What’s playing in Madison movie theaters, Aug. 31-Sept. 5, 2013


All week

The Getaway” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema) — My full review is here. Late August seems to be a favored spot for lean, no-frills action movies (see last summer’s “Premium Rush”). But this year’s entry is a junky car-chase movie with a slumming Ethan Hawke and an in-way-over-her-head Selena Gomez.

The Grandmaster” (Star Cinema) — Far more promising an action movie is Wong Kar-Wai (“In the Mood For Love”) moving into martial arts action, with this tale of the martial arts legend who trained Bruce Lee.

One Direction: This is Us” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema) — Morgan Spurlock of all people made this concert documentary about the immensely popular teen band. “Don’t Look Back” it ain’t, but it should finance the next five “Greatest Movie Ever Solds.”

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” (Sundance) — My full review is here, and my interview with writer-director David Lowery is here. This elegaic crime film starts up after a “Bonnie :& Clyde”-style outlaw couple have been captured, as the husband (Ben Affleck) escapes from prison and tries to rejoin is wife (Rooney Mara). Great performances and a beautiful, sepia-toned cinematography of a fading West.

In A World. . .” (Sundance) — My full review is here. Actress-writer-director Lake Bell delivers a hilarious comedy as well as a pointed feminist message, as a female voiceover artist tries to make it in an industry full of men (and male chauvinists). Very funny stuff.

Star Trek Into Darkness”/”World War Z” (Star Cinema) — If you didn’t catch either of these blockbusters this summer, or want to see them again, they’re being offered as a two-for-one double feature this week only. If only they’d show some cartoons and a newsreel and charge a quarter. (Here’s my original reviews of “Star Trek” and “World War Z.”)


Bob Le Flambeur” (7 p.m., UW Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall) — Cinematheque’s fall tribute to master French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville begins with this stylish 1956 caper film, as an aging thief assembles a team to rob a casino. (This film was remade as “The Good Thief” with Nick Nolte in 2002, which is also good.) FREE!

Girl Walk // All Day” (9:30 p.m., Memorial Union Terrace) — Read my preview here. Bring your dancing shoes as the insanely fun dance film, in which dancer Anne Marsen (seen on “The Good Wife”) takes to the streets of New York City for an epic performance choreographed to Girl Talk’s “All Day” album. FREE!



Space Jam” (9:30 p.m., Memorial Union Terrace) — Let’s face it. Deep down, every Lakeside Cinema theme is just an excuse to show “Space Jam.” They did it last year and they’re doing it again this year to close out the season. FREE!


The French Connection” (1:20 p.m. and 7:10 p.m., Sundance Cinemas) — William Friedkin’s action classic has a fantastic car chase, a cat-and-mouse game on the subway, and an iconic Gene Hackman as hard-nosed, line-crossing detective Popeye Doyle, out to nab a French heroin smuggling ring.

The Fab Five” (7 p.m., Union South Marquee) — The highest-rated ESPN documentary of all time is this tale of the ups and downs of the legendary 1990s Michigan Wolverines team. FREE!


The Place Beyond The Pines” (6 p.m. and 9:15 p.m., Union South Marquee) — The lives of a small-time thief (Ryan Gosling), a rookie cop (Bradley Cooper) and their sons intertwine in Derek Cianfrance’s ambitious drama. FREE!

“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”: Do not forsake me oh my darling


“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:45, three and a half stars out of four.

“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” has bank robberies, but we don’t see them. It has a prison break, but we don’t see it. When a major characters gets shot, we . . . but you know where this is going.

David Lowery’s confident second feature plays the notes behind the notes of “Bonnie & Clyde,” “Badlands” and other period dramas about couples on the lam. While he wears his ’70s filmmaking influences on his sleeves, “Saints” is no pastiche, but an eloquent mood piece that leaves room for improvisation from the actors and introspection from the audience. Read my interview with Lowery here.

The first chapter of “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” would be the last chapter of most movies of its ilk. Somewhere in Texas, around 1970, outlaw couple Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) are cornered by the police. Bullets are exchanged, the pair is captured, but none of the plot developments matter quite as much as one archetypal moment, when as Bob and Ruth are led away by sheriff’s deputies, they lean into each other hard, desperately hard, knowing it may be the last time they’ll ever touch.

Move ahead four years, and Bob is still in jail, writing letters to Ruth. Ruth is free to take care of her four-year-old daughter, under the close watch of paternal shopkeeper Skerritt (Keith Carradine), who may be tougher than everyone else in Texas put together. Watch that scene where three mangy convicts come into Skerritt’s shop, and notice how its three armed cons who seem skittish.

Unable to be apart from Ruth any more, Bob finally breaks out of prison, and takes the long odyssey back home to reclaim Ruth. But he may not find the Ruth he left behind — being a mother seems to have changed her, made her more careful and responsible, and she’s reluctantly accepting the friendship of a kindly sheriff (Ben Foster). Whether the fact that she shot this sheriff in that standoff four years ago may or may not come up.


Foster, who often plays loose cannons on screen, is effective as a good-hearted but not simple man, while Affleck infuses Bob with unwavering, perhaps unwise devotion. (Although the parts are superficially similar, he’s a long ways away from the polite sociopath of “The Killer Inside Me.”) But the film really turns on Mara, who completely immerses herself into the flinty, wary Ruth. You’re always wondering what she’s thinking, what’s she going to do.

Lowery gives these actors lots of room to move — he’s a disciple of Robert Altman in his believe that movies are made in the moments you didn’t expect to find. But he’s also got some Terrence Malick on him, and “Saints” is a gorgeous, sepia-toned feast for the eyes, a faded photograph to a vanishing West and an approach to filmmaking that fell out of fashion decades ago. But “Ain’t These Bodies Saints” brings it back to life again, and makes it glorious.

“Getaway”: A gullible audience gets “Taken” for a ride


“Getaway” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate and Star Cinema. PG-13, 1:33, one star out of four.

The good news about “Getaway” is that it always uses real cars and drivers. Unlike the CGI’d up action of other summer action movies, you can tell that those are real vehicles motoring at high speeds and bashing into each other.

The bad news is that it does not always use real actors or writers. The utterly ridiculous storyline (even by car-chase movie standards) attempts to leap over Snake Canyon-sized gaps of implausibility, and has a hilariously miscast Selena Gomez in a key supporting role as foul-mouthed hoodrat hacker.

Ethan Hawke, who has mouths to feed at home, plays Brent Magna, a failed race car driver living a quiet life in Bulgaria with his wife. But then she’s kidnapped by a mysterious villain (Jon Voight’s lips) who directs him to a souped-up, armored Shelby with cameras mounted on the inside and out. Over the course of one night, Brent has to drive that car and do everything that Jon Voight’s lips tell him to do, or Jon Voight’s lips will kill his wife.

Most of this involves seemingly random mayhem, where Brent smashes through parks, sending innocent people fleeing for cover, or smashing into Sofia’s endless supply of police cars, who pop up reliably every five to 10 minutes, like in a “Grand Theft Auto” game. Brent picks up streetwise hacker AND megabanker’s daughter Gomez, who is so burdened by the weight of this overwrought backstory that she can only muster out yelling “I hate you!” and “Let me out of here!” throughout the film. (Between her and Jon Voight’s lips’ constant directions to “Speed up” or “Turn left,” “Getaway” could be renamed “Backseat Driver: The Movie.”)

Of course, Jon Voight’s lips has a more nefarious scheme in the works, but nobody comes to a movie like “Getaway” for the plot. The film is the non-stop car chase delivery system as advertised, and while the chases are freneticallly, desperately edited to within an inch of their lives, that’s not the real problem. The real problem is director Courtney Solomon’s mystifying decision to use so much dashboard cams and other cruddy digital video, so that he’s cutting from one muddy, washed-out image to the next. Maybe he’s intending to capture the immediacy of a YouTube video, but it looks awful.

Except for one scene that shows what might have been, a beautiful, rolling first-person shot that last several minutes of cars weaving and dodging through suburban streets at dawn. I’d like to think it’s an homage to Claude LeLouch’s short film  “Rendez-Vous,’ which is poetry in fast motion. The rest of “Getaway” is clunky technical writing in motion.

“Prince Avalanche”: Two likable eccentrics drift across the center line


“Prince Avalanche” screens for free at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30 only at the UW-Cinematheque screening room, 4070 Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave. R, 1:33, three stars out of four.

After “Your Highness,” any movie director David Gordon Green made that didn’t feature Danny McBride with a minotaur’s penis around his neck would have been considered a step up. After a trio of bracing indie films (including his debut, “George Washington,” which Green brought to the 2001 Wisconsin Film Festival), Green fell in with the Rogenverse and made stoner comedies like “Pineapple Express” and the huge misfires “Your Highness” and “The Sitter.”

“Prince Avalanche” is unquestionably a return to form for Green, fusing the contemplative beauty of his earlier features with the character-driven comedy of his commercial films. Adapted from the Icelandic comedy “Either Way” (which screened at this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival), “Avalanche” will have Green’s earlier fans heaving a sigh of relief.

Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are two men given the Sisyphean task of painting the yellow lines on a winding road through a forest devastated by fires. (The film is set after a real blaze in 1988, but was filmed in central Texas after another wildfire.)

The beautiful but desolate landscape, new life pushing its way past the scarred dead trees, illustrates the tenuous psychological balance of Alvin. He fancies himself a sort of Thoreau-ian frontier philosopher, able to write eloquent letters to his girlfriend Madison while cooking a squirrel on his Coleman stove. In reality, though, Alvin likely craves the solitude of nature because he’s just not that good at people; he’s like the one Boy Scout who has a sash full of badges, but nobody in the troop to call a friend. Rudd’s natural charms help us root for this strange, sometimes prickly man.

Lance is the younger brother of Madison, a mulleted goofball who can’t wait for the workday to be over so he can head back into town and “get the little man squeezed,” as he says. Alvin treats Lance as if he were some sort of project, a delinquent he needs to save through the healing powers of hard work and nature, but of course Lance knows himself a lot better than Alvin does.

As they trudge down the road, painting line after line after line, the tensions between the two men start to grow (there’s a hilarious spat over their “equal time boombox agreement”). When Alvin gets bad news from home, he snaps, his shaky man’s man facade in tatters. The two men bicker, have a little slap-fight, and then start finally bonding on an honest level.

Rudd and Hirsch are often very funny, with Alvin’s righteousness scraping enjoyably against Lance’s sullen party-hearty rebellion. Green plays their struggle out against striking exteriors, shot by Tim Orr and scored by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo. The result is a strange and satisfying contradiction, an intimate two-man play with acres and acres of stark natural beauty as its stage.

There’s definitely a “Waiting For Godot”-like vibe to “Prince Avalanche,” including a mysterious traveler (the late Lance Le Gault) who shows up from time to time. But if “Godot” was about the eternal, existential paralysis of life, “Avalanche” is more hopeful, suggesting that we can move forward — one tiny yellow line at a time.

“In A World . . .”: Sisters are enunciating it for themselves


“In a World . . .” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:33, three and a half stars out of four.

“Lean in,” Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg famously advised women this year. To which Lake Bell would add, “Speak up. And not with a sexy-baby voice either.”

Bell’s sparkling debut as a writer-director, “In A World . . .” is a both a riotously funny screwball comedy set in post-production Hollywood and a pointed takedown of male chauvinism and the marginalizing of women. In one film, Bell, previously best known as an actress, has established herself firmly as a filmmaker with a distinctive, um, voice.

The “world” that Carol (Bell) lives in is the one of voiceover acting, in particular those voice-of-God narrators who used to be ubiquitous in movie trailers. Carol’s father Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed) used to be one of the giants of the industry, but also came second to the real-life Don LaFontaine, famous for the “in a world . . .” line, which he often seemed to be intoning from the bottom of a well.

LaFontaine really passed away in 2008, and the film suggests that his silence left a vacuum in Hollywood that every other voiceover artist wanted to fill. A job doing the trailer for a blockbuster “Hunger Games”-like “quadrilogy” has come up, and the studio wants to revive the “In a world . . .” line with a new voiceover artist. Sam, resting his golden pipes in retirement with a groupie second wife (Alexandra Holden) is considering getting back in the biz, but LaFontaine’s heir apparent seems to be the mellifluous Gustav Turner (Ken Marino).

Except, Carol wonders, why can’t a woman do movie voiceovers? Why do so many of the women around her speak in high-pitched baby doll voices, infantilized by the culture? Having been relegated to doing voice coaching for actresses (you try and teach Eva Longoria how to do a Cockney accent), she starts pursuing the quadrilogy gig, and runs into a wave of chauvinism. Especially from her father, a master of dulcet-toned mansplaining.


Bell is an engaging actress, and one who has a deft command of all sorts of dialects and accents, and her movie puts all her charms and talents on full display. But “In a World . . .” really sizzles in the writing, in its fast-paced dialogue, subtle feminist message and large cast of interesting characters, such as Carol’s tightly-wound sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her doting husband (Rob Corddry), and her lovesick sound engineer pal (Demetri Martin). There’s a lot of funny people in this movie who get to be really funny, and Bell knows just how and how much to use them, never letting one element of her sprawling story overpower the rest.

And I just love this insider’s look at the real Hollywood, far from the glitz, where engineers and editors toil behind the scenes in sound booths and editing bays, all those names you see midway through the credits. Bell also cleverly shows how the chauvinism of old Hollywood still lives, how old men with young girlfriends and fast cars still seem to get to make all the decisions.

By the end of “In a World . . .,” the film has delivered a smart and subtle message of female empowerment. reminding that the world’s a better place when hear from a wide range of voices, old and young, male and female. Bell is a filmmaker to be listened to.

Interview with “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” director (and not Cracker frontman) David Lowery


David Lowery shares my pain.

The writer-director of the elegiac period drama “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” and I both share a name with a musician much more well-known than us.

“It’s just something that over the past five or six years has become a frequent thing,” he said in a phone interview from New York City a couple of weeks ago. “I had to change the bio on my Twitter account to read, ‘Not the one who sings.’”

Lowery has never met his namesake, although, based on the reaction that “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” is getting, maybe someday the Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker frontman will have to change his Twitter bio to read “Not the one who makes elegiac modern Westerns that have been compared to Malick and Altman.”

“Saints,” which opens in Madison this Friday at Sundance Cinemas, is a love story in which the lovers are only together at the very beginning and very end of the film. It’s also a crime story that takes place after the crimes have already occurred.

The film opens with husband-and-wife outlaws Bob Muldoon and Ruth Guthrie (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara) cornered by police in Texas and eventually captured. Bob pines for his wife, who is pregnant with her daughter, and years later finally breaks out to reclaim his family. But while he has stayed in a state of romantic swoon, Ruth may have moved on, with the help of a kindly sheriff (Ben Foster) who was involved in their capture.

“Saints’ has been compared to Malick’s debut “Badlands” and Altman’s “Thieves Like Us” for its tale of lovers on the lam, but Lowery’s film is more interested in the moments between the ones we normally see in these films. Frequently the action happens off-screen, and whatever action we do see has an odd, contemplative rhythm to it.

“I initially start to write a movie that was more of a strangeforward genre film,” Lowery said. “I was writing action scenes and I couldn’t think of a way to do it – we’ve seen the jailbreak scene already, and there have been some really great movies about bank robbers. I found myself really interested in what would happen after that.

“There’s nothing you haven’t seen in other movies, but the way in which we tell it is hopefully what makes it vital,” he added. “The thing that I can bring to it is that sense of rhythm and juxtaposition that are distinctly mine.”

Lowery entered the world of filmmaking primarily as an editor, working on the movies of his friends (he edited Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color.”) He made his first film, “St. Nick,” in 2009, and the short film “Pioneer” in 2011.

“Saints” feels like a whole order of magnitude larger, both in its star power with Mara and Affleck and in its ambition. But Lowery said that while the scope of the film was bigger, the essence of making a movie remained the same.

“I was really surprised on the first day of shooting how it felt like everything I made before,” he said. “My first feature was a $12,000 movie and you’d think that making a $3 million movie would be a seismic shift. It’s really not. There’s  a lot more people and there’s rules you have to follow. But at the end, you’re sitting there with a camera and you’ve got some actors and you’ve got a scene you need.”

Lowery especially wanted to retain a feeling of intimacy and improvisation on the set, allowing the actors to experiment and be alive to unplanned things that might happen in the moment.

“One of the ways that you do that is you plan a lot in advance,” he said. “You create a very tight structure and you have your shot list. And then you don’t feel beholden to that. You know that if things get tricky you can fall back on this plan, but you’re creating an environment in which you can be alert to changes.”

His experience in the editing bay turns out to be an asset as a director and even as a writer, as he’s always thinking about how one moment or shot will line up with the others.

“I looked at the shots that I imagined getting and thinking really hard about what I really needed. I tried to simplify and find the most concise and direct way to get the heart of the scene.”

With the success of “Saints,” Lowery’s name has been attached to a number of projects, including writing the remake of Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon” to writing and directing “The Old Man and the Gun” with Robert Redford. Lowery said he wouldn’t rule out going back and editing someone else’s film sometime. But not in the near future.

“I’m immediately excited about directing,” he said. “I just had so much fun making this movie.”

Instant Gratification: “This is Martin Bonner” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix Instant


Every Tuesday, the Instant Gratification column selects five films new to Netflix Instant for your streaming pleasure. If you have a Netflix account, just click on the link to go directly to the movie. If you have any suggestions for titles you think movie fans ought to check out, let me know in comments.

Pick of the week: “This is Martin Bonner: My full review is here. Chad Hartigan’s gem of an indie drama played at this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival, and if you missed it there you absolutely have to catch up to it on Facebook. The movie charts a tentative friendship between two men, one a reserved Australian in his 50s (Paul Eenhoorn) who works as a counselor for inmates at a Reno correctional facility, the other a former inmate (Richmond Arquette) adjusting uneasily to life on the outside. The movie is patient, empathetic, and unexpectedly lyrical.

Comedy of the week: “Our Idiot Brother“: With Paul Rudd starring in “Prince Avalanche,” playing at the Marquee Theatre this Friday, it’s a good time to check out this shaggy and amiable comedy, in which Rudd plays a good-hearted but somewhat clueless hippie type who unravels the lives of his three sisters (Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks and Zooey Deschanel).

Drama of the week: “Becket“: Peter O’ Toole and Richard Burton are just so good as King Henry II and Thomas of Becket, respectively, in this bravura 1964 drama charting how their friendship is tested and destroyed when Thomas is appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

Thriller of the week: “The Road: My full review is here. Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel gets an appropriately bleak treatment with Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smith-McPhee wandering a devastated landscape, hope just the faintest glimmer in the corner of the film.

Foreign film of the week: “The Women on the 6th Floor: My full review is here. A pampered French businessman finds himself drawn to the cause of the Spanish women who work as his maids in the slight but charming class comedy. The social aspects of the tale work better than the rather skeevy subplot about the rich guy romantically pursuing a young maid.

So you think you can dance (and watch a movie at the same time?)


I’m pretty much a purist when it comes to talking or texting during a movie. If i see that little blue-white square of light come on in my peripheral vision, I’ll say something.

But dancing during a movie ? No problem.

I mean, it’s well-nigh impossible not to dance to the insanely fun “Girl Walk//All Day,” a feature-length “street-dancing” movie that’s playing for free at the Memorial Union Terrace on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 9:30 p.m. As a matter of fact, I’ll be mightily disappointed if a crowd of people don’t start dancing.

The movie is like one extended music video, scored to musical mixologist Girl Talk’s “All Day” mixtape, which is a mash-up of over 300 samples, most of them instantly recognizable, from the Ramones “Blitzkrieg Bop” to Missy Elliott’s “Get ur Freak On,” all gloriously combined into an extended, thumping dance-music opus.

That album provides the soundtrack to Jacob Krupnick’s “Girl Walk//All Day,” which follows a professional dancer (Anne Marsen) who, after a frustrating day at the barre, dances her way through New York City, making the sidewalks, subway turnstiles and public parks her stage, other dancers joining her from time to time, onlookers wearing expressions of bafflement and delight. It’s pure cinematic joy, kinetic and playful.

“Girl Walk” first screened as part of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s Rooftop Cinema series in May 2012, and it was one of the most memorable screenings of my life. As the film played, a small crowd of audience members gathered to the side of the screen to dance along. As the film went along, you could sense people around you in the seats one by one finally hit that tipping point, where the urge to dance outweighed their inhibitions, and they’d get up to join them. (My tipping point was apparently a lot farther along than most people, but I finally worked up the nerve to join them for the last 15 minutes or so. As someone who has spent a lifetime in the seats, observing, I can’t tell you how strange, how exhilarating it was, to be up there.)

All of which is to say that “Girl Walk//All Day” is a very special thing to see live, and should be a wonderful film to see on the Terrace, on a Saturday night, with a crowd full of students on the eve of a new fall semester. Just make sure to bring comfy shoes, and leave your inhibitions at home.

What’s playing in Madison theaters, Aug. 23-29, 2013


Late August is supposed to be kind of a dumping ground for movies, an in-between time straddling the summer blockbuster season and the fall awards season. Yet there are five movies opening in wide release in Madison this week, four of which I’ve reviewed and are really good. And the one I haven’t seen is getting great reviews too. Oh, well — the One Direction documentary is coming next week, so I assume things will even out.

All week

The World’s End” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema) — My full review is here. The “Shaun of the Dead” boys return for one (supposedly last?) go-round, this time in a science-fiction comedy about five middle-aged men who go back to their hometown for an epic pub crawl, only to find everything has changed.

Blue Jasmine” (Point, Star Cinema, Sundance) — My full review is here. Woody Allen’s best drama since “Match Point” tells of a disgraced New York socialite (Cate Blanchett) who retreats to her sister’s home in San Francisco, slowly losing her grip on reality as she attempts to start a new life.

You’re Next” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema) — This home-invasion horror film is getting surprisingly great reviews for its mix of indie family drama and terror, as a mysterious houseguest turns the tables on three masked killers menacing a family.

The Spectacular Now” (Sundance) — My full review is here. Two high school seniors fall in love in a movie that’s not just a great teen romance, but a great romance.

The Act of Killing” (Sundance) — My full review is here. In this strange and disturbing documentary, men who took part in mass murders during the Indonesian coup of 1966 proudly re-enact their crimes as if they were starring in their favorite movies. I’ll be doing a post-show chat at Sundance after the 6:50 p.m. Tuesday screening.


The Producers” (7 p.m., Marquee Theater at Union South) — My review of the Blu-ray edition is here, but to get the full force of Mel Brooks’ cheerfully transgressive comedy, you need to see it with a crowd. FREE!

Simon of the Desert” (9:30 p.m., Madison Museum of Contemporary Art rooftop) — MMOCA is doing one last Rooftop Cinema screening for the summer in honor of its Los Grandes del Arte Moderno Mexico exhibit with this Luis Bunuel film. FREE for MMOCa members, free for everyone else.


Total Recall” (9:30 p.m., UW Memorial Union Terrace) — Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a ordinary guy who discovers that his entire life is a lie,  and that he’s really a trained killer who must go to Mars to lead a revolution. It’s the “ordinary guy” part of that that I don’t buy. FREE!


Closed Circuit” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema) — Two lawyers (Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall) find themselves on either side of a terrorism case in this espionage thriller.

Pulp Fiction” (1:15 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., Sundance) — Quentin Tarantino’s eminently quotable, time-jumping crime film kicks off the next round of Sundance Classics movies.

“The World’s End”: One more round with the “Shaun of the Dead” boys


“The World’s End” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate and Star Cinema. R, 1:49, three stars out of four.

Edgar Wright’s three films with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost has been called his “Cornetto Trilogy,” named after a popular brand of ice cream in Britain. It’s an apt title for films that are meant to be pure, sugary entertainment, whether a zombie movie parody (“Shaun of the Dead”) or action movie pastiche (“Hot Fuzz”).

But there’s a bittersweet ripple in “The World’s End,” the third and supposedly final of the films, that gives it an extra poignancy. First off, Wright holds off the fantastical elements of the movie as long as he possibly can, instead focusing on the flailing attempts of five middle-aged friends to reconnect with their younger, happier selves.

In particular, Gary King (Pegg) is a train wreck — he was the coolest guy in high school back in the boys’ hometown of Newton Haven, sporting sunglasses, a black trenchcoat and a Sisters of Mercy T-shirt.  Twenty years later, he’s a middle-aged man, still wearing those sunglasses, trench coat and T-shirt. Not as cool.

Life has passed Gary by — his friends (Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Frost) all have careers, families, lives. Gary has hazy memories of better days. They look at Gary with a disdainful pity, which is why, when Gary cajoles them into returning to Newton Haven for an epic 12-pub pub crawl nicknamed the Golden Mile, they reluctantly agree.

This all isn’t just prologue — it’s nearly the first half of the movie, and it’s tremendous fun to watch five top British actors ping-ponging witty lines off each other, as the pathetic depths of Gary’s life is revealed to the other four. He wants to go back to those heady teenage days, but Newton Haven has changed since they all left — nobody remembers them, and the town feels cleaner, nicer, “Starbucked.” If you’ve ever gone back to your hometown, and tried to reconcile that street map in your head with the one in front of you, you’ll know the feeling.

“World’s End” makes a canny move in flipping the usual Pegg-Frost dynamic — this time Frost is the level-headed straight man, and Pegg the manic screw-up. Add in Considine, Marsan and Freeman as middle-aged men who slowly reveal their own regrets, and Rosamund Pike as the girl at least two of them were pining for, and you already have enough for a good movie.

And then the fantastical elements kick in, which I won’t reveal even though the trailer pretty clearly does. Suffice to say that what was a mordant comedy about getting old turns into an action romp, complete with frenetic fight scenes, explosions and lots of blue goo flying about. The hilarious thing is that in the midst of all the mayhem, Gary doggedly insists on seeing the pub crawl through to the end, so as the threat grows larger and larger, the lads get drunker and drunker. Maybe not the worst plan.


LIkewise, Wright and Pegg’s screenplay never loses that emotional thread they started with. If “Shaun” was about the aimlessness of misspent youth, and “Fuzz” was about rebelling against the stuffiness of small-town life, “End” is about the fragility of friendship over time, and the dangers of living entirely in the past. Between these films and “Scott Pilgrim Versus the World,” Wright has become very deft at using genre conventions to illustrate the human comedy while still giving his audience a ripping good time.

“World’s End” is decidedly less bloody and more sentimental than its predecessors, suggesting a certain mellowing with age. It’s not perfect — its denouement tries to hastily cram about an hour’s worth of exposition into the last five minutes — but it never loses its cheeky charm. If this the last of the “Cornetto trilogy”, time to hoist a pint to a fun, fruitful collaboration. Cheers.