Tuesday, 11 November 2008

This is a pub! We are in a pub! What are we going to do?

No 231 - Shaun of the Dead

Director - Edgar Wright

So, it seems that my Mum's DVD player hates me. I thought that as I was visiting my folks I would participate in some of the foreign cinema which is in my mum's possession and not my own. I had originally intended to watch Cinema Paradiso but had forgotten about the small problem of sharing. So we initially watched a documentary about Titus the Ape on BBC2... and then it was a tad too late for a 3 hour opus.

So I thought "Well, screw the culture, I will just watch some naff rom com that I wouldn't normally have at home" and I sat down to watch Four Weddings and a Funeral. With no sound. At all. I even tried turning it off and on again but all to no avail. Luckily, ITV2 came to the rescue and were showing this film. I do feel slightly cheated as I have this film on DVD and could watch it any time at home. I did not feel like I was getting the maximum opportunity out of the situation!

So allow me to talk about Shaun of the Dead. And allow me to also say I am a huge fan of the Spaced team - as performers, writers and directors - so I am coming into this from a VERY biased standing point. This is a film that I know far too much about - either from excessive research and investigation prior to the film's launch or just general geekery with the special features (this is the only film where I have listened to the commentary whilst watching it). For example, did you know:

  • The spherical ornament in the centre of the gate was only put there to cover Peter Serafinowicz's penis

  • 'Fried Gold' and 'Dogs can't look up' are in jokes from behind the scenes of Spaces

Yes, I'm really that sad. So I feel quite happy to talk about this film.

I was initially worried that, despite the late hour, I would be watching a TV edit of the film. However, thankfully the film was the entire film with only one small change. Nick Frost's first line has been changed to Can I get any of you Cocks a drink? Rather than the big and naughty C word. The best bit about that edit is that they appear to have got a sound clip of Nick Frost saying cock and inserting it in. For that reason, he seems quite in pain when he is saying the work Cock which sounds very strange and jarring with the rest of the vocal tone. And the other problem is that it just isn't as funny as the word Cunt in this context. I promise not to use the word again - because I know it offends some people.... and I'm nots here to offends....

So let me look at the myriad of reasons why I like this film. first and foremost I adore the unashamedly fanboy geekyness of the film. This is a project which celebrates and explores the Zombie horror, rather than choosing to parody it. This is a true homage to the Horror film (including some truly horrific moments) and a massive gushing love letter to the Zombies that George A Romero invented. For the zombies of Shaun's world are certainly Romero zombies. Great lumbering brutes who follow that golden old school rule now abandoned by Zombie film makers - A ZOMBIE CAN NOT RUN.

As well as the overwhelming fan vibe, I adore the Britishness of it all. I may be partially Francais but I just think seeing typically British scenarios in cinema creates a sense of magic, a connection and a level of pride that I can't experience anywhere else. It is the same in 28 Days Later, when they enter the protagonist's family home, it is such a delight to find such British surrounding in a setting that is usually the domain of Hollywood. The fact that over the course of the film, Shaun tries to attack the Zombies with a laundry basket, a mug tree and a swing ball just continues and deepens this delight. It is such an odd thing to see the trappings of middle class suburban Britain clash with a potential Zombie apocalypse.
The film also boasts an utterly terrific cast. It has picked the cream of the British comedy circuit and those that are not in the film directly will almost certainly be ambling and decomposing through the streets in the huge number of uncredited cameos.

And special mention must go to the sheer God like British legend that is Bill Nighy. His character Philip leers and slurs his way, stealing every scene he appears in until he becomes on of the undead himself. Even his entrance is amazing, a gentle and fully authoritative turn on one leg as he addresses Shaun. Nighy is amazing, and pulls this off with the level of masterful expertese you expect from such an expert master. I wish I was Bill Nighy sometimes....

I also wish I was Peter Serafinowicz - nemesis of spell check. I think he is a bit under rated specially considering he has written some amazing parodies and some truly bonkers ones which show off his impressions skills - but he is a truly amazing actor and a very funny gentleman. In the few scenes where he is not a zombie his comic timing and comedy rage against Nick Frost's character Ed is spot on.

But, what about those characters I DON'T want to be? Luckily, this film has excellent characterisation creating proper real people rather than the standard horror movie victims. In fact, a lot of the characters seem to be essentially hopeless.

  • Nick Frost's Ed is a horrific self centred lazy drug dealing twat who seems oblivious of the severity of the zombie attack. Thankfully come the end of the film, Ed gets the ability to resolve his character flaws with the final scenes/
  • Dylan Moran's David is also horrifically self centred and hates Shaun for getting the girl he failed to get himself. Going out of his way to spite Shaun and belittle him. Sadly he never gets to apologise to Shaun.
  • Lucy Davis's Diane is also a bit rubbish, but less in the cruel way that the men seem to be. She tries hard to aid Shaun and has some very good ideas but she is very dippy and sometimes a bit useless

Generally, the women fare better than the men in this film. Sure, Penelope Wilton's Barbara may be vacant and confused from the outset but she is Shaun's mother... she is not from a generation that have 'zombie experience' from the likes of Romero's cinema and she also goes through quite a lot of trauma over the course of the film, with her husband dying and a zombie attacking midway. Watch Wilton's subtle acting, although we don't find out about the attack until later, her her character begins reacting differently to situations from that point onwards.

The strong women are Kate Ashfield's Liz and Jessica Hynes's Yvonne. Let us begin with Yvonne... as she is surely the strongest most competent character in the film (the only one who manages to find the army, and then lead the army to the protagonists). She is also the victim of one of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's favourite tricks - re occurring speeches which have different significance based on the situation. So when Shaun and Yvonne meet for the first time in years and share the following dialogue (paraphrased because I'm working from memory)
Yvonne : Oh my God Shaun! How are you?
Shaun: Surviving
Yvonne: Are you still with Liz?
Shaun: Yeah
Yvonne: Glad to see some of us made it!

it has a completely different resonance when they meet at the end of the film and share exactly the same dialogue.
It is also nice to see Jessica Hynes (Or Stevenson as she will be forever known to me) in the film, the scenes with her and Pegg I do get a little frisson of Joy as this is probably the closest we'll ever get to any additional Spaced moments. Also, whilst I've always had a soft spot for her, Jessica Hynes has been becoming more and more attractive as she gets older it seems. So it is always nice to see her.

Now let us talk about Kate Ashfield's Liz. I don't think I have ever seen her in anything before but the character of Liz is hot. I think that is all I need to say on that matter.

And that kind of brings us to the end of my little blog - besides one the thing... the visual comedy. Whilst this is an intelligent romantic comedy and not a zombie spoof, there are still moments of cracking visual comedy. There are small moments like falling off the fence as they take short cuts but the classic moment is the choreographed fight sequence to Don't Stop Me Now by Queen. It is both so subtle and so ridiculous that it really helps describe how the film works.

This film is cracking... and sadly they're not making the vampire sequel that they joked about in interviews... so you can watch a home made YouTube video version of it with excellently bad acting

No comments: