Category Archives: Comedy

#326 An American Werewolf In London

(1981, John Landis)

“Beware the moon”

It’s no longer Halloween, but it appears that today we still have the horror bug, and this is a movie that has it all. Werewolves! Gore! Murder! Yorkshiremen! Frank Oz in a non-puppet role! Today we’re looking at An American Werewolf In London.

Two American students are inexplicably on holiday in the Yorkshire Moors. After David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) wander into a spooky pub filled with terrifying Yorkshiremen, the two end up venturing onto the moors at night, where they’re attacked by a beast. Jack is killed, but David is saved when the scary Yorkshiremen shoot the beast. David is taken to hospital in London (as opposed to, I don’t know, Leeds) where he begins to experience strange visions of a horribly mutilated Jack who tells David that he’ll turn into a werewolf. David also falls for his nurse, Alex (Jenny Agutter), and the two begin a relationship.

Read the rest of this entry

#319 Good Bye Lenin!

(2003, Wolfgang Becker)

“The future lay in our hands. Uncertain, yet promising”

We’ve visited one previous movie about divided Germany before here on SvTM, the surprisingly good The Lives Of Others, but there haven’t been many others since then. Perhaps now it’s time to take a look at the effects of the regime on the ordinary citizens of East Germany, specifically when the Berlin Wall fell. Perhaps it’s time to say Good Bye Lenin!

The movie is set in 1989, where we focus on young East German citizen Alex Kerner. After he attends a protest rally in October, his mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) sees him and suffers a heart attack amidst the chaos. Due to delayed medical intervention as a result of the protests, Christiane falls into a coma, with no clear indication of when she’ll come out. During her eight-month coma, the Berlin Wall falls and the reunification of Germany begins.

However, when she comes out of her coma, the doctors inform Alex that the damage to her heart is serious, and any sudden shock could potentially bring on a fatal attack. Realising that the political upheaval going on around them could be exactly the kind of shock that could affect his staunchly socialist mother, he sets about trying to concoct an elaborate lie that the Wall never fell and Germany is still divided.

Read the rest of this entry

#303 Fast Times At Ridgemont High

(1982, Amy Heckerling)

“I woke up in a great mood, I don’t know what the hell happened”

It’s the eighties! Time to do a lot of coke and vote for Ronald Reagan! Yeah! Yes, today we are looking at one of the classic teen comedies of the 80s, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, a movie about sex, growing up and dancing to The Go-Go’s. But is it any good?

Fast Times At Ridgemont High focuses on a group of various teenagers who attend Ridgemont High. At the centre are sophomores Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Mark Ratner (Brian Backer), who receive advice from their older friends Linda (Phoebe Cates) and Mike (Robert Romanus), who believe themselves to be wiser in romance. There are also subplots involving Stacy’s brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) who works his way through a variety of terrible jobs, and unrelated stoner kid Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) who has a run-in with strict teacher Mr Hand (Ray Walston).

Read the rest of this entry

#295 Slacker

(1991, Richard Linklater)

“I may live badly, but at least I don’t have to work to do it”

Richard Linklater is a bit of an odd director. Famed for his Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy, and considered the only director to adapt a Phillip K. Dick novel (A Scanner Darkly) without completely changing everything (like Blade Runner and Total Recall did).

He’s also fond of making quirky little movies where vaguely connected people reel off monologues, as evidenced by the dream-based weird-fest that was Waking Life. But before that came Slacker, an account of Generation X through the lens of various bizarre characters.

Slacker has no real plot. The camera swoops from scene to scene, where we witness someone delivering a monologue about their world view or doing something society deems unusual. We never stay long with individual characters and there’s no overarching plot thread. Sound terrible? Well, we’ll see.

I was aware of Linklater’s work, and highly enjoyed A Scanner Darkly and…uh…School Of Rock, but, more relevantly, I also enjoyed Waking Life. Kind of. As such, I was curious to see this, which was one of his first movies, and shared a similar concept.

It’s difficult to talk about Slacker. It’s a movie about pseudo-intellectuals, who take what they’re saying seriously, but with an element that maybe deep down they know that what they’re talking about is absolute nonsense. It’s a movie that demands that you pay attention and listen to these rambling stoners and decide whether or not what they’re saying makes any kind of sense to you.

It doesn’t help that all the acting is fairly bland for the most part, as clearly untrained actors reel off long lines of text that they probably don’t care about. But it works. It fits the slacker them rather nicely and sets the tone of the movie, giving us a collection of disinterested people who like to talk a lot but ultimately say nothing. Well, apart from Louis Mackey, who gave a theatrical rant about anarchism and was highly entertaining.

Yes, this sounds terrible, I know, but Slacker is oddly fascinating. The movie clearly knows that much of the dialogue is pretentious and is expecting us to agree. But it doesn’t judge its cast, it merely observes them and moves on, leaving the viewer to their own conclusions. It’s mildly amusing without being laugh-out-loud funny, it’s intellectual and simultaneously pretentious, and it’s absolutely awkward throughout.

But it’s so fascinating. I can’t explain why, but it is. There’s something kind of hypnotic about being this casual observer wandering through the neighbourhoods and university campuses of Austin watching all these twentysomethings debate and complain and theorise for no discernible purpose. It’s interesting to watch crazy conspiracy theorists talk so casually about JFK assassination coverups or terrorism via t-shirts. This is a town of oddballs and you never know what strange person you’ll encounter next.

Of course, it’s not for everyone. The lack of plot and the stoned, expressionless acting can get very tedious at times and the production values are incredibly minimal. Many people who watch this will simply think “what’s the point?” and “where’s the plot?” and “how many drugs was Richard Linklater smoking and how can we make him stop?”

But I kind of enjoyed Slacker, in the same way I kind of enjoyed Waking Life. It’s an interesting little film that’s worth watching again and analysing, and it’s an interesting glimpse into Generation X and their ramblings, but it requires a lot of effort on the viewer’s part and therefore isn’t going to rank high on my favourite movies list.

Starring Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan, Mark James, Stella Weir, John Slate, Louis Mackey & Teresa Taylor
Written by Richard Linklater
Produced by Richard Linklater
Cinematography by Lee Daniel
Edited by Scott Rhodes

Favourite Scene: The aging anarchist is played a lot more theatrically and enthusiastically than anybody else in the movie, and he’s fantastic.
Scene That Bugged Me: That business with Madonna’s pap smear. What’s all that about?

Watch it if: You like watching stoners
Avoid it if: You’re confused by the lack of obvious plot

#288 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

(1953, Howard Hawks)

“We’re just two little girls from Little Rock”

It was only a matter of time before we got round to taking a look at a Marilyn Monroe movie, and where better to start than with one of her more iconic appearances – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – but is it any good?

Adapted from a stage musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is about two close friends who work as showgirls. Lorelei Lee (Monroe) loves diamonds and is determined to marry a rich but socially awkward man so she can share in his wealth. Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell), however, isn’t interested in wealth and seeks out men based solely on attractiveness. The plot of the movie involves the duo travelling to Paris for work and so Lorelei can prepare for her marriage. A private detective has been hired by Lorelei’s fiancee’s father, and the duo have to avoid shenanigans, although shenanigans inevitably ensue.

So initially, I didn’t know what to expect. My experience with Marilyn Monroe is through her modern-day iconic image, where she’s largely been reduced to t-shirt slogans and teenage girls’ messenger status messages, and images of her standing on a vent. The fact that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a musical didn’t really help my wariness.

But the good news is, I was wrong to be wary. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is an excellent movie. In fact, the musical aspects of the movie are barely there bar a couple of flashy numbers, including the famous “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” sequence. On the whole, this movie is a screwball comedy with female protagonists, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Lorelei had the potential to be incredibly annoying. She’s a somewhat ditzy gold digger, exploiting a man for his money as the central premise of the movie. But Monroe makes her incredibly likeable, and her character is more often made fun of for her more negative traits, meaning that we’re not really supposed to approve. Plus there are depths to her character that get revealed as the movie progresses, so this helps significantly. Oh, and she delivers my favourite line in the movie, so there’s that too.

But while Monroe is clearly the star of the show here, I have to say that this gentleman preferred the brunette. Jane Russell as Dorothy had superb comic timing, flinging out quips and one-liners at every turn. She’s a smart counterpart to Lorelei and spends most of the movie despairing about what she’s gotten herself into. She was a fantastic character.

That said, I didn’t really like the subplot where she falls in love with the detective. It didn’t really make a lot of sense to me because he was such a slimy character and she seemed to be a lot smarter than being interested in someone like that. Especially after he screws her best friend over. It also just…happens instead of following a revelatory moment that maybe he isn’t as bad as he first seemed to be. He does some terrible things and gets off scot-free and wins the girl, which frustrated the hell out of me.

Another gripe I have with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes does revolve around the musical numbers, although probably not in the way you’d expect. There seems to be a real sound mixing issue going on between the normal spoken portions of the movie and the musical numbers, the latter of which constantly sound louder than the rest of the movie. This includes vocals too, and it’s incredibly jarring when Lorelei or Dorothy are speaking and then break into song, with their voices suddenly ramping up several decibels for no apparent reason.

Aside from this, I seriously enjoyed Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, much more than I ever expected I would. It’s a fantastic classic comedy and it’s a lot of fun, even if at times it can feel a little dated. I can see why Monroe was such an icon now.

Starring Marilyn Monroe & Jane Russell
Written by Joseph Fields & Anita Loos (play) and Charles Lederer
Produced by Sol C. Siegel
Music by Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Adamson, Jule Styne & Leo Robin
Cinematography by Robert Taylor
Edited by Hugh S. Fowler

Favourite Scene: “Don’t be fooled, she’s only marrying you for your money!” “No, that’s not true! I’m marrying him for your money!”
Scene That Bugged Me: They couldn’t have picked a better colour for the Olympic swimming team’s trunks? Really?

Watch it if: You’re a fan of campy screwball comedies
Avoid it if: You never like gold diggers under any circumstances

#276 The Producers

(1968, Mel Brooks)

“Congratulations! Hitler will run forever”

Two days ago, I reviewed a silly movie which featured Mel Brooks in a cameo and said how much I enjoyed it. Now it’s time to review a silly movie directed by Mel Brooks. But did I enjoy The Producers?

The Producers, one of Brooks’ earlier works before much of his work consisted of direct parodies of existing movies, stars Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock, a Broadway producer down on his luck. Unable to produce a hit for a while, and reduced to romancing old ladies for money to fund future projects, he hits upon a new scheme thanks to a visiting accountant, Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder). Bloom discovers that by over-budgeting, it’s possible to make more money with a flop than with a hit. And so the duo set out to make the worst Broadway play possible – Springtime For Hitler.

Read the rest of this entry

#275 The Muppet Movie

(1979, James Frawley)

“Kermit, does this film have socially redeeming value?”

Hello everyone. It’s my birthday today. And so, to prevent me from being enraged by an overhyped Hollywood epic or baffled by European arthouse cinema on my day, I picked a film I knew I would enjoy. Today I am reviewing The Muppet Movie.

I love the Muppets. In fact, everyone loves The Muppets. If you don’t like The Muppets, you’re weird. The Muppets are a lovable bunch of silly puppets and the world would be a much worse place without them in it. They’ve made a few movies in their time too, from adapting literary classics with A Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island to the recent release of Muppets Most Wanted. Today, we’re looking at where their cinematic career began, the simply-titled Muppet Movie.

Essentially an origin story for the gang of entertainers, it starts with Kermit The Frog (performed by Jim Henson) playing his banjo in the swamps when a Hollywood agent rows up to him in a boat saying that Hollywood is looking for entertaining frogs. And so, Kermit sets off on an adventure to Hollywood to gain super-stardom, where he meets new friends along the way such as Fozzie Bear, The Great Gonzo and the strangely alluring (to Kermit) Miss Piggy. Shenanigans ensue.

Read the rest of this entry

#272 The King Of Comedy

(1983, Martin Scorsese)
“Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime”

So last time we looked at a comedy for April Fool’s Day (…in theory…), so let’s look at what happens when comedy is handled by Martin Scorsese. Naturally, this being Scorsese and all, The King Of Comedy isn’t really a comedy, but is instead a dark portrayal of celebrity obsession and what happens when delusions take over someone’s reality. So a nice happy family film then.

Robert De Niro (of course) plays Rupert Pupkin, an autograph hunter and wannabe comedian who is obsessed with late night talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). Pupkin desperately wants to be a guest on Langford’s show so that he can show the world his supposed comic talents, and begins to stalk his hero.

Long before the Meet The Parents franchise pretty much killed off De Niro’s enthusiasm for acting, he’d already proven his comic talents with this movie. He’s hilarious as Pupkin, albeit hilarious in a way the character doesn’t intend. He’s an awkward kind of hilarious, in the same way that Ricky Gervais in The Office was awkwardly hilarious. He’s funny because he’s so sad, but he’s also very dark, often reminding me of a somewhat more unhinged Travis Bickle – Bickle at least had some grasp on reality, while Pupkin is completely severed from it.

Lewis is also very funny, although with an actor as well-known for his comedy as Lewis, this was expected. He’s a hugely sympathetic character, trying his best to stay level-headed in the face of crazy stalker fans and persistent messages from a supposed comedian who can’t grasp more realistic methods of breaking into comedy. He often gives De Niro a run for his money.

But while the movie certainly has plenty of comic moments when it starts, The King Of Comedy gradually gets darker as events unfold. Pupkin becomes more deluded, more convinced that he and Langford are best friends and that he has a shot on the show, and soon the comedy is replaced with terror. The awkwardness becomes uncomfortable and Pupkin’s actions become more unhinged. When Pupkin drags a date to Langford’s house unannounced, it’s terrifying, and amplified when the date realises what’s going on.

The creepiness of the whole thing is amplified with Pupkin’s frequent fantasies, where he imagines he and Langford as close colleagues, with Langford praising Pupkins’ comedic talents and promising him regular spots on his show. The fact these fantasies are presented without fanfare, blending seamlessly with reality, is the thing that makes all of this incredibly effective. It leaves the viewer questioning what’s real and what’s all in Pupkin’s head, and further highlights his detachment from reality.

This all comes to a head when we finally see Pupkin’s full comedy act. The entire feels less like a comedy routine and more like therapy. Pupkin pretty much pours his heart out, revealing a troubled past and practically admitting to his actions, and does so in a way that makes it seem like it’s all made up for comedy. The audience laughs, but the real audience (that’d be us) is shocked, knowing full well that this is a man who needs serious help.

This leads to ambiguity in the ending. Scorsese cleverly presented the ending as a scene that could go either way. It could be all in Pupkin’s head, with him gaining fame off the back of his actions, or languishing in a prison cell and imagining that his release will send him into the arms of an adoring public, assuming he’s let out at all.

Flaws? I genuinely couldn’t find any. The King Of Comedy was an uncomfortable but hugely entertaining piece of cinema from start to finish, and I have nothing bad to say about it. No wonder it’s Scorsese’s favourite out of all his films.

Starring Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard, Diahnne Abbott & Shelley Hack
Written by Paul D. Zimmerman
Produced by Arnon Milchan
Cinematography by Fred Schuler
Edited by Thelma Schoonmaker

Favourite Scene: That “comedy” routine at the end is pretty chilling.
Scene That Bugged Me: I found it a bit strange how flippantly Pupkin could get into Langford’s house.

Watch it if: You like dark comedy about celebrity obsession
Avoid it if: You think it’s a genuine stand-up comedy show

#271 Sons Of The Desert

(1933, William A. Seiter)

“Well, here’s another mess you’ve gotten me into”

This review was originally intended to posted on Tuesday, April Fool’s Day, but I never got around to it. That’s why there are references throughout to the day despite today being, well…not April Fool’s Day. Normal service will be resumed next week.

Laurel & Hardy are considered one of the greatest comedy acts of all time, with a vast library of films stretching from the silent era and on into the early 50s. So it seems fitting that today, on April Fool’s Day, we take a look at Sons Of The Desert, the only film from the duo on the 1001 Movies list.

As members of the fraternal lodge Sons Of The Desert, Stanley and Oliver find out there is to be a conference where the various chapters of the lodge from around the country are to meet up and have a huge party. The problem is, they need to convince their wives to let them go, with Oliver trying to convince his wife that he’s too ill to go on a trip to the hills with her, and that he should go to Honolulu to recuperate (giving him a cover story that prevents his wife from following him). Shenanigans ensue.

Sons Of The Desert is a product of its time. The storyline is largely based around the idea that wives don’t let their husbands have any fun and like to nag a lot. Men should be men and not allow themselves to be hen-pecked because a man who meekly does everything his wife says isn’t a real man.

It’s also heavily reliant on slapstick, a form of comedy that I’m not particularly fond of at the best of times. It’s a relic from the silent era that Laurel & Hardy carried over to the “talkies” with very little to change it up. I’m a fan of wordplay more than physical comedy, so something centred so heavily on the latter concerns me a little bit.

There is also an unnecessary musical number in the middle because all 1930s comedies apparently needed to bring one in to justify their light entertainment roles. And you know how I feel about musical numbers in general.

So, with all this working against the movie, why on earth did I find it so damn funny? I hate slapstick, and I tend to be very twitchy around outdated gender stereotypes such as “women like to nag a lot” and yet I enjoyed every minute of Sons Of The Desert. That took some skill, and I honestly don’t know how these two did it.

Everything about Sons Of The Desert is a mark of a great comedy. Every scene is meticulously pieced together with expert comic timing, with the slapstick being so over the top and absurd that it’s impossible not to laugh. Yes, it’s dated and you could never make a film like this now, but it somehow holds up as a brilliantly fun movie.

Even the negative aspects of the nagging wife trope are negated by the fact that the duo themselves are portrayed as ridiculous man-children anyway, and much of the humour comes from the fact that Oliver acts like the cool, smart one, when in fact he’s just a bumbling oaf. He criticises Stanley for being hen-pecked by his wife, but in fact Stan and his wife seem to have a pretty stable and relaxed marriage and Oliver feels that he has to sneak around his wife to do what he likes.

The absurdity of the plot also keeps things going. It doesn’t really make sense as a serious plot, but it’s not even trying to do that, and instead is determined to just ramp up the silliness at every turn and see how far it can go, until we reach a point where the wives think the duo died in a shipwreck, and as such the duo have to hide in the attic to avoid the fallout that would ensue from their deception being obviously discovered.

Sons Of The Desert is a live-action cartoon, and it works so damn well. Watching this single movie has convinced me that Laurel & Hardy’s enduring popularity is well-deserved. This is a fantastic comedy that has stood the test of time to the point where even its more dated elements don’t hold it back. A genuine comedy classic.

Starring Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charley Chase & Mae Busch
Written by Byron Morgan
Produced by Hal Roach
Music by William Axt
Cinematography by Kenneth Peach
Edited by Frank Terry

Favourite Scene: The attempts to help cure Oliver’s “illness” were pretty damn hilarious.
Scene That Bugged Me: There’s a joke involving wax fruit that kind of runs a little too long for my liking.

Watch it if: You appreciate classic comedy
Avoid it if: You’re a Friedberg & Seltzer fan

#268 Sideways

(2004, Alexander Payne)

“When do we drink it?”

Is there anything more pretentious in this world than wine culture? I personally don’t think so. Spending hours swirling around a glass of fermented grapes and then claiming that it smells of wood shavings and tastes like strawberries is an activity I’ve never quite understood. So hey, here’s a movie about that! HOW WONDERFUL!

Sideways is an independent movie from 2004 about two men who go on a wine-tasting tour of California as a sort of middle class bachelor party. Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a failed writer and wine enthusiast treating his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) to the trip before the latter gets married. Throughout the trip, Jack wants one more sexual fling before becoming a husband, while Miles wants a relaxing trip. Shenanigans happen.

Read the rest of this entry