Premiering to a packed house at Second City’s UP Comedy Club on Monday night, the funny and touching documentary “I Am Chris Farley” kicked off a national tour. With directors Brent Hodge and Derik Murray in attendance, along with Farley’s brother Kevin Farley (who executive-produced) and a number of friends, the screening and post-show Q&A had an air of familiarity and celebration that suited the film. “[Chris] would have liked you to laugh more than cry,” Kevin said in a stirring introduction to the film. Despite the expectedly somber tone of the final third of the film, the audience eagerly complied, laughing through the largely linear portrait of Farley as an exuberant, natural-born comedic performer who concealed his dark interior as best as he could. Read the rest of this entry »
(En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron) Swedish slowpoke Roy Andersson’s latest apocalyptic comedy, “A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence,” four years in the making, is lovingly tragic and relentlessly cruel. How to describe his diligent, painterly, madly mannered, utterly singular comic method to the initiate? As I once described “Songs From the Second Floor,” his 2000 black-comic parable of a world in unending gridlock that’s my favorite of his limited filmography, its dry wit suggests Terry Gilliam, Ingmar Bergman and Luis Buñuel having giggle fits over several pitchers of Buñuel’s Virgin Martinis. Read the rest of this entry »
Kris Swanberg’s confident third feature, “Unexpected,” is an intimate made-in-Chicago tale of two unplanned pregnancies, by inner-city public high school teacher Samantha (Cobie Smulders) and her star A-student, Jasmine (Gail Bean). Written by Swanberg and Megan Mercier, low-key sophistication (with bursts of strong language) and the healthily nuanced performances by Smulders and Bean carry the day. Samantha tries so hard to comprehend her young friend’s circumstances, and they’re worlds apart. But, she tries, hopes, and in a not clichéd way, grows. Not every scene is as strong as the very best, but Swanberg’s empathy is admirable. It’s a lovely, auspicious piece of small-budget filmmaking. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“Tangerine” is a brash, vivacious screwball comedy of West Hollywood street life, told in the course of several blocks across several hours as Christmas Eve moves from day to dusk to dark of night and ache of heart.
Sean Baker’s masterful, vividly gritty follow-up to 2012’s “Starlet,” shot entirely with iPhones, is also a bold, intimate challenge to mild-mannered contemporary notions of independent filmmaking. There are camera moves you’ve never seen before, but the characters are even more gratifying: The opening line, “Merry Christmas Eve, bitch!” is one of the raucous story’s politest bursts of frank language. Read the rest of this entry »
“Ant-Man” is giant comedy.
It’s been more than three decades, but I once spoke fluent Marvel. My recollection is that Hank Pym’s super-small alter ego was one of Stan Lee’s minor creations, a character whose narrative never outgrew the challenges of rendering a tiny world in a medium better suited for inscribing oversized imaginings. (In order to draw fine detail, comic book artists typically work at a scale much larger than the cartoon frame, then reduce the work to scale. This tends to favor actual, or, in the case of superheroes, super-sized, images.) Though launched as a solo act in “Tales to Astonish” (one of the referential jokes in the film that generated a surprising quantity of chuckles in the preview screening, since it dates to circa 1962, long before most of the chucklers were sketched), “Ant-Man” never made it on his own, becoming instead a founding member of the Avengers and then joining his super-brethren at the other end of the telescope, usually donning the Giant-Man or Goliath persona.
So it’s not really a tall tale to say the film surpasses the comic book—though it’s also a medium of storytelling by virtue of sequential frames filled with images and dialogue, film thrives in larger-than-life scale. At its very best, it magnifies the smallest of moments into larger truths. The depiction of our almost-microscopic world on the big screen easily blends awe and humor, attributes almost innate to the plot device, even in times of lesser CGI tools (“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” for example). “Ant-Man” has plenty of action to mollify the vegetative fanboys who seem to control modern movie culture, but with a twist. It’s life-and-death battle fought, for example, inside a briefcase. Instead of blowing up skyscrapers, our hero smashes into an iPhone. And that’s funny, really funny.
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Eric Rohmer: where to begin? How about with an offhanded masterpiece, 1984’s “Full Moon in Paris,” the most elegant of the splendid miniatures that constitute his cycle of “Comedies and Proverbs” romantic comedies? Louise (Pascale Ogier) is the bright center of his tale, an artistic young woman working in a design firm who abandons an older lover for a sequence of flings and affairs that have consequence by virtue of their very inconsequence. The slender but electric Ogier is a natural screen presence, and she beguiles her men (and the audience) with her angular, even aquiline features, her quick smile, her 1980s hair piled high, large-lidded wide eyes taking it all in with gentle bemusement and modest befuddlement. Read the rest of this entry »
Writer-director-actor Josh Lawson’s “The Little Death” is a rude rapscallion of an Australian comedy, drawing its title from a French term for orgasm, “le petite mort.” Lawson’s script hits much more than it misses, with bracing bursts of unlikely honesty in overlapping vignettes about five couples, their sexual hopes, fetishes and downfalls, with a sequence of endings that come together in a ravishingly sustained comic climax. (Scenes include masochism, foot fetishism, watching a partner sleep, enjoying a partner crying, roleplaying, obscene phone calls, and a cheery sex offender whose gift of cookies distracts the neighbors when he comes by to notify them he lives nearby.) Read the rest of this entry »
The streamlined storytelling of Pixar’s “Inside Out,” directed by Pete Docter (“Up”), startles for many reasons, but most for the ease with which it executes its improbable premise—“mind workers,” or cartoon figures inside the head of eleven-year-old Riley, and how they define her emotional state—and makes it wholly accessible and very, very funny. Reportedly informed by extensive research with scientists in multiple fields, “Inside Out” is provocative about how emotions and memories drive the other characters as well. The quick glimpses inside Riley’s mother and father’s minds are terrific, too, and the device culminates in one of the most hilarious, logical, inspired, nearly perfect final scenes ever. Read the rest of this entry »
The aging of the prankster is front and center in “The Yes Men Are Revolting,” the third feature about the half-assed but often convincing hoaxes perpetrated by shameless political activists Mike Bonanno (Jacques Servin) and Andy Bichlbaum (Igor Vamos). It’s a curious place to find two smart clowns like these now-middle-aged media savants, but its meta-meta material about communication and miscommunication between the duo speak to issues both larger and more personal than the economic and political miscreants they target. Read the rest of this entry »
After the deeply eccentric singularity of “Computer Chess,” Austin-based screenwriter-director Andrew Bujalski returns to reshaping the relationship comedy with the splendid “Results.” How could he top that haphazard-seeming, cunningly constructed bacchanalia of oddity? By returning to the genre he seems born to work in: comedies of miscommunication, dislocation, and money. (Men and women and the shaggy-dog dance.) Newly rich, out-of-shape and wholeheartedly depressed Danny (Kevin Corrigan) happens into an unlikely romantic triangle at the local gym, owned by guru-wannabe Trevor (Guy Pearce), whose passions include trainer Kat (Cobie Smulders), a former flame. Bujalski’s wit remains devilishly dry, and his portrait of three very prickly souls who can monkey up almost any interaction is sly, lovingly structured yet still unswervingly funny. Read the rest of this entry »