Friday Night Flix: Burke and Hare

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Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.

I feel like I’ve seen a million British dark comedy period piece buddy movies recently. That’s obviously a ridiculous exaggeration but in addition to this week’s Burke and Hare (Netflix) I’ve definitely seen at least two other films recently that feel remarkably similar. There was I Sell the Dead, which was pretty decent, and then there was Plunkett & Macleane, which was so off-the-wall weird and, worse, terrible, I couldn’t even fake my way through a recommendation. (Much though my lazy ass wanted to)

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Burke and Hare is better than either of those. It doesn’t delve into supernatural camp like I Sell the Dead, or do anything outrageously bizarre like use testicle explosives to cure V.D. the way Plunkett & Macleane did. (The fuck?) It is, however, loosely based on a fascinating true chapter of English history: the Burke and Hare murders of the early nineteenth century.

What’s great about this movie is the surprising journey of the two down-on-their-luck rapscallions played by Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis, both of whom are literally always awesome. With next to no hesitation they go from lovable scamps with questionable moral compasses to stone cold KILLERS. I didn’t know the backstory but apparently it’s super famous in England. These two guys made a mint selling corpses to medical schools for dissections. When they ran out of naturally occurring dead folk, they increased their supply with extreme fucking prejudice.

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Yet for all their murderous greed and murderous murdering of people, they remain quite likable. Perhaps it’s their loyalty to one another, or John Landis’ expert direction, but you find yourself rooting for them to get away with it. I have to say, the ending genuinely surprised me. (Judging from the Wikipedia page for the real murders, it might surprise history buffs, too.)

Added Bonus: All these period comedies love to salt their historical settings with anachronistic innovations that just so happen to be newly created in the vicinity of the central characters. You can call this the Wild Wild West phenomenon. In Burke and Hare we get the first appearances of both photography and funeral parlors, not to mention gender swapped productions of Shakespeare plays. Edinburgh in 1828 was apparently a hotbed of innovation.

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Friday Night Flix: Deathwatch

Deathwatch1Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.

I’m one of those people who love love LOVES to seem smart. When someone mentions something about which I have even the tiniest shred of information, I am powerless to stop myself from butting in and blurting it out. Even if they probably would have gotten to my point eventually. Especially then. So it’s fittingly ironic that I am, in fact, horrifically ignorant about most things that matter. I know exactly as much about current events as someone who obtains all their information by reading newspapers over other peoples’ shoulders. If it’s not in the headline, odds are it escaped me. Geography? I’m not confident I could name all the states that border Pennsylvania and I spent the first two thirds of my life there. And history, holy fuck am I ignorant. I’m super competitive at Trivial Pursuit (Genus III is the definitive Genus. END OF DISCUSSION.) but I become strangely quiet during questions about events pre-1980. So maybe it’s not surprising that I made it through the entirety of Deathwatch (Netflix, Hulu), which is set in 1917, thinking it was a movie about World War II. Sickeningly offensive to the memories of the men who served in both wars, but not surprising.

Deathwatch2For some reason the box art for this movie made me think the troops were about to do battle with Nazi zombies. That is not the case. I won’t tell you what they’re up against because I’m not totally sure. As is all too often the case with U.K. supernatural horror, it’s never really fleshed out. There seems to be some corrupting force influencing the men’s psyches, but mostly it takes the form of ghostly barbed wire attacks. And it’s not like the terror is enhanced by a shroud of inconsistent vagaries. It feels more like establishing a coherent modus operandi would somehow be undignified. I know I’m being unfair because this is obviously a film that barely scraped together the budget to build out its period set pieces. Then again, it sports a fairly pricey cast of up-and-comers and sorta-knowns including the alway arresting Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell (in a decidedly uninspiring developmental phase), and a gruff character actor I like named Hugo Speer. I  would have sworn the gay butler from Downton Abbey was in there too but I don’t argue with IMDB. Last time we got in a fight I ended up in traction.

Deathwatch3Added bonus:  Deathwatch was directed by Michael J. Bassett, who four years later in 2006 would direct Wilderness. Apparently all his movies need to have one-word titles of exactly ten letters. Am I the only one who thinks the name Michael J. should only ever be followed by Fox? Either switch to Mike or get your own middle initial. That one’s taken.