Hey, everybody! Thanks for inviting me to your what-the-heck-is-this-crap-I-thought-this-was-a-sports-site party! It looks like fun!
As you probably guessed from the title and header image for this post, I’m going write about movies from time to time. But, like most of you, I don’t always get out to see them on opening weekend. So unlike other critics, I won’t be writing about movies on the Wednesday or Thursday of their premier. Instead, I’ll get to ‘em when I get to ‘em and let you know what I think afterward. Also, because half the fun of going to the theater is watching the trailers before the feature, I’ll let you know what I thought of those too–in my Don LaFontaine Awards (Donnies? LaFontainies? InAWorldies?).
To make my first post for Funkhouser (which, by the way, is named for Doogie Howser’s Curtis Mayfield cover band–fun fact!) extra special, I watched a fresh one: The World’s End, which just came out this past weekend.
The World’s End is the third and final installment in the Cornetto Triology, following Sean of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007). Like the two previous movies, it was written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright (who also directed), and stars Pegg and best buddy Nick Frost. Also like the other two installments, it’s fantastic.
If you’ve read other reviews, you’ll know that the premise blends the classic “the boys are back in town” shtick of movies like (the severely underrated) Beautiful Girls (1996) with an alien vibe a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 or 1978, take your pick). Pegg plays Gary King, former high school rebel royalty who, now closer to 50 than 30, realizes that his life has gone nowhere. So he rallies his former high school pals–who all hate him–to travel back to their small hometown and take a stab at a pub-crawl called the Golden Mile that they failed to complete on their last day of high school. Of course, something is strange about the inhabitants of the hometown (isn’t there always?), and the boys (and requisite love interest) have to choose whether to fight or flee.
While that premise sounds fun, there’s something special about the way the Wright/Pegg/Frost trifecta approaches filmmaking. Even though the Cornetto movies are thoroughly British, there’s a familiarity to them that easily spans the Atlantic divide. It often seems like the Brits speak a different language than we do, and our cultures haven’t really meshed since the Seven Years War, but its impossible to watch a Wright/Pegg/Frost joint and not feel like you understand every syllable.
What’s most interesting to me about the Cornetto movies is that sense of familiarity has very little to do with plot, and not that much to do with the characters either. There’s definitely nothing in my high school experience that’s comparable to the pub-crawl that serves as the central plot device of The World’s End. Not only do we Yanks suffer from the 21-and-over legal drinking age (thanks a lot, 1984), but I also grew up in a dry county. So, even if my friends or I had the fake ID and/or sufficient charisma necessary to instigate an under-age crawl, we would have had nowhere to go.
The closest my life ever came to being like The World’s End was the night I spent guzzling Bud heavy with a guy named Delbro. If you’ve ever met anyone named Delbro, I’m sure you recognize that this involved its own sort of quest. But instead of drinking beer in a series of bars, my journey took me through the dark and twisting two-lane highways of rural western Kentucky, where a friend and I drove Delbro–who stood 4”10, had his drivers license taken away for excessive DUIs, and had an extension built onto his house with a ceiling that was only five-and-a-half feet tall (making that night also the closest my life ever came to being like The Hobbit)–to the next county over so he could buy us beer. Unlike the crew from The World’s End, however, my friends and I completed our quest (if ending the night vomiting into a trashcan while lying on the floor of a hobbit hole counts as completion), so at least I have that going for me.
But a movie’s success doesn’t always depend on how the audience relates to its plot. If it did, then anything involving aliens, wizards, or other crazy make-em-ups would be a total failure. The way a movie deals with trope is much more important. And, luckily for filmmakers, there’s more than one way to make a trope work. Sometimes a movie is successful because it mobilizes powerful tropes without trying too hard (take a look at Matt Shorr’s review of Elysium for an example of a movie that failed at that last part). But other times, a movie is successful because it realizes that it’s a movie, dealing with the same tropes that a million other movies have dealt with before, and is secure enough to let the audience in on the joke.
Which is what makes every movie in the Cornetto Triology so great. Each of them is a masterpiece of self-aware, referential filmmaking. Just like Sean of the Dead was simultaneously a hilarious lampoon of zombie movies and a by-god excellent addition to the genre, The World’s End isn’t just a funny take on alien invasion movies–it’s an excellent alien invasion movie in its own right. Most importantly, and back to my point about familiarity, it’s an excellent alien invasion movie because the people who made it love alien invasion movies, so they know what makes them great.
And guess what? I love alien invasion movies too! Which means I also know what makes them great (or, at least, what I love about them). So, when I see Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s script nodding to recognizable tropes of the genre, it’s like they’re reaching across time and space to give me daps while I’m sitting there in the theater. I can see that these guys and I really do speak the same language–and it’s the language of stupid genre movies. Which, ultimately, makes me think that if they had been sitting beside me in the backseat of that 1987 Chevy Beretta, hauling tail with Delbro riding shotgun, we could have looked over at one another and known instantly what was going on behind the wide eyes staring back into ours.
Inaugural Don LaFontaine Awards for Movie Trailers I Saw Last Weekend:
Winner, Most Believable Pirate:
Release Date: October 11, 2013
Dude looks straight up like he would eat Orlando Bloom for breakfast. Literally. He looks really hungry.
Winner, Best Hey You Like British Movies How About This One (And It’s Got Time Travel Like That Doctor Who You’re Always Going On About):
Release Date: November 1, 2013
This just felt like blatant pandering. I might have thrown a Sour Patch Kid at the screen in indignation.
Winner, Most Unnecessary Car in a Movie, Selena Gomez Division:
Release Date: August 30, 2013
I think I know this one. She’s going to trick him into smoking weed laced with angel dust. M.A.A.D. city.
Winner, Best I Refuse to Believe That Anyone Actually Likes Ben Stiller:
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Release Date: December 25, 2013
Seriously. Has any actor been less likeable for longer? I hated that dude all the way back in Reality Bites.