Friday, June 16, 2006

She Has Teh Funney

I was commenting on another blog about the dearth of really funny movies in recent years. The last bust-a-gut film I saw was The Incredibles. (A libertarian propaganda movie! Yeah!) The 40 Year Old Virgin had its moments. But I've seen a lot more (Anchorman, Waiting) that just plain weren't funny. American comedy films are probably at the lowest point they've ever been. The funniest movie I've seen recently was Korean! Save the Green Planet which, frankly, defies summarising. Absurdist horror-comedy mixed with paranoid drama and action.

So I rented Sarah Silverman's Jesus is Magic with some trepidation. Mostly I rented it because she's smokin' hot and I've seen some of her stand-up, which was OK. Generally I'm leery of this kind of "I am so smart" comedy. It usually isn't. "Edgy" doesn't mean all that much anymore. If someone isn't willing to make fun of Allah and Mohammed, but does tired old comedy about Christians and whites, then you really can't call them edgy any more.

But this concert movie wrapped in filmed bits got me laughing. The analytical part of me could see the schtick, the planning of the set-ups (that's the part I used to turn off with drugs and alcohol) but she's funny enough, and smart and, mostly, pretty fearless within the confines of her topics. AIDS, the Holocaust, stereotypes, sex, etc.

Best bit, oddly enough, was on the DVD extras. It was the video for her Jewish Christmas lament, "Give the Jew Girl Toys." (Think Adam Sandler's Hannukah song.) Some choice lyrical bits:
I hate to say it Santa,
But you're acting like a dick.
You should give presents to everyone who's good
And not just to your personal clique....

Though I don't think he's the Son of God,
I think he was still a nice boy.
If you ask yourself, "What Would Jesus Do?"
He'd say "Give the Jew girl toys."
Give the Jew girl toys....

You made a list
And I checked it twice.
And there is no one named Silverman
Or Moscowitz or Weiss.

You have a list.
Well, Schindler did too.
Liam Neeson played him;
Tim Allen played you!
Oh yeah.
Be careful if you go to download this, as the lyrics I didn't use may be blasphemous to some. Me, I thought it terriby sweet in a twisted way, hilarious and pointed.

While watching the song for the umpteenth time, it finally hit me what part of her charm is. She's got echoes of Gilda Radner! Gilda was a member of the original cast of Saturday Night Live. She had an innocence and sweetness that never seemed artificial, even though she could be just as filthy and biting as any of the others. Silverman has that same quality of unforced sweetness that pops up in unexpected moments. It's part of what makes the outrageousness of the rest of her act palatable. She seems guileless, painfully honest in a painless way.

And holey-moley is she smokin' hot! If any Jewish women who look like her are looking for a goi-boi, give me a call.

And I'm still stuck looking for great American comedy! The most reliable thing I've found in the past decade have been the Christopher Guest films like Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, especially that last. It's still self-consciously "smart" but they are all good enough improv actors to really pull it out. (Guest mentioned in the commentary to one film that they recorded 80 hours to get 2 hours of movie!) On the other hand, the lyrics to "A Mighty Wind" crack me up, and the "Children of the Sun" video is an amazing Sixties psychedelic recreation.

Kevin Smith is pretty close, though his capper to the Jersey trio, Jersey Girl, I refuse to see. Still, Clerks is genius and there are guaranteed hilarious moments all the way through Dogma. If you haven't seen it, but count yourself a Smith fan, then absolutely see An Evening With Kevin Smith, which is two hours of him speaking at various college campuses about films, his life, Jay and making movies. He's spell-binding in the way that Spalding Gray (Anyone remember him?) could be, utterly making you forget you're watchng a guy on stage as he paints pictures in your mind.

Speaking of Smith, allow me a digression. Chasing Amy is on my personal top ten list of favorite movies. It's not so much that it's funny, although it is in the usual Smith way. (ie. dick and fart jokes; raunchy sexual humor, juvenilia, etc.) But it's starkly honest and unflinching in its portrayal of how regular people screw up their love lives. The speech his "Silent Bob" character gives late in the movie, explaining the title's meaning to Ben Affleck, just nailed me to my chair the first time, and still haunts me every time I see it. And the movie dares to be faithful to its characters and the trajectory they put themselves on, no matter the outcome or cost. Everyone ends up sadder but wiser, and even though it hurts it's the perfect ending.

I rather liked Hugh Grant's About A Boy, oddly enough, but not John Cusack's High Fidelity, which came from the same novelist. American romantic comedy is so predictable and charmless. You know the guy/girl always will get the girl/guy. And everything in between is contrived, hysterical (in the worst way) and crude.

What else? Ah, Swingers! Not so much a comedy as a funny movie. Guy doesn't get girl but in not doing so he finds true love just the same. Heather Graham's big debut, as the blonde in the poodle skirt, and I just keep being both happy for and jealous of Jon Favreau's character for finding her. The movie's more of a string of adventures than fully plotted, but Vince Vaughn's repeated cries of "Money, baby! You are so money!" and the film's neo-Rat Pack atmosphere just work for me.

I saw The Royal Tenebaums and kept thinking how I should be finding it funny and how I ought to be laughing. But it never fully clicked until the play at the end.

I'm trying to think of funny movies as I'm writing and I'm drawing a blank. I really love fast, zippy dialogue. (Remember Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night television series?) That's why I love British humor so much. (Blackadder, or movies like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, The Snapper or Janice Beard 45 WPM) Or sharp satire or wacky absurdity. (Monty Python!)

And I haven't even gotten to Japanese or Korean horror films, or Hong Kong action pictures. Or Takeshi Miike! Ooooh, don't get me started about his films. The guy can crank out four movies a year sometimes. If the first ten minutes of Dead or Alive don't completely fry your mind with its dazzling pyrotechnics, I don't want to know you.

I used to do reviews of the movies I watched. Heaven knows there's been a bunch I've seen I'd love to tell y'all about: Marebito (Japanese vampire / horror / psycho-existential film), Primer (reality time travel!), Killing Words (Spanish "marriage as torture" film), Premonition (Japanese version of Groundhog Day played as horror), Songs From the Second Floor (Swedish absurdist, end of the world, Kafka-esque movie), They Came Back (French intellectual zombie movie), Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Korean, about the lengths men will go to for vengeance, and its consequences; nerve-breaking and haunting) and Oldboy (its sort-of followup; same theme but much flashier and the consequences are much more sickening), Ong Bak (astonishing Thai martial arts movie; no wires!), Fallen Angels (sad view of the underside of life in Hong Kong; visually beautiful), Whispering Corridors (Japanese haunted girl's school), A Tale of Two Sisters (Korean horror again; the movie plays completely straight with you but it's not until very late that you realise what's been going on and what the title means!), and a hundred more!

But they're a lot of work. For instance, I wanted to do a review of Shaolin Soccer (Chinese film by Stephen Chow) but I watched the movie three times and I took something like five pages of notes! After that, writing the review wasn't fun any more but just work. Still, it's a hilarious, heart-warming, jaw-dropping movie that mixes Chinese martial arts and great comedy very deftly. You should rent it now! The final soccer match will leave you howling and rolling on the floor. Then rent its follow-up, Kung Fu Hustle, which is even sillier.

Hey, I once wrote a 4000 word review of Japanese obscurity Battle Royale that still gets hits every day! I'm proud of that one. But that's just me. (More here. Great movie, BTW.)

Anyway, this has rambled enough. Summary: Sarah Silverman -- smokin' hot; American comedy -- not so much; foreign films -- lots of treasure awaiting discovery.

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