Burn After Reading

With Burn After Reading, the Coen Brothers channel Evelyn Waugh.

Gym bunny Chad and grasping Linda discover a cd rom on the floor of the changing rooms at the Hard Bodies Gym in Washington DC. When they realise it may contain highly sensitive CIA information, they proceed to try to flog it to the highest bidder. It’s actually the worthless novelised memoirs of Osborne Cox (Malkovitch), but the greed and misunderstandings set into motion an unstoppable series of tragi-comic events.

Set against the cruel infidelities, the blithe dismissiveness, the amoral ruthlessness, the stupidity, of the Washington DC / Georgetown “intelligence” set, Burn After Reading is by no means the Coen Brother’s best work. But like Waugh, the moment they make you laugh, they also make you gasp with shock and even horror. The innocent die quickly, the noxious escape unscathed. This is not a comfortable film. But it is funny.

Inspite of the strong Maryland / DC locations, Burn After Reading principally filmed in Brooklyn, so that the directors could remain close to their homes and families – another one of the myriad of frustrating influences that affect a of choice of production location, and over which no-one has any say.

Hairspray

On Christmas night, once the hoardes of revellers had left and we’d got about a third of the way through the cleaning, we all collapsed on the couch for Hairspray. Not the icky 1988 John Waters opus, but the magnificent, ebullient, entertaining 2007 one, most famous, perhaps for John Travolta in drag.

Featuring a truly tremendous cast that simply doesn’t put a well choreographed foot out of place, the movie charts fat girl Tracey Turnblad’s unfolding desire to appear on a Baltimore tv dance show AND to win the guy – Zac Efron – neither of which seem that realistic, to be honest, at the start of the movie. But that doesn’t factor in Tracey’s overwhelming cheerful sweetness – a star turn from newcomer Nikki Blonsky – whose joie de vivre is infectious. Throw in a Civil Rights sub-plot that slowly becomes the plot, remarkable routines (some of it real 60’s dances – how funny!) and some truly brilliant throw-away comedy, and you’ve got yourself a really entertaining movie. The fact that it also shows up the alleged innocence of the fifties as a vicious, ignorant, bigoted and actually unlamented era is also a bonus.

Hairspray is explicitly set in Baltimore, Maryland, but the 2007 film was shot primarily in Toronto because the city was better equipped with the sound stages necessary to film a musical. One thing that caught my attention when originally watching the EPK was the requirement for spongy floors to assist the dancers – something that couldn’t be acheived on Baltimore tarmac, I’m guessing.

And here’s something I found interesting – Director Adam Shankman’s production diaries. A fascinating insight into large scale production.