Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Movie Round-up: Lot's of quality comedy on view thanks to the 9 million movie channels I get.

  • Mr. Warmth, Don Rickles -- He is now in his 80s and I assumed he had retired or at least let up a bit in the face of decades of increasingly virulent political correctness, but man was I wrong. He still marches out on stage and absolutely savages every religion, ethnicity, race and sexual orientation he encounters.

    He still does his Sambo voice for every "colored guy" in the audience. He makes fun of Martin Scorcese's asthma. To a Japanese audience member: "I spent 4 years chasing your grandfather through the jungle!" To David Letterman: "Who picks out your clothes, Stevie Wonder?" To Frank Sinatra: "Make yourself at home. Hit somebody." To Ronald Regan: "Mr. President, try to listen...he keeps looking around saying, is George Bush the president, or am I still in charge?" To no one in particular: "I have a Jewish wife who just lies in bed and says 'Help me with the jewelry.'" To a fat guy: "Is that your wife? Oh, look at her face. She's in agony." Queers. Wops. Spics. Eye-talians and ay-rabs. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have nothing on the Merchant of Venom.

    It's the delivery that makes it work. Michael Richards (Kramer) is a pariah, but people pay to get insulted by Don Rickles. Rickles has developed a chink or two in his act -- he does a sincere James Cagney impersonation that is bizarrely out of place -- but apart from the occasional slip, he hasn't let up throughout the course of my lifetime, and he hasn't quit getting away with murder. The child in me that stayed up late to watch him on Johnny Carson is grateful for that.

  • That's the Way I Like It -- Singapore teens in the late '70s are entranced by Saturday Night Fever and find their lives mirroring the movie including a climatic dance competition. I can easily see Singaporean kids exiting the theatre laughing at and energized by the enthusiasm and silliness. The production values are second rate at best but you get the sense that everyone involved was having a good time. Even the hopeless looking John Travolta knockoff seemed to be enjoying himself. Delightfully well acted. Pure fun. More heart than any ten Hollywood films.

  • One-Two-Three -- The funniest Cold War movie ever made. A frenzied, screwball, Billy Wilder-directed guffaw factory, set in 1960-ish Berlin when you could still get through the Brandenburg gate between East and West, and featuring a manic (and tongue-in-cheek) performance from James Cagney. Cagney is a high-power Coca-Cola exec charged with overseeing his boss' seventeen year old daughter. The daughter (Pamela Kiffin is a sublime antebellum airhead) sneaks away to the East and marries a full-on commie pinko. Hijinks ensue. Cagney goes all out, first to get the marriage annulled, then when he finds the girl is pregnant, to transform the commie into a perfect son-in-law, and along the way, save his own marriage.

    The entire film is a flawless example Billy Wilder's unerring sense of comic timing. Other directors should take notes. Not a wasted scene, word, or moment. Yes, it's farce and it can seem supercilious, but it's vastly superior to the overrated, adolescent snarkfest that is Dr. Strangelove, the Cold War comedy everybody seems to think is a work of genius. (I am of the opinion that it's OK to worship Kubrick when you're in college, but then you have to get over it.) One-Two-Three is old school comedy at its best.

  • Extras: Series Finale -- I liked the series Extras, but it got a little tedious after a while. Every episode seemed to be about finding new ways to humiliate Ricky Gervais. I stopped watching early in the second season. The recently aired series finale was top notch, however.

    Andy Millman (Gervais) is now a third rate lead actor with a catch phrase on a cheesy yet extremely popular sitcom, but he yearns to be taken seriously; he would sacrifice his fame for dignity. Except it turns out he really likes fame. He likes getting the choice tables at the hot restaurants. He likes being interviewed by the fawning press and having his picture taken. He just doesn't want to pay the price of indignity. As Andy morphs into everybody's clich‚ of an arrogant celebrity and alienates all his friends, he is confronted very bluntly with a fact, paraphrased as follows: "There are a handful of people who can have both artistic integrity and fame and fortune. You're not one of them. Which do you want?" Andy picks fame and fortune.

    The ending where Andy sees the error of his ways while filming a British reality house show called Big Brother leads to a beautifully dramatic (and artistically integral) moment, with a convincingly ironic result and a wonderfully uplifting ending. Expertly done -- there is no doubt of the validity of sentiment, yet no loss of comedy. I'm not sure how it would play for people not familiar with the series, but it was as well conceived and realized as a series finale could be.