Review: THE COMEDY

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The Comedy is the latest entrant into America’s proud tradition of Male Arrested Development Cinema which ranges from the hyper-conservative dreck pumped out by the Apatow Gang (Judd, Rogen et al) to the aggressively innocuous and sometimes funny Will Ferrell Gang (Will,& JCReilly). What The Comedy team – writer/director Rick Alverson and co-writers Robert Donne and Colm O’Leary – bring to the table is a dark, ironic swipe at a few of the recent “generations” – X, Y, Millennials. Its main target is the white, privileged slacker guy. The film focuses entirely on Swanson, a privileged, Brooklyn hipster who wastes his days in alcohol and banter with his buddies while he waits out the string on his rich dad to die. Swanson is played with restrained maniacal genius by Tim Heidecker, the mute fiancee in Bridesmaids which was a hyper-anti-feminist tract dressed up in the usual bait-and-switch tactics of the Apatow Gang – but that is a whole other enchilada. (Guess who CAN’T HARDLY WAIT for This is 40?)

Heidecker’s Swanson spends the entire film wandering around with nothing to do so to amuse himself he enjoys pushing the boundaries of social conventions to their extremes – this is where the funny is, in the situations themselves and the morals they slam up against, not in any of the jokes or attempts at jokes. Here is where the film uses the conceit that Swanson is just some privileged asshole who mocks and ridicules everyone and everything he sees. What a jerk, right? Yes and no. The Comedy runs headlong into scenes and situations most people would never have the guts to do personally yet everyone probably has done in the comforts of their own class and race peer groups. There is scene where a bored Swanson drops into a predominantly black bar filled with black guys, he then proceeds to want to hang out with them, get to know them and ironically “feel” what it’s like to be black. Now, isn’t anytime some hipster or privileged white person who cops black culture in an ironic way doing this same thing?

Think of that great scene in the classic film Office Space where Michael Bolton is cranking some hardcore rap in his car, singing along with all of the line until he spots a black person in the car next to which immediately causes him to turn down the rap and he gets all awkward and scared that he might be fond out. There is a lot to unpack there although I think you can get the gist of it. Swanson, through either being an asshole or just a fearless prick rushes headlong into the same experience yet he does it alone, in front of a bunch of black guys who are drinking. Now the film has some cunning editing with ellipses that rarely show a reaction to Swanson’s provocative antics yet the steady accumulation of these embarrassing and humiliating exchanges accrue momentum without easy resolutions. They function as a way to turn the white privilege back on it’s dark, ironic self revealing that there just might not be anything there. A void. An emptiness. All that is there is a shallow consumerism drenched with booze and the constant search for the next thing, the next party, the next thing to buy, to consume. Yeah, no one’s laughing but come on, this is getting excruciating, maybe some of the scenes are hitting too-close-too-home for some white folks in the audience.

Christy Wampole recently wrote an op-ed in the NYTimes called ‘How to Live Without Irony.’ She raises several interesting points in regards to the ironic lifestyle which is represented in the shorthand by the ‘hipster’-ideal which seems to be so played out that it has now become a caricature or stereotype. She says in regards to the ironic posture:

First, it signals a deep aversion to risk. As a function of fear and pre-emptive shame, ironic living bespeaks cultural numbness, resignation and defeat. If life has become merely a clutter of kitsch objects, an endless series of sarcastic jokes and pop references, a competition to see who can care the least (or, at minimum, a performance of such a competition), it seems we’ve made a collective misstep. Could this be the cause of our emptiness and existential malaise? Or a symptom?

Her thesis that the ironic posture is basically a way to not feel is an intriguing one, especially in light of the character of Swanson. He floats around in his haze without much connection to family and friends. The equally sad hipster friends (yes, one of them is THE James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem fame)he banters around with which of course has one beta-dog who takes stick from all of the gang. He doesn’t seem willing or able to connect with women, even though he manages to lure a few out to his boat.  He doesn’t seem to care about anything at all which must lead to his aggressive behavior with strangers – he is provoking them to get a reaction, a feeling, something, anything at all. His stunts with those far below him on the class ladder come off instantly as dickish yet somehow behind these taunts and jibes lies the roots of white, male privilege being called out by him yet…..nothing ever happens to him. The scenes end without resolution. The bad guy never gets his comeuppance.

Or does he?

He takes a job as a dishwasher and instantly begins a passive-aggressive banter with a young white waitress. He eventually gets her back to the house boat he lives on in the harbor (metaphor alert!). They drink, have a smoke and he makes her chuckle, very close to the first LOL he gets in the movie. Then comes one of the movie’s most controversial scenes which I will not ruin here but this is clearly his comeuppance. The picture belowreferences that scene, which will be made painful clear when you see the film.

The Comedy is truly one of the most polarizing indie films of the year, right up there with the brilliant and difficult film The Color Wheel. We need more movies that push us from our cozy, ironic ideological stances. If you watch The Comedy and truly hate it – like A.O. Scott of the NYTimes–that’s a good thing sometimes. How often do you see movies that can stir up any emotions these days, good or bad? Not too get all Tyler Durden here but we don’t need more brain-dead action hero movies and fantasy crap all of the time. Sometimes we need to look in the mirror and interrogate ourselves and the culture around us. The Comedy does that, just don’t expect it to make you LOL.

P.S. Keep your eyes peeled for Neil Hamburger sans dirty tux.

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Review: KILLING THEM SOFTLY

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Based on the 70’s novel Jackie Cogan by George V. Higgins, Killing Them Softlyis a Quentin Tarantino Wet Dream – criminals talking, talking and more talking. It’s like the classic Jules and Vincent Royale with Cheese scene from Pulp Fiction spread out over 80 minutes or so.

Which means it’s pretty awesome.

Killing Them Softly was directed and adapted for the screen by Andrew Dominik (Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James…) Dominik updates the story from the 70’s to set it in the few days running up to the presidential election of 2008. Campaign billboards for both McCain and Obama are very visible with the CHANGE Obama billboard recurrent throughout the film. The film starts with Squirrel, an aging, criminal who runs a dry cleaning business, trying to talk a couple of hoods into knocking over a underground card game. The plan is fool proof he says since the game is ran by Markie (Ray Liotta) who knocked over his own card game a few years back and got away with it. Then he bragged about it. See? It’s perfect, when they pulls this off, everyone will think Markie was dumb enough to do it again. We get away scott-free

Read the rest of the review at MILE HIGH CINEMA

Recent Movie Reviews

I know everyone on the internets have been dying for more content from SM. We hear you. Really, we do. We just recent moved SM HQ so there’s been a lot of time dedicated to one of life’s true joys – packing up all of your crap, moving it and then slooooowly unpacking it all again.

Here’s a couple of recent movie reviews over at the Award-winning movie blog – Mile High Cinema

LIFE OF PI – fantastic visual & spiritual treat of a movie

A LATE QUARTET – flawed yet enjoyable

We are gonna work up some shorter reviews on some other recent films such as the batshit-crazy and fun-as-hell KILLER JOE, BARBARA, HOLY MOTORS and a few others.

Have a safe & fun Turkey Day Holliday from everyone here at Smokin Monkey.

Review: LINCOLN

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln brings to life the mythical ol’ Abe by focusing on his masterful political skills. The film plays out as a procedural court-room drama in this case focusing on the raucous debates that once filled our House of Representatives in the mid to late 19th century. The film is a mix of 1865-era C-SPAN coverage of the highly contentious floor debate, some Sorkin-level West Wing presidential drama and a nice dash of Lincoln’s domestic life with Mary Todd and his boys. Famed playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America) adapted the film from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s award-winning book Team of Rivals. The book received a big bump in notoriety four years ago when it was name-dropped as being on then President-Elect Obama’s book list. The movie is more like an elaborate Broadway play than anything else. That is a very good thing for this film.

 

The movie is ostensibly 20 Angry Men with the bulk of the film concerning Abraham Lincoln’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) desire to get the 13th Amendment passed in Congress before the Civil War ends. To get it passed he needs to convince at least 20 lame-duck Democrat representatives to vote for it. Lincoln is looking down the road just far enough to realize that once the Rebel states are defeated and begin their reconstruction, they are not going to be easily persuaded to abolish slavery. The lawyer in him also understands that the Emancipation Proclamation from 1863 was technically a war-time legal maneuver to confiscate their “property” (i.e. slaves) which will end when the war ends.

Read the rest at MILE HIGH CINEMA

 

Review: SKYFAIL

First things first – Daniel Kleinman’s Skyfall title sequence is brilliant. The British music video director has cranked out all but one of the Bond title sequences since Bill Clinton was President and Remington Steel ran around pompously saying last name,pause, first name, last name. The titles pick up right where the cold open of the movie leaves off with Bond falling into the drink after having been shot by a spy/future lay in Istanbul. Note the arrogance of Bond, as a foreigner from England, running through the streets of Istanbul killing people, messing up traffic and destroying private property. We get a healthy dose of Bond’s ideology right now – the posh, smirking face of first world fascism straight away.

I will lay out my cards on the table – I haven’t seen a “Bond movie” since the days of Timothy Dalton. I grew up enjoying a few of the Connery ones probably due to the fact that one of the characters was called Pussy Galore. Ha ha. All of the ones with Roger Moore were about as cool to me as the original Batman television show, well, aside from the one that had pussy in the title. Hearing so much critical praise for Skyfall I have to admit that I was finally curious to see one after all of these years. I have long wondered what these tired, long-running movie and television series both here and in the UK (to a far lesser extent, especially tv) say about us as a culture. Do we collectively lack the requisite desire and curiosity to seek out new stories? Do we retreat into the comfortable and banal adventures of characters and stories we already know backwards and forwards as cultural reassurance? After watching Skyfall I can’t say that I am any closer to finding a suitable answer but I do know this – if this movie is being hailed as a great film, then we are all in trouble. Deep, deep trouble.

Plot line is basically this – Bond is getting old, MI6 is getting old and England is getting old. New things are slowly invading the once mighty Britain and it’s great spy warrior James Bond just doesn’t seem up to snuff. A villain played by Javier Bardem captures a list of spies and threatens to kill/expose them all to make the MI6 look bad and especially M (Judi Dench) who is the hard lady who runs the spy outfit. The film has a few set pieces, some hot women, a lot of death and violence. It is virtually suspense-free as Bond is hardly ever in enough jeopardy to make you wonder how he’s gonna get out of it, since, you know, he ALWAYS gets away. Why has there been 23 of these films?

Daniel Craig’s blank stare acting supposedly give a whiff of deep introspection to Bond. Funny how in every other role Craig brings this same method acting to, movies like the Dragon Tat film or Invasion or any of the others, it is not greeted with the same encomiums as James Bond gets. His delivery of sub-80’s-era cheesy action movie one-liners is so beyond tired and sad at this stage that maybe its some elaborate post-modern riff that fails to register for me. The lines are not funny or witty in the slightest, they are as lame as anything  from Cobra or Commando, except for the  British accent. Dench’s M has some of the best one-liners and quips in the movie while Bardem gets in a few good ones too. I didn’t really notice much of the other nondescript actors, that Fiennes guy included.

I will get positive again – the movie had some great locations – Shanghai and Istanbul looked very good in the film and so to do the scenes in Scotland. Old Coen Bros cinematographer Roger Deakins did a great job. The sniper murder in the high-rise and the floating casino were very cool images. Wasted, as with much of this film but still very cool nonetheless. (That is several positive comments btw.)

The music in Skyfall is so LOUD and OVER-THE-TOP that I actually plugged me ears several times.The constant use of the treacly and sentimental Bond theme was flat out annoying. When my ears were plugged I started to notice that the movie’s action sequences were actually very ordinary and downright conventional.  Without the high-decibel theme music cue,  the action the scenes fell flat. Big time. Yet another cliche that the Bond film exploits its audience with. At least they were clean visually unlike this Michael Bay-esque action scenes with the action so fast & incoherent you have no clue what is going on.

Javier Bardem’s villain Raoul Silva looks an awful lot like Guy Pearce from Memento. It was very distracting at times. Well, it turns out he is connected to M and the MI6. He’s a very smart villain, like amazingly smart.  He uses all of this fancy technology to spread terrorism and mayhem all over going so far as to crash a subway train into the parliament building where M is being grilled by MPs as to why there should even be an MI6 anymore. Oh thank you for the proof  Mr. Villain, see you doddering govt officials! We need spies to keep us safe! You know, since it was the spies who fucked up and lost the list of spies who are now being killed….oh forget it. We need to be protected! So Silva is now very close to M and he can kill her, exact his revenge and it’s all over, right? Wrong, once the supersmart genius villain gets into the room with M – he has NO PLAN. Nothing. He just stands there with that look of ‘DRATS!’ on his face as M and Bond get away. Sigh. Coincidence has one again saved the supersmart spy James Bond. How long until Silva will get all Scooby-Doo Villian on us I think to myself at this point? About thirty more minutes until he will tell us HUGE CHUNKS OF BACKSTORY. Then the whole story will all fit together. Oh man, this movie is terrible….long and long and terrible.

Now the movie shifts to Bond and M escaping in an old car that was obviously used in earlier Bond movies as I heard people gasp and drool when the saw Bond pull it out of storage. Whatever. He whisks M up to his old family home – Hey, it’s named Skyfall, just like the title of the…oh, right, okay. Brilliant, its the past as present theme again, just brilliant stuff. Oh and look, the house is all boarded up yet Albert Finney is just hanging out in there for some reason, waiting with some exposition to reveal. Sigh. Man this is getting tedious, just get on with the big, self-conscious climax of the villain showing up, peril everywhere and then Bond saves the day. There is a twist to this ending though and you know what that twist is? The filmmakers rip off the ending to Home Alone! Once you go see this masterpiece please come back and prove to me that assertion is false. Home Fucking Alone people. This hyped movie continues it’s sad, tired path to it’s 1,983 minutes of running time (I think it was officially 143 minutes but it sure felt longer) and guess what? It was all a pretense for more Bond movies. A reboot of the series, if you will.

Why this interminably loooooooong running series felt the need to litter this terrible movie with all of the clever winks and nods to new characters grabbing the reins from whatever actors did these roles before, I will never understand. Seems like I remember Prometheus getting taken to the woodshed for all of its nods towards a prequel sequel. I am certain Bond will get a pass for this transgression and all of the other pathetic cliches it regurgitated. Cloud Atlas gets raked over the coals for showing that small, insignificant people have the power to change the world – OH HOW CLOYING AND SILLY! IT’S LIKE RICHARD BACH, BWAAHAHAHA PEOPLE ARE SO STUPID but let’s all bow down to the fascist power of Bond and the technological killing power of the Crown of England. Everyone, bow down on bended knee to the SUPERMAN who gets saved by the same newbie spy gal who shot him a few reels back, but never mind that, BOND is so smart! So dashing! So crafty when there’s a young dude back at MI6 using computers to tell him what to do and where to go.

You know who were the only characters I cared about in this movie? Bardem’s henchmen. Yep, that’s right, all of those nameless, faceless Red Shirts were the only characters in the whole film I wanted to know more about. I wondered where he recruited them, Craigslist? Is there some sort of secret villain website one can setup a profile on to select what supersmart villain you want to work for. Do they judge their villains on benefits or how awesome their diabolical plans are? I’ve always loved the role of the henchmen, hopefully someday they will all get their due.

Pull quote – “Crap – pause – Piece of Crap.”

Alternate quote – “Home Alone ending people. Home. Alone.”

This review appears at MILE HIGH CINEMA

Review: FLIGHT

Flight soars high in its first act as Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) manages to land the crashing plane (as pictured above) only losing a few souls. An near impossible feat for any pilot let alone one who was drunk with cocaine and pot still in his system. Is Captain Whitaker a hero for saving almost everyone? Or did his inebriated condition cause the accident? This forms the main narrative thrust of the film although Flight sends some incongruous messages. The movie’s very liberal and matter-of-fact presentation of drug use was interesting yet one couldn’t help think this is why conservative, religious-types get their panties in a bunch of Hollywood corrupting America in the culture wars. That is for another discussion.

Read the rest of the review at MILE HIGH CINEMA

Review: SMASHED

There are lots of movies about alcoholics, mostly dramas (see a review for another alcoholic film out this weekend Flight) with a handful of black comedies. There are not many movies about recovering alcoholics. The alcoholic treatment movie genre is fairly slim, Clean and Sober with Michael Keaton and 28 Days with Sandra Bullock come to mind. Smashed is an intimate look at a twenty-somethning married alcoholic couple, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scott Pilgrim, Live Free or Die Hard) and Charlie (Aaron Paul Breaking Bad, Big Love)who are partying away their days.

They party away their nights which is easy for Charlie as he has some ambiguous job writing about bands. Kate on the other hand needs to sober up each morning to teach elementary school. Not an easy task to do even when you’re not hungover. One night after some hard-drinking Kate gives a woman from the bar a ride how which turns into an evening of crack-smoking and falling asleep under an overpass. She comes home, sobers up and makes it to school only to throw up in class. The interrogation scene that follows is an homage to Kindergarten Cop (‘It’s not a tumor’) as all of the children want to know what’s wrong with their teacher. They decide she’s pregnant which Kate agrees to just to get them to be quiet as her head pounds.

Read the rest of the review at MILE HIGH CINEMA