Archive

comedy

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum (1966)
Written by Melvin Frank & Michael Pertwee
Based on the musical by Burt Shevelove, Larry Gelbart, and Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Richard Lester

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Pseudolus (Zero Mostel) is a slave in ancient Rome who enjoys gambling and disobeying his masters of the House of Senex. His son of his masters, Hero (Michael Crawford) is in love with a woman he has spied only from his bedroom window at the brothel next door. Pseudolus sees this as an opportunity to gain his freedom and makes this the reward if he is able to get Hero’s dream girl for him. What follows is a farce of class and society filtered through the lens of the satires of Roman playwright Plautus and the vaudeville schtick of Jewish comedians. The whole production is directed by English filmmaker Richard Lester who was hot off of The Beatles’ Help! and British sex farce The Knack…and How to Get It. All of this makes for some very wild cinema.

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Lemon
Written by Janicza Bravo and Brett Gelman
Directed by Janicza Bravo

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Isaac Lachmann (Brett Gelman) is a despicable, misanthropic, misogynist, narcissist. He is a struggling actor who teaches acting classes with a pretension so dense it is nauseating. The opening of the film finds his live-in girlfriend Ramona (Judy Greer) trying to sidestep out of their relationship and Isaac taking it in the least mature way possible. He stumbles through episodes in his life that include Passover with his almost equally acidic family. He somehow ends up in another relationship despite being a rude, crass dullard and the story sort of just ends. Isaac’s life continues to be a mire of self-pity and blame shifting.

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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
Written by Dale Launer and Stanley Shapiro & Paul Henning
Directed by Frank Oz

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Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine) has a good thing going. He lives in a beautiful mansion in Beaumont Sur Mer, on the French Riviera. He makes his money bilking foolish wealthy American women by convincing them he is exiled royalty from a fictional Eastern European country. Everything starts to fall apart when Freddy Benson (Steve Martin) comes to town. Freddy is a rude, loud, obnoxious con man who thinks he’s impressive getting a woman to buy him a dinner. Lawrence and Freddy face off to determine who is the better criminal and end up crossing paths with Janet Colgate, an unassuming American beauty (Glenne Headly).

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Hello, My Name is Doris (2016)
Written by Laura Terruso & Michael Showalter
Directed by Michael Showalter

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Doris Miller (Sally Field) has just lost her mother. She’s lived all her sixty-something years on Staten Island with her mom, and now she isn’t quite sure what to do with her life. She does data entry for an apparel company in the city and finds herself becoming infatuated with John (Max Greenfield), the new art director. Doris begins to challenge her own routines and expand her horizons in a film that seeks to play with our expectations of romantic comedies.

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Masterminds (2016)
Written by Chris Bowman & Hubbel Palmer, and Emily Spivey
Directed by Jared Hess

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It’s 1997 in North Carolina, and Loomis Fargo armored truck driver David Ghant (Zach Galifianakis) is about to be married but developing a crush on his fellow driver Kelly (Kristen Wiig). Kelly’s friend and ex-con Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson) convinces her to use this infatuation as a means to have David rob Loomis Fargo for them. David goes along and ends up absconding with $17 million dollars in cash, the largest robbery in American history. They dupe dumb David into hiding out in Mexico with plans to turn him in a while blowing as much money as they can. But through a series of coincidence and dumb luck, David ends up with the upper hand.

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555 (2017)
Written by Kate Berlant, John Early, & Andrew DeYoung
Directed by Andrew DeYoung

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A mall employee finds out a pop song she wrote has been stolen. A mother pushes her near mute son to audition for commercials. Two students in an acting class have meaningless interactions. A couple of actors getting makeup applied talk endlessly about getting their shit together and making YouTube content. Hollywood agents move like predators through every aspect of their lives. This is the world of Kate Berlant and John Early’s 555, a digital anthology series offered by Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/ondemand/fivefivefive).

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Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986, dir. Tobe Hooper)

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It’s been thirteen years since the events of the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre and stories still surface from time to time of bizarre killings and bodies found on the side of the road in pieces. The local police don’t seem to take the sensationalized version of this stories seriously though Lt. Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper) believes. His niece and nephew were two of the young people slaughtered back in 1973, and he is on the hunt for the people who did it. Lefty’s path crosses with radio DJ Stretch who has a recording of a killing that occurred during a call-in on her show. This recording leads them into a direct confrontation with the Sawyer family in their new home, the amusement park Texas Battle Land.

Director Tobe Hooper was reportedly unhappy with how grim, and serious audiences took the original film when he personally saw a lot of dark humor woven throughout. This sequel was his reaction to that, and it most definitely shows. TCM2 is most definitely a horror-comedy, and I personally think it is a great one. When it comes to horror, I’m not a big fan of the slasher/gore sub-genre. So many times it just feels like an excuse to showcase a large number of special effects that, while impressive, don’t really scare me. And I feel the best horror is the kind that gets under your skin and leaves you unnerved. Hooper’s original plan was to make the sequel about an entire Texas small town full of cannibals running riot, but the producers opted for something a little smaller and readily achievable. That isn’t to say TCM2 is a subtle film, it is over the top crazy, particularly with Dennis Hopper’s character.

Hopper plays Lefty as a completely unhinged religious zealot, unhinged being something Hopper was great at. Early in the film he goes to purchase a chainsaw for his coming confrontation with the Sawyers and ends up getting one large saw, plus two smaller ones so he can duel wield. He tests them out on a log designed for this purpose outside the store. The scene reminded me of the weirder moments in Cabin Fever where you have no idea why characters are doing or saying what they are in this scene. It’s both funny and really effectively creepy. This is just one instance of how heightened all the characters are across the picture. Stretch is overly spunky, and her transformation that leads up to the ending is both hilarious and terrifying.

The Sawyer Family is played in a fascinating way, particularly in how Hooper undercuts a lot of their menace in the latter half of the film. Leatherface and The Cook are present in the first act but in the background. It’s not until the new addition to the family Chop Top’s arrival at the radio station one night that our protagonists are met with their enemies. Bill Moseley’s portrayal of Chop Top continues the scary and funny dynamic Hooper is attempting. The character is implied to be a Vietnam vet turned washed up hippie with a metal plate in his head courtesy of the Viet Cong. He wears a wig when he first appears and habitually lights the hook of a wire hanger and scratches the scabbed skin around the plate. If that wasn’t bad enough, he picks the skin off the hook and nibbles on it. The grotesque is heightened to that level of cartoon absurdity, and I think this was a better choice than the way the Michael Bay reboot franchise has gone completely grimdark.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is not a film that is ever going to appeal to a mass audience. It’s way too gross for most moviegoers and way too silly for hardcore horror fans. It is definitely the work of its director and screenwriter, L.M. Kit Carson’s views on Texas and America in the 1980s. Instead of a quiet farmhouse, the Sawyer’s inhabit a grossly elaborate bone covered compound beneath the earth. Seeing the film, not as a pure horror experience, but a personal comment on a particular ideology of the time adds a lot to understanding what the filmmakers are doing and why they went in such a strange direction.