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Archive for the ‘Comedy/Laffs’ Category

Ricki and the Flash

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

tn_rickiBefore we get back into the Lucas-Minus-Star-Wars series I wanted to play a little catch up. Here’s one of my favorite movies of last year, and I bet most of you haven’t considered seeing it.

In RICKI AND THE FLASH Meryl Streep (BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY) plays the broke-ass leader of a California bar band who’s on an unlikely mission to Indianapolis to cheer up her daughter Julie (Streep’s real daughter Mamie Gummer), because her husband left her. One thing is, Ricki abandoned the family years ago to follow her rock and/or roll dream, and they never forgave her for it and rarely talk to her. But Julie’s gotten so bad that her dad Pete (Kevin Kline) gets desperate enough to break that emergency glass. It’s a fish-out-of-water story where the fish has no money and has to stay in your guest room and you don’t want her there but you try to be polite and also you have to pay for her cab.

Ricki is a rare and precious thing, a lead role for an actress – an older actress, even – that gets to be complex and flawed and also funny (not to mention sing and play guitar!). She’s a strong personality and also a mess and possibly racist and hates Obama and also it turns out she knows how to be a good mother and friend. I mean, now she does, but where the hell was she before? With this cause healing, or only increase resentment? Streep, not surprisingly, goes to town with the role and seems to be having a great time. (read the rest of this shit…)

Chi-Raq

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

tn_chiraqCHI-RAQ (Chicago + Iraq, pronounced shy-rack) is the Spikiest Spike Lee Joint achieved so far. It seems like whatever itch Lee was trying to scratch with those musical numbers in SCHOOL DAZE has been building up for all these years until it exploded onto the screen like that inflating dude in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Lee must’ve woke up one morning and said fuck it, I’m gonna make a movie that’s so Spike Lee it turns into Baz Luhrmann.

Let me tell you a few things about how heightened and crazy this is. It has musical numbers. It has dance numbers. It has a rap number that breaks into a gun fight precipitated by an argument depicted in onscreen text messages. It has an army of women in chastity belts performing a sexy choreographed group lip-synch to “Oh Girl” by the Chi-Lites (maybe my favorite scene). The two rival gangs wear purple and orange, and are called the Trojans and the Cyclops Spartans, whose leader is Cyclops (Wesley Snipes wearing a red-sequined eyepatch). There’s an explicit reference to THE WARRIORS so you know Spike knows what this reminds us of. (Also Luther himself, David Patrick Kelly, is in it.) All of this is presided over by a fourth-wall-breaking narrator played by Samuel L. Jackson wearing fly suits, spinning a cane and reciting toasts and dirty jokes like Dolemite. That’s not just me reading into it, because he’s called Dolmedes and he references Shine and the Signifying Monkey.

Oh, by the way: all of the other characters speak in rhyme also. So that’s pretty different from most movies. (read the rest of this shit…)

More American Graffiti

Monday, December 7th, 2015

tn_moreamericangraffitilucasminusstarwars1977 saw the release of George Lucas’s third film, STAR WARS. It did well. But the experience of making it was troubling enough to make Lucas rethink his dream of directing films. He decided to redirect his energy toward producing for other directors, and in fact he didn’t direct again for 22 years. But in 1979, as an executive producer, he brought back the characters from his second film.

I’m not gonna try to convince you that it was a good idea to make a sequel to AMERICAN GRAFFITI six years after the first one, but this is a much better sequel than I was figuring on. Definitely more interesting and ambitious than you would guess. I bet what happened was they wanted to do MORE THX-1138 but when the first one wasn’t a hit they rewrote the script for these characters.

While REGULAR AMOUNT OF AMERICAN GRAFFITI dealt with the cultural shifts of the ’60s by nostalgifying the times right before the a changin’, this one actually dives straight into the muck. The first thing you see is army helicopters over Vietnam, and there are more hippies and protests in this one than cars cruising the strip. It still doesn’t deal directly with the civil rights movement, but there are hints.

The impressive part is the structure. We find the gang back together on New Year’s Eve, 1964. Laurie (Cindy Williams) is now pregnant with twins, married to Steve (“special appearance by Ron Howard,” but it seems like a genuine role to me, not a cameo). Debbie (Candy Clark) and Terry the Toad (Charles Martin Smith) are still together, but he’s shipping out to ‘Nam tomorrow to “Kick ass, take names and eat Cong for breakfast.” They all come visit their cool drag racer friend John Milner (Paul Le Mat) at the track, where he’s trying to win races, attract a sponsorship and build a legit driving career. So it seems like it will be another day-in-the-life with this group of friends as they’re all on the verge of major life changes. (read the rest of this shit…)

American Graffiti

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

tn_americangraffitilucasminusstarwarsI honestly had never seen this movie until now. So this will likely be the last George Lucas directed movie for me, unless he ever goes through with making those inaccessible art movies he always says he wants to make. AMERICAN GRAFFITI is different from the other ones he directed  because it’s the only one that’s not in space or in a futuristic dystopian worker colony under the earth. At least as far as is revealed in the text. Also it’s his only directorial work that has, like, wall-to-wall jams by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and The Platters and people like that. Maybe he shoulda done that trick on ATTACK OF THE CLONES to make the young love go down easier.

Yeah, it’s weird that this is a really distinctive, personal and hugely influential film that was Lucas’s big breakthrough in Hollywood, and then he never did anything much like it again. He just let other people make Happy Days and shit while he was tinkering in the FX lab.

I’m not sure what the title means exactly, but it’s kinda too bad they used it for this because it would’ve made WILD STYLE seem more epic and important. This is the story of a bunch of Los Angelenos Modestenos graduating high school in 1962, and having one last night out together before some of them leave to begin their adult lives. Curt (Richard Dreyfuss playing a teenager just two years before JAWS!) is supposed to leave for college on the East Coast the next day, but he’s getting cold feet. Steve (Ronny Howard, later star of Happy Days) is also leaving and wants to convince his younger girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams, later star of Happy Days spin-off Laverne & Shirley) that they should still technically be together but also see other people. Terry (Charles Martin Smith, later in THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY) is a huge nerd who borrows Steve’s awesome car to drive around and impress people. And John Milner (Paul Le Mat) isn’t going to college, so to him it’s another night as the tough guy cruising for girls in the area’s most badass yellow drag racer. But then he gets tricked into picking up somebody’s little sister Carol (Mackenzie Phillips), cramping his style. (read the rest of this shit…)

Magic Mike XXL

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

tn_mmxxlMAGIC MIKE XXL is a movie about a group of musclebound dudes going on a road trip together to enter a big competition. Along the way they pick up girls, get drunk, get high, meet new friends, reunite with old ones, repair old wounds, learn lessons, fall in love, get laid, confess vulnerabilities, get in a wreck, go to a hospital, all the things you would expect. And yet it feels one-of-a-kind in its attitude.

Like the first MAGIC MIKE this stars and was produced by Channing Tatum, inspired by his past as a “male entertainer,” or stripper, and written by his friend Reid Carolin. People don’t seem to remember this, but Tatum was kind of the co-lead of that first movie, trying to get out of the game while showing the ropes to The Kid (Alex Pettyfur), who ends up becoming a drug addict, turning the fun times into a cautionary bummer. I liked the movie but the sequel is significantly better for ditching The Kid and focusing on Mike taking a vacation from his designer furniture company to get in a food truck with the boys and take One Last Ride to Myrtle Beach.

The team is no longer led by Matthew McConaughey as Dallas. That sounded like a problem when the news first got out, but it’s actually an asset. With his character no longer there to absorb all your attention the movie gives way more shine to the other dancers, especially Joe Manganiello (SABOTAGE) as the towering, abrasive but large-hearted doofus Big Dick Richie, and Matt Bomer as the eyebrow plucking pretty boy Ken, who reveals a funny New Agey side. Like all of their eccentricities they tease him about it but also accept it. True friendship. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Return of the Living Dead

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

tn_rotldThere are a bunch of movies that I consider among my very favorites, that I refer to all the time, and then when I try to make a link to them in another review I realize what in God’s name, how have I not officially reviewed the greatest zombie movie ever made by somebody who is not named George Romero? And what does this say about me as a person?

Not being made by Romero was actually kind of the whole point of this one. Romero and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD co-writer (and infamous 30th Anniversary Edition maker) John Russo disagreed with Romero about how to do a sequel. Romero thought it should be one of the best movies of all time and Russo wanted to go a different direction. So Romero made DAWN OF THE DEAD and Russo wrote a book called THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD which apparently starts with a bus crash in a small town where the locals aren’t able to impale the brains of the dead like they usually do. (The book is very rare and pricey so I haven’t read it for myself).

The film rights ended up with Tobe Hooper with DARK STAR star/Jodorowsky’s DUNE would-be effects guy/ALIEN writer Dan O’Bannon working on the script. When Hooper left to do LIFEFORCE instead O’Bannon took over as director and rewrote the whole thing to be more humorous and have nothing to do with the book. (Russo got a story credit along with Rudy Ricci, another Romero buddy who wrote THERE’S ALWAYS VANILLA and was one of the bikers in DAWN OF THE DEAD. In the end Russo wrote the novelization of the movie that came out of the book that he wrote in order to make into a movie.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Battle of the N.W.A Parodies, part 2: Fear of a Black Hat

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

tn_fearofablackhatThough both were filmed in 1992, FEAR OF A BLACK HAT came out a year after CB4. It had a harder mountain to climb because it was a more independent movie without major movie or TV stars, big names on the soundtrack or celebrity cameos. The most recognizable actor in it is Larry B. Scott from REVENGE OF THE NERDS and SNAKE EATER II: THE DRUG BUSTER.

It’s the directorial debut of Rusty Cundieff, who also wrote it and stars. He’d previously written HOUSE PARTY 2, and we know him as an actor in 3:15, HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE and SCHOOL DAZE. He went on to direct TALES FROM THE HOOD and alot of TV, including 25 episodes of Chappelle’s Show and one of that Clueless show we discussed a few weeks ago. I remember he was also a correspondent on Michael Moore’s show TV Nation, and I have just learned that his one credit as a TV writer is one 2009 episode of CSI: NY. That’s weird.

Ice Cold (Cundieff), Tone Def (Mark Christopher Lawrence, CRIMSON TIDE, HALLOWEEN REMAKE II) and Tasty Taste (Scott) are the popular gangsta rap trio N.W.H. The “H” stands for “Hats,” because their trademark is wearing big silly hats. Unlike CB4, this one is fully documentary style, so throughout the movie they get to talk to the camera explaining their work, sometimes cutting to clips of videos and performances, or following them backstage, etc. The director and interviewer is Nina Blackburn (Kasi Lemmons, VAMPIRE’S KISS), who puts up with alot from them but is smarter than them, like the Source writer in CB4.

(And before we go on, you’re right, this is not as N.W.A-specific as CB4. Obviously they get the name from them, and they have a song called “Fuck the Security Guards.” But really they’re a mish-mash of every notable rap group of the time, from Ice-T to fuckin PM Dawn.)

(read the rest of this shit…)

Battle of the N.W.A Parodies, part 1: CB4

Monday, August 10th, 2015

tn_cb4CB4 is the comedic story of a fictional West Coast gangsta rap trio out of not-real Locash, CA. They exist in the same world as N.W.A (Ice Cube and Eazy E both appear as themselves in documentary style interview segments) but also they’re kind of supposed to be N.W.A. They dress like them, they have a similar “world’s most dangerous group” image, their videos are shot-for-shot imitations of N.W.A videos, and their hit song “Straight Outta Locash” is done over the music from “Straight Outta Compton,” but nobody accuses them of being a rip-off. Their song is not as good, in my opinion. They copy Cube’s line “Straight outta Compton, crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube” not just once, but before each verse. Watering it down.

One of the more brazen boasts is “I fucked your sister, I fucked your cat / I would’ve fucked your mom but the bitch is too fat,” which is absurd enough, sure, but it’s not as deviously clever as Eazy’s actual line, “Straight outta Compton / is a brother that’ll smother your mother / and make your sister think I love her.”

One difference from N.W.A: they don’t have an exploitative white manager from outside the world of hip hop. They have Trustus (Willard E. Pugh, THE COLOR PURPLE, ROBOCOP 2).

Another one: these guys aren’t exaggerated characters based on their real lifestyles. They’re straight up phonies dressing up like gangstas as a gimmick after their corny Native Tongues copycat act didn’t catch on. And they, uh, pretend they were in prison, which they weren’t , and that gets them into some awkward situations. Hmm. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Witches of Eastwick

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

tn_witchesofeastwickGeorge Miller’s THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK is from a John Updike novel, adapted by Michael Cristofer (THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES). It’s a comedy about women in small towns, not the #1 topic I want in a George Miller movie. And yet it’s very much a George Miller movie. The town of Eastwick could be the New England sister-city to the location-less town in BABE. Looks old fashioned and storybook-like, people act nice and family-oriented, but many of them are uptight and judgmental of non-conformists. The title trio don’t intend to get involved in witchcraft, and when they do that’s not even what turns them into pariahs. It’s actually just them being accused of being hoes.

Our heroines are women left single in three different ways: Alex (Cher) is a widow, Jane (Susan Sarandon) just finalized her divorce, and Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) was simply abandoned with her pack of daughters. They’re all kind of sad about their situations but they have each other, they hang out together and vent and have fun. When they’re real old I’m sure they’ll have cheesecake together and then open a hotel in Miami called The Golden Palace. (read the rest of this shit…)

Clueless

Monday, July 20th, 2015

tn_clueless

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…)