Thursday, March 29, 2012

Movies: Blinked and Missed ‘Em Edition

Catching up with a pair of films that slipped stealthily in and out of theaters ...

Don’t expect historical accuracy from Burke & Hare (2010), which features Edinburgh at its brownest. John Landis puts a comic spin on the famous story of the Irish immigrants who see a shortage of medical cadavers as a chance to make a killing. The movie is never scary, and more amiable than funny. But it boasts a terrific cast. Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis make an inspired double act, with Pegg particularly appealing as he struggles with guilt while spending his ill-gotten gain on an all-female production of Macbeth staged by woman of his dreams Isla Fisher. Tom Wilkinson and Tim Curry play squabbling surgeons, and the forces of justice are embodied by Ronnie Corbett. Even Christopher Lee turns up, for crying out loud. At its best the movie approaches the tone of Landis’ An American Werewolf in London; some key actors from that film cameo here. Mention must be made of Joby Talbot’s Scottish-inflected score, particularly the closing credit song “Burke’s Swing,” making excellent use of bagpipes.

It’s no surprise that The Big Year (2011) didn’t score at the box office. The shock is that a dramedy about competitive bird-watching was made in the first place. Three men spend a calendar year racing around North America to spot the most species: Owen Wilson, jeopardizing his new marriage to preserve his old record; Steve Martin as an executive who has waited until retirement to commit to his obsession; and Jack Black as a wage slave trying to pull off the impossible on a shoestring. Nothing groundbreaking here, just a fine group of supporting players as the odd ducks looking for odd ducks (honors go to Brian Dennehy as Black’s irascible dad), lovely scenery, and some nice moments about the benefits of a passion that enriches the other aspects of your life. Plus you learn a few things about birds.