Tag Archives: offbeat comedies

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.


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 good 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.



Welcome To Me

So Kristen Wiig, eh?

It almost feels inappropriate to laugh at this movie. Wiig plays Alice, a woman with a whole deck of diagnoses, the most recent being Borderline Personality Disorder, but still a few cards short.

A side note about Borderline Personality Disorder: BPD is nothing to mess with. People with BPD suffer from wildly unstable relationships and behaviours, often with brief psychotic episodes. They are prone to reckless and impulsive behaviour, and have problems regulating their thoughts and emotions. BPD often occurs with other mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and self-harming or suicidal behaviours. It’s serious stuff.

And yet this movie dares to ask: what happens with Alice, an unstable woman suffering from BPD, wins millions upon millions of dollars in the state lottery?

Well, she goes off her meds, for one.

welcome_to_me_51Next: she buys herself a talk show so she can be just like her idol, Oprah Winfrey. Only Alice doesn’t want to interview celebrities or do guest bedroom makeovers. She has only one topic in mind: ME. Or rather, her. Wouldn’t it be weird if Kristen Wiig made a movie and all she did was talk about me? Yeah, not this time, unfortunately. This time it’s all about Alice.

Wes Bentley and James Marsden appear as the owners of the TV network that’s so hard on its luck it makes a deal with someone who is clearly mentally unbalanced – and since Charlie Sheen can still get work, I guess we have to find this perfectly plausible. Jennifer Jason Leigh, also a network exec, is less enamoured with her.

Meanwhile Linda Cardellini plays Gina, the unsung best friend of Alice, who never gets any WTM-pic20-copy1.jpg-700x394respect. She’s a far better friend than Alice deserves or knows what to do with, and is a serviceable conduit for audience pathos.

Is it funny to watch an emotionally confused woman re-enact moments of her childhood while reigning her TV kingdom from a throne that looks suspiciously like a swan? It is. But it’s a one-note kind of funny, which nothing in the way of plot of character development. The screen writer looked up BPD but didn’t have the balls to go all the way. Wiig is, as always, willing to be awkward as hell. And she is. It’s a good performance, and if you like Wiig you will inevitably find this movie enjoyable if not particularly memorable. Is it a compliment to her to say we always knew she had dark reserves of madness? She moves in this role fearlessly and does more than the script asks of her.

1280x720-aSjI’m not entirely sure if director Shira Piven was going for offbeat drama or dark comedy, but the end result is nearly as uneven as Alice herself. It makes for an uncomfortable revelation of selfie-centered, emotional exhibitionists when self-examination, and maybe self-care, are what are called for. Even more condemning: that Alice is so out of control, and the “well” people around her take so little notice.

If you’re looking for some quirky Netflix and chill, you’ll find this one under W.

While We’re Young

Alright! Another Noah Baumbach movie!

This is what I thought when i first heard about While We’re Young. It’s only when I IMDBed him that I realized that I had really only seen one of his movies. I missed Greenberg. I don’t know how but I missed Frances Ha. But I saw The Squid and the Whale. Baumbach’s 2005 family drama was funny in the saddest way possible and I guess it left so much of an impression on me that I began to think of myself as a fan. But apparently not enough of one to actually watch his other While We're Youngfilms.

I did manage to catch his latest- While We’re Young- last week though. Like The Squid and the Whale, it’s funny in a sad way but much more laugh-out-loud funny, while TSATW was more cringe out-loud funny. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play  Josh and Cornelia- a forty-something married couple who are finding less and less in common with their friends that have little to talk about other than all the babies that they’re having. Josh starts worrying that his best days are behind him when he discovers that he has arthritis arthritis but all that changes when he meets Jamie and Darby- a couple of sensation-seeking twenty-somethings played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried. Hungry for new While We're Young 2experiences, Josh and Cornelia spend as much time with these new friends as they can and their relationship moves in some surprising directions.

Adam Driver has a weird presence on screen and I’m not sure how I feel about him yet but he and Seyfried are fun to watch as the young couple with surprisingly old-fashioned tastes. They believe it’s better to build a desk than to buy one. They have an extensive record collection while their older friends keep all their music online.. Baumbach doesn’t understand youngsters today any better than Josh does though and the forty-somethings get all the best moments. He manages to keep Stiller’s While We're Young 3instinct to overplay everything to death mostly under control and Watts, in her fourth film since we started this site six months ago, is better than she’s been in a long time, especiallyl when she’s dancing to Tupac.

While We’re Young works best as a comedy about two people trying to be young again and is smart enough to keep it simple and relatable . It loses its focus by the end with a lot of bizarre turns in the last half hour but still gives us a lot to think about- especially when I realized I, at the age of 33, related to Josh and Cornelia a lot more than I did Jamie and Darby. Guess I’m due for another sacred puking ritual.

Eagle vs. Shark

Apparently this was one of my tests for marriage material and I didn’t even know it.  Jay introduced me to it without any real warning or lead-in, and I remember enjoying it but none of the specifics.  We’ve been on a bit of a Taika Waititi binge with What We Do in the Shadows and Boy, so this seemed like a very good time to rewatch Eagle vs. Shark.

This movie confirms that Jemaine Clement, who I knew from Flight of the Conchords before seeing this the first time, is either a terrific actor or a terrible human being.  Jarrod, his character, is just an awful person who brings nothing to the table at all.  So while this is supposed to be a love story, the love is entirely one-sided.  Lily, the loving half of this on-again, off-again couple, is probably as much of an outcast as Jarrod (both are extremely awkward), but Lily is sweet to all those around her while Jarrod is bitter and unlikable from start to finish.  As Jay pointed out last night, is it really a happy ending if these two end up together?  Lily could do so much better!

If you can get over that, and I can get over pretty much any plot hole if I am being entertained, there is a lot to like here.  This movie is memorably quirky and has quite a few hilarious moments, including the death of a seagull and some fantastic animal costumes (including an eagle and a shark)!

Overall, this is an enjoyable movie about a pair of social misfits, and there are some great moments here, but since Napoleon Dynamite did this material first it takes away the originality and uniqueness that might otherwise have been this movie’s calling card.  Still, it’s worth checking out.  I’d say watch them both and let me know which one you prefer!



Last week I blogged about watching What We Do in the Shadows, the latest endeavour from Taika Waititi, whose work in my opinion cannot be missed. This week I went back in time to watch 2010’s Boy.

“Boy” is 11 years old in 1984. He loves Michael Jackson and girls, employing the former’s dance BOY_1moves to lure and impress the latter. He lives on a small farm with his grandmother, his younger brother Rocky, and several young cousins. When grandma has to go away for a funeral, Boy is in charge of the household. At home he’s a grown up, cooking and cleaning and caring for the little ones. At school he’s still just a kid, making up stories about his jail-bird dad and getting into fights when those stories aren’t believed.

But then one day his dad shows up, along with two friends. They’re only intended to stay long enough to find the stolen money they buried before being pinched by the cops, but Boy sees it as potential bonding time.

It’s clear that the father is even less mature than his sons. He doesn’t know how to join them in grieving their dead mother, doesn’t know how to make up for lost time, doesn’t know how to boyput others first, and certainly doesn’t know how to give a decent haircut (though this doesn’t stop him from trying).

Watching this movie, I was struck by how Waititi feels a bit like a low-budget, New Zealand version of Wes Anderson. I don’t mean this in a copycat way, but rather that his movies share a certain randomness paired with an attention to detail that makes for a delightfully off-kilter movie going experience.

Waititi is bursting with talent, but he doesn’t spread himself too thin. He’ll workshop a script for years just to get it right, which means that there’s far too little of this innovative filmmaker to be boy-taika2had. I first came across him with what has become one of my favourite laugh-out-loud, painfully awkward comedies, Eagle vs. Shark. Turns out, he was already an Oscar nominee by then, having received a nom for his live-action short, Two Cars, One Night (he lost but famously pretended to doze off as the list of nominees was read). He’s written and directed stuff for Flight of the Conchords (Jemaine Clement is a longtime friend and collaborator; the pair toured together as award-winning comedy duo The Humourbeasts). He’s also had a taste of big Hollywood, having starred opposite Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern. But it’s these three movies (Eagle VS Shark, Boy, and What We Do in the Shadows) that are GOLD. You can’t ask for better than that. But I am asking for more.

What We Do In The Shadows

In 2008 I came across this brilliant movie, Eagle vs Shark. It’s a special brand of dry and awkward humour that’s only really appreciated by about 0.3% of the population and so of course I started using it as a social barometer. It’s how Sean went from ‘guy I’m sleeping with’ to ‘husband’ (we clementshadowshad no in-between). That’s not to say he didn’t shoot me weird looks during the movie, but he laughed in the right places and so I knew it was safe to fall in love.

Taika Waititi wrote and directed Eagle vs Shark, bringing along pal and fellow countryman Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords fame) to star, and they’re back again with What We Do in the Shadows, sharing duties and screen time. It’s not easy to get such an offbeat comedy from New Zealand shown in North American theatres (I believe crowd funding was involved) so I consider myself lucky that one lonely theatre is showing it here in Ottawa.

The movie is a mockumentary involving the daily lives of a small group of vampires who decided for better or worse to eschew the typical haunted castle in Europe route and room together in taikashadowsNew Zealand instead. The documentary crew follows them as they encounter the normal highs and lows of flatting together, sorting out who does the dishes, who picks up the dry cleaning. A chore wheel goes unused. A couch that wasn’t red now is – one vampire suggests putting down newspapers before they eat someone, or towels, perhaps, but “We’re vampires, we don’t put down towels” responds another. Like The Real World, only they just happen to also be vampires, sometimes many hundreds of years old.

The vampire genre might be overworked and overtired these days, but this one feels fresh and what-we-do-in-the-shadows-image-1inspired, living up to the high bar set by Christopher Guest and the likes of Best in Show.  My sides ached from constant laughter, the nicest ache I know. Waititi, Clement, and co-stars work really well together. It’s clear that tonnes of improvisation must have gone into this, the dead-pan delivery spot-on, the timing the best you’ll see. It never feels like a straight parody. It’s much too clever for that. Instead it finds humour in the mundane, staying for away from the obvious and easy but finding gold everywhere else.