Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Genres are flexible, most films which are labeled with the title of “science fiction” are almost always group together with another classification, such as horror, drama, and thriller. The same goes for comedy, which can be broken down into further sub-genres such as parody, slapstick, or in the case of 2010's Burke and Hare, black comedy. Black comedies take a somber, or macabre setting and turns them on their head, with plots which sound as though they should be dramas or horror film, and instead makes light of a darker situation. Stanley Kubrick Dr. Strangelove is a prime example of this type of film, poking fun and making light of the ever-looming threat of nuclear war during the 1960's.
Directed by veteran comedy and horror director John Landis, Burke and Hare tells the semi-true story of two Irish con men in 19th century Edinburgh. At the start of the film we are introduced by a narrator/hang-man (Bill Bailey) who tells the audience of the fact that in the 19thcentury Edinburgh was the center of medical research in the world, and how one professor Monro (Tim Curry) forges an official letter which allows him to hold the monopoly on fresh hanging victims for medical research.
This prevents Dr. Knox (Tom Wilkinson) from having any subjects for his medical classes, until two down on their luck Irishmen Burke (Simon Pegg) and Hare (Andy Serkis) must dispose of the body of an elderly boarding house tenant, and find they can make a profit from murdering victims and selling the corpses to Dr. Knox. This leads to an investigation by Scottish militia and a series of hijinks from a cast of characters throughout Edinburgh.
This film benefits from great writing, which gives each character a unique voice allowing everyone to be funny in individual ways. Though the plot is based off of true events, as stated in the opening of the film not everything is historically accurate. Being upfront about this fact is both cheeky, but it also queues in the audience to not take the film seriously, which loosens up the atmosphere, allowing for it to appear historical, but not take itself seriously in the slightest. Full of witty quips, clever twists, silly caricatures, and had-hitting slapstick, Burke and Hare doesn't slow the flow of comedy from constantly filling screen time, and it does so without becoming tried.
Visually the film looks like a period-film, perhaps one discussing the politics of 19th century Britain, or a film about a young medical student fighting against all odds to make some kind of miracle breakthrough in the field. While at first glance it looks like something which is perhaps meant to be serious, simply watching for a few moments will reveal its true nature. This juxtaposition makes for a very humorous look at what is historically seen as the serious story of two serial killers in Scotland.
All of the actors bring their A-game, every one with their own brand of comedic delivery and timing. With such a wide variety of comedy on display one can find at least one performance to tickle them in just the right way, leaving them with a memorable line, or visual gag stuck in their thoughts for the rest of the week.
There aren't very many problems with the film per-se, except perhaps the casting of the two main characters of William Burke, and William Hare. Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis do exceptional jobs as the two Irish con artist, but there therein lies the issue, why couldn't they cast two actual Irishmen to play these historical figures? There isn't a shortage of comedic Irish actors in the film industry, one could easily see the likes of Chris O'Dowd (The IT Crowd), Sean Hughes (The Last Detective), Dylan Morgan (Shawn of the Dead), or Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects) in the titular roles. Now, this isn't really a critique of Pegg and Serkis who both do an excellent job, but it does lead one to wonder if actual Irish actors might have brought something different to the roles.
In all, Burke and Hare is a great work of comedy which might have been overlooked for the last few years, but it worth giving a watch.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
What happens when we let our imaginations get the better of us? Everyone has had run-ins with a daydream that we let take over our entire thought process, whisking us away on adventures that normally we'd never embark on. This is the theme of Ben Stiller's film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Stiller directs and stars in a film about Walter Mitty (Stiller), a photograph negatives manager at LIFE magazine, which is going through a transition from print to being solely online only. In the last week of the magazine he is given the task of providing a photo which would be the cover of the final issue. While reviewing the negatives from the roll of film, it is found that the photo to be used on the cover is in fact missing from the negatives. Mitty takes it upon himself to track down the mystical photographer Sean O'Connell(Sean Penn) in an attempt to recover the missing photo to properly send of the magazine. His search ends up taking him across the word to find O'Connell,
The film goes back and forth between Mitty's real life, and the life of his fantasies which blend into his current situation, letting his imagination play out. Normally the fantasies begin with something that is currently happening, then taking off into a completely unreal situation. While at work Mitty has run ins with the new boss (Adam Scott), who is in the middle of brutishly downsizing the magazine, and singling out Mitty in much of his teasing. In one scene Mitty and the new boss are in an elevator together, eventually they start getting into a fight which quickly transforms into a James Bond-esque brawl, then leads to an action scene pulled out of a superhero movie. But as soon as the fantasy is over we are snapped back into reality, to see that Walter has simply spaced out in thought, letting time pass around him unseen.
Visually this movie is stunning, every shot is like a photograph, which of course makes sense with the subject of the film being a quest for one photograph. There is not a shot in the movie which seems out of place visually, they all fall into the same style. During Walter's "regular" life, things are shot very flat and at precise angles, never straying too far from looking slightly mechanical. But once he goes on his journey the camera opens up and starts breaking out of its previously level and flat shots. This opening up works well with the film's progress, as Mitty goes on to break out of his dull existence working in the basement of a magazine, and into a journey across the globe.
Generally the characters all feel real, Ben Stiller works well as the slightly-drab everyday man in a dying field, who's imagination allows him some escape from an otherwise unfulfilling life. Along with Stiller is Kristen Wiig as Cheryl, a woman whom Mitty works with, whom is also his love interest. Patton Oswalt who is an over-the-phone tech support with eHarmony who seems to be able to call Walter anywhere in the world, perhaps even in places where cell phone coverage wouldn't reach. Sean Penn plays the mysterious and semi-mystical photographer whom Walter searches the world for; a man who doesn't seem to exist in the same universe as everyone else.
The film does have a few flaws, namely when it comes to the fantasy sequences. In the first half of the movie they feel too numerous, which makes sense story-wise but they slow the story down too much. They are meant to give the viewer an idea of what is going through Walter's head, and his longing for something more out of life, but at times they just bring the movie to a halt. There is one in particular that feels completely detached from the tone of the film, it being a direct parody of another film. The film suffers for its inclusion.
Overall, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a very nice film, it has a sympathetic protagonist whom you grow attached to throughout his journey. The film has a very nice visual style which is pleasing to the eye, as well as some nice emotional moments. If you want to see a competent, feel-good, and visually pretty film, I'd say check it out.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
Film: Ivan's Childhood
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Starring: Nikolay Burlyaev, Valentin Zubkov, & Yevgeni Zharikov
Out of all the things that shaped the world in the Twentieth century, the effects of World War II seems to have been the biggest, and most lasting. The aftermath left the world with two superpowers, placed the boundaries of most of the world's countries, and kick started a boom in technological development. So, it shouldn't be so much of a wonder as to why films about stories from the war intrigue us, and why they've remained a popular genre since the end of the war.
For reasons not entirely clear to myself, I've seemed to have had a particular interest in Russian things, whether it be the language, culture, people, and so on. But Russian cinema seems to be a bit hard to come by, even when I attended film school they rarely showed up. I even enrolled in a Russian language through film class, and we only saw a handful of films. So, I'm always out looking for more cinema from geographically, largest country on Earth.
Ivan's Childhood is the story of an orphan boy who becomes a spy on the Russian front during Hitler's invasion eastward into the Soviet Union. While there is no real antagonist we see Ivan, or his fellow soldier's face, we are privy to a slice of their lives, and just the general malaise of war not on the front lines. Also, we see the effects the situation has had on Ivan, and his dreams taking him back to the times before the war took his mother. The Soviet soldiers present seem to be cut off from the rest of the world, staying in an isolated bunker, or in a lonely forest. Perhaps as a way of expressing the emptiness of the vast country following World War II, and the actions taken by Stalin following it.
As there is no real linear plot, the film decides to take on a more character based approach to storytelling. Because of this, the film tends to drag a bit at times, even having long segments where Ivan is absent, and we follow his fellow Soviets, learning about Ivan through their experiences with him. The title of the film is something of a political statement, as Ivan's childhood seems to be a thing of the past, only being present in his dreams. This isn't really a film for the casual viewer, most of it contains complex symbolism, and the fact that it was made with a Soviet mindset distances it from modern audiences even more. Though, that was likely the point, expressing the underlying emotions going through the minds of the Soviet people, perhaps unable to express themselves in a more direct area.
• The film includes several dream sequences; in one the camera makes a jarring zoom onto a character's face, reminiscent of the camera moves used by Sam Raimi in Evil Dead 2.
• There is a scene after Ivan escapes from military custody and finds an old man living in his bombed out house, waiting for his dead wife to return. Shows the effects the German invasion has taken on normal citizens quite well.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Director: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, & Noah Taylor
For most of us being a teenager is awkward and confusing. Movies have been expressing this kind of feeling for a long time, making itself really known in the 80's, via the work of John Hughes, but these kinds of film have existed before the era of bright colors and bad haircuts. On top of that, this film is about the adolescence of a young British (Welsh to be more specific) man, dealing with his life in his own way.
The film is based on a novel of the same name by Joe Dunthorne, and is the coming-of-age story of a young Welshman named Oliver Tate(Roberts). Like most teens, Oliver isn't the most popular kid in school, but he also isn't the most outcast or spat upon, he seems to remain more in the middle. He has a crush on a girl in his class named Jordana(Paige), and uses his imagination and general teen urges to get him to fall for him, even though it requires him to throw the class outcast into a pond. Along with his romantic desires, he deals with the apparently failing marriage between his parents, which only gets worse when his mother's old flame moves in next door.
As with many teenagers, Oliver is far more clever and charismatic in his head than he is in reality. His narration of events is well constructed and preformed with great poise and grace, while his actual speech is often quiet and slightly-bumbling. There is a scene where he gives his girlfriend a stack of books which he wants her to read, thinking the books will make him appear more cultured and sophisticated than in reality. Even his physical movements are of that young and awkward age, he stands stiffly, rarely looking relax about anything.
Overall, the film is very good. It has the same feel as one of Wes Anderson's films, though it's much less colorful, perhaps as a way of responding to the Welsh environment that Oliver lives in, and has to deal with. Though in general the film lacks color, there are a few colors which are brought out, primarily blue(Oliver's room is blue, compared to his parents and the rest of the house, which are all beige), and the red of Jordana's jacket which makes her stand out whenever she appears on screen. Also, the film itself can be very funny, despite its subject matter, much like Anderson's films, with cleverly written lines sprinkled throughout, keeping with its more dramatic tone.
• In the prologue Oliver mentions the fact that he sometimes daydreams about what would happen if he died. The following fantasy of thousands of people mourning his death, despite him not being well known, or even liked that much.
Friday, January 13, 2012
Film: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Director: Thomas Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, & Colin Firth
Plenty of films have been made about the Cold War, and about espionage, from when they actually took place, and up until the modern day. Though for the most part people seem to think of spy movies to be more along the lines of series such as James Bond, which who is more a secret agent than a spy. Especially with all of those things blowing up and high tech gadgetry. So, the actuality of what spies really do is often overlooked, in favor for the more glamorous explosions. Which frankly, American audiences seem to enjoy more than talking.
The film is based upon a 1974 novel of the same name written by John le Carré, and subsequently a television series based upon the novel released in 1979, starring Alec Guinness as George Smiley, a British intelligence agent who was forcefully retired then brought back to help uncover a mole in the agency. The man brought in to carry out the investigation is as previously said: George Smiley. Who had been forcibly retried a year before, following a botched mission concerning an agent who was trying to obtain some sensitive information in Budapest. Though he does not have a lot to work with, he knows that the mole in the British intelligence agency AKA "The Circus" is all the way at the very top. Because of this Smiley is the best man for the job, as he was once at the top and he is able to look upon his history with those men responsible for the leak, and his original banishment.
Story wise, the film doesn't follow the normal narrative format, which is an interesting change when it comes to recent films. Instead of simply having everything play out in the order in which it happened, or in the order which best suits the audience, development is revealed in the same order that Smiley learns about it all. So, much like real espionage, or even life for that matter, you learn things in an order that you will have to rearrange yourself, as to see the bigger picture. Several people I have talked to complained that the move was confusing, but most of those people were my age or younger, and likely expected everything to be laid out in the order in which would make the most sense. But, life doesn't always happen that way, and nor should stories.
Overall I rather enjoyed the feel, and look of the film. Though I wasn't alive in the seventies, this film made me feel as though I was actually there, with fantastic set design, and cinematography. Every shot in the film feels like an old photograph you find in a box hidden away for years. It's warn, and colors have faded, much like the memories you might have about what is in the photo, so that's an interesting sensation coming from a film.
Along with the superb cinematography comes a fantastic cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, and Tom Hardy; some of England's most highly renowned actors, all of whom make you believe in their roles. Also, the inclusion of actual Russian actor Konstantin Khabenskiy took me my surprise. He plays a Russian diplomat suspected to be involved in the leak, though it is not a large role, and has few lines (even fewer in English), the fact that they got an actual Russian actor is another surprise for me. Even more so, the fact that they could have just as easily have gotten an English actor to do the job, they got one of Russia's most famous actors to play the bit minor role. Well done.
• Smiley's introduction. He is present and introduced early in the film, but remains silent for the first several minutes of the film. Allowing for the audience to get a feel for him emotionally, rather than though exposition.
• The inclusion of the French version of the song "Beyond the Sea" which plays at the end of the film. I was unable to recognize the song while watching, but it finally came to me once I left the theater and was in the parking lot.
Monday, July 25, 2011
Film: Captain America: The First Avenger
Director: Joe Johnson
Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, & Hayley Atwell
Summer is a time for blockbusters, a time for action and adventure, and the lifting of one's spirit, making them feel alive again after a cold winter. Captain America: The First Avenger is one such blockbuster, and by golly it's a good one. The third of this year's Marvel movies, of which none have been a miss, or sub-par like Electra. The film's made by Marvel studios have all been very well made, films such as the Iron Man series, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and now Captain America. Perhaps the studio knows that to make good products they need to put in as much passion into their films as they do their comics, as well they should.
Captain America has been around since 1944, making his debut as a comic book, and eventually moved to many other mediums, including film serials, cartoons, toys, and so on. Steve Rogers(Evans) is a skinny liberal arts student from Brooklyn, who has tried to enlist in the American armed forces several times, only to be rejected due to health reasons. But hope comes in the form of a defected German scientist who is working with the US government to develop a new "super-soldier" to help fight in the war in Europe. Rogers is given the treatment, allowing him to become the only super-soldier following an incident after the procedure. Eventually he goes to Europe to battle Hydra, a deep science division of the Nazis, that had made itself independent following the leadership of Johann Schmitt(Weaving). Schmitt also took the serum that made Rogers stronger, only before it was perfected, causing some side effects.
The majority of the film takes place in 1942, and boy does it pull it off with precision. The sets look like everything you would imagine things in World War II would appear like. I believe the only other semi-recent film that made me believe it was actually in the forties, was Saving Private Ryan, so there is a benchmark. Even the sets in the film that are of Schmitt's technological advancements still look like they are made with the state of art materials at the time. Technically the effects of the film look very good, especially Schmitt's Red Skull make up, he appears just as you would expect him to following years of comics.
The only problem I had with the film was some of the CGI, which at times is a bit noticeable. Before receiving the serum he is small and skinny, which Chris Evans is not. So, they used a body double, and inserting Evan's head in afterwards, though for most of the time it looks good, but at times it doesn't. In a few shots Evan's eyes are enlarged making him appear more like a bush-baby than a person, but the rest of the film makes up for any of these short comings.
• Stan Lee's brief cameo, as an elderly military officer.
• The first meeting of Cap and Red Skull. The location, and tension are fantastical, it should go down as one of the best complete reveal of a villain in cinema history.