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'Annie Hall' and Woody Allen's Experimental Visual Film Style

The prospect of writing about Woody Allen has loomed large over my writing since the inception of this column last year for many reasons. First, I hold the non-unique position in considering him the greatest comedic director to ever work. Second, the last year has not been particularly friendly to Mr. Allen press-wise and I had little interest in stepping in those murky waters. However, it remains important that Allen is one of the most influential comedic directors and probably the most respected by the academy and The Academy and given that his new (not particularly inspiring seeming) film is coming out later this month, it seemed high [...]

How Nicholas Stoller Grounds 'Neighbors', 'Get Him to the Greek', and His Other Comedies in Real Life

Early in Neighbors, a new comedy by Nicholas Stoller, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), stuck in their carefully planned adult home with their new baby, Facetime with their single party-girl friend (Carla Gallo) while she prepares to attend, attends, and comes down from the “craziest rave she’s ever been to.” Throughout the scene, when they receive the calls we see the familiar shape of the iPhone appear in a corner of the screen and Gallo’s face smushed into the rectangular frame, giving the viewer the sensation of actually Facetimeing with the character. The structure and style of this interaction seems to encompass all of the visual and dramatic [...]

The Duplass Brothers and Bringing the Lo-Fi Mumblecore Aesthetic to Mainstream Hollywood

With the recent mainstream indie success of Mumblecore pioneers Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies and Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess, it seems the poorly named but important movement has officially come of age. In the mid-2000s, the films and filmmakers broadly lumped into the sometimes pejorative term “Mumblecore”, were often low-budget, low-production value films with non-professional actors navigating the conflicts and relationships of middle-class white male Americans in their late 20s.

Mark and Jay Duplass’ first film, The Puffy Chair, is a quintessential Mumblecore entry. Low-concept, relationship drama-driven, and heavy on the zoom button, the film mixes the unpredictability and reality of a documentary with the character malleability of a narrative in [...]

How 'Family Guy' Gets the Comedic Cutaway So Wrong

By now, the cutaway has become a television comedy staple, allowing programs to reveal information, flashback, build on a joke, or direct-address the camera among other options. The cutaway, an abrupt break in continuity editing, (which as mentioned previously here is editing that allows multiple shots to appear as if they are happening continuously on the same spatial and temporal plane) is useful and oft-used in the visual comedy toolkit because it can suddenly subvert the pacing of a scene or add information for a joke or punchline without losing dramatic focus. Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy has positioned itself as the immediate point of reference when discussing the [...]

Mel Brooks and His Wonderful Rejection of Subtlety

Back in a time when our primary source of film-watching outside the movie theatre involved a trip to a video store, it was much harder to be a young boy curious about what might exist beyond the G-rated family comedies we would watch on Sunday nights (my family would do this “picnic style” which meant putting down a dirty blanket in our suburban finished basement, ordering chinese food, and eating on the floor while we watched). One day my parents allowed me to attend a friend’s birthday party where we would be watching Mel Brooks’ R-rated film, Blazing Saddles, perhaps just pleased that we weren’t going to watch one [...]

David Wain and His Parodies of Exuberance

There are many ways to go about parodying a form, however from Mel Brooks’ smug send-ups to Nathan Fielder’s biting critique of the types of non-fiction programming available on modern TV, most of these attempts hardly come from a place of love. With Brooks and his ilk such as the Zucker/Abraham team, nothing is treated as too sacred to be made a mockery of with a oft-insensitive joke. Fielder is so mean-spirited in his treatment of the laymen he claims to attempt to be helping that my tricks-averse girlfriend cringed her way through one episode of Nathan For You with me before shooting me a look of severe disapproval and [...]

David Gordon Green and the Serious Foundations of His Comedies

If, in the year 2007, a reader wanted content on the films of David Gordon Green, a comedy website would hardly have been their first stop. At that time Green and his North Carolina School of the Arts production team had produced four small, subdued, critically-acclaimed indies in George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow, and Snow Angels. It was considered a prolific output from a promising, Roger Ebert-approved, young American auteur primed to follow in the footsteps of indie pioneers like Soderberg and Linklater before him. This is all to say that when Green signed on to direct Pineapple Express, a broad stoner comedy from the Apatow factory, the [...]

Applying the Auteur Theory to Kevin Smith

In the early '90s American Indie boom, auteurs like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh emerged into the zeitgeist with personal, low-budget projects that ultimately  came to inform a larger body of work that made them the important film personalities they are today. In this same Sundance-fueled era, a 24-year-old Kevin Smith premiered his first film, Clerks. With the industry support of Harvey Weinstein and the critical support of the New York Times and Janet Maslin, Kevin Smith bullied his way into the rising star director conversation. His follow up films, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma led to the creation of a connected Kevin Smith universe, or, the "View-Askewniverse" as [...]

The Evolution of 'SNL's Pretaped Sketches and Digital Shorts

Andy Samberg and the Lonely Island were not the first to produce pre-recorded material for Saturday Night Live. The show has a long tradition of commercial parodies, short films by directors like Albert Brooks and Tom Schiller, and animated work like Robert Smigel’s TV Funhouse sketches. They weren’t even the first to use the “SNL Digital Short” tag. What they did do, was usher SNL into the age of digital online content in a time when it needed to tap into that relevance more than ever. And because they were able to tap into the early rising of the online video tide, as well as produce work prodigiously [...]

Paul Feig, 'Bridesmaids', and Comedy with a "Feminine Sensibility"

Starting with the creation of his breakout sitcom, Freaks and Geeks, and the lead character of Lindsay Weir, Paul Feig has said publicly and shown in his work that he prefers a “feminine sensibility” in his comedy. His role as the auteur for the female comedic actress has been cemented in recent years with his back-to-back critical and box office successes, Bridesmaids and The Heat, and has helped to launch the careers of his stars and supporting players, particularly Melissa McCarthy. So then what is it about Feig’s storytelling and directing style that is so suitable for women performers? Primarily, the answer is that Feig is actively rebelling against [...]

How the Visual Direction of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton Inform Today's Comedies

Many of those with whom I interact on the internet have sent me this fantastic video essay by Tony Zhou in which he eviscerates the experience of watching many popular and successful American comedies for their lack of visual inventiveness. He then goes on to perfectly show why Edgar Wright (dir. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, World’s End, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) is an exemplar of comedy direction due to his focus on actually framing exciting, active, and funny frames.

Zhou goes on to break down the tenets of Edgar Wright’s frame that to him, allow for increased visual comedy. Those are: 1) Entering the frame in [...]

Does FX's 'Fargo' Keep the Original's Darkness While Losing the Comedy?

Many words have been written this week about Tuesday’s premiere of the FX eponymous miniseries adaptation of Fargo, particularly in regards to its faithfulness to the classic and nearly universally adored Coen Brothers original. Critics seem to agree that the show, with the Coen Brothers blessing represented in the form of an Executive Producer credit, is faithful in setting and in certain character similarities to the film, but it is mostly not attempting to be an adaptation at all. Rather, it is its own set of stories that take place in the same snow-covered, “you betcha” oeuvre and the various criminals — hapless to exacting — that inhabit and pass [...]

How 'The Lego Movie' Manages to Keep a Bunch of Plates Spinning All at Once

While you certainly don't need me to tell you that the number one movie in the country three weeks running is a success, The Lego Movie seems to have struck a Pixar-esque chord in even the most skeptical corners of the internet. A certain amount of goodwill was always going to be garnered by the sheer novelty of seeing many people's favorite childhood toys (and I would suspect a disproportionate amount of people writing about pop culture on the internet) animated to life, but that same goodwill seemed potentially doomed to be destroyed by those shouting that we were just being suckered into paying for a 90-minute [...]

How Lena Dunham's Directing Style Makes 'Girls' More Emotionally Resonant – and More Polarizing

At some point in the last two years it became a legal requirement in the United States to have an opinion about Lena Dunham. So, here is mine: Lena Dunham, the ultimate multi-hyphenate, is a tremendously skilled filmmaker. She also fits perfectly in the original mission of this column, in that while she is often more lauded, or at least more recognized, for her writing and acting work, her skills and choices as a director actually allow her to perfectly convey what she tries to do in Girls and her earlier work. Just as in her writing, her filmmaking choices are pitch-perfect in portraying perfectly timed humor, sadness, vulnerability, and [...]