Life in the Real Desert: Ever Decreasing Circles

Promotional still for Ever Decreasing Circles There was a British television show in the 1980s which starred the delightful Richard Briers (who starred with Felicity Kendal in the 1970s comedy The Good Life), Penelope Wilton (who gained a whole new legion of fans when she portrayed Simon Pegg’s mother in Shaun of the Dead “Stop pointing that gun at my mum!”) and made Peter Egan into a household name. The whole premise of the show was that Briers’ character was a controlling busy body who kept a close lid on his neighbors in their close (See what I did there?).

Waking this morning after a busy day doing nothing but discovering the backroads and side roads in Quartzsite, Arizona, (Biking well over  some 20 odd miles in the process.) where I was popping into various shops and in each one the staff recognized me; one actually gave me several DVD vouchers and it occurred to me that my life, like the title of the English sitcom, was also moving in ever decreasing circles.

I have to say that I really don’t mind this “shrinking” of my social circles and lifestyle, although there are a couple of folks I miss terribly. I do miss the plethora of films that I watched each week and the discussions of same afterward. I do not miss the swimming pool that came with the rented home I was sequestered in.

I do not miss the Las Vegas traffic, it seems every idiot who ever earned a drivers license moved to Vegas to terrify the locals, nor do I miss the casinos themselves. I do not gamble. It is too confusing. In the old days, when I was a world younger and in between wives, the slot machines I played took quarters, or nickels and paid out in the same currency. None of this ticket rubbish and machines where you cashed your ticket and so on.

Thinking of Ever Decreasing circles and the wonderful actor Richard Briers; he passed away in 2013 but not before he’d worked in the 2012 horror comedy Cockneys vs Zombies playing an old age pensioner and did two more voice over jobs after. Penelope Wilton is working steadily since Shaun of the Dead; The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Downton Abbey to name but two projects. And Peter Egan is also busy, working on Downton Abbey as well as providing voice overs for a load of video games. The main cast of of Ever Decreasing Circles may be down one, but the two main survivors are doing very well.

In my world of ever decreasing circles,  life may have gotten more compact but other than occasional periods of  an annoying lack of focus and those silly moments of worrying about the state of my heath, I wake up each day with the hope that my flight from Vegas has left me wiser and, at the very least, a better writer than I was before my time with the GLV.

In terms of becoming more proficient in my writing skills, I do realize that the second paragraph ranks as one of the longest sentences in English history. This tendency to write overly long sentences is still a vice that, try as I might, continues to plague my work.

I will take the easy way out and blame it on writing in a crowded Burger King which is populated with an older crowd who apparently left their hearing aids at home. I am working on attaining that level of concentration that tunes out these overly loud patrons, until then, its earphones and iTunes to the rescue.

Earlier today I fed my craving for salad and stopped in Crazy Jerry’s (a place that serves some very tasty Chicken Fried Steak and a mean Chef’s Salad). While there another customer came in and the subject of WiFi in Quartzsite came up. It turns out that no one in this tiny town has decent Internet. Mainly, it seems, because there are no providers who care enough to circumvent the local telephone line providers.

Until some entrepreneurial individual comes in and sorts out the Internet situation in Quartzsite, I will have to work very hard at learning to cope in loud and crowded places that offer free WiFi. I leave you with this little nugget of wisdom, do not pay for the Internet on offer at the truck stops. In this town, at least, the quality is no better than that of any other place in town and for the price of a coffee the three fast food joints offer the exact  same service.

Flowers in the desert, taken outside Quartzsite, AZ
Cactus Flowers


Hot Fuzz: Shaun of the Dead Remix?

Danny, Nicholas and two cornets

Now that the Cornetto trilogy has come to an end, it is a little saddening to watch the trio of  films. Starting with Shaun of the Dead, moving to Hot Fuzz and ending with The World’s End the latter two can be seen as  remixes of the first yet, despite that lump in the throat, because *sob* it’s all over, all three are funny and clever as hell.

The trio of Nick Frost, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have done their last gig together, and some people do not like Hot Fuzz, or for that matter The World’s End, as much as “Shaun” and will point out the many reasons why the first in the trilogy is the best. But really, it does not matter in the end because all three films bring something to the party.  Shaun of the Dead,  fans say, was not only the first, but it was more than brilliant.

I agree…to an extent. Shaun of the Dead was insanely clever. If one takes the time to watch the commentaries at the end it becomes blazingly obvious that Wright and Pegg were firing on all cylinders for that one.

Pub shot from Hot Fuzz
You got red on you…

But in my humble opinion, Hot Fuzz is much more than a Shaun of the Dead remix. In this second film, Simon is Nicholas Angel “There’s that Sgt. Angel, check out his arse!” a super cop who cannot “shut off” and lives his job 24/7. He is doing such a good job that, as his big boss the MET Chief Inspector says, “you’re making us all look bad…letting the side down.” The answer is an instant promotion to a small sleepy village in the country.

It is here that he meets Nick Frost‘s character PC Danny Butterman, son of local Inspector Frank Butterman. Danny is following in his father’s footsteps after the death of his mother because he doesn’t know what else to do. A fan of cop movies like Point Break and Bad Boys II “You ain’t seen Bad Boys Two??” Danny grows attached to Angle (Don’t rush to correct the spelling, watch the film, you’ll understand.)

Without going into the plot in any further detail, no spoilers here, the film does for cop films what Shaun of the Dead did for zombie flicks. Again, like the first in the trilogy, to really get the genius of Wright and Pegg, “ya gotta watch the special features.” Especially the commentary, that will point out all those references that any film geek, ahem…like me get overly excited about.

Bill Nighy Hot Fuzz Screen Shot
“Of course I can, I’m the Chief Inspector.”

Bill Nighy appears in a brilliant cameo as the Met Chief Inspector and shows just why this man is a British cinematic treasure. *Tip, watch his face at the beginning of the film while he’s talking to Nick Angel, priceless.*

Other familiar faces in this comedic homage to all things “cop” includes the creme de la creme of the English acting world. Edward Woodward, Kenneth Cranham (who I’ve actually worked with once), Billie Whitelaw, Paul Freeman, Timothy Dalton, Rafe Spall, Paddy Considine, Bill Bailey and a great many more of the best that Britain has to offer.

The humour is top notch, “He is not Judge Judy and executioner!” The plot is excellent and the gags non stop. This bromance continues the Shaun and Ed theme from the first film, only this time it’s Danny and Nicholas, “By the power of Greyskull!” The Frost character is not a repeat of Ed, “Can I get any of you c*nt’s a drink?” Danny is more a hapless chap, “Another pint, Mary?”  who doesn’t have a clue until the new sergeant in town shows him the way.

This 2007 film is an excellent fit in the trilogy, “Anything from the shop? Cornetto.” It is also the last time that Edward Woodward appeared in a feature film, although he did television and a TV movie after Hot Fuzz came out.  The exploits of Sergeant Angel are much more than a remix of Shaun of the Dead, although the film does follow the cleverness of the first film with all its action movie references and the real cop nods and winks. “You can’t be the Sheriff of London.”

It is highly recommended that this film be watched on DVD, one that has special features – remember that commentary – and not just streamed on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. Sure the film will be still be as funny, but you’ll miss out on all that good “colour.” As loathe as I am to use a star rating system, in this instance I will. Hot Fuzz is a 5 out of 5 stars film, and to answer the question in the title, no it is not a remix of Shaun of the Dead.

18 February 2015

Shaun of the Dead: England Revisited

Still from Shaun of the Dead

This 2004 very British Zombie film took the world by storm. Shaun of the Dead was even featured in Scream 4 as part of the film’s beginning – two characters were watching the movie on television while “ghost face” was busy murdering victim number three. Watching the movie on DVD and then listening to the commentary later with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, feels a little like England revisited.

Of course the first thing that anyone will notice while listening to the commentary by Pegg and Wright, is the cleverness of the script and all the ways the film ties into foreshadowing at the start of the movie by Ed. The other thing is how typically English the film and  the commentators are.

Watching the film back when it first came out on DVD, my daughter and I became instant life-long fans of Pegg, Wright, Nick Frost and the movie. It is so English in its depiction of just how your average Brit would react to a zombie apocalypse. So much so that you can smell the tea and scones whilst watching it.

Shaun with tea and Ed with a cornetto
The obligatory cup of tea…and a cornetto

This first offering in the “cornetto trilogy” set the tone for the remaining films. Each very English in nature and featuring the three men who have worked together since Spaced. Sadly of all the commentaries available on the DVD, the trio do not comment together.

But, for a real feel of England, listen to the the Pegg/Wright track and then the cast commentary. The former is quite amusing, “you love men,” however, with two stand up comedians in the mix, Irish comic Dylan Moran and Pegg the color provided by the actors is very, very funny and very, very British.

While both may confuse non-English fans with references that are as typically tea and scone-ish as Shaun of the Dead, for those who are more familiar with the vernacular and the humor, these commentaries are as enjoyable as the film.

Listening to all the actors doing their impression of the great Bill Nighy is among the many highlights of the running chat during the film. Doing their “luvey” discussions (comically) about why “acting is so tiring” and “don’t talk to me about emoting,” and the chuckles just don’t stop.

If you find that sort of thing funny.

I myself do and admittedly the thing I miss most about my home of almost 32 years is the humor. Perhaps the thing that kept me coming back to work everyday at HMP & YOI Warren Hill (the prison that was my workplace for 10 years) was the ability of my coworkers and colleagues to make me laugh on a very regular basis.

Maybe it is living with the abysmal English weather that makes the average Brit so able to see the funny or sarcastic side of everything. Don’t get me wrong, the British sense of humor can be rough, even sadistic.

Shaun of the Dead: England Revisited Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 01.53.03


When the shuttle exploded killing all 7 astronauts on board, a popular short joke that made the rounds was, “What do astronauts like to drink? Seven-up.”

That is the least offensive of the jokes that were passed around at the local.

British humor is, for the most part, easily accepted across the pond here in the US.  Although some English gags are so topical that no one apart from a resident of that country can understand them. American humor, for some reason, does not always go over well in the UK.

For me, Shaun of the Dead  is like England revisited. The theme, story and characters in the film are a snapshot of the country and just how your average man or woman on the street would handle a zombie apocalypse.  As the commentators are quick to point out, the film is, at its core, about “getting your life sorted” amidst a zombie invasion.


That in England the average denizen would carry on regardless despite the apocalypse around them. Regardless of plot and sub-plots the film is hysterically funny.  After having a good laugh at the movie, take the time to listen to the commentaries.

There are a total of four, the last two featuring, the brilliant Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton who play Shaun’s stepfather Philip and Shaun’s mum,  and the very  last commentary is done by the zombies in the film.  Bill sets the tone of number three with wondering what other countries think of the word “bollocks.” Even if you do not normally watch the special features, make this DVD the exception. You will be glad you did.

The wildly talented Bill Nighy
Nighy as Philip…”He’s NOT my dad!”

The World’s End Cornetto Trilogy Finale

The World’s End Cornetto Trilogy Finale

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