Splitsider

 
0

The Subtle Brilliance of Jill Soloway's 'Transparent'

transparentTransparent, Amazon’s foray into the Netflix-infested waters of quality internet binge watching, is deservedly the most critically-lauded show of this Fall television season (and was just renewed for a second season). Created by writer/director Jill Soloway (writer/producer Six Feet Under and The United States of Tara, writer/director Afternoon Delight, which won a directing award at Sundance in 2013), the show centers around the Pfefferman family, an affluent Jewish LA clan whose patriarch Mort (Jeffrey Tambor) comes out as transgender and begins to live as Maura in her late 60s.

Directed mostly by Soloway herself, (with the exception of three, credited to Nisha Ganatra), the direction in the show is strong and incredibly consistent, marked by what Emily Nussbaum refers to in her piece on the show in The New Yorker as “mildly funky pacing” of the current era of indie film/TV direction stylistic crossovers we are seeing particularly in comedy, with shows like Girls and Louie. However, a key difference between Transparent and those other shows is that Soloway is not a character, neither in physical or representational form. Rather, Soloway knows all of her characters extremely well, she knows them like family, and in the way one knows family, she allows them to speak for themselves and expose their own flaws. She is not at all precious about her characters and at times early in the series she can be downright misanthropic, allowing the whole ensemble (minus the consistently heartbreaking, inspiring, astonishing Maura) to tread deeper and deeper toward the brink of unlikability.

In the reviews and recaps I’ve read on the show, the word “lingering” stood out to me in multiple instances as a way to describe Soloway’s democratically observational directorial style. “All the while Soloway’s direction manages to capture that careful empathy as her camera lingers over intimate moments…”, writes Eric Thurm in his review for The A/V Club. It is an accurate way to represent Soloway’s choices. The camera is often too far from or too close to its characters. It has a loose, ethereal quality to it that makes the viewer feel like it we are capturing small moments rather than staged hallmark events. The closeness allows the viewer into the mental space of the viewer and the distance allows the viewer to see the world of the characters rather than the world of the filmmaker. READ MORE

0

What Does it Mean to Direct an Adam Sandler Movie?

jackandjillThe Adam Sandler assembly line began production in 1995 with Billy Madison and has since churned out over 20 films under the Happy Madison Productions outfit starring Sandler in his well-versed comic persona of the well-meaning, flawed, likable schlub. Sandler’s brand is a veritable cottage industry, almost operating like a mini-studio, attaching him and his team of writers and producers to his projects and the smaller projects of his friends. Yet, despite the films orbiting around Sandler and having massive control over their image and tone, Sandler himself has never had a director credit on his own project or any other for that matter. That distinction has been credited to a revolving door of recurring directors throughout his career. Despite this, there is a consistency to the way Sandler’s films look and feel. It is almost as if Happy Madison operates like Sandler’s career is just one continuous television program and directors-for-hire are brought in to maintain consistency.

So then what does it mean to direct an Adam Sandler film? Most of the works in his filmography are categorized by some range of Sandler’s character in the center, surrounded by wackier characters, a chaotic environment, and an ingenue who has her heart won by Sandler’s schlubby goof. In this formula, often written and/or produced by Sandler himself, he needs to stand out in the center as the object around which the world of the film orbits. The judgement of every other character is seen through the worldview of Sandler’s character. In Happy Gilmore, despite his anger issues, Happy sticks it to the uptight, overly competitive golf world by bringing in some working-class flare. The uptight other golfers, particularly Shooter McGavin, come off toolish and stiff in comparison, making Happy’s flaws seem likeable and appealing. This same formula of characterization holds true in Billy Madison, Big Daddy, The Waterboy, Mr. Deeds, Little Nicky, etc. The job of a Sandler director, therefore, is to manage the world around Sandler so Sandler’s comedy can stand out in contrast most clearly. The role of the Happy Madison director is to be a yes man. READ MORE

0

Is 'Modern Family' Really the Best-Directed Comedy on TV?

modern-family-vegasOn Monday night, Gail Mancuso took home the Emmy for “Outstanding Direction for a Comedy Series” for her work the Modern Family season five episode “Las Vegas.” This was Mancuso’s second win in a row and the show’s fourth win in a row in this category. This year, Mancuso beat out Comedy Film School favorites Louis C.K. and Lena Dunham as well as seasoned film directors Jodie Foster (for Orange is the New Black) and Mike Judge (for Silicon Valley). Looking even further back, the last time a network show director, in which directing is historically more like house-painting than Picasso, lost to a cable director is in 2004, when Curb Your Enthusiasm took home the prize for HBO (however I will not besmirch the Emmy voters’ 2004 selection of Barry Sonnenfeld's Pushing Daisies pilot for ABC, which is one of the most visually inventive and exciting pieces of television I have ever seen). This all begs the question of what are Emmy voters looking for in comedy directing, and why, year after year, as television directing gets more and more interesting and “filmic”, are the voters rewarding merely proficient directing over shows with more artful or at least with the most directing? READ MORE

0

How Richard Linklater Uses Naturalism to Find Comedy

dazedandconfusedRichard Linklater is having what can probably be considered the most visible period of his career with the release of his highly anticipated and equally regarded Boyhood. This marks the first time that the box office success and critical success of one of his projects coalesced into a true major cultural moment, prompting numerous career retrospectives and think-pieces. Common take on Richard Linklater is that his filmography is defined by unpredictability, never bound to one particular label and always willing to try new things as a director. Just when you think you can track his Rohmer-influenced style through Slacker and the Before Trilogy, you realize his name is also on stylistically unique films like A Scanner Darkly or broader studio fare like Me and Orson Welles, and School of Rock.

For our purposes, Linklater has four films that could ostensibly be categorized as comedies — Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, Bad News Bears, and Bernie – and yet it is hard to track a structural or stylistic throughline between them in analyzing why this famously chameleon-like director was drawn to these stories or working on them within in the comedy genre. This could be because Linkater’s films of all genres are hardly ostentatious in their filmmaking. Of his contemporaries in the 90s independent film boom, Linklater is not an aesthete like Todd Haynes, nor is he as stylish as Soderbergh. Roger Ebert writes in his review of Dazed and Confused, “The film is art crossed with anthropology,” which aptly describes Linklater as a director as well. Known for lengthy and intense rehearsal periods, he is able to find a level of anthropological authenticity through a combination of his narrative and his actors’ lived experiences and present day worldviews. His works feel massively authentic and democratic, nostalgic without feeling glossy. The question then is: how does this unique skillset come into play when he has attempted comedy? READ MORE

0

How 'Nathan for You' Brilliantly Blows Up Reality TV

nathanforyouPopularized by The Office in the early 2000s, the “mockumentary” format has become the common TV style choice to tell loose, location-based, low-concept, character-driven comedies. However, aside from the interview cutaways and the cheeky Jim Halpert camera looks, shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation never truly embrace the idea that their presentation format is documentary or that their characters are anything but fictional.

Nathan For You, created, written, and directed by Nathan Fielder and now in its second season, is much more dedicated to being a true parody of the documentary/reality form both visually and thematically. Set up like a workplace improvement show in the vein of Bar Rescue or Kitchen Nightmares, the basic premise of Nathan For You follows a semi-qualified, semi-fictionalized Nathan Fielder as he pitches and sets forth massively elaborate and mostly unhelpful marketing ploys to help struggling businesses. Nobody in the show other than Fielder is in on the joke, so he has to carefully tow the line between his comedy and keeping these real businesses on the line so he can actually set his plans in motion. Fielder is so good at mimicking these business advice shows both in style and in content, which helps both the viewer and the subjects believe that he is in fact trying to be one.

Of course, if Nathan For You was only about reeling in and pranking suckers, the show wouldn’t resonate beyond the way shows like Punk’d or Jackass do. Instead, the perfectly executed prank and set up allow Fielder to dive into the deeper themes he is actually trying to explore with the show. He is hiding a much more complicated piece of comedy in a very-well executed but much more basic genre parody. READ MORE

0

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

anniehallsetThe 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 time to say something about the importance of his work within the comedy film canon.

Of course, another factor in my decision to hold off on writing about Allen for so long is his intimidatingly complete body of work. Pinpointing an access point into his style is a daunting task. Does one attempt a career overview of an over 50-film catalogue? Should I focus on one period in his career, such as his early slapstick period, his 70s New York period, or his current European adventure period? Ultimately, I believe the best place to begin with Woody is with Annie Hall, his most well-regarded work, the film of his I first saw, and what can be considered the pivot point between Woody Allen the comedian and Woody Allen the filmmaker.

For it’s massive popularity and highly accessible and iconic central performance from Diane Keaton, Annie Hall, is surprisingly experimental in its film style. Allen makes no bones about his biggest inspirations — Ingmar Bergman and other European art filmmakers — which seems like an odd style reference for an American comic but in fact gives his work a stylistic freedom unparalleled by his peers. From the very first shot, Allen breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the viewer, a choice that is both alienating in that it establishes a non-linear narrative structure and welcoming in that it implicates the viewer in the choices the main character makes. From there, Allen makes a series of extradiagetic style choices that includes text on screen, an elaborate analog split screen set-up, and even animation to add a personal, whimsical, fun form of expression to what is both a fairly traditional and prototypically neurotic love story at its core. READ MORE

0

David Wain and His Parodies of Exuberance

theycametogetherThere 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 shuttling off to watch an episode of Parks and Recreation on her iPad.

An exception to this is David Wain, whose newest feature, They Came Together, starring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd, is a sharp and specific spoof of the very worst type of romantic comedy. As I watched this film from the balcony of a packed house at BAM Harvey Theater in Brooklyn, the word that kept coming to mind in reference to Wain’s direction and storytelling was exuberance. David Wain’s parody is a parody of exuberance. He is relentlessly positive and stays out of the dark and the smug in a way that gives his films an accessibility and therefore a propensity to cultishness, that his peers in parody lack.

Wain has made a career as the directorial vessel through which the comedic ideas of famed early 90s sketch group The State flows. Beginning with that show, Wain, along with collaborators Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Trugio, Thomas Lennon, and more have made established a style of comedy performance that treads in enthusiasm rather than tongue-in-cheek. In his move to feature film direction, Wain has always created a structure that allows him to stick to the type of joke-telling and pacing in which he is clearly most comfortable — sketch. READ MORE

0

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

chaplin-goldrushMany 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 funny ways 2) Leaving the frame in funny ways 3) Cutting from a character, to a comedic reveal, back to a character 4) Matching transitions 5) The perfectly placed sound effect 6) Matching action to the soundtrack 7) Dramatic lighting cues. He also mentioned the use of zooms, pans, cranes, and cuts in Wright’s and other’s work as a way to demonstrate how movement within the frame builds excitement or sets up a joke in a much stronger way than framing two characters in close-up and “lightly editing improv.” While he doesn’t namecheck him directly, Zhou is quite clearly burning Judd Apatow, and while I don’t fully share in the opinion that Apatow is disinterested in his visuals, he does serve as a strong foil for at least the type of visual comedy Zhou is getting at in his piece.

Part of me feels like my work here is done and Zhou has officially written the book on the analysis of visual comedy, but instead I am going to shamelessly steal Zhou analysis and see if the most inherently visual comedies — silent films — hold up under its scrutiny. Of course, since they lacked a full one-half of the toolkit afforded to comedy filmmakers today, silent filmmakers had to be both visual storytellers and overly visual performers. The hyper-performative style of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton look dated and hacky to those not used to it today, but they are also the most instructive performers to look at in terms of what is simply visually funny. With language stripped away, each movement, set piece, cut, etc. need to be part of the construction of a joke. READ MORE

0

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 themes that interest Stoller as a comedy director. Specifically, Stoller’s directorial body of work explores the dynamic between those who have embraced traditionally encouraged societal, romantic, or professional values — Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Jonah Hill in Get Him to the Greek, Rogen and Byrne in Neighbors — and those who live more freely, albeit due to some sort of core personal issue sorted out over the course of the film — Russell Brand in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek, Zac Efron in Neighbors. And in exploring this, Stoller tweaks the established studio comedy look to adapt and serve the story he is telling, whether that be the use of modern technology embedded in the style of the film, or using diegetic performed music within the narrative.

The central conceit of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Stoller’s first feature, lies in the conflict that arises when Peter Bretter, played by Jason Segel heads to Hawaii to get away from his breakup with ubiquitous actress Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) only to find that she is staying at the same resort with her new fling, hyper-sexualized shock-rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). It is not as though Aldous and Sarah are actively torturing or villainizing Peter, they are just existing in the same space despite Peter’s most basic desire to avoid her. Both his traditional protagonists and antagonists have similar flaws which are exasperated under the pressure cooker of sharing a space with someone who makes said space uncomfortable for the other person.

The simple set up of the conflict of proximity permeates throughout Stoller’s comedy. From the thin-walled sex scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, to the volatile combination of buttoned up Jonah Hill and out of control Russell Brand in Get Him to the Greek, to the set up of family vs. fraternity in Neighbors, Stoller manages to mine the most out creating comedic conflict from basic behaviors. In an interview at Fast Company, Stoller says, “I think movies get funnier and funnier the more relatable they are. There are no real villains in real life, and the more your main character is a good person making mistakes, the funnier the movie is… In every movie, you want to see someone who has a problem figure it out. There’s something satisfying about that.” He sets up scenarios where every characters’ motivations feel relatable or at least earned based on the truths of their age, occupation, relationship status, etc. READ MORE

0

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 pairing felt like a strange turn to his festival-circuit devotees.

Of course, what came of it all was one of the funniest big comedies in recent memories imbued with a specific strangeness unique to Green. His follow up comedies, Your Highness and The Sitter were not as well received but even those have a specific voice that can be traced through Green’s earlier characters, particularly given his working relationship developed with Danny McBride while students at NCSOA together. Since The Sitter, Green has returned to his more subdued indie roots, with the recently released Nicolas Cage vehicle Joe and the 2013 film Prince Avalanche, which most closely tows the line between the phases of Green’s career.

I believe that the keys to David Gordon Green’s seemingly esoteric project choices can mostly be found in Prince Avalanche, a sparse but impactful genre-mixer. Casting Paul Rudd in his most dramatic role to date and Emile Hirsch in his most comedic role to date, the film follows two 1980s municipal workers in the highways that wind through the forest fire devastated hills of Bastrop, Texas. Dressed in Mario Brothers inspired blue overalls, Rudd and Hirsch play a sophomoric friendship and rivalry that is one part heartwarming due to their comically close quarters and one part upsetting due to their feigned confidence masking their loneliness. It is a model of early male adulthood seen throughout Green’s work, with Paul Schneider and Danny McBride in All The Real Girls and even James Franco and Seth Rogen in Pineapple Express. READ MORE

0

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 through. I should say from the jump that I quite enjoyed the pilot episode, which flashed tremendous story and character potential to be fleshed out as the world builds and expands over its ten hour run. However, judging from the pilot, it seems the show will fall more into the realm of dark male violence that has defined prestige television for the last decade rather than the misanthropic dark comedy typical of my favorite Coen films. In other words, Fargo the series may have kept the dark and lost the comedy.

Just looking at the opening shots of the two projects, there are strong indicators of the mood the creators are trying to set. Both shots begin with titles on screen, the frame covered in the white Minnesota winter. In the distance, a beat up car drives towards the frame, and that is where the similarities end. In the film, as the car gets closer we see it drive through the frame towing another car behind it, an actively unusual scene. We later learn that the driver of that car is William H. Macy’s Jerry Lundegaard, the hapless sleaze whose choice to have his wife kidnapped in an effort to collect the ransom sets the films plot in motion. In the show, the car belongs to Billy Bob Thornton's Lorne Malvo who drives through the night, hits a deer, swerves off the road, and lets loose a man in his underwear who was held captive in his trunk. In leading with Malvo, who through the pilot is the shows most ruthless and capable character, a darker, more precise tone is set. Malvo is a confident killer in the vein of the No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh.

The difference in these two opening shots is important in an overall stylistic choice by the creators of the TV project that shifts the tone further away from comedy. Perhaps symptomatic of a large TV budget or even just advances in technology, FX’s Fargo simply looks much better, cleaner, and crisper than its source material. The deeper blacks and more shadowy lighting set ups, variations in depth of field, work to give the show a heavier, more serious look. It is a look we can associate with murder stories. What works so well in the film is that the darkness in the characters and plot is juxtaposed against all the homey midwestern effect of the production design. Macy’s tacky office, his suit that is practically eating him alive, the cars he sells, the way the whole thing is very flatly lit, all have a light, somewhat dirty, drab quality to them that gives the film and very particular quirk. READ MORE

0

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 a way that makes the characters, relationships, and locations feel lived in and real. The drab production and costume design creates an authenticity that helps Duplass and co-star Katie Aselton play a devastatingly emotionally accurate break up in what feels like real time. The loose construction of a road trip allows us to feel a real sense of the necessity of their physical progress in contrast to their emotional decline. The Duplass Brothers allow the viewer to feel close to the characters by keeping them in tense, cramped spaces and situations without cuts and allowing the pauses and nuances in normal conversation to breathe without feeling the impulse to edit them out, as traditional film language would dictate.

However, unlike the rest of their Mumblecore classmates, whose talent and ambition begrudgingly outgrew their DIY ethos and love for limited resources, the Duplass Brothers seemed to always have Hollywood on the mind. Directly following the success of The Puffy Chair, the duo moved to Los Angeles, abandoning the regionalism that defined much of the work of their peers. Their follow up film, Baghead, is recognizable as Mumblecore both stylistically and in the way it was produced, but since they have made much more polished indie dramedies notably different from their previous work particularly in the star power attached. Cyrus, The Do-Deca Pentathlon, and Jeff, Who Lives at Home may not be aesthetically similar to The Puffy Chair, but in many ways the characters and even the filmmaking choices are trying to accomplish very similar things. This is particularly true of Jeff, Who Lives at Home. READ MORE

0

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 it came to be called. However, none of this future projects has the stylistic inventiveness or the pitch perfect rendering of the worldview Smith inhabits that made Clerks so exciting.

Auteurism in film has been discussed in the column before, but to refresh it can be defined as a visual theme in a filmmaker's body of work that makes the work distinctly of the filmmaker's oeuvre. It can certainly be said that a Kevin Smith film is immediately recognizable as such, even without a glimpse of his signature Jay and Silent Bob characters, but is there a difference between a filmmaker who creates a universe in which his films inhabit, full of inside jokes and thematic recurrences, and a filmmaker who can be considered an auteur? I would argue that Kevin Smith fulfills the latter, but there are clear indications that what worked so well in Clerks from a directing standpoint did not carry over to his larger-budget, more commercial work. Nowhere is this more apparent than in comparing Smith's debut film with its long delayed sequel, Clerks II. READ MORE

0

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 Lego commercial. The Lego Movie is much more than both of those things. It is a film actively engaging in the most common superhero movie tropes and putting on a clinic in their use, it is laugh-out-loud funny throughout, the restraint shown by the animating team in limiting their character’s movement to that of actual Lego figures is a visual gift that keeps on giving, and most of all it is a film that takes a massive and unnecessary emotional and storytelling risk in its climax that pays off tremendously.

And why should we be surprised? Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have made a career out of turning what seem like bad ideas into good comedies. 21 Jump Street is much funnier than it has any right to be and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a solid kids movie. 21 Jump Street is as successful and attuned as it gets in regards to playing with the modern social strata of young people. Where many comedies, even smarter, more critically acclaimed titles like Easy A or Superbad tend to rely on the age-old nerds and jocks cliches, Lord and Miller understand that particularly in more wealthy, urban and suburban environments, geek culture has gone mainstream in a big way and the high school social classes are divided by privilege and social success over athletic prowess and bulk. They also reignited Channing Tatum’s career by putting his usually self-serious good looks through a gauntlet of goofy physical bits and revealed surprising comedy chops and a willingness to play on his public image. All this, plus action scenes with set-pieces and a pace that feel legitimately tense and dangerous and a fulfilling emotional buddy-cop ending at least prove that the pair are able storytellers and directors of broad Hollywood comedies. READ MORE