See ThisThe World's End
Summer used to be a magical time when we settled on one thing to kill us: volcanoes or asteroids, perhaps, or the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Nowadays, we're just greedy disaster gluttons, taking whatever alien, zombie or putrefying disease will have us. At least this season we're ending it all on a good note, for writer/director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the team behind Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, return to take on no scarier a foe than the English suburbs.
In 1990, Gary King (Pegg) lived up to his name, lording it over his band of chums as they attempted – and failed – to complete a 12-pub crawl known as The Golden Mile. Twenty years later, the rest of the lads have grown up and moved on, but not Gary. He's still driving the same car, still dying his thinning hair a ridiculous shade of rebel black, and still obsessed with completing The Golden Mile. Somehow, he convinces his old mates, Andy (Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Peter (Eddie Marsan) to take a turn 'round the old homestead for a pint or 12. Since Oliver's sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike), is also in town she comes along to bend an elbow.
I won't divulge specifics about what bedevils the lads—and the rest of humanity—for all the cider in the UK (unless you're buying), but suffice it to say that the night does not go as planned. Tensions bubble up between Gary and Andy over old wounds, between Gary and Steven over Sam, and between Gary and everyone over what a snot he used to be. Or rather, what as not he still is, because even as unnatural events occur and casualties pile up, Gary refuses to abandon his quest to get to the finish line of the Mile, a pub fittingly called The World's End.
Gary's relentless pursuit, the loneliness and melancholy it suggests, sharply distinguishes The World's End from Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. This is a more grown-up film and a less funny one. Pegg isn't simply larking about as Gary, he's actually delivering a tragi-comic performance that may be some of his best work. That doesn't mean the film isn't delightful; it is, with a script that could rival some of the Coen Brothers' for its precision in nailing the details of time and place. But The World's End tries to be something a bit deeper than your standard genre flick. It may not always succeed, but I'll certainly lift a glass to its ambition.
And See ThisYou're Next
If you'd prefer to settle for picking off humanity on a smaller scale, there's always this sly slasher send-up that owes its soul to horror films from the '70s and '80s. Sharni Vinson (yep, the girl from Step Up 3D) stars as Erin, invited to the country mansion of boyfriend Crispian (AJ Bowen), whose parents are celebrating their wedding anniversary.
But before the assembled guests can even make it through the appetizers, one of them takes an arrow in the head. Killers in creepy animal masks then set about thinning the family's herd – or they would, but for Erin. Somehow, the scrappy grad student seems strangely adept in horrific situations, as she marshals the family to try to mount a defense. She's a badass, and a convincing one thanks to Vinson, who taps into a reserve of steeliness that I certainly didn't see coming.
Vinson isn't You're Next's only asset, either. The film delivers solid jokes along with a few remarkably innovative ways to kill people. (One household appliance, in particular, earned my respect.) It's a fun night out for horror fans and folks like me, who watch scary movies through their fingers.
Oh, And See This TooShort Term 12"You might have to hunt for this little gem, starring Brie Larson as a counselor in a foster-care facility, but it's worth it. Larson plays Grace, who connects with the kids because as a former ward of the state, she's been there. So when newbie Jayden (Last Man Standing's Kaitlyn Dever) shows up and tunes out, Grace empathizes – maybe too much. I know, it sounds hokey, but Short Term 12 never takes easy routes, instead showing the people in the foster-care system in all their complexity. Oh, and keep an eye out for newcomer Keith Stanfield as Marcus, a young man about to age out of the system. He's riveting.
As Jane Austen adaptations go, my fellow Janeites, this one is a Willoughby – so pretty and promising, yet so crushingly disappointing that the heartbreak is nearly fatal. The premise, though, is divine: Keri Russell plays Jane, a 30-something American who spends all her money for a stay at an Austen-themed resort estate in England. (Reasonable? I think so.) The blow comes soon enough when Austenland quickly tires of riffing on the Austen phenomenon, and settles for being just another lazy take on Pride and Prejudice with jokes that land with audible thuds. Even Jennifer Coolidge grates as over-the-top fellow traveler Miss Charming, a dumb bunny who knows so little about Austen you wonder why she's there at all. Still, J.J. Feild is appealing as standoffish aristocrat Mr. Nobley. He's no Colin Firth, I concede, but then there's only one of those.
And Skip ThisThe Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Speaking of ill-fated literary adaptations, there's also this woeful take on Cassandra Clare's bestselling series about Clary Fray (Lily Collins), who learns that she comes from a line of magical folk named Shadowhunters. The action picks up when Clary meets a clan of the otherworldly demon killers just as her mother, Jocelyn (Game of Thrones' Lena Headey), is kidnapped. While the book has an obvious Twilight meets Harry Potter framework (there's even a Voldemort-lite named Valentine), the film's problems start when it steps away from Clare's text, dropping much of the origin story and entirely rewriting the ending. What's left are scenes that feel rushed and over-expository, with no thought given to pacing or logic. It's a shame, but it's a miss.