British thriller finds a young girl named Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) traveling to London to become a fashion designer. Eloise also has a bit of a gift of sight and her sight activates upon taking a room in the home of the elderly Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg). She starts traveling back to the 60s where she begins to follow and live in the footsteps of a pretty young socialite named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). First, she’s enjoying the experience and nightlife, until Sandie meets the mysterious Jack (Matt Smith) and things start to take a dangerous and dark turn for both Sandie and Eloise.
Flick is directed by Edgar (Shaun of the Dead) Wright from a script and story by he and Krysty Wilson-Cairns. As with all of Wright’s films the cinematography is sumptuous, the editing sharp and innovative and the soundtrack nearly perfect. Yet, despite being very well done, there is something missing here. Maybe it’s that we never really bond with McKenzie’s Eloise, or Taylor-Joy’s mysterious and aloof Sandie, to really get emotionally involved in what happens to them. Maybe it’s also that the clever and sometimes trippy set-up leads to a fairly routine murder thriller when all is said and done. The glitzy time traveling, spooky visions and Argento-like death scenes are well done, but it isn’t enough to really make us care about where this is all going. A pointless romantic subplot concerning Eloise and one of her coworkers doesn’t add anything either. There is an interesting twist in the last act, but once you peel back all the inventive smoke and mirrors, the story isn’t as involving as we would have liked and that twist not as impactful as it should have been. The cast, including Dame Diana Rigg and the legendary Terrance Stamp, are all good, though as stated, we never really warm up to McKenzie’s Eloise or Anya Taylor-Joy’s Sandie. Without the emotional anchor of being endeared to the lead characters, we just drift through the visual sea of Wright’s certainly interesting concoction. Odd, as endearing characters are usually one of Wright’s strengths. Liked it to a degree but didn’t love it.
Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a music loving getaway driver for crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey). Doc caught Baby stealing his car, but was so impressed by his technique and driving that he is letting him work off his infraction by employing the orphaned young man to get his robbery teams out quick. Baby has almost worked off his dept and wants out, especially when he meets beautiful and sweet waitress Debora (Lily James), who steals his heart. But Doc isn’t about to let Baby get away that easy and when a big job brings in loose cannon Batz (Jamie Foxx), Baby might be in for the ride of his life…and maybe his last ride, too!
Written and directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), this is a routine crime thriller energized by having the action synced up with the film’s awesome soundtrack of classic tunes. In this aspect the film is impressive, especially on a technical level and does have some really energetic chase sequences when the law are in hot pursuit. The romance is also very hip and sweet between Baby and the captivating Debora and we believe these two kids are in love. The film is, overall, fun from start to finish, but does falter once the soundtrack syncing starts to wear out it’s novelty and we realize that underneath Wright’s showmanship is just another crime thriller about a good man in with some bad people. It follows the formula very closely, so it’s no spoiler to know that Baby’s plans to go away with Debbie are going to be thwarted by Doc, the last big job will go awry and we know Baby will be forced to go up against his former “friends” when Debbie gets caught in the middle. Even while very predictable, this is still an enjoyable thriller and Wright’s style of telling the familiar tale does freshen things up for a while. Edgar Wright may not always be the most original filmmaker in terms of his stories, but he is one of the more innovative ones when it comes to how he tells them.
The cast is really on target with Ansel Elgort being a handsome and charming young rogue with the beautiful Lily James being quite captivating as the sassy and sweet apple of his eye. They have chemistry and their scenes together are engaging, as they should be. Kevin Spacey is having a blast as the eccentric Doc and even manages to give the crime boss a little bit of heart underneath the bad guy veneer. Jon Hamm and Eiza González also sizzle as a married couple who are a modern day Bonnie and Clyde with González being a suitably sexy bad girl and Hamm being a likable bad-ass who becomes a real beast when things go wrong. Jamie Foxx is fine as Batz, though the character sometimes seemed a little too reckless to have lived this long in this business. Jon Bernthal also appears briefly as another member of Doc’s rotating crime team who doesn’t like that Baby never gets his hands dirty. A good cast who get the tone of the material and has a good time with their characters.
In conclusion this was a fun movie with a great soundtrack and some top notch action and editing. The romance elements were hip and sweet and the film only falters when it’s soundtrack syncing gimmick looses steam and we realize we’ve seen this movie many, many times before…thus making it predictable. It’s still worth watching, though, especially for the hip cast, fast action and awesome tunes, but by the end we do realize that this car is actually an old model, just one with shiny new rims.
Cockneys vs Zombies wants to have it both ways by ripping off Edgar Wright and Guy Ritchie by having a bunch of Cockney crooks, both young and old, dealing with a zombie outbreak in East End London. The film opens with a construction crew uncovering a tomb sealed in the 1600s and upon entering are attacked by reanimated corpses. At the same time, brothers and would-be criminals Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) and Andy (Harry Treadaway) are planning a bank robbery to get enough money to save their grand dad Ray’s (Alan Ford) senior citizen’s rest home from demolition. Ray is conveniently also a former gangster so we can be assured of at least one foul mouthed senior citizen. As the robbery goes awry, the zombies start to multiply and with the East End in chaos, our young bank robbers escape but, now must find a way to survive the living dead and rescue Ray and his senior friends. With a mounting army of the undead, can they get out of the infected area alive? It isn’t bad enough that director Matthias Hoene is lazy enough to blatantly copy the styles of Wright and Ritchie but, the fact that he and writers James Moran and Lucas Roche feel that their premise of having foul mouthed Cockney criminals, senior and slacker alike, cursing at and killing zombies is enough to make their flick work without giving it much wit or creativity. And to be honest, it is a fun premise but, again, it’s a lazy movie that doesn’t give the story anywhere near the fun and energy it needed. And if you’re copying Wright and Ritchie, leaving out the fun and energy is just plain sloppy. It also parades out all the cliche’s involved in both zombie and gangster flicks including character access to a cache of guns, the hot ass-kicking chick and conveniently left around power tools that are perfect for killing zombies. And this isn’t to say the film is totally devoid of fun, cause the cast are thankfully enjoying themselves and there are some amusing bits but, not enough to put it anywhere near the class of film they are trying to mimic… thought to be honest, I’ve never really been a big fan of Guy Ritchie’s flicks and while I enjoy Wright’s, I don’t think they are the masterpieces his fans make them out to be. There is some good gore and the production appears to make good use of a low budget but, in terms of both the zombie aspect and the gangsters with British accents angle, there is nothing new here at all and it’s not funny or endearing enough to overcome that, like how Shaun Of The Dead rose above it’s familiar material. Not a total waste of time but, nothing much to recommend either, as it pretty much wastes an amusing idea. Also stars adorable and spunky Michelle Ryan as cousin and partner in crime, Katy… the before mentioned hot ass-kicking chick… and legendary Bond girl Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore) as one of the senior center residents named Peggy. And while it was fun to see Blackman onscreen again, I personally would like to remember her as her classic character in Goldfinger. For zombie completests or for those who feel curses in British accents are enough to entertain.
The World’s End is the third film in writer/director Edgar Wright’s ‘Cornetto trilogy’ that feature friends and frequent collaborators Simon Pegg (who co-wrote) and Nick Frost. I like these films though, I don’t quite see them as the comic masterpieces their passionate fan-base does but, I do enjoy them. And much like the other films (Hot Fuzz, Shaun Of The Dead) this is a fun romp where the genuine friendship between these three talents comes through and the good time making the film is evident as you watch. This film tells the story of eternal teenager Gary King (Pegg) who is determined to regroup his band of school buds (Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan) and finish the epic pub crawl in their home town that they failed to complete 20 years ago. He somehow convinces the men, some who are now married, have families and are fairly successful adults, to return to Newton Haven and complete ‘The Golden Mile’ a stretch of road containing twelve pubs in which they each must have a drink. Things start off well enough… at least in Gary’s eyes… but, soon they realize something is very wrong here in their former stomping ground and an encounter with a gang of youths reveals the town has been taken over by alien robots and their very lives may be in jeopardy. But, despite the alien occupation, Gary is determined to finish what they started two decades ago, even if it means battling a town full of inhuman invaders to do it. Edgar Wright is a clever director and it is the cleverness in his mixing of a story of growing older and facing change and responsibility with an Invasion Of The Body Snatchers-esque Sci-Fi tale that makes it work and makes it fun. He creates some very human and endearing characters in his leads who are brought to life by a talented cast including Rosamund Pike as Sam, who is the sister of Oliver (Freeman) and with whom Gary wishes to repeat his previous pub crawl bathroom encounter with. It is the likability of this bunch and their personal growth during this adventure that keeps one from realizing how silly it all is. Despite some amusing action scenes and abundant SPFX in it’s second half, the movie is rooted in this band of middle-aged friends trying to relive days gone by even in the face of an alien invasion. Their bickering over personal issues while being pursued by a town full of robotic alien clones of their old friends and neighbors, is what really makes this flick work despite top notch effects and the well choreographed action. Not everything works perfectly. It takes the film a while to get going and it takes some time for you to warm up to Pegg’s Gary who is basically a jerk but, when the film does start moving it’s a lot of fun and Pegg skillfully makes you not only root for Gary but, feel sorry for him when his personal secrets are revealed. The climax in the alien hive does bring the momentum to a grinding halt, though, it isn’t boring, just stops the action cold and the film does have a somewhat gloomy finale considering the more energetic tone… but, it works and certainly doesn’t ruin the film. All in all, I liked this third and finale (?) chapter in the trilogy but, like the others, I don’t think it’s a classic. It certainly is a bit of a refreshing change from the crude and lazy comedies that Hollywood is cranking out continuously and that is most welcome. Also stars Pierce Brosnan as the gang’s school professor Guy Shepard and a vocal cameo by the great Bill Nighy as the alien ‘Network’.
With The World’s End opening this weekend, I decided to revisit the first big screen film from Pegg, Frost and Wright…
SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004)
Not the masterpiece most fanboys make it out to be, but British flick Shaun Of The Dead is an amusing horror comedy with a twisted sense of humor and some some excellent gore effects. The film mixes the laughs and horror well enough (which isn’t easy as most horror/comedies fail) and actually is a pretty decent zombie film even without the jokes. Simon Pegg plays Shaun, a slacker who yearns for more yet, can’t quite get off the couch to go for it, despite pressure from his pretty girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield). When a zombie apocalypse breaks out, Shaun finds the hero within when he’s forced to take action to save his girl, his mom (Penelope Wilton) and their friends.
Frequent collaborator Nick Frost, in the lovable loser role, plays Shaun’s best friend and bad influence Ed, and the two play off each other very well and their reactions to each other come across as very natural (they are friends in real life). The rest of the supporting cast, including the great Bill Nighy, back them up nicely and all come across as real people not quite able to deal with what’s happening. The group turns to Shaun to guide them as he seems to be the only one with a plan, even if it is only to get to the local pub and wait things out. Director Edgar Wright wisely gives plenty of clever props and nods to the zombie films of George Romero, which clearly influenced Shaun, but while making the movie all his own. The flick has it’s share of flaws though. It is a bit predictable as we know how it’s going to all wrap up as we’ve seen the ‘slacker does good/wins the girl’ story many times before. Frost’s Ed was a bit annoying to me in the earlier scenes and I kind of sided with those who don’t like him much. He has some funny bits and again, he works well with Pegg and the two are fun to watch once the film gets going, but I wasn’t as endeared to the character as others seem to be. Also, some of the scenes of Shaun being lectured by those disappointed in him get tiresome quick. We get the point. He’s lazy. In fact I find the stuff before the zombies show up to be a bit dull and, ironically, the film only really livens up when the dead show up, but maybe that was the point.
Not quite the great movie it’s made out to be, but a fun ‘Saturday night with a few beers’ flick and one of the better horror comedies of the 2000s. An enjoyable flick and a lot of fun, but a bit overrated in the context of all the fuss that’s made about it.
I thought I would profile two lesser known titles from Matheson’s illustrious and expansive body or work…
THE NIGHT STALKER (1972)
For a while, this 1972 TV movie was the most watched program in television history. A well made story of a fallen from grace reporter (Darren McGavin) who comes to believe a series of murders in Las Vegas are being committed by an actual vampire (a creepy Barry Atwater). As the authorities (led by movie and TV vet Claude Akins) are in denial, reporter Carl Kolchak decides to confront and destroy the undead fiend himself, if the bloodthirsty Janos Skorzeny doesn’t kill him first.
A solid horror thriller for a TV movie and a strong characterization from Christmas Story dad, McGavin as Kolchak. There is very little blood, as it was made for TV, but director John Llewellyn Moxey (Horror Hotel) directs from legendary writer Richard Matheson’s script based on the book, ‘The Kolchak Papers’ by Jeff Rice. Moxey makes up for the lack of the red stuff by providing a healthy dose of thrills and chills and takes the proceedings very serious, which makes it all work. The Night Stalker is considered a classic by many and it spawned a decent sequel, Night Strangler, before becoming a TV series that sadly took a campy approach to the supernatural stories and the Kolchak character. Classic TV movie is said to have been the inspiration for The X-Files, which returned the favor by having McGavin guest star in 2 episodes as an agent. Also starring Simon Oakland as Kolchak’s long suffering boss, Tony Vencenzo, who would also join McGavin in the sequel and the short lived series. I am proud to say I watched this the night it first aired and it scared the heck out of my 7 year-old ass!
MonsterZero NJ Extra Trivia: There was a brief run new version of the show in 2005 with Stuart Townsend as Kolchak and now talk of a movie version with Johnny Depp as Kolchak and directed by Shaun Of The Dead’s Edgar Wright.
Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) supernaturally savvy reporters
Not quite a trailer but a promo that mixes scenes from both The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler…
THE NIGHT STRANGLER (1973)
After being chased out of Las Vegas as part of covering up their vampire problem, sequel to the classic Night Stalker has Carl Kolchak now in Seattle and coming up against a serial killer who is part Jekyll/ Hyde and part Dorian Gray. Kolchak’s investigation leads him to a doctor (The Six Million Dollar Man’s boss, Richard Anderson) who resurfaces every twenty-one years to murder victims for a serum that keeps him alive and young. As with the previous entry, Kolchak is the only one who believes there is something supernatural going on and the only one who figures out how to stop it.
For a sequel, it’s not bad and pretty entertaining in it’s own right. Directed by Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows, Trilogy Of Terror) and again written by legendary genre writer Richard Matheson (Twilight Zone, The Night Stalker and Spielberg’s Duel), the film has it’s share of spooky moments and suspenseful chases as Kolchak once again finds himself alone and trying to stop the fiend, before his serum is complete and he goes back into hiding. The formula didn’t start to wear thin till the often silly weekly series that struggled to keep coming up with supernatural opponents for the intrepid reporter. They probably should have stuck with an annual TV movie instead. Strangler also features Simon Oakland returning as Vencenzo and an adorable and fiesty Jo Ann Pflug as a belly dancer with a soft spot for McGavin’s hard nosed reporter. Also stars legendary actors, John Carradine, Margaret Hamilton and “Grandpa” Al Lewis.
MonsterZero NJ Extra Trivia: A third film written by Matheson was planned, but ABC went with a weekly series instead. The film was called The Night Killers and would have involved Kochak and Vinchenzo working together in Hawaii and investigating a story involving aliens, a UFO and a plot to colonize earth…sound familiar, Mulder and Scully?
Rated 3 (out of 4) supernaturally savvy reporters
MZNJ Trivia: A third film written by Matheson was planned, but ABC went with a weekly series instead. The film was called The Night Killers and would have involved Kochak and Vinchenzo working together in Hawaii and investigating a story involving aliens, a UFO and a plot to colonize earth…sound familiar, Mulder and Scully?