Category Archives: Comedy

Get Out (2016) – Film Review

Get Out is a marvel of a movie in an age where explosions and VFX are the main magnets that pull popular audiences out and into a comfy multiplex armchair. On the surface, both in the trailers and in the first act build-up, it’s a story about characters and social interactions. It plays off cultural stereotypes and commonly misused/abused racial phrases, contrasting some very real and at times shocking attitudes without pulling any punches. Yet it all seems too on the button, too hyper-focused and self-aware to be a movie that’s just about a family not accepting their daughters black boyfriend. And it’s not just that; there’s much more to it.

Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, an excited but hyper-nervous boyfriend. He leans on his girlfriend, Rose, played by Allison Williams, helping to ease her worries through cute jokes and quips. Rose’s innocent, red-cheeked demeanor feels like a sort of android or human replicant that acts exactly like a stereotypical white college girlfriend acts. She’s way too accommodating to him; there isn’t any real drama between the two of them, only love and kisses, smoke and mirrors.

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The films marketing campaign focused heavily on the concept of a white young woman bringing her dark-skinned, African-American boyfriend out to the families farm estate.

The advertisements didn’t reveal much about the intricate plot details. With a very reasonable budget of 4.5 million, the producers of Get Out were hoping that, as a hybrid 2017 horror movie, the film would work best as a word-of-mouth product as opposed to releasing it in a more traditional manner through relentless TV marketing.

The studios certainly didn’t need to buy big TV ad spots in the end. As of mid-April, Jordan Peele’s horror film has grossed an impressive 184 million.

With overwhelming critical approval and praise, as well as the instant name recognition stemming from Peele’s hit show, Key & Peele, the film’s producers had very good reason to take a step back and let the quality of the movie speak for itself.

Director Jordan Peele has always professed a love for horror films, good or bad or atrociously bad. He has also expressed his fairly unique perspective on race. Peele is a half black man raised by and growing up alongside a predominantly white family.

A major part of Get Out involves small interactions between Chris and Rose’ parents’ white, country-club friends. These encounters are sometimes staged bluntly for comedic effect or in a more subtle manner to help build ambiguity and mystery.

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At times, the social satire veers towards being a bit too transparent, such as when the father, Dean Armitage, played by Bradley Whitford, insists to Chris that he would definitely vote for Obama for a third term, if he could.

A white man complimenting an African-American man on his “prowess” or “muscular strength” may appear to be a compliment at face-value, but those on the receiving end of the compliments clearly feel uncomfortable. They feel like they are being evaluated. It’s as if their body and entire being are being mentally measured and weighed for current or potential value, similar in a way to the extreme scouting tactics used on young, pre-teen athletes.

The story arc comes and goes without any lingering moments dragging down the fast-paced narrative. The first half introduces us to the characters and scenarios, giving the audience time to think about the direction of the story, to ponder about the potential twists and turns. Peele buys himself enough time in the first half of the movie to convince the audience that we know what kind of movie we’re watching, only to have the rug firmly pulled out from under us in the final act.

Some of the plot points don’t entirely add up, though I won’t go into spoiler territory. I think It’s important, though, to think more about the social and cultural messages rather than the labyrinthian, complex narrative.

The story details don’t 100% hold up upon multiple viewings, but the entertainment value remains the same. There’s plenty to talk about, and part of the fun is seeing it with someone for the first time and helping them fill in the pieces to the puzzle. Compared to the multitude of uninspired and unoriginal horror films being punched out these days, Get Out should get an oscar nom.

Overall, Get Out is a thoughtful look at race relations in America. It’s both funny and bleak in the way that it shatters stereotypes that people still commonly use to this day. A piercingly bold and occasionally frightening ride through the eyes of a young African-American man.

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Birdman (2014) – Film Review

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I really liked this movie, especially the first experience of it, the whirlwind of energy and movement rushing you into the middle of this man’s world. I don’t like to sum up a film with this sort of overzealous simplicity, but there are just so many brilliant touches in this story that make it so relatable and real. Birdman’s plight into obscurity is a fall everyone and anybody can relate to. He’s frustrated that nothing, even the most important something, according to his inner self, doesn’t last, leaving him alone, not knowing how to react to not only the journey itself, but the conclusion of it. What’s next?

Michael Keaton stars as the titular “Birdman”, or Riggan, and he gives an incredible performance, shifting and wiggling around all of the unique supporting and supportive characters, though none of them can outshine his tweaked-out body spasms and off-kilter, narrow expressions that are his trademark. A certain parallel that I as a viewer noticed that an actual stage performer might just think about on the daily: the backstage dramas feel much more authentic and compelling than the acting onstage. The relaxed, spontaneous feel of the actors after a scene reading has a lot to do with the amount of great acting talent in “Birdman”.

Emma Stone plays Sam, Riggan’s daughter, fresh out of rehab and working as his assistant; Naomi Watts plays Lesly, a slightly thin-skinned but ambitious Broadway actress sexually tied with the new hotshot actor, played by Edward Norton, who’s hired following a set “accident” that calls for a hasty replacement. Zack Galifianakis plays Riggan’s press agent and sort-of friend, Jake. Though this isn’t entirely the case, as the onstage goofs provide a lot of great tension and some very exhilarating moments, I think this idea is one of the main overarching themes in the film.

The idea that the best drama happens in reality, when the lens is capped and the lights are off; to not only act like the actor, but also feel as they would. Mike, played by Edward Norton as a dry and dauntlessly crude theater purist, is a believer in this theory, in this whacky form of method acting. He drinks actual gin for the drinking scenes, and he’s got an actual boner right on cue for the sensual, under-the-sheets scene with Lesly, who had complained earlier that he hasn’t been able to get it up in months in real life.

Riggan actually seems to come around to Mike’s acting philosophy towards the end, even if he may not be entirely aware of it. Standing in his dressing room with his ex-wife, played by Amy Ryan, he randomly spurts out that he regrets videotaping Sam’s birth, that he would’ve rather been actively present for the moment.

Keaton’s filmography is easily comparable to his character in “Birdman”, an aging actor famous for once playing a superhero, but I wonder if this could potentially pose as a distraction from the story itself; instead of focusing on the showering of ideas about self-worth and creative egoism, one might be spending most of their time pondering the parallels between the character and the man, Keaton himself. A constant back-and-forth dialogue between a real actor’s filmography and personality, the character’s filmography and personality, and the line the audience chooses to draw between the two.

I’ve wondered if the director of “Birdman”, Alejandro González Iñárritu, is trying to express some sort of meta-critique of the media by casting Keaton in the role. Was he trying to show how comfortable we are as a society to sum up a person’s career in such a shallow, conclusive manner, comparing and rating all that has come before and consider it less than the sum of its parts, that this one single film anchored his sagging legacy back to shore? Because from all the press and news articles I’ve read, sometimes from only scanning the headlines, the answer to such a question is a definite ‘yes’.

To say that this film is a ‘comeback’ for Keaton or ‘the best Michael Keaton movie in years’ sort of does a disservice to all of the work Mr. Keaton’s done in the last ten or so years; it’s the sort of complimentary-insult that the actual character of Riggan would probably obsessively struggle and wrestle with; maybe in the sequel, Birdman Again: For Dignity’s Sake, we’ll find out how he conquers his self-esteem issues.

 While Riggan is being interviewed about his career-saving play, he’s snobbishly questioned about the merit of a spandex-star like himself actually helming a real, live stage performance. He responds in the standard circular non-talk of a public person that doesn’t want to upset or imply anything that could negatively affect themselves or their cause; or, he’s just been out of the game for so long, he forgot how to go through the motions and produce the gaseous, breezy movie star charm.

It’s a unique type of audience involvement, a new layer to contemplate in the intricately woven tapestry of it all. It’s not the first time a movie juxtaposed an actor’s real-life or career with a film’s story, but it will certainly go down as one of the best and most conclusive of this most likely nonexistent micro-genre.

From a technical point of view, “Birdman” soars as much as the characters and storytelling. Consisting mostly of a single continuous take, the camera darts in and out of rooms, rising slowly upwards to the tops of buildings, trailing, following. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki uses clandestine cuts and convenient object placement to momentarily cloud the camera, cut, and resume in the same fixed, object-blocked position, supporting the illusion of a never-ending sequence. It’s a basic cinematic technique in most cases, but yet the simplicity of it depends on the scope of the camera movement.

With aerial shots and multiple characters to track alongside with, the setups had to have been as calculated and choreographed as a hundred-million dollar battle sequence. Compared to Hitchcock’s one-shot, single location film, “Rope”, “Birdman” is quite groundbreaking in its uncut use of so many different locations. The entire movie was filmed in a swift thirty days, and similar to the great director Sidney Lumet, Iñárritu prepared for the shoot far ahead of time, setting aside several weeks for rehearsing and perfecting the scene layouts with his large ensemble cast.

If anybody tries to knock a movie for a quick shoot, they most likely just don’t understand how it works, and how a shorter shoot simply means lower production costs. Any amount of time that can be cut off of the shooting schedule is time well-spent, as many more experienced than I would confirm.

Using the one-take structure for this particular story can be reasoned many different ways, all of them, in my opinion, being very defensible. As Edward Norton’s character says to Riggan’s daughter, Sam, “This is the theater, don’t be so self-conscious.”

The constant scrutiny of the omnipresent camera heightens the pressure on the characters, and increases the tension and urgency for the viewer. We won’t be saved from awkwardness or intense outbursts by a fade-to-black or a sudden cut to a future moment in time.

We are with these people completely, sharing, in a sense, the same vantage point, the same rambunctious moments leading up to the big opening night. It adds to the rolling impact of it all, which, by the end, we can see and understand it to be the embodiment of what the millennial generation allegedly wants — completely unfiltered and exploitative videos, devoid of any dignity or logic.

Spoiler warning:

The ambiguous, cut-short ending leaves something to chew on, and yet at the same time, not really all that much at all. The bandages wrapped around Riggan’s nose seem to intentionally evoke a bird’s beak, long and pointed. But the deep, hoarse voice is completely absent as he lays quietly alone on the hospital bed.

All of the moments Riggan’s Birdman ego had previously voiced its opinion, Riggan was in a similar situation as his current one at the hospital: interior silence, not being directly near any of the films other main characters.

So has Riggan transformed following this shocking, traumatic ordeal? He’s a changed man, right? His two combating personalities are seemingly done with the banging-heads routine, but who surrendered? The “God” of a man, The Birdman himself, or the aged, apologetic father, regular-old Riggan?

The act of hurling himself out of the window destroys half of his dual self; if he’s not truly Birdman, he’s Riggan the mortal, in his new pavement-splattered form. If he’s Birdman, he’s zooming around in circles in the air outside. And if he’s flying up above the hospital, as his daughter Sam, leaning out of the window and smiling proudly up towards the sky seems to be indicating, then has he transformed into the full-blown manifestation of Birdman?

My best guess:

Riggan lives and continues his life as a born-again cultural icon, a walking statue, now gladly willing to reap the benefits of his gloriously remembered years of youth, cheerfully posing for family pictures, attending Birdman retrospectives and Comic-cons. He’s retired from the constant stress of showmanship, and feels fine continuing on the remainder of his days talking about the thing, even if the thing is still just the thing, and not whatever it is that he or they say the thing is right now at this moment.

Bernie (2011)

The titular character Bernie is played by Jack Black in a low-key, subtle comedy that is unusual  for the uproarious actor. Directed by  Richard Linklater, who made the town musing film ‘Slacker’, this is a homage to the antics and gossip of a small town. The focus is on assistant funeral director, Bernie. A boisterous and overwhelmingly friendly personality, Bernie is a magnet to the old ladies of the Texas town Carthage. He checks up on the widows he’s consoled with after there husbands death. He brings food and cookies, flowers and smiles. Overall, the town thinks Bernie is an entirely optimistic and wonderful human being. And he is. But when a sudden criminal act swoops over him, surprising even himself, the town starts to talk more.

At first I was a bit ambivalent with the whole structure of the movie; It consisted of dialogues with people all around the town about various topics, usually about Bernie and the people he talks to and the things he is involved with. But It does become first-person Bernie, though not all the way. It’s like a comedic documentary, and the ‘criminal’ events and Bernie are true people. We see at the end of the film  a photograph of Jack Black sitting across from the real Bernie.

Jack Black’s performance is one where his own movie ‘personality’ is set aside. In Bernie, the comedy comes only from the character written by the screenwriters. Black must find comedy through looking glass of such a different, energized character. He uses enthusiasm and double-chin comedy to express the character. His pants are pulled above his stomach and his voice is a tone higher than usual.

The casts of town folk interviewed are real, with a sort of mockery that seems signature to Linklater’s style.  One women is bizzarely shaped with yellow, jagged teeth. She says nothing: just laughs and jiggles as her companions gossips. There is an old man with a trucker hat, explaining things like ‘Bernie never acted like a man’. Each one adds a punch to the perception.

Matthew McConaughey takes up a role in the film, and fills it well as a small town Lincoln lawyer. He always adds solid comedic spice with an airhead persona; he is fighting against the belief of the town and attempting to prosecute Bernie for his crimes. He tries to poke fun at Bernie in court, but fails with self-deprecating wit, only revealing his own stupidity.

The movie is a funny, but emotionally resonate exercise in small-town observation. It features a career-lifting performance from Jack Black and a cast of hilarious, stereotype heavy characters.

Jeff Who Lives at Home

8/10

The Duplass Brothers directed “Jeff Who Lives at Home” with a stingy sense of life and desperation, a comedy of errors. It features Jason Siegel and Ed Helms as opposite brothers; Segel is Jeff, a pot-smoking and cosmic-connector of sorts, and Helms is Pat, a loose-cannon business man who is having trouble with his marriage. The two are thrown together into a series of circumstances, when Jeff’s mom tells him to go to Home Depot to fix the shutters, and he finds Helms outside a hooters restaurant at a business-meeting. “You’re having a business meeting at hooters? That’s classy.” Jeff says.  We find out later in the film, as they walk endlessly together after Pat’s new Porsche is towed, that their father died when they were young; it had an adverse affect on all of them, including the mother, who in a story of her own, struggles to find out who in the office is her ‘secret admirer’.

Jeff has an intuition about many things, and during the scenes where his brother Pat asks his advice, you can see he is just a person, but a natural one; he tells Pat to hold his breath, and just tell his wife he loves her so much: it’s more complicated, Pat pesters, but in the end Jeff is right. The movie feels mainstream, but is also funny and has an indie-like touchiness to it; the Duplass filmmakers want to depict the struggles of the common man in a funny, but also prying manner. And although the character’s are somewhat one-dimensional and seen before, the strained business man and the shaggy-dog, it takes them into new grounds, testing their bounds and personalities. Before Pat finds out his wife may be cheating on him, he would have never quietly sat in a bath tub with his brother, just talking. It would have been weird: but on the emotional fringe, distressed and not knowing where to start, he sits and ponders, like Jeff does all day.

The conclusion to the film is breathtaking and very heartfelt. Sure, it’s an ending that’s seen in Adam Sandler comedies, but its an ending not for those movies, but for Jeff. He deserves the self-recognition; through being overshadowed by his brother’s confidence, and his own lack of, it does wonders for him. Though simplistic at times, the movie is hilarious and written with keen nuance, featuring great performances from Jason Siegel, Ed Helms, and Susan Sarandon.

21 Jump Street

8/10

21 Jump Street is like 2009’s “Get Him to The Greek”, where the popular awareness was not high, but on DVD you really find out what has been missed; Fast, funny, and tongue-in-cheek satire produce a top-notch comedy, featuring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as buddy-cops. Directed by Phil Lord, and Chris Miller, the film constantly is satirizing movies of the 70s and 80s, like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard; cars are expected to dramatically blow up, but don’t;  the man in the ambulance  says ‘I’ll come back later’ during the dramatic make-up and kiss ending.

The premise is that these two jerk-off cops are going to raid a high-school, the homestead they just escaped.  Jonah Hill is still scarred by his loser-charm, and Channing Tatum flowering at the idea, after having an uproarious time in high-school, and locate a new synthetic drug. The cop that assigns the task is played by Ice Cube, in one of the rare roles where he is actually funny. It starts out with Schmidt, (Hill), fearing that his relationship with Jenko (Tatum), will return to the I’m cool-your loser dichotomy it was originally; instead, the new generation of kids finds Schmidt to be the cool one, especially after Tatum punches a gay black boy on the first day of school for no apparent reason, other than he was ‘trying’.

The fake-identities get a little jumbled; Jenko ends up being the chemistry-geek, even though he seems to be really dull, and Schmidt is headed for Drama class, which his unloose personality is not made for. But this leads to Schmidt talking to a girl, who eventually gets in the way of his assignment. They find a supplier of the synthetic drug, Eric, and hope it will lead them to the mother-dealer; Eric takes Schmidt under his wing and trusts him to sell part of the load. Not till the end do we find the supplier, in a scene like the ending of “True Romance”.

The pairing of Tatum and Hill was very well done, and the script also gave them a solid amount of material to work with. It was based on the television show from 1987-1991, by the same name, created by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell. It shows excellent talent, I found especially from Jonah Hill, who is glowing with the glee of popularity in high-school. It even has a cameo from Johnny Depp. Hilarious and warmhearted, 21 Jump Street is the best surprise comedy-film of 2012.

Dr. Strangelove

10/10

Dr. Strangelove, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is hands down the greatest cold war satire in cinematic history. Filmed in monochrome, it showcases the undebatable talent of director Kubrick, seaming together three different scenarios into a feature-film: Jack Ripper’s office, the war-room, and the cockpit of the deterring plane itself. It all roots from one man, Jack Ripper, and his sudden order for Plan F, to send one of the twenty-four hour a day planes off to the target, Russia, who he thinks are communists conspiring to take away the precious bodily fluids; Jack Ripper is clearly homosexual, as he juggles his thick cigar constantly in his mouth and tells of his refusal to give woman his precious bodily fluids.

Peter Seller’s stars in three different roles: The Nazi weapons expert, the president, and the hostage of Jack Ripper. The war-room rendezvous with the president converse hilariously with a trigger-happy General Buck Turgedsen, played by George C. Scott, who really attracts the spotlight with his uproarious character, descriptive of right-wing paranoia and compulsiveness. When the president says he has invited the Russian Ambassador, he instantly fears putting in full-view the plans and war-screen, and when he does come stumbling in, the general plants a camera on him, quite literally tackling him with his masculine physique; he calms down by chewing a stick of gum, wrappers scattered across his table-space. The ambassador lightly calls him a fool, seems to not be bothered much.

The nuclear-carrying plane, blocked from communication, was not enough for the film: Added in is the doomsday device, a computer controlled deturrent that automatically destroys all human and animal life; “Your not suppose to keep it a secret!” the nazi weapons specialist shouts. This bumps the consequence up higher, and it is no longer a matter of what the world thinks, but if they will survive.

In many of Kubricks films, like Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket, he mocks the petty “Uncle Sam” notions of war peace. As soldiers move in to infiltrate the base that Gen. Ripper has locked down, bullets fly across the frame, and in the distance is the sign, “Peace is our Profession”.

The film never lets you breathe with its comedy and even tension for the final minutes of the planes course. Their are many newcomer actors, like the Texas Cowboy pilot played by Slim Pickens, who I found to be tedious in his reciting at times. Regardless, the tree of characters and performances are legendary, a cinematic masterpiece in the actors art of gesture and timing, and will endure even past its date of historical satire.

Barton Fink

Joel and Ethan Coen’s film “Barton Fink” defies assumption: On the surface it seems to be a period piece, and it is, but most of all it is a genre-blending film. It includes satire and drama, dark comedy and expressionistic qualities. It’s set in the cultural backdrop of the 30s Hollywood scene, with all the glamor and hazy bar smoke included; and an obnoxious neighbor in a seedy hotel played by John Goodman, the man born to play such a role.

Joel and Ethan said they wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink as they were grinding away at the screenplay for another film of theirs, Miller’s Crossing. It is about writers block. And that does sound tiring and dull. But in fact its not about writers block, but about the sidetracking of the author, played by John Turtorro, and his relations with his next door neighbor, Charlie.  Barton is a pseudo-intellectual, a wanna-be acclaimed writer who has passioned bursts of creativity; he powerfully tells Charlie, a meager insurance salesmen, how he wants to write for the common-man. The untold stories of everyday life. But when Charlie starts to tell a story, he interrupts, “Exactly!” and shouts something to cut him off, then leading into his next point on “understanding”. The Hollywood folk should stick to B-grade pictures, one thinks, and leave the common-man to the indie-filmmaker. It’s a satire on a writer’s ego, indefinitely. This could be turned around to seem that the Coen’s are giving credit to themselves. That they ‘represent’ the common man the way it should be, as in Fargo and Raising Arizona. But that feeling is not really given, as their is no explicit response or outrage towards the hypocricy of Barton’s actions.

The film has an expressionistic, sort of experimental quality to it. It features a William Faulkner look-a-like as a famous and prospering, but drunk, writer. And it’s a punch in the gut to Barton that this Faulkner look-alike, called Jack Lipnick, can be a master fiction writer and also be a drunk slurring misogynist. The film explores all the edges of a writer’s mind entertainingly and satisfyingly, and although its a bit too Lynchian for some, it is also a very rewarding and darkly funny film.