For us high-fallutin’ denizens of Concordia University, school has started up again, and we of the Mel Hoppenheim school of cinema are no exception. I myself write this from the sofa of Cafe X, the trendy cafe in the VA building, the drafty, graffiti-laden box where Concordia shoves all the art students, far away from the gleaming spires of the Business School, where the real money’s made. It’s been a stressful week, full of long waits in the bookstore, so last night I decided to unwind with an older Simon Pegg film about a struggling writer with anxiety issues, because apparently I like my relaxation to hit closer to home than that meteor that hit last November.

The film, A Fantastic Fear of Everything, definitely served as an antidote to the high-minded, classical fare I’ve been watching in my first week of classes. A very odd and very very flawed film where Pegg plays Jack, a writer plagued by phobias and neuroses, and his seemingly random series of adventures over the course of an evening.

a-fantastic-fear-of-everything-posterAnd random does seem to be the buzz word, and I don’t mean in a good way like in a good game of Cards Against Humanity. The film, like Jack himself, seems listless and unfocused and can’t quite settle on what it wants to be.

The first half hour or so seems like Pegg’s one man show, with him wandering about a suspiciously large flat narrating to himself in dialogue like someone who reads too much Douglas Adams, or speaking aloud in a way people only do in the movies or mental asylums. The action then moves to a laundromat, the focal point of Jack’s fears, and transforms into a comedy of errors, with Jack’s soiled underwear making unscheduled flights through the air while he desperately tries to conceal the carving knife he’s glued into his hand.

Things wind up with Pegg and co-star Amara Karan tied up in the basement of a serial killer who enters the room to the strains of The Final Countdown. The tone of the thing seems wonky, jutting back and forth with wild abandon between almost Python-esque chicanery and randomness and darker, more black comedy, with comedic non-sequiters popping up the whole way. Anything can happen at any moment, from stop-motion animated sequences, comically overzealous police officers and random rap numbers coming in out of nowhere, which makes them more bewildering than funny.

Which is a shame, really, because there is a lot of creativity and flare on display. The movie is definitely striking visually, the sets and costumes have a very simplistic yet exaggerated feel, and the colors have all seemingly been enhanced and brightened, giving the film an appropriately cartoonish look. The effects and animated sequences, for all their odd out-of-placeness, are fun to watch and very well executed, and Pegg’s performance is another notch in his already well-worn belt of excellent comedic performances.

The film is a first for directors Crispian Mills and Chris Hopwell and while they have that very “first director” problem of a lack of restraint, there’s also clearly a lot of skill at work. At one point it’s revealed that half of Jack’s hair had been seared off in an earlier scene, and I hadn’t even noticed that he’d been shot almost entirely from one side for like fifteen minutes to conceal this. Of course, this could just as easily mean I’m an unobservant knob.

The film is also genuinely funny at times, something that seems far more uncommon than it should be these days. Though most of the comedy comes from Pegg’s performance than any of the writing, which is too inconsistent to build the kind of delicate house of cards that is a finely crafted comedic scene.


For all the film’s virtues, and it does have them, make no mistake, things keep coming back to this lack of direction problem. It doesn’t feel like there’s a logical progression at work, an A to B to C path, something especially necessary in a film purporting to be about a character growing and evolving. There’s no sense at the end that we’ve been on a journey with Jack, but rather a series of unconnected events, a ramble down a path on which we’re occasionally assailed by a serial killer hair-metal enthusiast with no rhyme or reason to much of anything.

Nothing about it feels organic or natural, Jack’s enthusiasm for rap music doesn’t feel like an integral part of his character, just an excuse to have Simon Pegg dance comedically to some Ice Cube. A well timed pie to the face, appropriately set up and impeccably timed, is funny. A totally random pie to the face, seemingly out of the blue, is merely amusing, something the writers/directors of A Fantastic Fear of Everything seem largely unaware of.

And while an amusing film is entertaining to watch, so is an internet video of a cat that’s learned to flush the toilet. Sure, you’ll get some chuckles, but it isn’t something you’ll re-watch and repeatedly marvel at its cleverness like Pegg’s breakout performances in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

With some refinement and practice, I do have confidence that there’s something to be found in the film’s masterminds, Mills and Hopwell. But A Fantastic Fear of Everything very much feels like a film by a pair of filmmakers still getting the hang of the finer points of comedy.

The potential is there, but remains unrealized, though I’d gladly give them a second chance. There’s enough cleverness and craft on display to earn them that, just not enough to give this one a passing grade.

After tearing the roof off Fantasia with crowd-pleasers like Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim, Edgar Wright is prettymuch Fantasia royalty, which explains why the Imperial Theatre practically exploded in a torrent of hot, sweaty nerd-love when he took the stage Tuesday to present his new film, The World’s End, as the official closing film for the 2013 festival.

The long awaited finale to the “Blood and Icecream Trilogy” that started with Shaun and middled with Hot Fuzz, the story this time around is that five friends, in their highschool years, attempted a twelve pub crawl in their sleepy English hometown, but ended up facedown in vomit and failure. Now, many years later, they’ve all grown up and gotten real jobs and bank accounts and ex-wives and probably a few prostate problems if the statistics are to be believed. That is, except for Simon Pegg’s Gary King, who’s stuck in arrested development like a tick in a dog’s arse, and gets the gang back together to try the “golden mile” once again, even though most of them, especially Nick Frost’s Andy, think Gary can go straight to hell.

Of course, things take an odd turn when the gang discovers that their home town is now populated by robot dopplegangers, and decide the best course of action is….to keep getting wasted. Makes sense to me.

the_worlds_end_posterThe film gets off to a slow start, and I kept thinking to myself that it’ll probably get really funny once the robot shenanigans start, and while I wasn’t wrong, the first little bit of the movie is a tad dead, laugh-wise. Of course, once things start to get weird and the heads start flying, the writing starts getting sharper and it feels like Pegg and co. are back in a familiar groove. The dialogue is fast and punchy, with a gag of some sort virtually every minute. The writing is full of those little quirks and in-jokes we’ve come to expect, like how the names of all the pubs on the Golden Mile give you some hint of how things will go.

There’s an incredible sharpness and wit to the writing that you just don’t see in most American comedies, one that gives the impression someone, or perhaps multiple someones, gave some actual thought to the writing, as opposed to just writing some poop jokes and calling it a day. The characters are also remarkably well-rounded, especially Pegg and Frost. Towards the end, there are a few fairly dark character revelations about Pegg’s character Gary that most American comedies would probably shy away from, in favor of more stoner humor and tedious improv sessions.

All that being said, this is probably the weakest of the “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy”. While Shaun and Hot Fuzz were rife with in-jokes and references to horror and action movie staples, The World’s End feels a tad less reference-heavy. For some, this could be a good thing, but it definitely makes The World’s End feel like the odd film out. Or maybe there were tons of references and I just missed them, Wright and Pegg are usually subtle enough writers.

But even if The World’s End is the least of the trilogy, that still puts it head and shoulders above most, if not all other comedies you’re likely to find in theaters, and it’ll probably wind up on my list of best films of the year.

And that, my children, is that. Fantasia 2013 has come to a close and is receding into the night like a vampire at dawn, or Ryan Reynolds’ agent after seeing the latest Turbo and RIPD numbers, although with less of an air of manic terror than the latter.

All in all this has probably been the best iteration of the festival I’ve attended thus far, with only a couple of films driving me into a blind rage and more than a couple leaving embarrassing stains theatre seats. I’m already looking forward to coming again next year (you heard me) and for now….I need a damn nap.