Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shaun Of The Dead (2004) A Slice Of Fried Gold

It's about time I reviewed this.


Shaun of the Dead, the British romantic zombie comedy (or "rom-zom-com"), easily ranks in my top ten of not just horror movies but my top ten in comedies and my all-time top ten.  It is the measuring stick to which I hold any horror-related comedy, the gold standard for "yucks and yuks."  I have no idea why I haven't gotten around to discussing it here but now's the time, and this is the month.  More reviews like this are comings, my "Why Haven't I Reviewed This Earlier?" series, you could say.

Right.  Now, as anyone who reads my blog knows, I like films with energy.  Something that tells me some real effort, some real passion was infused into the making of the film.  Even if the film isn't all that great, I can appreciate the amount of energy it exudes.  Well, this movie has energy in bundles.  Directed by Edgar Wright (who recently brought us Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, and shares writing credits here with star Simon Pegg), the film dashes and leaps, sizzles and pops, shakes you up and buys you a pint before dancing on your table.

Shaun (Pegg) is having a rough day.  His girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) has had enough of his lack of ambition, and breaks up with him at the urging of her two friends Diane (Lucy Davis) and David (Dylan Moran).  He is at odds with his stepfather Philip (Bill Nighy) which makes visits with his beloved mother Barbara (Penelope Wilton) quite uncomfortable.  The presence of his drug-dealing, ne'er-do-well best friend Ed (Nick Frost) angers his roommate Pete (Peter Serafinowicz).  One morning, the end of the world arrives as the recently dead begin rising and dining on the living.  Once they realize what's happened, which takes a while after being severely hung over, Shaun and Ed devise a plan to rescue Barbara and Liz, then hole up until the crisis passes at their beloved pub, The Winchester.  Things obviously don't go to plan.  Philip, already bitten, dies and revives, causing them to ditch the car and go on foot to the surrounded Winchester.  Keep an eye out for when Shaun and his group run into his old friend Yvonne (Jessica Stevenson, the co-creator of Spaced with Wright and Pegg) and her group.  Once at The Winchester, the group falls apart.  Barbara is bitten, Liz and Shaun try to work things out, and David is vocal about his doubt, mostly because he carries a torch for Liz.  However, we witness the confidence Shaun grows when placed in the role of leader.  He rises to the occasion, even when things get bad during the climax of the movie.  Still, without spoiling it for the few who haven't seen it, I will just say the movie ends on a chipper high note with a fitting end theme song.

Shaun of the Dead, to me, is - to quote Pegg's Shaun - a slice of fried gold.  Impeccably paced, with scores of references to classic zombie films peppered throughout, it never stops moving.  Musical cues, nods to zombie film actors (Shaun works for Foree Electric, named after Dawn of the Dead's Ken Foree) lines of dialogue ("We're coming to get you, Barbara!"), and the slow-walking zombies themselves are all part of the love letter to the classics of our culture, especially the films of George A. Romero.  There are so many references, so many of those nods, I can only direct you to IMDB's trivia page for the movie.  The acting is top-notch, with the obvious chemistry between Pegg and Frost as best friends in the movie, as they are in real life.  They even reprise a line from their Spaced series that sums up their relationship with the "thanks, babe" exchange.  The first in the "Cornetto Trilogy" (spot the Cornetto ice cream product), Shaun of the Dead serves as the first motion picture to build on the Spaced legacy.  They are absolutely linked which is one of the reasons I'm mentioning the sitcom so much.  That, and I just love it to bits.

Some time ago, I wrote a review of an episode of my favorite British sitcom, Spaced, during which the lead character Tim (played by Pegg) hallucinates seeing zombies thanks to staying up all night on cheap speed, eating Twiglets, and playing Resident Evil 2.  That hilarious bit during the television show gave Pegg and Wright some of the inspiration for Shaun of the Dead.  That series, and this movie, are huge breaths of fresh air - often imitated, never duplicated.  They're what's right in entertainment.

There have been some wonderful recent additions to the horror-comedy subgenre:  Zombieland and Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil come immediately to mind.  But Shaun of the Dead is my gold standard.  If you haven't seen it, yourself an immense favor.  I can only gush so much about it before telling you go out in the world and give your eyes a treat.

Here, to give you a little...taste...the trailer:

Monday, October 3, 2011

Trollhunter (2010) Norway Has A Giant Pest Problem

You have a problem with cockroaches or ants, maybe mice or termites?  It should be easy to find an exterminator in the yellow pages or online.  You have a problem with trolls knocking down your trees or eating your livestock?  Might be a little more difficult.  But if you live in the more remote regions of Norway, you just might be able to get some help from a troll hunter.  Getting a hold of him, however...that's another story.  You're probably going to have to deal with the enormous pests on your own.  But if you get a camera, you could film it and put it on the big screen, a plot device central to the wacky offering from Norway, Trollhunter (aka Trolljegeren).

I say "wacky" because honestly, this is a film about trolls.  Not dinosaurs, not overgrown Sasquatches, not Blair Witches.  Trolls.  There's the potential there for this to really fall flat on its celluloid face.  And yet it never does.  It maintains a deadpan expression as it presents the possibility of these mythical, semi-humanoid, giant creatures as being real.  It's tongue-in-cheek, yet never becomes a parody of itself.

Filmed in "found footage" style (although written and directed by André Øvredal), a bunch of college filmmakers set out to make a documentary about an area of Norway that is suffering from a rash of bear attacks and get wind of a poacher named Hans (Otto Jespersen).  He's a odd sort of fellow and the film crew grows more intrigued with him, making several attempts to interview him.  One night, they follow him into the deep woods only to be caught in the middle of a troll hunt, leading to a frightening confusion that leaves the students' vehicle destroyed and their leader, Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud) bitten.  Hans finally relents and allows the students to follow him as he does his thing, and they're made aware of a deeper conspiracy regarding these mythical creatures.  Hans allows it as he's done doing the government's dirty work, possessing scars that run deep about his role in the co-existence of humans and trolls.  The film crew continues to follow Hans as he hunts down the source of the recent bold migration of various trolls, one gigantic troll that may actually be rabid.

Rabid trolls.  It's actually scary if you think about it.

Trollhunter is alternately serious and straight-faced funny but doesn't make the difference between the two over-wrought.  The trolls themselves are pretty sweet effects, especially as you get towards the end of the film.  The ending has the same problem that most found-footage films have in that it seems like they're not quite sure how to end it and on what note.  It's fine for what it is, but the ending didn't leave me breathless or laughing or wanting more.  Jespersen, the very controversial Norwegian comedian, plays Hans very understated and as I described before, scarred.  He's been through some things you don't expect, and is ready to retire...or something more permanent.

It's a fun movie...not really a game-changer, but something of a blast nonetheless.  I'll tell you, Norway is really making some waves in the horror genre (and with monsters, this can be classified as horror) with this and the energetic zombie film, Dead Snow.  Should be interesting to see what comes out of Scandinavia next.

Until next time, friends, be glad there aren't zombie trolls...yet.