Tag Archives: offbeat comedies

Teiichi: Battle of the Supreme High

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Don’t ask me how this happened but in 2006 I found myself reading an interview with Chris Klein. You all remember Chris Klein, right? He was Oz in the American Pie movies and, according to IMDB, Brad on a 2015 episode of Motive. Well, he was also in one of my favourite films of the 90s and this is the one I found him reminiscing about in this 2006 interview. Klein good-naturedly admitted that he was too young while filming 1999’s Election to really understand what was funny about it.

If you haven’t seen Election, it’s a subtle but hard-hitting satire about an ambitious overachiever’s quest to win her high school election. And the best way that I can describe Teiichi is it’s the Japanese version of Election that the 19 year-old Chris Klein would have loved.

teiichiTeiichi has only one ambition: to become Prime Minister and to build his own empire. Luckily, he’s come to the right place. The prestigious Kaitei College is the place to be for future world leaders and all Tiichi needs to do is be voted in as chairman of the student council and he’ll be well on his way to power and glory. Trouble is, his longtime rival Kikuma wants it just as bad as he does. So the battle for Kaitei College gets pretty intense where everything, including wiretapping, sabotage, nipple pinching, and merciless tickling is fair game.

Teiichi, based on the manga “Teiichi no Kuni”, goes for bigger laughs than Election did and isn’t afraid to go pretty lowbrow to get them. Almost every situation is taken to the wackiest possible extreme and the performers overact in the best way possible. What impressed me most was the impeccable comic timing of the physical comedy, which went a long way in helping me forgive all the exaggeration. teiichi drum

Somehow I still couldn’t help feeling sad for Teiichi, his inner circle, and his rivals. There seems to be way too much on the line for such young boys. For Teiichi, losing the student council election would almost literally mean that his life is over. Everything in his young life has been leading up to this one moment and he seems to have no idea what he would do if he were to lose.

 

In general, I will always prefer the subtlety and bite of Election to the slapstick comedy and mostly heavy-handed satire of Teiichi: Battle of the Supreme High. But somebody needs to be making movies for 19 year-old Chris Klein and Teiichi is extremely entertaining and even a little thought-provoking once you get used to its zany sense of humour.

 

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Oh, Hello on Broadway

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Remember when they used to make movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches?  Isn’t it weird how that used to be a thing?  And that one of the best of the bunch was the movie about these two guys:

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Even though I grew up during the peak of the SNL movie craze, I was still blown away to see Oh, Hello on Broadway pop up on Netflix, in a “How is this even possible?” kind of way.  But I’m so glad it did and it’s better than I could have hoped.

For the uninitiated, Oh, Hello is one of a boatload of great skits from the Kroll Show, featuring two old men who, in a way, are not that different than the Butabi Brothers.  As the unimaginative name of the Netflix special implies, Oh, Hello then became a Broadway play, because why not?  And now, Oh, Hello on Broadway is a Netflix special that is basically a full-length movie about these two guys.  A flat-out hilarious hour and 42 minutes in the company of these wacky geezers.

tuna.jpgLike Night at the Roxbury, Oh, Hello on Broadway takes a one-note premise and uses it as a gateway to a fully-fledged story that looks behind the premise to the characters themselves.  Absurd as they are, Gil Faison (Nick Kroll) and George St. Geegland (John Mulaney) are surprisingly relatable and human, as we are shown through an insane play-within-a-play structure that works far better than it should.  The background story also is far better than it needed to be, because I would have been satisfied with a few, ‘Oh, Hello’s, and ‘Too Much Tuna’s.   Which of course I got.  Kroll and Mulaney knew why I was watching, but they also showed me how much they love these characters by giving them a proper home.

Because the special is so different from the skit, I don’t think any knowledge of the skits is needed.  Feel free to jump right in, but still, you should watch the skits at some point because they’re funny as hell.

I’m so glad to see stuff like this on Netflix and I hope we get more.  Jay and I had hoped to see this on Broadway but the scheduling didn’t work out, and while seeing it on Netflix is not the same as seeing it live, it’s better than not seeing it at all.  You should definitely add this one to your list.

 

Mindhorn

mindhorn_final.jpgCanadians are consistently the funniest people in the world as far as I’m concerned, which is hard to reconcile with the stereotype that we’re boring and forgettable.  So I don’t try, I just think of us as funny and the stereotype as another example of how Americans are just not as good as we are.  Above all else, Canadians specialize in satire.  I have to think that is inherited from our former colonizers, as the British may love satire more than we do.

But just as Canada is not Britain (because in 1867 we asked politely if we could be our own country from then on, and the Brits were like, didn’t you already leave when the Americans did?), British satire is a whole other thing from ours.  I have always been fascinated by how there really is no middle ground in North America – either you devour British satire or you think it’s unbearable.  Personally, I find Steve Coogan a good test for one’s tolerance for British satire.   If he cracks you up then you are going to enjoy Mindhorn, whereas if you’re thinking, “Who the hell is Steve Coogan?” then you should probably give Mindhorn a pass.

I think Coogan is hilarious so of course Mindhorn made me laugh.  As a bonus, Coogan is not just a random reference I decided to use.  He’s also a bit player in Mindhorn along with a ton of familiar Brits (including a great cameo by a guy nicknamed “Kenny B.”).   But Mindhorn is co-writer Julian Barratt’s vehicle, and he is terrific as Richard Thorncroft/Mindhorn, a washed-up actor/TV detective.  Mindhorn’s gimmick is his bionic eye that is a lie detector, allowing him to literally see the truth.  Mindhorn made Thorncroft a huge star in the 70s and early 80s but he hasn’t exactly been tearing it up since then.  In fact, he’s just lost his last endorsement contract (for orthopedic socks).  So when a call comes in from the police department requesting Thorncroft’s help (as Mindhorn) in solving a murder case, he jumps right in, seeing it as a great way to kickstart his career.

In the finest British tradition, we quickly learn that Thorncroft is a grade-A idiot (maybe even grade-AAA if you use the meat grading system).  Still, as tends to happen, Thorncroft manages to bumble his way to (moderate) success despite not having a clue at any time.  And while Mindhorn’s way forward isn’t particularly innovative or clever, Barratt is clearly having great fun bringing Mindhorn to life and that fun is infectious.  The satire is spot on, as Mindhorn takes every opportunity to poke fun at the real TV shows from Mindhorn’s day, like Knight Rider and the Six Million Dollar Man, and there are some good shots at the cheesiness of those shows as well as the spin off products from them (such as Mindhorn’s best-selling rock album).

You’ve seen this all before but it’s good fun and I don’t think satirizing David Hasselhoff will ever get old.  So if you have 90 minutes to spare and think Coogan is a funny guy then you should check out Mindhorn on Netflix.

Don’t Think Twice

Don’t Think Twice is a comedy about an improv troupe, written and directed by a very talented stand-up comic named Mike Birbiglia. His previous film, Sleepwalk With Me, was ripped right from a popular stand-up routine of his, but Don’t Think Twice is really its own story, and while Birbiglia plays a role, he also shares screen time with a talented cast.

The improv troupe, who call themselves The Commune, consists of Matt (Birbiglia), Sam (Gillian Jacobs), Allison (Kate Micucci), Lindsay (Tami Sagher), Bill (Chris Gethard) , and DON'T THINK TWICE, back, from left: Tami Sagher, Mike Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci, 2016.Jack (Keegan-Michael Key). They’re a really solid group who perform really well together, but their NYC theatre is struggling to stay open, and everyone’s chasing their own dream of performing on Weekend Live (an exact replica of SNL).

The movie is quite smartly written. Sam and Jack, a couple, are chosen by Weekend Live’s people to come in for an audition. Their friends, filled with achy jealousy, do their best to support and congratulate their luck. But how long can that tenuous brave face hold, especially if one of them is actually cast, and realizes the one thing that every one of them has been yearning for?  Don’t Think Twice is bittersweet. It’s about pursuing your dreams, but also about the cost of actually having them come true.

The cast really sells this stuff. They trained in improv together (Gillian Jacobs was a complete noob) for weeks in order to then be filmed in front of audiences. The result is spontaneous and often quite funny. But the movie itself is not full of “jokes” but finds it laughs in the webbing of the characters.

Chris Gethard is an improv junkie, a member of the Upright Citizens Brigade since 2000, and as an offshoot of that, the host of his own show, aptly named The Chris Gethard Show, which is wildly chaotic and fun. He was a guest writer on SNL for one episode.

After performing with legendary improv troupe Second City (Chicago), Keegan-Michael Key appeared on MADtv, cast against Jordan Peele with the intention that FOX would choose between them and only have one (token) black cast member. Both were riotous and proved their worth, and so they both stayed on, creating a lasting partnership. They produced Key & Peele sketches for Comedy  Central for 5 seasons, and wrote a movie together this year, called Keanu.

Tami Sagher was also a member of Chicago’s Second City. She’s been nominated for 4 dont-think-twice-99ddb592-9a20-4056-aa36-ced9ae9ea4dfWriters Guild of America Awards; 3 for MADtv, and 1 for 30 Rock. She’s also written for Psych, How I Met Your Mother, and Inside Amy Schumer, and produced for Bored to Death, Girls, and The Michael J. Fox Show.

Kate Micucci you  may recognize as one half of the musical-comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates (she’s Oates, if that’s not obvious). They perform everywhere, including regularly on your television (and on Netflix!), and the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in L.A. (beginning to see a theme here?). She’s been on Scrubs and The Big Bang Theory.

Gillian Jacobs is along for the ride. You may have a softer spot for her if you watched her on Community, but I know her from the Netflix original series Love, where she played the world’s most obnoxious character (or possibly the second most – the guy she plays opposite is just as bad and I could never decide who was worse), and I continue to hate her for it to this day.

Together though, they coalesce into a strong unit that makes this movie feel real. Birbiglia is showing aptitude in his direction, and the writing backs up a talented cast. There’s an intimacy here that can’t be faked, and a truth that elevates this film from just laugh-out-loud funny to heartfelt honesty at times, and biting satire at others. Don’t Think Twice currently enjoys a 99% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes, which makes this movie higher rated than La La Land (93%), Fences (95%),  Manchester by the Sea (97%), or Moonlight (98%). Is it actually better than those movies? No. But it’s well done, funnier than most big-release comedies this year, and it’s made with a clear love of a uniquely American art form.

 

Familyhood

Go Ju-yeon (extremely well-played by Kim Hye-soo) is pushing 40 and running out of ways to feel young. Despite plastic surgery, affairs with younger men, and a faithful and well-meaning entourage that protect her from unflattering headlines, Ju-yeon has finally reached the point where she has to admit that the public just doesn’t adore her anymore.

It’s a tough pill for any actress to swallow but it’s even worse for someone so needy and self-absorbed. Not ready to be forgotten just yet, Ji-yeon makes one last desperate attempt at being loved. She’s going to have a baby. Or, more accurately, buy a random middle-schooler’s baby and try and pass it off as her own.

It’s actually quite terrible and, as her stylist reminds her more than once, illegal. Dan-ji (Kim Hyeon-soo) has nowhere to go except live with her neglectful big sister and sure could use some money for art school, a fact that Ju-yeon is quick to take advantage of. Dar-ji is quickly hidden away in a stranger’s house during the most confusing nine months of her life.

This movie really didn’t work for me. The comedy comes, as you’d expect, mostly from Ju-yeon’s lack of self-awareness and the outrageous misunderstandings that her charade inevitably brings. It just isn’t very funny. I found it very broad and, worse, obvious. Director Kim Tae-gon excuses the implausiibilities and all the selfish behavior as “satire” of celebrity, “the cult of youth and beauty”, and the hypocrisy and double standards surround teen pregnancy. When it comes to Familyhood’s satire of celebrity and youth, its target is too easy and its tone not nearly subtle enough for it to be effective as satire. Tae-gon does, however, have some interesting and worthwhile things to say about the shaming of pregnant teen girls. It was a nice surprise but seems to show up out of nowhere towards the end of a film that seems to have realized that it wasn’t really about anything and just blurted out “teen pregnancy” in a panic.

I just didn’t like it. I’m not sure why. The crowd at the International Premiere at this year’s Fantasia Festival responded with delight to every tired joke. So maybe I was just having an off day and you’d enjoy it as much as they did. But I can’t help thinking that Familyhood seriously missed its mark.

Swiss Army Man

People walked out of the theatre when this film debuted at Sundance, and they walked out of the screening I was at recently as well. And while I would never dream of insulting a film maker this way at a film festival, I can kind of understand why it happened. Swiss Army Man is profoundly uncomfortable. It’s disturbing. It’s gross. It’s also one of the most affecting and unique film-going experiences I’ve had this year, or ever.

swiss-army-manIn this cross between Castaway and Weekend at Bernie’s, Paul Dano is Hank, a man despairing of hope after living too long on a deserted island. Just as he’s about to give up completely, a ray of sunshine arrives in the form of a farting corpse (Daniel Radcliffe). Eventually named Manny, the corpse helps Hank to not feel so alone or lonely, and becomes even handier as he proves himself a veritable multi-use tool in Hank’s plot to escape the island.

I can’t praise or caution this movie enough. If the desecration of corpses is not for you, I’m sure The BFG is playing somewhere. I wouldn’t have guessed that the desecration of corpses was particularly for me, but I was completely won over by this movie. Written and directed by ‘Daniels’ (as Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan are collectively known), these men are clearly innovative thinkers who are pushing the boundaries not just of movie making but of human decency – and it works. They have used a compelling if shocking situation and made it feel completely relatable. They boil it down to themes of depression, social isolation, family dysfunction, eccentricity and resilience.

Paul Dano is as good as he’s ever been, but Daniel Radcliffe is the true surprise here. I would Swiss-Army-Man-Featuredhave loved to be a fly on the wall when these two were in negotiations to join the movie; Daniels were known for little else than a bizarre music video (Turn Down For What) yet somehow convinced two smart, bankable stars to take on the most provocative film of the year (and you thought The Lobster safely had the title!). Radcliffe stretches the part of dead body into something that’s both absurd and touching. He’s clearly set on eradicating Harry Potter from our memories by making bold and interesting choices, and this is a definitive step toward a bracing career as a versatile actor.

I also have to say I love what they did with the music. Not just the score, though that was good too. You have to see the movie to know what I’m talking about, but the way this movie uses music really made my heart soar. It really elevated for me what was already a good movie – a smart script paired with excellent acting, topped with some truly beautiful photography.

Sean and Matt will tell you that I’m probably the last person on earth to enjoy scatological humour but I did find myself laughing at this movie, more than I thought I would (although I think I might need to invoke Vanta-black once again, with feeling). But mostly it made me think, which I didn’t expect at all. It made me really think, and sometimes feel sad. It made me think on the possibilities and limitations of imagination, on the nature of self-reflection, and on the merits of choosing a best friend who is dead.

A movie like this doesn’t come along very often. I’m still buzzing with the joy I feel when I know I’ve witnessed something special. I won’t sleep tonight. This is why I go to the movies.

Keanu

keanuoscarsthemartianmasterjpg-0d82f7_765wKeanu is not just a dark haired, sunglasses wearing Canadian. He’s also a kitten with a rare disease: cuteness. Or so we are led to believe by Comedy Central duo Key and Peele, playing cousins who would do anything to get Keanu back after he’s kitten-napped by a gang of street toughs led by the one and only Method Man. And so goes Keanu, a film that takes the two cousins from one life-threatening situation to the next, in pursuit of a cat.

Being a dog owner, I am duty bound to object to the whole premise. This movie would have been a million times more believable if Keanu was a dog. Cats are too cold and cranky for you to want to chase one all over Los Angeles. Deep down you know that cat doesn’t care about you at all. So if you lose a cat1399355_532978063457666_1736393886_o in real life, you just put up a poster and call it a day. But for a dog, that’s different. If your dog gets lost you don’t look for an hour and then call it quits. You get your ass out there and you find that fucking dog!792421_532978346790971_1133090003_o

Poor pet choice aside, Key and Peele’s adventure is an entertaining one. While there are not a ton of belly laughs, there are a lot of memorable scenes, including a fantastic George Michael singalong and some hilarious movie-themed cat pictures.

There is also something refreshing about seeing these normal guys (who happen to be black) play with stereotypes, not only with their choice of music but also with their attempts to fit in with a plethora of cat-loving gang members.  That element of satire is a welcome improvement on Hollywood’s usual reliance on racial tropes.

Writers Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens deserve a ton of credit for departing from that formula. Keanu successfully subverts the usual tropes and shows that the stereotypes we cling to are an unconscious attempt to fit into a role rather than being innate characteristics. And that’s why this dog-lover enjoyed a movie about a kitten, because it’s not really about a kitten at all.

The Mexican

It’s been a long road back from back surgery, and I’m not out of the woods yet, I still have IMG_7429.JPGhealing to do, but the minute I had the tubes finally detached from me and I tasted a little freedom, Sean and I were leaving on a jet plane, headed for sunny Mexico.

One of my favourite offbeat comedies is The Mexican – totally incidentally, I’m sure. In it, Brad Pitt has shit luck. He’s the lowest rung of organized crime and is being sent to Mexico, against his will, “for one last job” to pick up a beautiful antique gun that just happens to be cursed. His girlfriend, Julia Roberts, is tired of this shit. She’s tired of her relationship going according to some mob boss’s whim. So they break up, profusely. He goes to Mexico and puts on a pretty good gringo act, and she drives to Vegas in her Bug, a woman scorned. Until she meets James Gandolfini, who kidnaps and holds her ansom for the ancient pistol.

I’m totally charmed by this movie every time I watch it. I love how Brad Pitt and JK Simmons are openly mocked by the Mexicans. I’m positively tickled by it. And I adore the chemistry between Roberts and Gandolfini. It’s not to be missed.

The Mexico in The Mexican is not the one tourists normally see. It’s dirt floors and seedy bars and low riders. It may be a Mexico that only exists in movies. Sean and I were in need of some rest and restoration, so opted for the good old all-inclusive resort side of Mexico (which is not real Mexico either, but it sure tastes pleIMG_7548asant), with the cheerful Mariachi bands and the frozen margaritas with salty rims.
We stayed on the Mayan Riviera and sunk our toes into the hot, white sand. We got uneven sunburns from underneath palapas. We renewed our vows beside an ancient temple, a ruin on a rocky island just metres from the beach. It was beautiful, as Mexico always is.

 

Slow West

Slow West tells the story of a young Scot named Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee doing his best Jay Baruchel impression) travelling across Colorado in search of his lost love Rose (Caren Pistorius).  Almost immediately, Jay is saved from bandits by Silas (Michael Fassbender) and from then on, it’s a western version of The Odd Couple, except writer/director John Maclean replaces much of the comedy with despair.  The wild west depicted in Slow West (which incidentally is New Zealand standing in for the midwestern plains) is the saddest, loneliest place imaginable.  Still, in spite of its melancholy, Slow West manages to be a very enjoyable movie, and even a surprisingly funny one at times.

Going into Slow West, I had one expectation: that the title would have some deep meaning to be revealed during the course of the movie.  I was let down in that regard but that was really the only disappointment I had coming out – I still don’t understand the title and feel like there’s something there to get.

Anyway, as far as the movie itself, Fassbender and Smit-McPhee make a very goo
d pair, and that’s fortunate because we spend a lot of time with them as they make their way to Rose.  Fassbender gives us a convincing tough guy with a heart of gold silver tin.  Smit-McPhee is well cast as the naive, good-hearted foreigner.  Ben Mendelsohn, who really impressed me in Mississippi Grind, makes a quick appearance as a scummy outlaw and looks the part.  And yes, everything in this paragraph reads like a back-handed compliment, but it’s coming from a good place, I swear.

Slow West climaxes in a shootout.  I don’t
think I have to tag that as a spoiler,  do I?  You knew it was going to happen.  The way the shootout plays out, though, is well done and is much different than I expected.   It even includes a few surreal moments that worked really well (especially one involving a jar of salt).

Overall, Slow West is a solid, though sad, tale from the wild west.  Much like the story told by an old gang member, it entertained me throughout its 85 minute run time with its unusual mix of sadness and death with a hint of offbeat comedy.  It’s definitely worth tracking down, and I give it a score of eight wanted posters out of ten.

 

Daddy’s Home

One of the things that made Will Ferrell so great on Saturday Night Live was his versatility. For every out-there cheerleader, there was a guy who drove a Dodge Stratus (for the record, the Dodge Stratus guy is one of my all-time favourites, the cheerleaders, not so much). But even the Dodge Stratus guy ended up being over-the-top, you just didn’t know it at first. The one thing we never really saw was low-key Will Ferrell.

His movie roles continued that trend with only one or two exceptions (like Stranger than Fiction and judging from the trailer, Bewitched). Of course, with those low-key movies being flops, in almost everything else we have gotten from Ferrell he’s a cartoon (Anchorman, Zoolander, Blades of Glory), a cliche (Get Hard, The Other Guys, A Deadly Adoption), or both (Semi-Pro, Talladega Nights).  And more often than not, those movies have disappointed.

With all that in mind, and especially in light of the awfulness that was Get Hard, my expectations for Daddy’s Home could not have been lower, because a half-assed Will Ferrell riff on a loser step-dad is one of the least-funny characters I could picture.

But you know what?  Will Ferrell’s step-dad in Daddy’s Home isn’t a cartoon or a cliche.  Maybe he’s a bit of a loser but he’s also a sweet and genuine guy that is loved by everyone around him (even his step-kids are warming up to him).  And then the kids’ sleazy, deadbeat biological dad (Mark Wahlberg) appears and throws everything into chaos.

For the first time in years, we finally get something fresh from Ferrell.  He is clearly using his whole ass in Daddy’s Home and it’s glorious.
With Ferrell bringing his A-game, everyone else steps up as well.  Mark Wahlberg plays (or is?) a fantastic charming asshole, and I also thoroughly enjoyed Thomas Haden Church as Ferrell’s boss and Hannibal Burress as Ferrell’s contractor/unwanted houseguest.

Daddy’s Home deserves praise as well for a script that avoids the easy way out and sets up something greater.  It is wonderful to see jokes come together the way they do in Daddy’s Home.  A perfect example is the daddy-daughter dance sequence, which has to be seen to be believed.  It’s set up so well that in hindsight it’s obvious but I didn’t see it coming until it happened.  Daddy’s Home delivers these types of scenes again and again, right until the credits roll, and will keep you laughing the whole time.

Daddy’s Home gets a score of nine long and shiny broadswords out of ten.  Be sure to catch it when it opens on December 25.