Monday, July 26, 2010

Revisiting Shaun of the Dead

The only thing I've seen since Inception was Shaun of the Dead for the third time- but this time with my wife, who is not a zombie movie fan. I promised her she'd like it because it was clever and humorous, and I was right. And I think she was proud of herself for making it through the whole thing.

A few thoughts came to me about it afterwards. I was a little disappointed that some of the shine came off the film after the third time. It still opens brilliantly, but once they all get to the Winchester, the movie seems to lose focus for a little while. It's like Wright got them there and then was as clueless as the characters were about what to do once they were there. There is plenty of humor and drama to finish out the film, but it's not quite as sharp as it is before they get to the pub. It still does not diminish my regard for the film, however, or the primary players (Frost, Pegg, and Wright)- I'm a big fan. If you haven't seen Spaced or Big Train (two British TV series which preceeded their movie-making), please go out and do so immediately. You won't be disappointed. I thoroughly enjoyed Hot Fuzz and am looking forward to seeing it again with my wife (who has seen Spaced and Big Train and liked them). I also just found out that Wright has written and directed the Scott Pilgrim screen adaptation, which I'm really looking forward to.

Shaun of the Dead
is exceptional because it works a serious zombie movie while seriously parodying zombie movies (it even works a bit as a romantic comedy). In my experience, there are zombie films and there are zombie parodies. Zombieland is more a parody- which doesn't take away from how fun it is, but shows that even a good zombie parody (intentionally good, in contrast to the so-bad-it's-good fare of which Return of the Living Dead is a prime example) has a hard time taking itself seriously ultimately (enter Bill Murray). But Shaun's zombie world is real and terrifying. What makes it so funny is the characters' unconventional responses to this very seriously set zombie reality. There are some moments in the film that are as nerve-wracking as they are funny (when they're posing as zombies to get to the pub or when they're being attacked by the zombie in pajamas), and some that are not funny at all and are very emotionally affecting (when Shaun and Liz have to leave Ed in the basement to escape the Winchester, and even more so, when Shaun's step-father expresses his love for Shaun in a surprisingly effective scene). I have a sense that the British in particular are very good at this kind of storytelling, Edgar Wright especially so (as we saw in Spaced). Americans can be very good at one or the other, and while no example come to mind, my sense is that any American attempt to try to be both usually falls on to one side of the fence or the other. Though now that I'm thinking of it, Wes Anderson can pull off a little of both, but you can't really shake the sense that it's all tongue-in-cheek with him. Would you call that dramatic irony? That's where the audience understands something about the characters that the characters don't themselves, right? I don't completely get irony. You don't get a sense of dramatic irony in Shaun of the Dead. You really believe that Shaun and Ed and the lot would actually behave in the ways that they do, while often Anderson's characters (as endearing and entertaining as they are) can feel a bit like constructs more than real people. I think that I felt that in Darjeeling Limted more than any of his other films to that point. And, to bring it all full circle, I think that's why my wife could make it through a zombie movie- because the focus is on characters rather than gore. But it still delivers on the gore front, too, making it a film that has a little bit for everybody.

Brandon, I liked your twice-through commentary on Shutter Island. Though before you cast your final judgment on Inception, I think it should be allowed to settle before a second viewing as well. It's a different kind of movie and I don't know that it was meant to be taken seriously in some of the ways people are taking it. It's a summer blockbuster with a brain. And that's the last thing I'll say about the film for this discussion.

John, I'm glad you gave Baghead a fair shake. Send it to me, though, before you put it in the resell bin. As far as Netflix is concerned, I've told myself that once I've watched what I've got out from the library and gone through my personal collection, I can sign up. But I can't seem to stop checking movies out from the library that I have no time to see. It's a blessing and a curse. Just today, Extract showed up in the return bin, so into my pile it goes (though I'll likely see it sooner rather than later because I can watch films like that late at night, when I do most of my movie watching, where slower foreign films will put me to sleep, so they get put off even longer. Someday my son will be old enough to watch more of them with me. A few years, perhaps).

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