Friday, September 20, 2013


Writer/director Edgar Wright and writer/actor Simon Pegg’s first feature, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, paid hilarious homage to George Romero by asking the question “What if there was a zombie apocalypse and nobody noticed?” HOT FUZZ, their second film collaboration, poked fun at action movie tropes while exposing an underbelly of fascism hidden beneath the civility of a quaint English country village. This third installment in their so-called Cornetto Trilogy follows middle-aged Gary King (Pegg), an alcoholic poster boy for arrested development. He drives the same car and has the same goals from when he was 18. To that end he persuades his four best mates from high school to return to their hometown and finish what they started 20 years earlier – the Golden Mile, twelve pints in twelve pubs. Unlike Gary, his friends surrendered years ago to the compromises of adulthood but agree, as men of a certain age do, to this one night of drinking and (limited) debauchery. As the pub-crawl proceeds the men stumble upon regrets and missed opportunities from their past. Shy Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) confesses his feelings for Sam Chamberlain (Rosamund Pike), brother of fellow crawler Oliver (Martin Freeman), and meek Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) confronts a former school bully. Andy Knightley (Nick Frost), meanwhile, works out his boiling resentment at Gary’s sins against him. For much of its first half the script by Pegg & Wright moves briskly along in this fashion, a bittersweet musing on the perils of mourning lost youth. Then the robots turn up, and comic carnage ensues. How this transpires is far more enjoyable than why, so I will forgo the former for the sake of surprise and spare the latter. In this outing director Wright tones down his somewhat tiresome visual flourishes and relies instead on generous writing and an excellent cast. The tone shifts between the serious and the silly work well until the filmmakers paint themselves into a corner, which leads to a less than satisfying ending. Although there’s a part of me that longs for Wright and Pegg to just grow up, I’m not so secretly glad that they haven’t. Go figure.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

STOKER (2013)

South Korean director Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut feature starts off as a family drama about introverted India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) whose father Richard (Dermot Mulroney) dies in a fiery car crash on her 18th birthday. Her less-than-grief-stricken mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) remains cold, so the girl retreats further inward, getting what comfort she can from family housekeeper Mrs. Garrick (Phyllis Somerville). The arrival of Richard’s brother Charles (Matthew Goode) at the funeral reception begins the film’s subtle evolution into chamber horror, complete with cruelty, violence, and dark family secrets. Neither Stoker woman has set eyes upon the prodigal before, but Charles, tacitly receptive to Evelyn’s flirtation, insinuates himself into the household over the open suspicion of India, the unspoken disapproval of Mrs. Garrick, and the concern of meddling relation Gwendolyn Stoker (Jacki Weaver) paying an unexpected visit. Despite her initial reservation India finds herself drawn to her enigmatic uncle, who likewise shows an unsettling interest in the inner life of his withdrawn niece. This mutual fascination turns deadly, however, when India spurns a local teen’s hormonal advances. Compared with his notoriously violent OLDBOY, the revenge tale as perverse Greek tragedy, Park’s stylish work here feels subdued. He embraces the gothic elements in Wentworth Miller’s spare screenplay, and his cool visual palate clashes with his saturated images, which seem ready to burst like overfed parasites, and add to the film’s perpetual sense of unease. But its rich atmosphere cannot compensate for its meager story. When major revelations finally arrive late in the film, even patient viewers may be past caring. More problematic, the deliberate pacing undermines the grisly potential of certain sequences, eliciting chortles of disbelief rather than gasps of terror. Mulroney and Weaver are engaging but have far too little to do. Goode’s creepy turn feels plastic, while Kidman sleepwalks through much of her role. Wasikowska, on the other hand, makes India’s psychological awakening both relatable and mesmerizing.