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August 26, 2013

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Badger & Vole Review: The World’s End


Okay, we intended to review The World’s End this week, but between one thing and another neither of us actually got around to seeing it. Therefore rather than do another Man of Steel non-review, we posed ourselves a different question: what are the movies you should see before seeing The World’s End?

Obviously, Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, as The World’s End is written and directed by the same people, stars the same people, and has been described by its makers as being the third film in their “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy, which comprises these films—although if you can find any sort of “trilogy” relationship here, you’re way ahead of us.

But we decided to delve a little deeper—not so deep as to find Spaced, which I will confess to having bought as a DVD boxed set, only to find that I must take it in very small doses, with long rests between exposures—but deep enough to find some related movies that you probably missed when they came out in the theaters, that are worth tracking down now.

Badger’s Pick: Attack the Block (2011)

Attack the Block is an 88-minute low-budget British sci-fi/action/horror/comedy thing that came out in May of 2011 and pretty much sank without a ripple, which is a shame. It’s exciting. It’s fun. It’s a movie with all the brio of a 1950s sci-fi drive-in scarer brought up to 21st century standards, without all the self-referential winks and smirks that contemporary screenwriters can’t seem to resist throwing in, and without an insane amount of money being spent on redoing in CGI effects that worked better with models and puppets. It’s proof that sometimes the most effective special effect is just to have a character step out of view of the camera, scream, and then fling a handful of strawberry jam at a window.

Or to put it another way: if you were disappointed by the latest remake of The Thing, you’ll love Attack the Block.

In terms of science fiction plotting, there’s nothing terribly new and original about this one. Murderous alien invaders land in South London on Guy Fawkes night, with the incessant fireworks neatly providing cover for their landing and initial depredations. A bunch of teenagers are the only ones who see the landing and recognize the threat, but no one will believe them, so they decide it’s up to them to defend their block—their housing project, in American terms—from the invasion. From there the action unfolds in a variety of clever but not wildly original ways, until it reaches a very satisfying conclusion.

This film is definitely not for everyone. These teens aren’t your standard American rebels-with-hearts-of-gold, and they definitely are not the Cosby Kids. They’re housing project thugs, who we first meet as they’re mugging the woman who turns out to be the female lead. The language, when you can understand it, is relentlessly foul. (Most of the characters speak a sort of South London ghetto patois that is only technically English. We watched about half the film with subtitles switched on.) There are a lot of drug references and drug humor, the drug users and dealers quite naturally being the only ones who are equipped, emotionally and materially, to deal with hostile aliens. There is a lot of violence, although by American standards, there was only one one-second flash of an image that is actually graphic.

But if you can get past that, and accept the idea that sometimes it might take a bunch of (mostly) black housing-project kids to save the world, it’s a fast-paced and fun film with a good heart, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Verdict: Well worth tracking down on DVD or Netflix, or buying if you find it in a cut-out bin or at a garage sale. Would make a fun Halloween night movie.


Vole’s Pick: Paul (2011)

If you’re not familiar with the movie, the gist of Paul is that two British geeks who have just come from attending the San Diego Comic-Con (like Dragon*Con, only bigger—much bigger), are finishing up their holiday by taking an RV tour of famous science fiction movie sites, with a stop-off as close to Area 51 as possible. The alien held in Area 51, who calls himself Paul (after the dog he accidentally squashed when his spacecraft crashed), escapes from the government and steals a car. Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) crashes the car right in front of our British geeks and convinces them to give him a ride to Montana, where his people are coming to pick him up. Paul is, of course, being pursued by government agents.

The movie has received some negative press on conservative and religious sites for its over-the-top depiction of a fundamentalist father and his adult daughter. I’ll go ahead and get this one out of the way first: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost may think their two fundamentalist characters are over-the-top caricatures, but I know people who hold many of the same beliefs. The people I know are mostly sane and generally reasonable people. They hold certain beliefs I do not hold, but aren’t in-your-face about it. Conversely, the fundamentalist’s daughter (Kristen Wiig) spends most of the movie wearing a t-shirt featuring Jesus shooting Charles Darwin with a pistol, with the caption, “Evolve this!”

Did I laugh at some of the jokes stemming from this situation? Yes, I did. I have friends who would have laughed much harder and at more jokes, simply because the jokes reinforce stereotypes they hold. I have other friends who wouldn’t have laughed at any of the jokes and would have been offended by most or all of them. And this is the really touchy part about Paul. If you think this kind of situation will offend you, I recommend you see another movie and leave Paul alone.

In a way, Paul reminds me of Blazing Saddles. There is an abundance of swearing and foul language. Some of the humor is drawn from Wiig’s fumbling attempts to learn to use foul language. But a lot of the humor comes from science fiction movie references, just as Blazing Saddles drew a lot of its humor from western references.

Some things which have stuck with me (minor spoiler below, one you could figure out anyway):

  • There are plenty of Star Wars references, generally well-handled and funny.
  • There are several Spielberg references, including E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • I don't recall a single Star Trek reference. This may be because most of the references are to science fiction movies rather than TV, but there were a lot of Star Trek movies, too.
  • Alien gets its due—how could it not with Sigourney Weaver in the cast?—and there’s a brief Buck Rogers in the 25th Century bit near the beginning of the movie.
  • The scene where Paul flies off at the end manages to riff on both two science fiction movies and an arena rock band album cover.
  • Finally, when I saw it in the theater, the people sitting behind me brought their five-year-old son. In case you were wondering, five year old boys think bare alien butts are hilarious.

Verdict: As with Blazing Saddles, this movie could have been endearing and really good, clean fun. As with Blazing Saddles, it’s generally too crude for the “clean” part to work. But if you aren’t offended by language and can get past the fundamentalist caricatures, Paul is a pretty funny movie for geeks. It’s not as funny as Galaxy Quest, but that is a rather high bar to measure against.

Finally, this movie may be too clever for its own good. As best I can tell, my friend, the Boy, and I were the only sci-fi geeks in the theater. At least, there were points when we were the only ones laughing at some of the inside jokes. Even some of the ones I considered blatantly obvious, such as the Mos Eisley Cantina bit, seemed to be completely missed by the rest of the audience. This just further highlights the deplorable state of education in this country.

I don't know if this review will inspire any arguments, but if it does, then let them begin!



Badger was once an award-winning SF novelist, until his involvement with a legendary multimillion-dollar Hollywood bomb destroyed his writing career. Vole was once a million-copy-selling comic-book writer, and he still thinks the “lion” version of Voltron is pretty darn cool.

Today, they’re just two old guys who like to watch movies, eat popcorn, and kvetch. Oh boy, do they kvetch. And despite his mild-mannered appearance, Vole will always be known around here as the man who wrote the brilliantly funny but hopelessly unpublishable comic-book script, "Bruce Wayne's and Lex Luthor's Ex-Girlfriends Meet and Compare Notes," which introduced the now legendary "Crotchless Batgirl Costume."