Tag Archives: comedy

88: The Trip (2011)

A gentleman friend and I were pregaming at a cute West Village bar before going to see The Trip  last week, and when it turned out he didn’t know anything about it, I summarized it thusly: “Two guys take a trip together, and one’s really chipper and the other one’s cranky… sort of like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.”  That’s how the movie is marketed — I really had to hunt to find a still that wasn’t Rob Brydon laughing maniacally and Steve Coogan looking harassed — but the two movies are so dissimilar it’s hardly worth the comparison.  All they have in common, other than subject matter, is that they’re both hilarious in their own way.

 

What I love about The Trip is how finely nuanced the relationship is between Brydon and Coogan, who play more or less fictionalized versions of themselves.  Fundamentally they’re very different people — Brydon is a family man who’s content with the measure of commercial success he’s achieved, while Coogan is a womanizer who’s still hungry for his breakout role as a leading man — but their dynamic is never just one note.  Both characters take turns sliding in and out of annoyance, admiration, jealousy, indignation, and affection, often in the course of a single scene.  I love it when movies let their characters be more than one thing and feel more than one thing toward one another, especially comedies, which often fall back on stereotypes for easy laughs.

Oh yeah: The Trip is also completely hysterical.  Coogan and Brydon spend most of their time in the car or in restaurants trying to one-up each other with their impersonations of other actors or riffing on each other’s ideas (the scene that begins with them talking about wanting to film a costume drama in the picturesque hills they’re driving through almost made me pee my pants).  The riffs are hilarious as stand-alone vignettes, but what gives the humor an extra layer is the underlying competitiveness that makes them want to pass their time together doing Michael Caine impersonations in the first place.  There’s a quasi-double-date scene in which both men try to impress two women with the same routines that they’ve been trying out on each other in the car, and the women are polite but clearly not impressed.  Not to get too meta, but I think the real humor and the real pathos of The Trip comes from each man’s awareness (or lack thereof) of his comedic skills and the ways each of them uses humor to get what he wants.  Both men go on a metaphorical journey to complement the physical one, and the end of the film is pretty literal about the different places each of them ends up.  I appreciate the balls it took to end a comedy on a darker note, but it also came across to me as a bit preachy about the dangers of putting one’s personal life on hold for the sake of one’s career, which, as a happily single lady, I take issue with.  That’s not to say that Coogan doesn’t choose the bleakness he gets saddled with — by that point, it’s no mystery how he got there.  I just wish Winterbottom had carried the subtlety of the first hour and forty minutes through to the end of the film.

All that said, it’s a very funny and very quotable film that sticks with you longer than your average comedy.  Go see it on a date like I did, and try not to think about the fact that Steve Coogan looks like a Muppet and still manages to get laid more than you do.


87: Midnight in Paris (2011)

One of my friends likes to say, when he’s particularly enamored with a play or a movie, “I want to live in that.”  What I love about Midnight in Paris is that in telling the story of a man who desperately wants to lose himself in another time and place, it gives us a world we want to lose ourselves in as well.

Owen Wilson plays affable writer Gill, who travels to the City of Lights with his shrill harpy fiancee (Rachel McAdams) and her stodgy parents.  While everyone else complains about the rich food and the confusing streets, Gill falls in love with Paris and starts fantasizing about staying there instead of going back to his screenwriterly life in LA.  But it turns out the boundary between past and present is more permeable than anyone imagined when an antique Bentley pulls up alongside him at the stroke of midnight and offers him a ride back to the Paris of the Roaring Twenties.  This is the sort of movie that rewards you for having paid attention in your college lit classes (and I’m assuming you all did) — I won’t spoil any of the jokes because the surprise is half the fun, but I will tell you that my favorite one almost slides under the radar during a party scene, and it made me glad I audited that Women in Literature class senior year.

Everyone’s falling over themselves to praise this little gem, and deservedly so — it’s completely charming without ever resorting to cuteness, and I loved that.  Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard are both cast so expertly that neither one seems to be acting at all.  Corey Stoll as Hemingway gets some of the best dialogue in the movie and he doesn’t waste a single word — his intensity is somehow funny and melancholy at the same time.  I actually think Rachel McAdams does an admirable job reaching back into her Mean Girls reserves and pulling out the cattiest, brattiest bitch she can summon up, but I wish she hadn’t been given such a thankless role.  At no point in the movie is there even a hint of whatever spark initially drew these characters together — she’s never even nice to him, for god’s sake.  Not that I haven’t seen couples in real life treat each other this way, but I think the movie would’ve been more poignant if she had a single redeeming quality that might make Gill conflicted about whether or not to stay in Paris without her.

Is it weird for me to call this a romantic movie you should see alone?  At any rate, I was glad I could lose myself in it without distractions.  Oh, who am I kidding — go see it with your loved one and be glad their parents have never shown up at your hotel door in their bathrobes.


84: Innocent Blood (1992)

So this was a fun little surprise!

I only put this on my queue because I missed it at the vampire movie festival at BAM last fall, and it really is just a bit of fun, but there’s not a thing wrong with that.  Anne Parillaud plays Marie, a lithe vampire vixen on the prowl for a meal and maybe some tail on the side, and she hits on the brilliant idea of preying on the mobsters who are wreaking havoc on the streets of Pittsburgh.  It works great until she tries to chow down on the big boss man himself (Robert Loggia) right after he’s eaten garlic, which seems like kind of an amateur mistake for a vampire lady who’s been drinkin the blood of many nationalities for centuries, but whatever.  The point is, she doesn’t quite kill him, so he wakes up in the morgue with a meat thermometer sticking out of his side and a craving for raw beef.  Coincidentally, a cop (Anthony LaPaglia) who’s been undercover with the family for two years suddenly blows his own cover for no good reason and enlists Marie’s help after the mobster boss goes rogue and starts biting his underlings (played by EVERY ITALIAN WHO HAS EVER BEEN IN A MOVIE) on the neck.  Her sexiness and superhuman strength make her a good crimefighting partner, but when she decides she’s in the mood for some sweet lovin’ as well, things get a wee bit cooomplicated!

So in case you can’t tell from my confused rendering, the plot makes no sense whatsoever.  Anthony LaPaglia’s character is completely extraneous to the story, and there’s no reason for him to out himself as a cop during the first act, since his target is Frank Loggia’s character, who’s still very much at large.  It’s also never clear why Marie is willing to do just about anything to defeat Loggia’s mobster-turned-vampire — I like that she has a conscience and doesn’t, as she puts it, “play with [her] food,” but there’s really no foundation for the levels of self-sacrifice she rises to.  And pretty much every plot twist that serves to throw her and LaPaglia together feels contrived and silly

So why did I give this movie four stars on Netflix? (it’s true, I did!)  I will tell you.  First of all, the two leads are absolutely sparkling, and they have fantastic chemistry.  I already knew young Anthony LaPaglia was a fine piece of manflesh who can also act, but to my shame I didn’t recognize the luminous Ms. Parillaud from La Femme Nikita (which in fairness I saw many years ago), and she’s more than a match for him.  Yes, she looks fantastic naked, and their sex scene manages to be funny without stooping to making fun of either of the characters.  I’m also a sucker for powerful women, and they don’t get any more powerful than Marie the vampire, who jumps off a church tower, lands on LaPaglia’s car, caving the roof in completely, and then walks away without a scratch.  And for all the jumbled meanderings of the plot, the idea is a solid one.  There’s something inherently funny about Italian mobster vampires, and my boy John Landis gets it pitch-perfect.  Most of the special effects are pretty terrible, but there’s an amazing and terrifying death scene when one of the vampires (Don Rickles!) accidentally gets into a wayward patch of sunlight — I couldn’t even put the still of it up here because it’s too damn scary.  And it wouldn’t be a John Landis movie without some gratuitous celebrity cameos — this one doesn’t have the same embarrassment of riches as The Blues Brothers, but Frank Oz has a few lines as the coroner, and Sam Raimi is hilarious as a daft meat locker employee.  Make no mistake: this is no Let the Right One In, but it’s good silly fun with a surprisingly sweet love story thrown in.


81: Tiny Furniture (2010)

Few movies have left me as confused as Tiny Furniture, a meandering portrait of pampered post-college ennui.  Not that there’s much to puzzle out about the story, such as it is: Aura (writer-director Lena Dunham) returns home to TriBeCa after four years at a liberal arts school in Ohio to sponge off her artist mom, reconnect with her drama-queen best friend, blunder her way through cringe-worthy romantic snafus, and generally figure her shit out.  What confounded me so much was the “why”s of the film: why this character?  Why does she do what she does?  Why is this chunk of time so vital to her formation of a self?  Why is her hair so ratty?

 

I suppose that’s a compliment, to say this movie raised more questions than it answered.  Its sparseness and intimacy certainly set it apart from the usual Oscar-season offerings, to say nothing of the big-budget holiday blockbusters.  But uniqueness of vision alone does not a good picture make, and the flaws in this particular film outweigh the stuff it got right, at least for me.  Much has been made of the semi-autobiographical content of the picture and of Dunham’s decision to cast herself as the protagonist and her real-life mother and sister in their corresponding roles in the film.  So I’ll confine myself to saying that I was OK with her mother and sister playing themselves but found Dunham herself painfully awkward to watch onscreen.  The larger problem I had with the film was its almost complete lack of conflict, tension, progress, or anything else that resembled a plot.  To be fair, I think “people talking about stuff” is a perfectly valid film genre, and some of my favorite movie moments involve characters talking about things that never come up again during the rest of the movie.  The reason it doesn’t work for me here is that the subject of all the dialogue is the film’s central non-event: the protagonist’s quarter-life crisis.  Instead of showing us Aura’s frustration and lassitude by having things happen to her, she does nothing and then picks fights with her family that revolve around everything she’s not doing.  She’s not “into” anything, as she confesses to her douchey sous-chef crush after getting high with him; and with the exception of this scene, she doesn’t seem to want to be into anything.  In fact, it’s never clear that she wants anything at all, except maybe to sleep with the sous-chef.  Again, the quarter-life crisis is just as valid for subject matter as anything else, but I think the film would’ve been better served with this concept as an underlying theme rather than as the “event” around which all the film’s non-action revolves.

OK, OK: there are some good bits.  The dialogue is pretty funny when it’s not overly cute or self-conscious; and Jemima Kirke, one of the only professional actors in the cast, is hilariously outrageous as Aura’s childhood friend.  I also liked the relaxed cinematography and the elegantly composed shots of Aura’s mother’s apartment (which, to be fair, is probably pretty elegantly composed to start with).  But as a whole, the film didn’t work for me as anything more than a journal entry written during a time of drastic upheaval in the life of its creator — she needs perspective.  Here’s hoping she finds it in time for her next installment.


80: Son of Rambow (2007)

One of the first Netflix reviews of Son of Rambow begins “OH MY.  WHAT A DELIGHT!”  Can’t argue with that!  Or you could, but why would you want to?

In all seriousness, this is one of the most hilarious and adorable movies I’ve ever seen.  Will is a shy nerdy kid whose family belongs to a strict religious sect that forbids him to watch TV or movies.  When Lee, the school delinquent, gets hold of Will’s notebook full of vibrant sketches and cartoons, he enlists Will’s help in making a movie inspired by Rambo: First Blood.  All sorts of boyish mischief ensue and everything’s going along swimmingly until a too-cool-for-school French exchange student, Didier, requests roles in the movie for him and his entourage.  They start to elbow Lee out of the production, which he understandably resents.  In the meantime, Will’s strict mother gets wind of her son’s heathen new hobby and threatens to send him away to live with her fuddy-duddy gentleman friend so he’ll be better supervised.  Will the young auteurs’ vision prevail?

I was probably unfairly biased to love the crap out of this movie, since one of my happiest childhood memories is of making amateur shoot-em-up movies with my brother.  But even if you didn’t have the same experience, it’s a difficult film not to love.  The child actors all give disarmingly natural performances, especially the kids who play Will and Lee.  It’s also a beautiful and interesting film to look at, with animations of Will’s drawings superimposed over the regular shots in order to show how he imagines the world.  Normally I don’t use verisimilitude as a standard for cinematic excellence (i.e. “I liked X movie because it was true to life”), but in this case I think Son of Rambow deserves a special shoutout for its portrayal of the manic vividness of the childhood imagination.  It’s a difficult thing to illustrate without making the kid seem delusional or schizophrenic, but they pull it off beautifully here — using the same sketches we saw earlier in Will’s book is a good move.

The movie’s light touch is what keeps it from veering into sappy or under-13-only territory.  The soundtrack is mostly pop songs from the early 80s rather than sweeping orchestration, and while it’s impossible not to love the wee protagonists to bits, we’re clearly never supposed to find them cool.  When everyone’s likable and everyone also gets made fun of, the audience always wins!


78: Batman: The Movie (1966)

So I can’t in good conscience devote a proper review to this redonkulous bit of fluff.  Come on: it makes Beach Blanket Bingo look like Citizen Kane.

What I will do is strongly encourage you to watch it, either A) in a large group of like-minded individuals, or B) accompanied by the Film Sack commentary track (notice there was no option C for watching it alone).  You  should probably be drinking heavily as well.

In the words of Scott Johnson, “Oh my hell.”


Day 55: The Producers (1968)

This turned out to be the perfect movie to watch when I was home from work with a hangover mysterious illness.

I trust y’all know the story, right?  An aging Broadway producer (Zero Mostel) and his accountant (Gene Wilder) come up with a scam to oversell shares in a musical that they know will be a flop and then abscond with the money (which would never work in real life, BTW).  They think they’ve succeeded when they dig up the worst script of all time (Springtime for Hitler) and put it in the hands of the worst director and actors of all time.  Unfortunately, they veer off into the realm of so-bad-it’s-good and end up with a runaway smash hit that they’ve already sold 25,000% of the profits to.  Eeek!

I actually didn’t know this was Mel Brooks’ directorial debut (well played, Mel!).  Like most of his other movies, it has that unmistakable aura of having sprung from the mind of a twelve-year-old boy trapped in a middle-aged Jewish man’s body.  Which is a compliment, in my book.  Gene Wilder steals the show as Leo Bloom, the hilariously awkward accountant-turned-con-artist (hmm, there’s a career path for you…).  And if you’re a book nerd like some of us, you’ll enjoy the literary references scattered through the movie (one of the rejected scripts is The Metamorphosis, which Zero Mostel deems “too good.”).