Tag: comedy

Festival Review: IFF Boston Screenings

Though my various work commitments kept me from experiencing the full festival, I was able to take in four films at the Independent Film Festival of Boston, and they were all varying levels of good! I’m kind of behind on blogging so I decided to compile all my festival reviews together into one post, so they’ll be short.

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First up was my number one priority, Obvious Child. Based on the short of the same name, the film stars Jenny Slate as Donna, an aspiring stand-up comedian who loses her boyfriend and her job back-to-back. After wallowing for a bit she allows herself a one-night stand with a cute but fairly strait-laced boy named Max (Jake Lacey), whom she meets at the bar where she performs. A short time later she realizes she is pregnant, and decides to get an abortion as she is not ready (personally or financially) to be a parent. In the weeks before the procedure she renews contact with Max and they sort of think about dating, but she struggles with telling him about the results of their first night together.

Obvious Child is basically the kind of pro-choice romantic comedy I wanted it to be- it’s just a genuinely enjoyable, relatable film with a hilarious performance from Slate and a lot of ladycentric positivity. It did a good job of stretching the premise of the short to feature-length without overcomplicating the story. The script treats abortion as a regular thing, something many women experience (in fact, all three main women characters in this movie have had it), and it isn’t seeking to become an “issue” movie. It’s just part of the story. Essentially, it’s all a showcase for Slate, who is so so so so funny and I hope she has an amazing comedy career. A neat bit of trivia about this movie is I know someone who was an extra! They filmed one of the later scenes at the Planned Parenthood where my friend Sammy used to work, and she’s in the background of some shots. Cool, huh?

 

dear white people

Two nights later I caught my second-most priority film, Dear White People. Set at a fictional Ivy League school, the film tracks the events leading up to a so-called “riot” at an on-campus party through the eyes of four black students. Sam (Tessa Thompson) is an aspiring filmmaker whose notorious radio “Dear White People” mocks contemporary race relations. Lionel (Tyler James Williams) is a quiet writer seeking a place to fit in- feeling cut off from both the gay and black communities but hoping to make friends at the school newspaper. Coco (Teyonah Paris), who doesn’t accept Sam’s aggressive stance, dreams of being a reality star, and works to create a persona to make herself more viable. Troy (Brandon P Bell) is a popular poli-sci major who wants to try comedy writing, but is pushed into more distinguished extracurricular activities by his father (Dennis Haysbert), the dean of students. Their fates become intertwined at an ill-conceived party held by an elite house full of white assholes, technically “hip hop” themed but really just an excuse for white people to mimic black stereotypes and in some cases don blackface.

Biting in its satire and liberally sprinkled with both regular jokes and meta-jokes, Dear White People is a telling glimpse into race relations on American campuses while also being a fantastic film in general. It’s funny and fast-paced, a little bit cheesy at the right parts and subtle in its analysis of the many intersections of race, class, gender, history, and prejudice. The protagonists are navigating a tricky environment, trying to find where they feel comfortable while understanding the pre-conceived notions held by their peers as well as their elders. The film is about all those deep-seated assumptions we all carry with us, so deeply ingrained in our society we don’t always realize they’re there. Writer/director Justin Simien tackles these issues with wit and heart, and an interesting juxtaposition of under- and over-statement. I loved the cast (who are all insanely attractive), the script, and the style, and came out of it thinking about my own experiences in college and those of my friends of color. Ultimately I loved it, but recognized that I’m not really who this movie is for. Which is actually great.

ALSO! I have to mention how excited I was to see Malcolm Barrett in a supporting role. He is one of my (many) favorite things about Better Off Ted.

 

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I followed up Dear White People almost immediately with Ti West’s The Sacrament, a big shift in both tone and cast diversity since it’s mostly about white dudes. This found-footage thriller stars Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, and Kentucker Audley as VICE journalists investigating a mysterious cult that began in the United States but moved to an unknown jungle location (presumably in South America) to build a utopian commune. Their leader (Gene Jones), known only as “Father”, is an intelligent Southern gentleman who preaches tolerance, togetherness, and living off the land. Their world seems like a paradise- indeed, many of their inhabitants call it just that- but, as with all cults I guess, there’s a seedy underbelly waiting to be exposed.

Generally employing the found-footage angle well (except for one big misstep at the end that really bothered me), The Sacrament builds gradually into a really fucked up finish, which I guess is Ti West’s basic style of filmmaking. It’s interesting for its showing-but-not-telling kind of approach, dropping hints as to what is really going on in the commune but rarely coming and saying it. The supporting cast is excellent, with the creepy-charismatic Gene Jones and the incredibly versatile Amy Seimetz. I thought the main characters were all kind of boring though, like there’s nothing memorable about them. They’re just these regular kinda bro-y white dudes, and I wasn’t especially invested in their plight. But the story surrounding them is engaging enough that I would recommend the movie as a whole. The final sequence is some intense shit, my god.

 

mood-indigo

The closing film of the festival was Mood Indigo, Michel Gondry’s latest feature. Based on the novel by Boris Vian, the movie focuses on Colin (Romain Duris), an independently wealthy layabout who coasts by on charm and magical realism. He meets and immediately falls for Chloé (Audrey Tatou), and they marry after six months together. They have a grand time living, hanging out with Colin’s multi-talented lawyer-chef Nicolas (Omar Sy) and other eccentric friends, but then Chloé contracts a mysterious illness and things take a turn. The film progresses steadily from a light-hearted romantic comedy into a hopeless tragedy, with the colors literally sapped away by the final scenes.

I’ve always loved Gondry’s visual sensibilities, his techniques and special effects and sheer imagination are just wonderful, so I’m always happy to see one of his narrative features on a big screen. Mood Indigo is whimsical as fuck, incorporating all kinds of weird cutesy effects- including stop motion animation, time lapse, forced perspective, and color shifts. I loved the bizarre lecture with enigmatic writer Partre, the animated food, the behind-the-scenes typists who wrote Colin’s story, the encroaching fungal growth that filled the house as Chloé’s illness worsened. I could tell its tonal switch didn’t work for a lot of the audience, who were surprised and confused by the totally downer ending. I had been warned it was a really sad movie so I was ready for it. I didn’t mind the shift so much, because to me it was an interesting experiment in style- we know how Gondry’s whimsical point of view can give us comedy and romance, but how does it reflect tragedy? How do these magical, saccharine elements work themselves into a sadder story? What did bother me was how shallow the whole affair felt, how little we actually know about these characters, and yet we’re supposedly meant to care about them and their problems by the end. It’s not like I hated it, but I enjoyed it almost purely on a visual level, recognizing that the story itself was barely there if you stripped away the stylish narrative techniques.

Festival Review: All Cheerleaders Die (2014)

All cheerleaders die

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, part of the Boston Underground Film Festival.

Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) is a grungy lesbian teen who catches the gruesome accidental death of her friend Alexis (Felisha Cooper) on film when she breaks her neck during a daring cheerleading stunt. Months later, Maddy enacts a revenge plot against her school’s cheerleaders and football players, whom she feels have trashed Alexis’s memory with their wanton ways. She joins the squad and sets to work clandestinely dismantling their relationships. Frenemy lines become blurred, however, when she starts to fall for new head cheerleader Tracy (Brooke Butler). After a party with the team goes horribly wrong and the cheerleading squad winds up dead, Maddy’s Wiccan ex-girlfriend Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) brings the girls back to life, with bizarre, homicidal side effects.

So I basically saw All Cheerleaders Die because of how much I liked May, the only Lucky McKee film I’d yet seen. And it isn’t quite… that. It’s not a bad film by any means- it’s funny, violent, and a little kooky. The horror and comedy elements mix well, with a dark streak of humor running through every gory kill and squishy sound effect. You’re often made to laugh because something terrible happened and it took you by surprise. The main cast perfectly embodies that haughty teenage girl stereotype, all slender and beautiful with their long hair bouncing around like a commercial. Their paranormal experience is interesting as a combination of female empowerment and sexploitation, with their bodies and minds linked in sensation, feeling each other’s pain, sexual thrills, and homicidal successes. So, basically sisterly solidarity with bonus suggestive groaning and writhing.

This movie is as mean as it is ridiculous, but I’m not sure I can really pinpoint why I didn’t love it. I guess it didn’t feel especially original, it sort of hit all the beats you would expect it to hit, even throwing in a rape revenge angle towards the end. The script is good but not great, and like many other horror-comedies it doesn’t quite have enough of either. It definitely leans more to the horror side of things with all that bloody business, but not enough to be a really compelling horror in itself. I enjoyed it while I was watching it, especially the elements of female solidarity, boy-killing, and teen snark, but it’s not the kind of movie I would feel the need to watch again.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: I was definitely reminded of Jennifer’s Body, given the general storyline and tone. My friend who saw it with me said both draw from Ginger Snaps, which I’ve been meaning to see for a while and will hopefully get to soon. And of course, if you just want more high school snark, there’s Heathers, which I can’t believe I’ve never reviewed but know that I am a fan.

Movie Review: What’s Up, Doc? (1972)

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Seen: On blu-ray on our projector set-up, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.

I haven’t seen enough Barbra Streisand movies, and it’s becoming a problem. I feel like I’ve skipped over this big cultural touchstone. Mostly I just really want to revisit Yentl. But last week I settled for What’s Up, Doc? because it looked supremely silly. And you know what? IT WAS. Ryan O’Neal stars as absent-minded musicologist Howard Bannister, who is traveling to a conference with his bossy, no-nonsense fiancee Eunice (Madeline Kahn). He is half-wooed, half-stalked by the mysterious and apparently penniless Judy Maxwell (Streisand), who manages to turn his entire life upside down within just a few days. Their personal escapades are made much more elaborate by two valuable suitcases, one containing jewels and the other secret government documents, which get confused with Howard’s and Judy’s own bags. A complicated set of mix-ups, switch-a-roos, and mistaken identities takes place, topped off with a joyfully manic car chase.

Calling back to the classic slapstick comedies of yesteryear, What’s Up, Doc? is a super fun and ridiculous movie, just goofy all around. It’s got all the things you need, from wacky misunderstandings and bumbling characters to over-the-top costume changes and high-concept brawls. The narrative is secondary to the jokes, obviously, and the many hilarious interactions between characters. Streisand is excellent as the brash, very New York Judy, who connives her way into Howard’s life through sheer force of will and quick thinking. What I liked most about her was her impressive talent for spewing off weird facts, she just came off as this somewhat delusional woman who happened to be extremely well-read. Her comrade, Ryan O’Neal, is unfortunately a mediocre partner. He’s cute and everything (I had no problem with the surprising amount of shirtlessness), but just didn’t seem fully committed to the role, so he comes off as a weak imitation of Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby (I mean, this whole movie is kind of Bringing Up Baby, really). His delivery isn’t very strong. They make a pretty adorable couple, though, once they start singing and sexing things up.

Of course, his inferiority is made more apparent as he is surrounded by a stunning supporting cast. It almost seems a mistake to have Madeline Kahn in this movie, because though it’s her first film role she absolutely steals the show away from her famous co-stars. She just dominates: through expression, through posture, through tone of voice. At first I was bummed when I saw she was playing this cold fish character who’d probably be the butt of every joke, but through her performance Eunice comes off as a takes-no-shit woman who is understandably fed up with Howard’s uselessness. The man can’t even tie his own tie for god’s sake. She’s just a wonder. Plus at the end SHE does the leaving, and it’s off to greener pastures. Kahn is joined by Kenneth Mars (soon to join her again in Young Frankenstein) sporting an incredibly silly hairstyle, an exaggerated accent, and a terrible personality, and it’s fantastic.

This movie is essentially super fun, but a little too derivative/familiar on the writing side of things for me to all-out love it. It just reminded me of too many other movies. That being said, the fantastic performances, wild fashions (omg Mrs Van Hoskins!), and good-natured comedy make it a great watch, while the climactic free-flying chase through the streets of San Francisco makes it truly memorable. Seriously skilled stunt driving, everybody. Funny AND exciting! It’s almost as if Hal Needham was there!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Its (presumably intentional) similarity to Bringing Up Baby cannot be denied, and that would make for a romantically zany double feature. Alternatively, with multiple Mel Brooks actors showing up in supporting roles (Kahn, Mars, plus Liam Dunn!), this could easily go with any of his 70s films. Maybe especially Young Frankenstein.

The 2014 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part II

But first! Read Part I!

So yes, the Thon is about halfway over, many hours have passed. I’ve lost some of my patience with the “Close the door” running joke, and the kids sitting behind me have been way too chatty, but I’m feeling awake, and excited about the next several films, and my companions have been staying strong. Plus I know I’ve got some Dunkin in my future, always a pleasant thought. (God, I’m, like, so New England.) So here we go.

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7 The Truman Show (1998)

I always forget how good this movie is, but it’s like, really good. Jim Carrey stars as the titular Truman, a man raised from birth by a television station, with a huge enclosed studio built just for him to create the illusion of reality. Unbeknownst to him, he is filmed every moment of his life, all of the people surrounding him are paid actors, and he is broadcast to televisions across the world 24/7. After a series of strange occurrences, Truman begins to suspect that his seemingly perfect life is not actual reality, and he works to uncover the puppeteers behind it. It’s a strong, scarily believable premise with a great cast and funny script. There’s a lot to like: the blatant commercial satire, Truman’s goofy faces, suburban sitcom stereotypes, Ed Harris’s beret, Ed Harris’s huge face, Ed Harris’s self-imposed deification. And of course, that pitch-perfect final scene. Just gorgeous. This viewing I was struck most by all the people watching at home, as the film frequently cuts to Truman’s viewers and shows their reactions. It’s a good comedic trick, and of course a commentary on our obsession with televised stories, but my favorite thing was the adorable elderly lesbian couple who embroidered pillows with Truman’s face and generally were just cute fangirls in love.

 

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8 Electric Dreams (1984)

I read about this movie ages ago when I was crushing on Bud Cort after my first viewing of Harold and Maude, but couldn’t find it anywhere and forgot about it. The Thon got a rare print, perfectly timed around the recent months’ discussions of Her. The story follows Miles Harding (Lenny von Dohlen), a nerdy architect who gets a computer and hooks it up to everything in his house but then gets mad at it one day and spills champagne on it and it becomes sentient. Naturally. The computer (voiced by Cort) develops a romantic attachment to Madeline (Virginia Madsen), the cellist who lives upstairs. But Miles falls for her too, and they start dating when Madeline hears the music the computer makes (inspired by her) and assumes it comes from Miles. A wacky comedy of errors follows, full of mega-80s music sequences, weird technology jokes, San Francisco scenery, and demonic computer freakouts. It’s a bizarre movie, simultaneously really bad and really great, endearing itself to me mainly through its totally 80s-ness. And von Dohlen is kinda cute. Plus the music! God, I’m still singing that theme song.

 

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9 The Visitor (1979)

Ok here’s where I get a little (more than a little) pissy. Yes, I’m sleep-deprived and my butt hurts a bit from the seat, but I know I would have been annoyed regardless. So. Remember how I was super into The Visitor when it screened at the Brattle a few months ago, but I was sitting next to these really loud, inane guys who laughed uproariously at every single thing onscreen, like maybe they’d never seen a movie before and were just surprised by the moving images? Yeah so I was really excited to see this film again, on a big screen, with what I hoped would be a more appreciative audience. But instead, Major Tom, the Thon’s host, literally invited the entire audience to make fun of it in his introduction, thus spurring a lot of unnecessary running commentary for the film’s duration. Whatever. I still think it’s a wonderfully weird, inventive, visually stunning film, and I think it’s too bad everyone keeps going into it expecting a laugh. I know it’s not for everyone, but it seems to me people aren’t even giving it a chance because they assume it’s going to be stupid or bad before they even see it. Oh well. I did kind of tell off a dude in the screening room when he said it didn’t make any sense: I took it upon myself to explain some of the plot points to him and also to remind him that’s it’s a really awesome movie. Sorry if I was overzealous, there, stranger, I just have a lot of thoughts about The Visitor! The title links to my original review.

 

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10 The World, The Flesh, and The Devil (1959)

This was another one I was really looking forward to, mainly because the concept of a last-people-on-earth movie from 1959 that stars a man of color is pretty neat. Loosely based on MP Scheil’s novel The Purple Cloud, the film stars Harry Belafonte as a miner, Ralph, who, trapped underground for a few days, manages to avoid the apocalypse. He comes up the (seemingly) last man on earth, makes his way to New York City, and does his best to make his lonely life bearable, getting things running again. He finds one other lost soul, a young woman named Sarah (Inger Stevens), and they form a desperate friendship, at times loving and others combative. Though he loves her, Ralph is convinced that race relations can’t change, even in their own new world, and he will always be on a different level than her because of entrenched societal prejudices. When a third survivor (Mel Ferrer) is discovered, Ralph seems content to push them into a romance to ease his own conscience. It’s a dark, somewhat nihilistic film with interesting racial commentary very much relevant to the period in which it was made. I loved the performances, especially Belafonte, who really carries the first half of the movie completely. It’s a bit slow-moving, as these types of stories usually are, but I was totally engaged. Good thing the last surviving people on earth are all so attractive; I really just wanted to see Belafonte and Stevens make out, oh my goodness. And it ends in an implied three-way, aw yeah.

NOTE: I slept through the next film, Irish alien comedy Grabbers. Sorry. I heard it was a fun one, but I was too sleepy.

 

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11 Children of Men (2006)

I don’t think I’d seen this since it was in theaters, though I remember loving it, and damn was it fantastic to revisit. Set in the near future, the premise imagines a world where women can no longer give birth, and humans are suddenly faced with their own expiration date. Nations close their borders, placing blame on each other, and violent rebels fight for better treatment. When one young woman, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), miraculously becomes pregnant, she knows that everyone will want a piece of her and her baby. She enlists former activist Theo (Clive Owen) to transport her out of England, hoping to find safe haven with an off-the-grid group called The Human Project. They must wade through betrayal, death, sickness, and massive destruction, but both are determined to fight for the survival of her child. Another great sci-fi film that touches on race and gender issues, it is a completely intense, dismal story that manages to be genuinely moving. It’s the kind of film that invites closer scrutiny because its world-building is so interesting (and realistic), but ultimately stays with you because of your emotional investment. I cried a lot. Thanks, Alfonso Cuarón.

 

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12 Flash Gordon (1980)

I get excited about this movie primarily for the Queen soundtrack, it’s true. I just hear that FLASH!… AHH-AHHHHH and I get so pumped up! The movie itself is not that great, it’s kind of boring but I do love the visuals. Based on the classic comics/serials, it stars Sam Jones as the titular football player, who winds up on a distant planet along with scientist Hans Zarkov (Topol) and journalist Dale Arden (Melody Anderson). Surrounded by psychedelic color schemes and sexy aliens, Flash must fight against Ming the Merciless, a cruel despot who plans to destroy the earth. Lots of people show up to help out, including the sensual Ornella Muti, Robin Hood-esque Timothy Dalton, loud and winged Brian Blessed, and Richard O’Brien for like five minutes. This is the only version of the character I’ve seen so I’ve never been able to comment on its merits as an adaptation, but on its own it’s ridiculous and passably entertaining pulp, notable especially for the amazing theme song and the elaborately trippy costume and set design. Also it really is weirdly sexy, like everyone is constantly talking about boning. I feel like Flesh Gordon didn’t have to stretch the story too far.

Ok all done, 24 hours of science-fiction, (mostly) bested yet again! See you next year!

Movie Review: An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (2013)

an oversimplification of her beauty2

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from netflix.

As focused on visuals as I typically am, it’s no surprise that I am a complete mess for experimental animation. If a film toys with stop-motion, or time-lapse, or imaginative cel animation, or cut-outs and silhouettes, I tend to be automatically entranced and very forgiving of narrative/thematic faults. Terence Nance’s An Oversimplification of Her Beauty uses several animation techniques, to gorgeous effect, blended with live action sequences. The project started as a short film inspired by Nance’s real-life relationship with Namik Minter, who plays a version of herself. They are close friends whose dynamic borders on romance, but she remains committed to her relationship with another man, who is never named. Nance describes his frustration with his own feelings, his misreadings of and assumptions about her, and his disappointment when she blows him off for what he considered to be a special date. He expanded the project into a full-length film that offers more insight into their interactions, into his personal dating history, and into their future as a couple.

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With a disjointed structure and loose, unresolved narrative, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is at times hard to follow, and doesn’t really have any follow-through on its offerings. Realistic, I suppose, for a film based on actual experience, without the tidy organization of movie fantasy. Its comically bombastic narrator attempts to summarize as well as explicate certain events, moving back and forth between the original short film and more recent footage, all interspersed with colorful animation. I love love love Nance’s artistic vision, he ably blends this huge range of techniques but makes it all work as a single whole. His remembrances of past relationships are visually represented by fluid, painterly cel animation, slightly surreal to match the uncertainty of memory. Sometimes he moves into fantastical patterning, referencing mask and textile imagery of indigenous African peoples, but updating it with a sort of graffiti-style vibe. The saddest moments are reserved for stop-motion, with quiet clay figures lost in a black expanse, unable to move forward in their undefinable relationship, or for dark time-lapse footage of Nance struggling with the film itself. It is also a plus that everyone in this movie is really ridiculously attractive, and there’s a lot of wonderful big hair.

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What’s interesting to me about this film (besides the visuals, I mean), is how self-aware Nance is. When I first read the description I thought the story would be sort of (500) Days of Summer-y, like this self-satisfied romance told from the man’s point of view. It definitely completely from his perspective, but he’s remarkably thoughtful about it. He recognizes that he doesn’t fully understand the situation, that he is making assumptions about Minter, and that in obsessing over her, he is also oversimplifying her and essentially creating a character out of her. He sees his own faults, his own self-destructive tendencies. He recalls his past girlfriends and doesn’t place blame on them for how their relationships ended (it’s like a reverse High Fidelity, I guess). He asks Minter how she feels about his short film, and she decides she’d like to make a film about her own side of the story, and he helps her. Their relationship still felt a little ambiguous, she still seemed kind of unsure, but she was supportive of his creative point of view while recognizing that it was one-sided.

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I don’t think this is necessarily a “great” movie: it’s too disorganized, too meandering, and the concept is stretched too thin for a full feature. I do really appreciate what Nance has accomplished, though, a sort of visual poem, a self-reflexive ode to his own romantic entanglements. It’s funny and a little sad, with interesting turns from Nance and Minter as themselves, and enough playful camera tricks and experiments to keep the eye interested even when the script drags. I am so excited about the animated bits that I can easily overlook any other faults, and I look forward to checking out Nance’s other work and to any future projects.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: The theme and mood reminded me of Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, which is kind of a nice counterpoint since it offers a woman’s point of view on sex and relationships. The style of filmmaking was a little reminiscent of Four Eyed Monsters, another experimental love story.