Funny Bunnies!

OK, I’m going to up the anté a little here. I know I previously demanded a whole five seconds of your time to watch all the Rocky movies, now I’m going to ask for thirty seconds (or, to be more accurate, several lots of thirty seconds). Any film fan worth his or her salt will have seen these already – naturally, dear reader, this includes you as you are obviously a discerning viewer and reader of quality blogs – but just in case you may have missed out, I would like to point you toward AngryAlien productions.

They have obviously put a lot of work into their site and produce some genuinely funny and cute re-workings of modern movies, all with a running time of thirty seconds. The real genius is that all the characters are played by cartoon bunnies.

This is an absolute must-see of a site. They have films new, old and quite diverse – Kill Bill, Highlander, Jaws, Brokeback Mountain and Reservoir Dogs (bleeped and unbleeped!) to name but a few. So, if you’re stuck in a boring job and desperately want to be sacked for time-wasting, get on over to the site and the seconds will simply fly by. Whatever your reason for going, you won’t be disappointed.

Galaxy Quest (1999)

Alan Rickman in Galaxy QuestSpace, camp
Hands up – who has never enjoyed an episode of Star Trek? Not many, I’ll bet. Those of you who are less than seven years old or have not owned a TV set since the early 1950s may want to go to another of our reviews for entertainment.

Galaxy Quest is Star Trek with more obvious costumes and sets (if that were possible) a very affectionate spoof of the series, its sometimes-fanatical fans and cast. There are even two monikers that refer to the show’s fans – Questies and Questrians – mirroring real life and the ongoing debate as to whether true fans are Trekkies or Trekkers.

Onto the film itself. The plot is fairly straightforward, with the stars of a cancelled sci-fi series Galaxy Quest being obliged to attend Quest conventions and store openings, dredging the last from the light of fame. None of them enjoy it except for Captain Peter Taggart (Tim Allen) who steals all the limelight and loves to bask in the adoration of his fans. The one who hates it the most is Dr Lazarus (a fine turn from Alan Rickman) – a former Shakespearian actor now reduced to toeing the corporate line for cash. At the opening of an electrical superstore, for example , he delivers his ‘famous’ line “By Grabthar’s hammer, what a savings” with unbridled spite and disdain. The other two stars, Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver, pushing the sexyometer up to 11) and Fred Kwan (Tony Shaloub) complete Taggart’s long-suffering entourage.

While attending a convention, Captain Taggart is approached by a strange set of fans dressed in shiny black suits and sporting the worst haircuts seen outside a prison. They beg him to help them, as their race is in danger of being destroyed by the evil Sarris (Robin Sachs). Taggart quickly dismisses them as over-eager fans and proceeds to get very drunk after the gig. He wakes to find the fans have tracked him down to his home and are, in fact, serious.

The Thermians – as it transpires they are – have been monitoring the series from outer space and believe the Captain and his crew are their best hope of defeating Sarris and saving their race. To this end, they have recreated their starship, the NSEA Protector, from the “historical documents” they have seen.

The film moves at a somewhat uneven pace a times, but this is more than compensated for by the plethora of in-jokes and unashamed sending-up of Star Trek and other sci-fi classics. My particular favourite is Sigourney Weaver’s line: “Ducts, why is it always ducts?” in a nod to her character Ripley’s experiences in the four Alien films.

Overall, I have to say that I have not seen a film in a long time that has had me smiling from start to finish. It seems in serious danger of slipping into mawkishness around two thirds of the way in, but is pulled back from the brink before it becomes too much. Strangely enough, it felt sometimes as if I were watching an episode of Star Trek. As a fan of Trek and Quest alike, I’d say that was a good thing.

102 mins.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

The Bourne Ultimatum

Bourne loser

It’s official, then – everyone’s out of step but me. Now, don’t get me wrong – I had no intention of being deliberately reactionary about Paul Greengrass’s The Bourne Ultimatum, and I’m aware that it has been cited by many critics as the cynosure of big-screen action.

Sorry, but if I wanted to get motion sickness, I’d charter a fishing trip and, although I’m a fully paid-up member of the pinko Socialists polo-neck sweater brigade, if I wanted a 15 minute advert for The Guardian (pronounced Guaarrrrdian, natch, cos it’s the septics in London we’re dealing with), I’d buy a copy and have a go at the crossword.

Confused yet? Stick around. Director Greengrass, whose hand-held documentary style was entirely suited to the marvellous Bloody Sunday (2002) and the sombre mastery of United 93 (2006) has made a serious misjudgement in his approach and, for this reviewer, allowed perceptions of style to override coherence and suspense.

Jason Bourne (the ever-watchable Matt Damon) is closing in on his mysterious past and the shadowy figures who populate it. Following the events of The Bourne Identity (2002) and Greengrass’s first and far superior stab …Supremacy (2004), Bourne is once again brought out of hiding, this time inadvertently by London-based Guardian reporter Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) who is trying to unveil Operation BlackBriar – an upgrade of Project Treadstone, whence Bourne began. Information from the reporter stirs a new set of memories, and Bourne must finally, ultimately, uncover his dark past whilst dodging the best efforts of ‘The Company’ to take him down.

So, what’s wrong with it? I blame Bond. Not that there was anything wrong with Daniel Craig’s smashing turn as 007 in the fabulous Casino Royale (2006), but the critical collective seemed only too willing to tick the film off as a Bourne clone. Thus, Greengrass has made serious efforts to ensure that no accusations of borrowing from Bond can be made, hence the hyper-real, headache-inducing style. It just does not match the slick tone of the story, set-up or set-pieces, and, sorry, but the Tony Gilroy and Scott Z. Burns script falls a long way short of being credible. My beloved was asleep in 20 minutes – I wish I could have joined her, but my responsibilities to Picturenose readers ruled.

Identity crisis? That would be the film’s problem, as much as it is Bourne’s.

115 mins.

Arizona Dream (1993)

Arizona DreamDreaming awake

An eclectic, whimsical and charming character study from Sarajevo-born director Emir Kusturica who, unsurprisingly, has gained quite a reputation as a maker of eclectic, whimsical and charming movies (see his more recent Life is a Miracle (2004) by way of example).

We’re going back to 1993 – everyone’s favourite actor/auteur Johnny Depp, who plays rebellious-but-happy dreamer Axel Blackmar, making his living in New York, tagging fish as a naturalist’s gofer, is looking somewhat younger. His old pal Paul (Vincent Gallo, charming as a slick would-be actor, with a fantastic slant on North-by-Northwest) arrives to take him (under duress) to Arizona for the wedding of his uncle, Leo Sweetie (Jerry Lewis). Not that Axel doesn’t love Leo dearly, you understand, but he sees straight away that it’s a ruse to get him into the family car-selling business.

Compensations await in the form of mother and daughter Elaine and Grace Stalker (Faye Dunaway and Lili Taylor), two very vivacious but emotionally needy souls. Romantic involvement of the most unconventional kind is just around the corner, as is some very risky flying…

Sneaks up on you, does Arizona Dream. Settling back for what I figured would be two-plus hours of Purgatory (it was my beloved’s choice of film, you see), I was pleasantly irritated (if that’s not a contradiction) to find that I was falling in love with Kusturica’s unique, moving (and very funny) vision of a dysfunctional family unit.

David Atkins’ script, co-written with the director, gives doyenne Dunaway more than enough to do in her role as the ageing beauty (still very beautiful) who’s somewhat losing grip on reality, while Lili Taylor proves more than her match when it comes to throwing emotional punches (check out her fake suicide early on – one of the most hilarious pieces of sustained slapstick you’re ever likely to catch). The film has ensemble written all over it – and it’s fantastic, once again, to see Lewis proving how well he can mix the straight/funny man dynamic (as he did so well in Scorsese’s The King Of Comedy (1983)).

And Depp? Well, here’s Johnny, showing early on why he deserved to rise to the heights he subsequently has. Check out this dream – you won’t regret it.

142 mins.

Donnie Brasco (1997)

Donnie BrascoFamily values?

To call Donnie Brasco a ‘gangster movie’ would be like calling Dawn of the Dead (1978) ‘a film about some sick people wandering about’ – this has so much more to offer than the usual Mafiosi stereotypes (although they are there in spades).

The story is based on true events in the life of FBI Agent Joseph Pistone (Johnny Depp), who infiltrated the Mafia posing as a crooked jewel specialist, Donnie Brasco. The real focus of the film is how his job – which rapidly becomes his way of life – interferes with his family commitments as he struggles to keep his identity a secret and stay in the lives of his wife and children. The other side of Joe is revealed too, as he becomes emotionally closer to his target, Lefty (Al Pacino). The bond between them is tangible and excellently portrayed by both leads.

The plot ticks along at a brisk pace, even though there is a distinct lack of the violence and gun-play normally associated with the genre. There is one scene that is particularly unpleasant but it serves to accentuate the lifestyle and make it more real, rather than to glorify it.

For me, the film is about love, loss and betrayal. The trials and tribulations of the lives of both Lefty and Joe – both struggling to keep their heads above water and maintain some dignity and honour – are writ large across the plot’s seedy backcloth. The defining moment for me was the shouting match between Joe and his wife. She screams that Joe is “becoming like them”, to which he replies: “All my life I’ve tried to be the good guy… And for what? For nothing. I’m not becoming like them; I am them.” His love for his family and his affection for Lefty create an almost-inescapable situation, that’s resolved only by the tragic payoff.

If you don’t have a lump in your throat or a tear in your eye at the end, put your hand on your chest and see if there’s still a heart beating in there.

127 mins/147 mins (Director’s Cut).

Hot Fuzz (2007) – Colin’s Take

A policeman’s lot is quite a gruesome one

Another slab of in-your-face comic genius from Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and many of the usual suspects from Spaced.

The story – somewhat light though it may be in parts – is simple. A big-city cop gets injured and is shipped off to some backwater town to play out his days until retirement. Nick Angel (Pegg) has an impressive arrest record and a keen eye for laws being broken. It is only fitting, therefore, that his partner should be a bumbling country copper with a distinct preference for Cornetto ice cream over any actual police work.

During the course of this two-hour romp (in which many famous faces appear to be enjoying themselves immensely) several film genres are picked up, shaken around a bit and hurled into the mix. The humour ranges from the referential and obscure to the blatant and scatological. One scene that springs to mind is Angel describing an accident scene to the two suspiciously Sweeney-style detective constables. Every time he mentions “skid-marks”, one of them sniggers. Highbrow stuff, indeed.

It’s also surprisingly unpleasant in more than a few places. There were a couple of times when my good lady disappeared into the kitchen saying “Oh, that’s horrible.” The fact it works at all is a testament to the love of movies that is shared by Pegg and Frost and the fact they use their knowledge to good advantage.

With strong language and violence throughout this is not a kid’s movie but, if you have any sense of humour at all, you won’t regret seeing it. Superb stuff.

P.S. I’m not giving away any plot spoilers, but keep your eye on that swan!

121 mins.

Hot Fuzz – James’ and Paul’s Take

Simon Pegg in Hot Fuzz Copper-bottomed comedy

Messrs Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright are fast becoming the benchmark for what it means to be funny – comic actor and writer Pegg first paired up with writer/director Wright for the sensational Spaced sit-com, and they have subsequently worked together on the marvellous ‘not with a bang but a belly-laugh’ zombie pastiche, Shaun of the Dead (2004).

Both are children of the 1970s who honed their talents during the DVD/multiplex saturated 1990s, an era in which movie-literate TV comedy (The League of Gentlemen, Big Train) came to the fore. These guys know their stuff – with Hot Fuzz, it’s the turn of the ‘tough cop reassigned against his wishes’ chestnut to face wicked satire superbly blended with genuine understanding of the genre’s previous form.

Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is the best on the beat in the Big Smoke – but his London Met colleagues are growing more than a little weary of his unceasing dedication to duty and arrest record that’s 400% higher than any other officer on the force. His drive for justice has cost him his marriage, natch, and there isn’t much to report concerning his solitary cranberry juice-based social life, but Angel is a man driven by a higher purpose, as a hysterical opening montage reveals.

But strange times lie ahead, when Angel’s superiors send him (against his wishes of course) to the sleepy and seemingly idyllic village of Sandford (long-time winner of Village of the Year, remember that), where he’s partnered with the well-meaning but truly average police officer Danny Butterman (Nick Frost).

Danny’s the son of amiable Police Chief Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), whose team’s attitude towards law and order is remarkably lax by Angel’s standards, but things may be about to change – chasing shoplifters and overseeing village fayres becomes secondary to Angel’s growing suspicions as a series of grisly ‘accidents’ throw the quiet village into turmoil…

The ensemble cast is a testament to the growing esteem in which Pegg and Wright are held – in addition to Broadbent, Timothy Dalton turns in a lip-smacking turn as the sinister local supermarket magnate Simon Skinner, while stalwarts such as Edward Woodward, Billie Whitelaw, Bill Nighy, Cate Blanchett and Steve Coogan join in the fun, too.

But what it’s all really about, of course, is ‘buddy buddy’ – Pegg and Frost’s delivery and partnership ranges from broadest slapstick to underplayed hilarity in the blink of an eye, and Wright’s script (for the most part) gives them plenty to work with. It is officially a Brave New Brit-Com of the purest breed, so hence may not translate well for those not au fait with the machinations of the best modern comedy, or Americans.

Never mind, eh? Law enforcement was never so funny, official, we’ve all got to learn how to laugh sometime, and this is as good a place as any to start.

121 mins.

And over to Paul Stump

If it’s a capital offence for anyone under 50 to admit they thought Spaced was just OK, then build my gallows high. You had to lean into the pop-culture reference like fighting a blizzard; here Simon Pegg and his director have a chance to spread their material a little thicker, and praise be. This allows children of the 1980s and of rubbish TV and film culture the privilege of cringing a little at the vacuity of their own tastes, while also making themselves damp with laughter.

Pegg, reprising his dogged wage-slave, unquestioning ‘EveryBrit’ role from the equally fine Shaun of the Dead plays a model copper who’s posted to a rural village of deceptive serenity and the exclusivity of inbreeding. What follows is the nearest thing to a Tom Sharpe novel cinema has ever produced, a bloodily labyrinthine and frenziedly farcical plot of jealousy, arcane class loyalties, social rituals and serial murder behind the privet hedges and the begonias. Wright and Pegg’s coup is to translate this – though never self-consciously – through a lens familiar to a generation raised less on literature than the moving image.

Thus, Miss Marple and, crucially, its antipode, the action flicks of John Woo; the slow-mo two-fisted heat-packing leap through the local pub’s doors should be studied a quarter-century hence as an iconic moment in Brit cinema. Nick Frost as Pegg’s rural sidekick, who suddenly finds himself in the midst of an action flick of the kind he insatiably devours on his DVD, is a lugubriously thick delight, all Chipsticks and Chuck Norris. And yet one only has to have the most tenuous grasp on the references to find this a film of deep-rooted guffaws, genuine grand guignol horror (the murder of a local journalist is peculiarly disturbing) and pulsating thrills.

Wright and Pegg, here, essay and satirize many of the worst, most venal and ignorant traits of Blairite Britain, yet the panache with which they execute this, and the audience their films attract, gives us hope. They are a two-man Ealing Studios for the 21st century. Believe the hype.