Tag Archives: aziz ansari

Observe and Report

When we were in Mexico I was reading a book about cyber warfare – not your typical beach read mind you but very informative and interesting (David Sanger’s The Perfect Weapon). Among many things it discussed the Sony hack. Basically, North Korea was very mad about a Seth Rogen movie called The Interview that involved the assassination of their leader. Apparently North Koreans can’t take a joke. I mean, lots of North Americans don’t find Seth Rogen particularly funny either, but most of them don’t commit cyber crime in retaliation. They released a whole bunch of very embarrassing emails for Sony but it actually had the opposite effect. Whereas the big whigs had been debating pulling the plug on The Interview, now they HAD to release it so that the terrorists didn’t win or some such American flag-waving sentiment. So they got a theatre and VOD release and a bunch of us watched it just to see what the fuss was all about.

I rewatched it out of curiosity but found that I’d already reviewed it on this site and I was shocked to find that we’ve been at this that long (it came out in 2014) but my opinion hasn’t wavered much. It is profoundly dumb and yet if you’re a fan of Rogen’s, you will find a chance or two to chuckle. But the movie really did benefit from North Korea’s interference, spurring a marketing campaign that money couldn’t buy and Hollywood couldn’t think up.

On a Seth Rogen kick, I gave Observe and Report a second chance as well. And the truth is, I found it even harder to laugh at this one. Rogen plays mall security guard Ronnie, hopelessly in love with makeup counter girl Brandi (Anna Faris) and even more hopelessly determined to be a real cop. When a flasher starts haunting the mall, Ronnie sees it as his opportunity to shine and does not take kindly to a real detective, the surly detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), stealing his thunder.

Possibly it’s hard to genuinely laugh at Ronnie because he’s dubbed bipolar and his single-minded delusions just come off as illness. Or possibly it’s because the film has a real mean streak. But probably it’s because the script is bad and director Jody Hill didn’t have the chops to wrangle his cast and crew. The film is simply too sloppy to guess whether Hill’s script is subversive or actually deeply racist and misogynistic. I can tell you that it feels like laughter borne in ignorance and I’m just not comfortable joining in. We deserve better, and frankly, so does Ronnie.

Trump’s Muslim Ban & the Oscars

This past weekend, Donald Trump signed a deliberately hateful and ignorant document into law, making racism and Islamophobia national policy. Critics derided it as giphy (1).gifUnAmerican, and yet it was America who voted this buffoon into presidency just a few short months ago. In the face of one man’s cowardly discrimination, however, were many more acts of love and fraternity. American citizens stormed airports with signs of welcome and solidarity. Lawyers littered the floors working pro-bono around the clock. And a group of actors at the SAG-ACTRA awards used their acceptance speeches to give voice to millions of people who say: Not my America.

Over the next 90 days, visas will not be issued to nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Existing visas will not be honoured. People who boarded planes intending to legally enter the country, even those with green cards, were detained for hours, questioned, and deported.

In the face of this injustice, it seems almost petty to talk about the Oscars, but since this is a movie review site, this is what we will do.

Asghar Farhadi is the Oscar-winning director of A Separation; it made awards history in giphy (3).gif2012 when it was the first Iranian film to win an Oscar. This year he has toured the festivals with The Salesman, and won Best Screenplay at Cannes. Iran submitted it to be considered in the foreign film category at the Academy Awards and it won a nomination. Asghar Farhadi will not be allowed to attend the ceremony because of Trump’s “Muslim ban.” This is who his ban keeps out – not terrorists, but people who come here to work, to study, to visit friends and family.

The star of The Salesman, Taraneh Alidoosti, one of the most acclaimed actresses in her country, will boycott the Oscars in order to protest Trump’s racist ban. “I decided not to go even if I could, because it hurts me deeply to see ordinary people of my country being rejected for what might be their legal right to have access to their children abroad or to their school classes as students,” Ms. Alidoosti told The New York Times in an interview.

In a statement, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said it was “extremely troubling” that Mr. Farhadi and the cast and crew of “The Salesman,” could be “barred from entering the country because of their religion or country of origin.” I’d say that’s a bit of an understatement.

Meanwhile, Asghar Farhadi had this to say on the subject: “I hereby express my condemnation of the unjust conditions forced upon some of my compatriots and the giphy (5).gifcitizens of the other six countries trying to legally enter the United States of America and hope that the current situation will not give rise to further divide between nations,” Farhadi said. He’s not the only one with this fear on his mind: “Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security” [italics are mine]. It wasn’t Bernie Sanders or Obama who said that, it was a joint statement from two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

It isn’t just Farhadi who will be affected by this ban come February 26th  (Oscar broadcast).

The filmmakers behind The White Helmets, a film about Syrian volunteer first responders in that country’s bloody civil war, had planned on bringing two representatives of that group to the ceremony, but Trump’s travel ban – which impacts Syria – will prevent that from happening. The White Helmets, mind you, have been nominated for a goddamned Nobel Peace Prize, and yet Trump sees fit to keep these heroes out. Producer Johanna Natasegara said in a statement “These people are the bravest humanitarians on the planet, and the idea that they could not be able to come with us and enjoy that success is just abhorrent.”

giphy-4The Syrian family at the heart of Watani: My Homeland, another short documentary up for an Academy Award, is also unable to attend the Oscars due to the travel ban, even though they are now German citizens. But movies and stories like this, and Fire At Sea, which tell the human story of refugees are even more vital at a time like this. Watani director Marcel Mettelsiefen said “We must reconnect with the common humanity of the refugee experience and we must all remember that the founding story of America is dependent upon people who have fled war, hunger and poverty in search of a better life.”

I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from.” These words were not spoken by “overrated” actress Meryl Streep but by Dick Cheney, who was vice president at the time of the 9-11 attacks.

Muslims are our friends, neighbours, and colleagues. They may serve you street food from a food truck or treat you in your local emergency room. They’re also in movies, sometimesgiphy (2).gif entertaining us, sometimes helping to tell urgently important stories. Oscar-nominated (and best supporting actor heir presumptive) Mahershala Ali is Muslim (Moonlight, Hidden Figures). Rogue One’s Riz Ahmed is Muslim. So are Dave Chapelle, Ice Cube,  Mos Def, Amal Clooney, Omar Epps, Janet Jackson, Aziz Ansari, Ellen Burstyn, Muhammad Ali, Shaq, Kareem, and some of my favourite members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Muslims are not terrorists. Muslims are terrorized by terrorists, who use any reason, including religion (including Christianity) to do evil.

giphyTaraneh Alidoosti, an actress known to very few over here in the west, is boycotting the Oscars. Wouldn’t it really mean something if others did as well? If the Oscars had to broadcast hundreds of empty seats, each tagged with the name of a celebrity who didn’t come because the thought of Trump’s America was so unpalatable that it’s better to stay home than to schmooze and be lauded by one’s colleagues? If they stood in solidarity with fellow film makers who are just as deserving but are prohibited from celebrating just because of their religion? Now that’s a story worth telling; let’s continue to take part in it.





Funny People

Are you familiar with the website Funny or Die? It’s a comedy site developed by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell where people upload uproarious videos that get voted on – those not deemed funny are sentenced to death (or at least the site’s “crypt”). The first video I remember seeing was the Landlord skit featuring Farrell and a barb-tongued toddler, but since then tonnes of celebrities have contributed all kinds of crazy stuff. There are no rules in the interweb, and Funny or Die is where famous people let loose. Like, major looseness.

Funny or Die is such a machine now that it’s actually spawned its own comedy festival, dubbed the Oddball Festival, and it’s been running for 3 years now. I happened to catch it during its inaugural run 3 years ago in Chicago when it was co-headlined by Flight of the Conchords (!) and Dave Chappelle in his return to stand-up. The night before we saw him, he was in Hartford, where the audience literally drowned him out with heckling and shouts of “White power!”. Chappelle walked off and then treated us to quite an anti-Hartford diatribe, including his fervent wish that North Korea would bomb Hartford. It was an epic set.

oddballThis year the festival is being co-headlined by Aziz Ansari and Amy Schumer. There’s a million other brilliant comedians on the bill as well (including Jay Pharaoh, Michael Che, and fucking Nick Kroll!) and we’re lucky enough to see all of them. Amy Schumer is having quite a year (if you haven’t read our review of Trainwreck yet, I assure you, we were entertained) but Aziz is our man.

I first came across Aziz Ansari in yet another Judd Apatow movie: Funny People (although in a little dose of kismet, if I’d only been paying attention, he’d previously appeared in an episode of Flight of the Conchords). Adam Sandler plays a movie star who copes with his illness and impending death by returning to his stand-up roots. He enlists the help of Seth Rogan to write jokes and “assist” him. I like this movie for a lot of reasons. Like seeing Sandler do something with some emotional depth. I LOVED seeing baby untitledSandler doing his earliest bits (he and Apatow were actually college roommates, and guess who filmed heaps of footage! – baby Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo also appear, if you squint). I loved Jason Schwartzman as a sleazy sitcom star, and Jonah Hill as a competitive bitch, and Eric Bana popping up in this after the little ode to Eric Bana in Apatow’s Knocked Up was just the shit, and I really REALLY loved this explosive unknown stand-up act who steals scenes: Aziz Ansari. Well, technically, not Aziz. Aziz developed a character named Randy for the film, but found him to be so well-liked and compelling that he’d often slip into the Randy stuff during his own shows.

Aziz doesn’t do a lot of movies but you may know him as Tom on Parks and Recreation (or will no doubt come to know him through his upcoming Netflix series, Master of None). He did make small appearances in Get Him to the Greek, 30 Minutes or Less (funniest part of the movie, if you ask me), and This is the End, proving just how incestuous the Apatow crew is (and for good measure, he’s also appeared on The League, and The Kroll Show). It’s a small world and Aziz Ansari is getting closer and closer to owning it.

We’ve seen Aziz before and love love love his stand-up. In fact, we saw him serendipitously last month at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal (where we also saw Chappelle). That particular night we were actually there to see Alan Cumming, who was fabulous, but got wind of a surprise pop-up show by Ansari, who wasn’t scheduled to appear. Turns out, he was working on material for the Oddball show and wanted a test audience. It was extremely polished for a so-called dry run, and funny as hell, so we’re totally primed to see him again this weekend, and with so much other talent, there’s no way we can lose.

Which funny people are your favs?