"I got news for 'em. There's gonna be hell to pay. 'Cause I ain't daddy's little boy no more."

Archive for the ‘Comedy/Laffs’ Category

Clueless

Monday, July 20th, 2015

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RELEASE DATE: July 7
RELEASE DATE: July 19

I wasn’t intending to include CLUELESS in my Summer of ’95 retrospective, since I mainly like to look at “blockbuster” type movies. And I feel very familiar with it. I saw it a long time ago and then I’ll watch parts of it on cable now and then. But I think Mr. Majestyk or somebody said he was hoping I would do it and you know I’m like a DJ, I try to read the audience and move the crowd and what not.

And man, when you sit down and watch it from beginning to end for the first time in a while, CLUELESS really holds up. It’s a funny, unique movie, one that’s simultaneously very ’90s in attitude, music and cultural references, and timeless because of its stylishly heightened (I hope) depiction of the world of Los Angeles rich kids. And you know what, nothing against James Acheson, who won a costume design Oscar for RESTORATION that year, but do you think he ever sent flowers to Mona May, who did this shit? I mean come on. It’s brilliant. Apparently she got her start working with Julie Brown on MTV (not Downtown, the funny one who plays the gym teacher here).

Alicia Silverstone plays Cher, the spoiled daughter of an angry widower lawyer (Dan Hedaya, ALIEN RESURRECTION). She and Stacey Dash as her best friend Dionne (they were “both named after famous singers of the past who now do infomercials”) in some ways fit the stereotype of Beverly Hills teen girls: they obsess over expensive name brand clothes and their own popularity, they think less about school and their futures than about boys and parties (though they don’t seem very interested in drinking and look down on anything more than occasional drug use). They are superficial, but they’re generally well-meaning, nice people. Then one day, inspired by ex stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd, GEN-X COPS 2: METAL MAYHEM)’s comment about Marky Mark* attending a tree-planting ceremony, Cher decides to try using her popularity for good.

*This was before FEAR, let alone BOOGIE NIGHTS, so nobody called him Mark Wahlberg, not even his parents. (read the rest of this shit…)

School Daze

Monday, June 29th, 2015

tn_schooldazeSCHOOL DAZE is Spike Lee’s sophomore jointational work, and was never one of my favorites from him. But man, looking back at it now I love its youthful exuberance. Here’s 30 year old Spike having access to the studio’s resources for the first time – he goes from a few actors in apartments in black and white to a huge cast on a college campus. He even has a full-on song and dance number. It’s the first example of what I think is one of his weaknesses: his overreach in tackling too many things at once, creating an unfocused and overstuffed narrative. But in this context that’s kinda charming. He’s really goin for it.

Since DO THE RIGHT THING and MALCOLM X were Lee’s most culturally recognized movies, certain white people pigeonholed him as a guy who only makes movies about white people being racist. Of course that’s not even a complete description of the content of those two movies, let alone applicable to most of his filmography. And joint #2, just like joint #1, I’m pretty sure doesn’t show a single white person in it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Casper

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

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RELEASE DATE: May 26
RELEASE DATE: May 26

I got a feeling a couple of you probly grew up liking 1995’s CASPER, the big Universal movie adaptation of the famous friendly ghost of comics and cartoons, and you’re gonna tell me it’s pretty good. But if so I will disagree. In my opinion it’s not cuttin it.

Why would I expect otherwise? Well, #1, as a positive individual I believe in the possibility of great art coming from anywhere. #2, as a striver for excellence I expect all artists to take a shot at said greatness. #3, This was produced by Steve Spielberg, with what at the time were groundbreaking effects by Industrial Light and/or Magic. Remember, this was only two years into the modern age of digital effects started by JURASSIC PARK. Computer generated imageries were still novel and scarce. This was the first movie to have an all c.g. main character. Of course, he’s deliberately cartoony, and transparent to boot, so it wasn’t gonna blow people away with its realism. But this was about half a year before TOY STORY came out, so I’m pretty sure it was the most computer animation that had been seen in one movie up to that point. So it was new.

An older generation than you CASPERheads now talks with deep nostalgia about “Amblin movies” as this beautiful type of family-friendly movies from the ’80s. They’re specifically talking about E.T., GREMLINS, GOONIES and BACK TO THE FUTURE, I believe. And then you can pad it out with HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS and *batteries not included I guess. I doubt they mean the serious Amblin productions like THE COLOR PURPLE, CAPE FEAR, SCHINDLER’S LIST or THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (read the rest of this shit…)

Accidental Love

Monday, April 13th, 2015

tn_accidentallove“Have you ever been to a military-media moonbase event before?”

I don’t know if you guys remember this, but a long time ago David O. Russell was supposed to be doing a new comedy called NAILED, about Jessica Biel getting a nail stuck in her head. This was about seven years ago actually, so at the time Russell was coming off of I HEART HUCKABEES, which I really liked, but it didn’t seem like he was on the verge of becoming one of the big directors. I’m talking five years before he directed Jennifer Lawrence in an Oscar winning performance, when she was still playing the daughter on The Bill Engvall Show. That’s how long ago this was.

He was filming and everything but he kept having disasters with the financiers going bankrupt, not having enough money to pay the cast and crew, who repeatedly walked off. Eventually it got so bad Russell decided he had no choice but to close up shop with a day or two of filming left. He just gave up and took his first for-hire directing gig, subbing for Darren Aranofsky as a favor to Mark Wahlberg… but then that was THE FIGHTER, and all the sudden he had an Oscar nomination for best director, and then he did SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and AMERICAN HUSTLE so he had three of those nominations and all the sudden he’s more known as that guy with the glasses at the Oscars than that mean guy who yelled at Lily Tomlin. Things are so good for him now he probly sometimes forgets that he wasted years of his life almost making NAILED.

But now all the sudden there’s this movie called ACCIDENTAL LOVE that’s on V.O.D. and will be on actual video soon. It’s written and directed by one Stephen Greene and it happens to have the exact same cast and premise as NAILED. You may be thinking “Stephen Greene, you hustlin sonofabitch, how the fuck did you achieve what three time Academy Award nominee for best director David O. Russell could not?” Actually my immediate assumption was that some guy named Stephen Greene did that last bit of shooting, slapped the thing together and credited himself as the director. But it turns out there is no Stephen Greene, he’s like Keyser Soze. They let Russell use a pseudonym for this release, which from what I hear takes some doing.

Ha. Both the director and the movie itself wanted to use pseudonyms. (read the rest of this shit…)

Clerks

Friday, March 27th, 2015

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rookies-indieIn doing this series on debut indie features it seemed like I oughta do CLERKS. I remember it being pretty funny. It was never an important movie to me, but it was for alot of people, and seems like a notable step in the evolution of low budget movies turned pop culture phenomenons, for better or worse.

Most of the directors I’m doing in this series went on to become important or great. Here’s the rare indie smash where the director didn’t fizzle out or get much better. I’ve sort of stood up for some of the recent widely panned Kevin Smith films (like TUSK and even COP OUT), but there is no part of me that believes he’ll ever have anything near a DO THE RIGHT THING or an OUT OF SIGHT or even a SCHOOL OF ROCK under his belt. He does not strike me as a born filmatist at all, as he’d probly be the first, second and third to tell you on six different podcasts.

But back in 1994 – the same great film year that gave us PULP FICTION, HOOP DREAMS and ON DEADLY GROUND – he did have a head on collision with the ol’ zeitgeist. He said he was inspired by SLACKER (the zine-like credits also namecheck Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley and Spike Lee). CLERKS has a similar day-in-the-life, people-just-talking approach, but it’s much more scripted than Linklater’s, and it’s kind of the other side of the coin. It’s not the people who have the luxury of fucking around all day with no responsibilities. This is the people who do it while chained to meaningless, low-paying jobs.
(read the rest of this shit…)

Slacker

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

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*first released feature
*first released feature  *first 35mm feature

SLACKER is a landmark independent film of the ’90s, and I thought it was Richard Linklater’s first feature until I rented the blu-ray and saw that one of the extras was a feature length Super-8 movie he did in 1988 called IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO LEARN TO PLOW BY READING BOOKS. But I turned it off before the first shot ended and I don’t think it ever got released before so it doesn’t count in my opinion.

When SLACKER came out at the beginning of the ’90s it was unlike anything I’d seen before. You know how people who don’t know much about movies will say that a movie where they didn’t like the plot “has no plot”? This one actually for real has no plot, it’s just a camera floating through Austin watching people talk. Then somebody will leave the conversation or someone else will walk by and the camera will go with them and watch something else.

Some of the conversations are very one-sided. The two conspiracy nuts (one JFK specific, one all over the map from early moon landing to mind control) seem particularly Aspergersy. It’s funny to watch two guys walking along a sidewalk or riding in a cab for several minutes and one of them is doing a monologue and the other one never says a damn word. They’re all stone-faced non-actors so they don’t always convey whether they’re being very open-minded and actually listening, or if they’re just politely waiting for it to stop. (read the rest of this shit…)

Hollywood Shuffle

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

tn_hollywoodshufflerookies-indieHOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE is the definition of a D.I.Y. movie. Comedian Robert Townsend got tired of fighting for the shitty roles that Hollywood had available to him as a black man, so he ran up his credit cards to produce and direct his own movie, casting himself as Bobby Taylor, an actor not quite yet tired of fighting for the shitty roles that Hollywood has available to him as a black man. But it’s also a sketch movie in kind of the way UHF was later. The main story tangents into parody TV shows and fantasy sequences and stuff where he gets to play different roles.

Bobby is auditioning for what seems at first like a bit part as a mugger or something, but I guess it’s supposed to be the title role in a movie called JIVE TIME JIMMY’S REVENGE. He earnestly practices his improperly ebonic dialogue with his little brother Stevie (Craigus R. Johnson), doing some kind of cartoonish pimp voice and strut that only get worse in front of the white casting directors, cast and filmmakers.

He just goes along with the bullshit like people in the real world do. He treats the #1 sitcom star – who wears a funny bat-shaped hat and mugs up a storm while being swatted at by white people – as a V.I.P. Even in a daydream about being personally boycotted by the NAACP for playing Jive Time Jimmy he’s asked if he makes “those faces” (minstrel show type mugging) in bed, and he answers innocently, “Uh, sometimes.” It works as satire because he doesn’t know any better.  (read the rest of this shit…)

She’s Gotta Have It

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

tn_shesgottahaveitrookies-indie“A nice lady doesn’t go humping from bed to bed.”

I think the last time I saw SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT might’ve been in a theater in 1989. I remember when DO THE RIGHT THING came out one of the theaters here did a double feature of this and SCHOOL DAZE. So I was just learning who Spike Lee was and what he was all about.

All this time later it’s kinda crazy to go back to his DIY jointational debut. It’s the work of a young man trying to prove himself, show his style and stretch his budget while also saying something about relationships between men and women. As much as you can anyway when you’re 28 years old.

It’s in black and white. He plays one of the main characters. His sister Joie is in it (which is her doing him a favor, because she gives the most natural performance in the movie). His dad Bill did the score. It’s not about race, and I don’t think there are even any white people in it. And though you could say it started the black film movement that ended up being mostly about gangs and crime (BOYZ N THE HOOD, MENACE II SOCIETY, STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN) it has no guns or fights in it. (The end credits also boast that there were no drugs or jheri curls in the movie.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Tampopo

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

tn_tampopoRemember when I wrote about the Japanese remake of UNFORGIVEN and THE LAST SAMURAI and I was talking about how great Ken Watanabe is and how I wanted to see him in more things? Well here’s a movie as far back as 1985 where he plays Gun, a stranger who drifts into town and helps out by… well, to be honest he helps a lady improve her noodle restaurant.

And actually he’s not the main guy, he’s the younger sidekick to a truck driver named Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki). He doesn’t have that much to do. But in the opening he’s reading a book about the author eating with an old man who “has studied noodles for 40 years.” The scene illustrates a long, OCD process of eating soup with steps including skimming the surface with the chopsticks “to show it affection,” moving the pork slices and dipping them into the right side for later, and then eventually picking them up and tapping them on the edge of the bowl to drain them, even apologizing to the pork. It’s ritualistic, fetishistic, doesn’t make alot of sense, but it introduces the movie’s worshipful attitude toward food. And toward whatever you choose to value during your days on earth.

As the protagonist pointed out in my book Niketown, food is something you eat and then later you shit it out. But TAMPOPO argues for getting the most out of these basic things. Executing them at the highest possible level, showing them respect, enjoying them. If we could appreciate anything as much as this old man does his bowl of soup we would be living a great life. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tusk

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

tn_tuskI don’t know how it happened but somehow I became the guy that’s more lenient on Kevin Smith movies than everybody else. Back in his hey day when he was a Miramax family member, an indie movement poster boy, a voice of a generation, a director of a movie in the Criterion Collection, a critical darling praised for his dialogue, I used to think he sucked. Here’s an overly harsh one I wrote back when people still seemed to like him (I advised readers not to make eye contact with people who recommend it to them). So I’m as confused as anybody that now that he’s widely hated and semi-retired I keep having an  “actually it’s not that bad” reaction to his “flicks,” as he calls them. COP OUT at least had a couple laughs, and his first horror movie, RED STATE, I actually thought was kinda good and now, I’ll be damned, I kinda liked TUSK too. What the hell?

TUSK is less consistent than RED STATE but a little more inspired in its absurdity. It continues the technique of coasting on an excellent performance by Michael Parks as a sadistic weirdo. This time he plays a retired Canadian proud of his life of rugged adventure and deranged, it turns out, by a long period of being stranded after a shipwreck. What’s that mean, that he had to go cannibal to survive, something like that? No, not quite. It means he got messed up by being isolated with only a walrus as his friend. He called him Mr. Tusk, according to his JAWS style monologue about the incident. And now he’s undergoing unusual measures to get that relationship back. (read the rest of this shit…)