I was a little puzzled why Hot Fuzz didn’t do better on the American circuit. Hot Fuzz is, of course, the follow up to the same team’s Shaun of the Dead. With Simon Pegg and Nick Frost once again front and center, and with Edgar Wright behind the camera, where he also co-authored the script with Pegg, you’d think that the returns would at last match the zombie film. But despite having what one would presume to be a built in viewership, the film only made some $3 million dollars its first weekend, before eventually crawling up to $28 million. Worldwide the film has made $78 million so far. Then I took a closer look at the numbers, and found that Shaun also only made $3 mil its first weekend and accumulated only $13 million in the U. S back in 2004. Shaun is probably an example of a film that is notable less for how many people like it than for who it is that like it, people like Harry Knowles and Kevin Smith. The same, perhaps, with Hot Fuzz, and no doubt it will be as big on DVD as Shaun ended up being.
Hot Fuzz (Universal, $29.98, widescreen 2.35:1, also in separate full frame and HD editions, street date Tuesday, July 31, 2007) is as funny a loving parody of buddy cop films as it was on the big screen. As you know, it concerns a talented cop shuffled off to a bucolic English village where he won’t show up the city police. There he nevertheless unearths grand crimes and buddies up with the Chief’s son. The loving parody part comes in with the replications of famous moments from such films as Bad Boys and Lethal Weapon. So why did the film underperform here? I’d speculate that it is for two reasons. One, Americans don’t like their buddy cop films mocked. Look what happened to The Last Action Hero. And anyway, most buddy cop films are already half comedies to begin with. But second, the action is all set in an English village with jokes directed at peculiar English concerns, which flow over or under the heads of mono-cultural Americans. Well, I hope it does better on DVD because it is a terrific, hilarious film that also earns its place among the films of Michael Bay, Richard Donner, and Shane Black.
Extras are abundant. There is a short gag moment, outtakes, storyboards, a trivia track, 22 deleted scenes with optional commentary, “Danny’s Notebook,” which is a flip book, trailers for other Rogue pictures, a video record of the US publicity tour (28 minutes long), in which at one moment Wright and Frost comically stuff payola in Harry Knowles’s shirt, enacting redundantly what so many filmmakers do figuratively, a collection of bowdlerized moments (just over three minutes), and a commentary track with Pegg and Wright.
Going the other way, there are certain American personalities who always attract European documentarians. One of them is the cartoonist John Callahan, who has had at least three docs made about hiim. Another is James Ellroy. James Ellroy: Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction, made by Austrian television, came out in 1993. That was followed by James Ellroy’s Feast of Death in 2001. Now comes James Ellroy: “American Dog” (Facets, $29.95, widescreen 1.85:1, in English, French, and Duch, street date Tuesday, July 24, 2007). Made in 2005 by Clara and Robert Kuperberg, who co-wrote and co-directed this 57 minute movie.
Ellroy is not only a great American writer, he single handedly changed the detective novel, not unlike three of his predecessors, Hammett, Chandler, and McDonald. Ellroy’s slangy, jazzed up, telegraphese style moves so fast and contains so many hypertext links that he made the ordinary crime novel seem sluggish and old fashioned. Suddenly, hundreds of other books on the same crime section shelves of book stores and libraries were rendered out of date.
Essentially, as he did in Reinhard Jud’s Demon Dog, Ellroy tells his story again: battling parents divorce and mother ends up murdered, Ellroy becomes a prowler, drug addict, drunk, fixates on the Black Dahlia case and that of his mother, and a later revisitation of the case as a successful adult writer opens old wounds. Unlike Jud’s film, which spent a lot of time driving around Los Angeles as if it were an alien third world, the Kuperberg’s pull a bit of a Erroll Morris and show Ellroy sitting under staged Bava-esque lighting telling his story to the camera, or reading from his books while shown walking around ex-crime scenes wearing a series of brightly colored and flowered Hawaiian shirts. Ellroy is a straight talker. He tells the truth, in truth’s own language, which is blunt and foul. He doesn’t converse, he lays down the law. He walks a bit like a nerd, and looks like a cross between G. Gordon Liddy and an aging yet fit L. A. patrolman.
The defining moment for Ellroy within the context of his mother’s death was learning that there were two worlds, the official 1950s with its apple pies and mown lawns, and the world of bars and drugs and loose women and men who can murder them and get away with it. He’s like the Teresa Wright character in Shadow of a Doubt, who finally sees the underbelly of Santa Rosa when her serial killer uncle drags her into a nightclub.
Extras include two cinematic records of dinners with Ellroy and some of his friends, first a 13 minute conversation with novelist Bruce Wagner (who pretends that Ellroy hasn’t written My Dark Places), and Rick Jackson, an LAPD cop friend of Ellroy’s, a second 12-minute segment with Dana Delany (a recent muse of Ellroy’s), Joe and Matthew Carnahan and Michelle Grace, a producer, who are the team making White Jazz, and Wagner again. Plus there is a reading by Ellroy from American Tabloid, Ellroy receiving the Jack Webb award (an award given out by the LAPD), and two photo galleries, one of vintage postcards, the other of crime scenes, from a book derived from the LAPD archive for which Ellroy wrote the intro.
One of Ellroy’s favorite authors is Ian Rankin, whose Rebus books are profligate. Set in Edinburgh, these are grim, realistic, carefully plotted books (that should be read in order), that, though they like the kind of prose stylization we associate with Ellroy, do have a cumulative power due to the attractiveness of Rebus himself, the harried DI. They are politically neutral though with a slight liberal tilt, which also runs counter to what we assume about Ellroy.
Nevertheless, Ellroy endorses Rankin’s work, and by now some 10 of the novels have been turned into TV movies, first with a youngish John Hannah, and more recently with an appropriately run down and dragged out Ken Stot. Rebus Set 2 (Acorn Media, $49.95, widescreen 1.85:1, street date Tuesday, July 31, 2007) gathers four of them (”The Black Book,” “A Question of Blood,” “Strip Jack,” and “Let It Bleed”), which aired in 2006 (these shows are technically from series three). The shows are accurate accounts of the books, and generally cover cases with profound effects on the city.
It’s hard to imagine a better actor to inhabit Rebus than Stott. His Rebus is angry and dedicated and has a long memory, and Stott appears to melt into the role, his shoulders slumped, his face haggard, his black suit worn to a glossy moistness. He is accompanied on most of his cases by Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke (Claire Price), whose face seems permanently sent in an expression of rabbit-like worry. His nemesis is his boss Detective Chief Inspector Gill Templer (Jennifer Black), essentially a good person but who has to answer for Rebus’s irregularities. In these details, Rebus rather mirrors the similar and more beloved series Touch of Frost.
The four episodes come in fine, if somewhat soft transfers, and with extras, a 50 minute or so making of and a trailer, confined to the fourth disc, plus text only actor and writer biographies related to each episode.
Continuing the British theme is Starter for 10 (HBO, $95, widescreen 1.85:1, street date Tuesday, July 31, 2007), which is most interesting for its cast of future stars than for the upbeat if familiar story itself. The plot concerns the working class Brian Jackson (James McAvoy) a student at Bristol University in 1985 whose goal in life is to serve on the school’s college bowl team. While struggling through college he is torn between two women, the blonde Alice Harbinson (Alice Eve), who wants to grow up to be an actress or a presenter, and Rebecca Epstein (Rebecca Hall), the Molly Ringwaldish radical Jewish activist. Unlike The Way We Were, he ends up with the radical. All in all it comes across like a well-meaning Disney channel teen film, covering all the expected events in just the manner we expect to see them. Again.
All the actors are from elite acting families and will be heard from again (McAvoy has already been in The Last King of Scotland), and the actress who plays Brian’s mother, Catherine Tate, is the next Doctor Who partner. The widescreen transfer is fine, and extras consist of a pop up trivia guide, and an HBO “First Look” at the film.
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