(Alliance Atlantis, 2007) D: Edgar Wright, w/ Simon Pegg, Nick Frost. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NNN
Lots of fun and some big laughs from the team who made the brilliant Shaun Of The Dead (2004), director and co-writer Edgar Wright, co-writer and star Simon Pegg and co-star Nick Frost.
But this isn't nearly as hilarious as Shaun. That's partly because zombies are such a powerhouse premise that they'll work under all kinds of treatments. It's also because, in Shaun Of The Dead, Wright and Penn stuck to parodying one thing only.
Hot Fuzz is all over the map, mixing Agatha Christie with buddy cop comedy, hard action thriller and a touch of Hammer horror. Wright and Pegg tell you all about their sources on a funny commentary that's the best part of the extras. They mention Tony Scott (Man On Fire) a lot. That's fine if you're a movie geek into spotting stylistic references.
Grim-faced London supercop Nick Angel (Pegg) is sent down to a perfectly peaceful rural village and teamed up with a grinning idiot (Frost). Murders ensue, but nobody believes our hero. It all takes a while to get started, but eventually the big guns and massive destruction are rolled out.
Pegg and Frost are fun, individually and together, but the real treat is the supporting cast crammed with England's most distinguished actors, including Timothy Dalton, Billie Whitelaw and Edward Woodward. These are people used to handling Shakespeare. How happy they seem handling automatic weapons.
EXTRAS Wright and Pegg commentary, storyboards, pop-up trivia track, outtakes, deleted scenes, promotional tour video diary. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers: Collector's Edition
(MGM, 1978) D: Philip Kaufman, w/ Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNN
Sometimes remakes are a good idea. In this case, the latest version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (starring Nicole Kidman, due out August 17) has prompted the re-release of earlier ones, bringing a classic to our attention.
Don Siegel's 1956 original is an acknowledged paranoid masterpiece. Pods from outer space are replacing humans. They're identical to the originals but without emotion. Siegel sets his story in a small town and emphasizes its normality to create the terror. Critics generally see it as a metaphor for the 50s fear of Communism and pressure to conform.
Philip Kaufman's 1978 Invasion updates the theme, making it an explicit critique of the Me Generation. He sets his story in San Francisco and applies noir lighting, bizarre camera work and one of the wildest sound effects tracks ever recorded to give the real city a hyperreal edge.
The result is a film that looks and moves like no other. How they did it is very nicely laid out in Kaufman's commentary and some retrospective making-of docs that emphasize creative decision-making rather than production stories.
The cast, notably Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum, deliver good performances that add to the off-kilter atmosphere. Leonard Nimoy and Veronica Cartwright are very believable as, respectively, a New Age shrink and a space cadet bathhouse worker.
EXTRAS Disc one: director commentary. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish audio. English, Spanish subtitles. Disc two: retro making-of, special effects, sound effects, cinematography docs. Wide-screen. Booklet.
(Mongrel, 2006) D: Tony Gatlif, w/ Asia Argento, Birol Unel. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: n/a.
Tony Gatlif is best known here for 1993's Latcho Drom, a celebration of Romany music in Europe, the Middle East and America. He's made 10 films since then, most of them further explorations of Roma music and culture.
This time he's made a drama starring Asia Argento as Zingarina, a French woman who goes to Transylvania in search of a vanished lover, only to be overcome by her own emotions and the strangeness of the place.
Argento, who played the femme fatale in the Vin Diesel actioner xXx, gets to unleash her phenomenal range and go-for-broke emotional openness. It's a great performance.
Like the blues or klezmer, Romany music is powerful stuff, full of strong rhythms under wailing vocals. Gatlif, an accomplished songwriter, penned most of the score himself. He knows how to blend music with performances and his unintrusive direction to create an exhilarating emotional roller coaster.
He's given us an intimate, unaffected portrait of these people and their lives, as well as a great tour of the countryside. Sadly, though, he explains nothing. There's no making-of doc, no commentary.
Extras Wide-screen. Romany audio. English, French subtitles.
(DreamWorks, 2007) D: D.J. Caruso, w/ Shia LaBoeuf, Sarah Roemer. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NN
A good story, some good acting and polished visuals do much to compensate for the mostly mild suspense.
Shia LaBoeuf is a troubled teen suffering the boredom of house arrest and a tracker anklet that limits his movement. Sarah Roemer is the hottie who moves in next door, David Morse the serial killer across the street.
LaBoeuf (Transformers) is a good actor, but his character isn't really as dark as the story demands. Still, he and Roemer (The Grudge 2) do good light comedy and budding teen romance together. But it's Morse (he plays Michael Tritter on House) who gives the movie its power. He's mild, just a regular guy going about his business, and his performance has none of the leering ham quality that afflicts many actors who play serial killers.
Despite the superficial similarities, this film lacks Rear Window's edge or rigour. It has little on its mind except for some light fun. Unfortunately, the people who did the commentary and extras have nothing at all on their minds. You'll get the same uninformative blather on the pop-up trivia track as on the commentary, often at the same time. And do we really need D.J. Caruso telling us which particular scene gave Roemer some trouble because she was having her period?
EXTRAS: Caruso, LaBoeuf and Roemer commentary, making-of doc, pop-up trivia, deleted scenes. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, August 14
David Lynch's three-hour exercise in surrealist mystery, with Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons and 90 minutes of deleted scenes.
A biker flick for the middle-aged, with Tim Allen, John Travolta, William H. Macy and Martin Lawrence encountering evil bikers.
Two-disc edition of Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, with commentary by director-star Kenneth Branagh, a new transfer and a remastered 5.1 soundtrack.
Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale stranded and slated to star in a snuff film.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb