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Tag: comedy

Under The Sun (2015)

The Father Of Invention

No stranger to hot topics, Vitaliy Manskiy, Under The Sun‘s director, has previously released, among others, Virginity (2008), about three young women using the titular asset to make their way in 21st century Ukrainia, and Pipeline (2013), casting an uflinching look at what the construction of the Trans-Siberian gas pipeline meant to local populations. He found himself in 2015 at the helm of a documentary officialy sanctioned by North Korean authorities, devoted to the one and only possible subject: how and why the last remaining Stalinian State is Paradise on Earth. He therefore dutifully followed the official instructions, only with one caveat: he kept the camera rolling during rehearsals of Pyong Yang’s version of cinéma vérité, most of the times to hilarious effect, but sometimes to a terrifying one.

There is, you see, always someone forgetting lines, or lurking in the corner of the screen, or looking straight in the camera at the wrong time, ruining the painstakingly recreated illusion of happiness and prosperity commissioned by the authorities. By virtue of these minor interferences, the omnipresent propaganda machine modeling the public consciousness in any possible way is proven unable to sustain a exterior gaze, despite, or maybe because, the constant Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il imagery and the delirious architecture crushing people under the weight of a dystopian, Orwellian quotidian.

Some of the scenes elicit giggles that turn to a laughter of delight. North Korea has obviously invented flash-mobs, with crowds of costumed people congregating in empty spaces to sing and dance. Kimchi can cure cancer and restore youth. In a stupendous scene of suspense lasting several minutes, a young girl might or might not fall asleep during the speech of an elderly general sporting more than fourty medals, her fight against boredom and tiredness being filmed in merciless close-up. “What do I say know?” asks the general after an endless tirade about the superiority of the North Korean army over American forces. Oblivious of the answer, he starts all over again.

Some others are painful to watch, like the final training of a very young girl dancing on marching drums. She is first ecstatic, giving the best she has, then as the teaching goes on and on she just looks exhausted and in pain. She breaks into tears. Asked to think of something good to stop crying, she first says “I don’t know what”, then recites the pledge to the Children Union like the good little citizen she is. It’s awful. Another little girl, or is it the same, chosen to embody any child of the Great Socialist Republic, appears in front of a gigantic red curtain to deliver a welcome address to some pageant at the glory of the Great Leader, and she has such a case of stagefright than it plays like the Radiator Lady scene in Eraserhead.

People take turns to have their picture taken in front of the two Great Leaders giant golden statues, looking dead inside. You look at them terrified, then you muse about the parallel architecture of the gigantic square, converging towards the current Great Leader’s grandfather and father, and you wonder: what place is left for him? He’s not on the many frescoes depicting the exploits of his elders, there’s no room left for another bronze colossus. This, maybe better than anything else, expresses the tragic alieness and alienation of a country without a future.

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Ghostbusters (2016)

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Nobody Hurts Kevin!

It’s 2040 and the President is a plant. Absolute powers have been transfered to the Ministry of Fan Service. By consequence, tampering with cult movies is subject to prosecution or, should one better say, persecution. The 2030 Nervermore Act establishes in adamant terms that in the wake of the major Ghostbusters crisis of 2016, no male cult character can ever again be played – or, as the law says, “impersonated” – by a woman, nor any cult movie ever reinterpreted in the presumptuous light of gender blurring. The “Hanny Sola” amendment, dismissed by only one vote, transgender Delaware Junior Senator Cherry Onthecake’s, aimed at enhancing punishment up to lapidation by frozen pizza.

It is time in our cultural history to take a moment revisiting the root of that major inflection in our movie policy. Who would think by now that it all started with the perverse endeavour of remaking an early 80s alleged masterpiece featuring four no-lifers, retard SFX, Sigourney Weaver, and lots of goo? Problem was, the project involved replacing the four useless doofus by, it hurts one to even mention it, well, let’s cut to the chase, no really, oh well OK. Women. Obviously lesbian women, considering they were either fat, black, or quirky. Or smart.

To add insult to injury, the same criminal “reboot” included replacing Sigourney Weaver by Kevin, a male bimbo, all made of “pure muscle and baby-smooth skin”. But no brain, a pure object of female lust, so superior in any physical way to any fan of the original movie that one of the worst “gags” – the evil geek taking possession of the bimbo’s vacant brain and uttering the infamous line “Thanks for the upgrade!” was legitimately perceived as devious, deviant, and castrating. Cult movies prior to oldies but goodies Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey are exclusively male territory, as explicitely stated by the Nevermore Act’s preamble.

What is to infer from the previous three paragraphs? If the massive backlash this year’s version of Ghostbusters suffered from angry fans of the original demonstrates anything, it’s actually twofold: given time, anything is likely to becomes iconic, however worthless it was to begin with, and those for whom it becomes so have the potential to become integrists. The original movie was an ugly piece of parody, hardly better than an episode of Scoobidoo, featuring four nerds fighting Play-Do in the most regressive fashion. This one is hardly a good movie, but it’s undeserving of the Titanic reputation copy-paste, retweet and gregarious reflex has built for it in a matter of weeks. it has “the most hated trailer on Youtube” ever. One means, come on. We are not in rational territory anymore there, we are in a fast food culture of disposable hate and trolling.

One would take the new version of Ghostbusters anytime on the original one. It’s not a good movie by any means but at least it has four gifted female comedians as heroins instead of the usual band of brothers. It’s plagued by enough stupid references and cameos for three or four features but it has the decency of throwing Bill Murray by the window. Chris Hemsworth has never been better and his dance number on the final credit is alone worth the price of admission. “Nobody hurts Kevin”, indeed, except everybody tried to, and succeeded, although Kevin is eye candy with a pea in his head, triggering giggles, not outraged bigotry. Viewing advised if only to measure what all the fuss was not about.

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Showgirls (1995)

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Snow White Does Las Vegas

The fact that Showgirls is back in theaters speaks volumes about reevaluation, and as far as prep talks go it says a lot about media hype and the burning of idols, too. That movie would be a cautionary tale if anything of the sort still existed; as such, it nevertheless takes part in a conversation about Short Attention Span Disorder that no one is able to follow, and that’s the irony of it.

Irony is not exactly foreign to Paul Verhoeven, as demonstrated by Robocop, Starship Troopers (is it the best bad movie ever, or is it the worst good movie, the jury will ever be out) or even Basic Instinct. The man is one of the few European directors to have left his mark on Hollywood at the end of the 20th century, directing big budgets blockbusters which were hot topics at the time, mainly for their violence but also for their sexuality (remember that particular piece of the True Crotch?) But, but, violence is good, violence is fun, and sex is not. Sex is evil, well, women sex is. The female sex in general. Whores and witches, all of’em, ya know.

By switching focus from violence to sex, Verhoeven spoke the unspeakable and committed a cardinal sin. Backlash was swift, the same ones who enjoyed Total Recall (Violence + Comedy) and Basic Instinct (Violence + Sex) rejecting with puritan horror Showgirls (Sex + Comedy). What the hell was he thinking, desecrating Las Vegas, the Wedding Meccah? Focussing on strip clubs and tacky shows, when there is so much to gamble about, what Ocean’s Eleven, a perfectly apt American movie made by a less controversial European director, made six years later?

But what about the movie itself, you think? Well, think of it as an adult version of Snow White and fuggettabout the Seven Dwarves. If you can’t, you have a fetish and you are very much welcome, but you have a problem, too. So: Snow White, the Evil Queen, and Prince Charming. Las Vegas is the mirror on the wall, the bad guy who says to the Queen (Gina Gershon, one of the most carnivorous actresses who ever were) that there is a fairer of them all. Snow White (Elisabeth Berkeley, not a great thespian by any mean but the quintessence of bimbo, and as such an inspired casting) does what Zach Snyder’s limp dicked Sucker Punch was unable to show: she dances like hell, thank you very much, and when she does it is impossible not to watch (the impossibility of the male gaze not to stare at beauty being our fetish of the week).

Showgirls is a great movie, but it’s the Versace in a row of Prada. It’s tacky, expensive and camp, yet smart as a whip and, at the end of the day, surprisingly human for all the caricature involved. Its backstage scenes are as superiorly filmed as its show scenes are flatly vulgar, all organised confusion and petty revenge when no natural empathy is involved. And a lot of empathy is at work here. For all its bare breasts, implied sex and titillation, Showgirls is at its core a feminine movie, its men helpless or unable to touch (Kyle McLachlan, miscast but not as Prince Charming). It’s Grrrl power two years before Spice World. It’s a shame to the Razzie Awards, which Verhoeven was the first director to attend to collect his. Irony, see, is a tightrope, but if you get to the other side the same ones who derided you will clap, given time. And balance.

Also, writer Joe Eszterhaz was at its best with this one. “They wanna fuck Hope. This is a classy joint”. This is screwball for the millenium. A perfect companion to Wall Street (1987), except that one got an Oscar even though it is much inferior, Showgirls is like its “Goddess” heroin, ambitious as hell and how fuck does it know the moves to get there (this one pool sex scene with Prince Charming a cyborg terror one). But when a drag queen becomes the closest she has to a mother, Nomi is genuinely happy to see her again. “Full of shit”, the fat lady sings. Irony, yes?

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Dirty Grandpa (2016)

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Starts With Va, Ends With Na.

It’s never a good sign when a movie poster sells you the exact opposite of what the movie actually tells. Erratum: it’s “Lose your manhood. Find your way.”, not the other way round. At the beginning of the thing, Jason (Zzzzzac Efron) is a preppy heterosexual corporate lawyer goody-two-shoes, engaged to an uptight harpy; by its end, he has become his dissolute grandfather’s toy boy, wearing hustler clothes while getting drunk, stone and promiscuous. But considering it’s a Springbreak comedy, all will end well for all involved. Obviously, the grandfather’s name is Dick and he’s played by Robert de Niro, exploring yet uncharted abysses.

How much of a closeted homosexual are you? It’s the exact measure of how long you can cope with Dirty Grandpa. Being white and a bit of a prick can help, too. Its blatant homoeroticism, nurtured by a constant flow of gay innuendo, is thinly veiled by the clockwork use of the word “vagina”. It’s one of these drinking game movies, see. Springing out of the woodwork, a rabbi suddenly says “swastika of penises”. Hey, why not?

There is no plot to speak of but (butt?) a series of sketches between a puritan jock and his sex-crazed elder. Grandpa has been married and faithful for 40 years so now he just wants to “f*** f*** f***”. Vaginas. More vaginas. Even more vaginas. The camera rapturously leaps up de Niro’s expressing nothing but grinning priapism. Efron vaguely emotes when he stumbles on his grandpa jerking off, inadvertently smokes crack or finds himself forced to participate in a dance off contest (“Cirque du So Gay”, his grandpa calls it), during which he’s easily over-abbed by a zombi-eyed frat boy.

Vaginas, pardon, women characters are non existent, being “lower half Cuban” at best. There is of course a funeral, a karaoke and a golf course; come on, golf balls, what do think of, dude? All endless improv, pedophile gags, law for dummies, fart jokes and cheap crooners inadvertently revealing that its demographics is more old men in raincoats than frat boys, Dirty Grandpa is a guilty pleasure for its chosen few and a complete waste of time and brainpower for everybody else.

It’s endlessly quotable, though. “Don’t panic. It’s organic. It’s a vagina.”

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Er ist Wieder Da / Look Who’s Back (2015)

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Springtime for Hitler in Germany

“Even Poland still exists! This war has been useless!” erupts Adolf Hitler not too long after the movie has started. This is one of the many instances one has to fight the urge to spit one’s drink all over the place. A fish out of water if there was ever one, Look Who’s Back puts an outrageous twist on the stuff of legend (Elvis not dead, neither Marylin, or MJ) and precipitates a resurrected Hitler in contemporary Germany. The Fürher still thinks he’s on command; harsh reality quickly enlightens him: he is a laughing stock, with a future in stand up comic.

This movie is way better that it should be, a miracle walk on a very, very tight rope. The first reason is of course the delightful performance of Oliver Masucci, unrecognisable behind his moustache. Compared to him, the rest of the cast is a bit run-of-the-mill, but most of the scenes involving public appearances have been improvised, and what the common German people have to say about a Hitler comeback is as hilarious as it is frightening.

What could have been a series of vignettes à la Sacha Baron Cohen takes the trouble of developing a plot and various characters, to whom Hitler reacts with a mix of genuine passion for “the German people” and a sly denial of anything racist or xenophobic. He’s the perfect politician, with an answer to any question and at least three escape routes planned for any quagmire.

Carefully editing a mix of newsreel (the Angela Merkel cameo, gratified with “the charisma of a cold noodle”, is priceless), movie references (the Leni Riefenstahl opening title, the now-iconic Bruno Ganz’ bunker scene, except it’s oh so cleverly attributed to the villain of the piece) and guerrilla-style impromptu meetings, Look Who’s Back manages to balance serious issues (far too many to list) and fleeting fads shedding a cruel light on our social networking culture. From an online “Adolf Hitler make-up tutorial” to a “I hate everyone but Hitler” tweet and the demonstration that Facebook is useless at recruiting Hitler Jungen, naturally springs the conclusion – it shames one to write it – that “no one ever stay mad at Hitler for very long”.

Chaplin’s The Great Dictator was a brave movie because it was fighting on the front of an ugly war. Look Who’s Back adapts this sense of emergency and combativeness to our desperately stupid modern times. The worst thing Hitler can do is kill a puppy. Gasing whole families was “all a joke”, as asserted by the latest generation of one of said families.

What to think of the world we live in, the duty of memory, the atrocities that constellated the 20th century, when one pees itself watching the most reviled person in history punctuating his nazi salute by the phrase “See you soon, Nigga”? If this blog has a meaning at all, it has found his first authentic modern monster. Bad news is it’s a real one; good news is it’s desperately funny.

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