Tom Recommends: The Cornetto Trilogy

Gabbing Geek Tom Recommends v2Among the many interesting “what if’s” that we can ask in regards to the recent Ant-Man, there is the question of how the movie would have turned out had the original director, Edgar Wright, finished the movie he’d worked on for so long.  Wright still got a story and script credit for the work, and had parted ways due to some sort of creative differences with Marvel Films.  Wright had been linked to the project for ages, well before The Avengers hit the big screen, such that many hoped or assumed Wright’s longtime friend and collaborator Simon Pegg might have been cast as Hank Pym.

Why would anyone assume that?  Well, you’d need to see the Cornetto Trilogy to get that.

First off, there’s a lot to say about just the name of the trilogy.  The “Cornetto Trilogy” is just one name that’s been used for the three movies Wright and Pegg made together.  They’ve also been known as the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, the Blood and Cornetto Trilogy, and for Americans, the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy.  Cornetto is a brand of ice  cream popular in Great Britain (if it even exists in the U.S. that is news to me), and basically, at some point in the movie the distinctive wrapper will appear, often in the form of an ice cream cone with a symbolic color representing the movie itself.

Though considered a trilogy, each movie stands as a solo work.  The three films were all co-written by Wright and Pegg, directed by Wright, and starring Pegg.  The pair had originally met and worked together on the cult British sitcom Spaced, which included amongst the cast the third member of the trio most associated with the movies, comedic actor Nick Frost.  The general plots of the Cornetto Trilogy movies deal with Pegg and Frost hanging out together, where one is an overgrown manchild trying to drag the other into the depths of immaturity.  Usually it’s Frost as the immature one to Pegg’s adult figure, though there are generally variations.  Each movie also parodies a specific type of genre film, and does so in a way that shows respect for the original type.  Heck, many times these comedies are better takes on the style than more serious versions of the same story.  Wright has a chameleon like style of directing, where he can parody not only the genre, but the conventions of the genre from behind the camera as well.

If this doesn’t make sense, it’s because I haven’t discussed the individual movies yet.  So here goes…

First up is Shaun of the Dead.  As stated, even on its own, Shaun is actually a pretty good zombie movie.  Pegg plays Shaun, a go-nowhere type with a dead end job.  His long suffering girlfriend is tired of visiting the same pub every night, and Shaun’s biggest ambition is to crash on the sofa at home and play old video games with his slacker best friend Ed (as played by Frost).  Part of the joke is about how hard it is to tell bored suburbanites and such apart from the living dead, how poorly people like Shaun and Ed are truly equipped to deal with any sort of crisis let alone zombies, and how British manners suggest you shouldn’t stare at people exhibiting weird behavior.

The last part is best illustrated when Shaun goes for his morning walk after the zombie outbreak has occurred.  Mirroring an earlier scene, Shaun misses how empty the streets initially are, various bloody handprints in places, how his foot slipped in what was probably some sort of human gore on the floor of the shop he visits, and eventually, the slow moving zombies stumbling around in the streets.

The Cornetto here is strawberry flavored, to represent the blood and gore of a zombie movie.

This movie features a scene where Ed and Shaun discuss a night out for Shaun’s anniversary, before seeing a single zombie, and do so in a way that actually describes the plot for the rest of the movie.  Wright uses heavy amounts of details like this all the time, so being observant is usually a good thing for this sort of movie.

My favorite gag may be a running joke where Shaun repeatedly runs into a friends of his.  The woman in question, whenever she appears, seems to be having experiences that mirror Shaun’s almost exactly, only she’s much more of a go-getter and seems to be much more successful surviving the sudden appearance of the undead.  The woman, named Yvonne, is actually played by Jessica Stevenson (or, as she is known these days, Jessica Hynes), who co-wrote and co-starred with Pegg on Spaced.  For some reason, this is her only appearance in the Cornetto Trilogy.

On a final note, George Romero loved this movie and have Pegg and Wright cameos as zombies for one of his more recent Living Dead films.

Next up is Hot Fuzz, which is currently available on Netflix.  Americans might assume the movie parodies action movies, and it does, but there’s also a bit of poking fun at a certain type of British murder mystery, where a small, quiet village in the countryside has some sudden and shocking violence occur.  Pegg here is by-the-book London cop Nick Angel.  He’s transferred out to small, sleepy, quiet village because he’s so good he makes the rest of the London police look bad by comparison.  Angel is not pleased by this, particularly when he sees the lackadaisical attitude of the local PD, particularly his new partner Danny Butterman (Frost), who adores big action movies and may only be on the force due to his father being the chief.

Hot Fuzz has an especially frenetic editing style, much like a typical Michael Bay movie, but the joke there is the quick cuts are usually to show Angel doing dull things like paperwork and unlocking his door.  There actually is a good murder mystery afoot, complete with former James Bond Timothy Dalton playing a particularly evil-seeming supermarket owner.  Murders happen, obvious murders, that the local cops keep insisting are accidents.  Yes, a couple were decapitated while driving down a lonely country road, but surely that was just a freak accident?  Apparently, Angel is the only one not to think so.

The cast here includes a few unbilled cameos, with a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance by director Peter Jackson as a deranged Santa Claus, and Cate Blanchett as Angel’s soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend.  Game of Thrones fans will probably enjoy an appearance by Rory “The Hound” McCann as a giant simpleton whose vocabulary is limited to a single, made-up word:  “Yarp.”

The movie ends with a shoot-out between the cops and the most unassuming villain group the viewer is likely to have ever seen.  The finale alone might make a viewer wonder what Wright could have done with Ant-Man‘s action scenes.

The Cornetto flavor here, by the by, was vanilla, which comes in a blue wrapper to better symbolize the police.

Finally came The World’s End, which parodies alien invasions, particular Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  The time Pegg is the man-child corrupting Frost’s straight arrow grown-up.  Pegg plays Gary King, who never got over the fact he and his four high school buddies never completed a legendary pub crawl just before graduation.  Still wearing t-shirts representing his favorite bands as a teenager and without changing his hair by the looks of things, Gary goes to look up his four much more mature friends and convinces them all to try it again.  With varying levels of reluctance, the four agree.

The movie opens with a flashback to the first pub crawl, and the quick story there, much like a similar moment in Shaun of the Dead, actually tells the whole plot before the movie even gets started.  The pub names also tend to foreshadow what happens in each bar, and each pub is actually numbered if you look carefully.

While part of the theme is how your childhood home can change while you are away, this becomes very literal as the group finds out their hometown has had most of the residents (including another former James Bond, Pierce Brosnan) have been replaced by alien robots (a term they hate actually).  Gone Girl star Rosamund Pike appears as a sister to one of the guys.  There’s a great bar fight in the middle which features the chubby Frost grabbing a bar stool in each hand and going ballistic on every robot in the vicinity that firmly convinced me Wright would have been a great choice for Ant-Man.

No one gets to eat any Cornetto this time around, but a wrapper for mint chocolate chip does appear, which was a nice green for the aliens.

Each of these movies is hilarious in its own right, and worth a view.  Geeks should enjoy them for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact Pegg and Wright are a pair of geeks themselves.  The films manage to include repeating gags (there’s someone trying to hop a fence in every movie), and reoccurring stars besides Pegg and Frost such as Bill Nighy and Martin Freeman pop up in all three films to one extent or another.  Really, I can’t sing the praises of these films enough, so do yourself a favor and track them down.  It doesn’t matter what order you watch them in or anything.  They’re just good fun and a good laugh.

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2 thoughts on “Tom Recommends: The Cornetto Trilogy”

  1. Love Shaun and Hot Fuzz. I need to get around to watching The World’s End and finishing Spaced. i liked Paul as well, which stars Pegg and Frost but not directed by Wright.

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    1. I know World’s End is currently on HBO and I laughed my backside off when I saw it. I mostly wished I’d seen it sooner. My brother, fan of the first two, didn’t care for it, but he enjoys Dan Brown novels, so I mostly discount that opinion.

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