by Steve Habrat
In the seemingly endless string of zombie films out there, 2007’s indie horror comedy Fido is one that is painfully overlooked and I can’t understand why. This gee-whiz hunk of Americana cheese mixed up in the gooey zombie genre is such a fun little flick that I can’t believe horror fans don’t make more of a fuss about it. A sunny little Canadian picture directed by Andrew Currie, Fido ambles along on its ironic joke that finds zombies shuffling about a cheery 50’s era suburb but the hilarity doesn’t stop at the basic premise. This film has some gut-busting jokes that are neatly embedded in all the comic book chaos as well as knee-slapping nods to the B-movies that were all the rage in the Eisenhower era. Fido also works due to the touching spark between K’Sun Ray’s Timmy and Billy Connolly’s Fido, the friendliest and smartest zombie to lurch across the screen since Bub in Day of the Dead. While you will be beaming through about eighty-five percent of the picture, Fido does stumble a little at the end, which is a shame because things were going so swimmingly. Even if it stumbles, you will still be giggling as a happy-go-lucky tune from the atomic era bops along the soundtrack as the living dead munch on the entrails of the living. How can you argue with THAT?
Fido takes place in an alternate 1950’s universe where a radiation cloud from space has drifted to Earth and awoken the flesh hungry undead. Just in the nick of time, a company called ZomCom have invented a collar that suppresses the undead’s hunger for warm human flesh. In addition to the collars, ZomCom have erected massive fences that keep the zombies out of the small, picturesque towns that dot the United States. It has also become all the rage to “own” a zombie servant, one who serves you dinner and performs other mundane tasks around the house. It is in one of these small towns that we meet Timmy Robinson (Played by K’Sun Ray), an inquisitive little boy who is bullied at school and largely ignored by his distracted father, Bill Robinson (Played by Dylan Baker). Timmy does find some affection and attention from his mother, Helen Robinson (Played by Carrie-Anne Moss). When one of ZomCom’s zombie control specialists moves in across the street from the Robinson’s, Helen notices that the family has six servant zombies. Embarrassed that she doesn’t have one, Helen goes out and gets Fido (Played by Billy Connolly), which enrages Bill but delights Timmy. Timmy and Fido begin bonding but after a nasty accident in the park, the safety of their peaceful community is threatened.
Cleverly using the conformist 50’s as the backdrop, when it was heavily encouraged ship off to the suburbs and start a family, Fido suggests that conformity turns us all into mindless lurching zombies. It would make zombie godfather George Romero proud while it keeps the rest of us in stitches. The implication is a bit obvious at times, never as subtle as something Romero would have produced in his heyday but it is easily forgivable. Fido is also all dressed up as a cute 50’s B-movies that echoes the atomic willies that came out of the detonation of the atom bomb. The beginning of the film is a newsreel that looks like it could have been borrowed from a drive-in of yesterday, only a touch funnier and without the whole duck-and-cover advise from the optimistic, reassuring narrator. While it can be warm and fuzzy, Currie doesn’t forget the finishing touch, a touch that consists of bucks of fake blood and guts. The gore isn’t always here for the hell of it and Currie uses it to add to the heavy doses of irony. One scene finds a zombie getting shot right in the head in the middle of a sunny suburban street, where kids play, cars trudge by, and sundress clad housewives eagerly await the arrival of their husbands after a long day at the office (martinis ARE included). After we hear the gunshot, Currie cuts to a shot of brains and blood splattering all over a white picket fence and a bunch of flowers. It was perhaps my favorite shot in all of Fido.
Fido is also a success due to the performances from Moss, Ray, and Connolly, all who do a marvelous job in this overlooked gem. Moss is wonderful as a housewife suffering from a severe case of ennui. She is a wonderful mother who is desperate to shake things up. Her lassitude with her money-obsessed husband is heartrending, mostly because she is filled with so much pent up warmth, warmth she transfers to both Timmy and Fido. Ray is also a joy as the curious Timmy, a target of neighborhood bullies who just longs for a buddy. Ray is so good as a quirky squirt that thinks outside the box and his chemistry with Fido is unbelievably strong. Thankfully, Connolly also picks up on the chemistry and plays off the young actor quite nicely. Fido is a cuddly ghoul who shrieks and moans over a thunderstorm and even rushes home to grab Helen when Timmy is in trouble. He’s like a cooler Lassie, with two legs, less hair, and more decaying flesh. Dylan Baker really gets into a groove as the cranky Bill, who hates to have his routine disrupted and loathes the shuffling Fido. Tim Blake Nelson shows up as Mr. Theopolis, an ex-employee of ZomCom who is romantically linked to his zombie servant Tammy (Played by Sonja Bennett). Henry Czerny also drops by as ZomCom’s security chief Mr. Bottoms, a nasty piece of work who suspects that Timmy and Fido may be up to no good.
The last fifteen minutes of Fido is where things really go south. The climax erupts into tons of zombie pandemonium with one main character biting the dust. There really isn’t any emotional weight to the sequence but the laughs allow the clunky final act to keep its head above water. Things are brushed over a little too quickly for my tastes and it feels like the filmmakers almost ran out of money and had to condense the final moments. I would have also liked to see Fido embrace a little bit of horror. Things do get a bit tense but it never gets particularly freaky which was slightly disappointing. Still, the first hour and fifteen minutes of Fido are extremely sharp, from the set design all the way to the rapid-fire script from Currie, Robert Chomiak, and Dennis Heaton. The laughs are solid and the relationship between a boy and his zombie will work its way into your heart. For fans of the zombie genre, Fido is a must. Fans of the comedy genre, make sure to move Fido up to the top of your list. You will walk away more than satisfied.
Fido is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
After last year’s lemon Cars 2, Pixar has returned to form (sort of) with Brave, a thunderously exciting and comedic offering that falls victim to childish antics that never have the dual appeal for adults. Lacking zero complexity, Pixar opts for a simple story and keeps things light this time around, reluctant to show their emotional strength. Brave also lacks the vision that made their previous offerings so irresistible and unforgettable, seeming somewhat bland in comparison to tasty offerings like Wall-E, The Incredibles, Up, and Toy Story. Yet Brave, with its enthusiastic voice work and detailed visuals, still manages to get on your good side with some clever moments of slapstick humor that will have you chuckling due to their unpredictability. It also features an immensely likable main character in Merida, an archery obsessed tomboy who likes to allow her unruly explosion of red curls bounce around her face as she rides through the woods shooting arrows at targets. I admit I was worried that I may not care for this feisty free spirit but I have to say that she is a real charmer.
Brave takes us to the 10th century Scottish highlands where we meet Merida (Voiced by Kelly Macdonald), the archery fanatic daughter of King Fergus (Voiced by Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Voiced by Emma Thopson). Merida happens to be a tomboy who loves riding her horse through the woods and firing arrows at several targets she has placed around a trail. She also gets a kick out of climbing up the sides of mountains to drink from waterfalls. Merida is a firm believer in pursuing one’s own destiny rather than having her life planned out for her by others. Her behavior horrifies her mother, who demands that she learn to act like a lady before three neighboring clans arrive in their kingdom for a competition that would allow one young man the chance to win Merida’s hand. The clans arrive and each clan leader offers up his first-born son to compete for Merida, even though she is disinterested in the entire event. Merida grows restless during the competition and she erupts in an outburst that infuriates her mother. Merida runs off into the woods where she finds herself face to face with a witch (Voiced by Julie Walters) that offers her a spell that would change her controlling mother. The witch conveniently forgets to add that there is a small side effect that changes her mother’s appearance too. Meanwhile, the clan leaders begin to grow restless over who will win Merida’s hand, slowly stirring up war between King Fergus and the neighboring clans.
Pixar’s first fairytale does come with quite a bit to admire even if it is reluctant to tackle any heavy topics. I can honestly say that Brave had me laughing from start to finish. I loved how rowdy the film was even if things do get a little too out of hand at times. Brave has tons of shouting, drinking, eating, singing, fighting, brawling, and more shouting, sometimes driving the viewer to a headache but it is all in good fun. You’ll get a bang out of King Fergus as he stomps oafishly through the frame, devouring chicken legs and chugging cup after cup of ale. The heads of the three clans, Lord Dingwall (Voiced by Robbie Coltrane), Lord Macintosh (Voiced by Craig Ferguson), and Lord MacGuffin (Voiced by Kevin McKidd), are all equally boorish and disgusting in their own right but they do manage to grab a whole slew of giggles. The one interesting aspect of Brave is that the film is not hiding the fact that it is advocating female empowerment. The men are made out to be clueless and battle hungry in addition to their already hearty appetites. Yet the men are compassionate to the women and they do respect them, which does make Brave’s message a bit perplexing. I understand that Merida wants to break away from what is expected of a lady but I thought we were over this old fashioned defy-conformity-and-do-what-makes-you-happy message by this point.
Brave is, after all, a ladies show and the guys are just there to fill some space. Merida acts as a firm role model for young girls, a less gritty and animated Katniss Everdeen for five-year-olds. Director Mark Andrews pushes Macdonald to really emphasize the Scottish brogue, making her a bit cartoonish at some points but that actually adds to her appeal. She is the liberal answer to her conservative mother Elinor, who is tied to old-fashioned behavior and unwilling to accept anything less. She warns Merdia to keep her bow off the table and that she better grin through the pain of a corset. A blow-up between these two worlds is the only moment that Andrews really cranks the emotional intensity up a notch or two. When the spell is cast upon Elinor, the plot takes an unexpected twist that worried me at first but then really gains some momentum and keeps the laughs flying. The other female character that I was intrigued with upon first meeting her was the witch, who is introduced halfway through the film and then never heard from again. I kept wondering when the story would return to her and develop her further. Alas, she magically disappears.
While I enjoyed all the main characters in Brave, there was a trio of scene stealing tykes that won me over early on and kept me in stitches every time they scampered into the action. I’m talking about Merida’s three trouble making younger brothers who gag over their dinners while plotting ways to make off with trays of sweets brought to them by their servants. Wait until you see the scene where they have to steal a key off one servant, who stashes it in her cleavage. The Pixar team manages to deliver one hell of a pay off in the final stretch of Brave, offering more satisfying action than most of the other blockbusters that have taken up space in the theater this summer. Yet the Pixar team seems unsure over how to make a film that is aimed at younger girls and the message to send to that demographic. It falls back to something that would have really been saying something before the Women’s Liberation Movement but today, it just seems lazy, especially after what Pixar has accomplished with some of their other work. It may not be the best of Pixar’s bunch and you may yawn over what it trying to say underneath all the yelling but Brave still manages to be one of the better films in a summer that has been filled with duds.