Shaun of the Dead (2004): Subverting the Rom Com, Popular Culture and Zombie Films

Shaun of the Dead

      “Shaun of the Dead” is a film that does a great job satirizing modern society as well as managing to subvert some of the Rom Com tropes as Shaun is a character who most of the time manages to makes situations worse by trying to do right by his relationships. The weakest part of the film is Ed (Nick Frost) who seems to function as one big joke and in a way wasn’t needed for Shaun’s story to be told.

       The film was directed by Edgar Wright who wrote it with Simon Pegg and produced by Nira Park.

      The story involves Shaun (Nick Frost) and Ed (Nick Frost) missing the Zombie apocalypse until it is in their home forcing Shaun to reconcile with his family and ex named Liz (Kate Ashfield) as he becomes the leader of the group and plans to get them to the pub called the Winchester, believing it to be the only safe place in the city.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful (as is the editing) as the soundtrack is beautifully put into the film to reflect the characters and situations. For example when David is working the lights it is like a concert with the zombies moving to the lights and music while Liz and Shaun fight to Queen. David M. Dunlap did a great job.

The Action – The action is great in this and given that these are slow walkers that says something…the Zombies actually manage to be threatening and a force even if most of the problems that happen are caused by Shaun and his own stupidity and the stupidity of his party.

The Characters – The characters are tropes in this but they get enough development that they feel real. I know people like these characters so it manages to actually be compelling in regards to what happens to them.

Pete – Pete is a dick but he also tries to be as open and supportive as he can even though Ed is giving nothing to rent and their life and he only turns on Shaun and Ed after he is bitten and can’t get any sleep because they are drunk and mixing records as Liz had just dumped Shaun that day.

Philip – Bill Nighy plays Shaun’s step-dad who was always hard on him but finally admits he’s loved him all along before he turns. He is a great character as we we gruff man not used to showing feelings finally opening up at the end and in turn revealing Shaun’s tender side too. It was great seeing him again in this too as before I’d only seen him as Davy Jones in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” Trilogy.

Barbara – Penelope Wilton (the Prime Minister from “Doctor Who”) is great in this as the mom who doesn’t want to intrude upon Shaun’s life. She is super sweet and when she dies you feel it as she was someone doing the best she could and living the theme of survival.

David and Dianne – Dianne is an out of work actress but comes up with the brilliant idea of them pretending to be zombies to get into the Winchester. David was always crushing on Liz and Dianne helped him get over it, him ignoring and denying that hurts her a lot and she goes to protect him when he is being devoured alive by zombies leading to her implied death too.

Yvonne and her Party – Yvonne is the one who seeks out the British Army and saves Liz and Shaun who are the only ones in their party who survive the apocalypse. She is always on it and is the only one with a clear head in all the events that go down. Her boyfriend is also played by Martin Freeman and the characters in her party mirror Shaun’s party. The romantic relationship – Martin and Liz as an example.

Subverting the Rom Com – In the Rom Com the man child (Shaun) usually grows up and redeems himself showing that he is a good guy. In this he is the same guy after he just now knows he courageous and has dealt with all his repressed feelings. When he is the leader he isn’t very good at it and he brought them to the Winchester which was an open pub surrounded by Zombies…nothing he does really helps and his friend

We are the Zombies – The way this is shown best is Shaun in his retail job where everyone is repeating the same phrases again and again, his morning routine as the apocalypse unfolds and him not noticing until a zombie is in his home and the television showing the crap reality television shows before and after the apocalypse and how they were essentially still the same.

Okay: Ed – I couldn’t stand this character, which might have been part of the point. He is selfish, lazy and doesn’t do anything for anyone without first measuring how it benefits himself. I think he was meant to be a joke though as he is played as normal after he turns at the end, showing he was a Zombie in a way, all along.

I would actually rate “Hot Fuzz” higher in the Cornetto Trilogy at this point as I found Nick Frost’s Danny a much more compelling character than Ed (who exists in every film of this nature usually played by Seth Rogen or a Sandler actor) and though I consider this film a favorite and found the overall satire hilarious, “Hot Fuzz” had better payoff with the jokes and dialogue. Still, this is one of the best satires, horrors and comedies and without a doubt my favorite zombie film I have ever watched.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008): Almost a Satire of a Romantic Comedy

Zach and Miri Make a Porno

Kevin Smith is a director whose work I have yet to review, until today. Most of my experience with him is with “Dogma” since I haven’t reviewed and of the “Clerks” films yet, but definitely will at some point. He has a certain style though, that I noticed that still comes out in this film, even if it fees more like a Judd Apatow movie at times (the leads as a good example, Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks).

“Zack and Miri make a Porno” was directed and written by Kevin Smith, and produced by Scott Mosier.

The story involves Zack and Miri who are two roommates and friends living together who are so far in debt working jobs they don’t like when they get an idea after a video of Miri in her underwear goes viral and one of the guys in their school is dating a Gay Porn Star to make a porno together. From here the story involves them getting the team together and the drama that ensues from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The humanity – No character is a caricature. This is one thing I was worried about when they were going about casting for their porno, but all the side characters and the leads are treated with respect. They have pros and cons and are human like everyone else. No character is just played for laughs, it is more the situations that create the laughs.

The Music – The music is wonderful, James L. Venable did a good job. At times it has a rock star feel, other times a bluegrass feel, but in every situation it enhances the scene, which is one thing good soundtracks can do.

Zack and Miri – I actually liked these characters. When you first meet them they are horrible people who only want sex and to avoid paying their bills and in forming any kind of meaningful relationship, but after hte High School Reunion and power and water getting cut they are forced to by circumstances. They both do a good job playing the lovable losers and I wish their responsibility arc had finished up and not been undercut by turning their pretty neat relationship into a romance. For much of the film their relationship satires a romantic comedy…which I’ll go into later. Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen play their roles very well.

Satire of a Romantic Comedy – At times this film feels like a satire of romantic comedies, and it is in those moments it works. An example would be them growing closer in filming the porno while still having so much focus on the work even as relationship grows. It is done in such a way they could have kept that and ended the relationship with them having community (the cast and crew) responsibility and success and left the romance open. The parts were all there to make it work. Some of the best humor was here, especially in their interactions with the porn stars and making the costumes and set.

Star Whores – Kevin Smith loves “Star Wars” them making a porno and doing the photo shoot for it before the place got torn down in the film was funny. You could see the actors and actresses really got into it and the dialogue was funny too such as the names of the Sequels and “The Prequels Trilogy.”

Con: Magic Sex – Everything changes when they have sex in their porno scene. I don’t deny this happens or could happen, but in this it felt that it was given more power than it deserved, given that both of them had already been with so many people and that hadn’t made them jealous or possessive with one another. It was part of what made it work.

Zack’s Possessiveness – Dude, she is your friend…act like it. When he wrote the script he has it so he has sex with two people while she only does him. The silver lining in this is she stands up to him and says it isn’t okay. Miri is a great character…and Zack get’s over his possessiveness by the end thankfully.

Delaney’s Marriage – Delaney’s marriage is made to show that relationships don’t always work. He is in a loveless marriage with his wife and when you first see her all they do is fight. Hell, a big part of why he helps make the porno is he wants to see breasts. I would have liked to see some positives in how the relationship was done. Craig Robinson is good at playing the friend though, it’s just his character’s marriage that is poorly written. I get the fighting, would have liked to see some reason why they were together still.

So, how did the film hold up? It had the seeds for greatness here, but only ended up being a movie I liked. The comedy for the most part, worked. The story…by turning it into a straight up romantic comedy, cheapened how great romantic comedies were being satired in the piece. I’m curious if Kevin Smith changed his mind partway through, since the first 2 acts really promote the satire and build the friendship and getting out of circumstances thing…while the 3rd Act is them becoming romantically involved, which really was the weakest part of the movie because it shifted the tone so drastically.

Would I still recommend it? If you like romantic comedies and are down with the subject matter, yes. If you like Kevin Smith, I’d also say yes. Just know in both cases it isn’t great. It is okay/good.

Final score for the film is 7 / 10