The Morning After: Mar. 11, 2013

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Three Days of the Condor

When people think of spy movies, they think of James Bond or Jason Bourne or other such action-heavy thrillers. Three Days of the Condor is a spy thriller with minimal action and excellent plotting.

Robert Redford is a reader. He feeds the plots and words of books into a computer where complex code and connections are made. When the rest of the members of his section are killed, he goes on the run to try and uncover the truth behind the affair, along the way kidnapping a woman (Faye Dunaway) with whom he falls in love. Redford is a strong central figure though Faye Dunaway isn’t given much to do, though she does what she can. Cliff Robertson, Max Von Sydow and John Houseman provide able support.

If you’ve always thought that the spy life seemed a bit far fetched, a film like Three Days of the Condor does a fascinating job creating a believable world of spies competing and killing over dangerous information. Getting caught in the crossfire is dangerous, but even being smart isn’t all you need. Cunning and foresight are also required and Condor is a wonderful job exploring the medium from a different direction.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

A decades-spanning look at the accomplished teacher at an all-boys school and the impact his unique ways of looking at life have on the various students and faculty that come through the school.

Robert Donat is a staggering presence in the film adeptly conveying youth and old age across the length of the film. His capabilities earned him an Oscar for the role, which was assuredly deserving. Greer Garson provides able support as the young woman he encounters on a remote hillside and with whom he eventually falls in love. The rest of the cast, including acting notables like Paul Henreid and John Mills, must take a back seat to Donat who only periodically cedes control of the screen to the lovely Garson.

The film tracks across several decades, never lingering too long on a specific period. Each one further cements the audience’s appreciation for the character even though a more dedicated inspection of these various moments might have resulted in a more consuming and thoughtful film. While Donat’s Mr. Chips is an affable and compelling presence, we learn little more about his personality than we are given in the film’s first few minutes. Every moment seems predictably drafted for maximum emotional impact, which makes the film sometimes feel lifeless. Donat makes up for this with his performance, but I wonder what a better film might have looked like had it been more richly written.

Death at a Funeral

It’s unfortunate that legendary voice-over artist Frank Oz has directed so few films. His movies always have a delightful sense of perspective and remain entertaining in spite of flaws in the scripts. His last film was released six years ago and Death at the Funeral proves that he still has that fascinating joy of life and knack for comic timing.

A dysfunctional British family have gathered for the funeral of their beloved patriarch. His sons squabble over the cost of the funeral while other relations combat unwanted emotional advances, dislike of suitors and a dwarf with a secret. Matthew MacFadyen leads a cast of largely British comic thespians as son Daniel whose been saddled with caring for his parents while his brother Rupert Graves has become a successful novelist and flitted away his money recklessly. MacFadyen’s wife Jane (Keeley Hawes) frets about the down payment they plan to make on a flat while various other characters drift into the drama.

There’s kidnapping, extortion, attempted murder, threat of suicide, accidental drug use and various other bizarre events that pepper the witty screenplay by Dean Craig. Death at a Funeral has a mediocre moral at his conclusion, but the intervening situations are downright hysterical. While the excellent cast is largely made up of notable British thespians, American actors Alan Tudyk (Firefly) and Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent) join them and everyone is superbly entertaining.

Oz isn’t a great director and he’s had far more duds than successes. Thankfully, Death at a Funeral is one of his best films, reminding me of the comic style he used in In & Out, crafting a lovable group of characters with serious flaws who face odd challenges that only strengthen them by the film’s end. Were he to make more movies like Funeral, In & Out and Little Shop of Horrors, we would be fortunate.

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