Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

Theatre of Blood (Douglas Hickox, 1973)

Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price), a famed Shakespearean (and only Shakespearean) stage actor, is unexpectedly (to him, at least) passed over for his coveted Critic’s Circle Award by unanimous vote from a fraternity of London’s finest theater critics. Following a failed suicide attempt and subsequent faking of his death, Lionheart strives to put on his greatest performance – a performance of revenge involving some of the most grisly and over-the-top acts of revenge imaginable on said critics, all based directly on the very Shakespearean performances he was so mercilessly panned for. This all arguably inspired many films years afterward, from the concept (“Se7en” famously involved serial killings based, creatively and gruesomely, on the seven deadly sins) to the execution (i.e. all those god-awful “Final Destination” films that were little more than a showcase for deaths whose brutality and depravity knew no bounds). Admittedly, the tone of “Theatre of Blood” is closer to the shameless, carefree exploitation of the latter than the atmosphere of suffocatingly pervasive depression of the former (case-in-point, the downright comical degree to which both Lionheart’s victims and the police are slow on the uptick to figure out what the hell is going on). You can’t feature a delighted, cackling Vincent Price serving “Titus Andronicus”-inspired dog pot pies and a “Cymbeline”-inspired beheading without at least acknowledging the utter over-the-top absurdity of the entire proceedings. Yet, there is a certain degree of satire, of thought-provoking criticism of, well, criticism, that ascend all this nonsense above the mere mindless and depraved. Amongst all the crazed monologuing of Lionheart as he walks his journey of over-the-top vengeance, one line actually stuck with me as he engaged in a “Romeo & Juliet”-inspired fencing duel with one of his potential victims, when he angrily exclaims,

How many actors have you destroyed as you destroyed me? How many talented lives have you cut down with your glib attacks? What do you know of the blood, sweat and toil of a theatrical production? Of the dedication of the men and the women in the noblest profession of them all? How could you know you talentless fools who spew vitriol on the creative efforts of others because because you lack the ability to create yourselves!

Never mind the fact that Lionheart perhaps has far too lofty an opinion of his acting skill, he’s saying what countless actors must have been thinking for centuries. Indeed, with hardly an exception, the critics to whom Lionheart directs his theatrical revenge are old, white, pretentious, stuffy, flamboyant assholes, the very stereotypes invading the minds of those claiming (and celebrating) the increasing irrelevance of criticism, film, theater or otherwise, making this film oddly satirical and predictive of today’s society. That, combined with a Vincent Price who seems like he’s having an absolute blast in this performance, relishing his overacting and his increasingly absurd disguises, almost put you in Lionheart’s camp, make you identify more with him and his obsessive devotion to his craft than with his snobbish victims. Of course, Lionheart is a madman who must himself be punished in a genre film such as this lest this be nothing more than a 2-hour argument for and defense of straight-up vigilantism and no-questions-asked revenge, but pardon me if I don’t exactly mourn the line of victims who have to feel his wrath before everything is set “right.” And, if nothing else, this all got me in a major mood to read Shakespeare, to see what could so inspire such creative brutality. All in all, I had as much shameless fun watching this as Vincent Price clearly had starring in it, even if I’m willfully missing Lionheart’s entire point by writing about it.

Oscar Round-up, 2012

Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012)

The last third or so, when shit gets real and they have to get out, is proof enough what a joke it is that he wasn’t nominated for Best Director.  Suspenseful to no end despite knowing how it’ll end up if you know the true story (clichéd to point that out, I know, but it still applies).  I usually can’t stand when people in a movie theater applaud when the heroes prevail at the end, but I found myself waiting and wondering what everyone was waiting for when the plane got into the air, and was relieved when it happened.  Pretty good sign of quality filmmaking from my point of view.  There was just the right amount of screentime devoted to the Americans holed up in the Canadian ambassador’s home – not too much so that they’d develop, and be defined by, genre stereotypes, not too little so that they’d be nothing but macguffins.  I just wish the movie as a whole didn’t rely quite as much on humor as it did…this is an amazingly improbable, ridiculous true story; that improbability and ridiculousness should speak for itself (plus, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a running gag get as old and irritating as quickly as “Argo fuck yourself” did).

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

Its perceived glorification of independence and the will to survive sometimes strays distastefully towards, instead, pigheaded obstinacy and an irresponsible shunning of outside assistance, especially when you’re dying, you know you’re dying, and your little kid’s gonna be alone in a fucking swamp when you’re gone.  Despite that, though, you have a feeling that little Hushpuppy will be alright.  Her father Wink can be a prick, can be hard and stern, but when living in said fucking swamp, that’s the father he needs to be.  Putting aside qualms about the reasons Wink and the other Bathtub inhabitants so virulently shun the outside world, their methods of survival are fascinating and exciting to watch.  Those titular beasts were stupid, though.  Let this captivating setting, and the ability of this little girl to both tune out and adapt to/survive the outlandish challenges of that setting, speak for themselves, without the empty symbolism of imaginary, prehistoric animals.

Brave (Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman, 2012)

Moderately disappointing by Pixar standards, which still makes it better than almost everything, ever.  My disappointment probably comes from the fact that the end didn’t make me outright cry like the last three fucking Pixar movies did, but the bear vs. bear fight was great, an exciting and fitting climax to the evolution of the relationship between Merida and her mother.  Pixar’s technical and visual prowess just keeps getting more astounding (look no further than Merida’s hair), and putting a strong, self-reliant woman in the forefront was refreshing, and yet, things like the narrative being interrupted by a song and the 11th hour spell reversal happy ending (I regarded the end of this similarly to Marlene Dietrich’s famous “where is my beautiful beast?!” reaction to the end of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast) made it seem like this was relying on Disney tropes of old.  One step forward, one step back for the genre.

Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012)

There’s Tarantino’s signature genre-mimicking, embellished here by the last third or so essentially being nothing but blood and gunfire, and then you throw in perhaps the most intriguing and motivationally complex character of Tarantino’s career in the form of Samuel L. Jackson’s Stephen, and you have a downright brutal satire of slavery (not so current) and racism (much more current).  I didn’t even mind that the scene with the Klan’s misadventures in hood-wearing might’ve gone on too long and stretched the joke out too much, was still a well-timed instance of straight-up humor in a film of brutal imagery (i.e. the Mandingo fight…I’m still not sure what made me wince more, the fight itself, or Calvin’s hooting and hollering as he watched his property fight to the death.  Was a challenge to not look away, and an absorbing challenge at that) and even more brutal subject matter…a laugh-so-you-don’t-have-to-cry kind of subject.  To have comedy and atrocity mesh so easily and feel so natural together, you have to be one hell of a filmmaker, which Quentin Tarantino has again proven to be.

Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, 2012)

Second-best film of 2012 featuring a character named Mr. Bilbo.

Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012)

The raid was fantastic – perfectly filmed and edited, a textbook on how to hold the audience’s attention; the 80 hours preceding it were somewhat of a bore.  Usually don’t consider it a very good sign when it’s so easy to spot an actor’s Oscar clip (when Chastain about chews Kyle Chandler’s head off, her neck vein about to explode).

Cronos (Guillermo del Toro, 1993)

It was very refreshing to see a “vampire movie” (emphasis on the ” “) that didn’t have fangs, or neck-biting, or seductive and beautiful ever-young people, and was largely devoid of cliché of the vampire variety of otherwise, which by now I’ve come to expect from the largely unique and cliché-free Guillermo del Toro (shame he dropped out of “The Hobbit.” That would’ve been cool :( ). Not since “Nosferatu” perhaps has a vampire film really, really focused on what a curse, not a blessing, it would be to be granted immortality by unnatural means. As the kindly old antique shopkeeper Jesus Gris becomes more and more immortal after being ‘bitten’ by the Cronos device, his thirst for blood at a most inopportune time during a black-tie New Years’ party and being chased by a dying, despicable industrialist and his bumbling nephew/henchman (Ron Perlman is one ugly motherfucker…) are the least of his worries. As his skin rots and falls off, his wife and everyone else in the world except his mute and adoring granddaughter believe him to be dead, and sunlight becomes poison, it becomes obvious to both Jesus and us just what a curse this is. He never asked for this fate when he found that metal scarab inside the statue in his shop, and yet here he is. That he, a good and previously unassuming man, must suffer everlasting youth in mind but certainly not in body, and not the greedy industrialist and now Jesus’s mortal enemy who certainly deserves such a fate, brings out the tragic aspects of that kind of immortality that much more, in that our sympathy is added on to the gruesome bodily decay. That del Toro pits old man against old man (hardly an expected protagonist-antagonist pairing in this day and age of fantasy/horror), uses a scene of a flamboyant mortician proudly dolling up a mangled body in stark detail for comic relief, and doesn’t exactly depict Jesus as the most innocent of victims, as he in fact revels in using the violent Cronos device for a time, certainly make this one more unique than you might think. When you consider the idea of the body wanting to die and the brain just not cooperating with that desire, there may be a fate worse than death after all.

8/10

Even Dwarfs Started Small (Werner Herzog, 1970)

Bunch of little people being destructive for 90 minutes.

5.5/10

Three Colors: White (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994)

The plot – namely Karol’s rise from the gutter to prominence seemingly at the snap of a finger and his revenge (a nice and refreshing surprise of a plot twist, I must admit) going down without a hitch – is completely and utterly implausible and ridiculous, but somehow Kieslowski makes it work by doing what I guess you could call deadpan directing. Even though Karol gets shit on by a bird, is sexually humiliated on the phone by his ex-wife, is smuggled into Poland in a suitcase and gets kidnapped by mobsters while still in said suitcase, and wears a suit and slicks his hair back Pat Riley style to try to act all suave and sophisticated when he comes into money, Kieslowski never plays it up for straight-up laughs. I wouldn’t even call it a dark comedy per se, but just a series of unfortunate events for an impotent, suddenly-homeless hairdresser whose completely implausible adventures are presented about as realistically as you could hope for, with even a hint of moving pathos when it comes to his relationship with a well-dressed, well-spoken, suicidal man who takes him under his wing (there was just something truly special about Janusz Gajos’s performance as Karol’s benefactor Milolaj that I can’t quite put my finger on – probably has something to do with how his noble, almost fatherly deadpan style fits with Karol’s (Zbigniew Zamachowski) almost effeminate, but endearing and sympathetic patheticness, like a glove). Morbidly funny, deeply ironic and cynical, and admittedly unpredictable, “White” was a nice change of pace from the unbearably heavy likes of “Blue” and “The Double Life of Veronique” (both of which were very good films in their own right, and probably ‘better’ than this film, but even with the same director at the helm, it’s like comparing apples and oranges that came from the same fruit basket) – refreshingly light fare, this was, or at least as close to ‘light’ as you can get when it comes to Kieslowski.

8/10

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Russ Meyer, 1970)

To call this one of “the best bad films I’ve seen” would probably be grossly inappropriate on my part, and grossly unfair to Russ Meyer, who three films into his filmography by now I realize was certainly shlocky and exploitative, but that’s certainly not enough evidence to call his films “bad”, but rather merely far, far separated from accepted convention. Obviously I don’t claim to be an expert on the late 60s/early 70s underground Hollywood scene, and thus my claim that the “lack of realism” of the increasingly bizarre situations that these girls find themselves in, and the dialogue in general, particularly from the Shakespeare/hipster-spewing Z-Man, is little more than a leap of faith on my part. That it all came from the mind of Roger Ebert, who I can’t help but look at as that nerdy film critic from Illinois, tempts me to believe that this compilation of depravity and a sex-starved/obsessed culture was penned by a clear outsider, someone whose knowledge of the seediness of Hollywood is confined to pulpy fiction rather than actual experiences and based his screenplay on such, for which reason the “lack of realism” comes shining through from the opening moments. But hey, the whole thing is about the outsider status of Kelly, Casey, and Petronella, and how these innocent girls are caught in the whirlpool of sex, drugs, and REALLY clever, pulpy, and downright poetic conversations – a bizarre place and time from the point of view of uninitiated outsiders becoming inured to and corrupted by that bizarre place and time, so perhaps seeing that bizarre place and time from the point of view of a seemingly uninitiated nerdy film critic from Illinois is appropriate.

Or it’s just an incredibly clever satire.

8.5/10

The Host (Joon-ho Bong, 2006)

When you put aside “The Host”‘s not-so-subtle…okay, insultingly blatant…pro-environment, anti-American, anti-Formaldehyde message and the overall campiness and exploitativeness, you’ve got a surprisingly deep and fun and interestingly-constructed little monster movie in this, Korea’s all-time highest grossing movie.  So all the Americans are either evil, cross-eyed, or both, the monster looks about as convincing as the Rancor in “Return of the Jedi” from 27 years ago, and just about everyone outside of the family of protagonists are little more than Victims #’s 1-8000, but it’s a gross monster movie trying and failing to make a grand political message (it’s kinda cute how hard it tries to be something special…), so shut up and watch and have fun.  But, there is something interesting afoot when you get past the schlockiness, because call me crazy, but the family dynamic was done very, very well.  Naturally just about every monster movie deals with the whole dysfunctional family being forced to come together in the face of adversity, but in terms of dysfunctional-family-being-forced-to-come-together-in-the-face-of-adversity movies, even ones where that adversity isn’t in the form of an amphibious man-eating squid, this one pretty much nailed it.  The acting and the characters themselves are silly, no doubt, but it’s an interesting family dynamic regardless, with the shopkeeper father and his three grown-up, dysfunctional, completely different children coming together to save the ne’er-do-well son’s precocious young daughter from the vile clutches of the beast.  Together, they’re the consummate fuck-ups, and they outwardly can’t stand each other as the college graduate son and bronze medal-winning archer daughter look down on their brother and ol’ dad has to come to his boy’s defense, but to see them not just have to, but want to put aside their differences to save that little girl is pretty damn endearing, and a surprisingly deep and unique family structure for what’s otherwise a man-eating monster movie.  The parallel story structure is a major factor in keeping your attention, as the story shifts between the family’s inept but sincere attempt to rescue Gang-Du’s daughter while evading both the authorities and the title character, and the little girl surviving Bear Grylls-style in the monster’s lair.  “The Host” isn’t exactly the pinnacle of great storytelling (after a rather thrilling climax, the very end is, well, :? .  Also, I wasn’t aware that that was a typical result of a frontal lobotomy…), especially when those filthy, heartless Americans rear their ugly heads, but it still has that nice story of a family coming to terms with each other and their flaws, to go along with all the cool and gross death scenes.  Also helps that the tone of the story is literally all over the place.  One minute it’s a straight-up monster-jumps-out-of-the-corner horror movie (one of the stalest of all genres, but a few of the scares here were impressive), the next a family drama, the next a slapstick comedy.  It’s a mess, sometimes to its detriment but more often just making the proceedings more interesting – one minute this movie would take itself way too seriously with the drama and the messages and what-not, and the next it’d just take the plunge into good, chintzy fun.  Sometimes the humor works, and sometimes it’s really awkward (case and point the weird-ass…what do I call it…brawl? amongst the family members at a public memorial for the monster’s victims that was like a poor man’s Three Stooges).  So often “The Host” is right on track as a surprisingly human drama amidst the backdrop of a monster haunting the Han River, other times it doesn’t know which way is left.  What does that get you?  Damn good television (because I watched it on a television…).

8/10

Schizopolis (Steven Soderbergh, 1996)

Apple microwave, blanket picture frame.  Refrigerator thimble.  Pillow microwave, duplicitous mirror, Staten Island Ferry pap smear.  Space heater hard drive, coke, Alabama Citibank.  Cocker spaniel nerve gas, Blu-ray borscht, entertaining jambalaya, diarrhea-laden music box!

Goat?

Santa Claus file cabinet.

Subterranean glaucoma, antidisestablishmenttarianism.  Tone-deaf tassel, promiscuous sphincter, dinner plate phlegm.  Chardonnay hamburger, fender-bender menopause.  Eggo waffles sodomy.  Calculator porcupine, afterbirth stopwatch, Flava Flav synogogue.  Envelope Antietam, Mittelschmerz poo poo platter.  Aorta teletubbies.

Mozambique corned beef sandwiches.  Sterling silver scrotum, Ophelia.  Propeller plane haz-mat suit, surreptitious revolver.  Vanilla cardboard, paper shredder bicycle, Captain Condoleezza Rice’s Mandolin.  Encyclopedia Satanica water heater, respirator pogo stick.  Rockclimbing titmouse, transgendered craps table.  Rhombus.

Pepperoni pizza toilet paper (Hattie McDaniel…).   Lovelorn tapeworm, cross-dressing Duplo blocks, cholesterol foul pole.  8-track Beelzebub, dirty sanchez terrorist, cunnilingus speedboat, descended testicle bedspread.  Stock market apple core, Orville Redenbacher trench warfare.  Slalom, Punky Brewster?  Perilous coroner ink cartridge vestibule Happy Days rat salesman Rashomon flabby chest tender saltmine feral…Zuul.

Tepid yet slightly hesitant praise.

7.5/10

The Wicker Man (Neil LaBute, 2006)


Nicolas Cage


Aaron Eckhart


Kate Beahan


Diane Delano


Leelee Sobieski


Larry King


Academy Award-winner Ellen Burstyn


Cage


Bees


Andrei Tarkovsky

My brain’s telling me to give this a .0001/10, while I want to give it a 10,000/10 for how much fun I had watching it, so naturally, I’m averaging them out.

1/10

La ronde (Max Ophüls, 1950)

I wish I could have Anton Walbrook narrate my life and fuck with people so that my tryst with a beautiful woman could go as smoothly as possible

I had little use for the stories themselves – their interconnectedness made them SO convoluted after a while that I just stopped caring and didn’t bother to keep track of who everyone was and what was going on (although the one involving Simone Simon’s (  ) maid and the man she works for was charming and sultry enough…). All that mattered was Walbrook, acting like a Rod Serling with benefits in not just overseeing the stories and being something of a Greek chorus, but being a jokester-like participant in them as well. I mean, that first uncut tracking shot as Walbrook changes wardrobe to reflect the time period, and the sun appears instantaneously and dissipates the fog, is absolutely remarkable (the cinematography as a whole was outstanding, with all those smooth, effortless tracking shots, although there were a few too many Dutch angles here and there – always a major pet peeve of mine), as was the way he’d, as I said, fuck with people with all his disguises and what-not so that the stories go the way they’re supposed to, and even guide some characters from one story into the next. Such a great and innovative breaking of the fourth wall, and such an endearing and charming and goofy and entertaining God-like narrator he made, he turned what I’d otherwise call a worthless bore of a film into something really, really worth watching.

 

Pull the string!  Pull the string!

 

7.5/10

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