If Law & Order has taught us anything, it’s that comedy has no place in law and order (Although as Community, John Mulaney, and countless others have shown us, Law & Order has a very comfortable place within comedy). There are countless quirky character actors playing judges in film and television, not to mention Judges Judy and Joe Brown providing sassy verdicts. But it’s rare to see humor come from actual, non-reality-TV-star judges.
That is, except for Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin, who once opened a dissenting opinion (Noel v. Travis, 2002) by invoking the theme song from Mr. Ed:
A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
And no one can talk to a horse of course
That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed.
Go right to the source and ask the horse
He'll give you the answer that you'll endorse.
He's always on a steady course.
Talk to Mr. Ed.
Unlike his fellow Justices, Eakin believed that individuals arrested while riding horses intoxicated (the individuals were intoxicated, not the horses) were in violation of DUI laws. For such a ridiculous situation, the homage to one of the lamest comedies in Eakin’s opinion seems downright justified. After providing a legitimate and non-TV theme based argument, he ends thusly: READ MORE
Based on the hit Broadway musical of the same name, Grease was released in 1978. It went on to be the highest grossing film in a year that gave us both Superman and Clint Eastwood confiding his deepest darkest secrets to an orangutan and cemented the careers of stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John (at least until the latter decided to star in Xanadu two years later). Of course, a success this massive called for a sequel, although perhaps only because the proper technology for a Grease videogame had not yet been invented. And so, four years later came the release of the aptly titled Grease 2.
Being a craven cash-in, Grease 2 features little of the original cast; it says something when the biggest star to return is fucking Frenchy. Set once again at Rydell High, the plot is basically the same as the original, but with the genders of the lead characters reversed. Instead, Grease 2 follows the attempts of a polite exchange student, the hopelessly British Michael Carrington (Maxwell Caulfield), to woo the coolest girl in school, Stephanie Zinone (Michelle Pfeiffer).
Grease 2 is the kind of movie where the central romance is kicked off by the female lead proclaiming, “I could kiss the next guy who comes in that door!” Guess who enters? That’s right, the male lead. What fortune! (Incidentally, Grease 2 screenwriter Ken Finkleman also wrote and directed Airplane II: The Sequel. Thankfully, Mr. Finkleman has not made another sequel since then.) This sloppiness extends to the soundtrack, of which a few choice songs prove unexpectedly funny both in their utter randomness and their ridiculous treatment of sex. READ MORE
At its heart, HBO's The Newsroom has been a sitcom. Sure, it might be an hour-long and take itself really, really seriously, but consider the following: most of The Newsroom takes place in a single location, and most episodes tends to focus more on witty banter and romantic entanglements instead of, you know, reporting the news. Running time and “Fix You” montages aside, the show is an old-fashioned workplace sitcom. Reshoot it with three cameras in front of a studio audience, and The Newsroom could fit right at home on Must See TV, alongside Cheers and Night Court. (Although The Newsroom’s treatment of female characters might seem antiquated even for the 1980s.)
Aaron Sorkin is no stranger to the workplace sitcom; the writer broke into television with Sports Night, a half-hour set behind the scenes of a SportsCenter-esque program. Given that Sorkin himself is arguably one of Sorkin’s greatest influences, it’s no surprise that much ofThe Newsroom’s inter-character relationships and office politics prove similar. But The Newsroom has more in common with another beloved-1990s-sitcom-set-behind-the-scenes-of-a-news-program: NewsRadio. READ MORE
Quentin Tarantino makes comedies. His films may belong to a variety of genres (mafia, war, blaxploitation, to name a few), but no matter the setting, they always make us laugh, largely due to the writer/director’s gift for dialogue. With their tangential discussions on everything from Madonna lyrics to French fast food, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction defined the Tarantino style of dialogue.
Unfortunately, these films’ characters were markedly less defined. Sure, we remember Royale with Cheese and foot massage etiquette – but we remember John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson having the conversations, not their characters. Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield (I had to look up the latter’s surname) seemed defined by their occupations and little more. Tarantino’s first two films were brilliant pieces of entertainment, no doubt, but their characters felt like little more than hollow pieces in an intricate plot.
That all changed with Jackie Brown. READ MORE
The Total Recall remake (which I can’t stop from calling Total Remake) might seem unnecessary, but it does have one key difference: Colin Farrell has replaced Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role of Douglas Quaid. Farrell might seem far removed from “everyman,” but he’s a lot closer to the protagonist of the original Phillip K. Dick short story (“a miserable little salaried employee”) than the Austrian Oak. Of course, save for the first act — average guy goes to get fake memories implanted only to learn that he already has said memories — the 1990 adaptation more or less becomes an original film. And nobody defined it more than its muscle-bound star.
Even director Paul Verhoeven admits that Total Recall is Schwarzenegger’s film, and not just because the actor personally chose Verhoeven to helm the film (the production company gave Schwarzenegger control on nearly everything, though he only appeared to exercise it in pre-production). The Austrian Oak’s presence dictated the kind of movie Verhoeven could make. READ MORE
The Godfather is the best film ever made. I might not personally ascribe to this belief, but The Godfather is also a film that can easily be called “the best film ever made” without any supporting argument (See also: Citizen Kane, Bicycle Thieves, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West). It’s just that good. Part of its brilliance comes from how the film manages to simultaneously be incredibly singular and hugely expansive in its focus. But while The Godfather covers a vast array of themes — American capitalism, the plight of the immigrant, the value of cannoli over guns — above all else, the film is about family. And no figure in the film remains as memorable as the head of the family, Don Vito Corleone.
The character is so well conceived that any halfway decent actor playing the role would be remembered. But it’s unlikely that anyone could have turned in a performance as indelible as Marlon Brando’s. Both the role and Brando himself have received innumerable amounts of praise, and rightly so. Rewatching The Godfather recently, however, I was struck by just how funny Don Corleone can be. READ MORE
Go Speed Racer
Go Speed Racer
Go Speed Racer, Go!
– Theme song from Speed Racer
Few properties are as aggressively single-minded as Speed Racer. The title alone tells us the main character’s name, occupation, and his particular focus when it comes to racing (not to mention his theoretical drug of choice). For whatever reason, the high-minded Wachowskis were hired to adapt this simple franchise into a summer blockbuster. The Matrix trilogy might have proven their box-office credentials, but those films are far from simple.
Even by their elaborate standards, the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer is shockingly hard to follow. Although story itself remains fairly simple – Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) must win races to defeat an evil corporation and save his family’s business – the Wachowskis toss it into a blender, filling the film with flashbacks, flashforwards, and all sorts of structural trickery. It’s like they were bored by their own movie. Unsurprisingly, Speed Racer had trouble finding an audience and flopped upon release in May 2008. Narrative complexity in a Speed Racer movie is as appealing as historical veracity in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. That is, not very. READ MORE
Since 1954, Brad Anderson’s single panel comic Marmaduke has graced newspapers across the country with the misadventures of the Winslow family’s Great Dane, Marmaduke. Each and every Marmaduke strip boils down to the same joke:
Marmaduke is a large dog that does whatever he wants, much to the chagrin of everyone ever.
That’s the comedic foundation for a strip that has run for over half a century. Everyone responds angrily to Marmaduke’s actions, often with an infuriated variation of “Marmaduke! You’re a dog! Yet you’re acting like a human! But you’re not! You’re a dog!” Regardless of the specifics, the non-Marmaduke characters are always either annoyed or, if they’re lucky, merely curious about whatever situation this beast has gotten into that has thankfully distracted him from ruining their lives.
The human characters have reasonable complaints regarding the Dane’s antics, larks, and general tomfoolery. But like its titular dog, Marmaduke just doesn’t give a fuck. It’s Marmaduke’s world – everyone else is just living in it (which I suppose is fair for a comic named Marmaduke.)
The thing is, Marmaduke’s kind of a dick. READ MORE
Released in 1998, Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just For You gave Joe Pesci fans the opportunity to listen to their favorite actor sing. Alas, the album was not well received and has since been largely forgotten. Thankfully, the powers that be saw fit to preserve “Wise Guy,” the Blondie-and-Mr.-Rogers sampling single, in a music video, which continues to pop up around the interwebs because frankly, who doesn’t want to watch Joe Pesci rap? READ MORE
Fun fact: Steve Martin was supposed to star in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. (Yes, that Steve Martin.)
In his biography Kubrick, Michael Herr writes: “Stanley thought it would be perfect for Steve Martin. He’d love The Jerk… I know that his idea for it in those days was always as a sex comedy, but with a wild and somber streak running through it.” When Kubrick finally made the film over a decade later, it appeared as though any chance of a “sex comedy” had gone out the window with the casting of 1990s power couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in the lead roles. READ MORE
The Holocaust is no laughing matter. Not only an immense and terrible tragedy, the Holocaust is also an extremely well-recorded tragedy. Many have found comedy in World War II or, more often, the Nazis as seen in films as varied as The Producers and Inglourious Basterds. (The Nazis are a comic goldmine. “Adolph Shitler” writes itself!) But the Holocaust itself is generally glossed over in such works of entertainment, either given a passing mention or existing solely in the background as an ever-present threat. After all, it’s just too serious. Nevertheless, several filmmakers have attempted to find humor in this humorless event.
Most often, one finds moments of gallows humor creeping around the edges of otherwise somber films. Consider this clip from the end of Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. (Remember: Polanski himself is a Holocaust survivor.)
Adrien Brody’s Władysław Szpilman has survived every murderous attempt by the Nazis only to find himself nearly killed by his ostensible allies, a near-disastrous misunderstanding resulting from Szpilman’s desire to survive the harsh climate. Had he been killed, the irony would have deepened the tragedy. Instead he survives, allowing us to laugh lightly at the mix-up (though only lightly given that said mix-up occurs towards the finish of a somber affair).
Few filmmakers, however, have dared confront the Holocaust from squarely within the comedic genre. One of these brave/stupid souls was noted slapstick auteur Jerry Lewis, who in 1972 starred in, directed, and co-wrote the concentration camp comedy The Day the Clown Cried. The film follows washed-up German clown Helmut Doork (Lewis) as he is imprisoned in a concentration camp for a routine making fun of the führer. Once there, Doork entertains the children with his antics and is eventually forced to lead the children into the gas chambers, Pied Piper style. The film ends with Doork and the children laughing as gas fills the room.
The Day the Clown Cried remains unreleased to this day. READ MORE
The beach party genre began in 1963 with the release of Beach Party by American International Pictures (the irony of the name presumably lost on the company). Largely inspired by Gidget and tropical Elvis Presley musicals, the genre grew as AIP and imitators released more films that centered on teens partying at the beach. And nothing else.
While the first film Beach Party was conflict-free, the sequels added villains who threatened to stop the teens’ beach partying, including jocks (Muscle Beach Party), land developers (Bikini Beach), Martians (Pajama Party), and ghosts (The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini). Every time, these outside forces are defeated. Although these films were intended as comedies, taking the context of the 1960’s into consideration reveals a dark undercurrent within the beach party genre. READ MORE
Newspaper comics are a funny thing. Like television, the medium requires a constant output of new material. But due to any given comic strip’s short length, it’s hard to achieve the same depth of serialized storytelling as television, even if the periodical medium welcomes it. A variety of comics, from the satirical Doonesbury to the dramedy For Better or Worse, have successfully achieved not only serialization but also character development over the decades they’ve been in print; however, just as many have shown little to no growth. FromMarmaduke to Garfield, Blondie to Ziggy, an overwhelming number of newspaper comics have fiercely refused to change with the times, their references and rhetoric more at home in the 1940s than the present day. Recent years have produced great parodies of these staid comics, from removing Garfield from his own strip to over-explaining the antics of mediocre Dane, Marmaduke. Yet little attention has been paid to the masterpiece that is Mark Trail. READ MORE
Mulholland Dr. is a strange movie.
I realize that’s a massive understatement, especially considering that noted oddball David Lynch wrote and directed it. But given thatMulholland Dr. started as an open-ended television pilot only to be completed as a feature film thanks to additional funding from a French production company, the finished product is even more of a hodge-podge than the typical Lynch endeavor (with the possible exception of 2006’s mess of a mess, INLAND EMPIRE).
This site has already delved into the humor that springs from Lynch’s juxtaposition of folksiness with strangeness, but the comedy in Mulholland Dr. isn’t quite like that. It’s as though the film has a separate comedic thread running through an otherwise serious surrealist-noir-cum-romance (only that jumbled genre could describe a movie with scenes like this and this). And save for a darkly funny murder that wouldn’t feel out of place in a seedier Coen Brothers’ film, most of the Mulholland Dr.'s humor comes from one character: Adam Kesher, a hotshot Hollywood director. READ MORE