Sunday, December 23, 2007

On the best movie of the year

I am a movie geek. Where most people watch movies and take them at face value, I like to analyze them. I find shot choices fascinating. Lighting. Sound editing. I love commentary tracks on DVD. I love extras. Behind the scenes. In short, I love movies. I love learning everything I can about the craft of making movies.

2007 wasn't a bad year. Going in there were multiple movies I was looking forward too. All either met or exceeded my expectations. First of all, there was "300". Now I could be pedantic and say the title should have been "302", since it's pointed out that it's Leonidas, his lieutenant, and 300 of his best men. That equals 302 in my books... Let's not get derailed though, "300" was a great movie, but not without its issues.

My biggest issue with the movie was the "Meanwhile, back in Sparta" segments which I later found out don't exist in the comic book. In fact they bog down the movie so much I've taken my DVD and made a re-edit of the film to remove all these scenes. (Which sadly means removing the awesome Dominic West.)I always feel slightly bad about this, as it feels akin to drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. The Sparta scenes, however, really killed the movie stone dead, and refocusing the film onto the 300 Spartan's fighting nine foot tall God Kings and their armies made for a much tighter, exciting movie. And what a movie! The visuals in the film are stunning. A lot of criticism of film today is aimed at the speed of the edits. I read something earlier this year that said in the average action movie, there is an edit every 3.8 seconds. I can believe it, as most action movies are edited this way. It makes it all frenetic, but carries with it a degree of smoke and mirrors. Without the edits, the pace isn't as frantic. Quick cuts in the editing room equal cranked up tension from potentially pedestrian footage.

"300" on the other hand had scenes that marveled in the single, long shot. There is one particular sequence of Leonidas fighting his way through the Persian army... Incredibly violent, but it's all shot so wonderfully, in slow motion, that it's almost balletic. There is beauty in the violence. I would put the scenes on a level with the work of John Woo in "Hard Boiled" and similar. It transcends violence and becomes art.

"300" was a truly epic cinematic achievement.

Next up on the list of movies that I personally loved and was really looking forward to was "Grindhouse". Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's double feature of sleaze and violence. A truly unique concept, releasing two movies in one feature, complete with faux trailers in between. Sadly the Weinstein's totally screwed it.

You've got this super violent throwback of a movie, bringing to mind the heady days of the grindhouse and cheap double features, so what do you do? Why you release this grand theatrical experiment at Easter, when family movies traditionally open, then act surprised when it tanks. MORONS! Not only did the movie fail spectacularly in the theatre, the Weinstein's, in their attempt to claw back some money, split the two component movies, Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" and Tarantino's "Death Proof", and released the DVD's seperately! As of right now, the only way you can see "Grindhouse" in the form it was supposed to be seen is by downloading from a torrent site. There are rumours of a proper DVD release next year, but I wouldn't hold your breath.

The movie was terrific. The trailers made the experience all the more enjoyable, especially Edgar Wright's "Don't". Then there's the actual movies themselves.

I could honestly write multiple entries on both films. Audiences seemed split, preferring one movie over the other. I'm a very rare minority in that I liked both movies equally. I'm a zombie movie nut, so "Planet Terror" hit the spot. I'm also a Tarantino fan, so "Death Proof" hit the spot too. I'd be very hard pressed to pick which I liked better.

Edgar Wright's fake trailer is interesting, as a lot of the people involved were also in my movie of the year.

I knew Simon Pegg from stuff I'd seen in the past, and his spectacularly awful American accent in "Band of Brothers". However I had never heard of Edgar Wright. Then in 2004, I kept hearing things about this movie called "Shaun of the Dead". On a whim, I checked it out. "Shaun" led to "Spaced", and me becoming completely and utterly hooked on the works of Messrs Pegg and Wright. Simon wrote "Spaced" with Jessica Stephenson. Edgar directed it. "Shaun" was written and acted in by Simon, and directed by Edgar. It was a great homage to zombie flicks, especially those of Romero. They showed, with this opening theatrical endeavour, that they know how to balance comedy with drama.

The instant I heard about their latest project, "Hot Fuzz", I was interested. I grew up around law enforcement and nearly joined the police, so have a soft spot for them. I was intrigued by the concept. Taking the traditional buddy cop movie genre, and transplanting it onto the English police.

"Fuzz" didn't just beat my expectations, it took them down the alley, gave them a good duffing up, then stole their wallet and left them in a pool of their own blood. The problem with most cop buddy movies are the plots. Asinine and stupid. I mean for all it's action, "Point Break" is as dumb as a box of hair. "Bad Boys" as well. Edgar and Simon took the concept of those films and elevated the genre further than anyone ever has before. The central plot of "Hot Fuzz" is genius, and I found it genuinely interesting, far from just being bolted on. Worthy of the best British detective dramas on PBS. It was a clever, well thought out story, and only has one tiny plothole (which I won't go into as I really don't want to spoil the movie) and even then I could just be being picky for the hell of it.

Simon Pegg is a tremendous comic actor, so to see him play the relatively straight role of police officer Nicholas Angel was an interesting change. Throw in his usual partner in crime Nick Frost as the kind hearted but relatively dense Danny Butterman, and like "Shaun", it's comedy gold. Or comedy fried gold if you will.

I won't reveal anything about the plot of "Hot Fuzz" as it's best to discover it yourself. I pathologically avoid spoilers, cover blurbs, and most trailers these days simply due to too much being given away. "Hot Fuzz" is easily the best British movie in years. A stellar cast, a fantastic script with an extremely well crafted mystery, and a veritable "Who's Who" of British acting talent. Easily the best movie of the year.

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