Two movie reviews

For your reading pleasure, here are two new movie reviews, which were facilitated by my friends at Netflix. I also owe some thanks my lovely wife’s peculiar friends who recommended that we rent these movies, neither of which, frankly, will ever be mistaken for a major motion picture. Without their nefarious influence, it is extremely unlikely that I would have seen either of these movies. Yet I am glad I saw both.

Shaun of the Dead (2005)

I am definitely not the type for gross horror movies, so I skipped Dawn of the Dead (1978, remade in 2004). Its title left little ambiguity about its plot. Shaun of the Dead is doubtless something of a parody of the George Romero classic. Both come complete with lots of zombies. In the case of Shaun of the Dead, they inhabit London instead of Philadelphia. Shaun in this case is the late twenty-something British actor Simon Pegg. Shaun lives with Ed, his fat and annoying college roommate who won’t go away or get a job, and David, who hates Ed. Shaun has an uninspiring job as a senior sales associate at a local appliance retailer and a girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) who is tired of Shaun primarily because where Shaun is, so is annoying Ed.

Shaun might as well be a zombie. He seems to be halfway to death. He hates his life, dreams of bigger things but cannot seem to move forward. Perhaps that is why Liz decides to belatedly ditch him. Shaun moves between house and work in such a fog that he can miss little things like the slow moving zombies that walk up and down the street. They may seem harmless because they walk so slowly, but don’t let them bite you otherwise you die and turn into a zombie yourself.

Indeed, the zombies have almost overrun London before Shaun and Ed notice them. By this time, it is almost too late. Shaun concocts a scheme to rescue his mother and win back his girlfriend Liz by removing them to a place of refuge: an ignoble pub they frequent called The Winchester. At least this is Shaun’s half-baked plan as he moves from his sleepwalking life into being the local field marshal for this rescue effort. Can they make it to The Winchester without being turned into zombies? By this time, the zombies seem to be everywhere. The good news is they make it to the pub. The bad news is that while zombies may not be terribly smart they sure are persistent. Trapped in The Winchester with his Mom and some friends, it appears they will soon become zombies themselves. Surrounded on all sides, how can they ever escape?

There is nothing really scary here, although there are scenes that are gross, such as one where fake intestines are ripped out of torso. The screwball acting though somehow works. There is a dysfunctional synergy among this odd group of friends. The humor is never strained and the heartfelt laughs are plenty. Shaun may be sleepwalking through much of this movie but you won’t be. You will be enjoying every minute of this 99-minute flick. Certainly, the movie does not amount to a comedy classic, but it is a funny parody that mostly hits the right notes. If you are in the mood for a funny zombie flick then it is well worth renting. 3.1 out of 4.0 stars.

A Dog’s Breakfast (2007)

My wife is a big fan of the TV series Stargate: Atlantis, and in particular one of the lead male actors, David Hewlett. The series has been going on long enough so that most of David’s friends are fellow actors on the set. During a hiatus in the show, Hewlett apparently persuaded the producers to loan him some equipment so he could make this little movie with his Stargate: Atlantis pals. What emerges is doubtless the least expensive movie of the season, yet which nonetheless is quite funny. I am not sure this movie actually made it into the theaters. It looks like it was made for a couple thousand bucks. Most likely, all the actors worked for free. As for actors, I think I counted a half dozen in the whole movie, including David Hewlett’s real life sister Kate who plays his sister in the movie too.

If you have seen a picture of Hewlett, he carries a perpetually sardonic look on his face, mixed with a hint of lunacy. So naturally in this movie he plays Patrick, a very strange loner who lives alone in his parent’s old house with only his dog Mars for company. Patrick is the sort of peculiar person who sorts his Fruit Loops by color. He may try to project an aura of craftiness but he is completely transparent. All is well with Patrick and Mars until his sister Marilyn and her fiancé Ryan (Paul McGillion) pay a visit to announce their engagement. Patrick immediately loathes this threat to what is left of his family. (His parents passed away ten years earlier in an automobile accident, leaving only him and his sister.) So Patrick rather transparently looks for ways to kill Ryan but only when his sister is not looking. His sister, by the way, is an actress who works on a show very much like Stargate: Atlantis. Her fiancé Ryan is one of her costars.

The set consists of one unremarkable house in the Vancouver area. (The show is also filmed in Vancouver.) The most expensive prop must have been the carpet in the basement where a bloody silhouette of Ryan is eventually revealed. It appears that Mars the dog has been up to some shenanigans in all this too. It seems he likes his humans to be decomposed for a few days prior to consumption.

This movie was also written and directed by David Hewlett. Clearly everyone in the film had way too much fun making this movie and yet it is quite funny in its own right, although short (about 80 minutes). It reminded me in parts of some of my other favorite comedies, like Raising Arizona. Although made for one hundredth of the money spent on Raising Arizona (which itself was an inexpensive movie) it delivered nearly as many laughs. In short it is worthy of a rental, in spite of having a budget about the size of The Blair Witch Project. It is the perfect movie to unwind with on a Friday night with a six-pack of beer, or a wine cooler. For a movie that looks like it took about a week to film, it somehow works. It also gets 3.1 on my 4.0 scale.

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