Monday, April 30, 2007

"Spider-Man 3" -- * 1/2

After a sequel that easily qualifies as one of the five best superhero movies of all time, Sam Raimi’s "Spider-Man 3" has the distinction of being the first massive disappointment of the summer movie season. But, to paraphrase Brian Posehn, "Spider-Man 3" doesn't just suck compared to the other "Spider-Man" movies, it sucks compared to other movies that suck.

Something about the movie just seems wrong, or at least “off,” right off the bat. In the opening moments, we’re re-introduced to Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst, back again) as she’s singing in a Broadway musical that may be the worst pairing of voice and vessel I’ve seen in a movie. Couldn’t Raimi have at least attempted to find a singer whose voice sounded at least a little bit like Dunst’s? For those who enjoy this horrifically, blatantly dubbed song, worry not—there’s another performance coming up later. synopsis: Based on the legendary Marvel Comics series, Peter Parker has finally managed to strike a balance between his devotion to M.J. and his duties as a superhero. But there is a storm brewing on the horizon. When his suit suddenly changes, turning jet-black and enhancing his powers, it transforms Peter as well, bringing out the dark, vengeful side of his personality that he is struggling to control. Under the influence of the suit, Peter becomes overconfident and starts to neglect the people who care about him most. Forced to choose between the seductive power of the new suit and the compassionate hero he used to be, Peter must overcome his personal demons as two of the most-feared villains yet, Sandman and Venom, gather unparalleled power and a thirst for retribution to threaten Peter and everyone he loves.

The movie actually emulates “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” more than either of its predecessors, utilizing the method of throwing so much at its audience that hopefully they won’t notice the warmed-over content at its core. We’re given about 400 subplots, and no less than three villains, none of whom is entrusted with much screen time or anything particularly interesting to do.

James Franco gets to be The Green Goblin for all of 10 minutes (that one extended fight sequence you saw on NBC) before being knocked out and developing amnesia—yes, amnesia— in the first half hour, and forgetting that he hates Spider-Man. It’s even lamer than it sounds.

Thomas Haden Church (looking especially jacked) attempts to give a real performance as Sandman/Flint Marko, but is hindered at every turn by Raimi’s (1) insistence of having him try to kill Spider-Man for no real reason or motivation and (2) decision to forget about his character for 25 minutes at a time so each time we return to him, we’re reminded “oh right, he’s in this.” Raimi also throws in the out-of-nowhere element of revealing Marko was actually the one who killed Parker’s beloved Uncle Ben, in an apparent attempt to make us care more about his defeat. To be fair, Church tries his best to make Marko an interesting character, and Sandman is integral in one of the two sequences I genuinely enjoyed, reminiscent of both “Godzilla” and the end of the first “Ghostbusters” (the other sequence involves Bruce Campbell’s obligatory cameo, which I won’t spoil).

I can’t claim to be an aficionado of the comics, but if I were, I can’t imagine I’d be satisfied with the lackluster way Venom is handled here. Everything I’ve always heard has indicated to me that Venom was/is a fan favorite, and what most people seem to be anticipating the most about “Spider-Man 3.” However, I checked my watch, and the amount of time from his first appearance to his exit from the film is a full 20 minutes. I wish I could say they were at least a worthy 20 minutes, but it’s just poorly handled all around and feels shoehorned in haphazardly. “Well, the fans have been clamoring for Venom, so let’s make sure we give them him before we finish, just in case there’s not another movie.” All he’s given to do is a capture of Mary Jane extremely similar to the one at the climax of the first film, and some really awkwardly done bits where we still hear Topher Grace’s dorky voice coming out of the jaws of Venom. I almost feel bad for Grace—he could really have made as good, perhaps better, a Spider-Man than Maguire, yet here he’s relegated to a side character (Eddie Brock) given one-dimension and thrown in just as a device to fit Venom into the movie.

Anyone excited at the promise of a “dark” Spider-Man, as indicated by the black spidey suit evident in all the ads, be advised that a dark, sinister Peter Parker consists basically of him turning into an emo kid. Yep, he brushes his hair down to partially cover his face, and is kind of a jerk to Mary Jane at a club. That’s it.

Now, there’s something that must be addressed: the much-discussed dance sequence. After being inhabited/influenced by the symbiote and becoming a swaggering, cocky douchebag, Peter struts down the street ogling various women and shaking his stuff, including some pelvic thrusts and hip gyrations. This leads into said club sequence where Peter shakes his booty all over the dance floor in an arrogant, heavily-choreographed number reminiscent of the Broadway revival of “Chicago.”’s Nick Nunziata (whose writing I’m a big fan of) described this sequence as a moment “where it becomes obvious that all involved parties realize they have nothing else to prove and simply let their figurative hair down and had some fun.” He apparently really enjoyed it (as did a few members of the group I saw the movie with), and I understand his rationale. However, to me, this was the single most excruciating 5-minute chunk of any movie I’ve seen this year. My jaw hung agape, I couldn’t believe what I was watching and I started to grow concerned for the well-being of Sam Raimi.

It’s nearly impossible to ignore that this is a significantly weaker screenplay than the first two films—I’ve read that this was initially two separate scripts, and it shows. There’s just far too much shit tossed in here. Not only is it the weakest script, I’m sorry to say, it’s the first one with numerous bouts of truly laughable dialogue (“You want forgiveness? Get religion!,” says Emo Peter), sequences that will have more than a few self-professed fans groaning (Harry and Mary Jane dancing to “Let’s Twist Again Like We Did Last Summer” while making an omelet together), and patriotism of ridiculous magnitudes (when he makes his triumphant return, Spider-Man appears in front of an American flag without a lick of irony). We’re also given more plot contrivances than I was able to swallow, even for a superhero movie—all I’ll say is the most notable one takes place in a church. Even Parker’s voice-over narration (a lowlight of the first two movies) is at its worst here, and more than a few times I looked around at the audience surrounding me to see if any of them was as baffled/amused as I was—they were not.

Oh, I’ve almost forgotten about Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacey (Peter’s temptation away from Mary Jane), which is somewhat appropriate since the movie does as well. She only registers a few minutes of screen time and makes virtually no impression. Apparently, she’ll get fleshed out and have her eventual death if/when there’s a fourth movie.

The film’s climax, as I’m sure you’ve heard, is a four-way fight between our hero(es) and villains—don’t worry, I won’t reveal the results. I couldn’t work up much enthusiasm about it, given how familiar it felt, but in an attempt to put words in the audience’s mouths, Raimi cuts to two little kids in the crowd mid-fight shouting “Awesome” and “Wicked cool.” Wishful thinking, Sam.

Obviously, a lot of people are really looking forward to this, and are going to have their minds made up about loving it before even heading into the theater (I know the group of people I saw it with did), so my opinion is likely going to be in the minority. But I truly wanted to like this thing—I enjoyed the first “Spider-Man,” and “Spider-Man 2” was in my top 10 of 2004. It just seems everyone was given TOO much free reign with this one, and that leaves us with a big, bloated mess of a movie that can’t even deliver on the entertainment front. I realize this is coming from the guy who’s disliked nearly every #1 movie so far this year (“Wild Hogs,” “Norbit”, “Blades of Glory,” “300”), so America and I clearly don’t see eye-to-eye, but mark my words-- when people look back in the annals of film history, they will see “Spider-Man 3” for what it was: crap.

[note: this review was intentionally tangential and overstuffed to accurately represent the movie it was critiquing]

Saturday, April 21, 2007

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: "Year of the Dog" writer/director Mike White

Okay… the following is a transcription of probably the most uncomfortable interview I’ve ever done. And I’ve had a lot of uncomfortable interviews. From my understanding and what I’ve heard, at some point in many a writer/director/actor’s press day, they hit a breaking point and start to just fuck with members of the less important press they’re forced to talk to. Apparently, I was one of those interviews on Mike White’s day doing press in Washington, D.C.

Still, it’s relatively informative, and it was pretty fun. I’ve long been a fan of White’s writing-- his smaller character-driven stuff like “Chuck & Buck” and “The Good Girl” is great, and I also love “School of Rock,” and enjoy “Orange County” and “Nacho Libre.” On top of that strong resume, he also wrote three of the finer episodes of “Freaks and Geeks.”

His latest writing venture, and directorial debut, “Year of the Dog” starring Molly Shannon, Peter Sarsgaard, Laura Dern and John C. Reilly, is also a really fine piece of work that’s currently playing in limited release. It opens in quite a few more markets (including Baltimore) this coming Friday, April 27th. I only got 10 minutes on the phone with White, so please be understanding with its brevity. This is what I answered the phone to:

Mike White: Wuzzuuuuuup?

Rob Scheer: [laughs] How’s it going?

MW: What’s up.

RS: How’s your press day going today?

[long pause]

MW: Felt good.

RS: Allllright. Um.. let me just preface this by saying I’m a big fan of your films, particularly “The Good Girl.”

MW: Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh. Go!

RS: Alright. Well, I’m sorry to ask you about repeating yourself, but I was just wondering if you plan to make another film featuring Tim Blake Nelson fucking someone while yelling at a dog?

MW: Definitely. How did you know? That that’s the inspiration for my next movie.

RS: Really.

MW: [laughs] Wait, he doesn’t actually fuck a dog.

RS: No, no.

MW: Oh, he fucks someone while he’s yelling at a dog.

RS: Correct. I don’t know, I heard the premise for this film and I thought there might be a chance.

MW: Oh, in this one?

RS: Yeah, but not so much.

MW: Yeah, there’s a little less fucking in general in this film.

RS: Well, nonetheless…

MW: It’s a PG-13 movie, buddy.

RS: I know, I know, I just had high hopes.

MW: [laughs]

RS: What are your thoughts on the trailer for “Year of the Dog”?

MW: My thoughts on the trailer? Well, have you seen the movie?

RS: Yes, I really liked it.

MW: Oh, okay. Yeah, the trailer is definitely a bit of a mislead. I mean, it makes it seem like it’s a quirky romantic comedy, and obviously, it’s got a lot more strange turns in it. But, that’s fine with me. I like that it’s briiiiinging ‘em in and then hitting them when they don’t expect it.

RS: I’ve read before that you tend to write scripts with specific actors in mind. I was just wondering what about Molly Shannon made you want to write this part for her?

MW: There’s just something about her that cracks me up, whether she’s like really broad, and I actually think it’s even funnier when she’s really quiet and subtle and stuff. I remember when she [and Ana Gasteyer] did their parody of the NPR women who have the cooking show, and she would act really quiet talking about how to baste turkey and stuff. There’s just something about her when she’s really quiet and subtle that makes her even funnier to me. So I kind of felt the idea of doing something for her that she could be a little bit more subdued.

RS: I’ve actually been fortunate enough to meet her twice, once at a ‘Wet Hot American Summer’ event and another time while she was standing in line behind me at a movie theater…

MW: In Baltimore??

RS: No, no, I’m from New York and it was at Lincoln Square.

MW: Oh.

RS: Um, and she kind of struck me as the nicest celebrity I’ve ever met.

MW: That’s exactly what she is.

RS: Can you tell me anything to debunk my impression?

MW: No. And honestly, more than anything, that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to write something for her. I’d worked with her on this TV show, and she’s just the most unaffected, sweetest person you will ever meet. Not just a celebrity. I think she’s generally one of the funnest, coolest, nicest people, and it just felt like it was worthwhile to give her the opportunity to have a part she could really sink her teeth into.

RS: The endings of your smaller… um, non-big-studio films… tend to be rather bittersweet; they’re simultaneously satisfying and rather sad.

MW: [sounding kind of annoyed] Yeah…

RS: Is the necessity of having grandiose, crowd-pleasing endings on your mainstream films at all being untrue to your natural instincts?

MW: [laughs] Well, I love the ending to “School of Rock” actually. I like a good crowd-pleasing movie, but I certainly feel like my personal life, my usual mood, is more in a bittersweet place. I like a little hint of melancholy, even in the happiest moments.

RS: Yeah, a certain integral component to your smaller movies is discomfort. I saw “Chuck & Buck” in a theater full of elderly folks who didn’t quite know what to make of it…

MW: [laughs]

RS: What is the most uncomfortable scene you’ve ever written or shot?

MW: Well, that one definitely has a couple. But it was my first movie anyway, so I didn’t really have anything to compare it to. But truthfully, the scene [in “Year of the Dog”] where Molly and Peter [Sarsgaard] are about to kiss was really awkward to shoot too, because Molly kept laughing right before they were supposed to kiss, and Peter was sort of being real serious. And I was supposed to direct it, but it was like “Ugh, we need to do it again, I can’t make them do it again. Ugh, that’s painful.”

RS: How do you choose to oscillate between your broader comedies and your more character-based movies? Is there a strategic plan?

MW: Money, dude. Bank account.

RS: [chuckles] But, I mean, how do you decide which…

MW: Bank account!

RS: [I actually didn’t hear him] I’m sorry?

MW: [through laughter] Bank accooount. No, I mean, I kind of want all my movies to come from something that is meaningful to me, but [inaudible] really survive on the money I made from “Chuck & Buck.”

RS: So, is it like one little one for every big one?

MW: Well, sort of. It doesn’t really work exactly like that, but yeah… it’s not like I go into the more money-making projects more cynically like [grumbling] “Wanna get paid.” It’s fun to write something for a bigger audience, like work for a bigger crowd.

RS: Do you think you would ever direct someone else’s screenplay?

MW: Um…. Probably not. I mean, I guess, if I ran out of ideas maybe. But I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.

RS: Alright. What are your favorite tragicomedies?

MW: Tragicomedies? Um…. I love “Badlands.” I mean, that’s a pretty tragic story, but it’s a very funny movie. And I think that movie “Spaced” was really funny, but also very tragic. “Terms of Endearment” is an obvious tear-jerking comedy…

RS: Do you tend to find it particularly easier to write for women than men, or vice versa?

MW: Uh, well, it’s a mix. It’s much harder for me to write an everyman, or an everywoman. I don’t think I could ever really write regular men and women. I like more sort of eccentric characters.

RS: Could you maybe talk a little bit about “Them”?

MW: “Cuddle with something at the end”?

RS: Talk a little bit about “Them.”

MW: Oh, yeah, I’m supposed to be writing that.

RS: Um, are you?

MW: I’m… gonna do it. I will do it. One day.

RS: Um, okay. Anyway, in my opinion, Laura Dern is probably the most underrated actress around these days….

MW: But seriously, I don’t think she’s underrated, I think everybody sort of feels that way about her. Yeah, I guess Hollywood doesn’t give her many opportunities, but I think she’s really discriminating in a sense that she doesn’t really do a lot of stuff, but I think she’s awesome.

RS: Yeah, most people agree that she’s great, it’s just that…

MW: Yeah, you’re right, I think she should be in like every movie, but she’s not.

RS: What was working with her like?

MW: She was awesome. If there was somebody that I was intimidated by, it was her. Her first day on the movie, it was definitely the height of my anxiety, where I just didn’t want to come off like a total idiot in front of her. But she was so nice, and really into it.

RS: Do you have any aspirations to work with any of the “Freaks & Geeks” crew again, or Jake Kasdan specifically?

MW: Well, yeah, Jake and I did “Orange County” together, and all of those guys, are… I really like, and would love to do something. But they seem to be doing just fine without me.

"Year of the Dog" is now playing in limited release, and opens wider this Friday, April 27th.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Opening this weekend 4/20

This is a pretty jam-packed weekend at the movie with four wide releases opening across the country: “Hot Fuzz,” “Fracture,” “Vacancy” and “In the Land of Women.”

Obviously, the one you should see above all others is “Hot Fuzz,” Edgar Wright’s follow-up to “Shaun of the Dead.” I’ve given it more than enough coverage on here, and it’s the only film this year besides “Zodiac” that I’ve genuinely loved. Do me a personal favor and give it your dollars this weekend. I guarantee satisfaction. However, if you’re somewhat resistant to coolness or excessive entertainment, two of the weekend’s other releases are still pretty solid and recommendable.

The one casualty is Gregory Hoblit’s “Fracture,” which is surprisingly garnering some decent reviews. Perhaps I was spoiled by “Half Nelson,” but I just can’t go back to seeing Ryan Gosling playing generic roles that could just as easily be inhabited by Matthew McConaughey. And watching Anthony Hopkins here just made me depressed. He’s obviously become aware he’s not the box office draw he once was (about 50 pounds ago), so he signed on to an extremely mainstream thriller where he plays Hannibal-Lecter-but-not-really-Hannibal-Lecter-*wink*. He even goes to the point of repeatedly calling Gosling “old sport;” I half expected him to slip up and call him “Clarice.” Though he’s made three thrillers I’m a big fan of—“Fallen,” “Frequency” and “Primal Fear”—Hoblit slips here with a sort-of-dull, routine thriller that has already been spoiled by the trailers to an extent that I felt like I was watching the movie for a second time. It’s certainly not a terrible movie, just a middling one, and one you shouldn’t bother with, especially when there’s much worthier thriller out right now, such as…

“Vacancy,” the stylish thriller/horror flick starring Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale as a married couple whose child has died and regain their love for each other as they’re being hunted in their near-abandoned motel by masked men who want to videotape their demise. Basically, think “In America” meets “8 MM.” Okay, it sounds stupid. And it kind of is. But it’s surprisingly clever, particularly for a movie of this type, and it does a remarkable job of ratcheting up effective tension for the majority of its very short running time (only about 80 minutes). It’s also suitably horrific while managing to mostly avoid any sort of gore, relying purely on tension and crafty filmmaking. It manages to eschew the idiocy and “boo” scares of most thriller/horror films, and was easily worth my 8 bucks.

I honestly enjoyed Jon Kasdan’s “In the Land of Women” a lot more than I expected to, mainly due to a wildly misleading trailer. (1) It sells it as a romantic comedy, which it is emphatically not, and (2) it makes it look like a piece of shit, which it really isn’t either. The movie stars the delicious Adam Brody as Carter Webb (I know, I know), a whiney loser who flees town to stay with his death-obsessed grandmother after his breathtaking girlfriend dumps him. There, he befriends the Mom-with-cancer (Meg Ryan) across the street, as well as her underage daughter (Kristin Stewart), each of whom sort of wants him in their pants. Yeah, it follows a certain formula, *cough* “Garden State” *cough* but it’s cleverly written, and manages to mostly avoid sugariness, and works up enough goodwill to forgive its overly-formulaic ending. Obviously, not everyone’s going to enjoy this sort of thing, but don’t be put off purely by its awful trailer.

Hope that was helpful, all. Check back this weekend for my incredibly awkward and uncomfortable phone interview with “Year of the Dog” writer/director Mike White.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Hot Fuzz" -- * * * *

Let’s just get it out of the way right up front: “Hot Fuzz” is even better than “Shaun of the Dead,” a film I consider a modern comedy classic. In their second feature film, director/co-writer Edgar Wright and star/co-writer Simon Pegg have one-upped themselves and created the first truly great comedy of 2007. I've seen it two times so far, seeing it a third time tonight, and hopefully a few more once it opens.
Just like “Shaun of the Dead” was a zombie movie that happened to also be a comedy (a self-proclaimed Rom-Zom-Com), “Hot Fuzz” is a genuine buddy-cop movie, just one with more laughs per minute than any movie in recent memory. What works best about Pegg and Wright’s brand of humor is that there are very few throwaway jokes (what little there is are shown in the trailer). For the most part, the jokes take time to build, and the payoffs are killer; a running-bit about a missing swan was a favorite of mine.

Our hero is London cop, Nicholas Angel (Pegg), and the film opens up with showing us why he’s such a great cop, and immediately cuts to him being punished for it. He’s too good, you see. In fact, his record is 400% higher than anyone else in his precinct, and as his Chief Inspector (Bill Nighy) tells him, “You’ve been making us all look bad.” Thus, the highly-skilled Angel is promptly transferred to the sleepy suburb of Sandford, where the biggest offenders are underage drinkers and that pesky human statue.

Angel doesn’t mesh well with his new department, including Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent) and the hilariously-mustached The Andys (Paddy Considine and Rafe Spell), but most of all, the action-movie-obsessed and sweetly dim Danny (Nick Frost), Frank’s son and Nicholas’s eventual partner. Danny wishes real life was like his beloved action movies and is enraptured by Angel’s stories like the time he was stabbed. Soon enough, Sandford residents begin being picked off one by one, and Angel must go against the department (who insist that the grotesque deaths are just accidents), and solve the murders on his own.
In the movie’s last half hour, it evolves into a full-blown action extravaganza itself, at once a scathing indictment of the Tony Scott / Michael Bay school of filmmaking (including a re-creation of a shot/camera movement from “Bad Boys II” that got actual applause at my screening), as well as a celebration of it.

While you don’t need to have seen “Shaun of the Dead” or the hundreds of action/cop films referenced to enjoy “Hot Fuzz,” those who’ve seen “Bad Boys II” and “Point Break” will find some scenes particularly delicious. However, what sets “Hot Fuzz” out from other satires/homage of its ilk is that it’s significantly better than any film that inspired it. Even if taken as a straight buddy-cop comedy and ignoring the subtext, it still works better than any “Lethal Weapon” or *shudder* “Bad Boys II.” Pegg and Wright actually manage to enhance those movies in retrospect purely by what they do with them here-- I doubt you'll ever be able to watch "II" again without cracking up at "This shit just got real."
“Fuzz” has a brilliant (not an exaggeration) script, and a nuanced, wonderful, hilarious performance from Frost, but the chief strength of the movie is the chemistry between Pegg and Frost. The latent homoeroticism inherent in buddy-cop movies is brilliant satirized here, and as a result, the film turns out to be a better romantic comedy than most actual romantic comedies. There’s also some unexpected, delightful gore, including what I’ll say right now will go down as the best movie death of 2007 (you’ll know which one I’m referring to when you see it).

There are plenty of little cameos from British comedic royalty (e.g.: Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan) throughout, but two relatively big names—all I’ll say is they are integral to the “Lord of the Rings” films—make excellent cameos that you really need to look for. One is a literally blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, and the other must be deciphered by their distinctive eyes and voice.

It runs a little long for a comedy (just about two hours), but is never less than utterly entertaining. And while it doesn’t have simplified frat boy gems like “We’re going streaking!” or “You know how I know you’re gay?,” there’s literally hundreds of lines of brilliant dialogue here that are going to be endlessly quoted.

“Hot Fuzz” isn’t getting a massive release this weekend—it’s only going out on 700-800 screens, compared to “Are We Done Yet’s” 3,500—but if you have any affection for witty comedy, bombastic action, or hilariously heterosexual homoeroticism, please lend your support. Do your part to ensure that we get another Pegg/Wright endeavor before we get another piece-of-shit Ice Cube family comedy.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

INTERVIEW: The "Hot Fuzz" guys-- Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost

Needless to say, I'm a huge fan of these guys. Like everyone else, I think "Shaun of the Dead" is brilliant, every episode of "Spaced" I've seen is fantastic, and I think "Hot Fuzz" (opening Friday) is the best thing they've done so far.
Just a little preface: this was not a 1-on-1 or phoner so I can't claim this interview "Exclusive." It was a roundtable interview with two other college journalists, so only about a third of the questions are mine. I won't say which, but don't blame me for some of the... weaker ones. They weren't as spirited as I've seen them, and Nick didn't seem particularly talkative, but that's probably due to us being one of the last interviews of the day. Still, it was a fun interview, and they seemed to be terribly nice guys, obliging all of our unprofessionalism of pictures and autographs (I got my "Spaced" and "Shaun" DVDs autographed). Enjoy:

Simon Pegg: I’m impressed by the array of recording devices.

Question: In “Shaun of the Dead” it was clear you were ribbing zombie movies while also…

Edgar Wright: (whispering, indicating towards Nick) He’s texting.

Nick Frost: (rapidly punching keys in his cell phone) Sorry, it’s really important. Go on.

…while also having a certain amount of affection for them. When creating “Hot Fuzz” and dealing with movies like “Bad Boys II,” how much was fueled by love and how much was just out-and-out mockery?

Edgar: There is a certain amount of affection for “Bad Boys II,” we wouldn’t have given it such a heavy airing otherwise. The reason that “Point Break” and “Bad Boys II” are Danny Butterman’s two favorite films—the reason we picked them—is because they both kind of represent gloriously unpretentious entertainment. “Point Break” itself is sort of a camp classic that is brilliantly directed, and is all kind of about spectacle and homoeroticism. And “Bad Boys II”—any film that spends $150 million smashing up cars is alright in my book. So there is a level of affection for them. We wouldn’t spend two years making a film that was not affectionate about the genre. There’s not a desperate need for another cop spoof particularly; what we wanted to do was make a film within that genre. Kind of the idea behind “Hot Fuzz” is that these films just don’t exist within the U.K. There’s no precedent for them at all. So we thought we’d have a little fun by taking the sleepy rural U.K. and dropping a Bruckheimer in the middle of it.

Simon: Also, with “Shaun of the Dead,” I argue that we didn’t do any ribbing of zombie films. I think “Shaun of the Dead” IS a zombie film, there’s no mockery. We wanted to make a film that was a zombie film and a comedy. But I think with “Hot Fuzz,” there’s maybe a little bit more parody in there because someone of those hijinx, high-octane, high-everything are ripe for a little…

Edgar: Ribbing and riffing.

Simon: But certainly with a great amount of affection, never with a sneer on our face. We don’t sneer.

Edgar: I think you could say it’s “ribbed for your pleasure.”

Nick: Like johnny-jackets!

Edgar: Exactly!

That’s going to be the title of my article.

Edgar and Simon: (together) Ribbed for your pleasure!

Edgar: The “Hot Fuzz” arouser.

Delving into your guys’ past, I was really happy to see Julia Deakin in there. Are you guys going to work with Jessica Stevenson or Mark Heap again? And will “Spaced” ever get a U.S. DVD release?

Simon: The answer to the first question is, who knows. Jessica is an enormously talented actress and it’d be terrific to work with her again. Scheduling and family and such have all sort of conspired against that since we finished “Spaced.” But the DVD release will hopefully happen soon. Mark Heap was supposed to be in “Hot Fuzz” but he had a herniated disc, so he couldn’t be in it. These people are all still very much in our lives, and they’re friends of ours, and if the opportunity comes to work with them again, we’ll tell you. It was great to see Julia back on set. She’s a force of nature, and very hot with a gun as well. She cocks a shotgun well.

You’ve probably gotten this question over and over again, but how in God’s name did you manage to get such an epic cast?

Edgar: Well, obviously, if this had been our first film, we wouldn’t have got this cast together. But because we’d done “Shaun” within the British film community, I suppose we had a bit of a reputation. But in some cases, people approached us, such as Jim Broadbent or Paddy Considine. They both approached us after “Shaun of the Dead” came out and said how much they liked it, and how much they’d like to work with us in the future. Writing a script, you can’t help but have those ideas in the back of your mind. And pretty much everybody else reacted to the script and the fact that we’d done “Shaun.” Timothy Dalton had seen “Shaun of the Dead” in L.A., Billie Whitelaw’s son was a big fan of “Shaun of the Dead,” so it kind of worked like that.
But they mostly just responded to the script, and really what we wanted to do with that casting was for it to work in two ways: the police service played by pretty much all the comedic actors, and the Sandford Village People as we like to call them [played by] living legends and real institutions. Because it has a very elaborate plot, we wanted to make it like those old mystery films like the Agatha Christie films, or more recently Oliver Stone films where you have big people playing seemingly insignificant parts that then become very significant. So it’s very much in that vein. [pause] Was that a long enough answer for you?

Do you feel like college students are faster to embrace, like, British... your kind of humor?

Edgar: Specifically ours, or British humor in general?

British humor in general, but also yours I guess.

Edgar: Certainly in the case of “Shaun” and “Spaced,” because of the age group of the characters maybe, and when we made “Spaced” I suppose we were only 10 years out of college ourselves. So, when we did “Spaced” and “Shaun of the Dead,” it certainly appealed to a lot of people who empathized with it because they were in the same boat, or knew a lot of people who were in that sort of situation.

Simon: Also, I think college students, or generally young people, are usually having their ear closest to the ground, and are always on the lookout for other stuff, and I guess now globally with the internet and that sort of stuff, they tend to be the people that are looking for it first. But having said that, it was the college students that made “Monty Python” really big here. They were the first ones to pick up on it here. But our senses of humor really aren’t all that different, you know. We’re far more similar than people kind of suggest in terms of humor. Like “The Simpsons” is very specific to America, it’s all about the American family specifically, and yet we get it completely. There’s no real language barrier there or cultural barrier. It’s all gettable. And I think one thing with our films is that—literate, intelligent people get more out of something when they feel like they’re not being talked down to or treated like an idiot.

What would you have wanted to do with more money, or with more resources?

Simon: Blow more shit up.

Edgar: Blow more shit up. The film is two hours long, and it is sort of epic in terms of the amount of ground it covers. We wanted to pretty much cover every single type of cop thriller, be it serial killer thriller, or corruption film, or conspiracy or buddy cop action film. So if we had more money and time, it would literally be blowing more shit up.

Nick: I would’ve liked to have seen a Viking burial somewhere in there.

Edgar: Yeah.

Nick: A burning longboat.

Simon: Any kind of burning boat.

Nick: Exactly.

And sort of on the flip side of that, what did you shoot that didn’t make it into the movie? What was left on the cutting room floor? [Note: I won’t get into specifics on ownership of questions, I’ll just say this doozy was not asked by me]
Edgar: There’ll be quite a lot of deleted scenes on the DVD. There’s probably about 25 minutes of deleted scenes, but most of it is that when you make the film is you end up doing another draft of the film in the edit. You’ve filmed everything, and then it’s a process of whittling it down. We didn’t want it to be a minute over two hours. The first cut of the film was two hours and twenty-five minutes long, and it’s like ‘okay, we have enough stuff here to get the max out of it.’ And that’s one good thing about the test screening process, is you can use that kind of thing to see which gags work and which don’t.
With a comedy, you tend to shoot more gigs and you tend to start whittling them out. Sometimes you can have too many jokes in a scene, and you can get verbal gag fatigue. There’s about twenty funny gags that came out just because you can’t have too many of them in a row, and there’s some subplots we took out—there was a bit more with the hoodies originally, and there was a bit more of a connection between the hoodies and the other characters. Very few entire scenes, maybe like three or four entire scenes. We had a scene where Angel busts himself down from a Sergeant to a Constable. Just things that we sort of didn’t need; it’s very easy to [cut things out], knowing that it’ll be on the DVD and that someone will see it eventually.

Like “Shaun of the Dead,” the movie’s sort of a love story between Simon and Nick…

Edgar: Sort of?!

Simon: It’s pretty much gay porn.

...why was it important for you to address the homoeroticism inherent in buddy cop movies?

Edgar: Why wouldn’t you want to?

Simon: Because that’s what they’re all about. Those films… you only have to watch the end of “Lethal Weapon” to see Danny Glover cradling a wet Mel Gibson in his arms, saying “I gotcha, I gotcha” to know homoeroticism and the closeness of men plays a massive part in those films.

Edgar: That’s a good title for his article.

Simon: “The closeness of men.” I think there’s something at work in those films, there’s something attractive I think to an audience about straight guys being affectionate with each other. Men find it so hard, generally, to express affection. We’re so terrified that if we show any amount of emotion we’ll be branded. Macho men actually being a little bit in love is kind of sweet. “Starsky & Hutch,” you probably don’t remember it, but in the opening titles, Hutch was blown into Starsky’s arms, and he blew in his ear, and it was all these little moments that’s vital to those films.


Nick, you’ve been pretty quiet over there. Isn’t it about time Simon took a bullet for you?

Simon: I’ve been doing that for 15 years.

Nick: Aww. I mean, yeah, it would be nice to do a film where they don’t kill me off I guess. [to Simon] Maybe in the next one, I can shoot you.

Simon: You don’t get killed in “Hot Fuzz.”

Nick: Well, sort of. But with our projects, it works sort of the same. It’s not “Oh, I’m dying again.” It’s that it’s for the good of the picture. So, I’m happy to take one for the good of the film.

Simon: Also, we kind of wanted to play on a couple of things. One, assuming that people had seen the first film, the fence gag obviously, you think you know what’s going to happen, and then you don’t. And also, in the first film, we killed Ed. You don’t know if Danny’s gonna get it or not, and it sort of heightens the tension a bit. Even though they’re not sequels, it sort of uses the first one.

Edgar: It could be like “Ecks Vs. Sever.”

Nick: Ooooh.

Edgar: Yeah, now we’re talking.

********************SPOILERS OVER************************

Out of the 200 or so DVDs that you watched for research, what were the best and what was the worst one?

Edgar: The worst one was “The Hero and the Terror.” Late-period Chuck Norris. Early-period Chuck Norris was quite entertaining. “Invasion USA,” “Silent Rage,” “Code of Silence,” they all had things to recommend. But “The Hero and the Terror” is pretty much dumbed-down. The obvious classics are too obvious, like “Die Hard,” “Dirty Harry,” “Hard Boiled,” “L.A. Confidential,” “Chinatown,” so let’s go with “Super Cops.” Highly underrated Gordon Parks 1974 film—not available on DVD. But available on bootleg.

Nick: I only watched one film, and it was the best and the worst, and it was “Bad Boys II.” That was it for me. That was my homework in one glorious two and a half hour stretch. I turned the DVD player off and took the rest of the day to myself. That was it. “Bad Boys II” was perfect.

You mentioned “Hard Boiled.” Did you watch other films from Hong Kong?

Edgar: Well, we watched a lot of Asian films in general, like “Memories of Murder,” by the director of “The Host,” it’s fantastic. It’s an incredible film, really underseen. We watched that, we watched “Infernal Affairs.” It’s weird watching “Infernal Affairs” now, especially because of “The Departed,” but because “Hard Boiled” feels like kind of a dry run for “Infernal Affairs.” Almost exactly the same plot and one of the same actors. “Infernal Affairs” was fantastic. Did we watch any other Asian films?

Simon: We, obviously, watched the Asian John Woo films, and the Jackie Chan films.

Do you see yourselves as more of a Martin Lawrence or Will Smith type of guy, and Simon, you’re sort of in J.J. Abrams crew now [with Mission: Impossible III], do you think you’ll make it into his “Star Trek” film?

Simon: Next time I see him, I’ll ask. I’ll try to get a little part in there. Nick, Martin Lawrence or Will Smith?

Nick: Definitely Martin Lawrence.

Simon: I love Will Smith and I’m a real fan of his. What it would be to be mentioned in the same sentence as him. He does a great job of being able to do comedy and serious stuff, and be taken seriously in both genres. I think that’s quite admirable, and I think he goes a long way towards making “Bad Boys II” a… good film.

Edgar: [To Nick] And you just want to be in “Blue Streak 2,” don’t you?

Simon: He wants to be in “Wild Hogs 2.”

"Hot Fuzz" opens in theaters everywhere this Friday, April 20th.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"Grindhouse" -- * * * 1/2

‘Grind House’ (noun): a theater playing back-to-back films exploiting sex, violence and other extreme subject matter.
Yep, that pretty much nails it. “Grindhouse” is trash of the highest order, an unrelenting orgy of gore, titties, zombies, fast cars and severed body parts with absolutely no intellectual or moral value. As such, it’s an absolute blast, probably the finest piece of pure entertainment to be released so far this year.

For those who don’t know, “Grindhouse” is two feature-length motion pictures, Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof,” strung together with a few fake movie trailers in between serving as an intermission (in its totality, “Grindhouse” runs 11 minutes over the three-hour mark). Both homages to the low-budget grind house pictures of the 60s, 70s and early 80s, “Terror” is an almost hilariously gory, over-the-top zombie film, and “Death Proof” is a tough chicks/car chase flick starring Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, a psycho stalker of young women with a car as his murder weapon.

“Planet Terror” crams a lot into its 86-minute running time, mainly following (a) Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) attempting to leave her sadistic husband Doc Block (“his prescription: pain”), awesomely played by Josh Brolin, and (b) Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) and stripper/hopeful standup comic Cherry Darling (a never-sexier Rose McGowan) trying to rekindle their romance, or something resembling it. All this is going on while everyone in town is rapidly turning into zombies, complete with melting skin and pus-filled boils.

Rodriguez, much more than Tarantino, uses his aesthetic skills to “age” his movie with film scratches, cigarette burns and a hilariously timed “missing reel.” No one really stands out acting wise, but McGowan is having a lot of fun here, and her exotic dancing over the opening credits makes one understand why Rodriguez felt she was worth cheating on his wife for. Oh, and I’m sorry to report but she doesn’t acquire her already-iconic machine gun appendage until the final 10 minutes. “Terror” is a ton of fun, a very good (intentionally) bad movie that moves at the fastest clip imaginable and is filled with enough stomach-churning gore to satiate any horror fan—my favorite moment involved a baddie’s testicles melting off.

Following “Planet Terror” is my favorite part of “Grindhouse,” three faux-70s trailers by Rob Zombie (“The Devil’s Rejects”), Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”) and Eli Roth (“Hostel”), following a pre-show one (“Machete”) by Rodriguez himself. Zombie’s “Werewolf Women of the S.S.” and Wright’s “Don’t” are very funny—there’s a particularly delicious cameo in “Werewolf”—as well as accurate, but Roth steals the show with his “Thanksgiving,” a grotesque slasher movie about the one holiday not yet slasher-ized. Needless to say, Roth is one sick fuck, and thank God for that. I know the “Thanksgiving” trailer is online, but do NOT watch it on your computer—see it the way it was meant to be seen: in a packed theater. At my screening of “Grindhouse,” people exiting the theater afterwards were still buzzing about “Thanksgiving.”

Then, Tarantino’s “Death Proof” begins and temporarily stops the movie dead in its tracks with a 10-minute-long scene of inane dialogue, followed quickly by another. In fact, “Death Proof” amounts to about 3/5 tough-chicks gabfest, and 2/5 awesome car chase(s)/mutilations. I was a tad disappointed that it focused more on the interchangeable group of women rather than the fascinating Stuntman Mike, but every second Russell’s on screen is gold; clearly the most fun he’s been since his Snake Plissken days.

After the adrenaline-fueled “Terror,” viewers may find themselves more than a bit bored with large chunks of “Death Proof;” I’ll admit they were the lone “Grindhouse” moments I checked my watch during. Some of those extended dialogue scenes are a bit of a slog to watch, and perhaps I’ll enjoy them more on second viewing, but this first time around they nearly bored me to tears (with only a few exceptions).
But Tarantino mostly makes up for it with one of the most stunning car-chases ever committed to celluloid, and an insanely crowd-pleasing ending (it’s nearly impossible not to stand up and cheer).

In terms of accuracy in their depictions of true grind house films, neither film is really on target. The old grind house films could never afford to feature as much action as Rodriguez crams in “Planet Terror.” While Tarantino gets this aspect right in “Death Proof” by leading up to the minimal action with endless scenes of dialogue, he also can’t control his inner auteur by staging a seven-minute shot revolving around a table conversation that would’ve never been possible 30-40 years ago. Still, it’s doubtful many viewers will mind; the majority of its intended audience has likely never even seen a grind house movie.

Like any double feature, “Grindhouse” is a bit of a lopsided affair, but despite its inconsistencies, it’s truly a theatrical event that no real movie lover should (or will) allow themselves to miss. If you’ve got an appetite for gratuitous sex and violence, and have over three hours to kill, you won’t be able to do any better than this.