simon pegg

Favourite Films on Friday: #12, Hot Fuzz

“This relationship between men is one of the key tenets on which all of Pegg, Frost, and Wright’s work is built, along with the oft-cited pop-cultural obsession and the symmetrical structures of callbacks and foreshadowing which we’ll be looking at in a future post.” Ah yeah I did. Consider that foreshadowing, and this the callback. If we want to reach back even further, my review of Chris Nolan’s Inception might be useful: I compared it to a Rubik’s cube-style puzzle, or a clockwork-tight machine of interlocking pieces of plot/idea/dialogue. Hot Fuzz does all that – it’s got a whole lot of guns on a whole mess of mantlepieces, the dialogue is full of repetitions and variations – but at the middle of that ticking machine of gears and pistons, it manages to stuff in a human heart. (The heart being the relationship between Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman. That’d be the romantic relationship between two straight men, then. Tick!) I know it’s generally considered second to Shaun of the Dead, and please understand that, as a film with The Fratellis on the soundtrack, my love comes hard-earned. But Hot Fuzz is an astoundingly well put-together piece of work. It feels crafted, like every decision was carefully thought through: the confident second album. And it uses its structure for so many different purposes: first, most obviously, comedy. Take the swan, which evolves from the reversal of a classic Simpsons prank call (Mr P.I. Staker, it turns out, doesn’t think his name is particularly funny) to a running sight gag. But, and here’s the thing: it’s also key to the action of the film. The swan turns out to be a vital element in winning the film’s final ‘boss fight’, which feels natural – this is no cygnus ex machina – and funny. It’s an effortless juggling of the film’s two halves, the mundaneity of small-town boredom vs big Michael-Bayesque action. It’s also a good way to put the viewer inside Angel’s much-discussed brain – which is tightly focused and trained, like a bureaucratic British Batman – as he tries to solve the mystery. First of all, everything is rigidly ordered, as it should be when your protagonist demands paperwork after a firefight. But it also gives the impression that clues are being laid, that we can solve this mystery. It is all there from the very start, and it’s actually probably easier as a comedy to lay down each piece of the puzzle without them being noticed, because it’s indistinguishable from the bits of set-up that will be played for laughs. (The solution to the mystery, incidentally, is probably the film’s weakest element, because it feels so arbitrary; thinking about the film’s political stance, though, it is rather more thematically satisfying.) Meanwhile, it sets up a sense of place: the repeated references, a sign first, then a joke, to the model village which, of course, ends up as the setting for the big finale. Meanwhile, it’s helping make the plot fit together and not collapse into total farce. Meanwhile, it’s keeping a certain part of your brain occupied and entertained, the part of you that might have occasionally watched Spaced with the reference-explaining subtitles turned on… Tying it to last week’s idea of films as music might be a callback too far, I suppose? There are hundreds of other things to like. Timothy Dalton as the very obvious baddie, chewing so much scenery that of course he ends up … well, chewing scenery. The way it takes a certain strain of very British, “you’re not even from round here!” conservatism* as its villain, and places the ‘hoodies’ alongside the heroes. Nick Frost using his natural sweetness to completely sell the central romance. Count Buckules having his head exploded by a piece of masonry. The dozens of great British comedians and actors. The Iain Banks/Iain M Banks joke, which also makes me feel clever. The continued use of the smash-cut montages of the mundane: filling in paperwork, photocopying… But the thing I always come back to is how well structured it all is. Like Inception, like Watchmen (not Zack Snyder’s), Hot Fuzz is a film that rewards careful watching and rewatching by tickling that little part of your forebrain that tells you ‘oh, I’m well clever!’ for noticing. But it weaves this careful structure into something with as much heart as brains *DISCLAIMER: Note the small ‘c’. Not in the political sense, friends who I’ve argued about the world of difference that capital letter means. I mean a genuine wish for things to remain in stasis.

Favourite Films on Friday: #14, Shaun of The Dead

I can remember when the concept of ‘bromance’ was a revelation to me. It’s warped into something ugly now, a word I can only bring myself to use contained safely between quotation marks. But I was young, and full of foolish innocence, and the word was a lightning rod. The relationship between two (mostly) straight men, it said, could be as beautiful and important as the love affairs most films dedicated themselves to. I wasn’t thinking of Ryan Reynolds and The Hangover and MTV. I was thinking of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. Shaun of the Dead, for all its high-concept romzomcom premise and delicate construction, is just about two blokes in love. Shaun and Ed. The kind of mates who’ve known each other since primary school, have intertwined lives and shared jokes that have being running since forever. Of course, there are women, and family, and all the types of love that come along with that too. But Shaun of the Dead presents nothing on a higher pedestal than what I’m sure Plato himself would have termed the bromantic love between the two. In the finest Twilight tradition, however, the path of their love does not run smooth. The painful truth, as various characters continually point out to Shaun, is that he’s just no good for him. Ed’s lazy and abrasive and selfish. But since when has that got in the way of a good romance? It’s the central conflict of the film. Sure, it looks like a romantic comedy (with zombies!, as the tagline so cheerily informs us) about a guy trying to win back his girl, but really the threat that drives the plot along – from the very first scene, long before the zombies arrive – is deciding whether his relationship with Ed is destructive. It’s all tangled up with Shaun’s need to sort his life out, but the relationship with Ed – and whether Shaun should dump him, and whether anyone will stand between these starcross’d mates – is where that conflict crystallises most clearly into actual narrative. This relationship between men is one of the key tenets on which all of Pegg, Frost, and Wright’s work is built, along with the oft-cited pop-cultural obsession and the symmetrical structures of callbacks and foreshadowing which we’ll be looking at in a future post. All three are fascinations of mine, and Shaun came along at so perfect a moment that I can’t separate the two, establish which came first. When I actually watched Shaun of the Dead, on my bedroom floor with my own BFF, did this all stand out? Did I know that I would ever try and mark pre- and post-? Of course not. I was too busy being entertained by a funny, thrilling, gory romp. Everything else came later: when you’re watching it for the seventeenth time; when you take selfsame friend to see Hot Fuzz for Valentine’s Day; when you’re trying to write about it…

Paul Simon (& Nick)

Before I’d even seen the film, my review had pretty much written itself. I reckoned I knew more or less how I was going to feel about Paul: Parting ways with Edgar Wright, Pegg and Frost go to America, just as Wright did with last year’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. But where that embraced the modern American tradition for awkward indie romance (with, y’know, musical scenes and big effin’ action), Paul moved into the current Apatowian sensibility of American comedy. Crasser than their previous work, with the looming influence of Seth Rogen and a big Hollywood budget, it seems the pair have taken on more than even they can handle. But most of all, feeling the absence of Edgar Wright’s direction, just as keenly as Scott Pilgrim missed Pegg’s tightly-structured writing.* In essence: queasy bromance, two stars; as Nick Frost has so excellently put it.** Paul is all tied up in expectations. A proper Pegg-written film (ignore Run Fatboy Run) has become a genuine event, over the course of a mere three films (ignoring Run Fatboy Run), and so not seeing it wasn’t an option (though I’ve still never seen Run Fatboy Run). Even if the above review was the result, as expected. …But it wasn’t. Clearly- otherwise I would’ve stopped by now, wouldn’t I? I did not expect, for example, the film to feature such an extensive discussion of faith in an age of science, and in science fiction. More importantly, I did not expect such a wonderfully thorough lecture in swearing, and its proper usage. The film is rich with cussing, as our American cousins would have it: F-bombs, the traditional , but also some more creative cursing from Kristen Wiig’s recovering evangelical, Ruth. Paul manages a quiet, unassuming deconstruction of exactly what the trailers suggested it was. It partakes in the commonly-criticised ‘ruder, crasser, more laughs’ approach of its Apatow-ruled sub-genre, but it also thinks about that a little bit. But I definitely didn’t expect to like Seth Rogen’s titular alien. I like Rogen, I think he’s got charm to spare and, as a Freaks & Geeks alumni, I will forever cut him a special slack. But this was another wacky, attitude-heavy comedian-voiced animated character. Rogen’s turn in Monsters vs Aliens is not easily forgiven. Meanwhile, the trailers clearly showed Paul to be a poorly-integrated rubbery monstrosity. I believe there is some ancient wisdom here, concerning Ewoks, Shaft and Jar-Jar Binks? When Paul is grating, it feels intentional, showing the contrast between Graeme and Clive, our introverted Britishers, and the big brashness of the ol’ US of A. But it doesn’t take long to warm to the Paul, foul-mouthed extra-terrestrial. And before you know it, Paul, the big-budget American comedy from Pegg & Frost, has charmed you as well. It isn’t that funny. As an Apatow-esque comedy, Paul doesn’t really work. But as an example of its other great inspiration, the Spielbergian science-fiction movie, it shines. There are a nice smattering of ideas that tickle that sci-fi corner of your brain, and action scenes and car chases pulled off with genuine arm-of-seat-gripping tension. Pegg brings the trademark domino-effect of callbacks, where everything is there for a reason, to be returned to. But most of all: it’s a charming, warm film. The characters are all good-natured, softly funny people you’d like to spend more time in the company of. It’s easy to care about what happens to them. The tension works because of the feat that one of your new friends is going to get it. Among all the talk of spot-on references and geek culture – and admittedly the film features a captivating range of reference-hunting and nerdy t-shirts – it’s easy to forget to remember that what Pegg and Frost have always been so good at is capturing is friendship. And like all the rest of their work, that’s what Paul is about: spending a few hours in the company of some really good mates. So, the rumours are true: Paul isn’t part of the ‘Blood & Cornettos’ trilogy. It isn’t a fully deserving successor to Shaun and Hot Fuzz. But what did you expect? *There’s an article somewhere comparing this with Ricky Gervais’ first foray into Hollywood, The Invention of Lying, and one day – if it doesn’t exist by then – I will write it. **In an interview with Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode, a meeting of duos that is a kind of magical geek-porn in its own right.