Monday, July 19, 2010

Hot Fuzz Day One: The Gush

| by Justin Thomas |

Do any defenders of M. Night Shyamalan remain other than his parents and M. Night himself? Can any defense be presented to make a case that his films post The Sixth Sense sniff the brilliance of that picture? Unbreakable isn’t The Happening bad, but it certainly isn’t The Sixth Sense good and each new film gets him one step closer to sinking into oblivion. How close is he to the point where no one gives him a budget to make a movie ever again?

There’s a fair bit of Hitchcock in The Sixth Sense and it isn’t simply the suspense. I sometimes imagine Hitchcock going to screenings of his movies and watching the audience – observing them experiencing his movies – where he does nothing but sit back and laugh because the audience is being played and there isn’t a damn thing they can do about it. That’s The Sixth Sense. That secret is right there the entire time but so many couldn’t see it. M. Night played the audience the way Hitchcock did, but it didn’t take long for him to jump the tracks and at this point I have no idea how he’s going to get back.

Shaun of the Dead and The Sixth Sense have in common being debuts, or virtual debuts, that gave me an insatiable appetite for more. From Shaun came a desire to see what else Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright could do because they came out of the gates with something so well done and so fun, and not long after seeing Shaun, I decided I’d be there on opening night for everything even if they did a live-action adaptation of Angelina Ballerina.

I am glad they didn’t do a live-action adaptation of Angelina Ballerina for their second movie.

Hot Fuzz forces fans of Pegg and Wright to do almost the unthinkable, which is say what they like better, Shaun or Hot Fuzz. They stayed true to what made Shaun successful and accounted for the one misstep in the debut with the result being absolutely pitch-perfect from the sirens over the production logos to the film title at the end. If perfection is the goal – and make no mistake, over the next 3,500 words I will do everything possible to argue Hot Fuzz is perfect – then Hot Fuzz hits it while Shaun can only ever be near perfect.

Maybe they didn’t risk much by staying true to the “formula,” which is making a love letter to a genre while also lampooning it just a bit with the result being a fine example of the genre. How do they get away with ragging on the buddy action movie while making an incredible buddy action movie? They’re learning, that’s how. They’re not running to something else and learning from missteps when they happen. While it might not be as admirable as making near perfect movies across several different types of film, it does let them become very good at what they do. How many filmmakers start well but eventually allow the quality to slide? Why don’t filmmakers get better with experience? Wilder, Lucas, Spielberg, Scorsese, Shyamalan: their great movies – the ones that will eventually reside in the National Film Registry if they don’t already – came early in their careers and their later work isn’t of the order of their early work.

So shut it, yeah? Stop going on and on in an ambiguous manner and actually say something about Hot Fuzz. You asked for it.

The story? Completely absurd, which Simon Pegg's Nicholas Angel says when he squares off against the Neighborhood Watch Alliance, but it’s also a direct descendant of Monty Python where the situation is the joke. It’s set up, developed and concluded, and there are no cheats. It’s absurd, and that’s inarguable, but it doesn’t cheat. The storytelling? Setting up everything early and continuing throughout the movie where nothing cheats at the end while keeping the audience engaged the entire time is a clear indication of good storytelling. While the Andys continually bust Angel’s chops at the pub, they’re being interesting but they’re also giving insanely important information necessary later in the movie. The quickest way to say it: the story and storytelling work if Danny firing his gun in the air and going “ah” does something other than induce eye rolling, and it was the first time I ever cheered during a movie.

Hot Fuzz might not work if the characters are anything other than completely fleshed out and alive, and the characters might not work if they weren’t performed by a Who’s Who of British Actors. Neither happened because Angel and Danny have textbook character arcs and the supporting cast includes Bill Nighy, Timothy Dalton, Jim Broadbent and Paddy Considine. No Alec Guinness? He was unavailable. Angel and Danny alone are worth multiple viewings to see how characters change over the course of a story.

Edgar Wright twice now has wrangled a Penn/Wright screenplay and made a good movie and it’s not necessarily something he could phone in. He’s developing a style, and it appears as though he wants to have a dash of Michael Bay but actually have it, you know, work in context. He gets something out of his actors because Danny Butterman is not Nick Frost, and Nick Frost wouldn’t appear to be an actor particularly with his penchant for flushing cakes down toilets. There’s so much going on in Hot Fuzz that a less capable director might not have been able to have it make sense, but Wright does and with Shyamalan completely destroyed Wright is the one young working director I need to keep watching because he makes good movies. Good movies, good movies, find a different phrase, but in a world where someone thought a sequel to Daddy Day Care was necessary, the conversation needs to start at good movies.

Ha, ha, I didn’t really say anything about Hot Fuzz, did I? It’s impossible to just cover what makes the movie in a few sentences about story, another two or three about character and maybe five on why Wright’s quick edits don’t make me want to punch someone, so there’s more to come about Hot Fuzz.

There is no doubt in my mind people exist who don’t like Hot Fuzz and I understand. It’s not art and it justifiably was not included among Best Picture nominees when two of the five were No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Pegg and Wright are self-indulgent, but in Shaun they also made the only character defining fart joke I’ve ever seen so for me it’s less a matter of taste and more a matter of ability. If you’re okay with the Buddy Cop and okay with Pegg and Wright, then Hot Fuzz doesn’t need to be The Seventh Seal.

So that’s the opener to a week of Hot Fuzz. Next week I promise I’ll look at as much Igmar Bergman as I can, which is a total lie because that won’t happen. But I’ll get this out of my system. I promise.

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