The Spin’s Top 60 Comedies of All Time

“You put WHAT on your top comedy list?”

I was recently asked by the film blogger extraordinaires at Wonders in the Dark to submit a ballot for the Top 60 Comedies of All-Time in preparation for their next feature which will tabulate the ballots and produce a definitive list later in the summer.  At first I found the task daunting – as many will remember guest-blogger Nicky D’s hotly contested and wildly popular Top 47 Comedies of All-Time that graced The Spin not so long ago.  For me, comedy is the most subjective and generational-based of genres – and it’s hard to judge films on personal tastes in humor.  However, the always generous Sam Juliano at WitD invited balloters to adopt an “anything goes” policy – meaning – if it’s a comedy to you! – put it on the list.  This opened up the door for me to include some of my favorite accidental comedies as well as satires and dark comedies that many would judge as dramas.  One will see my love for the darker side of comedy in this list, as well as my love for Woody Allen and those rascally kids that had me in stitches when I was a kid – yup – short films are allowed – hence the love for Our Gang.  At any rate…let the debate that started with Nicky D’s list continue as  I present to you my official rebuttal and ballot for the Wonders in the Dark polling.  I will provide no additional commentary and let the list speak for itself… Continue reading

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The Cabin in the Woods

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 - who do you think is gonna survive?

There’s an interesting moment about twenty minutes into Drew Goddard’s debut film, The Cabin in the Woods (co-scripted by Joss Whedon) where an inanely bad CGI bird comes gliding down into the open space outside a mountain tunnel and crashes into some kind of invisible electrified grid imprisoning any living thing that travels through the tunnel.  As if the weirdly mundane pre-credit sequence featuring Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford wasn’t enough to clue viewers in…this moment reminds us that something conspiratorially massive is afoot.  Is this “snarky and attractive college kids are about to get stalked and killed in the woods” flick really just some sadistic reality show?  Is it all just an overly elaborate set-up for a modern-day spin on yee olde human sacrifice game? 

But the bad CGI bird hitting the electrified grid is deliberately misleading because it doesn’t prepare you at all for Goddard’s gleefully bonkers denoument…a rollicking special-effects laden and gore-strewn twenty minutes of balls-to-the-walls horror show fun.  I don’t know how else to describe it but to say it’s as if the “Imaginationland” episodes of South Park went live-action meta-horror.  The whole thing is wonderfully paced to lull you into thinking it’s going through the genre motions only to defy every expectation you have of a modern horror film. Continue reading

Red State

I do not come in peace.

“People do strange things when they believe they’re entitled, but they do the strangest things when they just plain believe.”

As a man best know for his blue comedies and ear for hipster geek dialogue, nobody would’ve ever accused writer/director Kevin Smith of profundity.  Over the years Smith has been at his best when he’s fiercely independent (Clerks, Clerks II, Chasing Amy) or when he’s courting controversy (Dogma).  The rest of his cannon has been fairly forgettable.  Yet here with Red State, an independent and doggedly controversial film that has escaped mainstream release and instead premiered on-demand (after a few key one-off preview screening events), Smith has performed one of the strangest about-faces in modern film.  It’s a mish-mash of genres – part psychological thriller, part horror film, part satire – and though unnervingly uneven, by many measures its Smith’s most accomplished film.  And best of all – love it or hate it – it’s a film worth talking about. Continue reading

Freedom Fighters

“But nothing disturbs the feeling of specialness like the presence of other human beings feeling identically special.” – page 444.

Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is an epic piece of self-loathing.

I didn’t read Franzen’s Corrections – the literary cause-de-celebre from a few years back that shot Franzen’s name as a contemporary literary titan into the stratosphere — ahhh…the power of Oprah.  When it comes to writers like Franzen, I like to come in through the side door, read their follow-ups first and introduce myself to them when they are perhaps not at their best.

In Freedom, Franzen introduces us to the Berglunds – the on-the-surface, perfect, Mid-West, All-American, upper-middle-class family living the dream.  It comes as no surprise that they are anything but, and Franzen paints an epic anti-Norman Rockwell portrait of this family from the parents’ teenage days to their children growing up and flying the coop.  Continue reading

Difficult Difficult Lemon Difficult

...oh, YES WE CAN!

...oh, YES WE CAN!

A review of IN THE LOOP:

Satire is so hard to pull off.  It’s so far from being “easy peasy lemon squeezy” I would go as far to say that it’s “difficult difficult lemon difficult.”  It’s a British term, you’ll catch on soon.

For the past ten years satire has been regulated to animation (the South Park movie), puppetry (Team America), and well, something called Sacha Baron Cohen, and let’s be honest, is that even real satire, or just mockery?  We really haven’t seen anything live-action of this sort since Wag the Dog, which is why it’s so refreshing to be back In the Loop.  And guess what?  Politics are funny again!

In the Loop is the minor masterstroke of Armando Iannucci, and his central conceit is to imagine a Dr. Strangelove “rush to war” scenario done up in a modern context and filmed like an episode of “The Office” — the British version.  Jesse Armstrong and Simon Blackwell provide the fire power through their whiplash inducing witty dialogue that in turn is spewed forth by a live-wire cast of American and British veterans all playing their A-game. Continue reading

Being There, Done That

BEING THERE:

I recently watched for the first time Hal Ashby’s 1979 satire, Being There, which I found amusingly prophetic.  Satire is so hard to do, and Ashby’s film does it fairly well, though it never achieves the scathing brilliance of Sidney Lumet’s Network, a film made just three years prior.  In Being There, Peter Sellers plays a TV-obsessed idiot savant gardener who through a series of mishaps and misunderstandings becomes the toast of Washington D. C.  For the most part, Ashby plays the satire light and bubbly, until the eerie closing scenes that become rich with overt symbolism and end with Sellers literally walking on water not knowing yet that he has been handpicked by the Masonic cabal to become the nation’s next political wunderkind.

Whereas Network envisioned a society in which reality TV runs amok, corporate fascism rules supreme, and Saudi Arabian oil money holds a controlling interest in American media and politics–sound familiar?– Being There paints a picture of America in the midst of an economic meltdown where a bumbling idiot is gifted the Presidency by the ruling class–wow, that could never happen.  One of the funniest bits in Being There is when the media falls in love with Sellers’ Chauncey Gardner and considers him a breath of fresh air because he doesn’t read any newspapers.  In fact, he doesn’t even know how to read or write.  The public sees him as brilliant because he boils down the economic crisis to a simpleton’s terms by using a gardening metaphor.  There’s also a great bit where his former caretaker (an elderly African-American maid) sees him on TV and proclaims, “That boy is as dumb as a jack-ass.  This proves all you have to be is White in America and you get what you want.”  In 1979 that was spot on, but, wait, have things actually changed?

Well, as we now have one idiot who didn’t read newspapers leaving office after eight horrendous years that produced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and another idiot who failed to get into Washington D. C. after being advertised as a breath of fresh air sweeping down from Alaska, we are about to inaugurate an eloquent African-American as our next President who has proven hard work can trump nepotism in a renewed America.  It seems the era Being There warned of has already come to pass and it was even more horrifically funny than the film that prophesized it.

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DONE THAT:

In the “done that” category, I finally read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  You know, The Road is one of those books everyone you know who reads has read and has been telling you, “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS”, but you didn’t read it until you heard it was being made into a movie.  The Road is a grim tale of a father and son roaming a post-apocalyptic wasteland trying to survive.  In this dark future, ash covers everything, charred bodies litter the landscape, most animals have become extinct, and marauding groups of cannibals pick off survivors one by one.

McCarthy crafts the novel in a stark, lean style meant to mirror the savage existence he describes.  I found the fragmented sentences and unmarked dialogue hard to get used to, but the book moves at such a quick and horrific clip that it soon becomes easy to overlook the stylistic idiosyncrasies.  Much of the storyline is repetitive:  father and son search for food, father and son find food, father and sun run out of food, father and son search for more food, they stumble upon a cannibal here, a terrifying scene there, they find an idyllic shelter they only have to leave too soon out of fear–and many readers will find it frustrating that the apocalypse is never explained and the ending arrives all too conveniently.  I also found the religious underpinnings to be overly simplistic.

Despite these flaws, The Road held me mysteriously captivated.  It was the fist time since I was a child that I raced through a book in only two days.  I don’t know if that speaks to the style in which the book is written or the power of its story.  When I was a teenager, I was more inclined to enjoy these post-apocalyptic-sci-fi-horror-infused tales, and this would’ve been just the type of thing my immature mind would’ve loved.  Now, I’m a bit more cynical and tied to the real world, and The Road seems like the relic of a juvenile past.  I give credit to McCarthy, however, for delivering something that is completely unlike anything I’ve read in the past five years.  It will be awhile before I fully digest his vision.

The film adaptation of The Road is set for an early 2009 release.  It is directed by John Hillcoat, who was responsible for the grim Aussie Western The Proposition, and stars Viggo Mortensen.

Written by David H. Schleicher