A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

A Note about VHS (And The Norman Conquests)

We own a lot of DVDs. This much is obvious. We’re 140+ movies in and have well over 300 still to go. But you see, we own a lot of movies on VHS too. Movies we legitimately purchased or were given or swiped from my parents. And many of these things are not available on DVD at all or not available in the US. Sure, for some of them we could find a Region 2 copy and we could get ourselves a DVD player that would let us play them, but that seems silly when we have copies already.

Of course, if The Box of Delights ever comes out on DVD in the US I will so snap that right up.

Anyhow, the point I’m trying to make is that we’re going to be going through our VHS collection and incorporating the professional copies of full length movies into the list of things for the project. And that means we’re going to get to review The Norman Conquests for the project. And that makes me super excited. It’s a series of three movies, each of which takes place over the same weekend at the same house with the same cast and the same plot, but in three different settings. The first is all in the dining room, the second in the living room and the third in the garden, and each explains a little more of what’s going on.

I’m really looking forward to this.

July 22, 2010 Posted by | we want information | , | Leave a comment

Movie 144 – Death at a Funeral (2007)

Death at a Funeral (2007) – July 22, 2010

I am truly sorry I can’t provide a flow chart or a family tree for this movie. It’s got a decently sized ensemble cast and all but two of them are somehow related and I’m going to try and explain it all in brief. There’s a lot going on in this movie, which is sort of the point. It’s a comedy about a funeral and a series of increasingly wild things going on behind closed doors during said funeral and all of said things behind said doors intersecting at just the wrong and/or right time. It’s also about family in general. Granted, I care more about Alan Tudyk’s ass than whether the main character gets along with his brother, but we get both, so hurrah.

Let’s go over our cast of characters. Most important is Edward, but he’s dead. There’s Sandra, his wife, and Daniel and Robert, his sons. Daniel and his wife, Jane, have been living with Edward and Sandra for several years, taking care of Edward and now Sandra, being responsible and, as is often the case, underappreciated. I am immediately reminded of a friend of my family and of The Norman Conquests (which I’m going to write a short note about later). Robert has been living in New York being a successful novelist. Daniel and Robert have Sibling Issues. Jane also has Issues, but hers involve wanting to move out of the bloody house and into a flat without Sandra around.

Next we have Troy and Martha, Edward and Sandra’s nephew and niece, and Martha’s boyfriend, Simon (Alan Tudyk). Their father doesn’t like Simon and Simon’s nervous. Troy doesn’t really care one way or the other, but he’s important because he’s studying to be a pharmacist and accidentally doses Simon with a powerful hallucinogen. You can imagine how well that goes at a funeral. Protip: Naked romps around the roof while hallucinating do not endear one to one’s future father-in-law.

Then there’s Howard and Justin, whose relationships to the others I wasn’t quite sure of at first, but it turns out Howard’s a friend of Daniel’s and Justin hooked up with Martha once and has come along to try and get back with her. They pick up Daniel and Robert and Martha and Troy’s Uncle Alfie, who is a crotchety old man in a wheelchair. Howard is not my favorite character as he second only to Simon in providing physical comedy and he’s tops at providing comedy of embarrassment.

And I haven’t even mentioned Peter, who shows up at the funeral but doesn’t seem to know anyone but knew Edward somehow and keeps trying to talk to Daniel but obviously Daniel’s busy. Suffice it to say that Peter wants money and he’s willing to blackmail Daniel and Robert to get it. Which is really where the movie gets unhinged. I mean, Simon drifting about talking about how green everything is and unrolling the toilet paper was bad enough, obviously. But Peter’s the one who makes everything just go right off the rails. And Troy’s custom-tailored hallucinogens come into play too. There’s a lot of rushing around trying to look somber and calm in the main rooms full of black-clad mourning family and friends while in the back rooms, behind closed doors, people are frantically whispering and arguing and using the curtain ties as restraints.

Not only is there all the over-the-top stuff with the hallucinogens and compromising photographs and Alan Tudyk’s Simon stripping naked and climbing out onto the roof, but there’s all the family stuff as well. Robert and Daniel have some unresolved crud that pretty much boils down to Prodigal Son Syndrome, and there’s the whole subplot with Justin trying to chat up Martha while Martha is frantically trying to keep Simon calm and clothed. In the fine tradition of some excellent British comedies, like Waking Ned Devine and Four Weddings and a Funeral (neither of which we own, which is obviously a travesty), not to mention things like Local Hero, Comfort and Joy and The Norman Conquests, there’s some serious stuff going on underneath all the comedy (and I won’t lie, a lot of the comedy of embarrassment was downright painful for me to watch, but I have a Thing). The comedy is the highlight, but what’s a highlight without contrast?

July 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Death at a Funeral (2007)

July 22, 2010

Death at a Funeral (2007)

Working, as I did, in a video store, I was exposed to a lot of people whose opinions regarding movies I came to respect. These were people with whom I’d have long conversations about great films. When these conversations turned to great recent British comedies they generally agreed that there were a few stand out gems that blew everything else away. Films like The Full Monty, Keeping Mum and Waking Ned Devine. And in amongst that rarefied strata one title started appearing a couple years ago which I never got a chance to watch. Until today.

I can see why so many people raved about it now. Nothing makes for great humor (or should it be humour) than a vast family of horribly repressed British people forced by circumstance to endure each others’ company. (I’ll probably hit that point again when we get around to reviewing The Norman Conquests.) And then add to that the magic of Frank Oz, and you have guaranteed comedy gold. Remember – Frank isn’t just Miss Piggy, he’s the director of such great films as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the Little Shop of Horrors musical and What About Bob. He really knows how to wring laughs from an audience.

And this movie does bring on the laughs. It’s got broad and crazy strokes of outrageous humor (such as Alan Tudyk’s unfortunate character Simon, who is dreading so much being at a funeral with his girlfriend’s father that he has a panic attack – so she gives him some Valium to calm down… except that it’s NOT Valium.) But the movie is actually at its funniest during quiet moments of desperation when absolutely everything seems to be falling apart.

Let me back up a little bit and introduce the cast of characters. The lead is Daniel, who is trying his level best to hold a respectful funeral for his dead father. His wife Jane wants the two of them to move out of his parents’ huge country house so they don’t have to be saddled with caring for his mother. His irresponsible brother is Neil Gaiman – I mean Robert: a successful long haired author dressed all in black who has moved off to live in America. (Only maybe he’s not so successful as all that, since he seems to be flat broke.) Daniel’s cousins Martha and Troy are there too – along with Martha’s boyfriend Simon (the aforementioned hapless Alan Tudyk.) Then there’s Howard (who doesn’t seem to have any reason to be there except as a chauffeur for the nasty tempered Uncle Alfie) and his mate Justin, who has come along because he has a thing for Martha.

Of course all these characters have baggage of some sort. There’s the hatred that Martha’s father (Daniel’s uncle) bears towards Simon. There’s a lot of friction between Daniel and Robert (because Daniel is tired of being responsible, and he thought Robert was going to help pay for the funeral before discovering that Robert is utterly skint.) Martha’s brother Troy spends most of the movie trying to recover the bottle of “Valium” that he brought to the funeral for a friend which is, in fact, a potent hallucinogen of his own manufacture. The attending priest is in a hurry to get somewhere (though it’s never explained just where,) Justin is pissed because Martha blows him off every time she sees him, and Howard seems to be somewhat of a hypochondriac, for whom a funeral is a reminder of his own mortality.

Then there’s Peter – a mysterious stranger who shows up at the funeral but whom nobody actually knows. It transpires that he knew Daniel’s father. Very well. (A side note: I really enjoyed Peter Dinklage’s performance as the enigmatic Peter. It’s a strange character, and I like that for the most part he plays him with a kind of desperate sincerity. Even when the character of Peter is being a bit of a dick the performance leaves you feeling a little sympathetic for him.)

And… that’s pretty much all you need to know. It’s a bunch of people forced together during trying times and all wound too tight with proper British decorum, and you know from the start that the whole thing is set to explode. There will be strange revelations, bizarre drugged out capering, blackmail and murder! (Well, maybe not murder.) The whole movie has a kind of pent up energy, and part of the fun of watching it is wondering just what is going to break loose and fly apart next.

Like I said before: there is some laugh-out-loud physical humor (particularly on the part of Andy Nyman, who plays Howard with a kind of desperate quiet panic that I couldn’t help laughing at, and Alan Tudyk, who is given license to be just as crazy as he could ever want to be.) But the moments that made me laugh most were the moments of quiet anticipation and dread. Moments when you just knew that things were about to go hilariously wrong and could see on the faces of the characters in the film that they knew it as well. I felt slightly guilty that I was laughing at impending misfortune, but I really couldn’t help it.

If you watch the out-take reel you get the distinct impression that nobody on the set could help laughing either. Particularly Frank Oz, whose distinctive laugh fills the reel. It must have been hard to work with him sometimes.

July 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment