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Archive for the ‘Comedy/Laffs’ Category

Zola

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021

ZOLA tells a wild road trip story that, I feel, doesn’t amount to much, but it’s worth it for the ride, and for the telling. The big hook is that it’s based on the 2015 “now iconic series of viral, uproarious tweets” (source: A24films.com), something that’s not only emphasized in the marketing, but noted on screen at the beginning. The official onscreen title is @zola (which is actually the Twitter handle of some wedding company, not author/protagonist A’Ziah “Zola” King), the main characters are often looking at their phones and monotonously speaking aloud their texts to each other, and there’s a notification sound heard frequently throughout the movie – I was never really sure if it was meant to be diegetic or not. Admittedly all that sounds stupid, but when it comes down to it this is really just “based on a true story.” Not even entirely based on a true story told in an unusual medium, because a Rolling Stone article about the whole affair…

Zola Tells All: The Real Story Behind the Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted

…is also credited as source material.

The story is about Zola (Taylour Paige, MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM, soon to be in the TOXIC AVENGER remake), a Hooters waitress and sometimes stripper, agreeing to take a road trip to Florida to get some money dancing with a crazy white girl she just met named, in the movie version, Stefani (Riley Keough, MAGIC MIKE, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD). Turns out this bitch (get used to it, that’s what they call each other, both lovingly and not so much) is also planning for them both to turn tricks when they get there, and things get out of hand. It’s a true crime story, but not of a crime normally considered significant enough to get a movie, even including the two most harrowing parts, which were fictional. But that kind of makes it cooler. (read the rest of this shit…)

Riders of Justice

Monday, September 20th, 2021

I think RIDERS OF JUSTICE, a Danish film technically released in November 2020, is my favorite movie I’ve seen this year. It plays off of some genre traditions and themes that interest me, but it feels unlike anything I’ve seen before, and it was exciting to discover that as I watched it. So this is one of the reviews where I have to start by suggesting you take my word for it that it’s a truly special movie, stop reading, go watch it, and then come back. But I know most people won’t do that, so I’ll start by explaining what the movie is and warn you before I get into heavy spoiler stuff to analyze the meaning with those who have seen it.

From the description on the box this sounds like a straight up revenge movie, which you know I would be down for. Markus (a heavily bearded Mads Mikkelsen, VALHALLA RISING) is a soldier pulled off duty in Afghanistan to take care of his teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) after his wife (Anne Birgitte Lind) dies in a train crash. Then a survivor of the crash tells him it might not have been an accident, so they put together a team of computer experts and try to track down who’s responsible.

That is indeed the basic plot, and Markus does end up using his particular set of skills (mostly shooting) on a whole bunch of people. But I wouldn’t really say that’s what this is about. It’s not even about “Revenge will only make things worse,” even though it does illustrate that and deconstruct some of the relevant tropes pretty thoroughly. But I swear to you it’s something much more thoughtful, complex and soulful than just a revenge or anti-revenge movie, as much as I tend to enjoy those sorts of things. (read the rest of this shit…)

Unlucky Stars

Monday, September 6th, 2021

UNLUCKY STARS (2015) is a no-budget indie action movie in this pretty new and rare category of fan-made action movies. That’s kind of selling it short, because these are legit, accomplished stuntmen, martial artists and choreographers, and it’s designed mainly to showcase their work. But they’re also all about throwing in little movie homages and cameos in a way more common to no-budget horror. Like they have a detective agency called Golden Harvest Private Investigations (with the Golden Harvest logo and everything), Simon Rhee has a cameo and is apparently meant to be his BEST OF THE BEST character Dae Han, J.J. “UNDISPUTED II” Perry shows up, there’s a running gag about a reality show for action stars in rehab (and apparently Amy Johnston is on it at some point? I didn’t spot her), and the ending seems to set the heroes up to live the plot of WHEELS ON MEALS.

Oh, and also two of the main characters are supposed to be fringe action stars. Jose Montesinos (director of 5 HEADED SHARK ATTACK) plays Tomas De La Cruz, “Peru’s biggest action star,” who has a $15,000 gambling debt and is trying to do another movie to get it. Sari Sabella (NIGHTMARE WEDDING) plays Sameer Yousef, a Jordanian martial artist who gets fired from his first American movie and sinks into his obsessive De La Cruz fandom. (read the rest of this shit…)

Barton Fink

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

“He’s poor, this wrestler! He’s had struggle!”


It used to be that August was a time for studios to release a bunch of movies they thought were bad or didn’t have high expectations for. You know, they release ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES and T2 early in the summer, hoping young people and families will go repeatedly throughout the summer. Once it gets closer to school starting up again there’s less chance for that, so that’s why in the year in question we were seeing weird rooster cartoons and weird dog cartoons and weird dog live action movies and weird Mickey Rourke movies.

Many things in the world of pop culture were shifting that month. While on the Lollapalooza tour, long-time goth fixtures Siouxsie and the Banshees actually actually made it onto the Billboard charts for “Kiss Them For Me.” (By the next summer they’d have a song in a Batman movie.) Pearl Jam released their first album. LaKeith Stanfield was born. But also Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do” love theme from ROBIN HOOD was still the #1 song!

This particular August ended with kind of a whimper – CHILD’S PLAY 3 (still the weakest Chucky movie four sequels later) was released on the 30th. But I thought I should end this review series on the August 21, 1991 release that happens to be one of the weirdest but also best regarded movies of the season. If I had to compare it to another ’91 movie I’d have to say it reminds me most of THE DARK BACKWARD, of all things. Well, and I case some fire stunts reminded me of BACKDRAFT. But those are stretches. This one stands alone. (read the rest of this shit…)

True Identity

Monday, August 30th, 2021

August 23, 1991

As we’ve discussed earlier in this series, the summer of ’91 was pivotal for the emerging Black film movement of the era. BOYZ N THE HOOD was the seismic event, but we also had Bill Duke directing his first theatrical feature, a new one from Spike Lee, and a heavily hyped drama made by a 19-year-old director in a Brooklyn housing project with some credit cards. So it’s only fitting that one of the last movies of the summer was a studio film from the Black director of an acclaimed indie.

Charles Lane had written, directed, and starred in a 1989 film called SIDEWALK STORIES, about a homeless artist in Greenwich Village who takes care of a little girl (played by his daughter) after her father is murdered. Partly an homage to Charlie Chaplin’s THE KID, it’s silent except for the last scene. Roger Ebert loved it, it was nominated for Independent Spirit Awards for best director, first feature and male lead, and according to Wikipedia it won the audience prize at Cannes, though I haven’t been able to verify this. The point is, it was respected.

So here we are three years later and Lane is directing a major Touchstone Pictures comedy with the very mainstream premise “What if a Black guy had to pretend to be a white guy?” It stars the British comedian Lenny Henry (BERNARD AND THE GENIE) and is written by Andy Breckman, a (white) Late Night With David Letterman and SNL writer who had scripted MOVING, ARTHUR 2: ON THE ROCKS and HOT TO TROT. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mystery Date / Pure Luck

Tuesday, August 24th, 2021

August 16,1991

The only thing I remembered about MYSTERY DATE was that Gwar was in it. It’s a once-crazy-night movie where this kid Tom (Ethan Hawke, EXPLORERS) nervously takes out his crush Geena (Teri Polo, BORN TO RIDE) and tries to impress her, and they end up at a place called Club Voltaire during a Gwar show. We briefly get to see them roaring and thrashing and performing a cartoonish decapitation – pretty great choice for the “band that would seem intimidating to these people” scene. (In Keanu’s THE NIGHT BEFORE it was Parliament-Funkadelic.)

What I did not remember is that Tom finds a dead body in his trunk, accidentally kills a cop, and gets in a war with the Chinatown mafia. I thought it was gonna be a normal horny romantic comedy type deal.

Tom is a shy recent high school graduate. Since he looks like Ethan Hawke they don’t try to pass him off as a total nerd – he wears a Los Lobos t-shirt and has posters of The Stranglers, The The, Elvis Costello, UB40, and that Lynda Barry “Poodle with a Mohawk” cartoon, all suggesting he’s, like, a guy who listens to college radio or whatever. But he doesn’t make it clear what other passions he may have, save for this “mystery girl” next door (I think she’s housesitting?) who he spies on through a telescope (unethical). He lives in the shadow of his brother Craig (Brian McNamara, SHORT CIRCUIT), who’s at law school, and his parents’ dog, who they’ve taken out of town for a dog show. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Commitments

Wednesday, August 18th, 2021

August 14, 1991

THE COMMITMENTS is the story of a wannabe music manager in Dublin convincing his friends (all white) to put together a soul cover band. The conceit is that ’60s soul music is beautiful and “honest,” that working class Dubliners have more in common than they realize with the African-Americans who created this music, and that the novelty of white Irish people pouring their hearts into these beloved songs would be a cute and fun way to celebrate them in the context of a comical underdog story.

This is one of Mrs. Vern’s favorite movies, so I wanted to be open to it, but I definitely rejected the idea at the time, not taking any serious offense or anything but just under the belief that at best white singers can do pretty good soul music. Dusty Springfield was a one off and Amy Winehouse was 9 years old at the time so it just seemed delusional. I imagined some kind of “let’s all clap for these white people pulling off pretty good soul music” story of triumph for people who don’t generally listen to the real thing. (read the rest of this shit…)

Bingo

Tuesday, August 17th, 2021

You may have thought I was done with the weird dog movies of summer ’91 after the ROVER DANGERFIELD (plus 101 DALMATIANS re-release) review last week, but if so you forgot all about the live action division. August 9, 1991 also saw the release of BINGO, a pretty odd movie about a kid whose family moves, leaving behind a dog he had secretly befriended, E.T. style.

It’s directed by Matthew Robbins, who as a writer contributed to George Lucas’ original THX 1138 short and Spielberg’s SUGARLAND EXPRESS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and as a director gave us CORVETTE SUMMER, DRAGONSLAYER, THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN and *batteries not included. He doesn’t have a credit on the screenplay here – that went to newcomer Jim Strain.

Bingo is a dog who lives with a circus. One day he has to fill in for an injured poodle, but he freezes when he’s supposed to jump through a flaming hoop – a flashback tells us that his mother was killed in a pet store fire. (I sincerely love the shot of puppy Bingo mourning at his mother’s grave [with flowers!] like he’s Bruce Wayne or somebody.) His trainer Steve (Simon Webb, one episode of MacGyver) tries to shoot him, but Bingo escapes because Steve’s Peg-Bundy-looking-wife Ginger (Suzie Plakson, MY STEPMOTHER IS AN ALIEN) at least briefly sympathizes with him, telling him to run away and “Do whatever makes ya happy!

(read the rest of this shit…)

Doc Hollywood

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021

August 2, 1991

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate watching DOC HOLLYWOOD 30 years later. But jesus christ, this type of movie. Michael J. Fox (CLASS OF 1984) stars as Dr. Benjamin Stone, an arrogant Washington D.C. emergency room doctor who gives it all up to become a plastic surgeon on the other coast. “Okay, question: Beverly Hills, beautiful women and plastic surgery – what do these three things have in common? Me, in less than a week,” he says to another doctor, clearly convinced this is a fuckin cool thing to say. And then he puts on his LEON-style round glasses, gets a bunch of gum and toothpicks to chew on, and hops in his red ’56 Porsche Speedster to head for the 90210.

But on his cross country drive (during which he laughs at how fucking awesome he is when he drives on a shoulder to pass a bunch of traffic) he crashes literally into a white picket fence and is forced to to do community service at a small country hospital in “the Squash capital of the south” on “the buckle of the Bible Belt.” Seems like a pain in the ass at first, but then he Learns a Valuable Life Lesson and/or Discovers What He Really Wants Out of Life. (This story was later remade as Pixar’s CARS and Vanilla Ice’s COOL AS ICE.) (read the rest of this shit…)

The Dark Backward

Monday, August 2nd, 2021

Before I start one of these retrospectives I research the movies that came out during that summer and put together a schedule. But in the course of doing 1991 I keep stumbling across movies that seem worthy of looking at that I missed because they were limited releases, TV movies or DTV and didn’t show up on any of the release date lists I looked at. So when I realized Adam Rifkin’s THE DARK BACKWARD played on one screen starting July 26, 1991 I thought I should backtrack a little to cover it.

For those not familiar with it, it’s a forcefully weird and uncomfortable comedy that was a favorite of mine in the ‘90s, one of those movies I rented on VHS and made a dub of to show to people who had never heard of it, which was most people. It was Rifkin’s first script ever, written at age 19 after moving to L.A. to try to become a director, made when he was in his mid 20s, and it’s a sense of humor and world view that admittedly appealed to me more when I was closer to that age. But it’s such a distinct and unadulterated vision I can’t help but still kinda love it. (read the rest of this shit…)