Tag Archives: comedy

Shawn Levy’s Date Night

Date Night… could have been a hell of a lot worse, I guess. I’m trying to be nice here as there were parts I enjoyed but overall it’s fluff in the wind, thanks to an unwillingness to go the extra mile and give it the R rating it deserves. It’s got one killer cast, I’ll give it that, and a few scattershot scenes that work. Let’s be real though, any film that so obviously wants to pay tribute to Scorsese’s After Hours should be ready to suit up and get as weirdly dirty as that one did, instead of playing it safe in the brightly lit, cookie cutter candy aisle of comedy. Steve Carell and Tina Fey are certainly matched with chemistry here and are a spunky, underdog couple to spend the night from hell with. They’re both kinda like that one kid in the friend group that ends up being the butt of all the jokes, and then found each other, got married and doubled down on that awkward energy. A lot of these madcap stories start with a case of mistaken identity, which is what happens when Carell brazenly snags another couple’s reservation at the hottest dinner joint in town. Just their luck, the other couple happens to be Taste and Whippet (yes those are their names) a deadbeat, dysfunctional pair of ratchet gutter rats played hilariously by James Franco and Mila Kunis. Before they know it, they’re chased by a couple of dangerous hit men (Common and the underrated Jimmi Simpson) who think they owe money all over town. Also pursued by a relentless detective (Taraji P. Henson), the real conflict comes from seeing the couple unravel and their issues come pouring out until the collective hangups they have with each other are funnier and seem more pertinent than the fact that they’re running for their lives. The cameos in this thing are endless and include Mark Ruffalo, Kristin Wiig, JB Smoove, Leighton Meester, Mark Wahlberg, Gal Gadot, Bill Burr, Olivia Munn, Jon Bernthal and more. My favourites were Ray Liotta and William Fichtner as a mob boss and a corrupt DA, sneakily echoing their respective roles in the Grand Theft Auto games. This could have been a really balls out, irreverent flick if they had pushed the envelope and not slapped it with such a pansy ass rating. As it stands it has some really funny moments and a good energy overall, but every time I think about it I just imagine what could have been, had a little more freedom in creativity and content been given.

-Nate Hill

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Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie

Roger Ebert made it clear that Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie doesn’t even make it into his most hated canon of flicks (a hard enclosure to gain access to as the guy was a pretty fair critic right to the end). A small part of me sees the exasperation in a guy who took his cinema seriously. But most of me, especially the parts that enjoy humour so off the wall and bizarre that I’d be labelled just as far on the spectrum as the two demented wunderkinds behind this ninety minute freak show, loves it. You have to be a special kind of deranged to enjoy Tim and Eric’s brand of humour; the words abstract, surreal and extremely bizarre come to mind, but that doesn’t begin to cover the maniacal parade they’ve whipped up here. One thing does fascinate me though: since the very beginning when they first got their show rolling (Great Job!), they have been a magnet for some of the most prominent and prolific talent in Hollywood’s comedy arena, scoring cameos from the likes of Will Ferrell, Jeff Goldblum, John C. Reilly and more. That tells me that a lot more folks than you might think have an innate affinity for this extreme brand of shock humour and madness than would care to admit, and that when it comes down to it, humans organically produce their own humour in this weird, abstract fashion that’s much more natural than most scripted, constructed comedy we see in film. The humour here is so far into the stratosphere of weirdness that it understandably made a lot of folks uncomfortable, but that just makes the whole thing funnier. The ‘plot’ is just a series of running gags loosely connected by Tim & Eric owing a billion dollars to the Schlaaaaang Corporation (run by William Atherton and Robert Loggia in one of his last movie roles). They skip town and decide to take up Will Ferrell on his offer to be caretakers of a giant dilapidated shopping mall, after a few back to back viewings of Top Gun. The mall is host to a whole array of weirdos and insane people including slightly retarded Taquito (John C. Reilly), snarky sword salesman Allen Bishopman (Will Forte), a man who sells used toilet paper, Bob Ross, a bunch of hobos, oh and a wolf too, among others. Don’t expect it to make much sense, that’s not the Tim and Eric way. Just expect to be shocked, disgusted, disoriented, appalled, and if you’re tuned into the right frequency, to laugh your ass off. Their outright deliberation in pushing boundaries of taste and coherency no doubt had people running from the theatre and demanding money back in droves, but as Mia Wallace iconically put it, don’t be a 🔲. The real endurance test is when Ray Wise (Twin Peak’s Leland Palmer) shows up as a nutso self help guru whose brand of treatment (Shrim!) really goes to some gag-worthy places. Other notable cameos include Jeff Goldblum as (wait for it) ‘Chef Goldblum’, Johnny Depp, Zach Galifianakis, Mark Cuban and Bob Odenkirk. It’s a weird world, and in a genre that routinely isn’t weird enough, plays it safe and sticks to the often bland script, we need guys like Tim and Eric to shake shit up, open their bag of tricks and assault audiences with their very specific, certifiable brand of comedy. Buckle up.

-Nate Hill

Broken Lizard’s Super Troopers 2

Broken Lizard’s Super Troopers 2 has the monumental task of being one of those sequels that comes around so far after the fact that it has to do something different than it did the first time around. It does that. It also has to live up to fan expectations without just retreading all the same paths and taking the easy, self derivative route. It also does that, and quite successfully too. I’ll just clear the air: I loved it, I thought it was a fucking blast, and hit all the right notes you’d expect and wish for. It’s different than the first, amping up the rowdy, maniacal tone even further and going for broke, but never exhausting itself or getting too shrill. It’s been a good long while since the first, and the gang has naturally managed to get themselves fired from their Vermont city cop gigs following an incident involving Fred Savage, who I only know as the mole guy from Goldmember. The main event here is the discovery that a small Canadian town is actually on American soil, so the Vermont governor (Wonder Woman) hires crusty Captain O’Hagen (Brian Cox, having as much of not more fun than he did the first round) to rally his troops and oversee the transfer of power, which includes a trio of buffoonish Mounties (Will Sasso, Hayes Mcarthur and Vancouver’s own Tyler Labine), a manic Rob Lowe, sexy Emanuelle Chriqui, a rogue grizzly bear, copious amounts of narcotics, throwbacks to jokes from the first that actually work, endless jabs at the metric system and all manner of… shenanigans. I think us Canadians can get an extra kick out of it seeing ourselves represented in the most hilarious, over the top fashion you can imagine, exaggerated accents and all. The three Mounties have a demented running joke regarding Danny DeVito that had me choking on my beer. Rob Lowe has an inspired gift for comedy and sending up his own image, his casting here was a brilliant move. As for Rabbit, Ramathorn, Foster, O’Hagen, Mac and ever ridiculous Farva, I got both misty eyed and nostalgic seeing them raising hell, causing shit and being the beloved idiots we remember so fondly, back to give us second helpings of their consistently funny, always surprising brand of eclectic humour. There’s a couple priceless cameos in the prologue that I won’t spoil but I’ll say that it was awesome to see ma boy Clifton “Whup ass fajitas” Collins Jr. show up in the Broken Lizard multiverse. It amazes me that they’d even need to crowdfund something by this troupe, because from the first Troopers flick to Beerfest to The Slammin Salmon, these guys are just riotous and some of my favourite comedic filmmakers in action these days, I really hope this skyrockets them to the big leagues once again.

-Nate Hill

Johnny English

Johnny English is kind of like James Bond, except his stairs don’t quite reach the attic. The bumbling spy comedy has seen many different iteration, from foppish Clouseau to classy but dense Get Smart, but English is my favourite of the bunch because it’s blessed with the star power of Rowan ‘Mr. Bean’ Atkinson, a man who’s so funny that he’s still hilarious when he’s not even trying, or even attempting a serious role. There’s something about his impish, mischievous, pointedly smug yet somehow friendly visage that makes him perfect for comedy. Johnny English is the Crown’s last hope, a hapless desk jockey shunted into the field of MI6 work when literally every other active agent is killed in a failed op. Atkinson plays him to a note: resoundingly confident and assured of his skill, charm and charisma, yet endlessly, unbelievably stupid in every situation he enters. Parachuting onto the wrong building, royally fucking up a London vehicular pursuit, accidentally shooting a poor secretary with a knockout serum from a ballpoint pen, the list goes on. If there’s a carefully planned mission or set piece, it exists solely for him to bumble through and screw up spectacularly, like a room full of dominoes set up for a toddler to decimate. He’s up against one of the most ridiculous villains cinema has ever seen, a ‘jumped up Frenchman’ called Pascal Sauvage, some fruitcake billionaire who wants to turn the UK into a giant prison after he’s stolen the crown jewels and quite literally the throne as well. He’s played by John Malkovich in a L’Oréal worthy wig and spluttering out a French accent that’s so terribly misguided it makes his Russian one from Rounders sound half-legit, and if you’ve seen that film you’ll know what I mean. You need a villain as idiotic as the hero in this type of thing though (McGruber understood that well), and it’s a pleasure to watch ever eccentric pompously send up his own image with good cheer. There’s also a sexy Bond girl, or rather ‘English girl’, who’s eons smarter than the man as well and played by Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia. This is silly stuff all round, non of it believable in anything but a satirical fashion, but it’s great fun, carried by Atkinson’s effortless prancing antics and some genuinely hilarious set pieces. My favourites are when he has to pretend to be retarded to get out of a sticky situation that was naturally his own fault to begin with, and when he actually flips on the palace loudspeakers for Sauvage to hear his whole plan as he whispers it to his sidekick, Malkovich’s exasperated reactions are inspired. There’s a sequel, Johnny English Reborn which is fun but not quite up to this pedigree, and a third one coming out this year that I’ll be checking out as well.

-Nate Hill

“I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of … feel kind of invincible.” : An Interview with W.D. Richter by Kent Hill

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To talk about W.D. (Rick) Richter, is to talk about one of my all-time favorite films, Big Trouble in Little China. It is, to put it simply, one of those films that comes along (not so much anymore) once in a generation. As we know in this age of remakes, reboots and re-imaginations, there is a very good chance that this film, because of its staying power and built-in fan base, will more than likely resurface with Dwayne Johnson playing Jack Burton. Just like Hansel in Zoolander he is, as far as the Studios are concerned, so hot right now!

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And you can be your bottom dollar that it will try like hell to recapture the magic of what was – and more than likely – crash ‘n’ burn in its attempt to do so. I might be wrong. Because, BTILC, was and is what is often referred to as a “happy accident”. What began as a seemingly awkward combination of a western with a plot that involved Chinese black magic became, thanks to my guest, a glorious blending of genres that there is really no recipe for.

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I rarely get nervous doing interviews, but I was glad to be sitting down for this one. When the person on the other end of the line had a hand in creating a couple of the seminal film of one’s existence . . . it is tough to play it cool, plus for the first time in a long time, I found the need to have my questions written, rather than merely see what the conversation would provoke. Primarily because I knew I was only going to have a limited time, and secondly because during our email exchanges prior to the chat, I found Rick to be extremely matter-of-fact and, wishing not to have the interview published in audio form, he merely wanted to be concise and not ramble on as, he says, has happened in the past.

So I sat and pondered questions. Having read other interviews with him in the past, before he’d stepped away from the business, the focus was on the films he had released at the time and didn’t really get below the surface. Off the record, we spoke about a few of the things that were beneath the polished exterior of the press kits, but that was not all that interested me. There have been many books and articles on his films, as well as many having excellent special features and commentary tracks which mine their depths – so I wasn’t going to waste time there.

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In the end I waited till the last minute and scribbled down the first questions that popped into my head. Some of course are elementary, but one or two I’ve had on my mind for a while.

Well, it took a long time, but sometimes, good things do. It was well worth the wait and the frustrating silences in between messages from Rick’s friend who very graciously made the introductions, and I, as a fan first, was humbled, honored and thrilled at the prospect of speaking to yet another film-making idol of mine.

While Rick, early in our email exchanges said, “I prefer to let he films, for better or worse, speak for themselves.” I am and will be forever grateful he took the time to talk a little about his work. In the end I wasn’t nervous or scared at all . . . I felt kind of invincible.

 

KH: Did you always want to work in movies and if so what were the films which influenced you?

WDR: First I wanted a paper route.  Then I wanted to run a circus.  Then I thought about pursuing a career as an English teacher.  Then I thought, “Why not aspire to become an actual tenured English professor?”  But, by the time I got to college, graduate film programs were springing up here and there.  Having loved movies since childhood, but never imagining there was a route available into the business, I suddenly saw a way to pursue a career in film in a structured, sensible way.

I went to a lot of movies of all kinds as a kid, but mostly B horror films from the mid-fifties through the mid-sixties.  In 1964, I saw DR. STRANGELOVE and in 1965 THE LOVED ONE.  They suggested a new direction and deeply influenced me.

KH: How did you break in to the business?

WDR: I wrote screenplays at USC, and one of them secured me an agent.  I then worked as a reader for Warners and wrote on the side and continued to do so when Warners and Irvin Kershner let me work as his assistant while he was prepping DIRTY HARRY for Sinatra.  That project fell apart, but a spec script I’d written, SLITHER, got to the director Howard Zeiff, and he set it up, odd as it was, and we shot it.  Presto!  I was a produced screenwriter.

KH: Your early career was full of greats like Dracula, Body Snatchers and your Oscar nod for Brubaker. How much does momentum play a factor in one’s career (films coming out and performing well) as well as recognition for one’s talent?

WDR: Actually, none of those films did perform well, but they were respected, and, as a result, I was respected as a young writer with perceived potential.  You must remember that during the seventies and eighties eccentric characters in unusual, small stories were nothing Hollywood ran screaming from.  That came later.

KH: You are a part of two of my favourite films of all time with Banzai and BTILC. How do you feel as an artist to be remembered for singular works rather than your entire body of creativity?

WDR: I’ve never given much thought to being “remembered”.  After all, sooner or later, this whole planet is going to be forgotten.

KH: If people want the skinny on Banzai, you have already provided an excellent commentary. What I would ask is, did you ever see Kevin Smith’s Q & A whose guests were Weller and Lithgow, and how did you feel about possible versions of the continuing story of Banzai?

WDR: I thought Kevin did a spectacular job that evening, and it was nice to learn how much the movie shaped him.  As long as Mac Rauch is involved, I feel quite confident that a “new” BUCKAROO could be as startling as the original.

KH: BTILC was ahead of its time, in my opinion. What I’ve always wanted to know is, what the “western version” was like prior to your work on the script, and how much of the finished film remains your work?

WDR: The “western version” just didn’t work for anybody, sad to say.  It all seemed too distant…the Old West and the Asian occult, etc.  So I proposed moving it to a modern, familiar setting and swapping the hero’s horse for a big rig.  The pitch went over well, and, with a writers’ strike looming, I dug into the challenge of creating a contemporary script in about seven weeks, choosing to do that with a somewhat dim but hopefully lovable hero at the center.  The finished film stayed absolutely true to my screenplay, apart from the inevitable ad libs here and there.  Jack Burton’s John-Wayne cadences, though, are definitely nothing I wrote or endorsed.  John and Kurt settled on that themselves.

You asked me prior to this conversation: “Did you write the line or was it improvised: I feel pretty good. I’m not, uh, I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of… feel kind of invincible?”

Turns out I did write it.  I wrote the whole script furiously in longhand in several spiral notebooks, and a typist transcribed them into script format.

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KH: There was a significant gap between Home for the Holidays and Stealth. I have interviewed many writers who talk of these periods. They say, it’s not that I wasn’t writing, it’s just my scripts weren’t getting made. Was that true of your career at the time?

WDR: Definitely.  I had movies actually green-lighted then cancelled when directors went over budget in pre-production.

KH: I understand Stealth was a troubled production.

WDR: STEALTH was just a bizarre and massively unpleasant experience.  Directors and location scouts shouldn’t rewrite writers, if you want my opinion.  Kind of like Presidents shouldn’t tweet.

KH: Did your involvement end after the writing?

WDR: The “writing” never really stopped.  I was removed from the picture several times when my revisions failed to please the director.  But I was repeatedly brought back by the studio to pull the script back from the brink after the director (who shall remain nameless) had worked it over again in his spare time.  It’s the only film I’ve had made that, with great care, I kept my distance from during production and through release.

KH: I also love Needful Things. What was it like to adapt King?

WDR: Crazy.  The book is 690-pages of single-spaced prose.  My script was 124 pages, and you know how much “air” there is on a script page.  I figured that if one were to retype the novel in a crude screenplay format, it might easily hit 1000 pages.  So I lost roughly 876 pages while trying to keep King’s story and mood intact.  I have no sense of how that worked out because I’ve never reread the book, but I always imagined a looser, grittier, less-arch movie.

KH: Any advice you would give to a struggling screenwriter – not unlike myself?

WDR: Write.  Write.  Write.  But always try to imagine the movie itself playing to paying strangers.  Why would they — or you! — want to watch it?

KH: Sir it has been a profound honor to converse with you. I cherish the moment and humbly thank you.

WDR: Thank you, Kent. Take care.

The Farrelly Brothers Dumb & Dumber To

I might catch some royal shit for this, but I loved Dumb & Dumber To, the Farrelly Brother’s decade’s later follow up to pretty much one of the best comedies of all time. It’s different; meaner, raunchier, a tad more meta and way less down to earth than its predecessor, it seems to be almost universally projectile vomited upon by critics and loyal fans alike. Fuck em if they can’t take a joke, because there’s no arguing that this one isn’t funny. In bad taste? Sure, but so was the original in its own 90’s way. Less charming? Maybe, but suck it up. Discontinuous to the nature of the leads in the original? Granted,

but it’s been like twenty years and the filmmakers/actors have changed as artists. Bereft entirely of valuable, effective humour? Not a chance. Just be thankful we got something to erase the pungent memory of Dumb & Dumberer, a prequel wholly undeserving of the legacy’s name. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are a little older and a little more leathery, but they’re still Harry and Lloyd, the two dim witted pioneers of mid 99’s gross out humour and buddy comedy shtick, resurrected for a brand new adventure. After a prologue where Harry rescues Lloyd from a care facility (that catheter is a wince moment), they’re off to find Harry’s daughter (Rachel Melvin) who he spawned with the notorious Freida Feltcher, brought to life by none other than Kathleen Turner in full hoe mode, she’s a face I haven’t seen in movies for years. There’s a half baked crime melodrama unfolding around them just like in the first one, and just like then, they’re too dumb to get what’s going on, a running joke that villains Laurie Holden and Rob Riggle (doing a double shift) carry amiably enough, but they’re no Joe Mental or Nicholas Andre, let’s be real. The highlight for me was when Harry and Lloyd bumble their way onstage at a TED Talk-esque (updating set pieces for a new millennium) as judges, and hurl moronic criticism at every invention that graces the desk. It’s not the same as the original but it’s been years, after all. The Farrelly’s have always been about distasteful, raunchy, whacked out humour that aims low and beats the laughs out of you, which is exactly what I found to be on display here. Vastly undervalued.

-Nate Hill

Danny Devito’s Duplex

I will never not love Duplex, Danny Devito’s jet-black ode to neighbours from hell, a ninety minute domestic squabble of epic proportions and one of the funniest films of the last few decades. Devito knows how to do comedy at it’s meanest, lowest and most shamelessly un-PC, whenever he’s in the director’s chair you know you’ll get something that will either land squarely with those who have a deranged sense of humour (moi) or drive of the prudes in droves. Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore play a hapless NYC yupple (yuppie couple, just made that shit up) looking for their perfect little love nest to settle down in. They think they’ve found it in a gorgeous, spacious Brooklyn split-suite, but there’s just one problem: sweet, ninety year old Mrs. Connolly (Eileen Essell), who is the tenant equivalent of the plague. At first she’s a benign darling, but after a few weeks pass, she’s a harridan hellbent on making their lives into an extended nightmare of never ending chores, sleepless nights and maddening disruption. The solution? Well there’s many in the real world, but in Demented Devito realm it’s to kill her, of course, an eventual resolution they come to quicker than your average ruffled landlord. It’s all in good fun if you’ve got the wicked internal lens to angle at it, and I find it to be a consistent laugh riot with each repeated viewing. Essell is comic dynamite, pretty spry for an old gal and always game to make the dialogue sizzle, as the film sort of relies on her character to work. Stiller and Barrymore stir up a collective brew of exasperation and screeching hysterics, while the wicked good supporting cast includes Wallace Shawn, Robert Wisdom, Justin Theroux, Swoozie Kurtz, Maya Rudolph, Amber Valletta, Tracey Walter, Michelle Krusiec, James Remar as a shady hitman and Broadway’s beloved Harvey Fierstein as New York’s sleaziest real estate tycoon. Devito’s scripts almost always veer into a dark, bizarro cartoon style once the antics get feverishly out of hand, and bearing witness to the many varied and idiotic ways Stiller and Barrymore try to kill the old broad are a showcase of him at his nuttiest. Gross, unpleasant, cheerfully in bad taste, relentlessly raunchy and delightfully mean spirited, pretty much all the things a great comedy should be.