Posts Tagged ‘dark comedy’

h1

In The Loop by Armando Iannucci

March 29, 2010

I can’t believe I forgot to review this film.  Claude and I were lucky enough to see it at the local theatre that shows artier films and we loved it, but I had trouble understanding the thick Scottish and English accents and slang.  Watching it again with the subtitles on was the trick, and this is one of the funniest movies I have seen in a very long time.

Peter Capaldi plays the acerbic (to put it VERY mildly) PR person for the Prime Minister of England who has to deal with a minor cabinet department who has started to run amok and talk about war, when their job is to oversee agriculture or some such banal governmental business.  Little do they know that the British and American governments are doing their darndest to start a war in the middle east.  Capaldi is joined by a fantastic supporting cast including James Gandolfini, my darling Steve Coogan, Anna Chlumsky, Mimi Kennedy and David Rasche.

This movie is not for the squeamish where language is concerned, and this movie really requires multiple viewings.  Shot in mockumentary style with jerky camera movements and unclear cuts, this is not a cinematography feast, as other movies I’ve reviewed lately are.  This is a great character study, especially of Capaldi’s character (and Gandolfini), and one with some of the most biting black comedy I’ve ever seen –  my favorite kind.  The great peek into the ins and outs of Washington and London governmental life (and nightlife) is dizzying, harrowing and extremely funny.  This is a movie where you really need to pay attention to the dialogue and get all the characters in place – hence recommended multiple viewings  It’s recent (2009) and it’s a must-see in my book.  I laughed so hard my stomach hurt

h1

The Man Who Wasn’t There by Joel & Ethan Coen

March 29, 2010

If you’re like Claude and me and have a love for black and white film, then you will probably enjoy The Man Who Wasn’t There, a 2001 film by the Coen Brothers. The Coen Brothers have quite a filmography, many of which are favorites of mine, and this one ranks pretty high on the list. The Man Who Wasn’t There is a throwback to film noir and femme fatales and movies where the lead character narrates throughout the film. Billy Bob Thornton is haunting on many fronts: his highly-made up appearance, his stone-cold face which never smiles throughout the film, and his slow, deliberate pacing. Thornton plays a barber who finds himself, quite by happenstance, caught up in a scheme with a man (Jon Polito) who wants to bring dry cleaning to the world. He learns that his wife, (played brilliantly by Frances McDormand, a Coen favorite and probably her best role for them) has been having an affair with his sister’s husband (James Gandolfini). So to obtain the money to invest in the dry cleaning business, he sets about blackmailing his wife’s lover, to dastardly ends for all involved.

The Coens have a real knack for shot selection, lighting, and strong character development. I usually go either way (this movie is great for cinematography, that movie is great for acting) but The Man Who Wasn’t There has it all – not unlike another great Coen movie, The Hudsucker Proxy. I believe both these films are lesser known than their blockbusters such as No Country for Old Men and O Brother Where Art Thou?, but nonetheless, well worth a screening. I saw a lot of Barton Fink in this film too, which is my personal favorite Coen Brothers movie. One thing I did not notice – in many Coen Brothers movies, there seems to be a running thread about shoes or feet. This didn’t appear that I could see in The Man Who Wasn’t There – it seems the obsession was about hair and shaving, since, after all, Thornton’s character is a barber. That’s one of the interesting things about Coen Brothers movies – there are these little touches that reappear throughout each film, and make you wonder what they mean. The Coens themselves have gone on record that there is no underlying meaning in any of what we might perceive as symbolism in any of their films, but I think they are being a bit evasive about that.

For black-and-white film lovers, The Man Who Wasn’t There has one of the best ending shots I’ve ever seen in black and white. Coen films are rich with set pieces, set design, lighting tricks and unusual shots, which make for incredibly interesting viewing. They also have marvelous use of contrast of the black and white hues through such clever means as costuming, furniture, lamps, everyday objects. This one, like others mentioned, also has the advantage of stand-out performances by some of the Coen’s oft-used actors – particularly McDormand and Polito (lead in Miller’s Crossing) and brings more talent to the film with the use of Thornton, and the actress who plays Gandolfini’s wife, one of the most stark and haunting faces I’ve ever seen. This is not unusual for Coen films – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad performance in one of their films, and they rank among my favorites. I’m glad Claude asked me to watch this one, as I had not seen it before, and it gave me a chance to make comparisons to other Coen films.

My favorites stand in this order: Barton Fink; The Big Lebowski; Burn After Reading; The Hudsucker Proxy now tied with The Man Who Wasn’t There;; Raising Arizona; O Brother Where Art Thou? I have not seen the entire catalogue of their films…yet….but I’m sure I will. What are your favorites?

h1

Little Known Little Murders

February 23, 2009

little-murders-posterAnother film Claude and I watched this weekend is one he’s had on DVR for a while now, and I’m so glad because it’s currently unavailable commercially – only from collectors.  A movie version of Jules Feiffer’s Little Murders, directed by Alan Arkin and starring Elliot Gould in his salad days – when he was married to Barbra Streisand and put out such great films as this one and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, one of my all-time favorites that I actually got to intro to Claude. (That doesn’t happen very often).

From the description, I thought this was one of those interesting, but sort of bleak NY drama, like that Dustin Hoffman.Mia Farrow flick, 1969’s John and Mary.  Not so.  Little Murders, from start to finish, is very, very funny, very dark, and very unexpected.  And it holds up remarkably well.  The humor is so relevant that Little Murders was finally released on DVD during the past presidential administration only to immediately go off the market.

Elliot Gould plays a successful, but completely apathetic to life photographer.  Marcia Rodd, who has a career in television spanning nearly four decades, so she will be a familiar face, is Gould’s “rescuer” from being beaten up to immediate love interest and bride with changing Gould in mind.  The best scene in the movie, and one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen by the great Donald Sutherland, comes when Gould and Rodd’s characters finally marry.  Sutherland gives a lengthy and hilarious wedding ceremony that shows his true acting chops – it looks to me as if the scene was taken in one take – pan shots, but no cuts that I can remember, giving Sutherland a good 10 minutes to give a hilarious (yet in his own deadpan way) speech.  I was laughing so hard my sides hurt.  I laughed every bit as  hard as I do at The Soup, my favorite TV show.  Kisses, Joel!!

It’s too bad that something happened to getting Little Murders available on DVD.  Elliot Gould, Marcia Rodd, Vincent Gardenia in what should have been an Oscar-nominated performance, and Doris Roberts of “Everybody Loves Raymond” playing an older hippie wanna-be, Gould’s mother.

This is truly a movie that if you have the great fortune to catch (we caught it on Fox Movie Channel), you should DVR or see it.  I’m so glad Claude DVR’d it because until it’s available again a decent price on DVD, we’re not erasing it.  4 stars plus.  If you like your comedy as dark as we do, this is a perfect film, worth buying, in fact.

h1

Alfie and Shotgun Stories: Atmosphere and shot selection

February 23, 2009

Alfie and Shotgun Stores:  Atmosphere and Shot Selection

We had a film snob lovers’ weekend this weekend, Claude and I.  The great upside of being married to a film snob is the vast variety of films one will be exposed to, no pun intended, over the course of the relationship.  Some really good, some really bad, but none uninteresting, and never without stimulating a good conversation with Claude.

This weekend, we watched two movies that struck me in their use of atmospheric shots.  I digress for a moment:  I remember dating a man, briefly, before Claude, who was an art teacher.  We went to the local art gallery a couple of times, and he kept asking me how different pieces of artwork made me feel.  I have to admit, I haven’t had the experience of feeling emotions too terribly often when looking at static artwork, but film affects me much differently, sometimes even the most banal of scenes.

Alfie is a well-known film from (1966) starring a dashing and young Michael Caine.  What seems to start out as a light-hearted romp quickly turns dark, and Caine is brilliant in his performance.  But what stuck with me most about this film are the shot selection and the scenery.  In one scene, Alfie and a woman are on their way home from visiting the woman’s husband in a sanatorium.  Along the way they stop and take a leisurely canoe ride.  The shot selection from the woman’s point of view of the sky and the trees as they go past above her and the sun streaming through the branches is really breathtaking, and elicited strong feelings from me.  Feelings of what temporary peace and bliss feel like – you know it’s fleeting, so you want to drink it all in, and its sheer beauty is both bitter in its temporariness and sweet in its ability to sear itself eternally in your brain.  Of course, scenes of London in the 1960’s are also quite interesting, and Sonny Rollins’ post-bop musical score really added to this movie for me.  As I said, having never seen it and only knowing a little about it, I was surprised that it took the dark plot turn that it did, but for that reason, and for the shot selection, I was quite satisfied and would recommend this movie highly.  Our good friend from Turner Classic Movies Robert Osbourne was less than complimentary about the remake with Jude Law, so I would probably stay away from that one.

The other film we saw this weekend was one from 2007 entitled “Shotgun Stories” staring Michael Shannon as a dead-ringer for a young David Letterman.  This film was dark from start-to-almost-finish.  Filmed in the small town of England, Arkansas, the long, lingering shots of rural landscapes where you hear nothing but birds or crickets really brought back what living in the country was like.  A couple of shots in particular were exceptionally stunning – one simple shot of sycamore tree leaves on the ground – I know it sounds boring, but the composition and the color of that one shot is one that will remain with me for a long time.  Those particular shots – the rural, quiet ones, elicit the same bittersweet feeling that I described having when watching the canoe scene from Alfie.  The feeling is almost like being homesick – longing for something you know you can never have, or once had and can never have again, or dreaming of some unattainable future event or place or mood.   Michael Shannon is a remarkable actor, and this movie was very thought-provoking, until its end when it just tied up too neatly for Claude and me.  Claude has conditioned me not to like happy endings anymore, and really, when I look back on the films I liked before I met Claude, the ones I found to be more satisfying are the ones that don’t have a neatly-tied ending.  Even the musicals that I hold most dear are the ones with downer endings – Fiddler on the Roof and Funny Girl and All That Jazz come to mind.  I would definitely recommend Shotgun Stories especially if you have memories of rural life in America in the past 45 years.  It is a dark tale, and has some pretty strong implied violence.  It’s clearly an interesting film both visually and thematically.  I’d give it 3 stars on a 1-4 rating.  I think I’d give Alfie the same rating.

Now for the film snob part – as we’re watching the end credits of Shotgun Stories, Claude says, “A-ha!  I thought I’d see that name pop up.”  Claude has a photographic memory for film details (and book details and pretty much any details except taking food out of the freezer to thaw for tonight’s dinner), and he remarked that one of the executive producers of Shotgun Stories, David Gordon Green, is a filmmaker who directed “Pineapple Express.”  There’s where I just simply will never be able to keep up with the “big boys”, Claude and his friends.  I don’t have a memory for details such as that, and can’t put all the pieces together or get all the references.  I guess that’s why I’m lucky to be the wife of a film snob.