Filed Under Movies
I never got to see Mike Myers develop the central character for Love Guru when he was workshopping it at the Magnet Theater, but I heard some pretty positive stuff (includes this and this) that suggested to me that the character wasn’t so much of a broad goof, but played a bit more real like the first Austin Powers movie. (In that film, the central conceit of a man out of his time allowed for some smart gags about today vs. the 60s revealed through character.) It’s hard to see that in this trailer however - which looks to me a lot like Austin Powers 4, even converting the “mole” jokes from the third into the “shrimp” joke of the trailer. But the broader jokes are sometimes the best way to sell trailers, so I’m still somwhat hopeful that the spirit of the live shows is still in “Love Guru.” Still, it’s pretty disturbing to me that the thing I like best about this trailer is Justin Timberlake’s character. Do you feel that way too?
Filed Under Movies
After “Walk Hard”, this looks a bit more like what people are expecting from a Judd Apatow production. Although it should be noted this one is not directed by him. As for me, I feel tapped out on the man-child dealing with love genre. With “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” I can see where they’re heightening the tension of your girlfriend going on to some more successful jerk by making her and the new boyfriend famous, but it makes it a less relatable. I think that’s been kind of a key to “Knocked Up” and “40 Year Old Virgin” - they’re very everyman-child.
And note to trailer cutters: Using a song from another popular comedy movie, in this case Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright” from the Caddyshack soundtrack, just makes me think that I won’t like this film as much as I liked that one.
But honestly, it just needs one brilliant gag that makes me think that they can make it work. That last head-bobbing one is almost there. And Jack McBrayer essentially playing 30 Rock’s Kenneth on his honeymoon brings a smile to my face. Are you looking forward to this one?
Today The Ten, an underrated comedy from last summer, comes to DVD. Ten stories highlight each of the Bible’s Ten Commandments in a very loose way, with characters interconnecting between sketches. Each bit is extremely silly (an example: a man becomes a celebrity after falling from a plane and ending up embedded in the ground, unable to move). But they’re all played seriously. Helping to ground the absurd are serious actors and actresses like Oliver Platt, Gretchen Mol, Liev Schreiber and WInona Ryder, who has a torrid affair with a ventriloquist dummy. Also part of the fun are some great alt comedy folk including Ron Corddry, A.D. Miles, Jason Sudekis and nearly every member of “The State.” I got a chance to do a short email interview with “Ten” Director David Wain, who along with being a member of “The State” and “Stella” previously directed “Wet Hot American Summer.” We talked about interconnected sketches, absurdity and the classic comedy “Airplane.”
Sketch comedy movies are often described as hit or miss. Do you think that’s a fair criticism? It seems like an obvious thing to say about any movie – there will be parts you like more than other parts.
It makes sense that one would feel this way about sketch comedy because each part has a different premise, different set of characters, different style—not everyone is going to like every sketch. Also there’s an inevitable “dip” in a sketch-based film, when you’re not following a three-act story, where no matter how funny the jokes are, it can start to get tedious. In The Ten we tried to combat this phenomenon by keeping the whole movie relatively short, and by imbuing each piece with more than just jokes.
It’s interesting that a film using the Ten Commandments only has one segment (Gretchen Mol with Jesus Chriso) that plays with religion. Did you consciously want to stay away from religion?
It wasn’t a conscious choice so much as just where our taste lies. I’ve never been too interested comedy that’s overtly political or religious. In The Ten we were more interested in the underlying moral/ethical themes of the Ten Commandments as basis for a variety of comic stories.
When you’re doing a film that’s not necessarily for a mainstream audience, do you still have audience expectations that you have to deal with?
Of course. Even small independent movies take millions of dollars to make, and must connect so some sort of audience. That said, I’ve been extremely lucky that my first two movies (Wet Hot American Summer and The Ten) were made with almost zero influence from financiers, and we were largely allowed to freely explore our instincts and tastes (with certain casting requirements). As with most everything I’ve done, I just trusted that what we find funny, others will. How many others, I can never predict. Most things I’ve done has been met with obsessive worship from some, and abject hostility from others.
It seems with a sketch comedy film that once you move on to a new sketch that it’s hard to keep momentum. You’re setting up the next bits and what not. Do you think the ways that the characters in “The Ten” interconnect help to keep the momentum going?
Definitely. More than I anticipated, actually. We thought the way the characters overlapped was just icing on the cake of The Ten, but it turns out to have been a crucial element of the film that I’d have done much more of, in hindsight.
There’s a real love of the absurd in a lot of your comedy. How grounded does a scene or a sketch have to be before you can go off on a non-sequitur?
There’s certainly no formula. That kind of thing is entirely a matter of instinct and taste.
Are there times you have to throw away a gag because you have to serve the scene?
All the time. There’s a ton of deleted material on The Ten DVD that is exactly that. Of course The Ten had a much higher threshold for tangents and absurdity because we didn’t have an overall story to serve, to keep moving forward. The jokes were the first priority. In Wet Hot and Stella we more often had to throw out jokes that took away from the story drive, but those too were sketch-like narratives. The movie I’m working on now (currently untitled comedy for Universal) is a much more “straight-forward” narrative, and it’s an interesting and satisfying discipline to try to keep every scene and every joke as on-topic, on-character, and on-story as possible, while still making you laugh.
Is there a point where absurdity can change the tone so much that a film becomes like “Airplane”?
Well in infer from the way you word the question that you don’t like “Airplane.” I think “Airplane” is a classic comedy and far more sophisticated than it appears on the surface. This is why its myriad imitators (and sequels) haven’t worked, but the original “Airplane” lives on. It’s much more than just string of puns and sight gags. On the other hand, I have to admit I have always been wary of having too many “airplane jokes” in what I do, but that’s because I want to be true to my own specific voice and no one else’s. The Ten and Airplane share the idea that anything goes, in service of comedy. Narrative structure, logic, continuity, emotional reality, character depth—they all take a back seat. I can understand why this puts off some people. And truthfully, it puts me off too, when done recklessly. Nor would I want to have a movie diet of only absurdist comedies. But when done well, whether it’s Monty Python, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, Cohen Brothers, Peter Sellers, whoever… they can be sublime. The audiences and critics who have embraced The Ten have seen it as a whole movie, that even though it doesn’t the conventional earmarks of most feature films, there’s a cohesiveness to the point of view.
Editor’s Note: Just to be clear, I love “Airplane.” The reason I asked David about this is simply, “Airplane” is one thing and generally I think the aesthetic aspired to by Wain is another. It seemed like a pretty fine line to tread.
Doug Benson is essentially taking a punch line from his act and making it into a movie. Super High Me is using the template of Super Size Me to make a movie about marijuana’s effects, with Benson abstaining from smoking pot for 30 days and then getting baked for 30 straight days (“Business as usual” as he describes it).
After viewing the teaser below, I think I actually want Super High Me to be a little serious at times. There’s a suggestion that it’s more documentary than a funny riff on a format, so I might end up very pleased. I laughed pretty hard at Super Size Me at times, much of it because at the core it was important - the public health risks of how we eat. Of course this subject matter is, arguably, not as serious unless Benson is going to look at something like mandatory sentencing laws putting away relative minor offenders. Not sure Benson has something like that in him, but at least the film will have some cameos from folks like Bob Odenkirk and Brian Posehn. That ain’t so bad.
It’s a little strange when you’re more excited by the promotional efforts for a movie, rather than the movie itself. I suppose it’s common in our culture for action films (”Cloverfield Happy Meal - with Hazy Photos of the Monster Inside!”), but this is the first time I’ve ever experienced with a comedy.
For Semi-Pro, an upcoming sports comedy from Will Ferrell, they’re going to promote the movie with a stand-up tour entitled “Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die Comedy Tour Presented by Semi-Pro.” Included on the tour are some favorites of mine(and yours too) including Zach Galifianakis, Nick Swardson and Demetri Martin.
And the bizarre thing, at least according to the cast list, none of those guys are in Semi-Pro. It’s almost completely tangential. I can even see how some might argue that comedians like Demetri and Zach aren’t comics that Ferrell fans know or love. From the look of the trailer (included below), Semi-Pro doesn’t excite me, but it does look a lot like what people want from Will Ferrell. Nobody knows anything, but I wouldn’t be surprised if stand-up comedy tour or no stand-up comedy tour, the film would make exactly the same box office.
So with the film’s likely strength and the completely unrelated talent, I really think this tour is going to more for stand-up than it will for the movie. And considering the top-notch talent involved who will get that bump, I think I love Semi-Pro.