Tag Archives: absurd

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World – Review

21 Jul

In 1963, the world was blessed with Stanley Kramer’s over the top madcap chase comedy aptly titled It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Before this, however, Kramer was known as a dramatic directors with acclaimed films like Inherit the Wind and Judgment at Nuremberg as testament. What a way to enter the realm of comedy than with a movie that stars more comedians than any movie before it, and I’d wager since. This is a huge, epic comedy with action, excellent stunt work, riotous cameos, and slapstick comedy that brought the genre to a whole new level. To put it simply, this is one of the funniest movies ever made.

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After careening his car off of a California highway, “Smiler” Grogan (Jimmy Durante) tells a group of witnesses about a briefcase with $350,000 buried under a giant “W” in Santa Rosita State Park. Thus begins a race by this group (including Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, and Jonathan Winter) to get to Santa Rosita and uncover the fortune for themselves. Along the way, alliances are made and broken, vehicles are destroyed, and one gas station is completely obliterated. While all this is happening, police captain T.G. Culpepper (Spencer Tracy) is keeping a watchful eye and planning his own way to get a hold of the hidden money and start a new life for himself.

If ever there was a need to talk about the cast of a movie, this is the time. One of the taglines appropriately reads, “Everybody who’s ever been funny is in it!” While that may not be completely accurate, it certainly doesn’t seem to stretch the truth too far. Besides the names I’ve already mentioned, the case also includes Buddy Hackett, Eddie Anderson, Peter Falk, Phil Silvers, Jack Benny, The Three Stooges, Jerry Lewis, and even Buster Keaton. The crazy part is that that still isn’t everyone. This movie is completely PACKED with Hollywood’s funniest people at the time. Even if you couldn’t care less about the plot involving hidden money and the race to get to it, this movie is worth seeing just to see all of these people in the same film. It’s a blast trying to spot everyone.

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While this is a really funny movie, a lot of the humor stems from the action set pieces that happen. Believe it or not, this is a very action heavy movie with car chases, plane stunts, and people just getting flung all over the place. The stunt work is absolutely fantastic and the chases are fast and exciting. It was cool to watch a movie that was as exciting as it was hilarious. From beginning to end, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World does not slow down and refuses to come to a halt of any kind. That’s pretty impressive considering it’s nearly 3 hours long. The full length cut available from Criterion is actually three and a half hours long, so I’d be curious to see how it holds up with those extra 45 minutes.

There’s so many great characters and actors in this movie that it’s hard to choose favorites, but it’s worth a shot. Jonathan Winters and his character Lennie Pike are high on the list for a very important reason. There’s a scene where Pike single handedly destroys an entire gas station. There is nothing left standing by the end of the rampage, and that’s honestly my favorite part of the movie. I also really loved Terry-Thomas as the British J. Algernon Hawthorne, a slimy kind of guy who has nothing nice to say about America or the people in it. Finally, whenever Sid Caesar was onscreen, it was hard not to laugh. He plays a sort of straight man dentist named Melville Crump, and seeing someone that straight laced in the middle a situation as off the wall as this is just hilarious.

Anyone who likes to laugh either already has seen or must see It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. It’s an exciting chase movie, a magnum opus of slapstick, and the ultimate conglomeration of funny people to ever grace the silver screen. After the success of this movie, Stanley Kramer went on to direct more comedies, and why wouldn’t he after showing just how good at it he actually was. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World should be on any film lover’s list for funniest movies ever made, and if it isn’t I’d have to hear why.

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The Lobster – Review

21 Jun

Let’s go back to September of 2014 when I reviewed one of the oddest movies I’ve ever seen, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth. I remember feeling like I just saw a genuine work of art and also one of the most frustrating movies ever. That frustration came from the film’s desire to make the movie make the audience think for themselves’ and interpret the story in a way that would make them feel fulfilled. Now, here we are in 2016 and Lanthimos has brought us another puzzle of a movie with The Lobster. This is a two hour long movie with a thin plot and an overabundance of symbolism and themes and motifs that would keep anyone busy for a good long while. What’s also important is the use of pure and unfiltered imagination that comes along with it.

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In the not too distant future, more stock is put into relationships than ever before. In fact, it’s illegal not to be paired with someone and the punishment is absolutely absurd. This is the situation David (Colin Farrell) faces when his wife leaves him and he is forced to go to the Hotel. This is a place where all of the single people go where they have 45 days to find a partner, and if they fail to do so, they will be turned into an animal of their own choosing and be released into the Forest. As time passes for David, he finds his situation to be hopeless and escapes into the Forest where he meets the Loners, a group of single people hunted by the people at the Hotel. One of these Loners is a short sighted woman (Rachel Weisz) that immediately is taken with David, and the two begin an affair that is forbidden amongst the Loners and that can be met with another punishment most severe.

First and foremost, I have to bring the imagination of Yorgos Lanthimos to attention. Between what I witnessed in Dogtooth and now The Lobster, it’s clear to me that this guy has a lot going on inside his head and isn’t afraid to put his outlandish thoughts into action. This film at times felt like I was reading some odd, classic science fiction story written by someone who admired Kafka with an overwhelming passion. This is a really strange movie, but Lanthimos also made the future he created somewhat believable. At first everything seemed completely absurd, but as the rules of this world were iterated and reiterated, I started to give myself up to these guidelines and went along with everything that was being said. Considering the absurdist nature of The Lobster, it’s impressive that I got on board with things so quickly.

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It’s almost an impossible task to put this movie into any sort of genre, and part of that is because there are so many components to consider. The whole idea of changing people into animals using some kind of medical procedure is textbook science fiction. What’s interesting is that they decided to leave how it happens out of the story and instead just leave it a mystery. The important thing is that it happens, not how it happens. There’s also a pretty touching, if not slightly twisted, love story at the center of the movie. Just because the movie is completely outlandish doesn’t mean that there isn’t strong, touching moments of romance. What The Lobster really is for me, though, is a darkly funny satire. It takes modern society’s need for acceptance and love and looks at the worst qualities of it. The Hotel is like Tinder from hell. I also got a huge kick out of the hollow way people talked to each other, almost like they were reading from a script of socially acceptable things to say. That just adds to the sharp satire.

I do have to point out that while The Lobster is extremely creative and full of pitch black humor, it can sometimes feel like a chore to watch. I felt the same way with Dogtooth, so it must be the deliberate slow pace that Lanthimos uses in his movies. I won’t say that I was ever bored watching this movie, but it did tire me out. The plot moves at a snail’s pace over the two hour running time, which made it feel even longer than it actually was. The first half of the movie is significantly more entertaining than the second half, but the second half introduces a lot of new themes and ways of looking at the situation. While I wasn’t having as much fun in the second hour, there was a lot of new things to think about which kept everything interesting.

The Lobster is certainly one of the strangest movies I’ve seen in a long time, and after anticipating it for so long I had very high expectations for it. It certainly did not disappoint in any department. It was funny, kind of sad, intelligent, and also full of imagination and originality. That being said, this movie is certainly not for everyone and if someone told me that they hated it, I would understand. It’s definitely something different, but it asks a lot of good questions and succeeds at immersing the viewer into a dystopian world of absurdity.

Elvis & Nixon – Review

3 May

Of all the historic photographs held in the National Archives, you might be surprised that the most requested picture of all time is of Elvis Presley shaking Richard Nixon’s hand in the Oval Office. The King of Rock n Roll and one of the most notorious presidents in American history sure make quite the duo. What’s even stranger is that there are no records to give the reason why these two American icons met in the first place. That brings us to Liza Johnson’s Elvis & Nixon, a pretty absurd comedy that offers a pretty hilarious fictionalized account and possibly reason behind the whole meeting. What I really love about this movie is that it knows what it is, and it also gives leaves some time between the absurdity to offer some interesting themes surrounding celebrity and a person’s real identity.

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In 1970, Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) still has his status as one of the biggest superstars in the world, even though his impact on the entertainment industry has declined since his earlier days. Meanwhile, President Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey) has held the presidential office for a little over a year and has his sights set on re-election. After seeing the troubles plaguing the youth of the nation, Elvis decides that he hasn’t been doing enough to make the next generations of Americans safe and prosperous. This line of thinking leads to his decision that it’s time for him to be given a federal badge and be appointed a “federal agent at large.” Armed with his golden pistols and trusty entourage (Jerry Schilling and Johnny Knoxville), Presley makes his way to Washington D.C. for what he believes will be a monumental meeting with the president of the United States.

I’ve explained this movie to some people who haven’t heard of it, and the looks on their faces as I’m talking makes me feel like I have three heads. Elvis & Nixon is, without a doubt, completely absurd. That being said, however, a lot of the events surrounding these two cultural icons are even more absurd than most of the things in this movie. There’s a part of me that believes their secret meeting might have gone a little something like it does in the movie because we all live in such a crazy world anyway. This is where I give a lot of credit to the screenwriters (one of whom happens to be the Dread Pirate Roberts, himself, Cary Elwes). The story that they’ve constructed is very silly, but there is a lot of really snappy dialogue and an understated, yet very present, grounding in reality.

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When Elvis & Nixon takes a break from the over the top scenarios and barrage of witty banter, there is time to look at the characters for who they truly are. That, I believe, is the real point to this movie. What we have are two people that couldn’t have been different from each other, and having never met one another have their own judgmental opinions of the other. It’s interesting to see the interaction when they finally do meet and the real people behind what the media has created for them is revealed. There’s one excellent scene in the movie where Elvis says when regular people walk into a room they are recognized for who they are, but when he walks into a room he is only recognized by the preconceived notions and memories that his fame created. This idea of separating a celebrity from their works to see them as a person is a pretty timeless theme and it’s handled surprisingly intelligently in this film.

Besides the premise, the two main actors were the big reason why I was excited about this movie and they did not disappoint. Michael Shannon may not look a lot like Elvis, but he seems to have mastered all of the movements and swagger of the King, and even sounds a lot like him at times. The best part of Shannon’s performance is that he never makes it over the top. He brings a subtlety to the performance that feels real, and it reminds me why he is one of my favorite actors. Speaking of my favorite actors, Kevin Spacey is hilarious as Richard Nixon. He has all the same subtlety as Shannon, and never turns Nixon into a caricature. I was concerned that Spacey would just come across as Frank Underwood from House of Cards, but he really does step away from that president and become Nixon.

What’s great about Elvis & Nixon is that it never tries to come across as more than it is. What this film is is a sometimes over the top satire of a time period, celebrity, and even politics, but done so in the most unpretentious of ways. There’s some real humanity amongst all of the jokes and absurdity, and the actors play their roles with real skill. Elvis & Nixon won’t go down as a classic or even a movie that’s going to be really remembered and discussed, but that’s ok. This is still a really good and fun movie that is well worth anyone’s time.