Category Archives: Comedy

#240 – Dr Chew

(1988, US, 105min) Dir Hank Hogart. Cast Ernest Borgnine, Rudy Shipman, Alison Price.

An ignominious end for the hard-bitten Hank Hogart, whose career spanned the tail end of the silent era to the dark heart of the family friendly eighties, ending here in the bargain basement of kid’s flicks with Dr Chew, a film about a dog who is also, somehow, a doctor. The film is dreck by the way – just in case my brief synopsis gave the impression that it was anything other than a filmic abomination. At this stage of his career Hogart’s declining health became a serious impediment to his continued employment being blind in one eye (following an accident with an exploding steamroller on the set of The Invalidator) and partially sighted in the other on top of losing his speech following a stroke the year before. According to Borgnine, a long-time friend of the director, the production was understandably prolonged and difficult as a result, with Hogart spending the entire production in his director’s chair (having refused a wheelchair on principal), puffing his way through a seemingly endless supply of black Bolivian cigars and scrawling his instructions onto a flip chart with a felt pen where they would be interpreted by Mitzi Feb, his sixth wife, and passed on to the crew. According to Borgnine, “He couldn’t talk but he could still swear” and as a result he was deemed unfit to direct the child actors who were kept no less than ten feet from him at all times. Hogart and Feb divorced the following year and Hobart died the year after that, three days following his marriage to nineteen year old exotic dancer Alison Flippers.

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#238 – Moshi Moshi

(1951, Jap, 125 min, b/w) Dir Haruko Miyaguchi. Cast Setsuko Hara, Kuniko Miyake, Rentarō Mikuni.

Setsuko Hara, lovely as always, is Michiyo, a switchboard operator for a company in Tokyo. One day she receives a call from one of the new young executives, Ken Okamoto (Mikuni), and after a brief conversation she falls in love with him, sight unseen. Before long however her heart is broken when she finds herself juggling calls from both his wife and his mistress. Turning the situation to her advantage she elects to blackmail him with her knowledge so that he will take her out on a date. Once she has laid eyes on him she realises how foolish she had been and promptly leaves. Unfortunately for her the brief meeting was all it took for young Ken to fall head over heels in love with her and before she knows it she is fending off his advances from one side and defending herself against his aggrieved mistress on the other. A typical black comedy from Miyaguchi, often called the ‘Japanese Billy Wilder’, though Moshi Moshi was in fact a rare flop for him upon it’s release, some say due to the fact that the normally pure hearted Hara was cast so far against type.

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#236 – Herself

(1978, Ire, 100 min) Dir Fergal Kerney. Cast John Conlon, Marina Wheeler, Conan O’Connell.

Young Jimmy’s being brought up by his father in small town Ireland, his mother having died when he was a small boy. Apart from this his childhood is pretty run of the mill – he’s bored in school, fishes in the local river, reads comics in bed by torchlight while his drunk father sleeps in front of the television. Then one morning he comes downstairs to find the Virgin Mary in his kitchen, preparing a fry for Jimmy and his father while in her full blue and white regalia and he can’t believe his eyes. She dispenses a few words of wisdom, a few of encouragement, and once the food is cooked makes off, up through the kitchen ceiling, leaving Jimmy’s dad to come in, impressed with his son for having knocked up breakfast for his hung-over father. Of course Jimmy says nothing and spends his time from then on longing for her to return. He also takes to carrying a picture of her around with him which is of course discovered by his schoolmates who take the mickey out of him for “fancying Jesus’ Mammy”. This gets back to his schoolteachers and there’s a hilarious scene in which the local priest attempts to split the notion of romance and the love of God without mentioning divinity and carnality in the same sentence. A sweet and inoffensive wee film that was nonetheless banned in its home country for some time.

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#232 – Sometime Stewart, Maybe

(1992, US, 98 min) Dir Jackson Harvey. Cast Phillip Milk, Angela Patrick, Leslie Sophie.

The US indie world pre-Tarantino was the land where deadpan reigned – think Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley, Whit Stillman. But none panned deader than Jackson Harvey – his characters were rendered so inert by their ennui that they could have woken in bed next to an expired alpaca without troubling their eyebrows for a raise. The titular Stewart in this his feature debut (following his acclaimed short Whoopee) has just graduated from University and has moved back home to live with his parents toting nothing but a black bin bag full of soiled clothes and an already framed degree in ‘Applied Philosophy’. When he’s not sleepless in bed, staring disconsolately at his bedroom ceiling (an activity he pursues a lot), he’s down at the local drugstore mooning over Olivia (a statuesque, striking and scary Patrick) and hoping that his persistence will transmute into her affections. Despite possessing what he believes to be a soaring intelligence he’s not above having his adoration abused as he becomes, over time, Olivia’s unquestioning slave. Of course there is a second woman, the timid and mousey Frances (Sophie), who watches all this sadly, her declarations varying from subtle to hilariously obvious throughout the film but consistently met with obliviousness by Stewart. Rough around the edges and generic enough in it’s day, …Maybe still marked Harvey out as a director to watch.

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#229 – Astonishing Transparent Man, The

(1958, GB, 99 min) Dir Henry Phillips Breech. Cast Peter Cushing, Alison Lucy, Alex C Bream.

When Albert Meeler (Cushing, with typical gravitas) is accidentally subjected to a large dose of ‘X Radiation’ in the lab he works he soon finds himself see through. That’s right, he has become transparent but not invisible – apparently someone then owned the rights to the story of a man inflicted with invisibility. If you’re so desperate to make a film about a man who has become invisible to go to these semantic lengths then you must need to bring something new to the table. In this instance Albert is totally pleased to have become invisible (sorry, transparent) and instead of railing against his separation from society the rest of the film follows his attempts to leave civilisation behind. Of course he finds himself thwarted at every turn – how can he drive himself to the middle of nowhere where he can live an ascetic life when a car that is apparently driving itself draws so much attention? How can he buy food or even steal it when it appears to everyone else that loaves of bread and that are floating clean through the air? Unable to overcome such logistics for long the films end finds Albert still among society, using his transparency to survive on the detritus of the visible. Basically a feature length Twilight Zone episode, it’s an amusing tale with a bittersweet end.

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#228 – Vacances de Morts Vivants, Les (Holiday of the Living Dead, The)

(2011, Fr, 108 min) Dir Jack Vitesse. Cast Swann Nambotin, Frédéric Pierrot, Géraldine Pailhas.

French zombie comedy set on the French Riviera. Pascal’s travels with his family to the town of Piabo for the summer. Piebo, a former sleepy fishing village on a remote spit of land, is now a vacation complex that lines the coast, an island of luxury that looms over the modest houses of it’s year-round residents. Young Pascal, a shy and quiet young man, doesn’t want to join the resort’s youth groups for enforced fun so he pretends to his parents that he’s participating but instead amuses himself by exploring the many nooks and crannies of the complex – the backroom staircases for example, or the labyrinth of air conditioning passageways. As he amuses himself however he begins to see things that suggest to him that all is not well at the heart of Piebo – a chef who has been tethered to an armchair where he froths at the mouth and writhes with an almost supernatural strength, a family of tourists with a strange illness marched into one of the walk in freezers where there are imprisoned. Something is going on and the owners of the Piabo Hotel don’t want anyone to panic. How can Pascal let anyone know without giving up his lie? When will people be roused from their relaxations to notice those among them who have been reduced to brain-dead cannibals? A lively, subversive comedy blessed with some great locations from Jack Vitesse, the one time enfant terrible of the cinéma du look (see Homme du sous-terre, Les) who seems to have developed an affinity for plot in the intervening years.

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#227 – Conway Sharon

(2014, US, 94 min) Dir Jackson Harvey. Cast Adam Sandler, Steve Buscemi, Seth Rogan, Elizabeth Banks, Gregg Turkington.

Though it mightn’t sound like much of an endorsement the pitch black comedy Conway Sharon contains undoubtedly the best performance of Adam Sandler’s career and I know, the competition’s just fierce. The rich, lazy and boorish comic plays the titular Conway Sharon, a rich, lazy and boorish trust fund child, as he mooches around his father’s huge estate while said father succumbs to the cancer that is killing him. He whiles away his time getting high, getting drunk, Googling ‘Vomit Porn’ and being rude to his father’s nurse (Buscemi), his younger brother and his wife (Rogan and Banks) and the family lawyer (Turkington). While I’ve never found Sandler’s onscreen personality very likable (even when it was apparently intended to be) it’s interesting seeing him push the more abrasive parts of his personality to this extreme, projecting an almost totally affectless blank while he violently insults all those around them. His relationship with his father isn’t elaborated upon but there are some very strange scenes between them, the most fraught with tension being at the very end when Conway, wearing nothing but shorts and a baseball cap and sweating from shooting hoops on the basketball court, a can of Pabst Blue Label in one hand, stands over his dying father, watching him. Panting, he slowly brings his face closer and closer to his unconscious fathers until his breath is so close its stirring his hair, all without the mask slipping. A very unsettling ending to a very strange film. Of course it made less than no money and of course he was straight back to the warm embrace of Blended etcetera straight after but it’s of some satisfaction to see the indie king of deadpan Jackson Harvey nudging at the mainstream just a little.

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Twitter: @MadeUpFilms