'Shaun of the Dead' - Review by Nate Boss - 5/5 stars"Tonight I'm gonna have myself a real good time
The American debut for actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as well as writer/director Edgar Wright, 'Shaun of the Dead' brought a dry form of British comedy to our shores that was nearly universally embraced. Their television show, 'Spaced,' didn't even hit American store shelves until after the success of their second film, 'Hot Fuzz.' but with 'Shaun,' they put their own uniquely fresh spin on a not too fresh sub-genre: the horror spoof.
It's been done a hundred times already, from self-aware horror films to full on film mix-and-match fare like 'Scary Movie,' but few such films can claim the same brilliance and appeal as this British take on zombies. More a love-letter than full on parody, 'Shaun of the Dead' took on the living dead in a manner only rivaled by the master George Romero himself.
Shaun (Pegg) and his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) are at a crossroads in their relationship, with each side's friends only exacerbating their issues. With tension at home between flatmates Ed (Nick Frost) and Pete (Peter Serafinowicz), there's no neutral ground where Shaun can sort out his life. Leave it to an outbreak of zom...(shh, don't say the zed-word!)....undead to put everything into perspective...if only Shaun would notice the world disintegrating around him!
In 'Shaun of the Dead,' comedic timing gets redefined in numerous ways, with countless ironic (or soon to be ironic) shots and bits of dialogue, and a few moments that repeat themselves, transforming from mundane situations to twisted parallels, much like Bizarro World.
The fact that an entire outbreak can go by undetected by those too wrapped up in their minor crises sets a stage far more convincing than the original zombie films, where random men and women find themselves in the middle of a growing issue. There's no time to stock up, strategize, or get to one's friends and family.
The diverse cast of characters and personalities who seemingly refuse to put their own problems and idiosyncrasies on hold in response to the end of the world only help the film. Shaun, Ed, and Liz don't seem to care about the apocalypse, letting minute issues from before dominate their actions in the present, while Liz's friends Dianne (Lucy Davis) and David (Dylan Moran) each act in the same manner, using the ensuing end of the world to further their own agendas of love and jealousy. Shaun's mom Barbara (Penelope Wilton) and stepfather Philip (Bill Nighy) also have their own problems, but don't seem to let the situation all around them affect their actions one bit.
We aren't told the cause of the outbreak, despite it starting to be explained, thanks to the changing channel joke, where numerous broadcasts tell a different tale by jumping between programs. Much like Wright's signature jump cuts, the story isn't to tell the explanation, but to show the results. Like the rest of the great zombie flicks of old, it's better to not know the cause of the outbreak, but just see it develop from a few isolated incidents to a full on undead pandemic. Also, much like the greats of the sub-genre, the film's zombies are slow and incredibly stupid, working together much like the Borg of 'Star Trek,' while empowering the story's anti-heroes to act.
'Shaun of the Dead' is full of deliciously perfect timing, genius oblivious acting by the entire cast, hilarious screwball situations that no normal outbreak survivor would ever put themselves through, and plenty of pop culture gags to boot. From the seemingly psychic jukebox on random, to the theory that dogs can't look up, to the discussion of the decommission of the only gun available, there's nary a scene in the film that isn't sheer perfection, a zombie fan's dream. The perfect mix of comedy and zombie horror, 'Shaun' is sure to stand the test of time, and find a place next to the other 'of the Dead' films that Romero made famous. If only every parody film were this well thought out, focusing on themes rather than a smattering of random occurrences with no semblance of a plot, and if only every zombie film could follow the classic rules to the letter as 'Shaun.'
'Hot Fuzz' - Review by Nate Boss - 4 stars
The highly anticipated follow-up to 'Shaun of the Dead,' reuniting director Edgar Wright with collaborative actor Simon Pegg and sidekick Nick Frost, 'Hot Fuzz' takes aim at the buddy cop action sub-genre, maintaining the same sense of screwy, out of place British humor in this second entry into the "Blood and Ice Cream" trilogy (which we now know as 'The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy').
Super cop Nicholas Angel (Pegg) puts the job before his personal life, completely unable to turn the switch off. After putting his London colleagues to shame with an arrest record 400 percent more than any other officer, Angel is "promoted" and forcibly transferred to Sandford, Glauchester, a model village with the lowest crime rate in all of England.
The town is eerie in its perfection, though locals encourage some relatively minor indiscretions so as to keep appearances on the streets. But with the upcoming grading on the area for the yearly "best village," more and more "accidents" are piling up, with gruesomely violent deaths all a part of the pattern. With local dimwit cop Danny Butterman (Frost), the son of local law head Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent) at his side, Angel is set to uncover the truth behind the mystery surrounding Sandford, regardless of what repercussions it will have for the men and women he is set to protect.
'Hot Fuzz' doesn't succeed due to an all star cast. If anything, it has anything but, with stars like Bill Nighy and Cate Blanchett receiving cameo (or even uncredited) roles, despite their great performances. Steve Coogan and Peter Jackson also show their mugs, ever so briefly, for the tiniest bits of familiarity. The stars of this show are the two doofuses who held our attention in 'Shaun' -- Pegg and Frost. Sure, other actors litter scenes, and some have nice credentials (and give fine performances in this film), but the entire film exists solely to be another buddy movie between the British odd pair.
Pegg's Angel, with his extreme seriousness and professionalism to a "t," is a perfect match for Frost's Danny, who is more obsessed with cop movies than being a cop. The film takes a turn when the two opposites find common ground once drunk, and sit down to a double feature of films referenced multiple times earlier in the movie: 'Point Break' and 'Bad Boys II.' Once the duo view the films together, they change, in a way, taking on more extreme personalities, leading to one of the most over the top action sequences in cinema, as the entire third act of 'Hot Fuzz' is one long, drawn out shoot out/confrontation.
The charm of 'Hot Fuzz' is the same found in 'Shaun of the Dead' that creates infinite replay value, the fact that every single event in the film is telegraphed or referenced a mile away. Nothing is random, and random conversations that may seem like throwaway filler all come back to have a purpose later. The telegraphing is expert, at least, especially the film references that always come back around to play a vital role. 'Fuzz' doesn't disrespect the films it references, not even in the slightest. If anything, it makes the films even better. It is somewhat hilarious to see every store containing a rack of the same action movies, with no signs of horror, children's flicks, or comedy. It's all Seagal, all Michael Bay, all Chuck Norris, all the time.
It's all fun and games, and a jolly good time, but that doesn't make 'Hot Fuzz' perfect, by any means. This second coming of Wright and Pegg in America doesn't hold a candle to their first work. The pacing drags quite a bit, running off on tangents (that do pay off, eventually, even if minor) that don't progress the plot in the lightest, while the takes on the genre it lampoons aren't as widespread, as they stay focused on a set few films, rather than the rules of an entire genre. The acting is better, and the cast more diverse in personality, but the film keeps nodding and winking, rather than playing things straight, even if just occasionally, a tactic that 'Shaun' didn't need to employ.
Still, 'Hot Fuzz' is a great flick, flawed as it is. Chemistry is strong between the actors, and love for film is on display at all times, as 'Hot Fuzz' is more a thank you letter to the films of the past than a step towards the future of cinema. Laughs are to be found often, including an uproarious take (that makes me laugh hard no matter how many times I watch the film) on Baz Luhrman's 'Romeo + Juliet,' a thoughtful insight on audiences who will only be exposed to the classics through the post-modern takes on them, much like 'Hot Fuzz' is, itself. Action fans will find as much to enjoy as comedy nuts here, and that's not a bad thing in any way.
'The World's End' - Review by Luke Hickman – 4.5 stars
This year, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have come together once again for their third and (supposedly) final comedic collaboration with 'The World's End.' Together, this series makes up the unofficial "Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy" (each of the movies features a Cornetto ice cream cone). Although 'The World's End' is my least favorite of the trio, it's still a hilarious and worthy installment to their series.
Following suit, the genre that 'The World's End' turns comedic is – if you couldn't tell by the film's title – end-of-the-world/disaster films. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play the two leads in this ensemble flick, but their roles are reversed from the previous two films. In 'Shaun' and even more so in 'Fuzz,' Pegg played the smarter and more successful of the duo. In 'The World's End,' surprisingly, Pegg plays the dummy and Frost plays the intelligent and successful one. Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine, and Martin Freeman play the other member of the Five Musketeers.
Twenty years ago, five recently graduated 19-year-old friends attempted an epic pub crawl in their home town of Newton Haven, England. The crawl, known as "The Golden Mile," covered one mile of ground and 12 pubs. The gang was unable to complete the 12-pint trek. Now, 20 years later, the estranged "Five Musketeers" are returning home to try completing The Golden Mile.
Pegg plays Gary King, the onetime leader of the fivesome. Viewing that first failed attempt as the greatest night of his life, Gary is stuck in the past, left romanticizing that night by himself. The other four have moved on, growing out of Gary's friendship in the process. They don't view the events from that evening so fondly. For them, that night was the beginning of the end of their friendship. It's only because of Gary's lying and manipulation that the Five Musketeers agree to his proposal of giving The Golden Mile another shot.
The first act of the movie is pretty mature, focusing solely on our leading characters and their relationships. Three pubs and 30-something minutes into 'The World's End,' the gang makes a discovery that completely shifts it into the gear that we've been expecting – things in the town aren't as they seem. As expected, a lot has changed over 20 years, but there's something not quite right with the townsfolk. There appears to be a 'Body Snatchers'/'Stepford Wives' thing going on in Newton Haven. Are they aliens? Are they robots? The reality of their situation is revealed to the audience as the characters discover the truth while making their way to The World's End – which is the name of the final pub in The Golden Mile.
I thoroughly enjoyed 'The World's End' when I screened it theatrically, but a few aspects kept it from perfection: the 30-something-minute duration to action made it lag; the action was so styled and cool that I left wishing that it could have started earlier in the film; and the ending is so weird and wild that it didn't feel like it belonged in the 'Three Flavours Cornetto' trilogy. Watching 'The World's End' a second time changed my opinion on a few of those things. First, the character-building beginning of the film is crucial. Because the dialog is so fast and so... British... there's a lot that I missed on the first viewing. I didn't catch everything that I needed to about the characters on the first run. Those first 30 minutes were much more entertaining the second time.
Second, because I enjoyed the character bits even more, the amount of Wright-stylized action in the film was more than enough. Wright filmed 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' between 'Hot Fuzz' and 'The World's End.' It's obvious that 'Scott Pilgrim' made Wright stretch his techniques when it comes to shooting action. I believe that his outside-the-box style with 'Scott Pilgrim' style allowed him to stretch even farther for 'The World's End,' which is what makes the fight sequences within it so refreshingly entertaining. Liking the intro so much more with the second viewing, I found the balance of action and character development just fine.
And third, the ending is still bat-shit crazy, but I'm glad that it is. It's unlike anything you're expecting – which is also extremely refreshing. It could have buckled under predictability, but it followed suite with the rest of the trilogy and kept the original flavour going. I commend it for that. If this is really how the Wright/Pegg/Frost collaborations come to an end, although I selfishly want more, I'm completely satisfied.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Three Flavours Cornetto' Blu-ray pack is nothing more than a standard combo pack that you'd find on a discount rack at Walmart. The 3-disc Elite keepcase features the exact same three BD-50 discs that you'd find in each of the films' original Blu-ray releases. Nothing has been added to the discs. The only new aspect is the inclusion of codes redeemable for Ultraviolet and Digital Copies of all three movies and a link (provided on the back of that sheet) that takes you to interactive screenplays for each of the movies. That's it. If you're considering double-dipping on 'Shaun' and 'Fuzz' for the trilogy set, think again. The packaging doesn't even warrant the re-buy because it only says "Three Flavours Cornetto" in one unremarkable place - on the back cover. The cover and spine make it look like nothing more than a triple feature Blu-ray collection. Oddly, it lists the films in the reverse order of their releases. Check out the cover art image above to see what I mean.
'Shaun of the Dead' - Review by Nate Boss - 4 stars"You got red on you."
A former HD DVD hold out, 'Shaun of the Dead' arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode that rivals the dead format's VC-1. The same strengths and weaknesses can be found here, so those still fighting that long dead war, find another case subject.
Detail is strong, with the occasional bit of softness thrown in at random. Colors are drab, largely due to the lighting in most scenes, as a few shots (in the market, or at Liz's flat), they are sharp and bright, jumping off the screen. The film has a nice three dimensional feel to it, and reds, obviously a vital element to the film's aesthetic, replicate nicely, with countless shades of fresh and dried blood taking center stage.
Delineation is poor, especially in night shots, while black levels leave a bit to be desired. Still, this isn't exactly a big budget production, and this transfer is more than acceptable. It's quite good, honestly!
'Hot Fuzz' - Review by Nate Boss - 5 stars
'Hot Fuzz' arrives on Blu-ray with a VC-1 1080p encode in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, in what I can say without doubt is a bit of something called reference material.
Colors are bold and deep, while skin tones are perfectly natural, the only times they go off key is in odd lighting shots (hardly the fault of the transfer if it's a part of the film!). Detail is utterly brilliant (as is seen in the constant appearance of pores, moles, and other facial features that leap off each actor), with the tiniest veneer of grain that isn't tweaked in any fashion. Blacks are the perfect inky black, not too bright, and at the same time never an abyss of information swallowing. Whites are natural, stray hairs pop fantastically, sky shots are pure and natural, edges are clean and 100% natural, while noise doesn't exist but in a few brief moments.
In short, what you got with the HD DVD, you get again with the Blu-ray. It's hard to expand upon perfection, but matching it is most certainly welcome.
'The World's End' - Review by Luke Hickman – 4.5 stars
Focus (and Universal) have given World's End' a strong 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that presents the film in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The video quality is so close to perfection that you can barely be upset by it's minor nit-picky flaw.
If you love the look of clean and clear celluloid films, then get ready for greatness. 'The World's End' is sharp and detailed. Fine features like facial pores and hairs can always be seen. You'll notice textures of surfaces, like wooden table tops, pitted concrete walls and soft clothing. There's a very fine dusting of grain throughout the bulk of the film. With the opening sequence being shot on hand-cranked 16mm camera, it's flashy, jerky, and extremely grainy.
The film features a wide array of colors once the robots/monsters/aliens/whatever-they-are enter the picture. With wildly blue ink-like blood, the palette then starts to incorporate small flashes of that blue in its decor and settings. When the gang enters a night club, the vibrancy of color becomes explosive as exaggerated neons wash over the settings and characters. Because the film literally and figuratively gets darker as it progresses, these colors burst onto the screen. The only pale colors in film are the light blues that glow from the eyes, mouths and palms of "the blanks." The black levels are rich and consuming, adding an uncertainty to the outdoor scenes because you never know who/what is lurking in the shadows.
My only complaint with the video quality is a very small amount of noise that shows up in handful of shots. The noise doesn't catch your eyes because it doesn't hover over black areas of the screen. Instead, it's layered over colorful sections.
'Shaun of the Dead' - Review by Nate Boss – 4.5 stars
While the HD DVD release of 'Shaun' sported a Dolby Digital-Plus mix, the Blu-ray release (which hit shelves more than two years later) improves upon the audio side of this disc, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that is the best the film has ever sounded on home video, for more reasons than the lossless effect.
Dialogue, for the most part, is clearly prioritized and perfectly comprehendible, raising in intensity to match the ever-increasing chaos on screen. Sound is localized nicely throughout the sound field, from Shaun and Ed's video game hitting on the right channels, to zombie moans and groans emanating from all angles consistently. Dynamic range is superb, as high pitched musical and atmospheric elements are crisp alongside some very deep low end noises.
The constantly thudding bass is a superb, borderline dominating element of this sound mix, increasing in intensity as the film (and outbreak) does, with jump cuts and soundtrack sporting a superb rumble. However, by the end of the film, the pulsing thud can overpower soundtrack (Queen's Don't Stop Me, for example) elements and dialogue alike. Even urgent yells get overshadowed by the LFE. The ADR'ed line replacing "pissed" with "drunk" (on American releases, as our pissed means aggravated, not inebriated) still feels out of place, especially with Pegg's emphasized lip movement, but that is an issue that will never change on stateside releases.
'Hot Fuzz' - Review by Nate Boss – 4.5 stars
What once was a Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 EX track has now become a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 extravaganza. While there isn't a real upgrade in the video, the audio gets a bump in clarity and emphasis, much like the Blu-ray "port" of 'Shaun of the Dead.'
This track is, in a word, loud. Loud, loud, loud. Shake your walls, knock over books or DVDs on shelves, piss off the neighbors, over the top rip roaring earth shatteringly loud...and I loved every minute of it.
Dialogue doesn't have a problem coming through the sonic barrage, as it is always clear and comprehendible, amazingly. Atmospheric effects are everywhere, in every channel, sweeping across the room like it were a ping pong table. Crowded rooms sound busier than quiet scenes, active and lively in every angle and shot.
The third act of the film, the action orgasm, as it were, is absolutely ridiculous...not that that's a bad thing. My subwoofer nearly had a seizure due to how much was being thrown at it, nonstop. Movement and localization in gunfire is constant, and it seems the gunfire plays a game of "anything you can do, I can do better" with itself, constantly upping its own ante.
The key element of this mix is the bass, the overwhelming, so busy it's stupid low end that emphasizes the entire film, from the moment Angel first appears on screen. It's thunderous, booming from even the tiniest door closure. Just like in 'Shaun,' jump cuts get a massive rattle from the bass as they sweep through the room. It's so over the top, much like the film, that it's hard to imagine the film without it.
'The World's End' - Review by Luke Hickman – 4.5 stars
'The World's End' arrives on Blu-ray with a great 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. Most comedies don't feature exemplary audio mixing, but the action brings out the potential of a lossless mix.
The film opens with Gary King's voice-over recap of the gang's failed attempt at The Golden Mile from 20 years in the past. The '90s music that plays is incredibly mixed, digital drum beats bouncing from channel to channel. Music is consistently strong.
The clarity of the vocal quality is fantastic - which is a must because of how fast the dialog flies. Had their been a mistake in the vocal mixing, many of the fast jokes would be lost.
Wright has a great style for creative scene transitions. Much like those on the 'Hot Fuzz' Blu-ray, these feature great sounds accompanying the quickly edited on-screen actions. Some of them exemplify amazing imaging, like vehicles seamlessly swooshing across the theater space. Action scenes come to life with the chaotic sounds. With ten or more people going fist-to-fist in small confined areas, loads of dynamic sound soar. The mix is deep and rich, featuring a a few great examples of LFE to punch the on-screen action.
And even in the standard mild comedic scenes, the mix functions well. Environmental sounds - especially the pub settings - naturally bring the locations to life.
'Shaun of the Dead' - Review by Nate Boss
'Hot Fuzz' - Review by Nate Boss
Lordy, Lordy. If you thought the HD DVD for 'Hot Fuzz' was loaded (and by this site's measure, it most certainly was), you're in for information overload. There was a three-disc Collector's Edition DVD release shortly after the HD DVD bow, and it was more loaded than Rip Torn on a week long bender. For this Blu-ray release, the two editions have been combined, in a way, creating the "Ultimate Edition" that the box art promises. There are enough extras here to make one hate the promise of supplements in the future, as this disc is beyond extensive.
For this review, any exclusives found on the HD DVD are not being considered exclusive. Only brand new content exclusive to this release is going in the HD Exclusive Content section, hence the scoring discrepancy between this review and the HD DVD.
'The World's End' - Review by Luke Hickman
If you don't own any of the 'Cornetto' films, then this three-movie trilogy pack is for you; however, if you own any of the films in their stand-alone packs, then don't pick this up. This collection isn't like a typical trilogy set - there aren't any new features (aside from the Ultraviolet and Digital Copies and a link to online screenplays). It literally contains all three of the previously released discs in a standard keepcase with bad cover art. An identical cardboard slipcover is included.
'Shaun of the Dead' is a brilliant mix of the horror and comedy genres, crafting a tale full of fun characters, hilarious situations, and classic zombie perils (there is no running to be found here!). With solid video, great audio, a huge supplement package, and appeal for fans of two genres, all at a catalog price, this release gets the rare "Must Own" status.
'Hot Fuzz' may not be as splendidly fun as the film that came before it ('Shaun of the Dead,' not 'Dead Right'), but it's still a humorous action-packed mixture of spoof and homage from Wright and Pegg. The film stays enjoyable no matter how many times it's viewed and re-viewed, with layer upon layer of hidden gags and references. The Blu-ray release includes top notch video, splendid audio, and far, far too many extras for its own good. Buy this disc at the reasonable catalog price, and you'll find yourself with days worth of time spent wading through all the extras. A bargain at twice the price, and a must own title.
Much like 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'Hot Fuzz,' 'The World's End' is a comedy that requires multiple viewings - not only to appreciate it more, but to be able to grasp all of the jokes, gags, and hilarious dialog being thrown around. What Wright, Pegg, Frost and Company achieve within the end-of-the-world genre is priceless. Their comedy has matured, as has their ability to tell grown up stories. The qualities of the film's video and audio are damn near perfect, making it an eye-and-ear-pleasing disc worthy of revisiting time and time again. Three commentaries, multiple image galleries, deleted/alternate scenes and a few hours of extensive behind-the-scenes featurettes fill the disc.
Although they've said that 'The World's End' will be their last collaboration, that it's the final film in their unofficial "Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy," here's to hoping that they're wrong. If you already own one of the Blu-rays in the trilogy, then I recommend not double-dipping for this set. For those who don't already own at least one of the films, this set is highly recommended.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.