Monday, February 15, 2016

Comedy in 3 Styles

February is a strange month. Often, it's the dumping ground for films that studios can't quite figure out what to do with. There's usually a romantic-and/or-intended-to-be-sexy-and-risque film around Valentine's Day (last year, that was the godawful 50 Shades of Grey [no, I won't even link to my own rant about it; that's how bad it is] and, oddly enough, a niche filled by Fox's Deadpool this year), but little else of note.

Then there's this year. I've seen three films lately and they were all decent-to-superior comedies. Two were quirky, which probably explains their banishment to the February doldrums, but seek all of these out.

Buffy Bennet in Action
First up, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. Yes, I know. It sounds ridiculous and it is. But this is a film that knows it's silly and revels in it. When Seth Grahame-Smith added zombies to Jane Austen's Regency comedy of manners, it was unprecedented (it has since spawned a rather bizarre subgenre of classic-meets-monster mashups). Bringing in zombies and ninja training to whist parties int he English countryside, you get Empire-waisted gowns concealing thigh dagger sheaths and a rarefied drawing room discussion of the superiority of Chinese over Japanese martial arts training. It's a fun romp, with some dazzling action sequences. And I especially enjoyed catching that Elizabeth, Austen's independent heroine with the rapier wit, has a name that is also the derivation of Buffy. Yes - Buffy Bennet was fighting the undead centuries ago! In short, a fun, although violent, parody that's worth a rental.

Ah, the Coen brothers. Those quirky talents behind Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, and O Brother Where Art Thou? are back in the theaters with Hail, Caesar!, a film that is a lace-edged valentine to the studio pictures of the 1950s. If you're a fan of Turner Classic Movies, you'll howl through this one. If you're not into old movies, well - here's your chance to learn. Channing Tatum doing Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh on cafe tables is worth the price of admission alone, but you also get Scarlett Johansson as a foul-mouthed Esther Williams, and the astonishing Alden Ehrenreich as a singing cowboy who can do his own stunts who is inexplicably moved onto the set of A Place in the Sun. Oh, and there's Tilda Swinton as twin gossip columnists and George Clooney as Baird Whitlock, a handsome, thick-as-a-plank leading man starring in the studio's prestige not-at-all Ben-Hur movie. And Communists - all at the studio featured in Barton Fink, Capitol Pictures. The plot revolves around Josh Brolin, who is playing a studio "fixer" named Eddie Mannix (that was the name of the actual fixer at MGM, by the way) who is going about his day, putting out fires here and there while dealing with his Catholic faith. Faith is a strong element in this film - there's a hysterical segment as Eddie tries to get the official "OK to see" from a variety of clergymen (look for Robert Picardo playing a rabbi in that one) and there's a very subtle subtext about "working in the pictures" as being its own form of faith. Really, even if you don't get all the references, this is a must-see. In that regard, it's a bit like O Brother which takes on layers and layers of meaning once you know it's the Coen take on the ultimate road movie, The Odyssey, but is still enjoyable even if you don't catch all of that.

Then there's Deadpool. For quite a while now, I've been a "make mine Marvel and by that I mean Disney" girl when it comes to Marvel characters. Deadpool was a risk and a big one. But Fox did this one right. Ryan Reynolds is perfectly - PERFECTLY - cast as the wisecracking, nearly amoral "Merc with a Mouth" and Morena Baccarin is wonderful as the always blonde-tipped Vanessa (who will become Copycat and that's going to be interesting), who is bold, brassy, and a match for her true love in terms of raunch. Make no mistake on that score - Deadpool is rated "R" and deserves it whole-heartedly. Please do not take children to this movie unless you're willing to explain any number of sexual references and your kids can handle some graphic, up-close gore to boot. The supporting cast is marvelous and truly - they've done something special with this one. From the cheeky opening credits to the breaking of the fourth wall to the winking at the lack of X-Men in the Westchester mansion (and I hereby nominate this version of Negasonic Teenage Warhead for "Best New X-Man" and this version of Colossus should get special mention for sheer thickness of accent), this film is wonderful for those who like such things. I'm not even a Deadpool fan and I loved it an insane amount.

So - comedy of manners, parody of Golden Age Hollywood, or cartoon raunch. Whatever is your pleasure, it's at the local cineplex. Go now!

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