Tag Archives: comedy

Joe Dante’s The Burbs

Ever wonder what your neighbours are up to? Probably nothing, but there’s always that off chance that they are in fact spooky serial killers or occult weirdos. Or not. Joe Dante’s The Burbs plays with this notion of paranoia about those next door and gives us a hysterical social commentary on the white picket fence life while it’s at it for something decidedly different. Stressed out yuppie Tom Hanks is certain that the oddball German doctor family down his block are up to no good, and he whips up the rest of the folks who live around him into a fervent panic with his anxieties. It doesn’t help that the people he’s suspicious of are played by the oddball likes of Henry Gibson, Courtney Gains and Brother Theodore, but he still seems like a delusional schmuck and we’re never really sure exactly what *is* going on until the demented, ballsy ending which makes laugh like hell each time. His wife (Carrie Fisher!) thinks he’s lost it, we think he’s lost it and he desperately scrambles to prove otherwise by gathering any evidence against these dudes with the help of local kid Corey Feldman and persnickety Nam vet Bruce Dern who absolutely steals the show with priceless lines like “Smells like they’re cookin’ a goddamn cat over there!!” This one is a total scream, retaining Dante’s ooey gooey horror roots while almost reminding one of Spielberg/Zemeckis style fright flicks that take place in suburbia. The only thing separating people from one another in a neighbourhood like this are four walls and a roof, and within them anything could be happening right under one’s nose and several metres away, yet unseen. This is Hanks’ worst fear here and Dante plays it’s for absolute hilarity, mirthful menace and glorious black comedy. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

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Kevin Smith’s Tusk

I cant imagine studios giving the green light to anything as fucking deranged as Tusk, so thank god we have Kevin Smith to take the backroad channels through the system in getting it to us. This is one disturbing, bizarre, unclassifiable and defiantly loopy piece of Midnite-Movie horror madness that has to be seen and heard to be believed. It’s also pretty damn entertaining and well done considering, you know, it’s about a serial killer who anatomically transforms his victims into walruses.

Now Smith aside there is one key element that makes the film work, and without it I’m sure this would have been a resounding failure or nowhere as close to the inspired piece of abstract theatre it turned out to be. That element is the late Michael Parks, a brilliant but blacklisted character actor who saw glorious resurrection in both Smith and Quentin Tarantino’s work, bless their nostalgic hearts. He’s a masterful actor that never got his proper due but Smith lets him have a twilight encore here as Howard Howe, a lonely old freak-show who once spent days at sea marooned with only a walrus for company and just can’t let the companionship go. Why he doesn’t go rip off the local zoo and nab the real thing is his business but for whatever reason he sees fit to drug, imprison and mutilate victims to suit his needs. His latest is a brash, asshole podcaster from LA who travels up to Howe’s Canadian neck of the woods to interview him and finds his endeavour getting a bit more hands on than he planned. His fellow podcaster (Haley Joel Osment who first saw dead people and then the McDonald’s drive thru, it seems) and girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) attempt rescue by joining forces with French Canadian Detective Guy Lapointe, played by Johnny Depp in a performance so indescribably, hilariously off key that I could employ every adjective under the sun to impart it and still not quite capture the essence.

“The things your generation can get away with” observes Howe when told about the wonders of the internet and podcasting. He’s more right then he knows because in Parks’ heyday this film would either be buried deep in Grindhouse theatre town or not even made at all. Smith doesn’t half ass this or turn it into a lame SyFy original style monster flick, but takes these characters seriously even when they’re ludicrous and the result is something that defies explanation and shuns derision. Parks gives what might be the performance of his career, finding so many different notes in Howe’s soul that one might write a dissertation on this guy. He’s simultaneously ghoulish, endearing, captivating, terrifying and so over the top he circles back and reaches the realm of subtlety again. Depp is amazing, his Québécois accent a thing of misguided beauty (America’s vision of Canada is always consistently adorable) in several droning monologues that could be performance art. He has a flashback scene with Parks in which the guy uses a retarded vernacular to avoid detection and the whole thing is so maniacally staged it feels like a dream or something. For better or worse I’m glad this thing got made, Smith dives headlong into waters he knows are outlandish but cares not for mockery or ridicule (which he unfortunately gets aplenty) and I admire him for that. I loved this crazy flick, it’s as funny as it is scary and the power that everyone involved finds in a story so bizarre as this is something else.

-Nate Hill

Vacation

This may put me in the doghouse but I found the recent reboot of the Griswold Vacation films to be funnier than the entire original Chevy Chase series combined. The National Lampoon series is a big, clunky, unwieldy beast full of hit or miss humour, really bizarre instances and comedy that has dimmed and dated a lot since then, they’re not my favourite films and I remember fondly only for sheer nostalgia because they’d always show up on TBS Superstation back when I was a kid. This thing goes and totally does it’s own thing though and ends up being fucking hilarious from start to finish, if you have the right sense of humour that is and are open to a severely offensive set of jokes and very R rated mayhem, which is the best way to get me interested in a comedy.

Terminally nerdy Ed Helms plays Rusty Griswold, the grown up kid of Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, who also turn up for third act cameos here. Rusty wants to recreate his childhood vacation to Walley World by dragging his wife (Christina Applegate) and two dysfunctional sons (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins) on a chaotic road trip there, with everything naturally going completely wrong every step of the way. When I say it goes wrong though I mean that in every gross out, humiliating, cringey, scatological, immature sense of the word. The tone here is radically different from the old Vacation films and honestly I appreciated it, jived with it more. The screenwriters just want to make a balls out (literally), hard R, deranged comedy that happens to take place in the Griswold universe and I guess some fans couldn’t handle it.

So what’s funny about it? Well take your pick: Chris Hemsworth as a hysterically sexist cattle rancher with a ten inch cock clearly visible in his briefs, a hot-springs that turns out to be raw sewage dump filled with used needles, relentless sibling bullying, a shady truck driver (Norman Reedus in the film’s best WTF cameo) with a teddy bear hood ornament to lure kids in, a suicidal river rafting guide (Charlie Day), cows getting turned into road kill and much more. If none of that sounds like your picks the you were probably expecting something else and this isn’t gonna be your bag. This ain’t the whimsical, eccentric Vacation aesthetic from the Lampoon films, but that’s alright. My favourite joke involves the Albanian rental car Rusty procures for their trip, an impossibly inconvenient machine with a button that literally blows out all the windows and a NavGuide system that screams at them in Korean, which had me laughing so hard it hurt. Watch for fun cameos from Keegan Michael Key, Ron Livingston, Michael Pena, Regina Hall, Tim Heidecker, Colin Hanks and Leslie Mann as a grown up Audrey Griswold, married to Hemsworth and his magnum dong. This one was a huge winner for me, and while I can appreciate the hate thrown at it when compared to the original films, that didn’t bother me. If you just roll with this vision

-Nate Hill

Remembering Robin Williams: Nate’s Top Ten Performances

Robin Williams left us five years ago this week, and out of all the celebrities, actors and entertainers who have passed on, his absence is still the one I feel most. So what made him so special? For me it was the way he could cut so deep in both serious and comic performances. When he showed up in the room the energy turned light and carefree as the zany, untethered forces of his improvisation and imagination took over like a gentle breeze. Then when it was time to rein it in for a more serious, introspective scene he would be less effervescent but the light in his eyes wouldn’t dim, the focus wouldn’t falter and he’d demonstrate his equally brilliant talent for heartbreaking drama as well. He could carry an entire film on his own, light up a supporting role and even make a cameo glimmer through to become memorable. In looking back I’d like to highlight the ten performances that are most personal, most memorable and mean the most to me as someone who grew up watching him on the TV all the time, idolized and loved him dearly. Enjoy!

10. Adrian Cronauer in Barry Levinson’s Good Morning Viet Nam

No other scenario requires a much needed sense of humour like the fog of war, but Williams’s rebellious spirit isn’t received well by the brass in Nam, yet he makes it clear that a good dose of verbal comedy is exactly what the airwaves need in this case. It’s a no holds barred performance with some touching emotional notes and plenty of slotted time to let loose behind a radio DJ’s mic.

9. Walter Finch in Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia

Cast against type as the freaky villain of Nolan’s chilly murder mystery, he channels a Stephen King style energy in playing a slippery antagonist set against Alaska’s grey skies and at odds with Al Pacino’s sharp but distraught homicide cop. Williams is somehow constantly likeable yet creepy in a way you can’t quite put your finger on until the third act rolls around and he really lets it rip.

8. Parry in Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King

Mental illness gets a ballistic but tender portrayal in Gilliam’s urban fantasy that sees Robin as a former professor of medieval history who loses his mind following a tragedy. Surreal production design helps his work flow but the raw potency is all his in a performance that brings down the house, brings out the best in both Gilliam and Jeff Bridges and shows how a mind broken isn’t necessarily one lost forever.

7. The Genie in Disney’s Aladdin

I’m pretty sure all of the Genie’s dialogue wasn’t even scripted off the bat, I think they just sat Williams down in front of a voiceover mic each morning, gave him a general outline and then slowly backed away out of the room to observe the magic happen. The result is a nostalgic blast of a vocal performance that so many hold dear and one of the most quotable Disney characters of all time.

6. Alan Parrish in Joe Johnston’s Jumanji

Infusing childlike wonder is something he was always good at, and it served well here in playing a guy who has been trapped inside a deadly jungle themed board game since he was a kid. His chemistry with Bonnie Hunt is funny and touching, his feral mania upon being finally released from the game into 90’s suburbia is hilarious and the interaction with young Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce makes for a dynamic character that I always love to revisit.

5. Philip Brainard in Disney’s Flubber

Williams plays an incarnation of the absent minded professor archetype in Disney’s unfairly dismissed comedy. In a film whose star is a rambunctious pile of ever morphing charismatic green goo, trust Williams to defy that description and upstage the Flubber itself with his own wild, inspired performance. But he also gets surprisingly deep when lamenting: “I’ve spent my whole life out there trying to figure how the world works when I should have been trying to figure out *why* it works..” it’s a disarming line to hear him intone in a heartfelt manner from a Disney film, but that’s why I love this one so much.

4. Sean Maguire in Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting

Mentor, friend and advisor to Matt Damon’s prodigal kid, Williams imparts wisdom in clear eyed fashion here as an extremely down to earth fellow faced with an extraordinary situation. His mid film monologue to Damon won him a best supporting Oscar, but the moment that captures this character’s spirit most beautifully is when he wistfully remembers his wife who passed away, and injects some humour into the conversation that was purely Robin’s improvisation and as a result hits the scene home.

3. Rainbow Randolph in Danny Devito’s Death To Smoochy

Devito’s venomous farce of children’s media is a criminally undervalued and quite terrific film, and Williams goes into full on nut-bar mode as a disgraced kiddie show host who never should have been let on the air to begin with. Trying to kill Edward Norton’s beloved rhino Smoochy in between bouts of rage, flagrant insecurity and maniacal mood swings, it’s an incredibly ballsy, thoroughly R rated and absolutely hysterical piece of black comedy performance art not to be missed.

2. Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire in Chris Columbus’s Mrs. Doubtfire

The lengths that loving father Williams goes to in order to see the children he lost custody of here would be horror movie material in any other actor’s hands, but because Robin was so adept at both wacky innovation, disguises and genuine heartfelt explanations for such behaviour, the result is both magical and realistic. The restaurant scene alone is time capsule worthy, in which Hillard has to multitask and hop in and out of the Mrs. Doubtfire suit rapid fire to both have a family dinner and entertain a scotch swilling TV exec (Robert Prosky).

1. Chris Nielsen in Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come

A gorgeous fantasy film showcases Robin in his most deeply felt and affecting performance as a man who has lost everything including his own life. He ventures out across the afterlife through heaven, hell and beyond to find his wife and soulmate (Annabella Sciorra) and save her. Williams portrays celestial determination like no other and a fierce, passionate love for her that shines like a beacon through realms of the astral plane and lights up the film in the process.

Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoy and hold Robin’s work as dear as I do, and have enjoyed my thoughts here.

-Nate Hill

The Sweetest Thing

I’ve always liked The Sweetest Thing, a deranged sex comedy from the female perspective that has the winningly bonkers personalities of Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate and Selma Blair to make it something memorable, if not that original. This got royally shit upon by critics and while I’ll concede that it’s slight, airy stuff without much to say overall, there’s no denying it’s hysterical energy, lovable chemistry between the three leads and overall enjoyable lunacy.

Diaz, Applegate and Blair are three early thirties party girls in San Francisco, all looking for that special guy or at least one to have fun with for the night until he comes along. Diaz is the ruthless player of the bunch, and as the film opens we see a montage showing all the guys she’s dumped, one and done-d and left in the dust, until one night at a club she meets her match in Peter (Thomas Jane), a seemingly perfect guy who vanishes later that night, leaving her with a bunch of what-ifs in her head and the desire to track him down. With Applegate’s help she embarks on a mini road trip to find him, while Blair has some raunchy misadventures with her boyfriend (Johnny Messner) and his massive dong. Others show up along the way including Parker Posey, Frank Grillo, Lillian Adams, James Mangold, Johnathon Schaech and Jason Bateman as Jane’s goofball brother.

I think this wasn’t received well because most super crude sex comedies are done from the male perspective, and there’s this reluctance or uncomfortableness when it’s perceived the other way round, which is sort of unfortunate and not at all a fair or honest angle. These three chicks know how to have fun, love to party and are a blast to watch onscreen, especially seeing the insanity apparent in their group dynamic, which if seems excessively zany for a group of girlfriends, trust me.. it’s not. There’s some really raunchy stuff like a semen stained dress getting licked by an elderly dry cleaning owner and a dick piercing getting snagged down a girl’s throat during a blowjob, and don’t get me started on The Penis Song. It’s all in good fun though, and the guys get to have a blast too, as we see Jane and Bateman at a driving range whacking balls at the hapless groundskeeper who wears a confederate flag hat. Not a great film, but definitely a hilarious one and worth it to see Cameron, Christina and Selma clearly having about as much fun as you can in front of a camera.

-Nate Hill

Mrs. Doubtfire

Ever watch Mrs. Doubtfire lately? Some 90’s films haven’t aged all that well in the years since, but if anything this one has improved, and endured as a sterling classic. What was it about Robin Williams that made him such a dynamic, magnetic and beloved artist? The list is long but for me it was his uncanny, intuitive ability to feel his way around a scene using both dramatic tenderness and that wildly energetic comedic mania that was his trademark. There’s this childlike earnestness when he’s expressing himself in a serious or sorrowful scene that is so damn genuine, and the unbridled mayhem in comic sequences interplays in a delicate balancing act that no one has ever replicated.

Here as voiceover actor and loving father Daniel Hillard he proves that he’ll go to any lengths for his three children (Lisa Jakub, Matthew Lawrence and Mara ‘Matilda’ Wilson) including elaborately disguising himself as a late middle aged British nanny just so he can spend more time with them. This is thanks to his makeup whiz of a brother (The lovable Harvey Fierstein) and ends up fooling everyone including the kids, his ex wife (Sally Field) and even her swanky new suitor (Pierce Brosnan, clearly having fun). The thing is, in the hands of almost any other actor this would be some creepy ass shit. I’ve even seen some spoof trailers on YouTube that recut this to look like a horror flick. But Williams was so talented and put his heart into it to the point that the concept just sells, and feels real despite being completely nuts on paper.

There’s two scenes that sort of cement both his character here and the kind of magic he was capable of on camera as an actor.

In a drab divorce hearing he pleads with the stone faced judge to let him have equal custody, lamenting that he can’t exist without being near his children and the emotion clouding his face feels immediate and organic. Later he has to rapidly switch in and out between the Mrs. Doubtfire disguise to fool a cantankerous social worker (Ann Haney) into believing he’s got his shot together. It involves slam dunking his face into a cake to mask the fact that he accidentally whipped his real mask out the window, and it’s absolutely hilariously inspired work that really illustrates his gift for delirious comedy. He had a long and varied career in film, but this has to be one of the showcase ventures. Aside from his work there’s a breezy, laidback San Francisco vibe and lovely work from a supporting cast including Polly Holiday, Rick Overton, Paul Guillfoye, William Newman and jolly old Robert Prosky as a scotch swilling network TV kingpin.

There’s also a surprising maturity in a narrative that could have easily patronized and pandered to the younger audience. There are core lessons to be learned that are never preached but written in seamlessly and the ending doesn’t cop out or cave in like many films would and do, but remains steadfastly rooted in this bittersweet situation, feeling all the more genuine for it. Williams is the rock, heart and soul of it but it’s a classic all across the board.

-Nate Hill

Mike Judge’s Idiocracy

I finally got around to watching Mike Judge’s Idiocracy (I know, shame me) and I couldn’t believe how hilarious and scarily on point this fucker is. Luke Wilson plays the most painfully average dude (life imitates art in terms of his onscreen charisma) who is frozen by the military along with a hooker (Maya Rudolph) and following one hell of a clerical error, wakes up five centuries into the future where it seems that stupid people have been breeding like rabbits and humanity has become a lot… stupider.

This is obviously a satire with a heightened sense of reality, but the themes, jokes and visual representation of dumbed down culture are just somehow so terrifyingly prescient that one has to squirm in equal doses as chuckle. The future has become a polyester soaked, energy drink saturated, lowbrow humour wasteland of mammoth Costcos, gladiator level monster truck rallies that serve to ‘rehabilitate’ dissidents and all intellectualism has been deemed too ‘faggy’ by the general population. The highest rated television show is called ‘Ow My Balls’, the film to sweep the Oscars is ‘Ass’ and it’s just that for two hours although in the golden age of indie surrealism that may be close to the mark in a way that Judge didn’t intend lol. People have names like Beef Supreme, Frito and, in the President’s case, ‘Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Comacho’, and if I for any reason ever need a formal name change, it’s going to be that. He’s played by Terry Crews by the way, who actually would be a decent choice to run for real.

I keep describing the future here because the world building and lampoonery that Judge traffics in is so goddamn fucking funny and engaging that that’s really all you need to keep the momentum of this thing going, and plot be damned. There is a plot though, as soon as everyone figures out that Wilson is pretty much the smartest dude on the planet, and they rely on him to fix a world run amok. Wilson is in a sense the perfect actor to headline this story; there’s this wide eyed, childlike incredulity he exudes in every situation that is almost funnier than anything he’s gawking at, plus he’s just this side of likeable. Rudolph is hysterical as the braindead hoe who takes advantage of their situation and eventually learns a thing or two as well, but not how to paint. Dax Shepard does a comedic turn for the ages as Frito, a ‘lawyer’ who tags along with Wilson & Co. and acts as guide to this underworld of asininity, giggling at toilet humour and scarcely uttering anything past a few blunt syllables. Watch for cameos from Justin Long, Patrick Fischler, Thomas Haden Church and Judge regular Stephen Root.

So, *is* this film a documentary? Lol not quite, but I can see the angle from which that lament comes from. But you know, one time I was staying with friends in the Fraser Valley, which for those who don’t know is the more rural regions outside the big city where much of the ‘monster truck’ crowd have settled. I was in the kitchen asking my friend’s mom where I could find a glass for water, to which she laughed, opened the fridge that was stocked only with pop and said “we’re not really a water drinking household.” I feel like it’s that mentality that Judge skewers here and maybe what feels so close to home, as well as the overall collective forces of dumb that pervade our world every day, from the news to pop culture to entertainment media and everything in between. I’m not sure why this got so buried on release, I remember noticing it in Blockbuster way back when and noting that it went straight to video. That sort of relegated it to being a cult classic instead of an outright classic but that’s okay too. In any case this is a detailed, brilliant, hysterical farce on humanity at its most extreme and pitiable, laced with Judge’s trademark droll deadpan, a dazzling visual mood-scape and lively performances from all. Great film.

-Nate Hill