Stranger than Fiction

Stranger than Fiction was playing on tv this morning while I was getting ready for work, and I could hardly drag myself away. I’d forgotten how much I really loved this sweet, whimsical, absurdist tale of a buttoned-up and completely anal IRS agent (Ferrell) who begins hearing a prim, British, female voice in his head, narrating his life with potentially devastating consequences…..

More surprising now, as I look back, I realize that this, one of my favorite films ever, was directed by Marc Forster, who went on to make Quantum of Solace and World War Z, both cracking, complex, big-budget action adventures. This is something quite different and really quite lovely.

Last Holiday

I had the TV on in the background this morning, and Last Holiday was showing, starring Queen Latifah. She plays a sweet, unfulfilled New Orleans shop assistant who is diagnosed with a brain tumor and given three weeks to live. Deciding to live the rest of her life large, she sets off on a trip of a lifetime to Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic.

Oh, we all know how it’s going to play out. So it’s not exactly profound, and it’s not exactly original (it’s a remake, after all) but it is completely delightful. I mean completely. And 99% of the delight is Queen Latifah; she is magnificent, charming, warm and winning, and you buy into her transformational journey absolutely. Karlovy Vary – in particular the Grand Hotel Pupp – matches the charm with splendour.

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.