Who’s Laughing Now?

Comedy is a divisive subject. Take the recent Golden Globes for a timely example. Ricky Gervais was almost universally criticised for his third consecutive hosting performance for not being ‘funny enough’. The previous year however, he was too cutting, too offensive and too rude. On the whole, I personally enjoyed both years. Divisive.

             

That’s not to say that I’m an unconditional fan of Gervais’ work. Of his three collaborative shows with Stephen Merchant, a loose thematic trilogy on the pursuit of, achievement of, and desperation to hang on to, fame, my reaction to each has grown gradually cooler. The Office is an all-time classic, and for me, the best comedy show ever made. Extras too, is very, very good. Yet I found their latest effort Life’s Too Short to be a real let down, and indeed I gave up after episode four. The laughs from Gervais’ stand ups have also been on the wane, with his debut tour Animals still remaining the best of his four to date.

I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly difficult person to make laugh. Dogs regularly achieve it, as does the occasional cat. Yet I am finding that films rarely do. Of the roughly 600 DVDs that I own, only nine are what I would consider ‘comedies’. NINE (and yes, that was a shameful ploy just to publish the size of my DVD collection. Apologies.). Big hits such as The Hangover and Tropic Thunder did very little for me in the way of laughs, whilst the same can be said for the Coen brothers’ comedies (The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Burn After Reading). Knocked Up and Superbad certainly had their moments, and I have yet to see Bridesmaids, of which I have heard only good things. The Royal Tenenbaums is another that brought steady chuckles, but perhaps positive memories of these were only enhanced by the boredom felt at Anderson’s other works such as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited. (Just a side note regarding my DVD collection… that 600 is films only. If we’re talking TV shows too, then you’re going to want to bump that number up at least another 50.)

            

For me then (I stress the me part because as well as divisive, comedy is arguably also the most subjective of genres), the most laughs tend to come from so-called ‘indie comedy/drama’ hybrids such as 500 Days of Summer, Dan in Real Life, Easy A, Garden State, In Bruges, Juno, The Kids Are All Right, Little Miss Sunshine, Napoleon Dynamite or Office Space. On the whole, films where the comedy tends to come as a result of the drama in the plot, instead of perhaps being the driving force as in something like Anchorman (which, incidentally, I did like). Maybe it’s just me. Perhaps I’m weird. What are the comedy films that I’m missing? Anything that should be immediately added to my 600 DVDs (got it in there again)? Because in a country where cinematic creativity is being forever threatened, I could certainly do with a few laughs.

 

2012 Preview

Yes, there’s plenty I still haven’t seen from 2011 (and even 2010) but that doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to a whole new batch of cinematic treats due for release in the following 12 months.

Aside from the obvious box-office magnets of The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, Prometheus and Skyfall, below I have compiled my top ten. In addition to wishing that the likes of Michael Mann, David Lynch, Lukas Moodysson and Lucrecia Martel would pull their fingers out in terms of new film projects, I’m also hoping that Giorgos Lanthimos’ Alps will get some sort of UK release date; his previous effort Dogtooth was a marvellously brutal, Haneke-esque melodrama and one of the most intriguing films of the decade.

10. Untitled Bin Laden film (dir. Kathryn Bigelow) – starring Jason Clarke, Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton and Edgár Ramírez.

After the deserved success of her last film The Hurt Locker and subsequent best director Oscar, Bigelow’s stock has rocketed. Her new film is in a similar field and has been described as an international thriller surrounding the hunt for, and capture of, Osama Bin Laden. Earmarked for a December release there are few details around for this Mark Boal written project, although the likes of Guy Pearce and Idris Elba have been linked to additional roles.

9. Django Unchained (dir. Quentin Tarantino) – starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Leonardo Di Caprio and Kerry Washington.

Back on form with the outrageous Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino fans (of which I am one) have been waiting with baited breath for this Western/Slave/Revenge/Thriller hybrid follow up. With an outstanding cast headlined by Leonardo Di Caprio, Jamie Foxx and the extremely busy Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this tale of a slave-turned-bounty-hunter who sets out to save his wife from a sadistic plantation owner looks set to be spectacularly bonkers, if nothing else.

8. Wettest County (dir. John Hillcoat) – starring Shia LeBeouf, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce and Jason Clarke.

Adapted from Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest County in the World, this Depression-era crime drama boasts one of 2012’s most impressive casts. And with John Hillcoat, of The Road and more impressively, the gritty, scorching The Proposition fame, at the helm, it’s safe to say it could also be one of the most impressive films of the year. The Nick Cave scribed project stars Tom Hardy, Shia LeBeouf, Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke as members of a bootlegging gang whose operation is threatened by the Guy Pearce-led authorities that what to shut them down.

7. Looper (dir. Rian Johnson) – starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano and Bruce Willis.

After his outstanding debut film Brick was released in 2005, Rian Johnson looked set for an extremely bright future. Follow up The Brothers Bloom was somewhat uninspiring however, and he failed to kick on. Now back with his third film Looper, Johnson reunites with Brick leading man Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as well as adding the Paul Dano, Bruce Willis and the superb Emily Blunt, to an impressive line up. The future-set film centres on a contract killer who recognises one of his targets as his future self; a premise that admittedly, does not sound the most appealing, but I remember thinking the same thing when reading about The Adjustment Bureau and Source Code – both of which I enjoyed immensely.

6. The Grandmasters (dir. Wong Kar Wai) – starring Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang

This story of Ip Man, the great martial artist who trained Bruce Lee, promises to be excellent if the previous oeuvre of the visually sumptuous Wong Kar Wai is anything to go by. It stars regular collaborator Tony Leung as Ip Man and the world renowned Ziyi Zhang, back for her second stint with Wai following 2046. The Grandmasters will be the director’s first film since his critic dividing English language debut My Blueberry Nights (2007), and marks a return to his native tongue.

5. Rust and Bone (dir. Jacques Audiard) – starring Marion Cotillard.

The master of French crime-noir is back with this adaptation of Craig Davidson’s short stories collection of the same name. Little is known about what direction Audiard’s version will take, but given that the source novels frequent the seedy underground world of illegal fighting, gambling and sex addicts, and that the director has a penchant violence, gangsters and crime, then it is safe to say we have a rough idea. The addition of Cotillard as protagonist elect is interesting however, as Audiard’s previous work has dealt almost exclusively with male leads.

4. The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) – starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix.

After the release of instant classic There Will Be Blood in 2007, Anderson has taken his time in pulling together his follow up which is not about scientology. Instead, The Master, stars Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, a ‘charasmatic intellectual’ whose ‘faith-based organisation’ begins to gain popularity in 1950s America. OK, so maybe it is about scientology. Either way, acting support comes from the wonderful Amy Adams, and the rejuvenated Joaquin Phoenix, who plays a drifter taken under Dodd’s wing. Staple Anderson themes of male bonding, father-son relationships and questions of faith seem implied, and this looks set to be a very good, and possibly controversial, one.

3. Amour (dir. Michael Haneke) – starring Isabelle Huppert, William Shimell, Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant.

After forays into English (Funny Games U.S.) and his native German (The White Ribbon), Haneke’s twelfth feature Amour reverts to the French of which we have grown accustomed in the latter half of his career. It stars regular collaborator Isabelle Huppert who plays Eva, as well as the now trademark, recurring character names of Anne and Georges, played by Riva and Trintignant respectively. The premise revolves around a retired couple who struggle to cope in the aftermath of the wife suffering a debilitating stroke and is set for a May time release. This sounds like vintage Haneke, therefore expect no punches to be pulled in what is sure to be a difficult and demanding film.

2. Untitled (dir. Terrence Malick) – starring Javier Bardem, Ben Affleck, Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Olga Kurylenko, Jessica Chastain and Martin Sheen.

Having made just five films in a 38 year career to date, the most recent of which being the mesmeric The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick appears to be making up for lost time. He now looks set to almost double his life’s work in the next two years, with a staggering four projects on the go. The Brad Pitt and Emma Thompson narrated ‘examination of the birth and death of the universe’ is due out some time this year, whilst star-studded duo Knight of Cups and Lawless featuring the likes of Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling, are both scheduled for a 2013 release. An equally impressive list of names has been working on an as yet untitled film that is due to hit cinemas this year however. The project is described as a ‘romantic drama’ and purportedly centres on a man (Affleck) reconnecting with an old flame as his marriage falls apart.

1. Cogan’s Trade (dir. Andrew Dominik) – starring Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Sam Shepard, Garrett Dillahunt and Ray Liotta.

It’ll be almost five years since the release of Dominik’s previous film when Cogan’s Trade finally hits screens later on this year. That last film just so happens to be The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – one of the most exquisite films of the last twenty years, and my personal all time favourite. My excitement and insatiable anticipation for Dominik’s next project has been growing since 2007, and my mind was blown when preliminary cast lists included seemingly the entire Assassination crew of Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Sam Shepard and Garrett Dillahunt. Affleck and Rockwell have since dropped out however, only to be replaced by the likes of James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins and Vincent Curatola. The film has been adapted from the George V. Higgins novel by Dominik himself, and centres around a professional enforcer (Pitt) who investigates a heist that took place at a mob protected poker game. Excited is not the word.

A few others worth keeping an eye on are: the multi-directed 7 días en La Habana (featuring input from the likes of Julio Medem, Gaspar Noé and Benicio del Toro), Carlos Assayas Apres mai, the multi-narrative Cloud Atlas directed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski brothers, and Pawel Pawlikowski’s long awaited My Summer of Love follow up, The Woman in the Fifth.

Perrier’s Bounty [Five Word Review]

Father and Son - Jim Broadbent and Cillian Murphy in 'Perrier's Bounty'

Perrier’s Bounty (Fitzgibbon, 2009)

Plot:   Irish gangster Perrier seeks revenge on down and out gambler Michael, his ailing father and his heartbroken best friend after they accidentally kill one of his men.

Boiled Down:   Disappointing.   Second.   Rate.   In.   Bruges.

Rating:   2 out of 5 stars

 

(Slightly late) 2011 Review (including the best things I’ve seen this year, both new and old)

Movies

I unfortunately had to rely more heavily than ever on art centres (Chapter in Cardiff, Taliesin in Swansea and the DCA in Dundee) for my movie going fix, due mainly to the multiplexes’ lack of originality in their line-ups. 2011 was notable for being the year in which the most movie sequels were released (congratulations), with a staggering 28 – working out at just over one a fortnight. It is hardly surprising then that eight of the top grossing films of the year were sequels, with the kid-friendly duo of Rio and The Smurfs making up the numbers.

Consequently, my ‘need to see’ list is now far, far outweighing my ‘seen’ list. The Ides of March, Drive, The Skin I Live In, J. Edgar, Melancholia, Hugo, The Artist, Shame, Carnage, In the Land of Blood & Honey, The Kid With a Bike, The Descendents, The Killing Fields, Sleeping Beauty, Margaret, Bridesmaids, The Tree of Life, Another Earth, The Whistleblower, Contagion, Take Shelter and Margaret are all on my list, although I am redeemed as some of these are still yet to be released.

Now, to what I have seen. I was blown away by two different but equally incredibly powerful British films by female directors, Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin and Andrea Arnold’s bold Wuthering Heights retelling. Two films that could be the last of a dying breed if David Cameron gets his way… but that showcase the true talent in acting, writing, directing and cinematography that Britain has to offer. To continue the patriotic theme, Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy was also brilliant, an excellent film with perhaps the best British ensemble cast, in one of my favourite genres.

2011 will also be a notable year for me, as it is when I became a Harry Potter convert (of sorts)! For spectacle, in the final two films in particular, there is almost nothing to touch it.

On the subject of entertainment:

Source Code continued Duncan Jones’ impressive CV thus far, a brilliant, fresh action thriller.

The Lincoln Lawyer was slick, stylish and brimming with tension; even making me hate Matthew McConaughey slightly less.

The Kids are All Right cemented Lisa Cholodenko’s place as one of my favourite directors.

The Adjustment Bureau was great fun, if Hitchcock had directed Blade Runner this would be it.

Whilst I also loved a number of thrillers including, The Secret in their Eyes which is wonderfully intricate, sinister and above all, engrossing; Winter’s Bone, icy, visceral and unforgiving mountain noir; whilst Revanche was restrained and subtle yet menacingly tense.

As well as Somewhere (Sofia Coppola), Nowhere Boy (Sam Taylor-Wood), Easy A (Will Gluck), Paris (Cédric Klapisch) and Let’s Talk About the Rain (Agnes Jaoui).

I’ve also been watching a number of Luis Buñuel’s more religion-centric films, and loved the subversive, playful and joyfully mocking nature of Viridiana, Simon of the Desert and The Milky Way in particular.

 

TV

Television almost overtook my movie viewing in this past year, which the quality continuing to increase.

A special mention needs to go to Game of Thrones, the first season of which proved to be brutal, addictive and immense. The latest season of Mad Men continued to prove its justified reputation as the best thing on TV at the moment. Whilst, after a shaky first few episodes, the much hyped Boardwalk Empire got gradually better, before confidently hitting it’s stride in season two and finishing with an incredibly bold and brave final episode; setting events up beautifully for the upcoming third season. regrettably, the same cannot be said for a personal favourite of mine, Dexter, season six of which limped along worryingly, before righting itself somewhat in the final few episodes – although I’m hopeful that the already confirmed season seven may be its last. One show that got nowhere near the seventh season mark was The Chicago Code which was unfortunately cancelled after the first season, despite being a good, solid cop drama with ample potential for future season arcs. The Borgias managed to almost fill the gap left by The Tudors, whilst the latest instalment of This Is England (this time set in 1988) was another gritty, powerhouse of cinematic excellence.

The French police series Spiral produced another brilliant season, whilst Braquo also finally made it to UK screens, and in the process threatened to make the corruption and lawbreaking of The Shield’s Vic Mackey and co. look like an episode of The Bill.

Season one of The Killing (USA) got better as the weeks went on and becomes compelling in its own right. Only then did I watch season two of The Killing (Denmark) and immediately forget that there ever was an American version.

As for the future, I am extremely looking forward to Luck, plus new series of Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Spiral, Boardwalk Empire and The Borgias.

The final mention however, must go to Mark Cousins’ wonderful, sprawling epic The Story of Film: An Odysseythe defining encyclopaedia of the history of cinema.