Geek ending

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Honestly, you wait ages for a male-bonding apocalypse comedy, and then two come along at once, like computer-animated ant fables, Truman Capote biopics or volcano-based disaster movies. Except Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s This Is The End wasn’t the end of the world. The World’s End is.

I’ve been so looking forward to sharing my thoughts about the third and final part in Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright’s audacious Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy – completing the set with Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz – ever since I saw the first 45 minutes of it, at an exclusive preview in mid-May. (We signed a press embargo when we saw the whole thing last Wednesday, but this apparently lifted last night when Variety went live, and all the other reviews crashed in behind them.)

Because the film’s release date was “pulled forward”, to use the impenetrable industry jargon, by a month, there has been a certain amount of frenzied activity behind the scenes at The World’s End as it was readied for public consumption, which is why selected journalists with long lead-times were treated to the weirdest screening ever: the first half of a film. (It was even introduced by Edgar.) In it, Pegg’s boorish Gary, the hedonistic goth who refused to grow up and is first seen in rehab, gets the old gang back together to stage a second attempt, 20 years on, at their old hometown’s “Golden Mile” 12-hostelry pub crawl. (The town is Newton Haven, played by two “garden cities”, Letchworth and Welwyn, which join Crouch End and Wells in Somerset on the Cornetto map.)

The gang – who have all inconveniently grown up in the interim and view the developmentally arrested Gary as something of a necessary irritant – are played by regulars Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan, and a finer bunch of British avengers you could not hope to assemble. (Rafe Spall and Julia Deakin also have small parts, which means they have been in all three films, along with Pegg, Frost and Freeman.) In those first 45 minutes, we get a keenly observed and deeply self-critical portrait of misspent adulthood, which does Pegg, Frost and Wright – all essentially huddled around the big four-oh – proud.

Wright is still haunted by a crawl he never completed in his youth, and his own nostalgia and self-examination seem to fuel the story – as well as provide the soundtrack of iconic early-90s indie-dance-crossover tunes that are not heard in films as often as, say, 60s beat hits, or mid-90s Britpop. (When the lads groove to the Soup Dragons’ I’m Free in Gary’s car, it’s all good, clean, I ♥ The 90s fun until he reveals that not only is this the same compilation cassette from 20 years ago, it’s also the same car. For this, he is regarded as comically tragic by the others. But who doesn’t cling to simpler times?)

When I interviewed the trio last Tuesday in Claridge’s I still hadn’t seen the second half of the film we were there to discuss. This would ordinarily be intolerable – the height of film studio arrogance and cheek. But hey, it really was not quite finished yet. We all saw it on Wednesday. For those of us who’d seen the first 45 minutes – which ended with the first clue that all was not of this earth in Newton Haven – it was odd to see the run-up again, but, like all of their best work, it’s worth repeating, and in fact matures.

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It’s a terrific film, confident, silly, warm and surprising, and a worthy finale to an insane, parochial cinematic adventure. Don’t worry: I won’t tell you anything key about the plot, or where the third Cornetto comes in, or reveal a couple of well-kept casting secrets, as it’s not out until next week. Pegg, Frost and Wright were being extra careful last Tuesday, mouthing names to each other, and playing a guessing game about an extra audio detail Wright had inserted into the final sound mix. When you set this much store by details, metatextuality, in-jokes, paybacks and cross-references, it’s important to handle them with care. The title – and the trailer – are pretty explicit about the apocalyptic end-point, but not the getting there, other than it involves hand to hand combat, at one juncture with pub stools for weapons. It also gives away a sight gag that refers back to Shaun and Hot Fuzz, although knowing about it does not subtract from the glee of seeing it.

My admiration for the work Pegg, Frost and Wright do as a fighting unit – and although Wright is very definitely the director, and Pegg and Wright credited with the script, it’s clear Frost is closely consulted throughout – is very high. To adapt the fanboy fun of Spaced to work across a broad canvas, not to mention sell it to the Americans, has been one of the more heartwarming successes of British cinema in the 21st century. (The support they’ve had from Working Title and Universal, as well as Big Talk, is key, too, but these guys are the ones with the ideas and the pre-midlife crises to draw on.)

This geek ending is final in every sense. It’s bigger and costlier than the previous two films, but as good rather than better. To have kept their end up, to the end, is reward enough. I always enjoy seeing Pegg and Frost in other stuff, and Wright will easily adapt to a Hollywood career if he wishes it, but there’s nothing to beat the three of them in a room together, and you have to hope they’ll reunite through a cosmic need to do so, rather than a financial imperative.

Having met the clubbable Pegg and Frost during press for Hot Fuzz, and struck a surprising seam of mutual admiration with Pegg (ie. he’d read my books, which had been given to him by a mutual Northampton-based friend, Tony Kirkland, with whom I co-starred in a Weston Favell Upper School production of Macbeth in 1983), I was lucky enough to reflect in the collective glory of the whole Spaced gang at a BFI reunion day in November 2007, where I first met Edgar and crossed that Rubicon where we might actually say hello in the street. They’ve all been kind to me ever since whenever our paths have crossed, and Simon gave me a cover quote for my non-selling third memoir, which I still treasure: “Fucking hilarious.” As is often the case when you meet cool people professionally, you start out as a fan, gain their trust, and became something slightly less needy. (But remain a fan.) Here’s me unable to hide my enjoyment onstage at NFT1.

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I’ve read all the reviews that went up last night. Most critics have been impressed by the scale; which is to say, the bigness of the sci-fi half, but also the intimacy of the first, without which the second half would just be big. Even when things are credibly sci-fi, they remain just as credibly real, thanks to the chemistry of Pegg and Frost first and foremost, but among the other cast, too. One or two have said it’s too long at 109 minutes, but I found that even when the big stuff hits a plateau of destruction, it’s always cleverly undercut by the matey and often foul-mouthed dialogue. That comes from practice, I’d say. I could watch it again now, and that would mean seeing the first 45 minutes for the third time.

The World’s End is released next Friday, July 19, and if you are fond of the other two films and the sitcom from whence they came, you’ll be first through the doors, and you won’t want to leave at last orders. This Is The End is still on general release. Let’s Boo-Boo.

Day One Pt 2

Alright, so this is the second half of day one. As accurately pointed out by a pedant after the first entry in my week-long boring-life experiment, it’s wiser to write a diary after the day in question rather than in the middle of the day that’s actually happening. I’ll get the hang of it just in time to stop.

Luckily, I took one more picture using my laptop, in the bar of the Curzon cinema in Soho, where I saw Norwegian Wood. (See how helpfully I have written my review of the film as a separate entry, so it’s easy to avoid.) To the left of my head you can actually see stills of Norwegian Wood, which they have put on the wall while the film is playing. Interestingly, one of the lights above my head was on the blink, and was flashing on and off while I sat there, waiting, giving the alcove a certain David Lynchean sense of unease. Two men came to fix it, and I was fascinated by the clear hierarchy that existed between them: the older man told the younger man what to do, while the younger man was up the stepladder. Which man would you rather be? I’d quite like to be the man up the stepladder, actually doing the thing, rather than the man at the bottom shouting out instructions.

Considering it was a lunchtime, there were quite a few cineastes in. Do cineastes tend also to be self-employed? Or just independently wealthy? I quite like going to the cinema on my own, when circumstances dictate it, especially to arthouse cinemas. It is a brief window of opportunity for fancying yourself. This is easier when you have a nice, neat new haircut.

When I arrived at 6 Music for day one of my five-day stint in Steve Lamacq’s chair and logged on to the BBC computer, I discovered that Caitlin Moran had caused a minor stir on Twitter by posting an old publicity photo from the set of C4’s early-90s youth TV show Naked City. She had published it on Facebook, so I couldn’t access it. I asked if someone clever could transfer it to Twitter. Caitlin couldn’t. A number of others could. So I re-publish it here:

For the record, left to right: Andrew Collins, Caitlin Moran, Johnny Vaughan, Stuart Maconie, Michael Smiley. We were the presenters of series two, in 1994. I have happy memories of that show. Stuart and I had somehow managed to launch ourselves as a double act on Radio One, and we signed up with a showbiz agent who doubled our money at Radio 1 and got us a slot on a TV show. It all happened very fast, and we were both still working at Q, where I held down a proper, nine-to-five day job, features editor. So it was a bit of mischief spending one afternoon a week in Battersea filming a youth TV show (in the first of the series, Mr C from the Shamen, Fish from Marillion and Tony Banks MP engaged in a joint-rolling competition, if I remember correctly). Stuart and I did a self-contained satirical look at music from a sofa on a gantry while disconsolate, bused-in teens shuffled around below us. We thought a long career in TV awaited us. It didn’t, really. Off the back of it, Johnny became one of the highest paid men in showbiz and eventually settled as Capital Radio’s breakfast DJ, Caitlin stuck to her calling, which was writing, and Smiley – whom we rarely met as he was the roving reporter – pursued acting, and must still be stopped in the street for being Tyres in Spaced. You will note that in the photograph I am wearing a S*M*A*S*H t-shirt. It was a prop. It wasn’t mine.

Tremendous fun doing Steve’s show, as it always is. Unlike, say, the breakfast show, or Nemone’s show, or Lauren’s, it’s much less formatted, and guests do not feature heavily. This is preferable if you’re filling in, as there’s less prep to do. Apart from speaking to a listener on the phone for Good Day, Bad Day, and the choreographical nightmare that is Roundtable on Thursday, it’s mostly about playing music and generating texts and emails, which are my favourite things. (Paul the producer has kindly parked the student radio feature, My New Favourite Band, and the thing with Robin Ince, as these are Steve’s. As luck would have it, I saw Robin for a very quick pint after the show, as he was downstairs at the Radio Comedy department with Michael Legge, working on their Edinburgh Fringe brochure copy, and he berated me for dropping his feature.)

The best thing about doing any show on 6 Music is the immediacy and creativity of the listener response. I asked for great songs written for the movies, and the feedback was enormous. I asked for suitable songs to go with a trivial news story for Steve’s long-running National Anthem feature, and the suggestions were wide-ranging and very clever. I mentioned playing Cud on Twitter beforehand, and all the Cud fans came out of the woodwork – and a member of Cud! – which just makes playing their Peel version of You Sexy Thing from June 1987 all the more pleasurable. There really is no place to work like 6 Music. I mentioned I was doing a week’s work there to my hairdresser, who is 22, and he clearly had no idea what I was talking about. That’s sobering. I mentioned its threatened closure and glorious reprieve and, again, a blank. You should never fool yourself that just because it’s in the Media Guardian, it’s in the whole wide world.

A pint after work? It’s unheard of. I actually rarely drink these days. Not through any sort of forced temperance like Richard Herring, just through a combination of lack of interest, fear of the ever-extending hangover and broader health paranoia in my mid-forties. When you are my age, booze and bad eating show very heavily on your body and face. You can’t get away with it any more. That said, I have a homing instinct for pubs, and the invitation from Robin and Michael to go for a quick one was actually impossible to resist. I stayed in the pub for a whole 20 minutes, then went home.

Nodded off during part two of this week’s Waking The Dead mystery, which might well be ironic.

Never did finish the extra scene I owe for Mr Blue Sky. And when I plugged my iPod into my laptop, iTunes failed to recognise it and it would not sync, so I had to reload all 8,800 or so songs. This took ages.

This diary is proving popular. I get between 500 and 1,500 visits a day to this blog. It usually settles around the 750 mark, even if I haven’t posted anything new. It spikes when I post something. It shot up past 1,500 for a couple of days recently when, not coincidentally, I wrote about the return of Adam and Joe. And it went up to those dizzy heights again yesterday. Don’t expect me to keep this up. I woke, on the morning of Day Two, in one of my regular panics that I won’t be able to get done everything I need to get done this week. The work is closing in on me. I’ll do my best.