A funny enough comedy from the early days of Woody Allen, when he was content to just pump out joke after joke and not get involved in any philosophical musings and well before he jumped into senility by virtue of overwork. The various sketches of Everything You Always Wanted to Know… vary in quality from dull to brilliant, but the connecting thread is that they’re all send-ups of various film genres rather than the good ol’ sexual intercourse. Particular highlights are a parody of monster movies led by a cackling John Carradine, and Gene Wilder as a doctor falling in love with one of his more unusual patients. Funny, and that’s praise enough.
Comedies function best when they are keenly observant of human behaviour and its absurdities and paradoxes. Unfortunately, outside of a few scenes early on where When Harry Met Sally achieves exactly that, it is mostly rather unobservant and bland, a watered-down Woody Allen script lacking the wit and sharpness whilst occasionally cribbing directly from it visually. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are not particularly charismatic or likeable as the two titular characters (Crystal especially), but there are still some excellent supporting roles: the sadly departed Carrie Fisher shows that, outside of Star Wars, she was a versatile and engaging screen presence capable of adding spark to weak material.
A masterpiece of high trash from the king of high trash. Pink Flamingos may be John Waters’ most infamous work, but Female Trouble is the more cutting, more acerbic and more intelligent film. Where Pink Flamingos set out to destroy respectability by virtue of being blatantly explicit, Female Trouble wraps the insanity into a plot and characters that serves to make a pointed and jet-black indictment of middle America’s hypocritical values. Divine was never more glamorous, luxuriating in her movie-star power, whilst the jokes and the sheer preposterousness of the film just keeps on coming.
Added note: I saw the film in a 35mm print in The Cube microplex in Bristol, with the best crowd possible, cheering, whooping, laughing and applauding the film throughout. Perhaps the best single experience I have ever had in a cinema.
On Dr. Strangelove, Roger Ebert once wrote; “People trying to be funny are never as funny as people trying to be serious and failing. The laughs have to seem forced on unwilling characters by the logic of events. A man wearing a funny hat is not funny. But a man who doesn’t know he’s wearing a funny hat … ah, now you’ve got something.” Therein lies the problem with Zoolander. There are more than enough good jokes and solid writing for Zoolander to be a fine comedy. But Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Owen Wilson et. all can barely go a minute without letting you know that they know that they’re wearing a funny hat.
If you’ve seen the first Airplane, then you’ve already seen most of the sequel; the amount of recycled jokes applied to this one (occasionally even using footage from the first one) is probably enough to offset the film’s carbon footprint. Despite the fact that the original film’s progenitors, the Zucker/Abrams/Zucker team, had nothing whatsoever to do with the sequel, there does still remain some small glimmers of quality here.
The plot is more or less an illogical repeat of the first one, as Ted Striker (Robert Hays) once again finds himself trying to land a haywire craft after the crew get knocked out, except this time it’s a space shuttle and his landing strip is the moon, and the cause of the crew’s absence is a HAL-like evil computer! Beyond the repeated gags, there is still a decent deal of new material here, especially in the excellent opening ten minutes. There is a certain spark missing however, and it goes by the name of Leslie Nielsen. Though many of the earlier film’s stars return and there is the addition of one William Shatner, the lack of any Nielsen is a blow to the Airplane II’s flow. It’s incredibly difficult to craft a genuinely successful joke-a-minute comedy in the vein of the first Airplane, and let’s face it, no other actor was better at holding such a straight face in such a mad film as ol’ Leslie.
There’s nothing much to say beyond that. Why am I even writing this. I challenged myself to try and find four hundred words to say about Airplane II, and this is about two hundred and seventy and yeah. I didn’t mind it too much. I love the first film and considering its quality I’m ok with a few repeated jokes here and there, even if the overall effect is nowhere near as good. Three hundred and sixteen! Close enough.
A non-Ealing studios film featuring a number of regular Ealing comedy alumni, Battle of the Sexes is only really of interest to people interested in the more historical aspects of film (me, basically). Like many of the classic Ealing Studios comedies from the late-40s/50s, there’s a lot that this film can tell you about attitudes and sensibilities at the time. Unfortunately, it lacks the sharpness and humour of the best Ealing Comedies; there’s none of the acerbic wit of Kind Hearts and Coronets; none of the satirical bite of The Man in the White Suit; no generous belly-laughs to hold a candle to The Ladykillers.
With two big names leading the film, one behind the camera and one in front (Charles Crichton and Peter Sellers respectively), it’s something of a disappointment. The basic plot is that Peter Sellers is an aging manager at an old Scottish textile firm, whose dusty life is turned upside down by the death of the firm’s owner and the arrival of his garrulous son, Robert (Robert Morely), who brings with him *gasp* an American woman, Angela (Constance Cummings), who also happens to be one of those newfangled business advisors so popular across the pond. Her modern advice shakes up the office just a tad too much, breaking apart tried-and-tested methods, until the otherwise meek and passive Peter Sellers decides to do something about it.
The tone of the film is heavily parochial, with a gentle, condescending tone taken against the figure of the American working woman, as if it’s an amusing passing fad: “well done my darling, you are quite a talented woman aren’t you, now back to the kitchen where you belong dear, yes?” Granted, the film makes a point of the fact that Angela is a well-respected professional in the US, whose methods don’t translate to the Old World of small-scale, handmade production—whilst Sellers’ character is presented as an out-of-touch old man clinging to the old ways— but her presence in the textile firm is frequently treated as a humorous yet shrill disruption of tradition, which worked just fine until she came along!
Its gender politics may be highly dated, but at the very least there is interest here historically from such a perspective; the professional working woman is a common and less derided figure these days, and strong female voices in the arts, media, and politics are more frequent, yet it was only five years ago that David Cameron said “calm down dear” to a female MP in Parliament. This bland, condescending sexism is still highly prevalent in our society, alongside a small but virulent, reactionary, and regressive faction that’s bitterly vocal on any below-the-line internet comments that seems to have sprung up in reaction to progress in gender equality. It seems that these factions once scoffed at the notion of equality, but now they feel they have to fight it directly. For every step forward, two steps back.
Of course, I could forgive certain regressive elements of The Battle of the Sexes if the film were entertaining or funny, which it isn’t, and it’s hard to imagine it being all that hilarious back in the day either. Jokes are few and far between, although Peter Sellers does make the most of it: such a talent is capable of at least dragging relative dullness like this up half a step. Charles Crichton, for his part, was a fine director, one of the more undervalued voices of post-war British cinema. Whilst not exactly a unique authorial voice in the vein of David Lean or Powell/Pressburger, his work does have a pleasing ease and exacting sense of comic timing to it (he began in the film industry as an editor). When paired with an excellent script, Crichton was superb; his final film, A Fish Called Wanda, written by John Cleese, is a case example of supreme comic timing, but his work here does little more than move the film along, shuffling slowly to its end. Mediocrity for film history geekery (me).
The Kings of Summer exists in that kind of Ameri-indie dramedy netherworld that seems to be a standard go-to for fledgling US filmmakers, where quirky characters and purposely awkward dialogue go hand-in-hand with themes of stunted adulthood and fragile masculinities. I sound as if I’m disdainful of The Kings of Summer. I’m not, but it is a film that flitters between being utterly terrible and mawkish with all the worst trappings of generic American indie films (I’m looking at you Garden State), and being potentially one of the best examples of the genre, almost on a par with the best work of its deified godfather Wes Anderson. It has an excellent sense of humour and some excellent dramatic work, which it nearly torpedoes with predictable accessions to cliché and forced quirk.
The story is about three teenage boys, Joe (Nick Robinson), Patrick (Gabriel Basso), and Biaggio (Moisés Arias), who decide to run away during the summer and build a wooden house in the middle of the forest, where they live as nature intended. Joe and Patrick are both frustrated with their parents, with Joe’s dad Frank (Nick Offerman) an overbearingly strict and dull presence since the death of Joe’s mother, whilst Patrick’s parents are suffocatingly sweet and blissfully unaware of the travails of adolescent cynicism.
One can easily argue that both boys are a bit spoilt and unaware of the comparatively minimal size of their problems, but then again most teenagers have a habit of blowing things way out of proportion. Biaggio, for his part, is an outcast who initially latches onto Joe, before being accepted into the group. His motivations for joining with the group are unclear, but according to the film it doesn’t particularly matter, as he’s there primarily for comic relief, and Arias duly rises to the challenge, making Biaggio the most easily likeable and amusing of the three. It’s a shame then, that he doesn’t develop beyond a joke-machine, spilling bizarre non-sequiturs everywhere (“I met a dog the other day, it taught me how to die”). Despite the fact that many of these lines are well-written, it’s the first of the script’s many failings.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts at least does make the adventure aspects of the film work brilliantly. Much of the film is spent in the summer house, as the boys bond and try to hunt or gather food. The scenes here have a magnificent, sun-dappled appeal, a sense of isolation (even though logistically the summer house can’t be very far from town: the boys walk there), and a freewheeling improvisational sense, all undercut with the ever-present notion that these scenes amount to little more than boys playing dress-up as adults; there is a great deal of ruminating on the mentality of Manifest Destiny, which the film quite rightly treats as childish and adolescent. Joe in particular is quite obsessed with idea of becoming a man, of claiming his masculinity by living out in the wild and taking the land as his own, even though the opposite is true. Once the realities of outdoor living come to hit—hunger, dangerous wildlife, social isolation—he wants nothing more than to return home to warmth and shelter, even if that means giving up on his terms.
Unfortunately the script, written by Chris Galletta, crowbars in an unfortunately contrived and predictable third act in which many of the elements foreshadowed in earlier scenes come to a head in entirely foreseeable ways, be they the heartbreak of teenage infatuation or venomous snakes. Again here, we see the wonderful humour and the fascinating drama within the film being beset by cliché and just plain lazy storytelling; during the last twenty minutes of The Kings of Summer I mostly switched off, because the ending was so clearly telegraphed and such a disappointment compared to the more freewheeling earlier sections. Nevertheless, the film has plenty going for it: this is a likeable, charming and effective coming-of-age tale, directed with style and love for the characters. Worth a look.
Perhaps the most exhausting ninety minutes ever put together on film, His Girl Friday is certainly an impressive accomplishment of breakneck dialogue and thespian prowess. On the one hand, I’m always impressed by the film’s accomplishments at holding such a pace for such a long time—director Howard Hawks films most of the scenes very simply, in long takes and basic mid-shots, so there are few cheats of editing going on here; that really is Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell reeling off every line so quick that the sonic boom can just about be heard at times—but I’m not convinced it makes for a truly classic film as the minds of most mere mortals cannot keep up with that kind of pace. Nevertheless, when I can keep up long enough to catch the dialogue, it’s always smart, funny, and well-delivered. I only wish I had a chance to breathe at times.
The Look of Love is a biopic of Paul Raymond, the man who opened Britain’s first strip club, bought out the men’s softcore magazine Men Only in the ‘70s, and built a huge property empire that ensured he was one of the richest men in the UK. He’s certainly an interesting figure, adamant throughout his career that he wasn’t a pornographer, and ably played by Steve Coogan as if he was everything Alan Partridge always desperately wanted to be. Framed in flashback—the opening scenes tell us that Raymond has just learned of his daughter Debbie’s (Imogen Poots) death—we then see how Raymond’s property empire developed, moving from entertainer to backstage producer to sleaze-theatre owner to high-flying property magnate.
Director Michael Winterbottom’s career has certainly been a very interesting and varied one, flitting between all sorts of genres at an absurdly prolific rate (at least one film a year most years) to the point that he can be accused of lacking a sense of quality control—much of his work falls between average and unfocused—but its rarely without worth, with nearly every film offering something of interest.
So it is with The Look of Love: it’s a gracefully shot film with shimmering colours and a graceful early section in black-and-white, buoyed by good performances, but little in the way of genuine insight. The main point that The Look of Love makes is that money doesn’t buy happiness (you don’t fucking say?) and that kind of facile observation is hardly enough to build a meaningful film, so it’s up to other elements to make up for it. With a litany of faces familiar to British comedy fans (Coogan obviously, but also Chris Addison, Stephen Fry, David Walliams, and Dara O’Briain), the film certainly has its fair share of jokes amusingly delivered.
The crux of the dramatic arc falls on Raymond’s relationship with his daughter; it’s a relationship with a lot of surface affection but little substance beneath, bringing out the weaker aspects of Raymond’s character, like, for example, the moment when he casts Debbie as the lead in one of his big-budget nude theatrical productions, but hypocritically bars her from appearing nude.
Both Coogan and Poots invest this relationship with a lot of believability, with Coogan giving the aging Paul Raymond the air of a man gradually being chipped away by his own status as a wealthy lothario, going through women and drugs as if they were toys, all too aware of how desperately his daughter wants to emulate him but too weak to set her on her own path. Unfortunately, Winterbottom doesn’t really seem to know what to do with this relationship. Its fundamental takeaway is that Raymond’s money distances him from genuine human interactions, but this observation isn’t taken anywhere. We know where the film ends up thanks to the flashback framing, but the journey there isn’t all that insightful.
It’s especially a shame as The Look of Love overall comes across as very much infatuated with its central character; in the first half of the film Raymond is a cocky jack-the-lad to be admired, later a sympathetic, aging Don Juan, but the entirety of the film pretty much ignores the gender politics of Paul Raymond’s empire, amounting to at most a few offhand jokes and one-liners, resulting in a massive missed opportunity. The film’s biggest challenge to Paul Raymond’s defence that he’s not a pornographer (and sure, he’s not exactly producing hardcore anal) is one quick scene where Dara O’ Briain, playing a standup at a gig in Raymond’s club, cracks a joke that his entire empire is built on the sticky foundations of spunk, which is about as true an observation as possible. But aside from this, it’s just left behind, tucked away, ignored, as if challenging it would burst Paul Raymond’s already fragile bubble.
It’s a shame, because this decision turns a potentially fascinating portrait of an important historical figure about a man who—for better or worse—played a big part in Britain’s sexual revolution in the ‘60s, into a light, frothy, tragic-comedy, drained of its political impact, floating along on some smartly scripted lines and effective, if hardly exceptional, performances. A decent work, but ultimately forgettable.