Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On Edgar Wright, Cornetto and The World's End

Patrick and Erich Asperschlager have more to say about Edgar Wright's latest movie.

Patrick: Erich! Back in 2010, you wrote an incredible review of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which got the attention of Edgar Wright. You guys are still BFFs, right? But that review led us to want to talk about the movie on a podcast -- your first with F This Movie!. Three years later, Edgar Wright has FINALLY made his follow-up movie. You didn't end up being on the podcast for this one (because I am a disorganized mess), so I want to hear your thoughts on The World's End. In today's internet parlance, is it the BEST MOVIE EVER or the WORST THING YOU'VE SEEN THIS YEAR??

Erich: First off, I'm sad to say I don't see much of Eddie these days, unless binoculars from a distance in the alley behind his apartment building counts and I have been advised by legal counsel it does not. Second, thanks for your kind words about the Scott Pilgrim review that "started it all" (please make every word of that last sentence a link to my review, then delete this aside **don't really delete this aside**). It was the movie that turned me from an Edgar Wright admirer to a super fan. The thing about that movie, which I have declared my all-time favorite, is that it took a couple viewings to really appreciate. The same was true for the other two films in the so-called "Cornetto Trilogy." I dug Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz the first time I saw them, but my love for them deepens with each subsequent viewing.

All this to say, in the most definitive way possible, The World's End was... very good. I liked it. I had lots of fun. I left the theater happy. I also know that I need another viewing or ten to appreciate everything it has to offer.

Seeing a movie you've been dying to see for ages can be distracting, and I have to admit I was distracted while watching The World's End -- by the newness of it all, by the soundtrack (which I bought last week and have since internalized), and by my fretting that maybe I had chosen a row that was too close to the screen. Nothing to kill the Cornetto buzz, mind, but enough that it's taken reflection and reading other people's interpretations of the movie to realize how much I need to see it again. Which reminds me, what are you doing on Friday, and are you going to be in Central New York?
Patrick: I forgot that you named Scott Pilgrim your favorite movie (right here on our very own podcast!) I should have led with that.

I know the "easiest" way into the discussion is to have you stack it up against Wright's other movies, but that's a little reductive and doesn't really tell anyone what you thought of the movie. So I'll ask this -- do you think you are reacting to the movie or to your own expectations? Sometimes, movies we want to see this badly need to be seen twice just so we can tell the difference between the movie we want it to be and the movie it is. I'm reminded of something you said last summer (I think?) -- that there's a difference between the feeling that you want to see a movie again and the feeling you need to see a movie again in order to appreciate it. Where does The World's End land?

And where would you stack it against Wright's other movies?

Erich: Great question about expectations. I've been asking myself the same question since I left the theater. I love Edgar Wright so much in so many perfectly legal ways that I am predisposed to loving his latest film, too, even if it didn't grab me right away. We talked about the difference between wanting to see a movie twice and feeling like you should in regard to The Dark Knight Rises, a movie I couldn't quite bring myself to revisiting until much later, only to confirm my original disappointment. The difference here isn't that my fanboy ID badge reads Wright instead of Nolan. It's that I got enough out of The World's End to believe I will get even more the next time I watch it. Critics I trust have said as much, including our very own Adam Riske. I also know my own track record with Wright's previous movies. I don't think I loved any of them the first time as much as I did the second or third.

Why would you make me rank Edgar Wright's movies? It's like choosing my favorite child (on, say, The Brady Bunch). Then again, I rewatched the first two Cornetto flicks before heading to the theater so it shouldn't be that hard. The World's End is relegated to third place for now, though that may change. Of the other two, the jam-packed structure of Hot Fuzz puts it a hair ahead of Shaun of the Dead, despite that film's lack of any discernible flaws. Again, why would you make me choose? I think watching Hot Fuzz immediately before The World's End was a mistake. They are such different movies. Fuzz is flashy in ways World's End isn't, and my gut preference for one over the other says more about the slimy reptile part of my brain than their relative quality.
I should probably love The World's End the best because it deals with old man things that matter to me. We talked in an email a week or so back about revisiting things we loved as kids, and whether that reflected a curiosity about how things hold up or if it had more to do with trying to recapture a simpler time. For me, it's a bit of both, and when I really examine that desire I see how fruitless that can be. I don't really want to be a teenager again. I love my life now. I love my family. I love my friends. I love that I can rent a car if I want to. I may feel nostalgia when I watch a film like Dazed and Confused, but that's not what my high school experience was like. I didn't so much "go to parties" as I did "stay home and watch television by myself." A lot of The World's End is about the crossroads between looking back and looking forward. Looking back is easy and safe, but it's a closed loop. The future is open, and scary, and tough, and (if I remember correctly) so bright you gotta wear shades.

Patrick: Is that a Kuffs reference? Because even if it isn't, it TOTALLY IS.

I didn't REALLY want you to rank Wright's movies (because if we're being honest, I would put all three Cornetto movies ahead of Scott Pilgrim...I know, we are totally fighting). But now that you have, ARE YOU CRAZY? J/K. I don't really want to get into a debate of the merits of the whole trilogy. I think I like Shaun of the Dead more than Hot Fuzz, only because there's a dip in the middle of Hot Fuzz that I've never quite been able to reconcile. I love it and it's great, but don't find it quite as airtight as Shaun. Having said THAT, I think Edgar Wright (sorry -- you know him as E-Dubs) has made four brilliant movies, the relative merits and flaws of which are entirely subjective. If I like one over another, it's because I like it and not because there's something "wrong" with the other movies. I keep mentioning him in relation to Tarantino, but I think the comparison holds in terms of their bodies of work.

Your use of the expression "old man things" in conjunction with The World's End is interesting, because I think it speaks to a maturity that the movie has that sets it apart from the others. There is a world of difference between the Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg of The World's End and the Wright and Pegg of Spaced. Not only have they gotten better on a technical level, but they have grown up, too. This is a movie with the concerns of a 40-year old, not a 25-year old. Both are valid, but I'm just happy that they're growing up with me.
I'm also fascinated by the way that, for two guys who are living lives I'm assuming they could have once only dreamed about, The World's End feels very much in touch with a life that hasn't worked out the way one hoped. Is that just the doing of Wright and Pegg's essential empathy, or do you think there is some bitterness about their careers at play? I think both are happy with their work, but perhaps there's some behind-the-scenes fighting with studios or whatever that we don't know about.

Also -- and I'll try and avoid spoilers here -- it really seems like they want to put a period on the end of the Cornetto Trilogy sentence. Though they don't burn any bridges along the way, it does feel like they're both done with this world. I'm happy to see Edgar Wright move on to other things (even Ant-Man, because while I'm burned out on superhero movies, I'm dying to see what an Edgar Wright superhero movie looks like), but I'm a little sad about that fact. I could watch these Cornetto movies for the rest of my life. But isn't that also a little of what The World's End is about? It's like Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg know that about me, and are gently telling me "MOVE ON."

Erich: No, I wasn't making a Kuffs reference, or should I say a "Kuffs link." Get it? Ha ha ha. Seriously, though, I mask ignorance with humor.

I like the idea that Wright, Pegg, and Frost are "growing up" with us. It's great to feel that connection with a group of artists. Your personal ranking of the trilogy is fine with me. I'm even okay with you putting Scott Pilgrim lower because it's such a different kind of movie. I'll let you know in a year if I'm right, but I'm guessing the themes of The World's End will resonate with me over the long haul more than Shaun and Fuzz, whether or not I rank it number one.

I'm not worried about Edgar Wright. It sounds like he has a lot of irons in the fire, from Ant-Man to an untitled sci-fi project to a Nightstalker remake I'm excited to see even if it ends up starring Johnny Depp. I don't know if we'll get another Cornetto movie, but if so it's not likely to happen for a long time. That's fine with me as long as Wright keeps making the movies he wants to make. Interesting you should find hidden grumbling at the heart of The World's End. There may be some resentment aimed at external studio forces, but I get the sense that these guys are making movies on their terms and having a blast doing so.

You may be onto something, though. Wright and Pegg have experienced a big surge in popularity and notoriety over the past 5-ish years. The World's End is a connection not just back to their teen years, but also to their early filmmaking days. I wouldn't be surprised if they saw their (well-deserved) success as bittersweet.

Patrick: I don't know if it's grumbling or what; like you said, they really seem to be enjoying their careers and are making the movies they want to make. I was just struck by the honesty of Gary King's speech about how life didn't turn out the way he thought. It seemed like it had to come from a real place. That's not to say these guys have NEVER felt that way, or that they don't know people who feel that way, so there are any number of factors that could have led to that moment.
Did I rank the Cornetto trilogy? I didn't mean to, because I don't think I can. Not yet, anyway. I know I said Shaun of the Dead might be my favorite (because it is perfect), but I definitely haven't lived with World's End long enough. The great thing is that, while they are all very much Edgar Wright movies, they are different enough (even stylistically, which has more to do with the genres to which Wright is paying tribute than any major changes introduced by the filmmaker) that I can watch one for almost any mood. For as much fun and escapism is in The World's End, it's a really thoughtful movie and one I can see going back to again and again. And once again, the country is basically missing it. Here's a movie that's as entertaining as anything I've seen this year AND is actually ABOUT SOMETHING and it makes about as much as R.I.P.D.

The good news is that this will have a much, much longer shelf life. And that England will make it a hit, because how can they not?

Erich: You're definitely onto something. Even the happiest people have low points, and Wright, Pegg, and Frost are human (OR ARE THEY...). In fact, Edgar Wright said something on Twitter today about how the movie is "pretty much all true minus the 'robots'." (OR IS IT...). I don't think any of those guys are Gary King, but they understand what drives him. Look at us. We're both well-adjusted happy guys, but we know what it's like to pine for the past. If the film didn't say something universal about the "human condition" (which I hear there is a cream for now), it wouldn't resonate with so many people.

I feel like we've talked around the movie a lot, about our reaction to the deeper stuff, but I wanted to chime in on my favorite stuff in The World's End. You guys covered a lot of the best lines in the podcast, but you didn't talk about the music. It might not mean as much to you as me, but I really love the soundtrack. I went through a big Britpop phase in college, so the song choices make me feel nostalgic despite never having gone to "primary school" in a "lorry." I bought the soundtrack last week and spun it dozens of times before watching the movie. It helped in some ways. Lines like "Twist the melon, man" and Gary's "we want to be free" speech at the end are from songs, which is cool. Knowing the music was also distracting because I'd focus on the song and miss the dialogue. Have I mentioned I need to see this movie again?
If I remember correctly, we both bought the Django Unchained soundtrack after watching the film, as a way to stay connected with the film. Tarantino is a soundtrack genius. So is Edgar Wright. Anyone who dug The World's End should pick up the soundtrack (I recommend the longer "deluxe edition"; I wish it wasn't an iTunes exclusive in the States). It's not only an excellent mixtape but also a window into Wright and Pegg's younger days and their mindset while writing the film.

On the podcast, JB said that really great movies take time to sink in. A single viewing isn't enough to get it all. How many movies can you say that about? Usually it's the opposite, especially this Summer -- where movies are interested only in twists that work in the moment then dissolve upon reflection. Great movies are like great albums. I don't think any of my favorite albums blew me away on first listen. Sure, there were standout songs, but it takes time to appreciate music. To live with the songs. To anticipate the best bits and hear new things you missed the first dozen times. Rewatching Shaun and Fuzz was like that for me. I still find new beats and bits every time I watch them. Watching movies I love is like hearing my favorite band play my favorite song live. It's the best. I don't know yet whether The World's End will live up to that standard, but I bet it will.

Patrick: It was a great soundtrack! It had a great energy (the music in his movies always does) and didn't dwell too much on the "Hey, remember this song?" Really, "Free" was the only song that played that card, and it got such a laugh and THEN was used as such a great punchline in the climax. Nothing in Edgar Wright's movies is by accident. Nothing is without purpose. That's what makes his movies so rewatchable -- the construction is so tight and dense that you keep finding things on the ninth and tenth viewing. The World's End is my favorite kind of movie -- one that's great the first time you see it and keeps giving me gifts the more times I go back to it.

Love the album comparison, too. I'm amazed at how ready a lot of audience members are to make snap judgments about movies (I don't like to be asked "So, what did you think?" AS THE CREDITS ARE GOING). We're kind of forced to a lot of times by virtue of the fact that we're doing a podcast and have to articulate our initial reactions. If I had it my way, I would let a movie settle for much longer and hopefully see it one or two more times.

Great art has a way of grabbing us on first exposure. If "Smells Like Teen Spirit" didn't take you by the shoulders and shake you with those first few notes, YOU DO NOT HAVE EARS. But it also gains resonance the longer we live with it. I think more than any other of E-dubs' movies, The World's End is going to resonate (Scott Pilgrim might have if they had gone with that original ending, but let's not have THAT argument again...I still have the scars) in that way.

People are reacting a little negatively to that ending because it does take such a turn. The movie doesn't end where think it's going to in the beginning. First of all, THAT IS A GOOD THING. Second, I think people will grow into it with time -- once they know what to expect, they might understand how the film gets to that point. Does that make sense? I ask because you have fallen asleep.
Erich: I'm glad to hear you struggling with the snap judgment phenomenon, too. I left The World's End feeling a little bad that I didn't have the same immediate, visceral reaction I kept seeing on Twitter and Facebook. Just having a few days distance from watching the movie has helped me appreciate things I didn't get right away.

We'll let the Scott Pilgrim discussion lie. I'm too old to fight old fights with you, even those I know I'd win. At least we can agree about the ending to The World's End. It felt like a left turn, but only because I wasn't expecting it -- not because it didn't work for the film. That's a distinction a lot of people don't get. I keep seeing people say it was a bad ending because it rubbed them the wrong way. Guess what, if you move the same direction as the movie, it will rub you just fine. If you know what I mean... "Marmalade sandwich."

Patrick: Ok, so let me drop this bomb in your robot lap: Is this your favorite movie of the year? It's ok if it isn't. I won't tell E-dubs. He'd probably cancel your upcoming sleepover, and you need SOMEONE to explain the references during your Downton Abbey marathon.

Erich: I'm not sure how to answer that. It might be after I've had a chance to watch it a few more times. I suppose it is by default because it's the best of a relative few new movies I've seen this year (because I have no business writing for a movie site). It's certainly the best movie I've seen this Summer. Or, it ...will be? Um...


Patrick: It's an unfair question. I certainly can't answer it. It's one of my favorite movies of the year, but we've just spent 10,000 words basically saying that our opinions are not final. We both really like it. We might love it. We are just afraid to commit. In my case, it's because I'm a sitcom character. And in yours, it's because, well, OIL CAN.

Thanks, Bleep Blorp.

Bleep Blorp: You are very BLEEPING welcome. Cheers!

Patrick: Let's boo-boo.


  1. I definitely agree with what you guys said! (BTW This was a great piece). I loved The Worlds End after the first (and only-thus far) viewing. But I knew I HAD to see it again (especially the ending. Which I liked but at the same time was like "Whoa. We're HERE now? HOW?!).

    Like you said, ranking things is a little ridiculous (especially since the movie came out, what? An hour ago?) but, with only a single viewing, I'll throw caution to the wind and say The Worlds End is my second favorite Edgar Wright film (My first being Shaun of the Dead, Third being Scott Pilgrim and Fourth being Hot Fuzz).

    I watched Hot Fuzz, maybe, 4 or 5 days before seeing The Worlds End. I really like that movie. Its very, very good. I just don't get as much out of it as Shaun of the Dead (which I watched the day before seeing TWE and felt that seeing that really enhanced my love for TWE).

    My first time seeing Shaun, I liked it (I also think I saw it on comedy central back in, maybe, 2006. All censored and what-not). But, NOW, Shaun of the Dead, in my opinion, has one of the tightest scripts in recent memory! You can't help but marvel at it. It's tightness is, almost, uncomfortable (not a sex joke...well, maybe...yes). I think Hot Fuzz is also pretty tight but not "Shaun of the Dead tight". And watching TWE, I recognized that insanely detailed level of plotting that I noticed on my fourth (fifth? Sixth?) viewing of SOTD.

    I knew right away I'd have to see it again (and again and again and again). And maybe after 6 or 7 more viewings, TWE might actually be one of my favorite movies (like SOTD). I hope so. There's A LOT to unpack and I'm happy to do-so.

    P.S. You're Next is wonderful. Everyone on FThisMovie is right, it's the next GREAT horror movie.

    P.M.S. Sorry for the LONG comment. I just love The Worlds End and Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost.

  2. Wright's movies are tight without feeling like sterile technical exercises. He scales it up really well, too, from the relative simplicity of Shaun to the rapid-fire comic book storytelling in Scott Pilgrim.

    P.T.S.D. Don't apologize for the long comment. As you can tell from the novella above, we love those guys too.

  3. Great write up guys. All the love this movie is getting is making even more excited to see it again.

    Regarding the true story aspect of the movie (except the robots) I wouldn't be surprised if Wright had experienced thus from the point of view of Frost's character. The resentment, anger and disappointment all being fuelled by a broken heart and a lingering sense of responsibility all ring very very honest to me, more so than the fall of the King which seems to be witnessed from the outside and always characterized as pathetic in some way.

    But I need to see it again ;-)