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Stewart Smith

The World’s End

The World's End movie posterThe trio of director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have produced several cult classic comedies over the years. Firstly, there was Shaun of the Dead, a film about a man who struggles with growing up and leaving behind his stoner best friend. Also, there are zombies. Then there was Hot Fuzz, a film about a man who is completely obsessed with his career. Also, there is a killing spree. Now, finally, they are putting out the final film in what is unofficially known as the “Cornetto Trilogy” — The World’s End.

This time around, Simon Pegg is playing the lively Gary King, a happy-go-lucky drunk who is stuck living in the past age of his youth as he gathers his old friends together for a final attempt at The Golden Mile, a twelve-stop pub crawl in his old hometown which he describes as the height of his life. Of course, although it’s endearingly funny from the start, it really picks up when the movie draws out its wild card — an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-esque science fiction theme, in which they discover that everyone in their childhood town has been replaced by robots.

The first thing noticeable about this movie is its distinctly British atmosphere. Everything has the air of a bunch of mates going out to the pub, and even the dirty bits don’t go over the top like any big-name American studio would have them. But right now you might be thinking: “Of course you would say that, Stewart! After all, you are from British descent! I’m American! I like big, hardy American comedies!”

Well, while that may be true, I honestly don’t feel that biased towards really British comedy either. There’s a lot of dry wit out there which I just can’t get into. It’s just too far down the spectrum. For instance, the Monty Python films featured brilliant, intelligent humor without going too far outside the range of slapstick. And The Hangover was a hilarious comedy which, although touching subjects in an outright ridiculous manner, held on to that spark of clever wit which made it a great film in its own right.

But what’s unique about the Cornetto Trilogy is that it falls right in the middle. It appeals to both sides evenly, with as much sophistication and as many one liners as outlandish situational humor. It can entertain everyone to an extent, and can really cover a number of comic bases. I’m not saying that it’s the best series in the world, but it’s definitely a direction which leads to really enjoyable films for both outgoing and reserved demographics.

The acting itself in The World’s End is still great, although unlike in their previous films, Frost is more of a straight man and Pegg plays comic relief. This swapping of roles is surprisingly well tuned, and Frost retains his quirky elements as Pegg retains his sincere relate-ability.

The main things which this movie might have against it is that its timing lingers a little bit in some places and it takes itself too seriously in some comedic situations. But honestly, if you can just sit back and embrace it as a rambunctious, laugh-out-loud comedy about a bunch of drunken mates in increasingly unbelievable situations, it’s a heck of a ride.

 

Age Recommendation: Erm… It’s an R rated film, but since I often don’t agree with those I’ll just tackle the prominent issues. It’s violent, but it’s pretty much just against robots, and while they bleed it comes across as more bursting out filling than leaking out life. Sex is referenced, but not shown. Characters swear frequently, in that loose, British way. And, of course, the entire movie is about drinking. And so, with all this, I would put this film as 13/14+. Why?  Because I think kids that age can take it. Honestly, I don’t think that it puts any worse people into the world by letting young people who are mature enough enjoy some more adult films.

Final Verdict: A really fun, really enjoyable comedy. It would have worked without the Sci-Fi stuff, but it came out equally brilliant. 9/10


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Stewart Smith

Planes

Planes posterNine years ago, Toy Story 3 was announced as a project to be produced by a studio outside of Pixar. Well, it wouldn’t be the same movie of course; the planned plot sounded oddly akin to that of Toy Story 2; but all in all, it would have been another Toy Story movie, this time made without Pixar. Now, thankfully, that production was shelved once Disney had acquired Pixar, and eventually Pixar decided to make the film themselves, forming that brilliantly heartfelt film we all know today.

While Pixar continued making their own franchises, Disney kept the idea of a spin-off at hand. And when the Cars franchise started doing really well in merchandising (despite a fair amount of criticism), they decided to go for it once again by creating Planes, a spin-off centering around an entirely new cast.

The film stars Dusty (Dane Cook), a crop-duster who dreams of entering races (racing is still all they could come up with), finally gets his chance to prove himself with a spot in a race across the world. But before he can take the prize, he has to conquer an irrational fear of heights, as well as make up for his farming-based build.

The thing is that due to the merchandise-oriented nature of this movie, it is absolutely devoid of substance. The plot, although perhaps structured to a basic degree, lacks charm, and feels about as dynamic as an after-school special. There is no excitement, no surprise, and it just makes the audience feel as if they’re coasting until the end. While there are a few points of intelligent humor, it’s mostly poorly executed and uninspired.

The characters are basically hollow, cultural stereotypes, and not one of them feels memorable or genuine, with the possible exception of Skipper (Stacy Keach), a grounded naval aviator with a tragic past. But regardless of his apparent depth, Skipper is effectively just Doc Hudson from Cars — the older, traumatized mentor hiding in his shell. In fact, while we’re on that subject, the character filling the “best friend” role is pretty much just another Mater.

On the whole, this movie is just a marketing ploy. There’s nothing to it that’s worthwhile — it’s just a means to get kids excited for the Cars franchise again so that Disney can make money on the merchandising. But what they’ve created has little more worth than that.

 

Age Recommendation: No problems here.

Final Verdict: The little heart that this movie has is stiff and clichéd. 2/10


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Stewart Smith

The Way, Way Back

The Way, Way Back posterIt’s nice to see another Sundance movie out in theaters. They tend to be unique and endearing, and kind of push back against modern Hollywood tropes which we see so often on screen nowadays.

The thing about them is that, being independent, they tend to spread further over word of mouth than from any kind of marketing. Having said that, I would strongly urge all of you to get out there and support this film.

The Way, Way Back is a coming of age story about a socially inept boy named Duncan (Liam James) who spends the summer with his family at the summer home of his mother’s verbally abusive boyfriend (Steve Carell). While there he spends most of his time aloof, avoiding his family and wandering the town, at least until he discovers a home at a local water park alongside its smooth talking manager, Owen (Sam Rockwell).

In addition, a summer romance between Duncan and quiet, rebellious neighbor Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) serves as a sort of way to measure Duncan’s social progress, and his abused, concerned mother Pam (Toni Collette) demonstrates some excellent and subtle emotional content.

This is, at heart, another summer vacation movie, but it makes up for its unoriginality with a kind of emotional endearment which shapes it into a pretty heartwarming story. It also develops quite smoothly, with Duncan slowly and visibly opening up as well as discovering some of the darker secrets behind the curtain.

While James creates a protagonist we can truly and emotionally get behind, Carell creates a kind of antagonist who feels cold and reproachable. Also impressive is the performance by Rockwell, who makes an excellent catalyst who really seems like he can carry the film. Meanwhile, Collette genuinely appears confused and fragile, while  Robb holds up as a snarky if not somewhat underdeveloped love interest.

Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, the writers/directors of The Way, Way Back won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2012 for their work on The Descendants. Fox Searchlight, the studio responsible for The Way, Way Back also released such works as Little Miss Sunshine (2006; also starring Carell and Collette) and Juno (2007). All of these films are renowned for both wit and emotional depth, and I feel that this movie, although perhaps less serious in nature, keeps up that legacy surprisingly well.

 

Age Recommendation: It’s a sweet film, and I would mark it as 11+ or so in spite of a few adult themes (which pop up for brief moments) and a little cursing (although not enough to push it into an R-rating).

Final Verdict: A funny and heartwarming story which, although somewhat unoriginal, is an excellent watch. 8/10


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Stewart Smith

Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2 posterAll those years ago, back when Shrek came out, it was considered a huge success. It had a story which felt easy to get sucked into, with a unique theme and a punchy comedic style as well as characters of various, specific personalities and a convincing chemistry. Three years later, in response to this success, Shrek 2 was released. And unlike most modern sequels, it actually wasn’t bad.

However, many of the things which made Shrek great were different from the things that made Shrek 2 great. While the characters remained as lively as ever, the story had a little less impact. It did, however, feel more epic; more drawn out. And while it dealt with more complicated themes, it did so in a way so as not to subtract from the overall atmosphere of the film.

I think that this relationship between Shrek and Shrek 2 is somewhat mirrored in the more recent Despicable Me and its new sequel, Despicable Me 2.  The original film followed Gru (Steve Carell), a diabolical supervillain with plans to steal the moon out of the sky. However, when complications arise, he is forced to adopt three orphan girls in order to remain on track. (Then he increasingly grows attached, rethinks his life, et cetera et cetera)

In this film, Gru is enlisted by a government organization to assist in the search for a new villainous threat. Helping him is his female partner (you know what that means), Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig).

Unlike the first film, which was fairly linear in nature, this movie jumps into several subplots, most of which address central themes, such as the childhood need for a mother and teenage detachment. However, while these make up some of the more serious segments of the story, there’s plenty of action and humor to go around. Like with Shrek 2, this story feels a lot less constrained, and that attitude alone manages to carry the movie’s faults, such as its slightly weaker plot.

The best thing about Despicable Me 2, however, is its humor. Don’t get me wrong, it has fart jokes (it is a kids’ movie), but it also has a lot of more clever humor, including some references which will probably miss kids entirely. Overall, it is consistently funny, and if you’re like me, it shouldn’t leave you bored for a second.

 

Age Recommendation: Are you afraid of exposing your kid to a few fart jokes? If so, fine, don’t take them. But I really think this movie is pretty much suitable for everyone.

Final Verdict: A lively continuation of the first film, which, although being somewhat predictable, is captivating the whole way through. 9/10


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Stewart Smith

The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger posterThe Disney film Pirates of the Caribbean was made for the ride of the same name located at Disneyland. It was a movie largely made in order for Disney to use a new theme, specifically the theme of a swashbuckling seafaring adventure.

And it was a smashing success. It had life, it had energy, and it just had this ability to sweep you into it like you were a part of the story. The highlight, however, was Johnny Depp, who portrayed Captain Jack Sparrow, whose witty dialogue and charming attitude carried the film to its highest level.

The Lone Ranger is an attempt at the same kind of thing. Although it wasn’t made from a ride this time, the premise is no different — an excuse to make a movie with a western theme. And you can pretty much tell this without even seeing the film, because it was mostly made by the same crew. Same director (Gore Verbinski), two of the same key writers… Even Johnny Depp was called back in to play a snide, witty Tonto.

The plot itself has a mature taste to it, one a little too mature for the Lone Ranger brand. Tonto and John Reid (Armie Hammer) are out for revenge against a dangerous (and cannibalistic — kind of an unnecessary trait) criminal who massacred Tonto’s people and John’s ranger squadron. In their pursuit they uncover a web of greed and corruption which they alone can stop. Also, there’s a kidnapping, because you can’t have an adventure movie without a kidnapping, that’s filmmaking 101.

This movie is, in essence, an attempt to recreate Pirates’ charm in a new setting. What Disney failed to realize was that that this kind of nature does not translate at all into a movie of this theme, and especially not a movie with these characters. It feels like it drags a little, like it doesn’t have its heart in the right place. It just doesn’t feel strong or suspenseful enough to be a true western. (At least not until the climax, but honestly, if I was desperate for a really good action sequence I still wouldn’t wait two and a half hours to see it.)

 

Age Recommendation: Don’t be fooled by the Lone Ranger branding or the Disney stamp: This movie is far darker than one would initially expect, and unnecessarily so. For example, the villain cuts out a man’s heart and eats it, and there are a few parts which get just a little bit racey. 13+

Final Verdict: This is effectively a movie made off of an attitude of “It worked before”, and that is an absolutely awful way to look at films. While it has a few moments of quality action, they’re just far too scarce for the movie to wholly rely on them. 4/10


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Stewart Smith

Now You See Me – Guest Review

Guest review by Milton Posner

Now-You-See-Me-posterNow You See Me is an interesting film. It centers around four talented magicians who are brought together by an unknown benefactor and start putting on shows a year later under the name “The Four Horsemen.”

For the finale of each show, the Horsemen steal money from various financial targets – a French bank, an insurance magnate, and a safe guarded by the FBI. After the first robbery, the FBI starts pursuing the Horsemen, helped by magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). Despite attempts by FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma Vargas (Melanie Laurent) to stop them the Horsemen always remain one step ahead of the FBI throughout the film.

The acting in this movie is good, but nothing really special. Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Isla Fisher, and Woody Harrelson make up the Four Horsemen, while Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo, Melanie Laurent, and Michael Caine make up the rest of the cast. Some good actors are present, but I doubt anybody is getting an acting award for this movie.

What I do like about this film is how all of the events fit together and it becomes fun just to watch and figure out exactly what just happened. It can be difficult at times, but it’s entertaining to watch, and makes perfect sense since the characters are magicians. It sort of reminded me of Inception in that sense, though this is definitely less confusing. The movie is always leaving you wondering exactly what is going to happen next.

Just watching the magic tricks is fun. Even though it’s still a movie and the actors probably didn’t even have to execute most of the tricks they are still amusing.  J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) and Jack Wilder (Franco) are card trick/general magicians, Merritt McKinney (Harrelson) is a mentalist, and Henley Reeves (Fisher) is an escape artist.

I highly recommend watching this movie, the plot of which is quite original. There have been many movies featuring magic (one in particular comes to mind), but this the first movie in which magic is used to pull heists, sometimes on a global scale.

 
Age Recommendation: There are a few sexual references and one sexual scene between two characters (no nudity) plus a few swear words. In terms of violence, there are a few fights and an exploding car. A little kid might not be able to handle it, but most kids should be fine, as sexuality and violence are far from being a centerpiece in the film.

Final Verdict: A great film, with magic and mystery aplenty. 8/10


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