Sunday, April 04, 2010

[Movies] All Kinds of Funny

All Kinds of Funny: My movie watching is sporadic and random. Usually it's done in some nondescript hotel room on the company expense account, or at home during bouts of insomnia. (I remind myself once again to write an extended essay on why TV is better than movies.) Recently, though, I've re-seen three funny movies that couldn't be more different.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum -- The film version of one of the most successful musical comedies in the history of Broadway, almost 40 years old now. Terrific Stephen Sondheim fare with some of the most phenomenal comic actors in history -- Zero Mostel, Jack Gifford, and Phil Silvers put on a clinic in comic timing. Really, this movie could serve as a comedic actor's school. Yet the final product is uneven. Oh it's funny and madcap, but director Richard Lester does everything in his power to cheapen it by adding third-rate sight gags and camera effects that one would expect on a Saturday morning kids show. He can't ruin it, the material is too strong and the actors to damn good, but he does drag it down a notch or two. Still very much worth seeing. I remember seeing this as a child and I'd be willing to bet that my life-long appreciation of comedy stems in no small part from it the unbridled good humor of it.

Deconstructing Harry -- I am very close to declaring this the most outright funny Woody Allen movie. I've lost track of Woody's characters over the years, but this may be the only one where he lets himself be an outright sonofabitch; a depressive, misogynist, uncharacteristically vulgar jerk of an anti-hero. In fact he's so good at it makes me think that it is the Yang to his neurotic nebbish good guy Yin, long hidden and finally given free reign. A couple of fine performances from Billy Crystal and Alan Alda, and a show stopping scene from Kirstie Allie when she discovers husband Woody's infidelity. In the end, it's a story about how happiness does not always appear in a recognizable form.

Used Cars -- This was one of Steven Spielberg's early efforts back in the age of the Great American Farce -- Animal House, Caddyshack, etc. -- although it never received the recognition it deserved. And like the other G.A.F.'s you have to wonder whether it could be made today. In fact, there was a recent attempt to remake it, sort of: The Goods, with Jeremy Piven. It sounded promising, but it stunk. I don't know how you could take the premise of Used Cars and mix in the Piven and not score, but they managed. Actually, I do know, they were hamstrung by making Piven and his compadres good guys at heart, which is presumably what you've got to do in Hollywood now. In Used Cars everyone is a lying, opportunistic scumbag, even the hero -- especially the hero. In fact the one honest character comes around to seeing the light of dishonesty at the very end. Could you have that in a movie today? Spielberg certainly couldn't. Dirty, cold-hearted, slam-bang funniness. Kurt Russell at his best. Nearly thirty years on and it's still a riot. Yes sir! Did ya hear what I said!