Comedy

Tristram Shandy: a Cock and Bull Story

dir: Michael Winterbottom
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Tristram Shandy: a Cock and Bull Story, is not really an adaptation of the novel by Laurence Sterne. Like Adaptation, which is not an adaptation of Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, but a film about not being able to adapt The Orchid Thief, Tristam Shandy is more about people pretending to put on an adaptation of the novel rather than actually doing so. Whether budget constraints or the experimental desires of the director have resulted in this outcome, anyone wanting or expecting a faithful version will be sorely disappointed.

But it is a faithful adaptation of the spirit of the anarchic novel, which features the same kinds of digressions, blurrings of protagonist, author and story, and overall absurdly mundane madness.

Most of all, the flick is about Steven Coogan. And not about the ‘real’ Steve Coogan, but the character of Steve Coogan that he tends to play for shits and giggles, as the phrase goes. It’s a persona, it has to be. Coogan has gotten so much goddamn mileage from playing his smarmy character that if it’s really how he is, someone surely would have killed him by now.

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40 Year Old Virgin, The

dir: Judd Apatow
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It’s rare that I venture forth to the cinema in order to catch a comedy. They’re rarely funny and usually so disposable that I forget I’m watching them whilst I’m watching them. It’s always scary when you have to check your ticket to remind yourself what you’re watching. Ah, senility, my friend, you make everything old new again.

It’s far easier to catch them on DVD or cable, with little loss to my time, brain cells or threadbare wallet. In this instance there was clearly something different going on. I went out of my way to see this instead of the myriad other stuff on display at any of Melbourne’s fine theatres. There was a different thought process involved.

Judd Apatow is the name that made me think this might be worth watching. Apatow is one of those hellishly talented people who makes some great stuff for television but keeps getting shafted by the networks. His show Freaks and Geeks was a fresh and highly enjoyable entry into the high school kids tv genre. It wasn’t Degrassi High, but it also wasn’t Rich White Teenagers With Problems, part of the legacy Beverly Hills 90210 has left in its murderous wake.

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Aristocrats, The

dir: Paul Provenza
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Many (bad) comedies and films in general are often accused of being one joke movies stretched out painfully for an hour and a half more than they should be. Many of Jim Carrey’s movies fall into this category (the one joke being on the audience for paying to watch him twitch, flail and fulminate). The Passion of the Christ fits the bill. The Ahnuld – De Vito flick Twins falls into this category (They’re so different!) Anything arising from a television sketch show is emblematic of this plague upon all our houses when it defecates itself onto our silver screens.

Well, in The Aristocrats, we have instead a movie about one joke, and the myriad permutations and combinations thereof. And even though the flick is about this one joke, it is nothing like the aforementioned craptacular extravaganzas referred to earlier.

I guess you could call it a documentary, but that makes it sound like a studied, plotted course taken to reveal the origins and mysteries surrounding a legendary joke dating back to the vaudeville era. Which it approximates, but mostly it’s a bunch of talking heads either talking about the joke or telling their version of the joke.

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Team America: World Police

dir: Trey Parker
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It's a new world, which looks remarkably like the 'old' world as
portrayed in movies circa the 1980s. The entire globe is defined (as
in European, Egyptian and Korean cities) in terms of distances and
directions from the US. The soundtrack is the power chord laden
empty-headed nonsense as typified in glorious fashion by the title
song 'America? Fuck Yeah!'; a song so good Van Halen are kicking
themselves that they never recorded it. And the jingoistic action is
over the top, constantly explosive and cheesy / ridiculous in the
extreme. In short, this is an 80s action film parody chock full of the
requisite cliches of the era, except with puppets.

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Shaun of the Dead

dir: Edgar Wright
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Shaun of the Dead is a pretty goddamn funny movie. I say this as someone who sees a whole bunch of films at the cinema, but would laugh out loud about once, if not twice as a member of the audience over the course of a year. It's not the kind of laughter that leaves you sore and moaning in pain afterwards from the splitting of sides or the rupturing of organs from the bellowing belly laughs, but it's close enough. This is a well-made and decidedly British entry into the zombie genre, one which is a whole lot more fun than the 150 of so other zombie films that have come out in the last year or so.

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Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, The

dir: Wes Anderson
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Whilst watching one of Anderson’s films, you really have to wonder who he thinks the audience is for the magic that he serves up. Tis clearly not a guy aiming to pack out the multiplexes and get Armageddon or Passion of the Christ’s Comeback Special-kind of ticket sales. I wonder if he even really cares about the audiences that watch his films, because thus far the only audience I can figure out that he aims his movies at is himself.

Which is a good thing, at least theoretically. So many movies are pumped out that are purely a product, a unit almost identical to the previous unit with slight variations to give the illusion of choice. It’s rare in the course of a given year to see a genuinely individual film: one that is recognisable as the work of a person with a singular vision. Of the six hundred or so films that are released each year, in the end it’s these ones that you remember the most, whether they’re good or bad.

This hardly means that people should sell their firstborns and their puppies to get the required fundage in order to be able to buy multiple tickets to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. I find it hard to believe that there could really be a lot of people out there that would find a film like this that enjoyable.

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Bad Santa

dir: Terry Zwigoff
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Take up all your misanthropy, your contempt and loathing for the world in general and people specifically, roll it up into a ball and squeeze it till it is diamond hard, and then release it upon the cinema screen in an explosion of orgiastic catharsis. You're still not going to be responsible for an expulsion this ugly, no matter how hard you try.

Willie, as played by Billy Bob Thornton, is possibly one of the vilest creatures ever put to screen. When I think of the most loathsome characters to ever grace a cinema or television screen, he is definitely up there, arm in arm with the Bad Lieutenant (Harvey Keitel), Frank from Blue Velvet (Dennis Hopper), Archibald Cunningham from Rob Roy (Tim Roth) and the right hand of Evil itself, Maria (Julie Andrews) in The Sound of Music. In the hierarchy of evil, he is
one of the darkest fiends. We're talking a Republican level of vileness. We're talking about a level of vileness that makes your mother cry herself to sleep each night over after praying for hours that it not consume you too.

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Coffee and Cigarettes

dir: Jim Jarmusch
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The amazing, contradictory nature of art is that much of the time it
is simultaneously crucial and pointless. Even at its best art is
ultimately superfluous. Blasphemy, you think. Hypocrisy, as well,
especially from someone who styles themselves an artist (by way of
being a writer). But hear me out: no-one having a heart attack ever
had their life saved by having the Mona Lisa applied to their chest
instead of those electrical things that they use yelling 'Clear!'
before they do so. I know they're called defibrillators, but I didn't
want to show off. No drowning child was ever pulled out of the water
using the Sistine Chapel. You can't put a fire out with Picasso's
Guernica. And no girlfriend ever chose not to leave you because you
had a copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude in
your hand. Trust me it doesn't work. They just keep walking.

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Intolerable Cruelty

dir: Joel Coen
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From a creative team as potent and as previously successful as it generally has been over the last fifteen or so years, it has to be said that this film ends up being something of a disappointment. Especially for fans of the Brothers Coen, who have been gifted with so many good to great films thus far that the opening of their every film is greeted with an almost sexual level of anticipation.

Trying to replicate the kinds of screwball comedies from the 30s and 40s that we never knew we missed that much, the Brothers again make a film about, amongst other things, Hollywood films. They’ve covered most of the cinematic genres, from Capraesque lunacy in The Hudsucker Proxy, Prohibition era gangster morality in Millers Crossing, Busby Berkeley musicals in The Big Lebowski (amongst plenty of other nutty ingredients), so now it’s time to lift some style and elements from the films of Preston Sturges (Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story). These comedies, some of which are classics, are pretty cheesy to modern eyes, not helped by the regular presence of Eddie Bracken, who was a poor man’s Mickey Rooney if I ever saw one, and Joel McCrae, who was a destitute man’s Gary Cooper. And lucky us, we now have the rich man’s Cary Grant headlining here.

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Barbershop

dir: Tim Story
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With the recent release of its sequel I thought it was about time I caught up with a film I’d heard was pretty funny back in the dim distant reaches of the heady days of 2002. See, there aren’t many funny films out there, at least films I find funny. Sure there are stacks of comedies pumped out by the studios, but even the thought of most of them makes me want to tear my eyeballs out of their sockets using salad forks.

I was a fool to think Barbershop would be an outright comedy. It’s a treacly tv movie with something to say about tradition and community. I know this because every time any character started talking about the good ol’ days of Calvin’s barber shop and the importance of community, this drippy, cloying piano music would start up in the background. It’s very handy if you didn’t know how to feel about the scene. It’s a very convenient shortcut for those of us that couldn’t work out what our reaction was supposed to be. Thanks to the quality direction, we no longer have that worry.

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