Tag Archives: comedy

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

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“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.

Blue Streak

Blue Streak is one of those flicks I’ve probably seen a couple dozen times, whether I’m tuning in intently, comforted by it as zany background noise, viewed on a lazy summer afternoon or a cozy rainy day in. It’s just about as fun as action comedies get, blessed with an adorably implausible story, packed with both notable comedians and a legion of genre talent and speckled with charming action sequences, just the right blend of over the top and entertaining. I don’t give a wet shit what anyone thinks, I love Martin Lawrence to bits, I think he’s one of the best comedic actors of his day, and never fails to put a smile on my face with his exasperated, frenzied persona and motor-mouthed cadence. He’s petty thief Miles Logan here, leading a crew of hapless jewel thieves including Dave Chappelle, John Hawkes and reliably villainous Peter Greene, who double crosses the lot of them in attempts to make off with the loot. Forced to stash a big ass diamond in the air ducts of a building undergoing construction before a stint in the slammer, Miles is released from jail, maniacally frustrated to learn the completed structure is now… an LAPD police station. What ensues is one of the silliest gimmicks in film history: Miles fakes a heap of impressive credentials, successfully impersonates a high ranking officer and infiltrates the ranks of LA’s finest in hopes of snagging that rock from the air vent. Of course, a risky shtick like that is never as simple as planned, especially when both tweaked out, hilarious Chappelle and murderous, scary Greene blow back into town looking for him. The real value lies in his interaction with all these cops though, which borders on Mel Brooks style satire it’s so cheeky and unbelievable. Rookie Luke Wilson and salty vet William Forsythe are tasked with babysitting him as he blunders from scene to scene, and via his inherent street smarts, accidentally starts solving cases and making arrests, when he’s not discreetly turning perps loose out the back door of the station. It’s a full blown laugh riot in areas, numbingly juvenile in others, but never short of a blast to sit through. The cast is peppered with wicked supporting turns from Graham Becker, Octavia Spencer, Nicole Ari Parker as an ice queen defence attorney, Frank Medrano, Steve Rankin, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Olek Krupa and more. To take this film seriously is to unwittingly brand yourself a chump, missing the point completely. It’s an asinine, fired up, ADHD riddled ride through farcical action movie territory, and I love every warped minute of it.

-Nate Hill

Miami Blues 


Miami Blues is a crime film full of loose ends, incompetence, wanton violence and meandering characters who seem lost within their own story, and I mean all that in the best way possible. Some pulp affairs are sharp, succinctly plotted creatures, every cog in the machine placed to serve the momentum of plot and character, while other efforts have messily dropped the cogs all over the floor for an untethered, ‘wing it’ type approach in which story and character are like aimless leaves blowing about in a restless pond. Isn’t life like that though? There’s no narrative structure to a lot of what we do, and as such there’s little to be found in the tale of highly self destructive, psychotic criminal Alec Baldwin, who has barely left the airport upon arriving in Miami before he’s already got a serious warrant out for his arrest. He’s a violent sociopath who takes what he wants when he wants and, most aggressively, how he wants. He’s also very smart, which is a dangerous mix in anyone whose moral compass has flatlined. His anarchic crime spree gains the attention of an aloof older detective (Fred Ward) whose badge he steals for some good old law enforcement impersonation, leading the poor weary cop on a darkly comical mad goose chase all over town. He also picks up an endearing dumb blonde (Jennifer Jason Leigh, excellent) who’s infatuated with him and blatantly tunes out any and all red flags, of which there are…many. That’s pretty much all there is to it, but with these three actors it’s pure gold. The knowingly audacious arch criminal, the Betty Boop wannabe wifey sidekick and the exasperated, constantly outsmarted copper, a trio of archetypes augmented slightly in favour of each performer’s stellar work. Never takes itself too seriously, knows full well how heinous the turn of events within it’s frames are, yet firmly refuses to not have fun, a cheeky, sexy, sweaty and altogether terrific little venture. 

-Nate Hill

The Cinema of the Mind with Kent Hill

 

 

And now for something completely different…

Frequent visitors of this site would be aware that I normally present interviews with industry professionals. This time I’m bringing you creative artists of another kind, but by no means obscure. Beneath the mainstream exists a glowing furnace within which indie artists radiate.

It is a swelling talent pool that, occasionally, the bright lights of the ‘big industry’ illuminate. Still, by and by, these artists go on creating and growing stronger; reaching out through new emerging markets till, eventually, one day they explode onto the main stage with their incredible and fresh storytelling.

These new voices often pay homage to those titans which have preceded them, and whose work has permeated dreams – both theirs and ours, whether it be in a literary way, or cinematically inclined. Whatever fuel it is that is seeing them blaze new trails, these artists are here to stay. In this episode we talk about the influences, the methods and the talents in their arsenal. If you’ve not heard their names or yet discovered their work . . . soon, you shall.

I hope you’ll listen and be as intrigued and inspired as I.

Enjoy…

YOU CAN LISTEN AND MARVEL HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/The-Oz-Files/dp/B06X93YRGZ/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=https://www.amazon.com/The-Oz-Files/dp/B06X93YRGZ/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

https://www.amazon.com/Hunted-Tribe-Declaration-War-Book/dp/B072BCWCPX/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1498733965&sr=1-1