As the Blur album title suggests, “modern life is rubbish.” It’s true that we are a culture numbed by the increasing influence of all things impersonal, technological advances that add convenience while callously dispensing with the human touch. We become passive facilitators instead of active initiators. Our everyday activities become a repetitive bore, devoid of any real spontaneity. We do have our inspired moments where we break free of these imposed shackles, but these are now the exception instead of the rule. For those of you who agree with this evaluation, meet Shaun. Shaun, your viewing audience.
Shaun (Simon Pegg, in a performance that won’t garner nominations from anyone but certainly deserves to), is stuck in a dreary existence, sharing a South London flat with his best mate, the oafish Ed (Nick Frost) – whose most substantial employment was selling a bag of pot to Shaun while they were in college – and the overdriven, career-oriented Pete (Peter Serafinowicz), who resents the both of them for being so complacent and unmotivated. Shaun rides public transportation every day to his assistant manager’s position at an electronics shop, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), who resents him for his general lack of urgency and responsibility, as well as the fact that they’ve never eaten anywhere other than his beloved local tavern, the Winchester. His mother (Penelope Wilton) loves him all the same, but his stepfather of 17 years (Bill Nighy) retains his own blithe skepticism. Shaun, quite obviously, is stuck. A victim of his own comforts and vices, defaulted to his undeserving friends, he is unwilling to step outside of his comfort zone to reap the rewards that would come with such a risk. His life isn’t bad, but it’s not great, either.
That is, until, all hell breaks loose. Quite literally. His boss harangues him for leaving the shop door unlocked. Ed neglects to take down important phone messages. Shaun forgets to set up a dinner date for himself and Liz. The flowers that he offers to Liz as a token of apology contain a note intended for his mother. Liz dumps him. His mother gets no flowers. He gets drunk. Pete throws his favorite record out the back door. He wakes up with a hangover. Zombies descend on his flat.
Wait, what was that last one?
Zombies descend on his flat. Right, that’s the way it always works. Silly me.
Not having been able to discern between the same mindless drones that populate his everyday life and the zombies, Shaun and Ed remain oblivious to the undead status of those wandering through their living room and backyard, until the wall-to-wall news coverage finally cuts through their fog to send a loud, distinct message… These blank-faced, moaning vagrants milling through the streets aren’t just drunken Oasis fans. They’re a big problem. “Remove the head or destroy the brain,” says the stunned newsman.
Shaun and Ed, in all of their bumbling glory, devise a foolproof plan – albeit after multiple attempts – to save Shaun’s mum, Liz and her roommates, kill his assumedly-zombiefied stepdad, and hang out until the zombie invasion blows over. Like our imperfect heroes, this plan has its flaws, which are both fortunately remedied by the presence of Shaun’s sturdy cricket bat, an arsenal of other blunt objects, and the disposable records from Shaun’s vaunted collection, seemingly the only precious thing in his life.
The remainder of Shaun of the Dead follows very much the same pattern, lacing its gruesome gore and decapitations with a wonderfully clever and keen sense of humor. The script, co-written by director Wright and star Pegg, is of no less than laugh-a-minute status, often creating jokes that are funny on multiple levels at once. Folks who don’t get the veiled pop culture reference or embedded joke will often laugh at what’s occurring on the surface. Coldplay even makes a brief appearance, sending up their own status as celebrity activists. Pegg spends a good part of his screen time slack-jawed, in constant bewilderment or incredulous reaction to his latest personal catastrophe, while the portly Frost serves as his brilliantly dullard comic foil. The Abbott and Costello parallel is not lost with these two.
Wright and Pegg serve up a pitch-perfect homage to first-generation zombie flicks, such as those classic examples by George Romero, while making it accessible to an audience that is just there to have a good time, those who couldn’t care less if it’s a genre spoof or not. Shaun of the Dead isn’t just for fans of zombie flicks; it’s for everyone who likes to laugh. You need no zombie cinema affinity to enjoy it.
Simply put, Shaun of the Dead is bloody brilliant. In equal doses. Run, don’t walk.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Bill Nighy
Film Review: It Chapter Two
The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans
The final installment in the It saga is a clever, scary, probably-too-long allegory about the power of friendship — complete with a 20-foot clown spider. Sure, it’s probably a half-hour longer than it really needs to be — but It Chapter Two is still a fantastic film that hits the sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans.
It’s a story about friendship, and just like the first film, it’s those relationships that make this story so compelling and keep it woven together in a way that you really care about what’s happening to all the folks Pennywise has been menacing across these two films. Sure, Bill Skarsgård’s absolutely terrifying performance as Pennywise is what puts butts in the seats, but at its heart, this is a story about the power of friendship to win out over pretty much anything. If we work together, we can overcome fear, loneliness, doubt, depression — and yeah — even a supernaturally godlike killer clown. Thankfully, all the blood keeps that message from getting too sappy along the way.
The first It in 2017 was a surprise, monster hit — but for good reason. The Stephen King adaptation by director Andy Muschietti is pretty much a horror masterpiece wrapped in a compelling coming of age story. Think Goonies meets a face-eating monster flick with jump scares galore to keep the blood pumping. But, despite a decently-closed ending to the first chapter, the story was always conceived as a two-part film run, which is pretty much the only way one could hope to possibly wrap up King’s massive tome (the studio actually briefly considered splitting Chapter Two into two films, because there’s just so much material).
It Chapter Two makes a wise decision to keep the stellar younger cast from the first film involved via ample flashbacks, while still providing space for the adult Losers to live and breathe (and, ahem, die) while bridging the gap between who they were and who they all grew up to be. It also embraces the inherent silliness and insanity of its premise to laugh, now seen through the lens of middle-aged adults as opposed to middle school minds. It’s a hard tone to hit, and it arguably might come off with more laughs than scares, but it’s true to the inherent madness of Pennywise.
The adult cast is also a home run by and large. James McAvoy makes for a capable adult Bill; Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of adult Bev; James Ransome nails grown-up Eddie; and Isaiah Mustafa does a capable job providing the necessary info-dumps as adult Mike. But the real breakout is Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader as grown-up Richie. There’s scattered buzz that Hader could be worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance, and he deserves every bit of it. We knew Hader had comedy chops, and he uses them plenty to keep this dark tale from getting too dark, but he really taps into the emotion of what it’d be like to go through something so traumatizing. And the moments that break Richie will almost certainly break you, too.
As for the changes to King’s original novel, sure, they’ll certainly be noticeable for fans. That said, the book itself — especially the ending — is absolutely wild and arguably impossible to adapt in a way that could work on the screen. The ending on-screen largely stays true to King’s themes built into the novel, and for the story that’s been told across these two films, it really does work. Hell, even King himself shows up in a cameo to make a joke about just how hard it can be to get an ending right.
Thankfully, despite a few bumps, It Chapter Two pretty much nails the landing. In a world filled more and more with King adaptations, this two-film run will stand as one of the best.
It Chapter Two is in cinemas now
IT CHAPTER TWO
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run time: 169 minutes
Film Review: Hobbs & Shaw
If you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion
It is hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast & The Furious was just a film about the underground culture of street racing. Fast forward nearly 20 years later and the films have gotten so ridiculous that the only logical next step for the film series is to blast it into space. Our endless appetite for the series has seen us grown accustomed to cars taking planes out of the sky (Fast 6), cars jumping from one building to another (Fast 7), and cars being remotely controlled to act like a pack of mechanical wild dogs (Fast 8). Ridiculous is not a barrier the film series will ever brake for and so it brings us to this, the biggest spin-off the series has seen, Hobbs & Shaw.
When the chemistry between The Rock and Jason Statham proved magic in Fast 8, it only took The Rock butting heads with Vin Diesel to see that logically, the series needed a freshness to it. Who better than Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Well, as Hobbs & Shaw proves, if you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion as the film cares not for subtlety, pouring gasoline on the fire. The film sees the addition of Idris Elba as supervillain Brixton Lore and the effervescent Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, the sister of Statham’s character. Both characters fit in superbly well to the colorful, over-the-top personas of the series, but with one difference; they haven’t worn thin yet and are extremely likable. The film benefits greatly from the absence of Vin Diesel’s dopey head and the majority of the dopey Fast “family”, instead taking the Fast and Furious formula and giving it a spit shine, turning it sideways, and sticking it right up… well, you know the drill.
Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) play the unlikeliest (but most charismatic) buddy cop twosome since the days of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. Unexpectedly, this film is really quite hilarious- with the two swapping one-liners and jibes that keeps the film light and funny. The two are tasked with stopping global genocide at the hands of the megalomaniacal terrorist organization known as Etheon. The “face” of Etheon is superhuman Brixton Lore (Elba), an agent left for dead and turned into a weaponized cyborg-esque villain using genetic engineering. He’s the “black Superman” as he says, and he’s got an array of tech and gadgets (including a transforming, autonomous motorbike that would have found itself at home in a Transformers movie) that are part of Etheon’s plan to rid the world of the “weak”.
Etheon are after a deadly virus that is in possession of Hattie Shaw and what ensues is the expected cinematic equivalent of flexing your muscles and undoing the top few buttons of your blouse soundtracked to explosions, fast machines, and zippy dialogue. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) keeps things by the book, and visually it’s all very on brand with the film series. But it is the chemistry and likability of the stars- namely Kirby, Statham, and Johnson- that keeps Hobbs & Shaw light on its feet, big with its set pieces, and never a chore. Kirby, in particular, has shown that her action chops are as deadly as her acting chops (is it too late to make her Black Widow? Or maybe just put her in all the action films). She never spends the film waiting to be rescued and is often the one quelling the childish, but hilarious quarrelling between Statham and Johnson.
The film trades the tired Fast family for real blood family, and while we still get the whole “family” and “heart” spiel that Vin Diesel loves to harp on about in these films, there is definitely a welcome change to the last few films. In fact, the Fast films haven’t been this fun in a long time. Unlike the last few, Hobbs & Shaw knows that the stakes of the film are global, but never does it take that too seriously and we the audience never feel too burdened by the ridiculousness of it all. There are some great cameos (two unexpected stars pop up that add the right comedic touches, plus Helen Mirren is always brilliant) and while the changing of scenery to Samoa is reminiscent of the previous Fast family vacations to South America et al, there’s something spiritual about this trip.
In the end, you don’t even have to turn your brain off because the film is soaked in charm and lightness that makes for a fun, smart enough romp that keeps its two-plus hour run time feeling like quite a breeze. Hobbs & Shaw is what this film series desperately needed. And while we can’t say the appeal will still be there when we’re inevitably sitting through Hobbs & Shaw 2, 3, 4, 5… we can say that for now, we’ll live this life one spin-off at a time.
HOBBS & SHAW
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Run time: 135 minutes