TBT – Young Frankenstein (1974)

classic, films, Frankenstein, fucking funny, Gene Wilder, Halloween, horror, Mel Brooks, parody, reviews

Halloween is fast approaching and, if I were any kind of film blogger, then I’d be using this post to review a classic horror film. However, I am always held back by the fact that I’m something of a wimp. I’ve never been a big fan of the horror genre and have avoided many of them. It’s not the violence as much as it is the jump scares. It doesn’t take a lot to have me leaping out of my seats so I’m constantly on edge. This is bad enough in non-traditional horror films, like Alien or something, so how would I cope watching a film that was created with the sole intention to scare the shit out of me. It’s not something I’m very proud of but I am what I am. There are some notable exceptions, obviously, but I tend to just let the biggest horror sensations pass me by. Really, though, I have no real interest in being scared. I don’t want to pay to see how far a writer will go to try and terrify people willing to pay for the experience. I know certain people enjoy the rush of watching these films but I just don’t get it. Maybe it’s because it’s harder for me to go back to normal and turn off the fear response? Who knows. Whatever the reason, I just never have a desire to
watch horror films so, in order to celebrate this time of year, I’m doing the genre the only way I know how: by watching a parody of it.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of my favourite books. It helps that I was tasked with reading it for every year I was at university but it was something I was more than happy to do. Shelley’s story has been described as the birth of science-fiction because of her tale of a scientist raising the dead. However, it was the inspiration for plenty of classic horror films from as early as 1910. The character of the monster went on to frequent many films, which gave rise to the mistake that it is the monster and not the Doctor who is Frankenstein. But that’s not really important. Despite the sheer number of Frankenstein films that already existed, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder decided that there was room for another. This time about a member of the family who does everything he can to get away from his family’s chequered past.

The Young Frankenstein of the title is Frederick Frankenstein, a professor who is so ashamed of his infamous grandfather, the Victor of Shelley’s novel, that he changes the pronunciation to ‘Fronkensteen’. Until the moment that he is presented with his grandfather’s will and he makes an unwelcome return to Transylvania. There he discovers Victor’s old notebooks that describe the process for reanimating a corpse. Very quickly, Fronkensteen is starting up the old family business and robbing corpses and brains in the name of science. All of this with the help of his trusty lab assistants, Igor, son of Victor’s own servant, and Inga, the busty babe who quickly catches his eye. There’s also the slight problem of the townsfolk who don’t trust Frederick and a monster that constantly escapes from the castle.

Young Frankenstein is a silly but incredibly shrewd parody of the classic horror films from the 1930s-50s. Brooks and Wilder created a script that played up on the traditions whilst cleverly working against them. It is Mel Brooks at his greatest. The whole thing looks and feels just like the films it is trying to copy. All of the techniques, visuals and sets are exactly the kind of thing you’d see in films like James Whale’s Frankenstein. It looks completely realistic, which not only makes it feel familiar but also makes it funnier. It’s a carefully crafted and intelligently made film. It works as a parody but also works as a story in itself. Young Frankenstein is a funny film. Yes, not everything works completely and there are definitely funnier Brooks films out there. That doesn’t mean the comedy isn’t there. Even the most obvious humour works here. There are moments that you shouldn’t want to find hilarious but just work. It may not have the sheer thrills of the normal fair you’d watch on Halloween but it’s definitely worth a watch.

TBT – Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2008)

films, fucking ridiculous, Jack Black, John C. Reilly, Judd Apatow, meh, parody, Paul Rudd, reviews

Yesterday I left work a little early after feeling super ill all day. I was knocking back pints of ginger beer and peppermint tea in the hopes that it would prevent the waves of nausea that kept hitting me like a tsunami. So when I finally got home all I wanted to do was get into bed and watch the film I always watch when I’m sick. I know it’s a bit of cliche but how can anyone watch anything other than The Princess Bride when they’re stuck in bed? Well, as luck would have it, I couldn’t find my copy of the film so had to pick something else. Thankfully, the case of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? flashed out at me from the shelves and, as I haven’t seen it in ages, I thought it would be a nice treat. If only the fucking DVD had been where it was meant to be. So, to top off an already shitty day, I’m left blankly staring at a sea of films that I’m really not in the mood for. So I do what any person would do in 2017 when they can’t make up their mind: I googled it. Well, I googled “random film generator” and eventually came up with this. I’d never seen Walk Hard before but I used to live with a guy who spent ages trying to convince me it was the
greatest thing ever. I also adore everything about John C Reilly. So, after spending way too long on such an insignificant decision, I was finally wrapped up in the bed I’d been dreaming about since 9 am that morning.

For a time, it looked as though the early 2000s was a time of the music biopic. There was Ray, Walk the Line, La Vie en Rose, I’m Not There and god knows how many more all out within the first decade of the noughties. Despite being based on the real life of musicians, all of these films end up following the same sort of pattern. We see a troubled young wannabe struggle to get past their childhood, sliding out of obscurity into the big time and stopping off to sample women, booze and drugs before they finally become legends. It’s your average from zero to hero success story that oh so wonderfully follows the equation for the American dream. So it was only natural that Judd Apatow would see it as a genre was rife for parody. I mean I’m Not There already felt like a ridiculous spoof as it was so why not make a film that actually meant to be funny?

So in walks Dewey Cox played by John C. Reilly: a legendary rock star who has overcome a childhood trauma to become a decade spanning superstar. What is that trauma, you ask? Cutting his older bother, a gift pianist, in half with a machete. The death ways heavily on Dewey’s father, who blames his remaining son, and on Dewey himself, who believes he needs to produce enough success for the both of them. This is what drives him to pick up a guitar and aim for the big time. As he embarks on a massive tour, he finds himself drawn into the ever expanding world of drugs and groupies until he meets the woman of his dreams. Backing singer Darlene (Jenna Fischer) catches his eye immediately and, after singing a raunchy duet together, the chemistry becomes too much to ignore. With her help, Dewey is able to realise what is truly important to him.

There is a lot to enjoy about Walk Hard but it is a concept that never really reaches great heights. John C Reilly’s performance as Dewey is superb as he plays everything with a naive charm. Reilly’s musical talents were hardly a secret before this film but we now see how adept he is at imitation. Dewey goes through several changes of style during his career and Reilly becomes almost chameleon esque as he channels the likes of Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. It’s a highly impressive turn that, if I’m honest, this film doesn’t really deserve. Co-writers Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan made the perfect choice in casting the actor because it is his straight-faced and sincere performance that holds all of this together. Well, that and some amazing original songs. The soundtrack is truly remarkable in that it manages to be both hilarious and an incredibly well composed bunch of songs. Each one is a great quality and really represents the musical style of the time it was supposed to be mimicking. Again, it is something that this film didn’t really deserve.

It’s not that Walk Hard isn’t a good film or that it isn’t a humour spoof of the genre. It does everything it wants to quite well but it doesn’t exactly push itself. The jokes don’t exactly come thick and fast and, if I’m honest, a lot of them don’t quite land. This film would have worked better if it wasn’t too obviously trying to sell itself as a parody. The jokes that are desperate and downright silly get old really quickly. There’s a fantastic moment later in the film when Dewey ends up dropping acid with the Beatles in India. The Fab Four are played by Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Justin Long and Jason Schwartzman. Now these are obviously not the four actors you’d get to play the Beatles in any ordinary circumstances but it is the stand out scene in the entire film. In fact, all of the slightly miscast celeb “cameos” are hilarious. These clever bits of movie making just make the incredibly silly and unnecessary moments seem worse than they are. The times Walk Hard when this flies are the times when John C Reilly is allowed to get on with the job of playing the character. If this had been played a tad straighter then it could have been a different thing all together.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Mindhorn (2017)

cops, films, fucking creepy, fucking funny, fucking ridiculous, fucking weird, parody, reviews, Steve Coogan, the mighty boosh

I guess I’ve always had a bit of a weird sense of humour but, as I get older, it’s becoming more and more obvious to m that people are just nodding politely whenever I’m trying to be funny. Years ago, my twin sister prepared me to meet her boyfriend for the first time by uttering the phrase “don’t be weird”. There’s nothing quite like sisterly love, eh? So, yeah, you could say I’m a bit strange at times. I blame television. Okay, I blame the television I grew up watching. I was a huge fan of weird British comedies like Spaced, The Adam and Joe Show, Alan PartridgeThe League of Gentlemen, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Peep Show, and, most importantly for the purposes of this post, The Mighty Boosh. Now, and I feel super fucking old having to write this, it’s been 10 years since the final episode of the show aired and the pair have gone on to other things. Noel Fielding has entered the murky, innuendo filled world of baking shows whilst Julian Barratt has done bits and bobs in films, television, and theatre. Maybe its just his Northern charm but I have always absolutely adored Julian Barratt. I knew plenty of girls around my age who were major fans of Vince Noir’s face. Personally, I was always a bit in love with Howard Moon. So, when Mindhorn was announced I was beyond excited. Of course, being as useless as always, I never got round to watching it… until now.

From what I can recall, Bruce Mindhorn first made an appearance in The Mighty Boosh radio show as a poet taking part in a talent competition. Clearly, since then, he’s gone through a bit of an identity crisis and rebranded himself as the greatest law enforcer on the Isle of Man. Detective Bruce Mindhorn, gifted with a cybernetic eye that could see the truth, was the star of a hit 1980s tv cop show played by actor Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt). Caught up in the wave of popularity that came with his role in the show, Richard left the Isle of Man to make it in Hollywood. Cut to 25 years later and Richard is a shadow of the man he once was but, thanks to a handy murder, he is about to be given an opportunity to turn his life around. A young girl’s body has been found and the deluded prime suspect is demanding to speak to Detective Mindhorn. Can Richard get back into character and help the police capture their man? Or will his quest for fame hinder the investigation?

Written by and starring Barratt and Simon Farnaby, Mindhorn isn’t exactly what you’d call cutting edge. We’ve seen the basic premise of a washed-up former star getting one last chance for redemption countless times. The plot is hardly a stretch but it does provide some fun. It introduces us to the weird, slightly awkward and occasionally laugh out loud funny world of Richard Thorncroft and, despite being incredibly similar, it’s still ever so slightly better than 2013’s Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. A great deal of the humour comes thick and fast in the opening scenes where we learn the history of Bruce Mindhorn and the people associated with the show. The spoofs on classics like Bergerac and Six Million Dollar Man are spectacular and you can well believe, now more than ever, that a show that insane would have been broadcast. Throughout the film there are hints as the same kind of zany humour that filled all 3 series of The Mighty Boosh but, kind of, more rooted in reality. I’m not going to pretend the jokes hit every single time but there is enough comedic energy to keep driving the meagre plot forward.

What absolutely helps is that all of the actors tackle their roles with aplomb. Julian Barratt’s clearly doesn’t give a shit about anything but making people laugh. Up for anything, his portrayal of Throncroft is both hilarious and strangely touching. The obvious narrative wouldn’t work anywhere near as well as it does if you didn’t, despite everything, actually give a shit about this guy. As he slowly realises what an arse he’s been, you’ll find all of that initial annoyance fading away. His co-writer is on less solid ground as Thorncroft’s ex-stuntman, Clive, thanks to a Dutch accent that is only marginally better than the one last heard in Austin Powers: Goldmember but you’ve got to give him props for happily walking around the Isle of Man topless and wearing denim short shorts. Russell Tovey puts every effort into his role as The Kestrel, the deluded young man who the police are chasing and holds his fair share of the laughs. Steve Coogan pops his head up as Thorncroft’s ex-costar who found insane fame thanks to a spin-off from the original show. It’s hardly Coogan’s best or most memorable work but it sure beats anything he did in the early 2000s (*cough* The Parole Officer *cough*).

Which, ultimately, is fine. Mindhorn is an uneven and kind of mediocre comedy that will appeal to fans of Barratt and those who miss the glory days of 70s cop shows. It is, in a way, a warning to the idea of nostalgia and fandoms that never quite finds its voice enough to relay its message. What is does, for the most part, is manage to be funny. Not as much as it would have liked but, you know, God loves a trier. And yes, it does have the whiff of a 30 minute TV episode that has been stretched out for the big screen but, aside from a few plot strands that do nowhere, it’s super easy to mask the smell. Mindhorn won’t be for everyone, I realise, but, after dismal big screen appearances from both Alan Partridge and David Brent in recent years, Barratt has managed to move his brand of comedy to film. Yes, this is very different from a Mighty Boosh movie but, maybe, that’s why it works as well as it does. This film isn’t trying to be fresh or relevant. It just wants to make you laugh and, goddammit, it occasionally will do.

TBT – Casa de mi Padre (2012)

comedy, Diego Luna, films, fucking weird, Gael García Bernal, parody, silly, TBT, Will Ferrell

On Tuesday I criticised Will Ferrell’s new film The House for being short at 88 minutes long. Casa di mi Padre undercuts that by 3 minutes. So, if you thought I was harsh to the former then just wait until I get started on the latter. Until I watched it specifically for this review I’d never seen this film before. I used to pride myself on watching every film that Will Ferrell starred in but, over the years, I’ve really become quite lax in my viewing. I think it was probably around the Bewitched era when it just became a bit too much for me. I feel as though I’m on fairly safe ground with any kind of Will Ferrell/Adam McKay combination but the pair only act as one of the many producers for this film. Instead it is a combined effort of ex-SNL writer, Andrew Steele’s, script and Funny or Die co-creator, Matt Piedmont, in the director’s chair. I can’t say that, after seeing the disappointing results of a union between Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, I wasn’t exactly excited to see this. Especially when it couldn’t even find enough comedy to fill a 90 minute running time. Then again, maybe it’s just so well-developed that anything over 85 minutes would be too much for the audience to handle? It’s possible, right?

You know that Will Ferrell character who starts off being a mild-mannered, lovable loser who is forced to become a badass? You might well ask “which one?” because, these days, it’s fucking all of them. He’s the guy we saw it in The Other Guys, The House, Get Hard, and Daddy’s Home. No doubt there are countless others that I just never got round to seeing. Casa de mi Padre is different, though, because Ferrell turns into a badass whilst speaking Spanish. Genius! Casa de mi Padre is the telenovela parody that nobody wanted or needed Ferrell to be a part of. A film that combines subtitles, an impressive cast, including Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, an utterly silly narrative and, underwhelming jokes. What’s not to love?

We have seen Ferrell take on many unlikely guises over the years but this has to be one of the more out there ones. He plays Armando Álvarez, a Mexican rancher on his father’s cattle ranch. His world is turned upside down when his younger brother, Raúl (Diego Luna), returns to the homestead with a beautiful fiance, Sonia (Génesis Rodríguez), in tow. Armando not only instantly falls for his future sister-in-law but discovers that his brother is a drugs dealers who has come back to finish his war with fellow dealer Onza (Gael García Bernal). When Sonia is put in danger, Armando has to prove himself to everyone who saw him as the useless brother.

It’s hardly the most exicting or original story we’ve ever seen but that is probably more to do with the genre it is parodying. This isn’t really a film that wants to do something new and exciting but that wants to give Ferrell and co the chance to go all out with their performances. The problem is, there isn’t enough within Casa di mi Padre to get a lot of laughs out of. That’s not to say that there aren’t any enjoyable moments in the film but they are few and far between. Most of the humour is forced through obvious spoofs of the television dramas it is based on. There are dodgy backdrops, ‘hilarious’ bad continuity, and terrible editing. Still, there are a couple of memorable moments that will get more than a mere titter form the audience. It’s just a shame that there aren’t more.

Honestly, there is never a point where Casa di mi Padre feels like a real film. It’s more like a sketch that really outstays it’s welcome or a fake trailer that would briefly go viral before becoming irrelevant. Unfortunately, it is a real film and it stars real actors. They all give it their best shot but there is just too little for them to work with. It never really strikes a balance between serious or silly. Ferrell always gives 100% to every part he plays but there isn’t enough to Armando for it to ever come to anything. His Spanish lines always feel too awkward to feel real but not silly enough to feel intentional. This could have been a wonderful and fresh comedy but it just feels cheap and pointless.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

films, fucking funny, mockumentary, parody, review

I don’t quite trust people who don’t like The Lonely Island, the comedy music trio formed by Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, and Jorma Taccone. Yes, it’s completely childish and base humour but that doesn’t stop it being funny. I’ve come up against a few people over the years who dismiss the trio as unfunny but I know at least one of those people voted to leave the EU this week so, clearly, their opinions aren’t worth listening to. I’ve permanently got their music on my everyday Spotify playlist and at 630 am there is nothing quite like listening to ‘I’m on a Boat’ to get you ready for a shift. So, suffice it to say, when I heard the trio were starring in a new music mockumentary then I was excited. Particularly in this new and awful world where the likes of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and One Direction were all getting their time on the big screen. It’s about time someone came along and showed us all how absurd this all is. It’s probably also the first time I’ve ever been this keen to see a film produced by Judd Apatow.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is essentially a copy of Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never but with actual jokes. The film, written by the Lonely Island trio, sees Andy Samberg play the Bieber-esque figure Connor4Real who, after a runaway success of a first album, is awaiting the release of his follow-up. Connor is trying to make a name for himself as a solo act following his departure from boyband The Style Boyz. The other Style Boyz have faired less well than Connor, of course. The guy who wrote the musis, Owen (played by fellow Lonely Island Member Jorma Taccone) is using his talents as Connor’s DJ, which mainly consists of pressing play on a iPod. The band’s lyricist, Lawrence (played by last Lonely Islander Akiva Schaffer) is living a lonely existence as a farmer after falling out with Connor over the rights to an award-winning verse. Although, it soon becomes clear that life after The Style Boyz is going to be more difficult than Connor though as his second album fails to live up to its predecessor.

Connor’s path is laid out pretty obviously in front of the audience and the final act won’t cause any real surprises. Although, the lack of originality doesn’t make it any less entertaining and the final act will give the emotional pay-off that the film needs. Popstar isn’t a film that wanted to break any boundaries and it never claimed to be the next This Is Spinal Tap. It’s unfortunate that the film will constantly be compared to this pinnacle of the genre because Popstar is actually a pretty good mockumentary. It doesn’t just try exaggerate the modern day obsession with pop stars but parodies this world really well. Connor’s songs are as outlandish as any Lonely Island song but with the added benefit of sound like the kind of music youths are blasting out of their phones these days.

The best, and possibly worst, thing about the film is that Connor4Real is exactly the kind of personality that could make it big in today’s world. He has the massive ego and lack of self-awareness that the likes of Justin Bieber have made such a common feature of the pop scene. This film is about more than just taking cheap shots at celebrities but has some entertaining satire about the entertainment industry. It’s very easy to mock the vapid stars of today but, thankfully, The Lonely Island find a more intelligent way to go about things. It takes on the topics of branding modern pop stars and the importance of social media in ensuring a musicians value. There is more to this film than just “isn’t Bieber a fucking idiot”.

Although, is it impossible to ignore the sense that The Lonely Island aren’t comfortable with the elongated format. Their short music videos are filled with great writing, music and visual gags but this film often revisits jokes to stretch the narrative out a bit. You often get the feeling that this film is nothing more than a few of their new songs stuck together using a flimsy but inconsequential plot. A plot that is nothing more than a few episodic situations that get characters to where they need to be in the strangest or funniest way possible. It’s basically a few funny sketches with a few funny songs and some extra words in between. This doesn’t mean it’s not funny but it also means it’s nothing to write home about.

What saves the film from total failure is the cast and the sheer number of celeb cameos that litter the run time. Now, obviously the three main stars have a tried and tested chemistry but they probably would have benefited from better written characters. As it is, they often get overlooked by the secondary figures, most obviously Conner’s rival rapper Hunter (Chris Redd) and his manager (Tim Meadows) and publicist (Sarah Silverman). Then we have the obligatory appearances from Samberg’s fellow SNL-alumni, inlcuding Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader and Will Forte. In order to keep up the appearance of a documentary there are the occasional breakaways for talking heads from a host of famous faces, like Simon Cowell, Maria Carey and DJ Khaled. Whilst there are some funny moments from these many cameos, it was clearly a quantity over quality kind of deal.

Still, there is something about Popstar that just works. It’s not the greatest nor is it the funniest example of this kind of film but it is harmlessly silly. It has the same feel that The Lonely Island back catalogue has. It’ll make you laugh even if you think you’re better than that kind of humour. It is a pretty shrewd parody of modern pop stars and, you can’t deny, it could easily have been a much more tragic affair had The Lonely Island not been in charge. Yes, Popstar can’t quite elevate itself to the heights of Spinal Tap but it will give enough laughs to keep anyone with even a vague knowledge of current music entertained enough. And sometimes that should be enough.

TBT – Galaxy Quest (1999)

alan rickman, films, parody, review, sci-fi, Star Trek, TBT

So, as we established last week, I’m still in mourning over here. Watching Die Hard reminded me of how good Alan Rickman was so I decided it was best to continue to celebrate his talent for the next few Thursdays. Whilst Die Hard and the Harry Potter films are probably his most loved roles and Robin Hood being another memorable and iconic characters, I’m going to focus on my personal favourites. The films I grew up knowing Alan Rickman from. The films that shaped the way I saw the actor. In his life, Rickman wasn’t incredibly happy about being named one of the greatest actors for playing villains. He had a wicked sense of humour and enjoyed playing light-hearted roles as much as the straight ones. This can be seen most obviously in this 90s Star Trek parody.

Everything about Galaxy Quest is instantly so familiar. The outrageous television plots, a science-fiction convention filled with desperate fans in costume and the washed-up actors arguing backstage. Dean Parisot’s send-up of the Star Trek television show and the Trekkie fandom is not meant to be a criticism of a much-loved franchise. It’s actually an incredibly funny homage to a series that has, and continues to, affect the lives of so many people. So good, that Trekkies once ranked it as the 7th best Star Trek film.

Galaxy Quest is set 18 years after a popular science fiction show has been cancelled. The fans have stayed loyal but the stars are now shining much less brightly than they once were. The series hero, Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), still insists on taking the limelight and act like the Commander he’s best known as. When Nesmith and his fellow cast members are taken onboard a real-life spaceship they find themselves in an illogical situation where fact and fiction collide dramatically. They must use their knowledge of the show that made them famous, the knowledge of their loyal fans, and their own dumb luck to save a doomed alien race from the deadly warlord Sarris (Robin Sachs).

Suffice is to say, this film isn’t going to win any awards for being surprising or complicated. It’s your basic ‘aliens think a TV show is real so recreate every detail and place the actors in real peril’ narrative but that doesn’t make it any less pleasing. It takes details everyone, fans or not, will recognise about Star Trek without ever verging on the mean. The portrayal of the fans is extreme but it only thanks to the help of the devout that the crew are able to return to Earth safely. Their in-depth knowledge is the key to success ans as such celebrated instead of ridiculed.

It also boasts a pretty great cast with comic actor Tim Allen excelling in his William Shatner impression. I can’t say I’ve always been a fan of Allen but I love him here. It’s a funny and clever performance. Backed up by some great work from Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman. Both offer incredibly funny performances without ever compromising their well-known talent. Rickman in particular shines in every scene and appears nothing but professional. I love him here.

There is a great deal of humour to be found in the satirical look a science fiction television. The film soars when it really delves into the illogical plots of the episodes. The dramatic scene where our heroes are running through an assault course of mechanisms ready to smush them for no other reason than dramatic tension. There have been plenty of attempts to parody the formulas of shows like Star Trek but Galaxy Quest is by far the most successful. It never loses sight of the importance its source material or the people who love it. Yes, it’s the humour doesn’t always land but it doesn’t matter. It’s damn near perfect.