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Posts tagged “comedy

HMWYBS: Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr.


Buster Keaton can’t help but be in the shadow of Charlie Chaplin, the latter’s mustache and cane looking as cute as a kitten while the former’s face looks melancholy yet versatile. But not only is his expressive face one of his assets but his body. What my friend said about him is that he was the Steve-O of his generation although yes, it should be the other way around that Steve-O should be hailed as the Buster Keaton of his generation.

The comparison makes sense, as he would do his own stunts and forsake his physical well-being. I can’t remember the first movie I saw of his, but it involved him running the top of a demolished brick building – that and this movie, Sherlock Jr., makes me wonder if insurance exited back then and if they worried about his safety as I was. Here he would organize cluster fucks of enviable production value and would literally slip on clichéd banana peels and jump into a lake to make his audience laugh.

 

Slapstick humour is sadistic, even in its more ‘optimistic’ examples. Most of the time we watch Keaton fall and be in a generally disadvantageous situation, but my best shot involve him taking on physical feats and instead of failing, he does something awesome. This is the first of ‘awesome’ stunts and I guess the first one always sticks in my head.

Here he’s the titular Sherlock Jr., a dreamed up, more suave, movie-within-a-movie version of himself perfectly landing on a suspect’s Model T. I know it’s a wide shot and we only see an ant version of himself but he’s humble enough, like most silent comedy actors, to let us see his place in the big picture and how he can move within it. With finesse. And that stunt show the upper body strength we though he didn’t have.

 


This is NOT Funny 2


‘I realize that it dun sound as funny as I described it.’ You bet, star and director Jay Chandhrasekhar.

‘Cocaine?’ And it’s customary with every thing written about Super Troopers ever to say that the ageless Lynda Carter, also known as Wonder Woman, makes a cameo here as Governor Jessman. Another cameo is Geoffrey Arend or Mr. Christina Hendricks, who looks taller here because he’s skinnier a playing a teenage partier back a decade ago.

‘Sorry I don’t talk to highway hog.’ Marisa Coughlan, one of the late 90’s smart blonde ingenues, is less embarrassing here than in her two other movies. She’s playing a ‘female cop facing sexism in the workforce’ kind of role, and she crosses bureaucratic lines, performs banter where no one laughs at each other and takes a liking to a titular state highway patrolman (Paul Soter, specifically) living in a small, fictional border town called Spursbury, Vermont. She helps him solve, in her own special way, the big drug case that will save the troopers from being slashed from the state budget. Part of the plot involves Canadians as drug supply enemies which, you know, it’s usually the other way around but we do have product to sell on our side too, admittedly.

I’m not sure whether this movie is ambitious or not so I can’t compare it in that yardstick. But ‘stoner frat boy comedy,’  in its early stages? Chandhrasekhar, with his comedy troupe called Broken Lizard, makes his movie look professional in the cinematographic sense. But he underplays the comedy, the camera too distant and the surreal sequences, which probably looked fantastic in the script, are not paced well. Not even sleep deprivation, which is a drug in its own classification with which I’m addicted, can make this funny. Too many dick jokes, unnecessary cursing and weird-for-weird-sakes kind of costumes. This is an almost deal breaking movie to those involved in making it even if yes, the mixed critical reception for this isn’t as bad as I thought. Broken Lizard also made Beerfest, a movie of which I have a sliver of interest because “Saturday Night Live” alum Will Forte stars in that one. And they’re making a sequel.

There’s also a subplot involving a trooper named Farva (Kevin Hefferman) who bounces between patrol work, desk and cleaning duty. These switches make him betray his co-troopers and join the real police force. I mention him to warn you guys that there is gross full male nudity here (sorry if the warning is too late). But at least it’s equaled by partial male nudity. Three times. The director takes one for the team.

And this is funny, Brian Cox being the veteran that he is and playing ‘angry drunk’ effortlessly. Although his musical speaking voice is betraying that he has better training than this movie.


The Cabin in the Woods


Edited from its original form. This was intended to be my observations of the movie’s first few scenes with some criticism here and there.

Reviews of The Cabin in the Woods have been generally positive, although there have been voices of dissent here and there. Whichever side of the fence they’re on, they don’t write about its plot except for a basic premise. There were the few I’ve read and the many that have advertised themselves as spoiler-free. I’ll do my best for this to not be that kind of post even though I’m the last person ever to see it. But nonetheless, let’s get this party started.

It starts with two women in their college dorm, the scene continuing with one character introduction after another. Jules (Anna Hutchison), recently changing her hair and personality, tells Dana (Kristen Connolly) to ditch her Soviet economics books and get into a weekend getaway mode. Jules’ also takes her boyfriend Curt with a C (Chris Hemsworth), a guy who dresses like jock who’s actually a smart sociology major. Out of this triumvirate, only Hemsworth can pull of the dialogue’s wit. Hemsworth is also able to recommend what books Dana should be reading while sounding like he knows what he’s talking about.

Hutchison and Connolly, however, seem to be too deadpan – Drew Goddard‘s blase direction doesn’t always help with this neither. But those two are interestingly cast, Hutchison’s face and demeanour seemingly too mature, her gaze too penetrating to really be the dumb blond persona that Jules has taken on for the weekend. Just as intended. Connolly is more fresh-faced so we’ll know that she’s last girl, whether she lives or not.

Anyway, apparently they’re the only people awake on campus despite it being a sunny spring day, or that they’re the last people to leave on their breaks. Curt offers his cousin’s cabin for the weekend getaway place and Jules asks him to invite his friend Holden (Jesse Williams of Grey’s Anatomy fame) so that Dana doesn’t feel left out. Marty (Fran Kranz), who looks like he’s going to act like a gargoyle for the rest of the movie, usurps into this otherwise picture perfect group and before they venture out into the titular cabin.

The journey towards the rural hideout is already filled with dread (why do young people in movies still go out in the woods to party even though we all know that most of them are going to die?). Being unable to find it on a GPS, they make a stop at a gas station and its attendant, Mordecai (Tim de Zarn), appears through a perfunctory shock cut. He calls Jules a whore, and a fight between the group and Mordecai almost break out, but they decide to leave him and have their fun as planned. As they drive their Winnebago through a tunnel a CGI bird flies in the sky, only to be stopped and killed by an invisible electric grid, reminding us that there are another set of characters in this story.

The movie actually begins with a mundane shot of a coffee vending machine that two white coats Sitterson (Oscar nominated Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Studio 60’s Bradley Whitford) use. Joined by the pencil-pushing Lin (Amy Acker), she worries about the day’s operation, although Sitterson smugly reassures her that they haven’t had a glitch since ’98. The two men leave her stranded, driving out with their cart within a large – public or private? – facility whose operation involves the characters who are cabin bound. We don’t know why they’re doing this or why they choose those kids. The same clunkiness permeate here as well, shot too close and lit too dirtily than I would expect in a scene featuring workplace humour. It also seems like the actors on this side work Whedon’s dialogue better throughout the movie…just like Curt does….and it is his cousin’s cabin. Despite of the imperfections here, Whedon and Goddard do start dropping pieces of the puzzle this early on.

It has the usual setup of young people discovering things hidden beyond the borders of civilization or revealing a character’s family secret. But what I like is that these characters challenge each other, the ones in the facility wondering, just like we do, how these kids will slip into which mess. The characters in the cabin, however, test each other on whether they’ll advance on each other sexually or be more modest towards each other like Dana and Holden does.

The movie is enigmatic and works its way into being character based but it didn’t really win me over until two of the characters find their way to fight back. When a certain scene happens the sounds of it make me feel like Whedon and Goddard had smiles on their faces while writing and making it. But that defining moment, coming in so late, and the movie’s hype itself, makes me cautious on whether to embrace it. Either way, the movie’s second hour makes the rest more bonkers and fun. 4/5


The House Bunny


The House Bunny is the only movie that allows Anna Faris and Emma Stone to share the same screen and since the movie views women to Faris’ standard, Stone will probably never get this naked and Mean Girls-y again. Shelley Darlingson (Faris), being last out in the orphanage (the movie pays lip service to this part of Shelley’s character which, to be honest, is all it needs), always thinks of herself as an outsider even though she has one of the most coveted jobs that conventionally beautiful women have, a job that some of those women use to stab each other with. She’s grateful and has a sunny perception – she says something like “It’s like being naked in the centre of a magazine and people unfold you!” – about her precarious place within the mansion, as a 27-year-old she sees herself as 59 in Bunny years. After being schemed out of the Playboy mansion, Shelley becomes house-mother to Stone’s sorority house – the Zetas – although both mentor each other, the former with knowledge about how to attract men to help them save their sorority house and the latter knowing how to attract a man who isn’t superficial (Colin Hanks, obviously son of Tom). One of the movie’s funniest montages involve her trying to smarten herself by reading many books at once in a library and going to senior level classes in which she’s not enrolled. It reminds me of one of the movie’s earlier scenes where she asks one of the girls from a rival house where all the desks are. Both scenes are, to my limited knowledge of the subgenre of frat/sorority movies, the biggest indictment of college culture in cinema.

Stone, like her other housemates (Kat Dennings, Katherine McPhee and Rumer Willis) go through two makeovers. The first, through Shelley’s guiding hand, takes too long to set up. The second is when one of the Zetas tell the other that they’ve become as superficial as their rivals. Stone’s character soberly advertising Zeta’s mission statement as being about acceptance is how we’ll see her onscreen persona in future rules.

Even if Faris and Stone are regarded as underrated comic gems stuck in a cinematic era that treats them like shit, the former, a secret national treasure and a celebrity impression that some cheerleaders have in their comic arsenal – is good but not enough to elevate this movie. There is absolutely no reason for everyone to watch this movie or to call this as a comedy – but then I read a lot of complaints that contemporary mainstream comedy isn’t funny so I guess this movie’s first few scenes might fit in with that description – and I felt the same way until I heard Faris’ voice get deeper and more guttural because that’s the way Shelley remembers names. I’m immature and get amused by stuff like that – it’s actually the first thing I’ll remember with this movie, the ‘erythromycin/meteor’ soliloquy in the end being the second. OHLIVEHR! That voice, simply enough, makes Faris’ Shelley a physically straining, full-bodied performance. You can call it as Faris putting the wool under our eyes but I still like it.

Aside from those two leads the movie also boasts a cast that sounds useless on paper but are awesome together. I tweeted earlier that McPhee acts and sings more here than in all of “Smash” and I stand by that. And who knew that Willis, whose character is stuck in a body brace for most of the movie, ends up having the best body in a cast of many beautiful women? Dennings in her most sarcastic yet most restrained, surprisingly. I love the scene where the sorority girls take out their fake eyelashes and tell each other that despite of Shelley’s inadvertent bad influence the latter still has style. Anyway, back to the cast, Beverly D’Angelo’s villain reminds us that, despite not necessarily deserving a lead role in anything, she’s a competent and more preserved Faye Dunaway. This is an ensemble picture in, as many would see it, its worst and most embarrassing way bot I can’t knock it because of its entertainment value and that I keep rooting for these actresses in their future projects.


Bad-ish Movie: Project X


A dirty-mouthed, homophobic high school kid named Costa talks directly to the video cam in front of him about the titular Project X, when he’s throwing what he hopes is ‘the best house party ever’ for his introverted, lanky friend Thomas Kob (Thomas Mann).

The camera, held by a conspicuous goth, follows both kids as well as every character he comes across, like Thomas’ parents who, going out-of-town, are confident that no house party will happen because he’s a ‘loser.’ But the turn of events are going to prove these adults wrong, because as the kids do their alcohol shopping they learn that Miles Teller is going too.

For some reason youths will go to any party before asking who is organizing or who it’s for, which I actually like because these children, celebrating and illegally drinking together, are less clique-y than my generation ever was. There are one or two kids, including the goth and the Thomas and Costa’s overweight and more awkward friend J.B., who are outcasts but they’re still allowed in.

When they actually see the celebrant, they stop the Muzak blaring from state of the art speakers – the great soundtrack includes Animal Collective, which, thank you – sing him the birthday song. It’s that one decrescendo after a series of well choreographed scenes going off in different parts of the block. It’s the right amount of organized chaos.

And when the music goes back on, we see people having a lot of crass fun and even if I watched this during a sober-timed matinée, I couldn’t help but root for the kid and the booze fest around him. It’s nice to see him transform from a ‘nobody’ to someone to cheats on his childhood sweetheart with some new bimbo. But in any circumstances, the movie’s music and the smoke and drug haze makes its audiences join in on the fun. Nobody wants to be a party pooper.

But the Todd Phillips and Joel Silver produced and Nima Nourizadeh directed party comedy begins in crass-ness and ends there with a riot breaking out. There’s just too much misinformation about collective outbursts for me that the movie’s association of the act with the ‘fight for your right to party’ generation seems condescending, vapid and vulgar. It’s ends up saying that kids haven’t evolved or have no thinking, as if all we or the young ones do is riot, destroy and have tantrums when we don’t get what we want. 1.5/5


Mary, Walter and “The Muppets”


Like any sane person who came out of The Muppets, I ended up singing the infectiously unforgettable line ‘I got everything that I nee-eed right in-front o-me’ on the streetcar home. Hats off to Bret McKenzie. But the sugar rush ended because of three grating yet forgivable flaws.

First is vintage store-clad (this is a good thing) Mary (Amy Adams), Gary’s (Jason Segel) girlfriend who si frustrated by her man’s undivided attention towards his Muppets-loving Muppet brother, Walter. Adams sings and dances feverishly, only bringing half of the joy that her scene partners, both human and Muppet, effortlessly produce. She’s more convincing when she’s playing against type than she is as an adorable love interest. It’s not entirely her fault, her face seemingly colourless and lit sloppily. She’s also one of three major female characters who, in a script co-written by Segel, are ‘attention seeking shrews’ ‘distracting men from work.’ An Oscar-nominated actress can’t save badly written characters like hers.

Chris Cooper rapping made me wince in my seat. And the characters’ self-awareness after singing their songs are a bit distracting.

And can I declare a fatwa against the premise in movies that the world is ‘cynical?’ Sure, as the movie shows, broken relationships and sketchy characters and greedy oilmen like Tex Richman (Cooper) and power-hungry executives like Veronica (Rashida Jones) do exist. But the world has its equal share of revisionist, retro-living, overgrown children. Our decade-long obsession for cute old anthropomorphic things is the reason Pixar gets awards. Cute is definitely why this movie exists.

James Bobin‘s movie epitomizes cute with the other Muppets whom this unconventional family is trying to reunite. The group find themselves on a mission to stop Richman from destroying the Muppet studio to build an oil well. Richman also wants to acquire the Muppets name to skew the well-known brand from its original content and form. Sound familiar?

The joyful aura is good enough to sustain itself for most of the movie. Despite the mushy middle, let’s remind ourselves that the movie begins with the postwar nostalgia of Smalltown, USA and we fell for it. Then we see the physical comedy, signature Muppets flailing, celebrity cameos like Emily Blunt and Leslie Feist and loved it. Then it sets up Gonzo as Chekhov’s gun and we smiled. And Kermit, the movie’s undisputed star, sings the old tunes as well as new songs and we cried and we loved the movie a bit more. 3.5/5


Hysteria: The siblings in “Harvey”


The first half of Henry Koster‘s Harvey questions my personal expectations of the film as a light studio-era comedy. Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) embarrasses his sister Veta Louise Simmons (Josephine Hull) and her daughter Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne) in a socialite gathering at their old home. In turn, she wants to get rid of him, placing him into a mental institution, which is admittedly a treacherous thing to do. Then in the twenty-five minute mark, playwright turned screenwriter Mary Chase uses the old switcheroo plot.

The pompous middle management of the institution, led by Dr. Sanderson (Charles Drake) and assisted by the hopelessly devoted Ms. Kelly (Peggy Dow), literally turn their backs on Elwood’s symptoms, interrupting him before the Elwood introduces them to the titular imaginary white rabbit. They make the latter walk off scot-free while Veta cries her heart out to the doctor and gets labeled as hysterical. And only when the hospital staff realizes their mistake is when this movie supposedly oscillates into comedy territory.

A few scenes later, she labours on a detailed description of her treatment at the institution, her soliloquy having no place in a comedy film at all. These scenes feel so uncomfortable that it’s easy to just flick the switch away and tell everyone else that they’re the insane ones for calling this movie a classic. This sounds blasphemous but it’s kind of like Bridesmaids, where depression wedges itself into the comedy.

All I wanted was for the hospital to get the right guy, even though we can argue that both siblings have their traces of insanity. Once Veta is free we have the delight in knowing Elwood. Stewart’s characterization of the man is both mature, as he doesn’t give into stereotypes about people with special conditions, mixed with his eternally child-like voice. There are also the scenes in the bar and afterward, the alleyway, when he tells both Sanderson and Kelly what his drinking buddies think about Harvey, that makes his performance that’s disarming yet more comforting than Mary Chase’s quotable screenplay or words or language in general could be.

Drake and Dow’s matinée idol looks contrast the rest of the actors’ cartoonish appearances. There’s also the specificity within enunciation of certain words, especially Hull and Horne’s affected accents that make them sound either like Americanized Brits or rich middle Americans, speaking just like every upper class character “back then.” Hull’s expressiveness also saves her character from being simply a one-note hysteric, making us sympathetic for those who have to deal with a mentally shook relative. There’s also the cast who – and Stewart inadvertently falls into this as well – never fully reaches naturalism but that makes this movie a time capsule of theatre-based acting.

I also applaud this movie’s brave depiction of homosexuality. Just kidding, but you can argue for it.

This movie is brave because of its collaborative subversion of psychology’s labels, making me think of its limits within certain polarities. We can factor in gender within its ‘insane’ characters. The “white slaver” Wilson could be a “nut” himself, trigger-happy when it comes to wringing Elwood’s neck or shoving Veta around. The male-dominated institution is more lenient towards Elwood’s quiet insanity than Veta’s. In one of her soliloquies she recounts how Wilson strips her and how the other doctors ask her about sexual things, concluding that “they’re not interested in men in places like that.”

The movie makes psychology look like a practice that by nature hunts people down as well as causes for why people are the way they are. Sanderson makes up a story on why Veta wants to confine Elwood. Later, at the alleyway, he asks Elwood where he gets the name Harvey from only to end up dry, simply because he never asks the right questions, just like we shouldn’t. We should just let the eccentric yet pleasant people as they are.