edgar wright

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…

Scott Pilgrimfest, Vol 2: vs The Film

LIVES: ONE So. They got this ‘Scott Pilgrim’ in cinemas now, huh? First, the pull-quote: Edgar Wright crafts a lavishly faithful adaptation and tribute to O’Malley’s seminal comics series, with a beautifully original graphic style. Okay. Stick that on your poster and smoke it. The thing is, what I think Wright actually made was a tribute to his Scott Pilgrim. Which is not necessarily your Scott Pilgrim and, relevantly, isn’t my Scott Pilgrim. What’s so great about Scott Pilgrim, the six-piece comic, is that it’s a multi-faceted work, with different hooks and points of entry for pretty much everyone. It’s a comedy, it’s a heartwrenching romance, it’s a study of the modern hipster-slacker lifestyle, it’s a formal experiment. It’s all about Scott & Ramona. It’s all about Young Neil. It’s all about Kim Pine. (Oh, it’s definitely all about Kim Pine.) Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim is certainly not all about Kim Pine. In the necessary shuffling around and condensation, she gets pushed aside and barely features. None of which hurts the story, and it’s just the entitled fanboy in me expecting a carbon copy of everything I love. Except it changes the point. By pushing out Kim and Envy, the reflection of Scott’s exes with Ramona’s (and the question of who exactly is the evil ex in a relationship) is lost. The story as a meditation on dealing with your past and with your partner’s doesn’t exist. Instead, the film draws a thematic line between the the Knives/Scott/Ramona/Gideon relationships. It focuses instead on the idea of power structures in relationships, and hierarchies of who gets to treat who like crap. Maybe because it suits a single, under-two-hours version of the story better; maybe because that’s what the story is about about for Edgar Wright. Whatever. I’m honestly not sure if, ignore my own baggage of expectations and bias, if it stands alone better. It’s a valid version of the story, definitely, but I’d argue it renders the other six evil exes more or less pointless, except as flashy misdirection. And the film kind of seems to agree, speeding through everything between the two relationships. That’s at the cost of the lethargic, organic pace of the comics, where their serialised nature allows for the weird stuff to just wash over you and happen. Scenes chop into one another, mid-conversation And suddenly you’re in a desert but that doesn’t really make much sense except because it has to happen Because that’s what happens. There are chapter breaks which look lovely (as does pretty much the entire film – if nothing else, SPvTW is a stylistic triumph) but don’t really serve any purpose. Stuff gets thrown in as a tribute, or because it’s funny, but without explanation within the film itself. I have to admit that I couldn’t help but watch this film as an adaptation, though, and thus fall into a trap. A pit filled with deadly spikes. LIVES: ZERO … CONTINUE? …And like any good boss fight, the second time round, you know what’s coming. Seeing it again in almost identical conditions*, with all the expectations out of the way, it was easier to see the truth of the film. Around 80% of it is spot-on in every single detail; 10% is stuff with a weird relationship to the comic – dropping, altering or inexplicably including something – and 10% is, honestly, just a bit off. The complaints stand: it’s still not funny enough, really, to pull off the extremities of style and dialogue it attempts. The jokes that worked last time, though, are still funny, which I hadn’t expected; the jokes from the comics, mostly, still don’t. The pacing is a bit jumpy, and wasn’t just me thinking oh, this bit’s missing. The smooth fades of comic vocabulary don’t translate into cinema. There’s not really enough time to buy into the relationships: I couldn’t help but warm more to Scott/Knives than Scott/Ramona. The hits that it lands are truly triumphant, though. The thing that struck me most second time was the music. It’s brilliant, and brilliantly used, and Edgar Wright’s description of the film as a musical with punches rings really true. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a film that work bests – often, works perfectly – when it forgets it is a film about the Scott Pilgrim comics. With slightly reworked relationships, new ideas and a different message, it takes flight. There’s a whole new focus on what it means to be the ‘nice’ one in a relationship means, and whether wanting something ‘simple’ is actually healthy in the film which I’ve never seen anywhere else, which is a fascinating intepretation of both Scott Pilgrim and an original use of the rom-com form. It’s like – to borrow the Scott Pilgrim worldview – one of Punch-Out!!‘s opponent boxers: a strong fighter, with an unmistakably exaggerated character. Unfortunately, it also comes with a large, flashing weakpoint. Attack for massive damage… GAME OVER. *Same cinema, similar time of day, rushing out of the cinema to catch a train South to the girlfriend, for those of you keeping count at home.