April 23, 2011
Film, film music, Jerry Lewis, Martin Scorsese, Midnight Run, movies, Paul D. Zimmerman, Peter Weir, picture, poster, Raging Bull, Ray Charles, review, Robert De Niro, Sandra Bernhard, score, soundtrack, The King of Comedy, The Pretenders, The Truman Show, Van Morrison
One of Martin Scorsese’s more uncharacteristic films is his 1982 follow-up to “Raging Bull.” Shunned by many on its release, “The King of Comedy” has gained in reputation and following of the years to attain certain cult status among many of the director’s fans though some would still debate on its merit. Their criticism isn’t entirely unfounded either, though perhaps they have been misled by the film’s light-hearted title. It is much less a comedy than a satire on celebrity culture and a rather disconcerting look at fandom and obsession connected with it. Its protagonist is in fact a psychopath and a creep, albeit a rather likeable one, which only adds to the film’s unsettling nature, something that will nest just outside most viewers’ comfort-zone. Despite that, “The King of Comedy” is a hidden gem and essential viewing for aspiring connoisseurs of Scorsese’s oeuvre.
Aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro – who else?) has but one goal in life – to get a stand-up show of his own. To get his big break he obsessively pursues his idol Jerry Langford (real-life comedian Jerry Lewis). In doing so he actively interferes with Langford’s private life and completely misinterprets the other’s attempts to rid himself of the clamouring fan. Getting increasingly desperate after his demo-tape is rejected, Pupkin teams up with fellow stalker Masha (Sandra Bernhard) to conceive a dastardly scheme that will get him not only access to Langford but also a way to perform his comedy-routine on the show. It’s an extremely well-constructed plot that sees De Niro turn from bumbling everyman with big dreams to cool psychopathic monster, while remaining light throughout. Pupkin’s frequent fantasies of fame and imagined conversations with Langford add a twist of the surreal, right down to the very conclusion which, it could be argued is also a figment of his fertile imagination. Some of his obsessions tend toward the fetishistic but are also tragically comic and Paul D. Zimmerman’s screenplay is perfectly nuanced for the viewer to pick up on these details. Sadly, a sub-plot involving Diahnne Abbott as the girl whom Pupkin loves is frustratingly underdeveloped and this is the film’s only major downfall.
In terms of look and style, many of Martin Scorsese’s usual trademarks are absent – indeed there is no one element that would point this out as a film of his and yet the director has a firm hold on the picture. The faux-futuristic production design, similar in style to what Peter Weir adopted for his “The Truman Show,” effectively add to the strange fantasy world the protagonist inhabits. Like fame itself, the setting is somewhere between imagination and reality. Similarly the allusions to celebrity culture with all its blessings and vices, pros and cons, have only grown in meaning and relevance since the film’s release and is in all probability timeless in nature. De Niro meanwhile is impeccable as ever and although this will not be remembered as one of his great roles, it is clear that he is very much at home in the comedy genre, something he would not explore again until “Midnight Run” six years later. A well-measured and funny (sometimes cringingly so) performance.
“The King of Comedy” contains no original score. A song compilation was released by Warner Bros. Records to coincide with the film’s release. This features music by “The Pretenders,” Ray Charles and Van Morrison. Their appearance in the film is unremarkable and on album they amount to a decent compilation if nothing more. Collectors of this kind of music will probably already have the songs scattered across several other releases and will find nothing new on the soundtrack.
Nowhere near Scorsese’s best (let’s face it: that bar is pretty high up) but “The King of Comedy” remains an intriguing picture leaving one to wonder what might have happened if the director and his favourite actor had devoted their entire careers to comedy. Very enjoyable if you don’t mind being pinched in the behind about a good reason not to become famous.
Have you seen “The King of Comedy”? Why not leave a comment with your thoughts on the film and my review. Thanks and have yourself a happy Easter!
January 19, 2011
Action, Adventure, Drama, Epic/Historical, Film
Acheron, Bach, Boccherini, Christopher Gordon, Film, film music, Gladiator, HMS Surprise, Iva Davies, Jack Aubrey, Jack Sparrow, Master and Commander, movies, Mozart, Oscars, Patrick O'Brian, Paul Bettany, Peter Weir, Picnic at Hanging Rock, picture, Pirates of the Caribbean, poster, review, Richard Tognetti, Russell Crowe, score, soundtrack, Stephen Maturin, The Far Side of the World, The Truman Show, Vaughan Williams
Released a mere three months after the other great sea-bound movie of 2003, “Master and Commander” could not be further in spirit, gravitas and demeanour from the swashbucklery and general nonsense of its cousin “Pirates of the Caribbean.” That is in all but the first name of their protagonists. Scallywags be warned, the world of Jack Aubrey and his adventures in the Napoleonic wars is gritty, dangerous and above all, deadly serious. And while Jack Sparrow instilled a genre long dead with a new, drunken swagger, director Peter Weir and actor Russell Crowe too were sailing into waters uncharted for decades, the high seas notorious for the storms they can wreak on filmmakers. But in reality, the adaptation of Patrick O’Brian’s popular novels provides the sort of material that both the director and star love to get their teeth into.
Combining plots and ideas from several O’Brian stories, “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” tells the story of “Lucky” Jack Aubrey (Crowe) and his crew of the HMS Surprise, playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with French enemy vessel The Acheron, a ship with larger sails and more guns. Central to the plot is Aubrey’s relationship with the ship’s surgeon and amateur naturalist Stephen Maturin played by Paul Bettany. One a man of war, the other of science, their love for music connects them as their philosophies separate them. For Weir, always ready to take up challenging material – think of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” or “The Truman Show” – this duality in nature of the plot allows him to stage life on a 19th Century marine vessel in a manner of realism that has never been achieved on screen before. On the one hand, the thrills and deadly blasts of cannons, chase and sea battles, on the other, the monotony, strict routine and tragic deaths that regularly occurred. For Crowe, “Master and Commander” provides yet another opportunity to hone the sort of thinking-man action-hero skills he’s been polishing since “Gladiator.” An equally on-form Bettany makes a good compliment, trying to see some sense amongst the carnage.
It will be easy to approach “Master and Commander” with the wrong expectations and feel let down at its close. The sense of fun and daring adventure we have come to expect from similar picture has been all but sunk and the extended interludes between action pieces may well have you bored to death. At times it is hard to maintain interest and it becomes blindingly obvious that Bettany’s character is used repeatedly as a plot function simply to ask silly questions of the hierarchy aboard. That and to ask for explanations of the plethora of nautical terms scattered very liberally around the place. To dismiss the film on these grounds however would be to misunderstand the talents of Peter Weir and while the different elements don’t always gel, the film still provides very solid entertainment and reflection for its more patient viewers who will be duly rewarded. In any case the look of the picture, the cinematography, production design and visual effects are simply stunning and deservedly picked up an Oscar nomination or two.
To complement the large number of classical and traditional pieces of music featured live on screen as Crowe and Bettany play the violin and the cello respectively, three composers were hired to write original score, namely Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti. How it took three composers to come up with such a small amount of score is beyond comprehension, however what the trio achieved is an unobtrusive score that fits exceptionally well around the source music. In the film the score goes mostly unnoticed but on album, combined with music by Bach, Mozart, Boccherini and Vaughan Wiliams, it is a highly enjoyable listen. The score highlight is the opening track “The Far Side of the World” but it is still placed in the shadow by the classical music which is what listeners will also recall from watching the film. For the score alone, this soundtrack is not recommendable.
How much you will enjoy “Master and Commander” will depend on how much longevity in drawn out sequences you are willing to tolerate. For a throwback to stirring entertainment of a more serious nature (as well as for fans of the books actually), it will represent over two hours of great filmmaking with Peter Weir stretching back to the glory of his 80s and 90s success. And even though it is possible to enjoy both films equally, for most of those swept away by the slick “Pirates,” this will represent the most unimaginable bore.
Music heard on Album
Do you prefer MAC or Pirates (let’s not get a MAC vs PC debate going here…)? Why not leave a comment with your thoughts? If you liked the review please share it with your friends on Face book and Twitter. Thanks and all the best!