by Matthew Vaughn (2007, United Kingdom)

I often find that I need to give a movie a “break” before I see it, if I’ve heard too much about it beforehand. Perhaps I’ve heard so many good things about the movie, and I worry that my expectations are too high. Or maybe I’ve heard so many troubling things that I worry that my opinion may be predisposed to be negative. Whatever the case, it often means that I miss out on seeing it in the theatre and have to settle for DVD, but I feel it’s the only way that I can give the movie a fair shake, that I can judge it on its own merits.

I suppose it’s an odd little quirk of mine, but it’s served me well in the past. And so I did it for Stardust, an adaptation of what is most certainly my favorite of Neil Gaiman’s works. I had read some troubling things—e.g., negative reviews that pointed towards disturbing changes to the storyline—but I resolved to watch the film as fairly as possible, keeping in mind all of the usual caveats concerning literary adaptations. It was an endeavor that proved pointless about thirty minutes into the film: Stardust was much worse than anything I had steeled myself for.

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No Country For Old Men

by Ethan & Joel Coen (2007, United States)

I suppose that, had I seen No Country For Old Men on any other day, its unrelenting bleakness would have seemed unnecessarily maudlin—or even worse, comically absurd. But just a few hours before my wife and I walked into the theatre, we read news stories about two shootings in Colorado that ultimately left four people dead. And just a few days earlier, a troubled young man walked into a posh shopping center in my old hometown of Omaha and killed eight people before turning the gun on himself.

Suddenly, No Country For Old Men‘s vision of humanity caught in the clutches of an unstoppable and incomprehensible evil that leaves its few survivors—if you can call them that—reeling and shocked seemed less absurd and all too real. The world depicted on the silver screen looked a little too much like the world I’d left outside the theatre walls.

The latest film from the Coen Brothers—adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s acclaimed novel—bears many similarities to their previous films. There’s that ear for quirky dialog, the obvious love for characters’ idiosyncrasies, and the brief flashes of absurdist humor. But those are merely on the surface. Arguably, they’ve never done anything this unremittingly bleak. Not even Fargo with its wood chipper wanders this far into the wasteland.

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Hot Fuzz

by Edgar Wright (2007, United Kingdom)

It would be way too simple and too easy to label Hot Fuzz—the latest work of cinematic brilliance from the folks behind Shaun Of The Dead and Spaced—as a parody of the stereotypical, big budget Hollywood action movie. Sure, Hot Fuzz contains countless references to such films as Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys (1 and 2), Point Break, and Die Hard (not to mention The Wicker Man, Terminator, Chinatown, He-Man, and Harry Potter).

However, parodies often seem to have an element of mean-spiritedness and cheekiness about them, which is not at all the case with Hot Fuzz. Rather, just as Shaun Of The Dead was obviously the work of folks who knew and loved zombie horror films, Hot Fuzz is the work of folks who obviously know and love action movies.

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