan was still delivering top notch movies that you really wanted to go out and see? If you’re with me, then lift that plot up and supplant it into Dark Skies and you’ve essentially got the premise. I know what you’re thinking if you’re a regular reader: “Hey, Phage, where’s the plot summary? I don’t like change – just do things like you normally do!”… but I’m honestly not kidding when I say that Signs and Dark Skies are almost exactly the same film. Replace the farm from Signs with a suburban neighbourhood, whip out Joaquin Phoenix and Mel Gibson and replace with Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton and you’re pretty much on the money.

OK, I’ll give you a summary lest I lose you forever into the void that is the internet: Dark Skies follows the lives of Daniel and Lacy Barrett and their two young boys. Sure, they’re going through financial troubles, but that’s the least of their worries when their youngest, Sam (Kadan Rockett) starts to act peculiarly and attributes his odd behaviour to the “Sandman”. But that’s only the beginning… as soon the whole family is engulfed in what can only be described as an “extraterrestrial” experience…

Dark Skies (2013)

I’m a bit surprised actually, as I’ve made the film sound wholly more exciting than it was. The crux of the problem with Dark Skies isn’t that it’s got a bit too much in common with Signs, but the fact that the pacing is entirely off. Especially for a “horror” movie. I know that I often lament the use of loud noises, camera jerks and cheap startling tactics, but they do at least add some (false) frights into a horror movie. Dark Skies lacks all of these for at least the first 3/4 of the movie. This would ordinarily cause me to commend the film. However, their absence actually exposes the critical weakness of the film: nothing’s happening. It’s not suspenseful – nothing’s happening.

We’re all accustomed to horror films ramping up the tension over their run time. This is especially true with the Paranormal Activity franchise; it’s their calling card. You know the scares are going to get bigger and more intense the longer the run time goes on. Hell, I can still see the ending of REC in my mind’s eye (now that was a horror film!)… that was a build-up punctuated with a ton of scares along the way. It seems that Dark Skies saved all of its material for the final quarter of the film. This wouldn’t be bad, if the final quarter wasn’t quite so poor too. You already know how it’s going to end.

Dark Skies (2013)

The trouble is that the film tries to shoehorn in too many ideas from other films. You have the obvious Signs similarities, then the use of surveillance footage (Paranormal Activity), night vision cameras (Paranormal Activity 2) and emotionally disturbed children (Poltergeist). What you’re left with is a product that isn’t equal to the sum of its parts.

All that being said, I admire the film-makers for being bold in attempting something a little different from the normal LOUD NOISES approach to horror movies; making it unfortunate that the plot is a bit too bare and basic. When I saw that it came “from the producer of Insidious, Sinister and Paranormal Activity“, I thought I knew what I was going to get (clue: NOISES), but I was mistaken. Turns out I wasn’t mistaken about the ending though…

Ultimately, I just failed to be scared or even feel absorbed by the plot of Dark Skies. Even the most “startling” of modern horror movies at least have me hooked into the plot to see how it’ll all play out, but this was stripped away by my overwhelming sense of déja-vu. Dark Skies isn’t for those with short-attention spans, but nor is it for those that want a pay-off in their films. If the skies are dark and forboding outside your house, don’t try venturing out to the cinema for Dark Skies. You’d have more fun re-watching The X-Files.

So back to the real question here… just how does David Duchovny do it? How does he still look as youthful as he did in the early 1990’s? Maybe it was the fact that he played a character obsessed with aliens? Perhaps he actually did encounter aliens and they gave him some magical youth formula… that’d make a lot of sense. Or maybe it’s just the well-documented fact that he was a sex addict for much of his life and he’s actually a vampire absorbing their youth as he goes. Now that’s a film idea! The truth IS out there.

Phage Factor:

1.5 Stars