Archive for April, 2007

Hot Fuzz

April 28, 2007

Hot Fuzz comes to you from the same team that brought you Shaun of the Dead, which I haven’t seen but now want to. After bringing comedy to the zombie movie, this time they bring comedy to the cop movie.

Nick Angel (named after the film’s music supervisor, I assume) is played by Simon Pegg, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Edgar Wright. Angel is a police officer in London who is so good at what he does that he’s making everyone else look bad, so he’s transferred to a small village in the country. He gets a promotion to Sergeant, and despite that he would really rather stay in London.

Angel is a machine. In one interview I heard, I believe that they said that he was modeled after the bad terminator from Terminator 2, and he really does run that way. If someone is breaking the letter of the law, he feels compelled to arrest them, even if a valid case is made that not arresting them serves “the greater good.” He’s also incapable of hearing someone use incorrect terminology (e.g., “policewoman”) without pointing out what the official policy says is correct (“police officer”), which is an affliction I can personally identify with.

The film’s early going is mostly about establishing the characters. Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) is the policeman, I mean police officer, who gets partnered with Nick and who also happens to be the Chief Inspector’s son. The only two actors I really recognized were Jim Broadbent (Chief Inspector Butterman) and Timothy Dalton (supermarket owner Simon Skinner). And you really do end up caring about some of these people. Once they’re established, the momentum does builds, and the plot goes over the top, and down the other side.

The two cop movies most referenced by the characters in the movie are Point Break and Bad Boys II, neither of which I have seen. And as I previously mentioned, I have not seen Shaun of the Dead either. But despite not having that context, I really enjoyed this movie. I highly recommend it.
I’ll give it 3.5 stars out of 4 stars.

Seen 4/26/2007.


April 24, 2007

Grindhouse is a pre-packaged double feature of Planet Terror, directed by Robert Rodriguez, and Death Proof, directed by Quentin Tarantino. They are intended to be similar to 1970’s era low budget exploitation movies which played in similarly low budget theaters. Before and in between the two movies there are a few fake trailers for similar movies titled Machete, Werewolf Women of the S.S., Don’t, and Thanksgiving. And the short Coming Attractions and Our Feature Presentation transitions that glue all this together seem awfully familiar. The films have been made to look like they have been playing too long in projectors that don’t work very well, including an intentionally missing reel in each film (the management apologizes for the inconvenience) and at least one case of the projector melting the film.

Planet Terror is not really my cup of tea. It’s a zombie movie where the zombies are created by some sort of military experiment gone wrong, if I understood it correctly. Infected victims quickly start having grotesque boils form on their bodies, and the film is frequently difficult to watch. But I will say that the scenes near the end (but shown in the previews so I feel okay discussing them) where Rose McGowan‘s lower leg has been replaced with a machine gun are disturbingly fun. And the one primary song from the soundtrack (heard early and repeated late) is killer. Other than that, well, it’s okay. I’ll give Planet Terror 2.5 stars.

Death Proof is quite a different movie. The bulk of the running time is people (mostly women) talking. Some of this (the earlier parts) bored me, and other parts kept my interest. But what made this movie worth watching was the stunt work by Zoe Bell. The word on the street is that that was all real, and all I can say is what I said in the theater at one point when her position went from impossible to “Oh. My. God!” Amazing. I’ll give Death Proof a strong 3 stars based mostly on that. Check out the documentary Double Dare for more on Ms. Bell.

Would this have been better as two movies? Well, the concession stand would have a better chance of selling me a soda, that’s for sure. At over 3 hours, I wouldn’t recommend even a small drink. While some people raved about the fake trailers, I wouldn’t have missed them all that much if I had needed to use the rest room, but I didn’t know that until after they were over. I guess I would say that on DVD, I hope they keep them together, preferably with a disc break somewhere between the features, and a third disc with the missing reels and other fun stuff.

I’ll give the overall double feature 3 stars out of 4 stars.

Seen 4/22/2007.


April 23, 2007

300 is based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, whose also created the graphic novel that was the basis for Sin City. While the green screen technique used here was also used in the other movie, it seems more obvious here. And yet, somehow, here it feels more like a style choice and not a drawback. Or at least not a big drawback. The story is so over the top that it feels right somehow that the images not look 100% realistic. And yet the story is based in fact. A small number of Spartan soldiers (the 300 men of the title) took on a much larger Persian army, at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C..

The battle is extremely bloody, but the not-quite-realistic look keeps it from being unbearable to watch. The performances are mostly over the top, but Gerard Butler is somehow inspiring as King Leonidas, and Lena Headey is both noble and, frankly, hot, as his wife Queen Gorgo. None of the performers were recognizable to me, and I think that worked here, not to mention that it presumably kept expenses down. But I expect we’ll see more from a few of them, based on the success of this film.

The bottom line is that I enjoyed the film and was glad I found the time to see it. I’ll give it 3 stars out of 4 stars.

Seen 4/19/2007.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

April 20, 2007

The Wind That Shakes the Barley won the Golden Palm (the top prize) at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, but only now finally made it to this area. It’s set in Ireland around 1920, and is centered around two brothers, Teddy amd Damien, the latter played by Cillian Murphy. Damien is a medical student who wants to stay out of the conflict between the Irish Republicans and the governing/occupying British soldiers, but early in the film he sees a train conductor beaten for refusing (on orders from his union) to carry British soldiers, and he decides to get involved in the conflict.

The film is painful to watch, with British soldiers brutalizing the Irish citizens, the Irish Republicans becoming guerrilla fighters, at least one person being tortured, and more. At the same time, the film is beautifully shot, on location in County Cork, and the acting is first rate. Murphy, who I think I have only previously seen in Batman Begins (a good film, but not that good a performance), is especially good here. And the story resonates today, if you replace the England and Ireland with the U.S. and Iraq. On the downside, I did occasionally feel lost, in that I wasn’t actually clear on exactly when the action in the film took place while I was watching it, and the accents sometimes made me wish for subtitles.

I’ll give it a weak 3.5 stars out of 4 stars.

Seen 4/15/2007.


April 18, 2007

Fido is a fun zombie comedy with a bit more going on underneath the surface than you might expect. It opens with an educational film at an elementary school in what feels like the 1950s, which establishes most of the background. Zombies follow the usual rules, eating the living (and turning them to zombies), and can only be killed in the head. But in this variant, a company called ZomCon has invented a collar that controls zombies, and so they are turned into servants for those who can afford them.

Timmy Robinson is in that class, and he’s not a big fan of ZomCon. Neither is his father Bill (Dylan Baker), who is afraid of zombies, and of life in general. But his mother Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss) really wants a zombie to keep up with the neighbors, so she gets one. He (almost all of the zombie servants seem to be men, with one slightly icky exception) is eventually named Fido by Timmy, and he is played by an unrecognizable (to me anyway) Billy Connolly. The other key characters are Mr. Bottoms (Henry Czerny), the new ZomCon executive who just moved to town, and Mr. Theopolis (Tim Blake Nelson), the next door neighbor.

The film can be compared to “Leave It to Beaver,” a variety of 1950’s movies, and Pleasantville. It’s perhaps most similar to that last one since it’s a big twist on the 1950’s that we know. I found it quite entertaining, especially early and late (it dragged a bit in the middle), and I was very impressed by Connolly’s performance as a high-functioning zombie. And I also liked the social commentary on the politics of fear as well as undocumented workers.

I saw the film at the Camera Cinema Club in Campbell, CA. Director Andrew Currie was there to answer questions. Here are a few things I wrote down (there are some minor spoilers here):

  • The first draft of the script was written in 1994, which is way before Shaun of the Dead
  • ZomCon builds fear to justify its existence, like today’s government
  • The heart of the movie is what it means to be alive, with the father as the counterpoint (all fear and no feelings) – despite technically being dead, Fido is more alive
  • Casting: the director wanted someone for Fido who could convey feelings well without a voice, and Connolly’s work in Mrs. Brown demonstrated that – Tim Blake Nelson’s part was written with him in mind
  • The film was made in British Columbia, in a sunny area known for wine
  • The songs really are from the 1950s, but relatively unknown ones were intentionally chosen
  • The film got some funding in 1996, but creative differences slowed it down
  • “Peyton Place,” some Douglas Sirk films, and The Night of the Hunter were inspirations
  • The director didn’t want to show a lot of gore, so he used silhouettes
  • When looking at color, the director chose to never have all 3 primaries in the same frame
  • The score was recorded in Prague with 40-50 musicians
  • The script originally included flashbacks to Fido’s (pre-zombie) life
  • The film had a bigger budget than the director was used to, so he created detailed drawings, and also Photoshopped 1950s pictures with zombie faces inserted

Spoiler alert! Skip this paragraph! Carrie Ann Moss was in fact pregnant, and the script was rewritten for that.

I give it a strong 3 stars out of 4 stars.

Seen 4/15/2007.