Tag Archives: Black Comedy

Death at a Funeral (2007)

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Frank Oz’s 2007 madcap comedy “Death at a Funeral” is a movie that did not need a remake, in the opinion in yours truly, and the wise move on your part would be to rent this version immediately and avoid the pointless rehash. 2007’s version finds the dysfunction taking place at a British country house, when the patriarch of a well-to-do family dies and friends and relatives cast away simmering tensions to attend his funeral.

Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) is the dutiful son, perpetually disregarded in favor of his often absent brother (Rupert Graves.) Simon (Alan Tudyk) is the deceased man’s niece’s boyfriend, who trembles at the thought of coming face to face with his beloved (Daisy Donovan)’s disapproving father. Simon mistakenly consumes a hallucinogenic concoction in an attempt to ‘calm his nerves’ and spends the rest of the movie in a midst of a psychotic breakdown. You may think the portrayer of Simon will not be able to consistently draw laughs when handed out such a tough and over-the-top role, but Alan Tudyk (from the terrific TV series “Firefly”) may just win the honor of giving the most uproarious performance in a very funny movie.

The family’s issues are exacerbated by a lecherous guest (Ewen Bremner,) a mysterious and latently homosexual dwarf blackmailer (Peter Dinklage, who certainly showed potential before his breakout performance in HBO’s “Game of Thrones,”) and hallucinogens that get passed away like a game of ‘hot potato.’ During all this the guests attempt to keep a stiff upper lip- perfectly British, but the harder they try to give the dead man a ‘dignified send-off’ the more complicated things become.

This is a ensemble comedy, and even the actors who have somewhat boring roles (as a posed to drug-addled Tudyk and the socially hopeless hypochondriac Howard (Andy Nyman))- like Matthew MacFadyen- are very good with the material they’re given. I can’t think of a single weak spot in the cast. I couldn’t stop laughing at the crazy situations that befell this upper-class family when they were trying to behave like good, impeccably polite Brits. Great use of physical comedy, dark humor, and funny dialogue.

Frank Oz directed the comedy “In & Out” with Kevin Kline in the 90’s- which, despite occasional laughs, can’t compare to this as far as hilarity is concerned. This is not a movie to watch with your grandmother- there’s sexual content, language, mordant humor involving grief and death, and toilet jokes. Still, despite off-color content that might be attributed to American cinema , it’s still extremely British in style. The humor is in the fact that you can sympathize with and relate to the characters’ mortification and embarrassment while still laughing at them and not taking it too seriously.

If you’re not too sensitive about good taste (although I’m probably making it sound racier to the Liberal viewer than is necessary) I highly recommend this farce. The trailer truly doesn’t do it justice. Thanks to this movie, I am inspired to grow up into a old person of Uncle Alfie (Peter Vaughan)’s degree of meanness, hitting people with my cane and whatnot. You haven’t really lived until you’ve spent your twilight years being an insufferable ass. Anyway, I really hope my review inspires you to pick up this movie, as it is a riot with an unbeatable cast.

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World’s Greatest Dad (2009)

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“World’s Worst Son” is more like it. “World’s Greatest Dad” gives political correctness the swift kick in the ass you may expect from writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait, but there’s a genuinely touching element at play here as well. Lance Cayton (played by the late Robin Williams) is a high school poetry teacher and aspiring writer who writes out of love for the craft, but also seeks validation and success from the publishing companies. Sadly, none of his many attempts have been published.

Lance’s foils are many- his much-younger girlfriend Claire (Alexie Gilmore,) who appears to be just leading him on until she can swing into a non-committal relationship with the next guy, his rival writing teacher, Mike (Henry Simmons,) who spends an exorbitant amount of time getting cozy with Claire. But Lance’s biggest foil seems to be his own son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara,) a repellent little turd who hates everything and everybody and is also a bit of a pervert and a peeping Tom.

When Kyle dies from Auto-erotic Asphyxiation, Lance hangs him in the closet and ghostwrites a suicide note out of respect as well as to spare the family embarrassment. However, when the ‘suicide note’ gets around and becomes a huge success at the school where Lance taught and Kyle attended, Kyle becomes a local hero and tragic figure and suddenly those who knew, him, those who didn’t, those who hated him begin to pretend that they were his best friend.

Lance is both pressured and driven by his own self-interest to write an angst-filled journal ‘by’ his late son, which proves to be the only successful thing Lance is ever written. Only Kyle’s one real friend, Andrew (Evan Martin,) sees past the bullshit to Lance’s lie (Andrew is a genuinely good kid, which makes you wonder why he spent any given amount of time with mental amoeba Kyle. Maybe his outcast status and messed-up home life point to the answer.)

Lance is both a somewhat sympathetic character and a weak and selfish man. What really irked me was when he jilted his lonely neighbor’s invitation to watch movies together so he could go golfing with people he really didn’t like. But he genuinely did love his son, however dreadful the little wart was. Robin Williams did a great job balancing the dark comedy and sad/disturbing elements of the screenplay, and I was surprised to see that Daryl Sabara gave a good performance too. I expected the scene where Lance finds Kyle dead to be done in a blatantly tacky way, but there was actually nuance to it. I was also surprised to see redemption hinted at for Lance.

I liked the fact that there was a positive portrayal of someone with OCD behaviors (i.e. hoarding.) Typically, Bobcat Goldthwait is more satire and less sensitivity but there are some genuinely nice moments here among the dark comedy. Robin Williams and Daryl Sabara make a father-son-relationship-from-hell work nicely. Kyle could have been utterly irredeemable (okay, he is irredeemable, there’s no skirting around that) but Daryl Sabara portrays the nightmarish adolescent cretin so that there is genuine laughs to be derived from his character, not just hate (which I do, make no mistake.)

One issue I have with the movie is that after Kyle’s dead the genuine laughs kind of dissipate. There’s something discomforting about watching a total douchebag be heralded as a martyr for a cause, and that’s definitely the point- when a person dies tragically, no matter how horrible a person, there are going to be some attention-seekers who say “I knew him when.” I did not like “World’s Greatest Dad” as much as Goldthwait’s “God Bless America” and did not find Lance to be as compelling an anti-hero as Frank, but I still recommend it to fans of dark comedy and social satire.

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The Perfect Host (2010)

“Frasier”‘s David Hyde Piece turns up the camp for “The Perfect Host,” a perfectly functional black comedy that deteriorates into an incomprehesible mess. Sporting more twists than Snakes and Ladders and more holes than a putt-putt golf course, the end ruins what is otherwise an enjoyable exercise in kitsch.

John (Clayne Crawford) is on the run after a bank robbery gone wrong- and camps out in the wrong house when he enters the L.A. home of Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce,) a well-mannered gentleman with a sadist’s streak. Warwick, a full-blown Schizophrenic with a plethora of imaginary friends, holds John captive, while flashback reveal what led up to John’s crimes.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? It kinda is… until “The Perfect Host” falls prey to ‘the curse of the thriller’ and piles one nonsensical plot twist after another. I was reminded of the eye-roll ending of Stephen Soderburgh’s “Side Effects,” which brick by brick tore down the foundation the film had strove for.

Still, there are some great things here. The moments in David Hyde Pierce’s delightfully over-the-top performance where you can practically see him smiling over the script. The scene with Warwick f’ing his imaginary friend in the bathroom. It’s all very fun and funny, until the filmmaker overplays his hand and transforms a fun ride into an unmitigated disaster.

The obviously gay David Hyde Pierce plays the (presumably) straight Warwick here, which works about as well as it does in “Frasier” (which is to say, not at all.) The musical score is more than a little overbearing, but like Warwick, we are willing to play along… for a while.

“The Perfect Host” is a good example of a typical first feature- good in parts, not so good in others, and puzzling as a whole. If it had quit when it was ahead and ended by the 1 hour 10 minute mark, this may have been a different review altogether. As it is, it concludes as a mess, albeit an interesting one. Pity. Pierce deserves a better vehicle than this, and director Nick Tomnay refuses to give him one.

Fargo: Season 1 (2014)

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What is up with the people inhabiting “Fargo”‘s universe? Are they as obtuse as they seem? Why do they sporadically speak in riddles? And why is their police force utter bollocks? These questions, and more, befuddled me as I watched the terrific spin-off of the Coen Brothers’ also brilliant 1996 crime thriller.

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Psychotic hitman and sometimes-drifter Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton, who seems born for this role) is bad news- and as he enters the eponymous Midwestern town of “Fargo,” he invades the life of wimpy salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman, who’s never been better,) and disrupts the location’s quiet proceedings. Shortly after Lorne’s arrival, Lester commits a shocking crime but is initially let off by lax police work on the part of freshly appointed Sheriff Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk.)

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Like the Marge Gunderson of her time, Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) is on the case. Meanwhile, Malvo casts a sinister shadow over the lives of ‘Supermarket King’ Stavros Milos (Oliver Platt) and his slow-witted son Dmitri (Gordon S. Miller,) assassins Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers (Russell Harvard and Adam Goldberg) swoop in on Lester and Molly romances a widower (Colin Hanks) with a spirited adolescent daughter (Joey King.)

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Despite initial qualms about basing a TV series off the film, I soon found “Fargo” to be a captivating show with a terrific cast. Love him or hate him, Lester’s got to be one of the most interesting characters on TV. As for me, I felt bad for him, and even when I came to the realization what a sorry sack of shit he was, there was something fascinating about him- the depths of his cowardice and the refusal to own up to his actions was kind of hypnotic, I guess.

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Molly is a strong female character that shows that women don’t have to be a size zero or wear tight leather outfits to be modern-day television heroines. To my utter shock, I think I like this show a teeny bit better than it’s movie counterpart. There’s mordant humor (Thornton’s Godly alter ego, for one,) tragedy (the fate of Milos’ son comes to mind,) and downright weirdness and wordplay that seems faithful to the Coens.

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Also, Lorne Malvo seems to be a improvement upon the film’s villain Gear Grimsrud. Whereas Gear was loutish, coarse, and stupid, Malvo is smart, expertly cruel, and so fond of fucking with people that it’s a pleasure to see him work. Although I admit most killers are dim bulbs more often than not in real-life crime scenarios, Malvo was too great to pass up.

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The 1st Season of “Fargo” was a fantastic watch and I recommend it to just about anyone. I love the parallels between the film and the show (i.e. the money in the snow,) but you do not need to watch the movie to enjoy the TV series, and vice versa. I think between this, “The Bridge” and “American Horror Story,” FX is becoming my favorite TV channel.

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Pulp Fiction (1994)

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First off, I’m an unabashed fan of Tarantino. I’ve liked pretty much all his stuff, from “Reservoir Dogs” to “Django Unchained” to even his segment in “Four Rooms” ( which no one likes.) I think the guy’s brilliant. So it should come as no surprise to you that I consider “Pulp Fiction” a masterpiece of dialogue and plot.

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“Pulp Fiction” tells the interconnected stories of two chatty hitmen (Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta) who may or may not be on a collision course with fate, an aging boxer (Bruce Willis) who is paid to throw his last fight, and two cheap criminals (Amanda Plummer and Tim Roth, two of my favorite actors) who set out to rob a cafe.Nothing turns out the way it was planned in this ferociously violent, witty, and genre-defying masterwork.

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Don’t go into this movie looking for touchy-feely romance or particularly sympathetic characters, because you’ll get none of that. But as my dad likes to say, “It’s not the violence, it’s the dialogue.” The conversations between various eccentrics is rich in it’s insistent oddness.  I tend to be a little bit emotional, so certain scenes in this got to me (strangely, the rape scene wasn’t among them.)

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One was the scene in which Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) corners the kid, Brett (Frank Whaley) who made off with Jules’ boss Marcellus (VIng Rhames)’s briefcase. The whole sequence was very funny in a way (what ain’t no country I ever heard of!) and my family was laughing throughout, but I dunno. I guess I felt a little sorry for ol’ Brett. It takes a lot of nerve to take a man’s burger and his life the same day.

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The second scene was where Butch (Bruce Willis), the boxer, goes off at his girlfriend Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros) for leaving behind a family heirloom. I get it, the girl screwed up, but it seemed so much like something I would do that I felt sorry for her. Uma Thurman also figures into this movie as Marcellus’ girlfriend, Mia, and I had so much of a girl crush on her in this movie

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. I think “Reservoir Dogs” nearly stands up to this in terms of quality, especially since “Reservor Dogs” had a certain emotional quality that “Pulp Fiction” couldn’t copy (“…Fiction” is, like most of Tarantino’s work, cold as ice.) But “Pulp Fiction” has a certain muchness “Reservoir Dogs” can’t beat. The dialogue crackles,  the non-linear timeline is well-conceived, and the cast does a great job as well.

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Everybody who isn’t squeamish about violence should watch this movie to see one of the most influential films of the early 90’s. It’s unique, intense, and in it’s own way, weirdly hilarious. I’ve seen most of Tarantino’s films (sans “Jackie Brown,” “Kill Bill Volume 2,” and “My Best Friend’s Birthday,”) and this is my favorite so far. Modern cinema at it’s most memorable!

The Baby (1973)

“The Baby” is a very weird ‘cult classic’ (their words, not mine) about a lady social worker who interferes with the matriarch’s hold on a supremely dysfunctional family. The object of social worker Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer)’s obsessions is ‘Baby,’ a full-grown man (or ‘grown-ass man’ to quote Will Smith in the so-so “Men in Black” sequel) who is kept in a crib and clad in diapers.

Ann seems to believe that the seemingly mentally handicapped fellow is simply the otherwise functional victim of too much negative reinforcement during his development (bad baby! Stop standing up!”) To his sister Alba (Susanne Zenor,) Baby is a scapegoat, to his other sister, Germaine (Marianna Hill,) he is a plaything. But what exactly does the seemingly wholesome Ann want with Baby? What secret lies under the surface of her white bread exterior?

Trust me, this otherwise forgettable schlock-fest is all worth it for the explosively trashy end twist. I never saw that coming. Otherwise, this is an underwhelming distortion of maternal instincts and needs. Baby’s mama wants desperately to coddle him, to protect him from the big bad world, but in doing so only makes it clear the nightmare of overprotection she’s inflicted on him- Hell is in this house.

David Mooney’s performance as the titular ‘baby’ is supremely unsettling- I’m quite positive that Mooney’s voice has been replaced by the cooing and crying sounds of an actual infant, and it’s nearly impossible to tell which of his antics are those of a child and which are the cravings of libidinous man.

At times in this strange story, I wondered if ‘Baby”s limitations were all an act and if he was going to show his true colors on the unsuspecting Ann. Other times I thought Ann was pulling a fast one on the family and wanted Baby for some weird infantile sexual purpose. The scene of Mrs. Wadsworth (‘Baby”s mother) rubbing his legs down with lotion was REALLY creepy. I was like… really? Who does that?

Overall, “The Baby” is an interesting exercise in trash filmmaking, but not really worth watching twice unless you get your kicks watching grown men toddle around and attempt to breastfeed off of attractive women. You know who you are. And I don’t even want to know. On the other hand, for the rest of you, once might be too much. So long! Keep visiting, readers!

Django Unchained (2012)

“Django Unchained” is a blood-soaked, blackly funny, slavery-era extravaganza of a film, compliments of Quentin Tarantino. It is a movie populated with great actors delivering great dialogue, with some great gore and not one but two epic shoot-outs at the end to top it off.

Django (Jamie Fox) is a slave who was separated from his wife, Broomhilda Von Shaft (Kerry Washington) as punishment when the two tried to run away together from their plantation. Forced to walk shackled to a horse, under harsh winter conditions, Django is surprised to encounter eccentric “dentist” Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who turns out to be a skilled bounty hunter.

King Schultz acquires Django under strange and bloody circumstances, and offers him a proposition: Django will earn his freedom if he helps King to identify three slavers who are wanted dead or alive. Thus begins a blood, unusual adventure as the two seek out outlaws and ultimately attempt to save Django’s wife from Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a sadistic and insane slaveowner.

Christoph Waltz, who proved his acting chops playing opportunistic SS officer Col. Hans Landa in Tarantino’s 2009 film “Inglourious Basterds,” shines here as charismatic and mysterious King Schultz, who seems to have his own strange code of ethics.

Jamie Foxx is good and Kerry Washington excels playing a fairly uninteresting character, but the biggest surprise is DiCaprio. Nothing of 90’s heartthrob Leo is present as slimy, venomously evil Candie, like “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” It’s a total transformation.

Some people might be disgusted by the sixth character: Stephen, a manipulative and subservient slave (Samuel L. Jackson), but I thought it was brave of Tarantino to introduce a black villain into a slavery-era film and show the shades of gray in race relations of that time.

There were certain parts of the movie I felt were a little excessive, for instance the KKK scene, which I felt dragged a little. The blood, too, could be a little excessive, but Tarantino without blood? Where would we be? Simply put, this will be a delight for fans of Quentin Tarantino, but people looking for a gentler, kinder, more sensitive movie will best look elsewhere.

Tarantino delivers as he always does: clever dialogue, creative shots, and gallons of blood. On a side note, although no movie could accurately portray the horrors of slavery, this film gets pretty far out of people’s comfort zone, which is more responsible for the controversy than any alleged racism. If you like Tarantino, you will like this strong entry into his cinematic universe.

Scenic Route (2013)

What originally runs the risk of being a pretentious best-friends-fighting-in-the-desert borefest turns out to be an interesting study of what happens when your best bud becomes someone you would rather not share the same universe with, let alone a beat-up pick-up truck. The two friends are not always sympathetic, but we understand their motivations and the film refuses to side with either of them.
Mitchell (Josh Duhamel, who did those two giant-robot movies by the filmmaker we all like to make fun of) and Carter (pudgy Dan Fogler, who until now primarily acted in critically-bashed comedies) are two friends driving through the desert. We don’t know exactly where they’re going, as their destination matter not to us; what we do know is that Carter’s a starving artist (some might say ‘loser’) who lives in his car and struggles to sell a novel, and Mitch is a family man with a wife and a little boy, who begrudgingly makes the rounds through an excruciatingly boring job at the office.

I won’t go into the details of how they end up stranded in the desert with nothing to eat except dry ice and jelly beans. We felt tension between the two old friends initially, now the unease explodes into full-blown hatred and disgust. This is can be a good set-up for both a thriller and a black comedy and is, mean humor runs throughout this film that makes us laugh in spite of ourselves.

In between their vicious bouts of verbal bile and outbursts, the men share their insecurities and fears. And as the boiling hot days give way to frigid nights, they become increasingly disillusioned about their chances of survival. The insights into male middle age are not always kosher or kind, but they are honest and cleverly written.

Josh Duhamel does a very good job as Mitchell; Dan Fogler sometimes falters being unsure of the balance between pathos and black comedy but still impresses, especially considering where he came from. The twist ending is a bit predictable, but still brilliantly executed. On a random side note, I wish they had gotten an obese woman to play Mitch’s wife. He talks frankly about how he has a hard time getting it up looking at her post-pregnancy body, and then she turns out to be gorgeously thin? Come on.

“Scenic Route” might be a waste of time for some people, but for those who like conversationally driven thrillers with darkly comic undertones will be more than happy to soak in the film’s subversive pleasures. The only film I can compare it to is “Buried” with Ryan Reynolds, if you like that kind of talky, tense film with an isolated setting, you will probably like this. As is, I found this a very underrated movie with a surprising cast. I hope you like it as much as I did.

God Bless America (2011)

Despite a fairly small viewership, Bobcat Godtwait’s pitch-black comedy “God Bless America” has proved to be somewhat controversial since it’s release, which was no doubt what Goldtwait intended. Rumors abound about it’s ‘glorification of violence,’ ‘tasteless content,’ and so-called ‘Liberal agenda.’ So here I am to weigh in my two cents.

First of all, the allegation that the film is political propaganda is pure bollocks. Despite the mockery of extreme right-wingers and ‘Obama-as-Hitler’ ridiculousness, “God Bless America” proves to be, like it’s protagonist Frank, largely politically neutral.

By the beginning of the film, Frank (Joel Murray) is enraged and psychotically angry. Drinking and fantasizing about killing the inconsiderately loud next-door couple and their baby does little to quench his increasing blood lust.

To most people, Frank seems like a quiet, mild-mannered middle-aged man. But in his head Frank lives a much more violently intriguing life, as most of us do. Divorced, father to a bratty little child who cannot be bothered to spend time with him, Frank is fed up with what he perceived as the downfall of American society.

But it is not until he is diagnosed a inoperable brain tumor and loses his job that he finally snaps, cashing in his military service and targeting the b**chy star of a reality TV show, Chloe (Maddie Hasson) of “Chloe’s Sweet Sixteen.”

Joel Murray is outstanding as Frank, but Tara Lynn Barr is less impressive as Roxy, the sixteen-year-old girl who accompanies Frank on his killing spree. Roxy has feelings for Frank that are not reciprocated, and the platonic relationship between the two is one of the main points of the film. That and a whole lot of anger.

“God Bless America” has lots of satisfyingly bloodthirsty violence, a great soundtrack, and equally bloodthirsty satire as Frank and Roxy dissect modern American society. The fact that we sympathize and are to some extent compliant in the killings does not keep me from loving this movie, and is instead and interesting manipulation of audience loyalties.

Joel Murray proves he is every bit as good if not better than his brother Bill, and his rage and disgust is palpable. Roxy is a slightly annoying and overly sadistic sidekick, but some of her lines are funny and her presence is crucial to the plot.

So is Frank right? Have we become an ugly and cruel society? I would argue that the ugliness is intrinsic to human nature period, American or not. I think other countries have slightly higher standards when it comes to film and television programming, but I also think that the need to shock and degrade is in our genetic material, whether we live in the US or France or Timbuktu.

Nevertheless, I recommend this movie to people who enjoy the darker side of humanity presented in film. My dad argues that to like a movie like this, you must HAVE a dark side, which doesn’t say much to the fans of this movie. But one could also argue that some extent, your reaction to this kind of comedy shows what kind of person you are. For better for worse, I am a fan. That is all.