Category Archives: Comedy

#35 – Petit Ombré, Le (Little Shadow)

(1962, Fr, 50 min) Dir Alexander Illienko.

Another marvel from Illienko, the first following his relocation from the Ukraine to Paris and only the second of three films he would ever make. The ‘Petite Ombré’ of the title is a sentient umbrella that seemingly drops from the clear blue Paris skies and proceeds to flit about the streets, causing mischief wherever it goes. It’s essentially a silent film in that there is no dialogue, just the sounds of the street and the umbrella’s schoolgirl giggling. It all leads to some fantastic slapstick worthy of the silent masters. In one sequence the whole of a street with its half dozen market stalls is turned into an elaborate Rube Goldberg style cause and effect contraption by the umbrella brushing its handle against a mere lemon. Just as there’s no real beginning to the film there is also no real end – the umbrella simply makes to the skies once again at the end, off to cause mischief somewhere else no doubt. A seriously playful film whose occasional visible strings only add to the charm. Despite winning the Golden Star at the Paris Festival de Fantasie and garnering general praise it would be another nine years before Illienko made it to the big screen once again.

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#34 – ’68

(1982, GB, 102 min) Dir Michael Apted. Cast Alfred Molina, Paul McGann, Alexi Sayle.

British film about a young man called David (a scouse Molina) trying to hitch from Liverpool to Paris in the year of the riots so that he can join in with the revolution but it takes him half of the film to get to Dover. Along the way to Paris he meets a young actor who thinks that he’s Jesus, “the original revolutionary” (McGann), an Italian opera singing truck driver (Sayle, who co-wrote) and, once he gets across the channel, a car filled with a nervous French family, at which point we realise that along with the handicap of his naïve politicking, that the young man speaks no French. Of course by the time he gets to Paris the rioting is done and the cobblestones are back in place – not that that stops him being brained by le flics he annoys with his ranting and being tossed into the nearest cell along with a terrifying young bruiser called Phillipe (a young Denis Lavant). A film that looks back at the person it was before and being embarrassed about it whilst simultaneously reminiscing wistfully on the subject. An interesting film of its time about the time before that forms a kind of a hall of mirrors of cultural self-regard.

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#32 – S.P.O.T.S.

(2013, US, 117 min) Dir Roger Bertle. Cast Elle Fanning, Will Poulter, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ed Harris, Sam Elliott.

“S.P.O.T.S. stands for Special Protection Organisation, Teenage Service,” says Sam Elliott’s General Macey, pacing before his new adolescent recruits, “And yes, we did do that on purpose. So what is it for, this organisation? Well let me tell you – if we were to send in a bus full of students into North Korea or Iran on a cross-cultural exchange then nobody would bat an eyelid, not really. If those students were to be highly trained assassins? Well then, that’d be an advantage, wouldn’t it? The perfect cover for the perfect killers.” Think Kick-Ass meets Mission: Impossible. Will Poulter’s troubled Danny is spirited away to the S.P.O.T.S. training camp following the death of his parents and finds himself being trained as the ‘Cleaner’ for his assassin’s cell that includes Fanning’s trained killer Mindy and Brodie-Sangster’s tech head Patch. Their mission, following the obligatory training montage, is to use a school trip to the fictional Eastern European country of Ezkhazia to kill its West-unfriendly premier who is played by Ed Harris and, despite all appearances and biographical similarities, is definitely not Vladimir Putin. No sir. Ex-ad man Bertle’s flashy, bubbly direction and the film’s appealing leads helps to ease the moral issues of the ensuing underage bloodbath even though the whole thing’s totally reprehensible.

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#27 – Burakku kokoro sanzoku (Black Heart Bandits)

(1976, Jap, 76 min) Dir Taku. Cast Mitsuo Ibaraki, Gen Otori, Anna Shimura.

Japanese biker gang movie cashing in on the rise of bōsōzoku subculture in Japan in the seventies. Hideo is a gawky, nerdish young man with a small motorbike that’s more like a scooter. He has a big dream though – to cast off his studies and become a member of the legendary criminal biker gang the Black Heart Bandits. One night, by sheer coincidence, he meets their leader – the cool, black clad and perpetually sunglasses wearing Ichi – and of course he uses the opportunity to beg for a place among the crew. Ichi – who isn’t one for charity I’m guessing – says yes, but only when he has passed his initiation. His first task is running the gauntlet of the local girl gang, the Pink Heart Bandits, which ends with him at the wrong end of a chain whipping coupled with a zealous helping of sexual humiliation. His trials escalate to drug smuggling and murder, the film ending with his gruesome demise at the wrong end of a stick of dynamite. The first in the six entry series revolving around the gang and as psychedelic, flimsy and comically sadistic as the rest. A great theme tune too.

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#26 – Can You Do What Doobie Do?

(1966, US, 72 min) Dir William Asher. Cast Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Susan Hart, Luciana Paluzzi.

Made at the decline of the beach party movie, CYDWDD betrays no shortage of spirit for this and in fact has more of an anything goes attitude than anything else. Fabian and Avalon are Hank and Randy, rivals for king of the beach who put their differences to one side when the big house on the dune is rented out by a quartet of British musicians. The band is The Weevils and they’re adorably mop-topped and skinny trousered – that’s right, the American insecurity of having their rock and roll music stolen from them has made it to the beach party movie. Much to Hank and Randy’s chagrin the girls are just head over heels for these guys and they have to battle on the beach to get them back via surf contests, dance-offs, you name it. Everything goes in The Weevils’ favour until Hank and Randy pull out their big gun – the titular Doobie Do, who is a dancing, surfing rock and roll chimp (and is obviously a man in a suit). It’s all very tongue in cheek and more like a parody of the genre than anything else, down to wacky cameos from horror maestros Boris Karloff and Vincent Price.

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#25 – Ti Fac

(2009, Ire, 84 min) Dir Phil Neeson. Cast Phil Neeson, Patrick O’Shannon, Aoife MacMurrough.

Irish mockumentary about a Gaelic language wannabe gangsta rapper who tours the Gaeltacht of the west of Ireland plying his wares and being very street. This is very much in the Borat vein of things with lead actor Neeson (of the occasionally controversial late-night comedy group The Black and Tans) actually touring the far west of the country in character between staged comedy moments to regale audiences with his hits Slán go Fóill, Dia Dhuit/Dia is Muire Dhuit and Cá Bhfuil an Leithreas? In case you’re not in the know these songs are composed entirely in the most basic Gaelic (the titles meaning, respectively, Goodbye, Hello and Where’s the Toilet?) which means Ti Fac is either run out of town as the charlatan he is or finds his hosts straining to retain their civility in the face of it all. The film’s climax is a performance from his compatriot, the oafish Lig Dom, with his grotesquely offensive rap opus Níl ach Braon Beag Fola Ort (which translates as There is Only a Little Blood and whose meaning I’ll leave to your imagination). You’ll get more from the film if you’ve a working knowledge of the language but it’s not essential. Funny stuff even if the point of some of the mockery, beyond the bravado of it all, seems a little less than clear.

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#9 – Yubi o tobasu! (Finger Flying!)

(1967, Japan, 98 min, b/w) Dir Shōgorō Nishimura. Cast Hiroshi Minami, Haruo Tanaka, Anna Shimura.

A Yakuza comedy – if that’s a genre – about an accident prone underling named Shiri (Minami) who starts the film drunk and showing off to the viewer the stumped, fingerless hands he holds his sake cup with. The rest of the film is made up of flashbacks showing how he shamed himself and lost his fingers, by being beaten up by a Shinjuku prostitute when shaking her down for payment, being so inept at bribing a police officer that he gets himself arrested, allowing himself to get drugged and then smashing up a pachinko parlour and, last but not least, getting his group embroiled in a turf war. Each vignette ends with Shiri sitting dolefully with the knife and chopping board before him, before cutting to the outside of the building where only his cries can be heard. A strange mix of slapstick and sleaze, the film was rumoured to have been among Seijun Suzuki’s proposed follow-ups to Branded to Kill before he was dismissed from Nikkatsu although this speculation has been denied by Suzuki himself. Though Nishimura is outside of his Roman porno comfort zone (where he directed the likes of the wonderfully named Confessions of an Adolescent Wife: Climax!) he handles the action competently.

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#8 – Taste of Love, A

(2011, US, 110 min) Dir Marc Lawrence. Cast Hugh Grant, Katherine Heigl, Elizabeth Moss, Chris Pratt, Stanley Tucci.

Culinary romcom. Heigl – who is of course clumsy and unlucky in love – decides to go with her heart, packs in her job in some sort of an office and signs up for the notoriously difficult Culinarian school under the tutelage of Hugh Grant’s Gordon Ramsay Douglas Thatchell. He’s a hard taskmaster – sweary, volatile and fond of throwing things – but, wouldn’t you know it, he has a sensitive side, no doubt born from some past heartbreak to be revealed once Heigl’s peeled him like a big angry onion. Of course the road to the inevitable doesn’t run smooth and, along with her comic relief classmates Moss and Pratt (both stealing what they can of the show), Heigl has to cope with soufflé and blowtorch related mishaps en route to the high stakes finale of their end of year show where the dishes will be judged by Tucci’s snobbish broadsheet reviewer. While this is certainly no feast it’s a passable confection, though one with a high sugar content.

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#7 – När jag föddes en Canary (When I was born a Canary)

(1983, Swe, 69 min) Dir Tomas Kinnaman.

The heart-tugging tale of the life of a canary as narrated, in a droll and deadpan voiceover, by said canary as he passes his life from one cage to another, ruminating on his circumstances as they occur and on the meaning of life in general. He is born in a pet shop, lives in the apartment of an arguing couple (and their interested cat) before moving to the country as the pet of a young girl who names him Nils and sets him free. He comes back, of course, after a night among the branches of a tree when he finds out exactly how big the world outside his cage is and how small he is in it. By the last moments, after Nils has been found dead at the bottom of his cage and his voice is gone from the soundtrack, when he is buried in a little box in the back garden by the weeping child – if anyone isn’t crying themselves at that point then they have no emotions and are possibly an alien.

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#3 – Commander in Beef

(1993, US, 105 min) Dir Andy Farmer. Cast Jim Varney, Jon Lovitz, Heather Locklear, Charlton Heston.

Daft candy coloured ‘satire’. An irate farmer (Varney), angry at the corrupt local governor, puts forward his award-winning heifer Daisy as a candidate in the upcoming elections. Despite the odds – and thanks to a century old legal loophole – Daisy is indeed elected and thus the ball is rolling for her ascension to the highest office in the land with all sides hoping to gain, from cynical journalists out for a story to corrupt politicians using her to score points off their rivals. Heston, as her main opponent, surprisingly emerges with his dignity intact, despite a prolonged scene where he has to endure a televised debate with the beast, a scene that now stirs memories of Clint Eastwood’s chair talking escapades. Like Daisy though, this film is mostly toothless – a daffy enterprise neither funny nor insightful enough to be of much use for anything. It’s too dull for the Disney crowd and lacking the requisite bile for a satire and ends up falling between more stools than a greased drunkard.

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