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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Brief Look Back 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'Hot Fuzz'

"Do you want anything from the shop?"
"Cornetto" 

[In anticipation for The World's End, I decided to put up this little retrospective article, because why not, I love these movies, enjoy!]

When it comes to writing about Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, there is not a whole lot more that I can add to the conversation, but I can try.  These are films that I really love.  I can get to why and which one I like more in a bit, but I just have to say that few films have been able to capture the kind of tone that I love to witness in these two features from writer/director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg (also a co-writer) and Nick Frost.  Both films are incredibly clever homages to genre films that manage to become separate entries in their respective genres, thanks to great character work and inventive filmmaking, along with very detailed screenplays, hilarious performances, and a level of heart that allows them to be sincere films overall, amidst the chaos.  They are the first two parts of a trilogy (The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy) connected thematically, which will be concluded very soon for everyone, following the upcoming theatrical release of The World's End and I am happy to say this trilogy is one of my favorites.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)


"You've got red on you."

Shaun of the Dead caught me a bit by surprise upon my initial viewing, as I not only loved it for its careful balance of comedy and horror, but because it was so much more than a comedy about zombies.  It would be hard to say that the film is scary, but despite the emphasis on comedy, I was so impressed with the emotion that managed to surface, as we kept following the characters the story keeps in play, while watching death and destruction take over London (basically, the gory bits worked for me).

Shaun of the Dead is about a slacker with commitment issues and a best friend, Ed (Nick Frost), whom he always wants to hang out in the pub with.  Things are practically at their worst for Shaun, as his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) dumps him and leaves him in a state of distress, as he realizes he has to sort out his life.  Everything is exacerbated the next day, when it becomes clear that a zombie outbreak is in effect.  This forces Shaun into action, as he wants to protect Liz and his mom (Penelope Wilton), along with the other people closely associated, which leads to a journey to the pub, where he thinks he can keep everyone safe.

I had not seen the TV series Spaced (from Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson) before watching 'Shaun', but I can basically say it was top priority after watching the film, because I was so excited by the fact that there was more of "this" that I could digest.  Something about the sensibilities of writers Wright and Pegg was enough to have me appreciating all the energy that they put into Shaun of the Dead, combing an obvious love for zombie films with some very clever comedic moments, running gags, call backs, and very skillful filmmaking.


All of this and the movie is incredibly emotional.  You get this great sense of friendship between Shaun and Ed, you get this wonderful romantic relationship re-development with Shaun and Liz, and you have some very solid work from Penelope Wilton as Shaun's mum AND the great Bill Nighy entering in as Shaun's step dad, Phillip, who begins the film as somewhat of an antagonist, only to reveal a deeper side, before his time in the film comes to an end.  When the film arrives at its third act, it manages to build tension, while also calling back to certain bits of dialogue that keeps the film so wonderfully balanced in what it is trying to do, which is be entertaining, while devoted to its characters.  It is quite the accomplishment.

I have barely mentioned the zombie aspect of this whole thing, which is entirely appropriate, as Shaun of the Dead works because it is a great romantic comedy, which also happens to have zombies in it.  That said, with the zombie aspect, there is even a little bit of an attempt at social commentary, which all the best zombie films know how to pull off.  Shaun of the Dead is one of the films I have watched most in my lifetime and it had me clamoring for more after having seen it upon its initial theatrical release in the U.S.

"Who died and made you fucking king of the zombies?"

Hot Fuzz (2007)


"What's the matter, Danny? Never taken a shortcut before?"

So cut to three years later.  The internet had become a better source for building up hype for me, but I was incredibly excited for Hot Fuzz, which happened to be release around the same time as Grindhouse, a Tarantino/Rodriguez collaboration.  This must have been something like geek heaven for film fans at the time, but regardless, a new film from Edgar Wright and the boys was something I was really looking forward to.  At this point, writing this way could sometimes lead to that person then revealing that he was massively disappointing, except that was not the case.  I was massively entertained by Hot Fuzz, as I found many of the same things I loved about 'Shaun' to be present this time around as well.

Hot Fuzz follows the journey of Sgt. Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) into becoming a sillier man, as he is forced to leave his beat in London, in order to take up duty as a Police Officer in Sanford aka out in the countryside.  He was too good a cop in London, so he was forced to take up a much duller position, only to find that a huge conspiracy/murder-spree is occurring right under everyone's nose.  Angel eventually decides to take up the task at solving a series of crimes with his new partner, Sgt. Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), who has an obsession with action blockbusters like Point Break and Bad Boys II.  Despite the other officers having little respect for Angel, they'll work with him if it means taking down the bad guys, such as the evil Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton).

The movie is so convoluted that it is hard to try to sum up so clearly, but that is also kind of the point.  One of the great jokes about Hot Fuzz is how it is completely aware of how absurd its plotting is and does its best to throw everyone through a loop, despite how simple (and silly) the actual explanation is.  Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg came back with a vengeance, as it came time to delivering their next collaboration together, with them taking their love for action films and turning it on its head.  While not a Cabin in the Woods-level satire, the film certainly knows what makes these modern action movies tick and does its best to stand up right there with them.


It is fortunate that this is by and large a success.  Hot Fuzz is tremendously entertaining both as a comedy and as an action film.  Once again, the one-liners, running gags, and call backs are all great to behold, but Wright had a larger budget this time around and really stepped up his game as an action director.  Mimicking the likes of Tony Scott and Michael Bay, he clearly had a blast working with an assortment of techniques to really nail the style of these sorts of films.

Additionally, Wright and Pegg once again managed to keep the film very character-focused.  We get to see Sgt. Angel evolve as a person...or rather devolve, as he becomes an action hero, but he also gets to have a great relationship with Danny Butterman, as the two form a bond that develops very effectively over the course of the film.  Despite how silly the story becomes and how over-the-top the action purposefully becomes, the film is rooted in what makes these characters tick and how their chemistry is necessary for the film to really pay off overall.

While something about the dire stakes of Shaun of the Dead makes that movie stand as my favorite of the two, Hot Fuzz definitely lived up to the hype that I had built for it inside of my head.  It is a ton of fun to watch, full of memorable lines and moments, and a film that I love to revisit.

"You're off the fucking chain!"

The World's End (2013)


"What the fuck does WTF mean"

I cannot say all too much about this film just yet, as I have a review coming later in the week, but I will say that it is certainly worth your time and a fitting conclusion to the Cornetto Trilogy.  Stay tuned for more about this sci-fi comedy that really delivers on the theme of friendship, while also serving as a showcase for great comedy teamwork and some really ambitious action filmmaking.  Until that time though, feel free to enjoy this Cornetto Trilogy mashup (and I'll also be posting an exclusive video interview with Wright, Pegg, and Frost over at WhySoBlu.com):





Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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