Tag Archives: Black Comedy

Fido (2006)

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In “Fido”‘s candy-colored, whimsical 50’s-esque  world, zombies are obedient servants of mankind and as gentle as a family dog- just keep those pesky electronic control collars turned on so your faithful friend stays domesticated and servile! Zombie-phobic Bill (Dylan Baker,) haunted by the years when the undead ran rampant before the collar was invented, is not pleased when his ditzy wife Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss) brings home ‘Fido’ (Billy Connelly,) a amiable walking corpse to serve their every need.

Timmy (Keysun Loder,) their son, quickly makes friends with Fido, but Bill’s worst fears are realized when Fido eats Timmy’s crotchety old next-door neighbor Mrs. Henderson (Mary Black) in a freak accident. But, gee, Mrs. Henderson wasn’t a very nice old bird, and Timmy is determined to keep his best pal there at home with him, where he belongs, and is willing to cover up Fido’s kill and the carnage that follows.

“Fido” is very funny, cute and charming (in a dark, sweetly diseased way,) and a wicked satire of 1950’s manners and customs. I honestly don’t know why it didn’t get more attention at the box office. The costumes and sets are eye-poppingly colorful and stand sharply in contrast with the decomposition of the monsters. And Billy Connelly- who knew that an actor could make his character of an occasionally flesh-eating zombie a lovable and empathizeable character?

I’ll admit it, guys- I was rooting for ‘Fido’ to get away with his massacre of the next door neighbor all the way through. With a masterful mix of body language and facial expression, Billy Connelly creates perhaps the only zombie worth squeeing in adorableness for in the history of cinema. If you’re anything like this slightly wacked viewer, by the end of this movie you’ll want to envelop Fido in a warm hug- cautioning, of course, that his collar is fully functional.

Carrie-Anne Moss and Dylan Baker are a riotous pair as they provide a send-up of 50’s values with a dark and homicidal twist. Tim Blake Nelson delivers as a oddball neighbor with an overly familiar relationship with his female zombie (it’s not like it’s necrophilia… right?) If “Fido” pales in one respect, it’s that zombies are an overused cultural icon and it seems to dim slightly in comparison to the truly great zomcoms like “Shaun of the Dead.”

It’s not particularly novel in terms of it’s themes theme (either as a satire of nondescript 1950’s suburbia or a comedy featuring zombies as some of it’s main players,) but it delivers on it’s oddball premise with some great gags and jokes. There’s an uncanny weirdness lurking behind it’s goofball amiability- maybe this outwardly silly satire is darker than it lets on. But the inherent corniness of the violence- like a wacky midnight movie- ensures that “Fido” should be enjoyed by viewers of twelve and up- especially those who are seasoned on slightly edgier horror fare.

You may have overlooked this movie when it passed through theaters (not with a bang, but with a slightly piteous fizzle,) but “Fido” has the potential to become a cult classic if it gets attention with lovers of cheesy horror and slightly subversive cinematic oddities. It’s dry, dark humor earns it a place in my heart- even if it’s not as memorable as “Shaun of the Dead” or even “Zombieland,” it’s the little movie it could with some actual thoughts in it’s twisted little head- a sad rarity in modern horror. For an opportunity to root for the zombies and their unholy cravings, watch “Fido.”

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Scarfies (AKA Crime 101) (1999)

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Take this film for what it is (an uneven and extremely low budget thriller and morality play) and you may find yourself enjoying the effective acting displayed within and bruising social commentary concerning the self-absorption and sometimes outright shittiness of humankind. It’s Danny Boyle’s “Shallow Grave” meets “Lord of the Flies” meets early Quentin Tarantino with a distinct lack of the technical verve Tarantino showed even early on into his career.

That said, this is one of the more psychologically harrowing and disturbing ‘black comedies’ of recent times. Dark humor, or just plain dark? When the douchebag college kids glue their weed-peddling captive’s lips and hands together and force him to squat with his pants pulled halfway down and shit into a bucket, I was struck by the indignity of it all. “Scarfies” remains relatively compelling despite the almost nil production values and contemptuous cast of characters because it starts out with a somewhat sympathizable ‘what would you do?’ scenario until it takes a sudden plunge into the darkest of places, where sadistic mind games and senseless violence overtake rationality and basic human decency.

The film follows a group of college students who squat in an abandoned house that incongruously has electricity. Initially they are relatively carefree, partying and drinking like there’s no tomorrow, bonding and making love and getting high. Impulsive frat boy-type Alex (Taika Waititi) uses a monumentally awful pick-up line on the object of his affections, straight-laced Nicola (Ashleigh Seagar) and coaxes her into his bed, while Scott (Neill Rea) and Emma (Willa O’Neill) make moon eyes at each other but don’t act on their mutual attraction. Graham (Charlie Bleakley) has a crush on Nicola, but waffles around it and acts generally irritating.

It’s all fun and games until the five students open and jammed-up door in the basement of the squalid building and find a collection of pot plants, all primed and ready to smoke. After a fierce debate, they sell the lot and blow the entirety of their drug money on various electronics and personal vanities. So when the dealer (Jon Brazier) shows up volatile and royally pissed at the loss of his crop, they lock him in the basement. And that’s when the real fun begins.

Movies and literature continually show that kids are scary as hell. So why shouldn’t a group of well-groomed, outwardly innocuous college youngsters be any different? It is Alex (Waititi,) however, who makes me suspect that his brain is made of bits and bobs and cogs that render him not quite a person, at least not in the spiritual sense. Despite being good-looking, calm, seemingly ordinary, and well-liked, Alex possesses the heart of killer, a sense of apathy and sadistic glee at his misdoings, and the self-confidence to coerce his frightened roommates into obedience and stunned silence.

Graham, however, while initially appearing to be a ineffectual innocuous type (pining pitifully for Nicola and crying at the slightest provocation,) proves to be the kind of guy who held your hands behind your back as you got punched in the gut in high school. He enjoys the high-stakes excitement of having a prisoner to heckle and hurt, so he follows the smugly cruel Alex’s lead in what is essentially torture, culminating in a electronic device to control the prisoner’s behavior through electric shocks.

“Scarfies” is not really a comedy, except in the sense of ironic human indecency. However, it is an interesting study of human behavior and the innate sense of self-interest exhibited by people everywhere. “Better him than me.” How many times have we innately said that to ourselves, believing that it would be ultimately preferable that someone else take the fall for us? The acting and the story are better than you might expect, and there are a few laughs to be had among the dark sense of foreboding and transgression.

If nothing else, you’ll watch to the end hoping the ‘protagonists’ get what they deserve. Taika Waititi definitely shows early promise in a precursor to his work as a director. His not only smug and self-satisfied, but (in this reviewer’s humble opinion) downright sociopathic character’s face needed punching. Make no mistake, this movie is no masterwork of cinema, but if you like cynical social commentaries that pull no punches in regards to how they view people (superior to apes? I think not!) you’ll probably enjoy this movie. Just don’t expect a laugh riot or a glossy Hollywood film.

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What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

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Living among the undead can be an uproarious experience, as this side-splitting found-footage comedy proves. Okay, there’s a small margin for error while filming a documentary of a group of vampire roommates (in other words, don’t piss them off you you just might be dinner) but what are vampires really, if not just a couple of the guys? They yearn for the same things everyone else does- closeness, companionship, a scrap of normalcy, and just because their continued existence has a body count doesn’t mean they aren’t sympathetic or possessors of nearly human hearts- right?

In the main trio of bloodsuckers, Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) is the Lothario, Deacon (Jonny Brugh) is a bit of a ‘bad boy,’ and  Viago (Taika Waititi) is the sweetly pedantic glue that holds the odd little family together. They cohabitate in a stereotypically old Gothic house where their maker, Petyr (Ben Fransham, who looks more than a little like the antagonist in F.W. Murneau’s silent classic “Nosferatu,”) resides in the basement, and they allow a small group of filmmakers into the house to observe their way of life. That’s when the hilarity starts, and it doesn’t let up until the end credits. Who knew vampires could be so persnickety, moody, and altogether human in their foibles?

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Vampire cohabitation, it turns out, has the same pitfalls as human cohabitation, plus tricky issues like bloody plates and saucers and troublesome ribcages tossed haphazardly upon the floor. It is not what makes the vampires different, but what makes them similar to the humans they prey on (in a bloody and hilarious fashion) that makes up the film’s humor. They are not above heckling each other and their werewolf rivals, bitching about housework and division of labor in terms of chores, and even the occasional gloomy day (the difference is, Vladislav deals with his depression by abducting and torturing unfortunate humans, a sure sign that he is in ‘a bad place’ mentally and emotionally.)

My favorite vampire is Viago. I don’t think the movie would have been half as good without him. He’s more than a little camp (I would have pegged him for homosexual,) but he came to this country for love (with a woman) who passed him by and has aged well into her twilight years. He’s the supportive backbone for his friends and he seems oddly empathetic and likable despite his bloodlust. All three of the leads do a great job though, and the laughs arrive in a machine gun fire of hilarious lines.

Light-hearted and simultaneously bloody and raucous, “What We Do in the Shadows” never causes us in shrink back in revulsion from our heroes (despite their ne’er do well nighttime activities) but makes us laugh with them and regard them with mirth and good humor as well as genuine admiration. They do what they have to do, and they make us laugh like Hell in the process. The jokes are deadpan and brilliant in their execution, making the viewer all but fall of the chair giggling at the filmmakers’ wit and creativity.

The plot isn’t epic or anything, it’s a vehicle for the jokes. It makes you feel light and happy leaving it, refusing to get too serious despite some dark implications lingering within the script. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, gifted directors as well as actors, have created a wonderful movie that will be enjoyed through the ages (unlike most found footage films, which lay flaccidly on the market as soon as they are distributed and add nothing new, thereby being rendered obsolete and forgotten within a couple of years.) I sense a cult following for this one, guys, I really do. You don’t have to be a horror fan to recognize the comedic genius at work here, and I recommend this to anybody with a sense of humor (you know who you are) and an hour to kill.

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Creep (2014)

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Warning: “Creep” is only horror in the very loosest sense. On the other hand, if you have a sick, supremely fucked-up sense of humor like me, it will be revealed to you as a superbly executed black comedy. Shot on a cheap handheld camera, featuring only two actors and a couple of sets, “Creep” doesn’t seem to have a terribly high potential for being watchable, but a uproarious performance by Indie darling Mark Duplass, a pitch-black sensibility, and a generally eerie mood throughout ensure that it will keep your eyes glued to the screen, if only in horrified fascination.

Actor/director Patrick Brice plays Aaron, a naïve amateur filmmaker who meets a guy on Craigslist who wants Aaron to meet him at his woodland cabin and film him for unknown purposes. Seems legit…? Being the wimpy, eager-to-please guy he is, Aaron departs from his home in the city and visits Josef (Duplass),) who reveals that (1 he is dying of cancer and (2 he wants Aaron to film him as a video diary for his unborn son, ‘Buddy.’

That’s when things get weird. Between Aaron somewhat homoerotically filming Josef splashing in the bath engaging in ‘tubby time’ (“my dad used to have tubby time with me,” Josef confides, “and it was the best… time… of… day”) to Josef doing an extremely creepy song-and-dance routine as ‘Peach-fuzz’ the benevolent werewolf, Josef reveals himself to be a seriously sinister human being. That Aaron is fascinated and to some degree encourages Josef is one of the strangest ideas the movie gets in it’s twisted little head. But I don’t think the movie would work if Aaron wasn’t slightly skewed too.

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“Creep” sometimes gives off the impression of a dark, dark home movie, and although there’s some stupidity pertaining to the found-footage genre (Aaron traipsing through a back alley while being stalked by Josef and rolling his video camera all the while) the concept and execution of this project are surprisingly workable. Duplass is oddly effective as a likable sociopath, while Brice brings some sympathy to a character who is aggravatingly passive and foolish at best, a complete idiot at worst (within how much time of a man in an isolated locale joking about killing you with an ax would you get the hell out?)

The humor seems most akin to Ben Wheatley’s British black comedy “Sightseers.” The laughter “Creep” evokes hits a sour note, because the topic of the humor is human depravity- the unlimited potential for insanity and senseless destruction among the human race. It’s dark stuff, and if you don’t find mirth in the blackest of comedies, it might be too much to swallow. But if you find batshit crazy people to be funny (in the movies, not so much in the headlines-) Patrick Bateman, Jack Nicholson’s The Joker, “The Voice”‘s Jerry Hickfang.- this movie will ring a chord within your black, black soul. Plotholes and unanswered questions aside, this movie might be the best mentally ill homosexual stalker comedy since Miguel Arteta’s “Chuck & Buck.”

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Life After Beth (2014)

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I didn’t expect much from this movie, but a family member rented it and I decided to watch in hopes that my fears would be unfounded and I would be exposed to a hidden gem. How very wrong I was. “Life After Beth” is dreadfully bad, an utter misfire on every level and a mediocre experience even if you lower your expectations exponentially.

“Life After Beth” is pretty much the 2004 horror-comedy “Zombie Honeymoon” except with the gender roles reversed and way, way worse. On paper it looks acceptable enough- what can go wrong with a cast like this? (I take that back, John C. Reilly was in the turd-tastic “Step Brothers.” But hey, “Magnolia!”) All I could think about towards the end was how surreal it was that Paul Reiser was in this and “Whiplash” the same year (the difference? “Whiplash” was actually good.)

Zach (Dane Dehaan) is an uninteresting young man whose girlfriend, Beth (Aubrey Plaza,) has recently died from a snakebite accident. So when Beth comes back with a voracious appetite for human flesh and a proclivity for smooth jazz (wait… what?), Zach isn’t ready to deal with the consequences.

While Beth’s mom and dad ( Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly) are determined to keep Beth’s death a secret from her (she doesn’t remember anything, and doesn’t show signs of decomposition immediately,) Zach’s parents (Paul Reiser and Cheryl Hines) and gun-toting security guard brother (Matthew Gray Gubler) are no help at all, and Zach is left on his own trying to reconcile his feelings for Beth.

“Life After Beth” could have been a devastating drama where the grieving Zach tries to cope with Beth’s rebirth, along the lines of the TV series “The Returned.”  Or it could have been a hilarious zomedy similar to “Shaun of the Dead.” Instead it is neither. It is nothing. It is obsolete. It walks the line between comedy and drama (cheesy, but with few real laughs) and accomplishes nothing. It makes no lasting impression except to remind you occasionally how painfully bad it is.

The humor is just awkward (involving Beth throwing things and growling a lot and undead sexual aggression- always a laugh riot) and the drama disappointingly half-baked. Despite the star-studded cast, the movie features half-assed acting jobs all around. Dane Dehaan was an outright bore. With a lead who doesn’t seem to take the movie seriously, why should we? As for the make-up, my dad did a better job on my Halloween costume using about $20 worth of resources.

“Life After Beth,” is quite simply a pointless waste of time. It’s impossible to care about any of the characters because they’re so one-dimensional and a ending that should have been tragic (or funny! Or interesting! Anything!) just falls flat. I wouldn’t even recommend for die-hard Aubrey Plaza fans to watch this. It’s shit, and that’s a shame because there are way better horror/comedy films out there and this could have been one of them. Avoid this suck-fest at all costs.

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Sightseers (2012)

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Two besotted crazies embark on a killer road trip and let loose their darkest desires in this pitch-black comedy with a never ending supply of bile and bite. Tina (Alice Lowe,) the slower of the two lovers (a little simple at best, borderline retarded at worst) is in her thirties but still lives with her domineering mother (Eileen Davies.) Mom is a wrinkled old vulture who is emotionally abusive towards her adult daughter and searches her room for condoms and signs of impropriety (she’s thirty, for God’s sakes!)

Tina goes against her mother’s wishes and goes on a road trip with her boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram) on a road trip in his caravan. The trip takes a violent turn when Chris accidently runs over a tourist (Tony Way,) but events become increasingly homicidal as Chris abates his insatiable appetite for murder. Sometimes one accidental death isn’t enough to appease your bloodlust.

Can we cease and desist on the comparisons to “Natural Born Killers” people? Totally different films done in totally different styles, with totally different intentions. One thing’s for sure, you’ll never look at potpourri the same way again. Unlike black comedies, like, say, “God Bless America,” the movie never tries to convince you that the victims ‘deserve it.’ The idiocy of the leads and the way they try to justify their actions to themselves and the viewer are a big part of the humor.

“Sightseers” wins laughs from it’s startlingly mundane yet disturbing portrayal of the main characters and their crazy, insane back-and-forth banter. Although the Schizophrenic editing in certain scenes wasn’t really my style, I loved the ending (although I predicted it right before it happened.)

Although Steve Oram is good in his role as a dim psychopath, Alice Lowe is terrific as the truly twisted and moronic Tina, who believes she is truly in love with Chris and finds she has a taste for his murderous lifestyle-a  lifestyle that, due to the anti-heroes’ ineptitude as serial killers, wont pay of in the end.

If you have a sick sense of humor and want to watch something that’s off the grid, “Sightseers” might be the movie for you. I found myself distracted during the first half, but then I started to really get into it during the second half, leading up to the ingenious (but inevitable) ending. “Sightseers” is the kind of movie that flies under the radar but is worth seeing by people whose taste is subversive enough to really enjoy it.

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The Voices (2014)

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Jerry Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds) is the kind of man no one would suspect of any wrong doing- well-groomed, mild-mannered, and charmingly naïve and uncomplicated, he gets along with all his co-workers at the bathtub factory at which he works, and lives a comfortable life with his cat and dog in the podunk town of Milton.

But Jerry has deep-seated problems- problems that stem from his Schizophrenic mother, his abusive stepfather, and his own out-of-control fantasies and delusions that manifest themselves in voices and often comforting, if woefully misleading, visions. Like many mentally ill people, Jerry finds that all the color is drained from his life when he takes the zombifying pills his psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver) prescribes.

But Jerry has a secret. It’s not that shocking that Jerry talks to his pets (Hell, doesn’t everybody?) But his animals have been particularly vocal lately. His cat, especially, has been known to push him to the edge. And Mr. Whiskers has an agenda- an agenda that turns downright murderous after Jerry accidently kills his indifferent love interest Fiona (Gemma Arterton) in a fit of panic.

Mr. Whiskers is insistent that Jerry kill again, but Jerry’s lovable mastiff, Bosco, tries to convince Jerry to live a morally righteous life. Jerry’s descent into madness is both wickedly funny, fairly disturbing, and oddly touching. “The Voices,” helmed by the graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi (‘Persopolis,”) is an offbeat morality tale about the pressures of being a ‘good boy’ Vs. giving in to your inner sociopath.

The script is convoluted, and downright ridiculous at times- the deer scene will make you laugh if you aren’t too busy cringing at the copious gore. But it’s all part of the blackly comic vision screenwriter Michael R. Perry has offered up on screen for us. “The Voices” is also visually striking; there’s a distinct contrast between the beauty, presented up in rich hues that makes up how Jerry sees the world and the dank, dark reality of Jerry’s bloodstained apartment.

Ryan Reynolds gives a commendable performance as Jerry, an upbeat man-child with a homicidal streak, and disturbingly, you’re forced to sympathize with his earnest if deranged worldview, and thus, to some extent, his crimes. Bosco and Mr. Whiskers are also voiced by Reynolds, which makes perfect sense, being that they are quite literally extensions of Jerry himself.

Considering the talent that is on display here, the totally WTF ending is regrettable to say the least. It’s like the writer went ‘what the hell’ after days of writer’s block, got high, and quickly scrawled down an ending with no real cohesion or connection to the rest of the story. Why not have a big song and dance sequence at the end of your horror film? Add Jesus? What the hell! We don’t see enough of that guy these days anyway.

For people who wanted an actual conclusion to Jerry’s story, that you know, made any kind of sense whatsoever, the ending will be a huge disappointment. Simply put- this is not a great movie. But it is the kind of movie I like to watch, off-the-chain and quirkily, even shallowly psychological, so I’m bound to cut it more slack than some people might.

For those viewers who set their expectations (reasonably) low and prepare for a stinker of an ending, for those movie lovers who like their comedies pitch-black and all kinds of twisted, The Voices” might turn out to be a strangely gratifying experience. Because like poor Jerry Hickfang, we all see the world the way we want to see it. But unlike Jerry, most of us are unwilling to kill for that vision.

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Clay Pigeons (1998)

Apparently, filmmaker David Dobkin was inspired to make this after seeing “Fargo.” Despite never reaching the creative heights as the Coens’ 1996 masterpiece, “Clay Pigeons,” set in a small Montana town peopled with idiosyncratic  characters, functions well as a unique independent film with bite and quirky oddness to spare.

Here’s the deal- loser Clay (Joaquin Phoenix) is banging his best friend Earl (Gregory Sporleder’s) white-trash girlfriend, Amanda (Georgina Cates). When Earl gets sick of being two-timed, he gets drunk and commits suicide in front of Clay, trying to frame him for his death.

This leads to a string of events that leave Clay totally shaken and out of his comfort zone, as bodies pile up, friendly serial killer Lester Long (played by Vince Vaughn, but don’t let that run you off) befriends Clay, and acerbic FBI agent Agent Shelby (Jeanane Garofelo) is on the case.

I found the beginning of this film a little shaky in terms of acting and writing, but I’m glad I hung in there because the film got a hell of a lot better after the first twenty-or-so minutes. I never fell in love with Joaquin Phoenix as Clay. I understand that maybe he was supposed to be sort of a boring, reactionary character, but I never connected with Clay or the performance.

I’ll admit, I haven’t seen Vince Vaughn in much and had no expectations except maybe low ones from the general opinion- which is, well, that Vaughn can’t act his way out of a paper bag. I was pleasantly surprised. Vaughn did great in this role as Lester Long, he was revalatory in his villain performance in the way that Matthew McConaughey was in “Killer Joe.”

Vaughn’s laugh- like a alien entity playing at being human- was particularly chilling. I will say his character may have been more compelling than either of the kidnappers in “Fargo.” My favorite character, hands down, was Detective Shelby, played by Jeanane Garafelo.

She was so smart and tough! She was a woman who was afraid to let her guard down, and had picked her job over having a regular life. I really respected her. The way she handled the amateur small town police force was hysterical.

Although I don’t think this is in the same category with “Fargo,” “Clay Pigeons” is still a intriguing comedic thriller with strong acting and character development.

I would call it the Vince Vaughn movie for people who hate Vince Vaughn, and the Jeanane Garafelo movie for people who get sick of her Liberal politics but would like to see her play a fabulous character. “Clay Pigeons,” despite it’s flaws, is an exciting debut, and a worthwhile movie.

Birdman (2014)

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They say “Everyone’s a critic,” and this seems to be especially true for film fans. What fan-boys and -girls of all ages often seem to forget is that the movie star is a person just like us, with feelings and faults- they eat, drink, shit, screw, and breathe just like us, they are not above being selfish and rude upon occasion (therefore I urge you not to take it personally if they decline an autograph,) and they feel hate and rejection from the audience like a regular person being criticized for they manner in which they do what they love.

However, the internet seems not to take a middle ground on celebrities- either they can do no wrong in the fanboys’ eyes or he cuts them down to size with the ruthless efficiency of a horror-film slasher. And in a society where well-liked actors are respected more than law enforcement officers, men fighting for our country, humanitarians and hospital personnel, the margin for error is small. People cannot believe it when an actor says something unbecoming or adverse to the ‘image’ they are trying to build (consider when Jennifer Aniston used the ‘R’ word and the ensuing backlash.)

When a actor has a certain squeaky-clean persona, people believe in that persona even if that performer seems to be less than who they appear to be. When Bill Cosby was accused of multiple counts of rape, no one would believe it; suddenly the victims were attention seeking ‘hos whereas it might have been considered differently if the accused was Joe-Bob across the street. Certainly some women have been known to lie about rape, but at what point is the evidence just too incriminating?

On the other hand, actors that have been considered to be ‘flops’ can’t catch a break- attacks on celebrities, particularly female celebrities whose figures and faces have been deemed unpleasing to the eye by the masses, often get extremely personal. Actors get defined by that one role that made them famous, look at poor ‘Chandler’ and the rest of the “Friends” alumni (except for a select few that have been able to stake out roles of consequence in other movies.)

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Riggan Thomsen (Michael Keaton) is Birdman. That is the role he is certainly known for; nobody remembers him in anything else, and no one certainly cares to. For Riggan, a mentally disturbed has-been with delusions of grandeur featuring an incarnation of his iconic character, life is a constant struggle to prove that he is capable of diversifying- that he can, and will, rise above his 90’s role that people have learned to love and hate him for.

With an estranged ex (Amy Ryan) and a mouthy daughter fresh out of rehab (Emma Stone,) Riggan’s life is definitely not easy. But while writing, directing, and starring in his own adaptation of a Raymond Carver story, he believes he can rise above what people expect of him. When his costar (Jeremy Shamos) suffers an injury onstage, the pretty starlet (Naomi Watts) offers her narcissistic, impotent douchebag boyfriend, Mike, (Edward Norton) the man’s role.

Riggan and Mike clash immediately, sometimes to hilarious effect. But for the most part, “Birdman” is a dark, depressing (albeit sometimes comedic) look into one man’s delusional wreck of an existence. Most of the movie is filmed in one continuous shot, with the camera following the characters around the broken-down theater. There’s a vibe of intrusion and invasion of privacy, the cast of Riggan’s play packed together like sweaty, discontented sardines and constantly bursting into each others rooms without invitation. This contributes to the films message about the price of fame- suddenly, your life is everyone else’s.

To some extent, Michael Keaton and Edward Norton are playing extreme versions of themselves, or at least the public’s’ image of themselves. Keaton is a bit of a has-been (this movie might change that,) mostly remembered for the title role in “Batman,” playing the character that Christian Bale is now famous for. Norton is known as a bit of a prima donna who micromanages the film he’s performing in’s dialogue, and while hopefully he’s not as much of a major arsehole as his character is, it can’t be an accident that Mike pompously tries to dissect the script at the expense of Riggan’s vision.

“Birdman” has a great ensemble cast which also includes Merritt Wever and Zach Galfianakis (God only knows how to pronounce that man’s name,) as Riggan’s passive and deceitful lawyer. Overall it is a darkly funny yet sad and bleak commentary on entertainment Vs. art, pretension, and the nightmare who to some is family.  However, director Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s 2006 film “Babel” is the much better movie and I think it should have gotten far more attention than it did, the whole thing (especially the plot thread about the deaf Japanese girl) was incredible. “Birdman” was, admittedly, the less compelling work.

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Calvary (2014)

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Calvary[ ˈkalv(ə)rē ]

 the hill outside Jerusalem on which Jesus was crucified.

The meaning of the title will become gradually more clear to you after viewing this film, which is directed by John Michael McDonagh, brother of Martin McDonagh, the critically acclaimed filmmaker of the well-received black comedies “Seven Psychopaths” and “In Bruges.” “Calvary” is something of a dark comedy too, though it is more soulful and melancholy than you might expect.

The plot concerns Father James (Brendan Gleeson, who played in John Michael’s previous effort, “The Guard,” and his brother’s film, “In Bruges”) an acerbic but well-meaning priest, widower, and father of a self-destructive adult daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly.) Fiona is fresh from a suicide attempt, and she and Father James are attempting to mend their broken relationship.

James tries to offer counsel to the locals of a small Irish village, whether they want it or not. Far from appreciating his much-needed advice, the townspeople spit bile in James’ direction, and are certainly quite weirdly sinister as a whole. Apparently the fallout between the general public and the Catholic Church is to be placed on Father James’ shoulders and his alone.

The story begins, quite literally, when Father James receives a death threat during confession from a man who was sexually abused by the clergy and believes that the act of killing a good priest will send a grander statement then that of killing a bad one. The speaker is quite direct; he is to meet his assassin at the seaside a week from then, but Father James does not act the way you might expect him to about this arrangement.

The plot unfolds a bit like a reverse mystery-thriller, with James knowing the killer’s identity but with us only finding it out at the climactic scene. And sometimes, the villagers seem a bit too malevolent, like something out of a horror movie. But as a whole, they’re very well-acted, with the exception of Owen Sharpe as gay gigolo Leo, who just needed to go away and get out of my sight. His voice alone was enough for me to request euthanasia from the person nearest-by.

Brendon Gleeson is an excellent actor though, and the movie is carried on his able shoulders. The relationship between him and his daughter seems real and touching. The movie has a lot to say about the declining relations between organized religion and the modern people, and the understandable anger and distrust that followed the Catholic sexual abuse scandals.

I recall a scene where Father James is walking down the road and strikes up a conversation with a young teen girl. Seething, her father pulls up in his vehicle and bawls his daughter out for speaking to this potential child-molester. Because he’s a priest or because he’s a man, I wonder? Either or, the scene has a lot of valid things to say about this jaded day and age.

“Calvary” is not my ‘new favorite movie’ or anything, not by a long shot, but I think the good outweighs the bad on this one. It’s very much a commentary on Ireland- the approach to Christ and Catholicism, the devastated wake of the troubles, and the financial disaster looming over this beautiful but impoverished country. Gleeson excels in the role he is given, and the film offers a few laughs as well as chilling commentary on this scapegoat’s journey and the audiences’ eventual realization perhaps the only person you can save is yourself, and sometimes not even that.

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