Sunday, November 19, 2006

Funny time with film movies for me!

So I finally saw 'Borat,' and was surprised to see that even after three weeks, it could still sell out a theater. The whole place was in hysterics all the way through, and I couldn't help notice that it seemed like many of them had seen it before, with a select few conveniently saying the jokes before Borat did. I was expecting my wife to note enjoy it (I think she had similar thoughts), but even she (a first grade teacher) couldn't help but laugh out loud for the more funnier parts. I don't think I have much new to say about it that you've probably read before, but I will complain that in many scenes it seemed that most of the potential went unfilled. Why couldn't we see more of Borat in Washington, outside of telling Alan Keyes how he made friends at a Gay Pride parade, or asking Bob Barr but one question? Same goes for the final scenes in Los Angeles, where everything seems rushed, especially for the church bus that got him there, which was the subject of exactly zero jokes.

Outside of minor quibbles, the movie IS funny. Really funny. I was actually expecting it to be much more offensive, and thought it came off as relatively tame (minus a couple scenes). Some of the best material is in its lampooning of anti-semitism, such as the Running of the Jew tradition in Borat's village, which consists of someone in a huge Mardi Gras-style costume grabbing for money. When Borat and his producer are in a Jewish-run bed and breakfast in Georgia, they are horrified to find that the Jews can shapeshift into people, and can also take the form of cockroaches (which enter their room, but are soon turned away when Borat throws dollar bills at them). Then there's THE scene, which should be the funniest of any movie this year. It doesn't involve Borat embarrassing Americans, it's just ultra disturbing/genius slapstick that will leave you reeling.

'Borat' has sparked some interesting debate on Jim Emerson's Scanners blog, mainly on the debate of comedy criticism, and the funniest movies ever made. Emerson takes offense to the saying that analyzing comedy is anti-comedic, saying
'if you don't understand why you're laughing, when you're laughing, then you don't appreciate the comedy and you may as well not be laughing at all, since any old reaction is probably comparably appropriate for you.' I agree, but there have been many comedic experiences for me (such as this), where I would not even attempt to explain in words why it makes me laugh.

I've found that when discussing favorite films by genre, you generally find the biggest divide with comedies. I don't know if there has been studies on it, but just like there are scientific personality types, there are also scientific sense of humor types. For example, there is a definite group of people who will never find Wes Anderson movies funny. Another example is the group of people who will never find Monty Python's Life of Brian to be that funny. I subscribe to the latter group, and although I thought 'Life of Brian' was well made an had a few good gags, there are some people (read the comments for Emerson's post if you don't believe me), who feel that it is God's gift to comedy.

Emerson's request was to provide a list of favorite off-the-beaten-path comedies, but I'm sad to report that most of my favorite funnies are of the mainstream variety. You're all probably familiar with these four, and so instead I'd like to share my favorite moments from each one.

The Royal Tenenbaums

I've heard this movie described as all style over substance, which is partly true, but it's also true that the Tenenbaums style is the substance. I laugh the most at the small, but brilliant details in Anderson's movies, such as:

--Royal Tenenbaum being served some sort of exotic martini after discussing with his children that their parents are getting a divorce. The timing, as always, is dead-on, and after multiple viewings you find yourself busting up at the thought that Royal had the foresight to order Pagota to make him an exotic martini prior to this critical moment. This scene is also another example of Royal's almost-sincere dialogue:

'Well, your mother has asked me to leave, and I have to respect her position on the matter.'

--Maybe the best-written line in the movie is Eli's excerpt from his book 'Old Custer.' The joke is wonderfully economic, because in a few lines, you learn that 'Old Custer' is not only a bad book, but a book that Eli is a bad author, who is trying desperately to sound smart. It would be one thing just to have the book be poorly written, but to have it depicted as being over written is gold:

The crickets and the rust-beetles scuttled among the nettles of the sage thicket. "VĂ¡monos, amigos," he whispered, and threw the busted leather flintcraw over the loose weave of the saddlecock. And they rode on in the friscalating dusklight.

The paintings. No explanation really needed.

--Gene Hackman and Danny Glover have the movie's two best exchanges, this being the best:

'I know what stomach cancer looks like. I've seen it, and you don't eat three cheeseburgers a day with french fries when you got it.'
'How do you know?'
'My wife had it.'

The Big Lebowski

This movie used to be a sleeper, then it was underrated, then it was one of the best comedies of the past 20 years, and now people groan whenever you want to talk about it because everything has already been said. Well I'd like to add a few of my own thoughts, if I may. When you watch this movie enough times, you can start to make a case that every line in the script is funny. I know this because for the last four months, I've communicated with a co-worker almost exclusively in 'Big Lebowski' lines. We've reached the point where yesterday I said Walter's line, 'not exactly a lightweight' (from the 'Branded' conversation) to him and we both laughed out loud. It occurred to me later, that the line would only be funny when placed into the context of the whole movie, and perhaps then only to someone who has seen it multiple times.

What keeps you laughing when your viewing count is in the double digits (or, in the case of my co-workers, the triple digits) is the unique way in which most of the characters genuinely straddle the line between genius and dufus with everything that comes out of their mouths. When Walter and the Dude are raging about the literary connections between life and Vietnam and quoting Lennon one minute and then honestly debating how a shitty rug tied together a shitty apartment the next, it never stretches the reality of their characters. Nor does it hurt that their performances of these characters also include such props as mountainous slurs, dirty jellies and Miller Lite inside a small plastic cup.

--'The Big Lebowski' is also full of wonderful details. I always lose it when I see Walter casually sit down at the landlord's recital in a full suit. Same goes for the Dude's reaction of reassurance when Walter tells him that the Jesus really is a pedophile.

American Movie
By far the most off-the-beaten-path of my choices, which is a shame. This movie should be more widely seen, as it would be at the top of any 'best mockumentary' list ... if it actually was fiction. What makes 'American Movie' so goddamn hilarious and breathtaking at the same time, is that it's just seemingly ordinary parts of a person's life that makes it into a classic comedy. Chris Smith's camera follows filmmaker Mark Borchardt, who falls somewhere between artist, fool, community leader, blessed/wretched family member/friend and dumbshit. Borchardt (whose very appearance is cause for laughs), is intent on finally finishing his grassroots film production of the horror movie 'Coven' (pronounced COH-ven, not CUV-en, because the latter 'rhymes with oven'), even if it means wringing every last cent out of his dying grandfather, causing physical harm to his friends and shattering his family life.

If that last sentence sounded kind of tragic, rest assured, it most certainly is, but every minute of it is so back-breakingly hilarious. Every scene takes the layers of previously built up comedy and adds one after another, with the topper being the unbelievably awful movie-within-a-movie that Borchardt makes (the DVD includes the full version). There's no movie that prepares you for the comedic emotions you feel while watching Borchardt futily try to record a line of dialogue from his grandpa, then see the finished product with the unfortunately-dubbed line put in. And that's just Borchardt, there's an entire community of characters here, ranging from his scratch-off ticket addicted friends to the local 'actors' who are willing to put up with Borchardt and possible harm to their body all in the name of being in a terrible movie.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: 'Eegah!'
Everyone has their favorite MST3k episodes, and for me and my family, it's this one. Why? It's not the worst movie MST3k has done, but it seems to give them the most material:

--'Star' Arch Hall Jr. is not really ugly, he's just incredibly weird-looking, which leads to many unintentionally frightening shots of his face, and subsequent skewering by Tom, Crow and Co.

--Hall also thinks he can sing, and lends his talents more than once to this movie . . . very poorly. It's one thing to sit down with an acoustic guitar, it's another to bring your Fender poolside complete with a giant amp.

--A truly bizarre scene where Roxy gives her dad a shave.

--An oven in a living room.

--Director Arch Hall Sr.'s decision to dub in all the lines . . . himself!


Joe Baker said...

You're spot-on about "the Big Lebowski".... its also my favorite comedy of the past 20 years. My best friend and I used to quote the lines as well and know one except him ever laughs when I casually toss in the line "you've gotta feed the monkey."

I'm sure you've seen "Bottle Rocket", correct? While I'm thoroughly enjoyed (and even moved, at times) by Tenebaums, "Bottle Rocket" is also a mini-masterpiece of dialogue and situational comedy. The heist at the end.. wow.. comedy gold.

Anonymous said...

Re: Weirdness... I picked up a copy of "Wild Guitar" for a dollar at the local WM, another movie brought to us by the team of Arch Hall and dad. I find Arch Hall, oddly, compelling.