A Couple Of British Flicks And Idi Amin Too!

“I thought it was hysterical.”
– Jack Valenti talking about THIS FILM HAS NOT BEEN RATED – the doc that was highly critical of Valenti and his ratings board tactics. That is – according to the commentary for said film.

OKAY! I got some reviewing to be doing. Got some British flicks to cover both on the big screen and DVD so here goes –

HOT FUZZ (Dir. Edgar Wright, 2007) Actor-writer Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright’s follow-up to the cult classic in waiting SHAWN OF THE DEAD trades the zombies and relationship squabbles for cop action movie cliches and we all should so be thankful. Especially when the recent state of American film satire comes in the form of EPIC MOVIE that is. Pegg turns the tables on his stoner slacker character from SHAWN (actually more Spaced – the BBC TV show that is not available yet on DVD but you can find Youtube clips here) and portays Nicholas Angel – a straight-laced hero policemen transferred to a small British country town named Sandford. A town so old fashioned and idyllic that the Kinks “Village Green Preservation Society” plays on the soundtrack.

Before he’s even settled in, he finds a strangely suspect death toll, a drunken over-fed on pastries police force (sorry, “service”), and a evil supermarket mogul played by 2-timer James Bond Timothy Dalton (THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, LICENSE TO KILL) who puts in a wickedly confident performance. Fellow policeman-officer Nick Frost (also from SPACED and SHAWN…) schools Pegg in old-school action cimema like BAD BOYSPOINT BREAK while Pegg schools Frost in sober law enforcement procedre. Though the first hour lagged and dragged a bit eliciting only mild chuckles and giggles, the last act pulls out the hilarious over-the-top stops. HOT FUZZ may be awfully titled, but that like all the cringe inducing fake-out endings and the over abundance of wired wit that makes ones eyes roll repeatedly while smirking is precisely the point.

I never made a “Best of 2006” list because there were many notable movies I didn’t see. Here’s a few I finally caught up with because of their recent release on the popular DVD format :

NOTES ON A SCANDAL (Dir. Richard Eyre, 2006) I deliberately avoided reading or listening to any plot description of this film since it was released late last year and I’m so glad I did. So juicy is each development in this story that I’ll try to refrain from spoilers as well. In a career-best performance Judi Dench sears in every scene as an almost retired strict-as-sin schoolteacher – Barbara Covett who immediately takes a shine to new art teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett – who funnily enough cameos in HOT FUZZ).

Sheba appears at first as an oblivious babe in the woods or “the arctic wilderness”as Barbara would say in the lengthy acidic comments she makes in her journals. A shattering secret (see – no spoiler) brings them close in a sort of manipulative bond. That’s all you’ll get from me plot-wise. Otherwise the script is tight and sharp and remarkably convincing. “Oh, Jesus wept. The specter at the feast” – and that line was spoken by Sheba’s 16-year old daughter Polly (Juno Temple) too! Blanchett and Dench (also the always spot-on Bill Nighy * must be mentioned) put in flawless performances and there’s not a wasted moment leaving me with the same self-satisfied smile that Barbara has when she believes things are finally going her wicked way.

* Who also cameos in HOT FUZZ

THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND (Dir. Kevin MacDonald, 2006)

Sometimes when already established actors play real-life historical figures they become so absorbed in the role with all the aestitics and recreations that it’s hard for me to separate them one from the other – they are forever linked. When I think of Jackson Pollack I think of Ed Harris. Randomly mention Gandhi and an image of a fully decked out in draping Indian duds Ben Kingsley pops into my noggin. Capote = Phillip Seymour Hoffman and so on. So now adding itself to my cerebral hard-drive is Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin. This ain’t a biopic – it’s a fictional tale told around real events in 70’s Uganda. A Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) who’s part idealist part party animal in disguise befriends Amin and an odd but weirdly touching friendship is started.

Amin appoints Garrigan his personal physician and even refers to him at times as his “closest advisor.” The first half of the film is pure drama set up for the second half which is tension thiller time. The last half hour is pretty hard to watch – there’s a torture scene that made me look away repeatedely. I mean I’m pretty de-sensitized to the violence and gore in flicks like HOT FUZZ and GRINDHOUSE but in the context and tone of this film the last bit was hard to stomach. Anyway it’s nice to see Gillian Anderson return to A-list cinema and I liked McAvoy much better than his cheeky performance in STARTER FOR 10 but of course the obvious real reason to watch this movie is Whitaker’s powerful and scary portrayal of Amin. He definitely deserves every molecule of the gold-plated brittannium in that best actor Oscar he won for it.

This post is dedicated to Jack Valenti (1921-2007) – long time president of the Motion Picture Association of America. That’s him crouching behind the flowers on the left in that phenomenally famous photograph of LBJ getting sworn after the Kennedy assassination. Farewell Mr. Valenti – if anybody can charm Satan’s pants off it’s you.

More later…

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