By Steve Guntli
Good things come in threes, as the saying goes, and more often than not, that’s true of movies, as well. This being the third month of the year, it seemed time to acknowledge a trilogy of trilogies that don’t have the words “Star Wars” anywhere in their titles.
The Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz/The World’s End)
Directed by Edgar Wright
Aside from the presence of actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the three films comprising Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy couldn’t be more dissimilar: the first is a spoof on zombie movies, the second a high-octane action movie and the third an apocalyptic science fiction flick. And while the films don’t have any connective narrative thread, when watched together they form a brilliant thematic arc that rewards obsessive multiple viewings.
No one today is making comedies like Wright. While most Americans are following the Judd Apatow route (low-key, heavily improvised slices of reality), British native Wright dazzles with pure craftsmanship. Crisply edited, filled with visual flare and assembled with meticulous care, Wright’s films crackle with energy and visual invention, and his screenplays are minor masterpieces in narrative symmetry. The dialogue is crafted to have a different meaning before and after the inciting event, so a tossed-off line of dialogue before the zombie outbreak in “Shaun of the Dead” has a fantastic payoff once London has become a feeding ground for flesh-eaters.
It’s hard to pick a favorite of these three, but if I had to choose, I’d give the edge to “The World’s End.” Five lads in their 40s try to reclaim their high school glory days by attempting a legendary pub crawl in their home town. The only problem is the entire population has been replaced with blue-blooded robot clones, and the only way to prevent the end of the world and save their own lives is to stagger to the end of the pub crawl without drawing too much attention.
It’s very silly, but also incredibly perceptive about the triumphs and disappointments of aging, with a central performance from Pegg that should have been considered for an Oscar.
The “Before” Trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater is fascinated by the passage of time. In his great film “Boyhood,” we follow a young boy during 12 years of his life, and the gorgeous “Before” trilogy follows the ups and downs of a romantic relationship over the course of 19 years.
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy play Jesse and Celine. When they first meet in 1995’s “Before Sunrise,” the most wildly romantic movie I’ve ever seen, Jesse is a jaded American taking a rail tour of Europe who strikes up a conversation with French beauty Celine. The conversation proves so enthralling that neither of them are willing to call it a night, and the two strangers share a magical evening wandering the streets of Vienna. The film ends with the two promising to reconnect in the near future, but it isn’t until 2004’s “Before Sunset” that we learn what happened, and it’s another 10 years after that before we get another follow-up in the brutal, bittersweet “Before Midnight.”
Each film in the series is basically a long, fascinating conversation. What’s remarkable about watching all three back-to-back is noting the way priorities change, dreams are achieved or pushed to the side and relationships deepen or flounder accordingly.
Hawke and Delpy, who also wrote the scripts with Linklater, are flawless in their roles, growing seamlessly with their characters as the years roll by, and the various European backdrops (Vienna, Paris, Greece) provide a beautiful and serene backdrop for these characters to discover each other.
The Evil Dead trilogy (The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness)
Directed by Sam Raimi
This series isn’t for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach, but Sam Raimi’s blood-drenched, tongue-in-cheek horror trilogy is a showcase for Raimi’s weird and wild imagination.
Raimi shot the first “Evil Dead” as a college student, using friends and classmates as cast and crew. It’s a nasty, low-budget horror shocker that accomplishes a lot with a little, but Raimi’s vision and energy were hampered by the lack of funds. It wasn’t until 1986’s “Evil Dead II” that Raimi’s real talent showed itself. The sequel is a kinetic, relentless stream of hyper-gory horror blended with manic slapstick energy. It’s like the Three Stooges wandered onto the set of “Dawn of the Dead.”
In Bruce Campbell, who plays hero Ash in all three films, Raimi found the perfect foil, a square-jawed leading man with a propensity for physical comedy and no qualms about playing a loveable lunkhead.
The third in the series, “Army of Darkness,” pares back the gore in favor of a campy throwback to the sword and sorcery epics of the ’70s and ’80s, complete with an army of claymation skeletons, cheap-looking castle sets and lots of inventive visual effects.
The three films are drastically different from one another, but they prove Raimi’s talent working across several disparate genres, and affirm his position as a great filmmaker long before the “Spiderman” movies made him famous.
Each of these titles can be obtained through the Blaine Public Library. Visit the local branch or reserve copies at wcls.org.