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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Warm Bodies (2013)

Warm Bodies (2013)

You’ve got to hand it to creators when they decide to mash together two conflicting genres in the hope that it’ll be a smash hit at the box office. You’ve seen cowboys come into contact with aliens in Cowboys & Aliens, a straight-up heist movie become an all-out vampire fest in From Dusk ‘Til Dawn and Adam Sandler attempting to be funny again… in pretty much everything since 2002. All of these shouldn’t work, and typically don’t, but some do. So when you see February pop up on your calender you know what’s coming… romance. Yes, it’s the season of cupid, expensive dining and pricey roses, so the movie studios like to capitalise with some love-themed hits year after year. But this year, it appears they thought “hey, you know what kids like nowadays? Zombies… let’s do a zombie love movie”… and seemingly, Warm Bodies was born.

Warm Bodies (2013)

Warm Bodies is an interesting chimera. On one hand its horror… hell, it’s about zombies, and some of them look pretty damn repulsive (the so-called “bonies”). But on the other hand it tries to slam in a romance, as one of our shambling zombie friends, “R” (Nicholas Hoult) is conflicted, because beneath his vacant exterior is a mind questioning everything about his existence. He doesn’t remember his name, nor anything pre-turning into a zombie. But all of this changes when he meets Julie (Teresa Palmer) – a regular human who’s out scrambling together supplies for her father, the Colonel (John Malkovich), who manages the last bastion of humanity. You see, R falls in love with Julie… after he’s eaten her boyfriend’s brains. And so begins the most bizarre love story you’re likely to see in 2013.

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m a zombie purist. Maybe not even a “purist” per se, as I like my zombies to run around, as opposed to shambling around. I’m a huge fan of 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead – two films / shows that I really think have nailed the genre to a t. So maybe this is clouding my judgement of Warm Bodies. You see, these zombies are remarkable adept. They’re a bit like really clever velociraptors from Jurassic Park; not only can they open doors (clever girl), but they can also sit down, operate machinery and seemingly talk to one another. This isn’t what a typical zombie does. So any big genre fans in the audience will automatically feel a little awkward and uneasy. This isn’t the undead they’ve come to know and love. Hell, they show RESTRAINT. And feelings. What?!

Yeah, zombies can operate polaroid cameras with ease nowadays...

Yeah, zombies can operate polaroid cameras with ease nowadays…

Although the movie got a good deal of sniggers and laughter from the audience I was in with, I just failed to connect with much of the humour. Yes, there were certain lines from R’s best friend M (Rob Corddry) that made me chuckle, but overall I can’t say my thirst for brains humour was sated. This film tries to bill itself as a “rom-zom-com”… you know, trying to make out it’s the first to do this. Unfortunately, it’s clearly forgetting the existence of Shaun of the Dead – one of the most fantastic genre-mashes of the past decade. That film scored high in romance, zombies and comedy. Unfortunately, I felt that Warm Bodies was lacking in the “com” part. It had the zombies, that’s quite obvious, but it really lacked the laughter.

And let’s come on to the romance too whilst we’re at it. The more astute amongst you will notice something about those names… R, Julie, R’s best friend M… in a romantic story. Ringing bells? The original novel by Isaac Marion is a huge homage to Romeo & Juliet (hence Romeo, Juliet and Mercutio), but it doesn’t hit quite the same notes as the classic tale. Whilst I thought the romance between R and Julie was touching, I just felt that the dialogue coming out of Hoult‘s mouth was too jarring and awkward. The best dialogue of the film came from his inner monologues – they were touching and funny on occasion too. You’ve got to give credit to Hoult, as this is a very difficult role to undertake as it’s either going to come off as hammy or camp. There’s no way you’re going to come across as anything else when you’re trying to play the zombie role as “light and funny”.

Warm Bodies (2013)

The one thing that really kept me going was the plot – I was intrigued to see how they were going to finish off the film. Was it going to go the tragic Romeo & Juliet way, or are we going to see something entirely different? Obviously, I’m not going to blurt it out here, but I found the story quite interesting, having not read Marion’s novel. But that can only take you so far. I’m relieved that the acting from the core cast was of a good calibre, but it wasn’t winning me over to any real degree. As I say, I feel for Hoult, as he’s a fantastic young actor, but this isn’t the best showcase of his talents owing to the obvious limitations of his character.

Once I got over the initial shock of “these aren’t proper zombies are they?”, then the film became much more enjoyable. The film will try and bill itself as being for “fans of zombies”, but I’d dispute that. In fact, if you’re a die-hard fan of the genre, I’d probably tell you to exercise caution here, as you might not like what you see. Those brain-dead corpses in your mind aren’t really ferocious here, not are they brain-dead. If anything I’d recommend this film to casual fans of zombies, or those that don’t even have an opinion on them. You’ll get much more out of this than the more dedicated amongst you.

As a mash-up of genres, Warm Bodies certainly is not a bad attempt. Whilst it’s not From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, it’s certainly not terrible. If this film takes off at the box office, I can’t help but wonder what abominations the studios will cook up to keep the audiences coming in for Valentine’s Day. Perhaps a romance between a woman and a ghost? Oh, that’s done? Erm, how about a romance involving vampires? Oh, they’ve done that too? They made how many of those? Wow. OK, maybe we should just have a romance between a boy and a boulder. That hasn’t been done before. It’s unique and edgy. Though hopefully it doesn’t end in quite the same tragic way as 127 Hours. A messy divorce.

Phage Factor:

3 Star

Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012)

Zombies. If there’s one undead creature that’s as popular as vampires on television and cinema, it’s zombies. I’d also argue that they’re done rather better too. Zombies don’t have volatile love affairs. Zombies don’t even have true emotions. Zombies also don’t sprinkle glitter on their chest and fall for women that can barely crack a smile. Zombies are just all around better creatures and the better basis for a story. Then you have to factor in the fact that zombies can arise from all manner of origins and have different traits: from the speedy, enraged fiends of 28 Days Later to the classic shambling living dead from Dawn of the Dead. In summary, zombies are pretty damn cool, and in-vogue again thanks to The Walking Dead. So, why not pit them against something? We all love a good versus movie (apparently) – just see Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, Alien vs. Predator and Cowboys vs. Aliens. But who do we pit our zombies against to have a great slice of fan fiction… Wait… What?… Cockneys?!

Yes, the clue to Cockneys vs. Zombies is very much in the title. It’s a group of Londoners versus those shambling abominations. This time, the zombies emerge when one is disturbed in an underground crypt that’s unearthed on a building site. The infection spreads and the zombies infest the Earth. Did I mention this is a comedy too? I bet I can predict your thoughts now: “a comedy? Involving zombies? In England? Oh wow, is it as good as Shaun of the Dead then?”… well, the answer is unfortunately not. It’s not even in the same ballpark.

There are many things that made Shaun of the Dead the best zom-com in recent memory. It not only had a great script, and an assortment of the best comedic actors that Britain has produced, but it also featured zombies that were compelling and really looked the part. They didn’t skimp on the effects – it truly looked like a horror movie, but was funny. Cockneys vs. Zombies falls down on every one of those points, for the most part.

The film stars Michelle Ryan, Georgia King, Harry Treadaway and Rasmus Hardiker as the characters of the “main” plot (good hearted bank robbers that find the horde), which is countered by the more elderly cast of Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Richard Blackman and others, who serve in the secondary story: the pensioners that are trapped in their home by the zombies. How was all this acting? Well, “not bad” is my verdict, but nor is it anything to write home about. The younger cast are serviceable, but it’s Alan Ford that shines. Mainly because I feel that the director’s instructions were “be yourself”, or “act like you did in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch“. He’s “cockney” personified… not an “‘orrible ****” like in his previous films (his words, not mine).

Geriatrics, guns and cockney geezers – this film has it all! If that’s what you’re looking for…

Let me also include another name in the actors list… The Phage. Yes, I’m actually in this movie. My (real) name’s in the cast list. You’d think this’d make me think the movie was magical wouldn’t you? But I’m pretty objective. Even when I was on the set I felt the humour was a bit juvenile and not really funny. I thought this would be different when I saw it on-screen, but wow – it still wasn’t funny. I laughed a couple of times (twice more than Keith Lemon: The Film if you’re counting), but overall it wasn’t to my tastes. The movie kept my attention, but didn’t truly entertain me.

So I’ve dealt with a) actors, and b) the lack of humour, but have yet to address c) the aesthetics – the three ingredients that made Shaun of the Dead so good. Now, as I was on-set I already knew that the zombies were never going to challenge The Walking Dead for truly amazing prosthetics and make-up. But what I wasn’t expecting was such shocking continuity with these zombies. In 28 Days Later you knew what to expect: red eyes, in The Walking Dead: torn flesh and gaping, jutting jaws. But here? A mix of everything. The zombies’ eyes change from normal to red to yellow, depending on which zombie you’re seeing, and the “effects” on the zombies are extremely weak. Oddly, some have full blown sunken eyes like in The Walking Dead, but the majority look like they’ve had talcum powder sprinkled on them and that was it. As I was there, I can say that that’s not far off the truth. Sure, we all have budget constraints, but the producers should have had ALL with full-blown make-up or NONE with make-up. Not the mish-mash you see on-screen.

Sure, this movie will tick some people’s boxes for a zombie film: lots of gore, guns and shambling wrecks, but I just want so much more nowadays. I’ve been spoiled by films such as Rec and 28 Days Later, as well as the almighty The Walking Dead, that this just doesn’t hit the same notes. Even if those films didn’t exist, this is still a pretty hum-drum film. It has the odd laugh, but is probably worth picking up in a bargain bin, as opposed to venturing out to find a cinema that’s showing it.

Despite the fact that I’m in the film, I just find it hard to love it. I was entertained and definitely wasn’t bored, but nor was I actively engaged with what was going on. The film appeals to a certain crowd with respects to humour – if you like all of Adam Sandler‘s movies for instance, you may enjoy this. But most of it was too basal to really register with me as “funny”. Thankfully Alan Ford really relishes his role and gets “stuck in” – his scenes are consistently the best. The rest? Let’s just say that I hope this film doesn’t rise from the dead for a sequel.

With the film hopefully now buried six feet under, with no chance of resurrection (I removed the head – we’re safe), I’m wondering what’s the next crossover we’ll get. Vampires vs. Zombies? Strippers vs. Zombies? Or maybe John McClane vs. Zombies? My money’s on John. He’ll probably deal with those zombies like he deals with helicopters: by lobbing a car at them. Yippe-ki-yay you undead mother—–s!

Phage Factor: