Saturday Night at the Movies

Okay, so it was Friday afternoon, but, partly driven by the current pandemic crisis, I decided to watch Shaun of the Dead. Again.

I say partly, because earlier in the week I was catching up with some podcasts, and listened to an episode of Rule of Three, where “…comedy writers Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris talk to people who make comedy about something funny that they love…” where they discussed this very film with guest Tom Neenan, who has written for the likes of Have I Got News For You, The Last Leg and The Mash Report.

In said podcast, a hypothesis was floated which had never struck me before about Shaun…, and it was this: when the film first came out in 2004, most of us knew it’s stars and it’s director from the Channel 4 flatshare sitcom Spaced. And for the first twenty minutes or so, the film is a flatshare sitcom transferred to the big screen. And for those twenty minutes, it’s like the flatshare sitcom movie is under attack from a horror film; that there’s an attempt to hijack the film and it’s happening in the background.

And that fascinated me, so I watched it again. And they’re right.

And then, this dropped:

A call-back to the movie and to this bit:

There’s loads of call-backs in the movie to things which were said earlier (…”Erm….The first one…”, “Exacerbate….”, “I’ll stop doing ’em when you stop laughing…”, “It’s on random!”, “Glad somebody made it!”) as well as absolutely oodles of other film references. Look at this:

No, you’re right. Some of those really don’t work. And they missed out loads.

As I watched, I was reminded at one point of a something I started writing a few months ago, but never posted. Yes, I know the idea of there being some quality control in what I do here may seem laughable, but trust me, it exists.

Anyway, the unpublished post in question was called: Mel Gibson Ruined Films For Me.

And I wasn’t even talking about his drunken, racist rants. Or the generally terrible films he’s in.

No, he’d ruined films for me a long time before that.

I’ll explain in a minute, but first, some background.

When I wrote it, I’d been to the cinema a couple of times.

Firstly to see 1917, a film the plotline of which reminded me very much of an early Mel Gibson film, Gallipoli (1981) and which I – correctly – decided I needed to see in its natural habitat (1917, not Gallipoli), rather than wait for it to pop on on Netflix.

Since I’ve mentioned the plotline of 2017, here it is, with no spoilers. as described by Wikipedia:

On 6 April 1917, aerial reconnaissance has observed that the German army, which has pulled back from a sector of the Western Front in northern France, is not in retreat but has made a strategic withdrawal to the new Hindenburg Line, where they are waiting to overwhelm the British with artillery. In the British trenches, with field telephone lines cut, two young British soldiers, Lance Corporals Tom Blake and Will Schofield, a veteran of the Somme, are ordered by General Erinmore to carry a message to Colonel Mackenzie of the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, calling off a scheduled attack that would jeopardise the lives of 1,600 men, including Blake’s brother Lieutenant Joseph Blake.

And so the fun starts, as the two set off to try and get to the front and deliver the message. There is so much jeopardy here: will they make it in time, if at all? And if they do, will they be able to save Blake’s brother? And will Mackenzie prove to be receptive to the message or is he now a power-crazed, trench-crazy Brando-esque Colonel Kurtz type figure?

There will be no spoilers here, but rather a mention of the special effect you’ve probably read about already; the whole film is shot as if done in one take, with the camera swooping round and tracking the main characters’ efforts to glorious effect.

It is, simply, a magnificent piece of film-making; it’s around two hours long, but felt like half an hour, even though I spent most of those two hours literally on the edge of my seat.

When I wrote about Yesterday, I described it as “…practically a Who’s Who of current British comedy acting talent…” and the same applies here, minus the comedy element. Here are some British box-office big-hitters, albeit in short cameos: there’s Colin Firth (who you don’t really get to see at all); there’s Mark Strong; and Andrew “Hot Priest from Fleabag” Scott; 2019’s other dreamboat Richard Madden, and finally Benedict Cumberbatch.

I can’t say much more about it without giving away some fairly major plot points, so I won’t. Suffice it to say, it’s a truly breath-taking piece of cinema.

But where is Mel Gibson? I hear you ask.

Well, the other film I went to see was another I thought I should see in the cinema, the latest in the Star Wars franchise: The Rise of Skywalker.

I was rather bored by the second in the reboot series, The Last Jedi, but my love of the films was reignited by watching Rogue One: A Star Wars Story over Christmas, which I thought was pretty great (if a little predictable).

The Rise of Skywalker delivered exactly what I expected it to: all the old favourites, even the actually dead ones – Leia (Carrie Fisher), Tarkin (Peter Cushing) – were there, along with the obligatory X-Fighter vs TIE Fighter aerial battle, the more than occasional light-sabre scrap, and of course the obligatory exceedingly clunky dialogue.

So, here’s the point where you if don’t want any films ruining, you should stop reading.

Still here? Ok, don’t blame me.

In the early 1990s I watched Lethal Weapon 2. I’d not seen Lethal Weapon but rightly suspected that I didn’t need to know the plot of the first to be able to enjoy the second.

About fifteen minutes into the film, Gibson’s character, Riggs (I think), for no apparent reason, demonstrates that he is able to disclocate his shoulder whenever needed. Not a skill which is likely to ever be of any use, one would think.

Until, in the climax to film – and I guess I’m obliged to say SPOILER ALERT again here, even though this film came out in 1989 – Riggs is captured by the baddies, trussed up in a straight-jacket and chucked in some water. A dock or something, it’s not important, other than the knowledge that because he is wearing the straight-jacket, some jeopardy is introduced, as he is likely to drown.

Except we all know that he can magically dislocate his shoulder, and thus distengale himself from the straight-jacket and thereafter catch or kill all the bad guys. Which is exactly what happens.

And so now, whenever I’m watching a film and one of the main characters, apropos of nothing, suddenly demonstrates a skill they have, for seemingly no reason at all since it’s disclosure doesn’t appear to move the plot along at that point, then my alarm bells start ringing.

There’s one of these in The Rise of Skywalker, a moment where the unitiated might sit there wondering why Rey had just done that. I sat there thinking: ‘Mel fucking Gibson’ because I knew it would crop up again.

And it did, surprise, surprise. At quite an important moment, you’ll be surprised to hear.

I probably wouldn’t mind quite so much on this occasion if it wasn’t exactly the same trick as perfomed by Paul the alien in the 2011 Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Seth Rogan movie called…um….Paul, which I love a lot more than this or any of the rebooted Star Wars movies. Ask me to pick which one I enjoyed the most and I’d have to say The Force Awakens, but only because it was practically a remake of the original Star Wars film, which back in 1977 had me leaping out of the cinema pretending I owned a light saber and could fly the Millenium Falcon.

Perhaps it’s about time I admitted that I’m not twelve anymore.

Let’s not go there. But, the mention of Pegg and Frost brings me back full circle, to the thing that happens in Shaun of the Dead which tramples all over that Gibson tradition.

For early in the film, when we’re still in sitcom territory, dumped by his girlfriend, Shaun/Pegg tries to get to see her, by climbing up the outside of the block of flats she lives in. He fails, but then later, when faced with disaster he has to do it, and whilst being chased by zombies (sorry, we don’t call them that) the undead, he manages it.

This film knows what it’s doing, what it’s referencing, and what it’s challenging.

I may have read too much into it, of course.

Time for a tune, and I’m not going for the obvious one, because here’s Simon Pegg to talk about it:

No, instead I’m plumping for this absolute belter:

The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster – Mister Mental

More movie based musings soon.