Tag Archives: Penelope Wilton

Zoo (2018) Movie Review by Philip Henry 

Zoo

Director: Colin McIvor
Writer: Colin McIvor
Stars: Toby Jones, Art Parkinson, Penelope Wilton

Being a native, I try to see and support every film that is made in Northern Ireland. This often proves difficult as so many of them get very limited releases and are hard to track down, but thankfully Zoo was playing at my local Movie House and got the quality screening it deserved.

The plot, as unlikely as it sounds, is based on a true story. During World War II after the first major attack on Belfast by the Luftwaffe, it was decided by the powers-that-be that all animals which could possibly be a danger to the public if a further bombing inadvertently released them, were to be put down by the army. So young Tom Hall (Art Parkinson), with the help of a couple of schoolmates, decides to save the zoo’s most recent acquisition, a baby elephant named Buster, and hide it in the back yard of strange old Mrs. Austin (Penelope Wilton).

The film recreates 1941 more authentically than most blockbusters with much larger budgets. In these period films they tend to either concentrate on the broad strokes; the CG battle scenes, or the small stuff, but zoo succeeds in both. The cramped interiors of the small houses and handmade clothes ring just as true as when we see a fleet of German bombers filling the skies above Belfast. It’s a chilling sight to see, especially from the PoV of children.

This is very much a family film. There’s great fun to be had as the children outwit the adults searching for the elephant at every turn, and though they’re all from very different backgrounds, they form friendships because they’re working towards a common goal, which is a great message for all kids.

I should warn you all about dust associated with Zoo. Several times during this screening I got something in my eyes. They watered quite a bit and I had to sniff and wipe my cheeks more than once. I remember a similar type of dust being present at the beginning of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe when crying mothers are loading their children onto trains bound for the country. If you feel you might be susceptible to the same sort of dust, I suggest you bring some tissues with you to the cinema.

I suppose if you wanted to get all symbolic about things you could read a lot into this story – does the elephant represent the hope for peace; kept alive by a younger generation while the adults do their best to destroy it? I’m sure some viewers will see these themes purely because it is set in Northern Ireland. Whether that is what writer/ director Colin McIvor intended is up for debate. With or without subtext, there’s still enough going on to keep audiences of all ages interested.

I was just glad to see a film based in this country that told an uplifting, funny and occasionally heart-breaking tale with universal themes that the whole world can relate to and enjoy. Let’s have some more of this and less of the depressing stuff.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Shaun of the Dead

Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Penelope Wilton

I was first introduced to Simon Pegg in an early episode of “I’m Alan Partridge” in it’s 1st series and then again a couple of years later and more predominantly in his own TV show “Spaced” in 1999. This would also be my introduction to Edgar Wright and Nick Frost. Spaced was a terrific sitcom based on Two Friends Tim and Daisy, 20-something North Londoners with uncertain futures who had to pretend to be a couple to live in the only apartment they can afford. The early signs of their humour and style that would transcend onto the big screen four years later is all there to be seen in the now classic sitcom.

Fast Forward to the year 2004 and I highly anticipated the release of this film. I have admitted numerous times on various blogs and podcasts that I have never been a massive fan of the horror genre or that buzzed about the latest zombie film. I was anticipating a funny and stylish film starring the collaborative talents of Wright and Pegg together again in a feature film. Shaun of the Dead is about Shaun (Pegg) who decides to turn his moribund life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend Liz (Ashfield) reconciling his relationship with his mother (Wilton), and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead to eat the living.

This would of course head up the now classic “Cornetto Trilogy” and having already reviewed “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End” I felt it was about time I reviewed the best of the trilogy and the one that would send Wright, Pegg and Frost on to superstardom. Back in 2004 the Zombie film wasn’t exactly the most popular type of film to be making unless it had a George A. Romero stamp of approval on it. Films like “28 Days Later” from 2002 would try a different slant on the genre by calling them “The Infected” The remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) Directed by Zack Snyder and written by George A. Romero and James Gunn would have some success but never surpass the 1978 original. I think it was fair to say that this take on the genre would be different and successful in its own right. I would go as far to say that it paved the way for other similar films to be accepted to the movie goer that you could have a successful comedy / horror film. Take a look at the likes of 2009’s Zombieland which had terrific feedback from fans and I think this film owes a lot to Shaun of the Dead.

Pegg and Wright’s writing is sharp, witty and most of all memorable. The film is a quotefest and if you had seen the television series Spaced you will understand and see how their collaborations are a mighty success. Shaun is a loser, in fact this is the kinda of character that Simon Pegg thrives to play and has since. Shaun is almost like Tim from Spaced in everyday. Wasting his life, no career prospects, no commitment to his long standing girlfriend Liz, who has had enough of him and bums his way through one day to the next. Shaun of the Dead plot opens up that opportunity for Shaun to change his life around and save the day. Either that or go to the Winchester for a pint and wait for the whole thing to blow over. *wink*

There is also an array of talent from Pegg’s previous work and also a few names from The Office which was at the height of it’s popularity here in the UK at the time. Overall the cast is brilliant. Frost as Shaun’s best friend and more of a loser Ed. If he wasn’t so funny he would be annoying. Kate Ashfield as Liz doesn’t stand Shaun’s nonsense and knows him better than anyone (apart from his Mother) Penelope Wilton as Barbara is funny in a bewildered way. I don’t think at any point Barbara knows the severity of the situation until it is too late. She appears to float through her happy little life in a bubble and what should be an annoyance is actually very funny. Dylan Moran plays David who is clearly in love with Liz (although she doesn’t know it, but sadly his girlfriend Dianne (Davis) does detect it) and has absolutely no time for Shaun is great. I have been a fan of Moran for a long time and here he plays the sniffling little toad perfectly who gets his comeuppance in quite a graphic yet satisfying scene.

Edgar Wright would go on to do some great things, most recently “Baby Driver” with his trademark cuts and fast paced wipes all there to be seen. Shaun of the Dead is no different. I was certainly intrigued to read earlier this year that Wright was linked and wrote a draft of his vision for Marvel’s Ant-Man as far back as 2003. I think he would have gave a unique and most certainly a fresh approach to their superheroes with a style that would suit the comic book genre, although I believe his film would be a complete standalone with no connection to the MCU. Nevertheless, that did not happen and he must have had some level of input to the finished film as he is credited with a producers role in the Peyton Reed film.

Overall, Shaun of the Dead is a fast, quick witted Zombie Comedy that has paved the way for Television Series and other films to follow suit. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost would go on to appear in further films together with their brilliant chemistry and relationship, which I have heard can be strained at times during filming, but still remain friends to this day along with Edgar Wright. This film kicked it all of for all three of them cinematically and none of them have looked back since. If you haven’t seen Shaun of the Dead yet, I must admit in being Jealous of that situation as the first time viewing of this movie will stay with you a long time it’s that enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong it has a rewatchability value to it anyway but that first time is special. Highly Recommended.