Second Opinion Edition 1

After someone else had taken over movie reviews I switched to writing a “staying in” column, there I would make recommendations for DVDs based on what was currently playing in cinemas.  The idea would be to recommend similar, and possibly superior, alternatives to the month’s releases.  And by the way, I was going for Garth Marenghi with that headshot. I think I succeeded.

Welcome to the first week of my new feature.  Instead of reviewing contemporary releases I’ll be giving some recommendations of what to check out with (some rather tenuous) ties to what’s in the spotlight.

In this edition I’ll be giving recommendations based on Hot Fuzz, the action comedy extravaganza from Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.  If, as I did, you loved Hot Fuzz in all of its facets then I’d be shocked if you weren’t already familiar with Wright/Pegg/Frost’s previous offerings, Spaced and Shaun of the Dead. For those of you who aren’t aware, Spaced was a channel 4 TV show that ran for two series between 1999 and 2001. It’s a twenty-something sitcom that draws a lot of its humour from popular culture but is also a fantastic character study with some brilliant direction and acting. This is really where it all started and it’s one of the finest comedies of the last decade.  Although it can be enjoyed by all audiences you really need to have geek in you to fully appreciate the show.

Shaun of the Dead is the same team’s 2004 Zombie genre movie offering.  It deals with the zombie movie in a similar way to how Hot Fuzz deals with buddy cop action movies: it both parodies and pays tribute to them, whilst all the way making clear that the guys behind the movie love everything about the genre. Check it out whether or not you’re a zombie fan, particularly if you’re familiar with George A. Romero’s Dead Saga (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and Land of the Dead).

If you are a zombie fan and are looking for something new then I have to recommend Robert Kirkman’s ongoing zombie comic book series, The Walking Dead. It follows a small group of survivors after a zombie apocalypse and the challenges they face in a world without law or reason.  Please don’t write this off as soon as you see the phrase “comic book”. The story is told entirely in dialogue so there are no cheesy comic book captions and the pictures only serve to give the characters emotion, including the zombies themselves.  You will not find cadavers with more personality anywhere else. In most ninety minute zombie flicks you never really get to know more than two of the main players, so when the rest of the group starts getting killed off, it’s difficult to care. This doesn’t happen with an ongoing series and you really feel for each member of the group. It makes me wonder why there hasn’t been an attempt at a zombie-centric TV show, because it seems like the perfect format.  The story is gripping and, like all good zombie stories, the real horror comes from the changes in our human characters, who can prove to be crueller and more dangerous than anything that once occupied a grave. The Walking Dead is a wonderful offering from another man who really knows the genre, and Simon Pegg himself writes the afterword to the second volume. It really shouldn’t need any further endorsement.

If you want a fully immersive survival horror experience try playing through the remake of Resident Evil the Gamecube on one of the harder difficulty settings with the lights off in a sleep-deprived state. Nothing is scarier then limping towards a save room after a boss battle with no ammo only to have some bloody zombie explode through a window in front of you.

Finally linking with Hot Fuzz is my action movie recommendation. In 2005 a small movie named Crank was released. It’s an all-out-balls-to-the-wall action movie from a first-time directing team. It also has one of the most brilliant premises of all time. Think about the plot in most action films, especially anything with Van Damme, Seagal or, dare I say it, even the mighty Arnie. Remember how poorly constructed and unnecessary it seemed? Crank disposes of all that. Crank follows Jason Statham as a man who wakes up poisoned.  The only way to stop it from killing him? Keep his adrenaline levels high. That’s it. With this elegantly simple idea follows one of the coolest, funniest and most original action movies I’ve ever seen, ranking way up there with the likes of Die Hard and Hot Fuzz. It has some fairly extreme content so it won’t be for everyone but if you’re a fan of the action genre you owe it to yourself to see this movie.

Also this week, if you liked Dreamgirls check out The Blues Brothers, the only musical I’ll sing along to or if you want something really off-the-wall, Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris, a musical about a seriess of murders at a family B&B. It’s not brilliant, but it’s certainly novel. And after Forrest Whitaker’s Oscar win for his role as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland take a look at him in Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, an odd but compelling modern legend about a hitman who follows the ancient Japanese code, with Whitaker in the title role.  That’s all for this issue.

Originally published 2007.

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