Welcome to the latest chapter in our series, as The Snooty Ushers trawl through the cast expanse of Netflix. Braving the unknown… discovering the hidden gems… risking the dire and the dreadful… all so you don’t have to.
It’s been a while since I last did one of these, I’ve been binge-watching The Office (the American one) and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, two shows that I managed to miss almost completely in their original runs. I’ve also been checking out a show called Danger 5, which is such an odd show, if I can work out a format I like I will put up a review.
But, the lure of a trip into Netflix territory was too much to resist. This time around there’s a couple of films that didn’t live up to their hype, one sequel that definitely did, the bonafide cult film, and, rounding it off, one of my all time favourite films that I decided it was time to reassess.
So, here we go…
The World’s End (Edgar Wright, 2013)
As I mentioned in a previous review of Hector and the Search for Happiness, I’m a huge fan of Simon Pegg. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are two of my absolute favourite films, probably the films I’ve watched most, and yet will still watch them whenever they are on.
This is the third part of that Cornetto trilogy, as Pegg plays Gary King, a man approaching middle age but still clinging to his (perceived) glory days. King wants to return to his hometown of Newton Haven and put together his old gang of school friends to attempt “The Golden Mile”, a pub crawl they had attempted 20 years earlier. However, Newton Haven isn’t the same town that King left (the pubs are homogenised and bland), his friends don’t see Gary the same way he sees himself (they’ve all grown up and have happy enough lives not to need to look back)…oh, and the local residents have been replaced by androids.
The World’s End wasn’t as immediately successful as Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, and I don’t think, even a few years later, that it has had the same sort of cultural impact. I can see a few obvious reasons why. Switching Nick Frost into a straight man role means he’s not as the comic relief he is in the two other films, and similarly Gary King is not as likable or heroic a character as Nick Angel or Shaun Riley (did anyone know that was his full name? Wikipedia is a marvel of the modern world!) Also, the references aren’t as well known as the zombie or police tropes of Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, and the script isn’t as quotable. There may also be an issue with the basic premise – does the teenage/early 20’s usual audience really care that town centres all over the country are full of the same few interchangable shops and pubs? It isn’t quite as attention grabbing as “funny police film!” or “ZOMBIES!”
However these really are only minor gripes. It’s always a pleasure to see Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, and Eddie Marsan on screen, and the banter between the group is believable and realistic of a group of friends. The “putting the band back” together sequence is great. As I mentioned, Gary King isn’t as heroic as Nick or Shaun, but his redemption story is genuine. Nick Frost is really good when allowed to show a more serious side, especially selling the hurt that Gary has caused to his friends. The soundtrack is absolutely kick-ass, tone perfect for the early 90’s era when Gary was the King of Newton Haven, and it’s great to spot cameos from Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s previous work.
I give this a strong recommendation, even if it is slightly less funny than the first two films of the Cornetto trilogy. Taken as the latest (and hopefully not last) chapter of the Pegg/Frost combo, it’s another fantastic installment in an incredibly strong body of work. If you include Spaced and Paul, The World’s End continues to explore friendship, masculinity, and how growing up effects these things. Once the large-scale re-evaluation of this film starts (maybe the next time Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost get together, or when it starts turning up on ITV2 as much as Hot Fuzz), I think people will enjoy it much more than when it first came out. I know I did.
Despicable Me 2 (Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, 2013)
Despicable Me was a surprisingly good family hit in the summer of 2010, which was a bumper year for animation, coming the same year as Toy Story 3, Shrek Forever After, Tangled, How To Train Your Dragon and Megamind, as well as Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris. It found an audience between these films, and a few years later, this sequel followed.
We pick up with reformed supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) and his adopted family living happily, before being recruited by Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) to join the Anti-Villain League, who need to find bad guy El Macho (Benjamin Bratt, who stepped in for Al Pacino a month before the film premiered). El Macho (who was thought to be dead after riding a shark into a volcano) has stolen a mutation serum that transforms the lovable minions into violent, purple killing machines, and is believed to be based in a local mall. Gru goes undercover working in the mall, and works his way through the shopowners to find El Macho, before he can launch his plan for world domination.
Coffin and Renoud realise that they had a massive breakout set of characters on their hands with the Minions, and so take the chance to put them right at the centre of this film. They are in every scene, even giving a running commentary on some scenes (“he-he, bottom”), although the girls and Dr Nefario are moved to edge of the story to make room. There’s an interesting romance theme, both Gru and the eldest daughter Margo have some awkward dating experiences
This isn’t a great film. It’s good, but definitely feels a bit franchise-y. Despicable Me was definitely a standalone film, whereas this feels like it has a lot less heart (due to the girls being sidelined) and just an episode in an ongoing series. The storyline with the mall’s other shop owners feels like it is there just to pad the film out to a decent length. It’s funny, but to try and sell the idea that the AVL is actually investigating these people doesn’t really fit in with the pace of the rest of film. The film took nearly a billion dollars, but I think that has more to do with paucity of animated films that came out in 2013 (compare the list above with Monsters University, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2, Epic, Turbo, and The Croods although Frozen cleaned up at the end of the year) than this being an excellent film. The spin-off Minions was better, and hopefully Despicable Me 3 has something more for Gru to do.
A recommendation, if you like the Minions (or Minions) then you’ll enjoy this.
Wet Hot American Summer (David Wain, 2001)
If you go on Netflix, you probably noticed Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp being advertised a lot. I found out it’s the prequel to this film, so decided to give it a go. The adverts for the prequel feature Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, and Elizabeth Banks very prominently, so I was intrigued to give this a try. with pretty high hopes.
Some of the films that I’ve recommended on here are based on a strong, deep cast. Wet Hot American Summer definitely has that, but unfortunately, not much else.
Jeanne Garofalo plays the camp director, who is struggling to keep the camp running smoothly, and David Hyde Pierce the physicist who has to stop a piece of a NASA space station crashing into the camp during the final talent show, which is put on by Susie and Ben (Amy Poehler and Bradley Cooper). The real main story though involves camp counselor Coop (Michael Showater) who is forlornly besotted with Katie (Marguerite Moreau). She has a brash, abusive boyfriend Andy (Paul Rudd), who is cheating on her with Lindsey (Elizabeth Banks). He seeks the help of crazed army veteran Coop (Christopher Meloni) whose only friend is a talking can of vegetables (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, from the excellent Archer and Bob’s Burgers).
Wet Hot American Summer is a spoof of those 70s/80s summer camp movies that apparently were popular, but I’ve never seen, apart from in other spoofs or subverted in horror films. Maybe that’s a reason that the film didn’t connect to me, I didn’t see any of the films that are being referenced, so if you have, this could be more enjoyable for you.
I’m normally a fan of satires and spoofs, but I can’t recommend this. There are some funny moments (a terrible comedian turns up and the audience loves it, which is a bit I always like, and David Hyde Pierce is the best thing in it) but not enough. I would recommend the prequel series though, even without seeing the film there’s enough funny stuff in it to make it worth watching, and few new characters that are actually better than anything in the film. Watch that instead, and if you like it, give the film a go. But there’s a reason you’ve probably never heard of it, apart from as an early entry on some famous CVs.
Kick-Ass 2 (Jeff Wadlow, 2013)
After The World’s End, here’s another under-performing follow up to a modern classic. Kick-Ass was a big hit in 2010, especially for a $30 million dollar film. It delivered plenty of superhero moments (grounding them in an almost realistic world) but still had enough of an independent spirit that allowed Hit Girl to be Hit Girl. Paired with James Gunn’s Super it brought a new slant on the comic book genre, and it’s no surprise that both Gunn and Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn went on to make huge successes in their later films with Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men: First Class respectively.
So, Kick-Ass 2 picks up just the first film, with Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) retired from getting his ass kicked as Kick-Ass, and Mindy (Chloe Grace Moritz) trying to be a normal schoolgirl with her new domestic set-up after Big Daddy’s demise. Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is also adjusting to losing his father, and changes his alter ego from The Red Mist to The… well to something that a family friendly column like Negotiating Netflix can’t print. He forms a team to take down Kick-Ass, who has started patrolling again with a group called Justice Forever. The two groups are set for showdown, especially when D’Amico finds out Kick-Ass’ real identity.
There are plenty of good things in Kick-Ass 2. The exploration of the vigilantes is interesting, as was the supervillain team. And it was good to see some quality British actors filling out the supporting cast (Steven Mackintosh and Monica Dolan as Remembering Tommy, and Andy Nyman and Daniel Kaluuya heeling it up as bad guys as The Tumour and Black Death).
Hit Girl is the star of the film, going on a real emotional journey that has a genuine resolution. There was talks of a follow up film based on her, but the disappointing box office return (and the fact that DVD sales are pretty non-existant nowadays) put an end to that, which is a shame. Hit Girl in New York would be a great story.
There is a lack of something in the film. Kick-Ass is sidelined for most of the movie, and the romance subplot seems a bit pointless and predictable. D’Amico’s realisation that being super-rich is a superpower is cool, as is the rest of his team, but expanding the focus to two sets of heroes and villains means they all feel like sketches rather than rounded characters, and their resolutions feel a bit half-hearted, especially when compared to Big Daddy’s end in the first. Even Jim Carrey’s Captain Stars and Stripes shows that these people’s actions should have tragic consequences, so the resolution that they should go and help people in their real life feels too easy.
Kick-Ass 2 pales in comparison with it’s predecessor, and so I’d suggest giving this a miss. There’s not much re-watch value here, go for the original, or as I mentioned, James Gunn’s Super.
Shaolin Soccer (Stephen Chow, 2001)
One of the great things about Netflix is the sheer variety of films. There are whole genres that I have never even ventured into. It’s one of the reasons that Dan and Dave started these Negotiating Netflix columns, and one of the reasons I enjoy writing them.
An example of this variety is Shaolin Soccer. It also happens to be one of my favourite films (I placed it highly in our Ultimate 11 best football films) but I have’t seen it for a while so it was time for a re-assessment, just to check that it wasn’t just my youthful exuberance that made me like this film so much.
If you weren’t around in the early part of the last decade, there was an upsurge in cinematic popularity in martial arts movies after the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and kung fu-inspired fights of The Matrix, as well as the arrival of Jet Li and Jackie Chan to the big American market. Part of this involved Miramax (and other studios) buying Asian films and giving them wide cinema releases and the appropriate promotion. Shaolin Soccer was one of these films, one that normally would never have seen a proper DVD release, nevermind the chance to be seen in a cinema.
This is the story of a lost Shaolin kung fu master “Mighty Steel Leg” Sing (Stephen Chow, who also directs and co-wrote the script) who wants to bring the Shaolin way of life to the masses to improve everyone’s day to day life. A chance meeting with “Golden Leg” (Ng Man Tat) provides him with the chance he needs – he will reunite his brothers, teach them to play football, and win the big cup competition. The problem? The cup competition is run by Hung, Golden Leg’s ex-team mate, who is coach of Team Evil, the reigning champions. Will the Shaolin masters be able to work together and win the big one?
The good news is that young James was right. This film is so enjoyable. It really is like a (cliche alert!) Looney Toons cartoon brought to life. The six brothers and their disciplines (including Iron Head, Hooking Leg, and Iron Shirt) are all funny but meaningful. Similar to The World’s End, there’s a great montage of Sing meeting up with his brothers and trying to get them to join him, and in the few minutes it takes you get a real taste of who the characters are. This is one of the real strengths of the film that make you invest in the characters, as outlandish as the film gets it still has an emotional core that makes you care for them.
Plenty of laugh out loud moments, cool, over the top fight scenes, and a real sports film. Definite recommendation. My highest possible recommendation. Watch it now!
Kung Fu Hustle followed a few years later from Stephen Chow and could be even better. It will certainly be in a future edition of Negotiating Netflix. The fact that Chow never made the jump to Hollywood is disappointing from a simply selfish point of view. I still think if his involvement in The Green Hornet had come off, it would have launched a comedy-action franchise.
And that’s it for this edition. Shaolin Soccer and The World’s End are two very, very good films, and Despicable Me 2 is something the kid’s will like. You can check all of our Netflix columns so far by clicking the tab at the top, including our spin-offs Investigating the iPlayer and Perusing Prime. I hope to be Negotiating Netflix again soon. Until then, thanks for reading!
See you next time.