Tag: comedy

About Schmidt (2002)

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A poignant film about the definition of success.

About Schmidt follows Warren R. Schmidt (Jack Nicholson), a veteran actuary of the Woodmen of the World insurance company in Omaha, Nebraska. Schmidt is a polite, measured man surrounded by people who are commonly quite the opposite.

There are flashes of his broad, mischievous smile and roguish charm, but Nicholson reels in his iconic charisma, he effortlessly becomes the respectable, disconcerted Middle American and is as magnetic and watchable as usual.

The film begins in a desolate office as Schmidt stares at a clock that adorns a bare, grey wall as the final minute of his interminable career ticks by. He then enters something of a catatonic state, his blank expression displaying ambiguous yet decidedly dissatisfied emotions. He attends his retirement dinner, witnessing overlong, self-indulgent speeches from colleagues both old and new. He also drops by his old office to speak with his replacement who was so very charming at the dinner yet so indifferent afterwards. Throughout these scenes Schmidt retains his composure, reserving any judgement on his rapidly changing life.

As he sits at home unsure what to do with himself, he watches an advert appealing for the viewer to sponsor an African child. He does so, and is soon funding and corresponding with a 6-year-old Tanzanian boy named Ndugu; it is his first letter to Ndugu that provides the first big laugh in the film. As he puts pen to paper, Schmidt boils over and rants about his cocky upstart of a replacement, his daughter’s fiancée, his failure to achieve ‘semi-importance’, his wife’s annoying habits and his somewhat emasculating subservience to her.

Soon after this letter, his wife passes away. Schmidt then begins to reflect on every aspect of his life, even wondering if his wife was the soul mate she was supposed to be.

The film is about the nature of success. Schmidt’s definition of success is leaving an impression during one’s existence, making a difference. He doesn’t aspire to be Henry Ford or Walt Disney, he draws the line far below that level of success, however he wants to be ‘semi-important’ at least.

What exactly does Schmidt mean by ‘semi-important’? By striving for something that he hasn’t precisely defined he has set himself up for disappointment. The only way in which most people make a profound difference is by continuing their lineage, creating new people and a myriad of new experiences – I think that is entirely honourable. The main objective isn’t to shake the system up but to enjoy yourself. 

Personally, I think Schmidt has been a success; his hard graft will provide for generations to come, as long as his self-absorbed, high maintenance daughter isn’t foolish. His life’s greatest flaw was his wife, he had no connection with her, they were on very different wavelengths. He could have divorced her, but that would have most likely had negative effects on his daughter; he arguably did the righteous, selfless thing by sticking with her.

Some feel the ending is bathetic, which is understandable. I thought Schmidt was being too hard on himself, but it seems he filled a very personal void in the film’s final moments, so that has to be a good thing.

I have written about these characters as if I know them, which is testament to the existential resonance of About Schmidt. 

77%

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Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

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A predictable, dull film that’s merely a vehicle for Williams’s tediously overbearing comedy.

There’s a great Family Guy cutaway gag in which Peter Griffin and Robin Williams are sitting on a sofa as Peter names topics such as religion and politics for Williams to comment on. Williams does so with his trademark brand of insufferable overbearing comedy, which is filling any amount of time with incessant, frenetic rambling. Peter responds simply with an exasperated sigh before leaving for a five minute break, which prompts Williams to start yet another barrage of supposedly funny noises.

I felt much like Peter Griffin whilst watching Good Morning Vietnam. It reaffirmed my opinion that Williams was not the ‘tragicomic genius’ that so many purported him to be. Williams was much better as a straight actor.

Read a short synopsis of Vietnam and you’ll know exactly what it’s all about: the loveable family favourite Robin Williams being kooky and charming the troops but clashing with straight-laced, humourless authority figures. It’s completely predictable and completely trite. They also throw in a love interest for good measure in the form of Trinh (Chintara Sukapatana), a wholly lifeless woman whom Williams refuses to stop pestering.

Williams is never funny during his radio broadcasts, but the film repeatedly tells us otherwise, showing us scores of characters struggling to hold back their tears of laughter. So many of the supporting actors, whether they’re random troops or studio operators, were just diegetic canned laughter rather than proper characters.

Make no mistake, Robin Williams isn’t playing Adrian Cronauer, he’s playing Robin Williams at his most loud and rambling. Williams is repeatedly characterised as the loveable clown who brings the people together, it’s rather nauseating. No matter how hard the film tries, it cannot convince me that he’s either funny or charming, it only succeeds in making him very irritating. Despite this, there are some moments that raised a smile, such as the language class scenes in which he focuses on New York City street talk rather than the artificial, staid sentences of the textbooks.

Williams’s flatly developed adversaries Lt. Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby) and Sgt. Major Dickinson (J.T. Walsh) are the typical officious military men. They develop a resentment towards him that’s so instantaneous that it’s contrived and unbelievable; they’re just narrative functions that try and make you feel sorry for Williams, the sweet crazy cookie. Both characters aggressively impose their superior ranks on Williams and the other men, reminding me of the great Machiavelli quote – ‘It is not titles that make men illustrious, but men who make titles illustrious.’  Quite frankly, the quote is wasted on a trivial, tiresomely annoying film like this.

It sometimes attempts to be a drama or ‘dramedy’ with moments of perfunctory war moralising, but ultimately Good Morning Vietnam is preoccupied with indulging Robin Williams rather than achieving anything approaching credible commentary or pathos.

45%

The Inbetweeners 2 (2014)

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I tried to find a picture of a turd, alas I couldn’t.

It’s somewhat hit and miss, but perfectly enjoyable in the end.

In the first Inbetweeners film, they followed the well established comedy TV to cinema route of taking everything the viewer was familiar with and putting it in a foreign country. This trite formula provoked scepticism, but it was much better than many others and I expected. When I left the cinema feeling rather cathartic back in 2011, I was fairly sure that there wasn’t much room left for success for characters Will, Simon, Jay, Neil and writers Iain Morris and Damon Beesley.

The formula is the same second time round, only now they’re even further away in Australia. The characters haven’t changed, and neither have their ambitions of  finding that elusive female and generally just fitting in. Neil, however, seems to be even more stupid, relentlessly firing gags that didn’t quite fit the Neil that I knew.

The vulgarity the programme is famous for is been amped up, we are immediately inundated with obscenities in a set-piece where Jay runs us through his Australian playboy lifestyle that’s clearly a figment of his imagination. In the first quarter or so of the film, the incessant jokes about mothers, banter and female anatomy wear thin at times, it becomes rather hit and miss, with the emphasis perhaps on ‘miss’.  However, the film’s sometimes flat vulgarity is punctuated with moments of truly gross-out humour, including an outrageous sequence involving a water slide and irritable bowel syndrome, or as Neil amusingly calls it – ‘irritating bowel syndrome’.

It’s not all ‘clunge’ though, there are moments of slight insight and drama, particularly with Jay’s raging inferiority complex beneath his ridiculous testosterone fuelled veneer. Naturally, any pathos is swiftly interrupted by a gag waiting around the corner.

The best thing about the film is its satire of the archetypal ‘gap yah’ travellers. This genie-trouser wearing community is represented chiefly by Ben (Freddie Stroma) and Katie (Emily Berrington). Ben is an insufferable, sanctimonious poser who preaches how ruinous tourism is as he hypocritically engages in it. He swaggers around with his deadlocks and his wispy vest pretending he is love and peace personified when really he is a malicious, vapid rich boy. Katie, Will’s ill-advised love interest, is even more vacuous, but she’s mostly just an ‘amaaazing’ excessively confident numbskull rather than a bully. I’ve found Will too ranty before, however I very much welcomed his cutting, eloquent condemnation in this instance, it’s as if he heard my every acerbic thought.

Although it may only provide several big laughs, those who have watched the series since 2008 – large swathes of British young adults and more – will have a smile on their face for much of the running time.

68%

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

1387300833-anchorman_2Just not funny.

After ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’ became a cult film following its release in 2004, a sequel to the largely unfunny film was bound to come to fruition. Some 9 years later, Burgundy and his much loved team are back, bringing their loud, hackneyed humour with them.

What I liked most was its satirical edge at the beginning of the film. The Australian boss of GNN, which produces the new 24-hour news programme that Burgundy works for, is a clear reference to Rupert Murdoch. This allusion to the controversial figure is part of the film’s indictment of the triviality, sensationalism and bias that permeates so many of the world’s news sources, which for GNN is fluffy stories on cute dogs (excuse the pun), sensationalist coverage of car chases full of sheer speculation and jingoistic patriotism that creates the best line of the film – ‘Don’t have a great night, have an American night’

This is an interesting satirical core, a condemnation of what gets the highest ratings, however it is soon lost amidst the noisy absurdity and tired race jokes that are flat almost to the point of exhaustion. Absurdity can be great, I actually find the ridiculous rather funny, however there’s a fine line between humour that’s ridiculous and humour that’s just plain silly and annoying.

Ron Burgundy is almost like an Alan Partridge figure, with his dodgy style, intolerance and social ineptitude. The problem is that Burgundy’s a caricature and then some, one cannot believe in his character as there’s no subtlety or credibility whatsoever. Partridge is also a caricature, particularly in the second series and the recent film ‘Alpha Papa’, however there is enough restraint and superb writing to make him a hilarious and cringe worthy character in equal measure.

Of course, comedy is probably the most subjective genre of them all; some people love ‘Anchorman’, but it just leaves me cold. ‘Freddy Got Fingered’ is an example of where the ridiculous tickles me, however it’s understandably a very polarising film (with one pole having a far greater population than the other!)

To watch Freddy Got Fingered’s full 90 minutes is overwhelming, perhaps even quite terrible, but the insane gross out humour, such as Tom Green’s misinterpretation leading to him cutting open a deer carcass and wearing its skin or Green completely bowled over by the sight of a horse’s penis and numerous other scenes are so extreme and surprising that it makes me laugh like a drain. Also, Tom Green is funnier than Ron Burgundy, he’s genuinely weird.

‘Anchorman’ unfortunately doesn’t have this extremity, instead it has characters that are dull caricatures in the extreme and gags that are witless and crude yet neutered compared to the truly gross out humour of ‘American Pie’ or ‘Freddy Got Fingered’. I don’t claim these two to be benchmarks of the genre, particularly not the latter. I make the comparison as they’re roughly in the same realm as the Anchorman series.

‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues’ has satire; however it’s clogged up with tired comedy and an absurdity that’s seldom funny.

47%

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)

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Too much siege, not enough Alan.

When I first discovered the premise of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, which is a siege of the North Norfolk Digital building by a disgruntled former employee, I was concerned that, like many big screen adaptations, Alan Partridge was departing from its humble, unspectacular roots.

By half way into the film, my concerns had unfortunately been confirmed. There are gun shots, fire-extinguishers to the face, explosions, armed policeman – it is by no means an action film, but since when was there such commotion in Alan’s life?

It was the desperate loneliness, alienation and banality of Alan’s life in the original TV series that made audiences laugh and cringe while pitying and sometimes despising the pathetic central character. When I got home completely deflated after watching Alpha Papa, I reminded myself of just how good Alan could be by watching YouTube clips of the 1997 series.

A single five minute scene of Alan attending a funeral captured the essence of the character. The dialogue is so rich, almost every line provided a laugh and I was cringing at Alan’s complete and utter social ineptitude. Throughout the series you learn Alan’s behaviour, it doesn’t take one long to know when Alan has an agenda; he is so self-centred, immature and incredibly tactless that the viewer can read him like a book. It’s both amusing and toe-curlingly embarrassing to see Alan converse with people and deal with his many problems.

All of the subtlety and character study is missing in the film. Alan is no longer a sad-man, a complete liability. He’s still cringe-worthy, particularly in scenes where he attempts to court a colleague, but none of the gags even scrape the surface of the programme’s brilliance.

The gags are really quite tired. They’re predictable and rehashed, particularly scenes that initially appear melodramatic but are then abruptly interrupted by an action or one-liner like a needle scratching across vinyl. There’s also a genre-aware armed stand-off scene towards the end where the characters have ‘humourous’, flippant exchanges despite the immediate danger in the style of In Bruges, only not funny. More than once I found myself sighing with disappointment and embarrassment at just how off-the-mark and rehashed the comedy was.

Much like the film’s premise, Coogan’s performance is overblown – he needed to reel himself in. There would be flashes of classic Partridge, but generally both the dialogue and slapstick comedy just died. I commend Coogan’s skill for miming perfectly to Roachford’s Cuddly Toy, but it just wasn’t as funny as his air bass performance of Gary Numan’s Music for Chameleons in the second series. Also, Alan doesn’t look right in the film. His appearance is still demonstrably uncool, but he isn’t as awfully square and repellent as he was in the series. If anything, Alan’s ageing process seems to be in reverse.

The two principal characters of the programme, Lynn, Alan’s devoted and criminally underpaid secretary, and Michael, Alan’s good natured friend, seldom appear in the film. These characters were crucial in the series as they revealed many facets of Alan’s personality, exposing just how self-absorbed and manipulative he is whilst also showing how utterly dependent he is on their attention.

We have the original team of Coogan and Iannucci, but it lacks almost every element that made the series so funny, eminently quotable and re-watchable. It shares very little in common with its televisual sibling, all Alpha Papa has is a caricature of a caricature and a thin, boring siege plot.

50%

Super (2010)

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Maddeningly awful film.

I watched the film with low expectations and they were met, surpassed, even. ‘Super’ is an uninteresting, annoying film that’s full of flat characters and drags on for what certainly feels longer than 96 minutes. It is a shallow film, one that seems to have been written by young adolescents; it is wholly unimaginative and weak.

Essentially, it is yet another tired vigilante film, but with a rehashed, improbable superhero gimmick that makes the film even more tired. The film dabbles in themes of what it thinks is satire, drama and vigilantism, failing at all. In trying to make the film stand out from ‘Kick Ass’, it futilely turns the violence up a notch, the only benefit of this being the disposal of some of its highly irritating characters being satisfyingly grislier than expected.

Rainn Winston gives a humdrum performance as Frank D’Arbo, the nerd stock character every viewer is familiar with. One of the films few merits comes in the form of Kevin Bacon, who gives a fittingly slimy, ratty performance as small time criminal Jacques. Libby, played by Ellen Page, is one of the main problems of the film; her loud, androgynous and pathetically recalcitrant persona is utterly exasperating. When she becomes the Crimson Bolt’s side kick, the film nose dives and quickly loses all credibility. Remarkably, the film becomes even worse in its final act.

After the deliberately strong and misplaced violence, the little character development and the general vapidity, the film ends with inappropriate and somewhat complacent melodrama. Suddenly, trying to justify its predictably weak ending, the narrator, who appears to know exactly what the unamused viewer is thinking of this conclusion, addresses the audience – ‘Maybe you thought I was gonna learn that I was deluded, that I was as evil as the rest of them. But maybe you’re the one that needs to learn something.’ No, the viewer doesn’t have to learn anything from this completely ludicrous, unbelievable ending that has just been compounded by maudlin nausea, the filmmakers are the ones that need to learn: how to make a decent film.

Avoid this film, all you’re going to get is another churlish, back-chatting performance from Ellen Page. Watch ‘Kick Ass’ instead, it’s not perfect, but it’s in a different league to ‘Super’.

35%

Bad Santa (2003)

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A surprisingly funny alternative Christmas film.

This narratively clichéd yet entertaining alternative Christmas film is one definitely worth seeing if you’re sick of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. Billy Bob Thornton stars as Willie, a safe-cracking crook who masquerades as Father Christmas every December in shopping malls across the United States. His token elf accomplice Marcus (Tony Cox), who is a ‘little person’, exploits his miniature frame to hide in the malls after opening hours, hastily cancelling the security system so Bad Santa can waltz in and get to work on the safe. Their set-up is working smoothly, however things begin to change when Willie befriends and pities a young boy and a security boss begins to hone in on their activities.

I found myself laughing on many occasions thanks to contributions from almost all the cast, especially Bernie Mac. However, the humour was tainted by the language, which soon became gratuitous and puerile. Those two adjectives also describe Willie; his bad boy persona becomes tiresome, especially his regular witless, foul-mouthed tirades.

The development of the relationship between Willie and Thurman, who is a rotund and endearingly oblivious child, is predictable but undeniably nice to watch. The boy is so pathetic, and I mean that in the true sense of the word, that you can’t help but wish him well.

Apart from the sometimes grating dialogue, I’d recommend Bad Santa. It’s an entertaining and politically incorrect film that puts a twist on the Christmas movie genre conventions. I think its irreverence and dark humour will be especially agreeable with those who resent the Christmas period.

73%