Architecture, Autism, and Anthropomorphic Horses

Why didn’t anyone tell me how hard it would be to keep up on with new movies, TV shows, and reading while living with a newborn?  (Actually, EVERYONE told me).

Somehow…I did manage to finally finish a novel…T. C. Boyle’s The Women, a piece of historical fiction recommended by my wife that vividly details the life of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright through the four (often tempestuous) women he loved.  Hopscotching points of view (which include all four women, but also Wright, and a Japanese apprentice) and flip-flopping timelines, large swaths of the early sections are a bit sluggish to get through (though I’m not sure if some of the difficulty I had turning the pages was due to my own exhaustion and short attention span).  But, man o’ man, when the novel finally settles on its final 100 or so pages, which culminate in the infamous murder spree at Wright’s palatial Wisconsin hideaway Taliesin that resulted in the deaths of his mistress, her children, and other workers at the hands of an hatchet-wielding, fire-starting butler from Barbados, it was impossible to put down as the setting, characters, feelings, and horrific actions were made indelible on the mind as if the reader was right there watching it all.

(Side note – the earlier passages at his Oak Park estate outside Chicago were especially vivid in a different way as we had visited Oak Park last summer and I could picture his disgruntled ex-wife Kitty and their children in the rooms described by Boyle).

Meanwhile, in this day and age of Netflix, it’s easier to stay on top of some newer programs as binge watching lends itself well to being stuck inside a house for weeks on end. Continue reading

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Is The Death of Stalin Funny?

Seriously.  Is the Death of Stalin funny?  Not the actual event of Joseph Stalin’s historical death (no death, not even that of a mass-murdering dictator is funny…right?) but the movie, The Death of Stalin…is it funny?  I’m asking for a friend.

Can a film that ends with a central character being shot dead, and his body then burned, being placed literally into the ash heap of history, be funny?

Ladies and gentlemen…Mr. Steve Buscemi…as Nickita Khrushchev!  He’s brilliant, as per usual.  Buscemi deftly goes from neurotic joke-man to cold-blooded power-grabber (oh, that’s so Buscemi).  But is the performance…funny?  I mean, yes…it is (as is Jeffrey Tambor as an air-headed and feckless Georgy Malekov)…but funny how?  Funny how it looks?  How it sounds…Steve Buscemi…as Khrushchev?  Funny ha-ha?

Armando Iannucci (of In the Loop and Veep fame) has become the modern master of the politic satire (usually aimed at current events), but here is a historical period-piece.  What’s his end-game?  A correlation to Putin’s Russia?  Trump’s America?  Any cult of personality that innately leads to gas-lighting the public and internal chaos?  Is this a cautionary tale? Continue reading

While We’re Young

While-We-re-Young_0

Was it really that smart of Noah Baumbach to open his latest “comedy” by making us read a scene of dialogue from a play?  Even if it is an Isben play…and even if it is pertinent to the film’s major theme…which is essentially beware of the young?  Hidden beyond this stroke of semi-alienating pretension is an almost accessible, quasi-mainstream comedy, Baumbach’s most enjoyable (though far from best) yet.

Well, at least it immediately lets you know you’re in Baumbach territory.  Our main characters are a documentarian/professor (Ben Stiller) and his producer wife (Naomi Watts).  Only in movies, especially movies made by people like Woody Allen or Noah Baumbach (just like in any Franzen-esque pseudo-literary novel where everyone is a writer) is everyone involved in movies or the arts.  This once seemingly hip middle-aged couple have lost their mojo, and they try to get it back by befriending a couple who came to one of his classes, an aspiring documentarian (Adam Driver) and his pretty, young artisanal ice-cream making wife (Amanda Seyfried).  I balked at what the film was trying to make me believe…that Adam Driver (one of the most unlikable actors gracing the horizon of stardom) was supposed to be this generous, non-ironic, admirable seeker of truth and drinker of life.  Ah, but alas…(spoiler alert!) things are not all what the seem…or in Driver’s case, turn out to be exactly what I suspected…this hipster douche acting like a hipster sage was in actuality…a hipster douche!

As is always the case, Baumbach peppers the film with sharp observational (sometimes judgmental) comedy and sound-bites amidst his odes-to-Woody conversational set pieces.  Continue reading

Live from New York on Any Given Saturday Night

I’m a bit late to the game as the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special aired on NBC this past Sunday, but watching the three-hour trip down memory lane got me thinking between the laughs.  It’s amazing how much SNL has been and continues to be part of my routine.  I was still in single digits when I watched the early seasons rerun on Nick@Nite, and it was during the Farley heyday when the teen version of me became a committed live watcher.  The current season may be abysmal (only the absurdly funny “Wishin’ Boot” music video deserves repeat play), but the special reminded me how funny SNL can be and left me reminiscing about my favorite sketches over the years.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but more of an invitation for you, dear readers, to share your favorite SNL sketches.

SNL - Bag O Glass

As far as “one-and-done” stand-alone pieces, nothing in my mind tops “Consumer Report” where Dan Aykroyd plays a slimy toys salesman shucking new toys for the Christmas season, one of which is a literal bag of broken glass.  Continue reading

Film within a Film in Seven Psychopaths and Argo

Currently in cinemas across the nation two films take on the old “film within a film” schtick – one going absurd while the other playing it straight.  Both have garnered critical acclaim but only one has seen box office success and is being bandied about with awards buzz.  Seven Psychopaths and Argo couldn’t be more different in style, substance and intent – yet they both hang (and in one case, hang themself) on the central conceit of a film within a film.

First up is Seven Psychopaths.  Boring title and lousy marketing aside, I had high hopes for award-winning playwright Martin McDonagh’s second feature film as his first, In Bruges, is one of my favorite films from the past five years.  The plot of Seven Psychopaths sounded darkly madcap enough – a hapless bunch of dog thieves (Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell) kidnap the dog of a gangster (Woody Harrelson) and hilarious melee ensues.  Sadly, what might have made a good short-story is trapped amongst other not-so-good stories as one of the friends of these dog-nappers is a struggling, alcoholic writer (Colin Farrell) working on a terrible screenplay called Seven Psychopaths that he intends to use to eschew the typical psychopathic thriller.  We get introduced to these psychopaths as he makes them up and some are more interesting than the rest, though as Walken’s character puts it so succinctly at one point, “It all gets a little tiresome after a while.”  Continue reading

Fargo Voted #51 in Wonders in the Dark’s Top Comedies Poll

Heck D’ya Mean! Fargo only placed 51st?

A few months back I was asked to participate in the Top Comedy Films of All Time polling at the world’s premier independently run film blog, Wonders in the Dark.  While Fargo placed far higher on my own list, it finished 51st in the official polling.  I then had the pleasure of being asked to provide an essay extolling the many virtues of Fargo, which apart from being such an ingenious dark comedy, is one of my personal favorite films – a state of mind I find myself returning to at least once a year.  Apparently I’ll never get enough of those accents.

Here’s an excerpt from my essay –

But it’s those small moments that make it undeniably funny – Marge’s interview of the goofy gum-smacking truck-stop hookers, the idiotic zombified niceness of the cashier at the diner where Jerry convinces his father-in-law to pay a ransom on a kidnapping Jerry arranged, and the complete disinterest of the call girl Carl tries to impress by taking her to the Carlton Celebrity Room to see Jose Feliciano.
 
The Coens also displayed a hilarious knack for sucking the seriousness out of dire situations, like when Jerry tries to comfort his son Scotty after Scotty’s mother is kidnapped and on the back of the kid’s bedroom door is a poster for “The Accordion King” – a fat smiling idiot in the Alps looking down on this hot mess in the Twin Cities.

Click here to read the full essay at Wonders in the Dark and to join the debate about whether Fargo is a comedy at all.

America, Jesus and Freedom in The Campaign

If this isn’t the funniest movie of the summer I will punch you in the face!

Like clockwork every two years near the end of summer a Will Ferrell vehicle arrives on the scene to make a case for the title of funniest movie of the year.  In 2004 it was Anchorman, in 2006 it was Talladega Nights, in 2008 it was Step Brothers and in 2010 it was The Other Guys.  Pretty much everything the SNL funny man has done in between these films (spare for the underrated dramedy Stranger than Fiction) has been crap.  Now, in 2012, here comes The Campaign.

Similarly like clockwork every year as we near November (and even more so in presidential election years) we are overwhelmed by negative campaign ads, increasingly absurd political wrangling and non-stop nattering idiots in the media.  It is this milieu that The Campaign wisely and broadly assails. 

In North Carolina’s Mayberry-esque 14th district, Cam Brady (Will Ferrell, doing a great riff on his previous Dubya impersonation crossed with the perfectly coifed sleaziness of John Edwards) has run uncontested for years on three simple words – America, Jesus and Freedom.  But that’s all about to change when the billionaire corporatist Motch Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) see an opportunity to put up a puppet candidate who will help them bring Chinese slave labor to American shores.  In walks the incompetent Marty Huggins (Zack Galifianakis, perfectly embodying the oddly effeminate weirdo Southern mamma’s boy archetype) to run against Brady. Continue reading

Growing Pains: Ted vs Moonrise Kingdom

A teddy bear and his hookers.

In this corner – the weekend’s number one film at the box office and Seth “Family Guy” MacFarlane’s first foray into film – Ted.

A director and his children.

In the other corner – the critically acclaimed sleeper hit for the hipster arthouse set, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

The first film I wanted to like a lot…but didn’t…while the second film I wanted to dislike a lot…but didn’t. Strangely they suffer from the same troubling underlying theme (the old more of the same bit), though one film is clearly better at overcoming that flaw than the other.

First up – Ted. It’s a simple sellable concept – boy wishes teddy bear could talk, wish comes true, teddy grows up into foul-mouthed pervert, hilarity ensues…right? Hilarity should be ensuing. Waiting….waiting…. Oh, wait, a fart joke! The movie starts out charmingly sarcastic enough, a kind of riff on those magical wish-fulfillment kids’ flicks from the 1980’s (that I hated) complete with Patrick Stewart narration. After the credits finally roll (featuring a pretty funny montage), MacFarlane attempts to translate all of his patented animated schtick to live-action complete with 1950’s-style music.

Continue reading

Our Idiot Brother

Like, wow, man, can't we all just get along, man?

 
Is there a more amiable guy working in comedy today than Paul Rudd?  Whether playing a cynic or a sap, he always comes across as the guy you want to have a beer with.  Easily gliding amongst bigger players in the cutting edge works of David Wain, Judd Apatow and Adam McKay – the men who have redefined comedy in the past decade – Rudd has emerged as the most likable, easy-going and authentic of the lot.  In Our Idiot Brother, a film designed around his incalculable charms, Rudd shines in his first film where he is the sole headliner. Continue reading

What Would Sylvester Stallone Do?

ATTENTION FILM FANS:  Put Son of Rambow at the top of your Netflix queue right now!  For some reason this family friendly feel-good British indie import never became the break-out hit is should’ve been in theaters.  I honestly think American audiences were confused by the title and thought Sylvester Stallone was actively involved in the project.  I also think this film is ten times funnier and more honest than recent indie blockbusters like Napoleon Dynamite or Little Miss Sunshine.  For folks from my generation, this film is for you, and it’s everything Michel Gondry’s miserable Be Kind Rewind wished it could be.

CAPTION:  Oh, those crazy kids!

Hope and Glory v. 8.0, 6 September 2008
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Garth Jennings’ hilarious Son of Rambow is a nearly perfect Generation-Y update of one of my favorite films from childhood, John Boorman’s vastly underrated masterpiece Hope and Glory. Whereas Boorman’s Hope and Glory was tinted with melancholic Graham Greene era nostalgia and told the story of a young boy coping with Germany’s blitzkrieg over England during WWII through the power of make-belief, Jenning’s laugh-out-loud Son of Rambow takes a post-modern 1980’s pop-culture inspired look at a young boy’s escape from a harsh religious upbringing through an obsession with the movie Rambo: First Blood.

When a religiously oppressed Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner, with the perfect comic timing only an untrained child actor could provide) forms an unlikely friendship with a criminally neglected and movie-obsessed Lee Carter (Will Poulter, first seen on screen smoking a cigarette while making a bootleg video in a packed theater showing the original Rambo), the two decide to make their own Rambo-inspired film to enter in a local contest. Insane stunt-driven Tom and Jerry inspired antics ensue while Will has to hide his new activities from the family-focused Brethren and the family-impoverished Lee can’t help but get in trouble at school.

When Lee gets suspended for a mishap with a dog statue, a kite, and a science teacher clipping his nose hairs at just the wrong time; Will unwittingly attracts the attention of an inexplicably popular French exchange student and his bumbling British entourage who can’t wait to take part in the film. What follows is a hilarious kids-level satire of the movie world complete with an ingenious Boogie Nights style series of scenes that show an exclusive underground club on school grounds where kids dance to bad 1980’s music while chugging soda after downing Pop Rocks and highlights the bizarre brotherhood of filmmakers and actors that inevitably arises from such shenanigans. And that’s not the only connection to auteur Paul Thomas Anderson, as like There Will Be Blood, this Son of Rambow also features a pivotal scene of an emotionally distraught child covered in oil. And did I mention that like my novel The Thief Maker many scenes take place at a nursing home where Lee lives unattended by his jet-setting mother and step-father? Trust me, this is much funnier. Luckily, like Boorman’s clearly influential classic, this film is also wonderfully photographed and chock-full of naturalistic acting from the young cast.

Sure, Son of Rambow lacks the gravitas and realism of Boorman’s semi-autobiographical Hope and Glory but it packs a similar emotional wallop for those in my age group who grew up pretending to make movies in their backyards with neighborhood kids after the latest GI Joe or Transformers episode aired and were inspired by the latest Star Wars or Indiana Jones film before those franchises were raped for opportunistic profit during our disenfranchised adult years. For a generation of late 20’s and early 30-somethings who spent their childhoods disengaged watching endless marathons of The Little Rascals and The Three Stooges on TV while action stars like Sylvester Stallone pounded movie theater audiences into a bloody pulp, Son of Rambow is pure imagination-inspired movie magic that will tickle the funny bone while successfully playing for our sympathies. In an increasingly strange year of hidden gems and quiet sleeper hits, from cathartic and clever documentaries like Man on Wire to wickedly dark Graham Greene tinted comedy-dramas like In Bruges, Garth Jennings’ touching and uproarious Son of Rambow just might be the most accessible and deserves to become a cult favorite on DVD.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0845046/usercomments-65

SON OF RAMBOW is rated PG-13 for mild profanity, 1980’s British social mores, pre-adolescent French ennui, and cartoonish violence and reckless behavior all involving children.