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Entries in comedy (83)

Friday
Sep122014

TIFF Quickies: Behavior, Cub, The Gate, and The Farewell Party

Nathaniel's adventures in Toronto, the last leg.

I came out of my last screening a few hours ago and a plane awaits me tomorrow which is a good thing since I'm running on fumes. Four more films need writeups and we'll probably do a podcast. But we'll worry about this tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day. My TIFF screenings ended tonight. And get this: Less than 48 hours after my return to NYC, critics screenings for NYFF begin. I'm not even exaggerating. No rest at all for poor Nathaniel.

 

 

LMAO. Tweet of the Year! Okay, on to the movies...

Behavior (Cuba)
A huge hit in Cuba, and their probable Oscar submission if they submit at all (they often skip it), Behavior tackles tough topics like educational buerocracies, dead-end poverty, alcoholism, juvenile delinquency, prejudice against immigrants, you name it. More importantly it asks questions that have interested educators forever: how involved should a teacher be in the lives of her students? do you prepare them for life outside of school or merely provide them shelter from that life for a part of each day? Do you break the rules for one if you feel that child is a special case? Yet for all these heavy topics, provocative questions and the film's frequent classroom scenes, this drama never feels didactic or preachy but organically dramatized around its dimensional characterizations rather than characters as stand-ins for ideas/types (with a couple of exceptions). It's the story of an old passionate teacher Carmela (Alina Rodriguez), past retirement age, who is always at odds with the schoolboard because she's inflexible when it comes to bending rules to meet a student's needs. It's also the story of her class trouble-maker Chala (12 year old Armanda Valdez Friere in a frankly amazing debut), who the schoolboard wants to send to the Cuban equivalent of a juvie home. Chala is the sole breadwinner at home (through illegal means) and his mother drinks away the money rather than paying the bills. Carmela believes the kid has a good heart and continually demands disciplinary leeway at school.

a moving story of teacher and student

While many of the plot developments in Behavior are depressing and predictable, the movie is stubbornly hopeful, knowing the odds are against success but pressing on anyway. Writer director Ernesto Daranas, a fine new voice in Latin American cinema, makes sure this doesn't happen in a corny inspirational way, as in so many inferior teacher/student dramas do, but with roll up your sleeve grit in its narrative and smart visual choices - the camera is often exactly the right distance from the actors, to keep you fully aware of their tough environment and also their dreams. (Cue multiple shots of Chala on rooftops.) Behavior suggests that Carmela has saved a few students from their own lives, knows it, and will save as many more as she can manages before she dies... maybe even Chala. Her stubborn heroism? She knows that the broken system and these broken homes will long outlive her. B+

Cub (Belgium)
I got dragged to this slasher movie by two friends who I hadn't seen in a long time. Spent the film with fingers carefully crossed over my eyes for watching / not watching simultaneously. A group of Cub Scouts are out for a camping weekend and they pick a spot much further into some spooky woods than they were intending, woods they're warned against but you know how people are in movies, they never turn back when warned. The Scouts three barely adult supervisors tell the young boys the tale of Kai a boy who becomes a deadly werewolf at night. It's a legend meant for campfire scares but we see Kai right away, not a werewolf but a boy their age with a creepy one horned mask who watches them from afar. He takes an interest in one of them, a loner named Sam (Maurice Luijten), the film's lead. Kai doesn't attack him but starts the bloodletting elsewhere. It's mildly entertaining but the characters aren't that well delineated and I predicted the finale about 75 minutes in advance. My friends thought the kills were imaginative and I will concur that two of them were, particularly a morbidly funny group kill. But ... GROSS.

"GROSS". That's actually my full sophisticated one-word review, and come to think of it my review for all slasher movies. I have come to understand and admire the broader horror genre after years of reading great critics enthusing about it, but this subgenre I'll never get - even when it comes with subtitles.  C-

The Gate (France/Cambodia)
Like Labyrinth of Lies a few days back, The Gate benefits from a continually engaging true story. The new film from Regis Wargnier, who won the Oscar for the Catherine Deneuve epic Indochine, returns to that rich well of stories, French expatriates in countries they've colonized. The Gate, more appropriately titled Le temps des aveux in French, is based on the memoirs of a man named François Bizot (Raphaël Personnaez) who was arrested by the Khmer Rouge while he was innocently researching Buddhist traditions at monasteries. The communists believed this Frenchmen was a spy for America and the film becomes a battle of wits and test of humanity as Bizot and his captor Much (Phoeung Kompheak) argue and debate about Bizot's purpose in Cambodia and his fate. Like most good prisoner/captive dramas, their relationship is perversely intimate and the heart of the movie. Since its based on Bizot's memoirs, and the film begins near the ending, with Bizot returning to Cambodia we know he survives but things look bleak for a time and even when freed, the chaos isn't over since his wife and child are Cambodian/French and they don't have as much protection. Intense at times and surprisingly well acted -- most of the cast were non-actors aside from, of course, handsome French movie star Personnaez. B


The Farewell Party (Israel)
Israel's Oscars, "the Ophirs," have heartily embraced this dramedy about senior citizens who accidentally and after much prodding become crusaders for mercy killings of their terminally sick friends and spouses. It is far more tasteful than it sounds starting with heartbreaking decisions among longtime friends. But, curiously, the mood gets lighter and lighter in mood and the film funnier and funnier as it progresses. The comic highlight is a wonderfully cheeky display of solidarity when one of the friends is diagnosed with dementia but there are many little laughs along the way and each ensemble member finds a way to shine in a dialogue heavy film. It's a difficult film to describe, part drama about longterm love (both platonic and romantic), part ensemble black comedy, part agitprop about personal choice in matters of the end of life rather than machine-mandated life, and all parts delightful. It's not a done deal yet but it's easy to imagine this as Israel's Oscar submission and if submitted, an actual nominee in the Foreign Language Film category.   B+

Also at TIFF
A Little Chaos
The New Girlfriend
Wild
The Theory of Everything and Imitation Game
Foxcatcher and Song of the Sea
The Last Five Years
Wild Tales and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Force MajeureLife in a Fishbowl and Out of Nature
Mommy
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
Charlie's Country

Sunday
Sep072014

TIFF: Vignettes with Mike Leigh

Nathaniel's adventures at TIFF. Day 2

Day 2 was just magical from start to finish with 3 great movies and 1 solid one. Two of the films you've already read about here in Sweden's stellar Oscar submission Force Majeure and Norway's Out of Nature about one man hiking around in the wilderness on a long weekend. I like to think of the latter as Norway's counterpart to Reese Witherspoon in Wild - which I'll be seeing soon - though I doubt Reese takes her clothes off for a wank and runs around starkers. Day 2 was something of a vignette day since I will remember it primarily as the day I saw Mike Leigh twice and hid from the rain with him (long story - save it for the podcast!), the day I scarfed down melted cheese sandwiches with Nick & Joe in an highly unglamorous take-out setting, and a day of not one but 2 great movies composed of vignettes.

WILD TALES. an amazing Argentinian delightVignette films, like their cousin the omnibus, are tough beasts to pull off because you're essentially asking the audience to reinvest in the movie every 20 minutes or so, as if they've stumbled into a short film festival. They're also bound to feel uneven with some segments much richer than others. But here's two films that pull it off with real aplomb...

Argentina's Wild Tales is directed by Damián Szifrón but produced by TFE's favorite Pedro Almodóvar who I imagine is just thrilled with the results. It seems like a movie he would love what with its colorful characters, amusingly melodramatic and twisty stories, and at least three vivid female characters though it's not as actressy as his movies. Let's just say everyone in this six story movie is ...on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown, and not just the women. Wild Tales was a big hit at Cannes earlier this year and it might possibly be Argentina's Oscar submission. It's easy to see why since the title is accurate. You feel like anything could happen primarily because not so very many minutes into the terrific opening vignette, it does. It starts just like any movie might with a beautiful woman being chatted up by a handsome older stranger as their flight takes off. But then they realize they have an acquaintance in common. Another passenger overhears them, interrupts and...

No, I shan't tell you more because this movie is best seen cold as the surprises are half the fun. Let's just say this free-fall into insanity sets the tone for the whole film which plays like a highwire act of dark comedy, violent thrills, and romances gone awry. Of the six segments, of which only one is just "good" (that'd be the one starring Argentinian cinema's Mr Ubiquitous Ricardo Darin), I had two favorites. The third vignette takes place on a long stretch of dusty highway where two men piss each other off while driving. Neither of them can let any affront go. It's a stretch of cinema that should make the majority of the world's action directors ashamed of themselves for not bothering to pack in as many thrills and cleverly choreographed beats into 2 hours that Szifron manages in 20 minutes. The final sequence centering on a wedding reception that goes sour and descends into utter chaos is also pretty damn great, and funny too. Don't read anything more about it and if gets released, jump in. A-

VENICE GOLDEN LION WINNER!
Sweden's A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting On Existence comes from one of Mike Leigh's favorite directors Roy Andersson. Hence the first Mike Leigh sighting of the day since he came to the show with Mr Turner's primary non-Timothy Spall Oscar contender Marion Bailey. The room was jam-packed with press many of whom were laughing out loud and very frequently which is not all that common in critics screenings, I have to tell you.

A Pigeon... which does indeed include pigeons sitting on branches (albeit mostly offscreen),  bills itself as the final part of a trilogy of what it means to be human. And it starts with three short scenes called "Three Encounters With Death" which are beyond hilarious. I will never forget the ancient little lady hanging tightly on to her purse because she wants to take it with her when she goes. Every scene in the film is its own little continuous shot vignette in which the camera does not move but the things within the frame do, albeit sometimes very slowly. The two most frequently recurring characters are gag salesmen who keep announcing that they're there to help people have fun but are the glummest downers you ever did see, perpetually frowning, failing, frumpy and shuffling as if they're zombies across Andersson's often brilliant mise-en-scène . Not that anyone in the frame looks "alive" per se, since Andersson's figures are nearly all chalky white with a touch of ginger in their hair. The salesmen turned out to be my least favorite running gag in the movie and definitely wore out their welcome a bit though they're super funny at first. My favorite recurring bit was the generic repetitive dialogue heard whenever anyone onscreen answers a telephone. As if all the disconnected oddness weren't perplexing enough, there are three amazing period piece scenes involving warring soldiers, a musical number in a diner, and a slave ship (a very disturbing sequence).

Andersson strikes me a singular director, but there is one comparison point I feel comfortable sharing. I kept thinking of Jacques Tati, because the longer you stare at the sometimes crowded sometimes spare shots, the funnier they become and the bigger their comic payoffs whenever anything changes within the frame you've been visually searching for more things to discover or giggle about. I'm still scratching my head over this film but I'm already kicking myself for having missed Andersson's previous films. Several people have told me that I would love them. They were right and I am a fool for taking so long to get to them. A-

one of many screamingly funny but morbid scenes in "A Pigeon..."

Can you tell that I'm having a great great festival this year?

Thursday
Sep042014

The Three R's with Cameron Diaz in 'Bad Teacher'

Rudeness.

Raciness.

No Respect.

Glenn here to help you guys ease back into the school year with the help of Cameron Diaz as Miss Halsey in Bad Teacher. Lord know we could have all used a teacher like her in those first few days, watching movies and napping.

Anyone seen Stand and Deliver? Show of hands. You kidding me? Edward James Olmos? Lou Diamond Phillips?

For as hilarious as I find this film - yes, I know it's a minority opinion, but I guffaw wildly and it's surprisingly rewatchable - nothing quite beats the moment when Diaz enters the building she thought she'd escaped forever and remembers the hell that is being a middle school teacher (or, in her case, any teacher at all). You and me both, Cam.

There's only so many times swearing and cursing can be funny (hell, kids-say-the-darndest-things style of humor was played out years before Bad Teacher came along) and I think the film is actually rather smart in focusing a lot of its energy on visual gags like this one, or others mostly revolving around Cameron Diaz's wonderfully expressive face and body language. 

Sadly, in one of those rare instances of the Golden Globes having a great performance by a big star in a huge box office smash to choose from, they glanced right over Diaz's return to the (sorta) A list. Instead they chose the two women from Carnage and Michelle Williams from the laugh riot singalong My Week with Marilyn (who won). I'm not going to complain about Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids. That's still fantastic. Still, being in a critically lambasted movie has never stopped them before and Diaz's work here is truly committed and gutsy stuff.

Was it that Diaz was too... caustic? I really have to say that in spite of the hit-and-miss quality of the movies she has appeared in lately, Diaz has to my mind become one of the most fearless actors out there. Say what you will about the film or her performance, but Diaz in The Counsellor sure was something that's hard to forget. Her performance in Annie looks like a ridiculous mess, but one I'm fascinated to watch unfold. And as for Knight & Day? Well, I'm not sure I've seen a performer is recent years attempt to make a character that unlikable in a way that wasn't already on the page, somehow elevating the film to a strange form of performance art on her behalf.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there's little message to really be learnt from Bad Teacher. Except maybe to follow Diaz's lead. No, don't be rude, racy and disrespectful. Rather, be fearless and don't put up with the crap. And before you go...

Please help yourself to some delicious snacks and drinks in the back.

Did you have a bad teacher? And what do you think of the Cameron Diaz of the '10s? Fearless or frightening?

Wednesday
Sep032014

Podcast Pt 2: Steel Magnolias, Parenthood, and Movie Memories

Did you listen to part one and read the smackdown?
(If not, do both first.)

In the second half of our Smackdown 1989 companion conversation we discuss the 'regular family' subgenre in movies and television, and our histories with both Parenthood and Steel Magnolias. We also revisit Julia Roberts feud with her director Herbert Ross and debate how Parenthood has aged and where it sits in the raunchy comedy continuum.

You can listen at the bottom of the post or download on iTunes Continue the conversation in the comments. We'd love to hear your thoughts on these two films. Who's your favorite from these huge ensembles? 

And a big round of applause please for our awesome panel: Nick DavisKevin B LeeTim RobeyTasha RobinsonTodd VanDerWerff  and your host Nathaniel R. We hope you'd give us at least ♥♥♥ 

until next time...

Smackdown Pt 2: Parenthood & Steel Magnolias

Saturday
Aug302014

UHF (1989) - Let's Get Weird

Hello all, Margaret here to ask: in our Year of the Month, 1989, did anyone guess what cultural endurance "Weird Al" Yankovic would have?
 
By all rights he should have faded into obscurity after his surprising burst of mainstream popularity in the late 80s. Yet somehow, not only has he enjoyed a steady career these past 25 years, Weird Al is actually almost hip right now, coming off of 8 ultra-viral music videos, a spot in this year's Emmy telecast, and a #1 album on the Billboard chart. Capitalizing on this moment in the sun, Weird Al recently announced plans to write (and possibly direct) a second film. His first, released in 1989 during that early burst in popularity, was the critically maligned cult classic UHF. [more...]
 

Click to read more ...