Monday, August 26, 2013

Conjuring the World's End

I saw two movies in August, one for which I’d had a smidge of hope and one for which I had high hopes.  The one for which I’d had only a smidge of hope in the first place, The Conjuring, was quite disappointing.  Director James Wan gave us a few startling jumps, but nothing really frightening.

Lesson the First:  When the family dog refuses to enter the big isolated house they bought at auction, the human family shouldn’t enter either.  Alas, humans never learn.

In The Conjuring, demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren discover the real thing in a secluded farmhouse that the Perron family bought with the last of their savings.  The clothes and hair are the first clue that we’re in the 1970s.  The music seems occasionally out of time.  The mentality is older — God and Demons are one thing, but the Warrens believe unhappy women were witches and could control the actions of the living centuries after their own deaths.

While there are plenty of frights and gasps and starts, this movie talks too much, shows too much, and tries to make believe it’s practically a documentary.  I’ll see Vera Farmiga and Lili Taylor in just about anything, but I hope they pick better going forward.  A good cast did what they could with the material, but when it devolved to absurd records of a woman called Bathsheba (Lesson the Second:  If you want your daughter to be a good girl, there are certain names you oughtn’t stick her with) accused of consorting with Satan and centuries later she was the evil presence in the house in which, for some reason, we could see as well as hear clapping hands.  For goodness’ sake. 

Just a note re witches: Everyone knows that women accused of being witches were not consorting with Satan; they merely had property or power that the local men wanted.  Real witches were entirely different:  Read Roald Dahl’s The Witches.  He explains it all.

Now for the good movie of August:  The World’s End, which is the name of a pub.  A good start.  Director Edgar Wright introduces us to 1990 Newton Haven, a cozy-looking small town somewhere in England, then passes by a little real life that’s not fun at all, and brings us back to Newton Haven 20 years later.  1990 is amusingly narrated and yet what we see rather conflicts with what the narrator recalls.  Five friends somehow graduated from school and went on a pub crawl called “The Golden Mile” in their home town — yes, Newton Haven — which includes 12 delightfully named pubs at which the boys had intended to have one pint each.  That’s twelve pints per boy.  As anyone might imagine, it didn’t work out.

(c) 2013 Focus Features
Twenty years later, a sadder but no wiser Gary King (the scathingly brilliant Simon Pegg) wants to get the band back together, as ’twere, and do the Golden Mile.  Life didn’t go so awfully well after high school (or whatever they call it in England), and Gary thinks re-living this epic night with his old pals will save him. His pals (whom he hasn't seen in many years) disagree, but go along because he lies to them.

Simon Pegg as Gary King and the Map
This is Simon Pegg and Nick Frost at their hilarious best, having a fine time with Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Martin Freeman as all five pals grown up.  The touristy map that could pass for a hotel placemat shows the route through town to the 12 pubs, and Gary marks off each one as they achieve it.  The present attempt is as doomed as the first, but not for the same reasons as the 1990 crawl.

Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Eddie Marsan in a pub.
The brisk script by Pegg and Edgar Wright (co-writers of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) builds and grows under Wright’s whimsical direction.  The humans are all totally real, dreaming of a barely recognizable past that did not prepare them for adult life they don’t really know how to live, with Gary in particular compounding his unhappiness with foolhardy dreams of reliving past glories.  Bruce Springsteen sang about it, and Pegg & Wright have written a sweet, thoughtful, and incredibly funny film about it all.

And then there’s the darkness. 

The men gradually realize that not only have they changed, so has their home town.  Rediscovery of all this is a jolly journey for us, not so much for the guys.  In lesser, duller hands this would just be about 5 merely chronologically adult males behaving foolishly and getting gutter laughs.  Pegg & Wright go much further, touching on dreams of freedom, lost youth...and then they take a roundabout turn into crazy.

Frost, Rosamund Pike, Considine, Marsan, Freeman, and Pegg.  In a pub.
From the quickest shot of a passerby to the leads, the cast is formidable.  I’ll just list a few:
Simon Pegg as Gary King
Nick Frost as Andy Knightley
Martin Freeman as Oliver Chamberlain
Paddy Considine as Steven Prince
Eddie Marsan as Peter Page
Rosamund Pike as Sam Chamberlain (Oliver’s kid sister, love interest for both Gary & Steve since childhood)
Pierce Brosnan as Guy Shephard, the cool teacher
David Bradley as Crazy Basil
With a special non-appearance by Bill Nighy

The World’s End has two lessons:  1) you cannot go home again, and 2) if your high school memories are warm and fuzzy, you’re probably misremembering.  The World’s End has a terrific script well directed by Edgar Wright, and its cast is top notch and pitch perfect.  I will see this again and again and find more to laugh about.  Because humans are funny.

~ Molly Matera, signing off and purchasing another ticket!