Posts Tagged ‘Comedy’

Jerry Lewis, RIP

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Comedian, actor and director Jerry Lewis has died at age 91.

It’s hard to evaluate the work of someone who absolutely dominated their field for an extended period of time and then almost immediately went out of fashion. Lewis was far and away the most successful comic actor of mid-century America, appearing in an extremely successful series of movies with Dean Martin, then having a successful solo career as both a actor and director.

But after The Nutty Professor, it was a long, long slide. Between 1963 and 1980, you had Rowen & Martins Laugh-In, Lenny Bruce, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Richard Pryor, Saturday Night Live and Robin Williams, yet in Hardly Working (intended as a “comeback” film), Lewis was doing the same tried physical shtick. (Roger Ebert called it “one of the worst movies ever to achieve commercial release in this country.”) In between he directed the amazingly ill-conceived and incomplete The Day the Clown Cried, about a clown (Lewis) entertaining children on the way to the gas chamber in Auschwitz. Surviving footage suggests it is every bit as awful and cringe-worthy as you’d imagine.

In the meantime, he taught an acclaimed directing class at USC attended by (among others) George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and was a familiar face for decades of television viewers for his Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day Telethon. And he turned in the occasional fine dramatic performance, such as in The King of Comedy.

For someone who smoked as much as he did, had as many health issues, and battled prescription drug abuse, 91 is a very rip old age indeed.

Here’s a very early footage of Lewis and Martin from what I think may be the very first MDA telethon:

Here he is making his appearance as nutty professor alter ego Buddy Love:

And here’s a long, interesting piece on Lewis I linked to once before.

This Lawsuit Goes To Eleven

Friday, February 10th, 2017

There’s such a fine line between clever and a crooked movie studio:

The three members of Spinal Tap and the director of the 1984 movie about the fictional band are involved in a very real lawsuit against the media company Vivendi.

Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner have joined an earlier suit filed by Harry Shearer that claims Vivendi and StudioCanal have denied them profits from the 1984 rockumentary.

The amended lawsuit was filed in California federal court yesterday, according to The Hollywood Repoter. Shearer filed a fraud and contract-breach lawsuit last October. The original damages set at $125 million have been increased to $400 million.

The three actors, along with director Reiner, state they were given only $81 in merchandising income and $98 in music sales over the past few decades. They also claim to have not received accounting statements for the past three years in regards to This Is Spinal Tap.

$400 million? Well, that’s just nitpicking, isn’t it?

Six Degrees of Marty Feldman

Saturday, September 10th, 2016

Probably because I was searching for various clips following Gene Wilder’s death, this video about Marty Feldman’s life came up on YouTube. I thought I’d see a few minutes of it and actually ended up watching the whole thing.

Here in the U.S. Feldman is probably know mainly for appearing in Young Frankenstein, but in the UK he was revered as a radio and TV comic writing and performing genius who held his own working with many of the people who would later form Monty Python. Indeed, Feldman co-wrote the famous “Four Yorkshiremen” skit Python would later adopt as their own, and when Python first went on the air, Feldman was staring in his own Marty show on the BBC.

It’s worth a watch.

Interesting Interview With Gene Wilder

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

It’s the day after Worldcon, and I’m more than a little toasty, so expect slow blogging while I get up to speed.

So here’s a long interview with Gene Wilder about his career, working with Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Gilda Radner, etc. Wilder has reached the stage in his life where he speaks slowly and carefully, but always cognizantly, and it’s an interesting interview. I suspect that if it were not the day after Worldcon, I’d find it a little slow, but right now slow is just fine.

Movie Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Safety Not Guaranteed
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Written By Derek Connolly
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni, Jenica Bergere

This was a pleasant surprise when I watched it at a “Pre-Hugo Nomination” viewing party. It’s fun, well-executed, light entertainment that just happens to be about (theoretically) time travel.

The setup: Depressed wallflower Darius (Aubrey Plaza, the girl who had the black bars appear over her mouth every time she cussed in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) working a crappy intern position at a Seattle magazine is given a ride-along assignment to investigate a quirky classified ad by a asshole writer Jeff (Jake Johnson) (“Give me the lesbian and the Indian.” (Karan Soni)) Turns out he’s just trying to hookup with an old flame living in the same town as time travel guy.

The ad (based loosely on a real ad done as joke filler), asks for a partner to go back in time with, must bring their own weapons, safety not guaranteed.

They manage to track down Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the guy who placed the ad, but he rumbles asshole writer at once at tells him to get the hell off his porch. Darius has better luck, and soon she’s undergoing survival training him while Jeff rekindles his old flame.

If it’s not Romantic Comedy 301, then it’s not any later than Romantic Comedy 315: Two Damaged Weirdos Find Each Other. Despite the fact that the overall arc is somewhat predictable, it’s very well-executed, the dialog is clever and there are some surprises along the way. Like a hilarious, incompetently executed heist of a government research facility, where Kenneth walks past an office birthday party in his black intrusion gear. And the revelation that government agents are, in fact, tailing him. Plus the chemistry between Darius and Kenneth is completely believable. And by the end of the film, Jeff is even a little bit less of an asshole.

Safety Not Guaranteed is less about time travel per say, and more about time in general, and the vital, fleeting nature of human relationships. This came and went pretty quickly last year. While it won’t make you forget Donnie Darko or Primer, as a light romantic comedy with (possibly) time travel elements, it’s very well done, and worked a lot better than I expected. It will probably find a place on my Hugo ballot, and probably deserves a place in (at the very least) the top third of your Netflix queue.

Oh, and this song appears in the film. It’s pretty good.

Movie Review: The Love God?

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

The Love God?
Director Nat Hiken
Writer Nat Hiken
Starring Don Knotts, Anne Francis, Edmond O’Brien, James Gregory, Herb Voland, Maureen Arthur, Maggie Mancuso and B.S. Pully

The concept of The Love God? is as amusing as it is absurd: Don Knotts not only as an unwilling Hugh Heffner, but also as an unaware object of unbridled feminine lust. (If Don Knotts as sex symbol seems beyond the realm of possibility, consider that in 1969, his separated at birth twin was precisely that.) Knotts plays his usual nervous-nebbish-with-a-heart-of-gold character, and the movie plays out very similar to his more famous works, save for the suggestive nature of the material. And it is only suggestive; it’s about the cleanest film you could ever make about a dirty magazine.

Part of the charm of the film is how it’s both strangely out of time and exactly of it’s time. You couldn’t have made a family movie about a dirty magazine too much earlier than 1969 because it would have been too risque to get greenlight by Hollywood. And you couldn’t have gotten it made too much latter, because the Sexual Revolution quickly become so sacred that no one in Hollywood would have been willing to make such ruthless fun of it, or have an ending that rejected it for the wholesome joys of marriage. One of the films funniest running gags are the “hip” fashion atrocities they foist onto our blithe protagonist, which obviously couldn’t have come from any era but the late 1960s. By contrast, the “swinging” signature song “Mr. Peacock” would have been considered too old-fashioned for the 1950s, much less the era of Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. Also, the characters are mostly stock types that could have appeared in most of Knotts’ other films. For a film that came out the same year as Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider, it has all the edge of a bowling ball.

The movie starts in court (with a technically interesting multi-camera, multiple-window view of the scene along with the credits, and possibly the first use of it on film), with an oddly sentimental pornographer Osborn Tremaine (his wife is the proud covergirl of all his issues) getting a slap on the wrist from the judge on obscenity charges, only to have his precious 4th-class mailing yanked moments later. Shortly thereafter he’s driving through the sticks when he discovers that Abner Peacock’s (Knott) namesake bird-lover magazine The Peacock is on the verge of liquidation. Tremaine quickly rescues the magazine (and its fourth-class mailing permit) and sends Abner off on wild bird chase to South America. When he gets back, it’s only to discover that Tremaine has remade the The Peacock over into a porno mag, and Abner (still listed as the publisher) is under indictment as public enemy number one.

Abandoned by all but his innocent sweetheart Rose Ellen (Maggie Mancuso, playing wholesome, loyal, and very dim), Abner is about to put his head in a noose (literally; a pretty dark touch for a Knotts film) when two ACLU types show up at his door promising to pay for his defense and hire the best attorney money can buy to support free speech.

At the obscenity trial, the Attorney General (Herb Voland) condemns Abner with delicious gusto:

I have another duty, a higher duty to perform. And that is to protect you, your children, the very morality of our nation, from the smut and moral corruption spewed forth like garbage from the lecherous, vile, lewd and licentious mind of this filthy, little degenerate! Look at his face. It is the face of a smut monger. Look at his body: thin, wasted away by the dissipation and debauchery of a life of unspeakable orgies and depravity!…He says he’s innocent. And he does look innocent…until you look into his eyes. They’re the eyes of a man obsessed by sex, eyes that mock our sacred institutions; “bedroom eyes,” they called them in a bygone day. They’re the eyes of a man whose lust knows no bounds, who lives but for corrupting others to a life of carnal pleasures and lewd designs. A man whose erotic desires and libertine practices are used to titillate the unsuspecting, who regards women as his playthings and would stoop to any depths to satisfy his pornographic tastes. The Marquis de Sade would have regarded Abner Peacock as a peer in his search for lechery. We can have a clean America, but only when we remove this sex-ridden smut peddler from the society he is bent upon destroying.

Then his own attorney, played by James Gregory (Angela Lansbury’s husband/patsy in The Manchurian Candidate and Barney Miller‘s inspector Lugar, along with a hundred other supporting roles) gets up and, ahem, defends him:

Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen, I have sat here and heard my client, Abner Peacock, called “a filthy, obscene degenerate; a sex-ridden, lascivious defiler of virtue whose lust knows no bounds, whose publications have plumbed the depths of degradation, and are a reflection of his own sex-obsessed mind.” We’re not going to argue about that. We can see that Abner Peacock is everything the Attorney General has told you he is. It is the unsavory creatures like Abner Peacock who test the strength of our Constitution, which, like our Rock of Gibraltar, has withstood challenge after challenge in protecting our freedom of the press through the years. Now, ladies and gentlemen, are we to stand idly by and allow the first crack to be made in this rock because of this dirty little pornographer? This is a dirty case and a dirty little man. It is with disgust to the point of nausea that I find myself sitting next to this filthy little degenerate! But when I see this filthy degenerate’s Constitutional rights being threatened, then I must take this filthy little degenerate into my arms, clasp him to my breast and fight for this filthy little degenerate’s Constitutional rights and liberty with my very life!

You just don’t see enough people called “filthy little degenerates” these days.

Naturally Abner is acquitted.

With all the publicity, Tremaine knows he has a goldmine on his hands, but can’t raise the money to do the huge print run required to capitalize on it. This necessitates a visit to mobster “Icepick Charlie,” who’s mad for sophistication and self improvement (he has a tutor in to teach a new word every day). Charlie not only wants to underwrite the most sophisticated dirty mag in existence, he thinks he should be the publisher. He hires up-and-coming powerhouse journalist Lisa LaMonica (Anne Francis, still incredibly hot 13 years after Forbidden Planet) to edit The Peacock. She agrees, but on one condition: Abner has to stay on as figurehead, since the trial has made him the lust object of the nation’s id.

Abner just wants to clear his name, and assert that he’s just a clean, wholesome guy, but everyone from his lawyers to the magazine backers insist he must stay on for the sake free speech, and set him up in a penthouse (outfitted in the finest Late Bordello Red Velvet fashion) with french maids and his own “Peacock Pets.” Despite his wholesome nature, Abner (like all Knotts characters) isn’t exactly the the strongest-willed of men, and soon finds that a guy could really get used to the Hef lifestyle…

One of the high points for modern viewers of the film is the stunning array of “hip” outfits Peacock sports. Like this:

Or this:

Or even this:

And this is so far over the top, it’s almost awesome:

The running joke, of course, is that Abner, far from being a filthy degenerate, is still pure as the driven snow, and spends his spare time teaching his Pets bird calls. Despite the supposedly risque nature of the material, The Love God? plays out like Knotts other star vehicles from the period: nebbish elevated through fluke to exalted status, fall flat on his face, suffers abject humiliation, is abandoned by his friends, triumphs through combination of honesty, good-natured perseverance and a bit of luck, and gets the girl in the end. It works well not only because Knotts was a master of the type (as his five Emmys for Barney Fife attest), but because no matter how grandiose his pretensions or painful his embarrassment at falling woefully short of them, he never loses the audience’s sympathy. Orwell famously noted that “any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats,” and Knotts’ characters not only garner more than their fair share, but also stand in for our own. The gulf between his character’s self-image and reality may be vaster than our own, but we’ve all suffered social faux pauxs. We’re willing to enjoy his abject humiliations because we know, in the end, he’ll overcome them; pathos rather than bathos.

Also, like Knotts’ other starring vehicles of the period, The Love God? is pretty funny. Lisa falls for Abner despite the obvious absurdity (“He’s a big square! (pause) Just like the one my mother married.”), and Icepick Charlie falls for her, setting up one of the stranger love triangles in cinema history (or love quadrilateral, counting Rose Ellen). There are pieces that don’t quite work (the birdcall song refrain bit falls a bit flat), but most do. Like many of Knotts’ other films (or a Shakespeare comedy) it ends with a wedding.

In this clip, British comedian Stephen Fry observes that American comedians like to be the triumphant trickster, while British comedians like to play the mournful failure.

And, as a broad generalization fair enough. But this quick and dirty bifurcation ignores not only the many straight man/fall guy comedic pairings on both sides of the Atlantic (Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Cook and Moore), it ignores Knotts entire career as the quintessential victim.

The movie was written and directed by longtime TV writer Nat Hiken, who died before his debut film was released. That’s a shame, as it’s really well-written, smoothly executed comedy of much the same pace and style of other comedic films of the era (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying comes to mind).

I missed the chance to see Joe Bob Briggs introduce a showing of The Love God? at the Alamo Downtown, mainly because it’s a hassle to get downtown by 7 PM these days.

This being the Internet, someone has put up the entire film on YouTube:

You can also get The Love God? as part of the Don Knotts Reluctant Hero 4-pack, which also includes The Ghost & Mr. Chicken, The Reluctant Astronaut and The Shakiest Gun In The West. That’s a lot of Knotts for your buck…

Dwight and I saw this at the same time, and he has a review up as well.

Another Top 100 Movie Comedy List

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Via Bill Crider comes yet another Top 100 Movie Comedies list. There is much to quibble with on this list (Brazil is way too low, Annie Hall is way too high, too few silent films and Eeling Comedies, Hot Fuzz should be higher, etc.), but given that it kicks the ass of that wretched College Humor list, I’m inclined to cut it some slack.

And they got #1 right.

Long, Interesting Piece on Jerry Lewis

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

No, really. I wouldn’t call myself a Jerry Lewis fan (his brand of humor had already gone out of fashion by the time I was born), but he did do an excellent job in The King of Comedy (which is, I can assure you, not the film you want to watch while you’re depressed). Anyway, there’s a lot of interesting stuff in here, even if you take his claim of banging Marilyn Monroe with a grain of salt. I was unaware he had written a highly-praised book on directing, or taught directing classes attended by Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas. He also seems to be a remarkably astute businessman, since he made the studios promise to give all the rights to his movies back after 30 years.

Anyway, it’s an interesting piece, even if you’re not particularly a Jerry Lewis fan.

Dear College Humor: Your List is Bad, And You Should Feel Bad

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Warning: Deceased Equine Flogging Next 500 Words

So: A little while back College Humor put up a list of the top 100 movie comedies of all times based on the votes of their readers. (If you want to avoid giving these idiots click traffic (and you should), this Fark thread helpfully offers up the entire list in the fourth post.) Based on the evidence, their readers are all either people who have consisted on a diet of nothing but chips of lead-based paint for several years, or under the age of 18. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a credible choice for number one, but not only is that about the only thing they got right, it’s almost the oldest movie they have on the list; both Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles came out a year earlier. (Man, what a year Mel Brooks had! It’s pretty much been a long, slow slide ever since…) That’s right: The oldest film on the list is from 1974.

No Eeling comedies. No classic screwball comedies. No Marx Brothers. No Charlie Chaplin. No Buster Keaton. No Harold Lloyd.

However, even in the woefully inadequate time period covered, the Super-geniuses at College Humor managed to leave off This is Spinal Tap, but managed to make room for Jackass, Jackass 2, Black Sheep (a film that comes in at a robust 28% at Rotten Tomatoes) and (at number 11) Spaceballs.

I think this may in fact be the worst “Best of” movies list ever submitted to the public at large. Perhaps College Humor should rebrand themselves as “Middle School Humor”…

Dave Barry’s End of Year Wrap-up

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Always a must-read.