Athina Rachel Tsangari’s film Chevalier, showing at Cornell Cinema this Friday, understates its oddities and creates a hauntingly realistic picture of humanity. The film draws from various and strange inspirations which result in a Frankenstein-esque human species. But, it remains non-committal. Just like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein directly condemns neither the monster nor his creation, Tsangari only subtly questions specific behaviors, habits and desires. Chevalier disguises itself as the story of six friends on a luxury fishing trip.
If you’ve always wanted to take your date to that amazing improv show but not wanted to be “that guy” who takes their date to improv shows, have I got a film for you. Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice offers a harshly authentic look into the rough and tumble world of professional comedy, and the often depressed, existentially bewildered and ultimately confused players that writhe in it. While movies about the unique struggles that plague comedians have made a resurgence in the past few years since Annie Hall in 1977 (notably Obvious Child and Birbiglia’s own Sleepwalk With Me), Don’t Think Twice is the first to deal with improv as a unique art form. Balancing the arduous duty of creating good art with furthering one’s own professional goals becomes an impossible task when even your teammates, students or partner is competition. Miles (Birbiglia), the nearing-40 founder of The Commune, an acclaimed NYC improv troupe, serves as the de-facto patriarch of its current six members.
As someone who watches comedy TV a lot — and I mean a lot — I’ve found that there’s one key ingredient in creating a successful TV comedy: don’t make your show based on a funny plot; make it based on funny characters. Write good characters, and the good plots will come. The Detour, created by The Daily Show power couple Samantha Bee and Jason Jones, completely fails this litmus test for a sustainable, quality TV comedy. The new TBS series follows a family of four attempting to drive to a relaxing beach vacation, finding themselves embroiled in misadventure after misadventure. To make things more complicated, father Nate Parker (Jones) recently lost his job at a nefarious biopharmaceutical company and keeps this hidden from his family, paving the way for even more clandestine antics as he tries to frame his ex-employer for unethical behavior.
What happens when you give comedians free reign for a 30-minute special? Utter absurdity. At least, that’s what the Netflix comedy special, The Characters, would suggest. The avant-garde experiment features eight lesser-known comedians who write and star in a 30-minute episode completely under their own creative control. The big twist?
“Not only do they talk about you as being the undisputed king of comedy, but your [work] is deeper and broader,” Charlie Rose declares at the beginning of a 30-minute interview with Louis C.K. “You could make comparisons to Lenny Bruce, to Bob Dylan … comparisons to a sort of philosopher-king.” Clearly anticipating some kind of credit for coining the term “philosopher-king,” the self-serious Rose awkwardly pushes the comedian for a response. Upon realizing the talk show host was, indeed, serious, C.K. replies, “I don’t know, man, I’m just a comedian … anything beyond that I always get a little uncomfortable.”
The interview dates back to May 2014, but that goofy exchange remains indicative of just how difficult it can be to define C.K.’s current position in pop culture. His latest offering, a series entitled Horace & Pete, does little to clarify what it means to be “just a comedian.” Set within a hundred year-old Brooklyn dive bar operated by — you guessed it — Horace (C.K. himself) and his brother Pete (Steve Buscemi), the series features the comedian pushing himself into more strictly dramatic territory and exploring new modes of independent production. Along for the ride is an embarrassingly talented supporting cast, counting among its ranks Jessica Lange, Edie Falco, Rebecca Hall and Alan Alda — who frequently steals the show as Uncle Pete, an aged, foul-mouthed bartender resentful of Brooklyn’s hipster invasion (amongst other things). Oh, and did I mention Paul Simon performs the show’s theme song?
There is no artistic experience quite like going to the theatre. Each performance of a show functions as a unique entity, and there is a challenge in recreating it night after night with consistency. Part of this challenge naturally involves exploration of the many ways in which the audience can connect with the living, breathing actors who are the true substance of the play. At its best, a show can engage with the spectator in intimate ways that no other medium can match. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] — which played on Feb.
The abundance of non-sequiturs and throwaway scenes in Hail, Caesar! is not unusual as these are the trademark characteristics of the Coen brothers’ work. As A.O. Scott put it, a Coen brothers movie is “a brilliant magpie’s nest of surrealism, period detail and pop-culture scholarship.” While this is true, you must understand before going to Hail, Caesar! that you are basically paying to watch the Coens lovingly recreate all the different styles of Hollywood product from the 1950s — westerns, noirs, swimsuit musicals and melodramas. Their new film is merely a vehicle for them to outright mimic all the films they have paid homage to previously — the Busby Berkeley dance number from The Big Lebowski, the non-self conscious roving landscapes of True Grit, the musical numbers from O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Zach Galifianakis’ latest project involves him clowning around — literally. He teams up with creators Louis C. K. (writer and star of Louie) and Jonathan Krisel (director of Portlandia) for a delightfully unorthodox comedy about pursuing your dream no matter what anyone else tries to tell you. Baskets is as odd as you would assume and then some, but its peculiarity feeds and then starves your need to know what happens next. The trailer for the show invites the curious in for a peek at the darker side of being a clown: it’s smart and refreshing. The FX show revolves around Chip Baskets (Galifianakis) and his failed endeavors to assimilate into real life while pursuing his seemingly bizarre ambition of becoming a professional clown.
Of course three minutes isn’t enough time to give audience members an unbridled view of what an upcoming movie is about. To capture the essence of a two hour movie in a condensed trailer must be a nearly impossible task, akin to describing yourself in one word or choosing a favorite band. As a result, many production companies are guilty of marketing movies in completely inaccurate ways. The trailer for the 2011 movie Drive gave viewers the impression that the feature is simply a violent action packed film in which leading man Ryan Gosling drives around town dangerously and fights drug dealers. One Michigan woman found this trailer so misrepresentative of Drive, a film she says in actuality has “very little driving”, that she sued the production company and the movie theater where she saw the film.