BLUE JASMINE (2013)
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay, Sally Hawkins, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg
THE WORLD’S END (2013)
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosemund Pike
So over this past weekend I had the good fortune of having the time to see not just one new movie, but two! That’s right! You’re getting two reviews for the price of one (which should be free, by the way.) Why mix these two together? Well for one both of these movies are done by very well-known auteuristic directors who both have a very distinctive style. Both of these movies center on characters who are forced to seek out their former friends and relatives in order to recapture something from their youth that they lost. Mostly, though, I just don’t have enough to say about either of them now to justify two reviews…so here we go!
The first movie I saw this weekend was the Woody Allen’s latest flick, Blue Jasmine. Now as an upfront confession I wouldn’t actually call myself a Woody Allen…“fan” per say. Oh don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of his movies (Midnight in Paris was one of my favorites of 2010) but I can never help but feel that a lot of his movies feel sort of…samey. What I mean is that oftentimes they explore very similar themes, occasionally reuse a lot of character types and situations as well as settings. While Blue Jasmine does “feel” very much like a Woody Allen film, it’s set apart largely through its unconventional structure, as well as just how outstanding the performances are. The movie centers on Jasmine, a socialite who’s forced to move in with his step sister when it’s revealed that her husband was committing some…rather unsavory financial dealings…that and the fact that she had a wild nervous breakdown in the street that we never get to see. The relationship between the two is tense, but Jasmine’s sister, Ginger, is willing to accommodate because…well…she’s her sister right? The rest of the story revolves around Jasmine’s attempts to make a life for herself after years of not having to have to lift a finger.
The standout performance in this movie is of course Cate Blanchett as Jasmine, who does a wonderful job in creating a believable character who is constantly, visibly teetering on the edge of madness and self-destruction while not becoming a outright caricature. We’re asked to follow her and look into her life, challenged to find a way in which she’s not as pompous and self-centered as she initially seems. By the end of the movie, though, well, the audience’s initial assumptions are proven absolutely right. For all intents and purposes, she is a cruel, manipulative person who only looks after herself, and loathes when other people around her are happier than she is. We get a vivid portrait of a woman who lost any really sense of drive towards self-fulfillment and purpose long ago, settling for a life of comfort as the wife of a wealthy man. What I love about this is that while her misfortunes are in large part due to her apathy, the movie does a good job in allowing us to sympathize with her even if pretty much every action she takes in this movie is for herself and no one else. Days later, I’m still wondering to myself why I sympathized at all with her. Maybe it’s the fact that her predicament is one so common among people, the need to not only create meaning for oneself, but the desire to put a show of it to everyone around you.
The film constantly uses flashback to show us Jasmine’s life before her nervous breakdown, each one giving us a context on her reactions and attitudes towards what’s going on in the world around her. There’s no indication on when these flashbacks occur, and often it would take me a few seconds to realize that, yes, we are in another flashback. This does help keep these moments from breaking the narrative flow, but they do sometimes become a bit redundant, highlighting aspects of the characters that we’re already familiar with. We do get a good performance from Alec Baldwin here, but it’s very much the same good performance he always seems to give. It’s well suited to his character, though, so it’s not particularly glaring, he’s just another actor where I often just see him and not the character. A lot of people I talked to (i.e. people I asked about what they thought coming out of the movie theater) brought up that they thought the ending was a bit too abrupt, but I disagree. A mild spoiler, but I think people were expecting some big change to happen to Jasmine over the course of the movie when there isn’t. It led me to think that the people who change and grow in this movie are the people around her (like her sister) rather than herself. In relation to the ending, we get a resolution to the story of her sister and its ties to Jasmine, but because it could be classified as a secondary plot, it might not feel like a full resolution. Either way, I think this unconventional resolution keeps the story from feeling like it was cheaply wrapped up with a nice little bow like many movies about mental issues are (I’m looking at you Silver Linings Playbook…)
The second movie I saw was the latest offering from Edgar Wright, The World’s End, and despite what the trend might tell you it really isn’t an end of the world movie in the conventional sense…even though it kind of is. This is the third and final movie in Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto Trilogy” which began with Shaun of the Dead, and continued with Hot Fuzz (neither of which I’ve actually seen yet…). This movie centers on a group of five childhood friends who are drawn back together by their nominal leader Gary King (played by Simon Pegg) to once more attempt the golden mile, a pub crawl where they drink a pint from all of the 12 pubs in their hometown of Newton Haven, culminating with the titular location, The World’s End. None of these characters is particularly eager to participate, least of all Andy (played by Nick Frost) whose checkered history with Gary provides the film with its emotional crux. There are also strong themes relating to that fickle mistress nostalgia, whose rose-tinted lenses are fixed so tightly to Gary’s head that they sometimes cut off the flow of blood to his brain. They soon discover, though, that the pubs that were once so distinctive in their own identities, are now homogenized, commercialized, and sometimes without a difference between them. They soon find out that this isn’t due to a simple corporate takeover, but aliens! That’s right, aliens have infiltrated the planet and replaced the townspeople with robots! Yeah…it kind of goes off the rails a bit.
What really surprised me about The World’s End was just how good the action was. I don’t know if Edgar Wright picked it up while working on Scott Pilgrim, but the action here was absolutely wild in terms of choreography and pacing. Until the movie’s first action scene starts, the film is rather straightforward, so much so that the sudden veering into comic book action genuinely caught me kind of off guard for a moment. It avoids being jarring in large part due to how consistent the comedic tone of the movie is along with its rapid fire, very aggressive editing style that keeps the narrative bouncing along at a pace where that kind of action would be right at home. It has this ability to juggle multiple different tones, sometimes within the same scene. This especially helps when dealing with the tragedy of Pegg’s character, Gary King. Though he never stops being the borderline psychopathic man-child he’s introduced as, it only takes a few scenes towards the end to subtlely shift our perspective from one of hilarity, apprehension, and occasional disgust to one that includes a strong sense of sympathy…though still the other three.
If I take issue with anything in this movie, it’s probably the ending. It’s not so much that the movie trips at the finish line so much as it stumbles drunkenly across with its pants off and punches the nearest movie in the face (Probably Smurfs 2). The movie just escalates and escalates more and more as it goes on, eventually it just starts throwing too many new things at you too fast. The wit and humor starts to lose its edge somewhat and its late game twists are often kind of predictable. I do like, though, that it ends on a kind of bittersweet note, which I appreciate but there was somewhat a lacking of catharsis in that bittersweetness. It left me wanting more, and not in a good way either. The movie builds and builds towards something, and in the end it kind of throws its hands up in the air and says “the moral of this story is people are pretty stupid, but you know what, that’s o.k.” and kind of just…ends. There’s also the fact that, while the movie starts out being an ensemble film, the it offers very little in the way of development towards anyone other than Pegg and Frost’s characters. It never stopped being funny, but the story side left me a little unfulfilled in the end.
On the whole, though, Blue Jasmine and The World’s End are both excellent movies, and I would heartily recommend both to pretty much anyone. If you can’t decide what to see my recommendation would depend largely on the kind of movie you’re looking for. If you’re looking for something a little more cerebral and a little more subtle in its humor I’d say go with Blue Jasmine. If you’re looking for something bawdy, laugh out-loud funny with a slight bitter edge to it go for The World’s End. I can guarantee both movies will give you a good time, so if you’ve got the chance, definitely catch both while they’re still around.