Behind-the-Scenes Comedy Review Roundup

A lot of people seem to enjoy spending October watching and reviewing horror movies all month, just because of one day at the end. Well, fair enough, if that’s your bag. But for now, let’s lighten the mood with a handful of pretty good comedies, all of which are related to the making of film and television… in one way or another…

In today’s roundup:

  • Mindhorn (2016)
  • In & Out (1997)
  • Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)


    Mindhorn
    (2016)

    2018 #34
    Sean Foley | 88 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK / English | 15

    Mindhorn

    Back in the ’80s, actor Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt) starred in Mindhorn, a successful TV show about a detective on the Isle of Man who has a cybernetic eye that can see the truth — think Bergerac meets The Six Million Dollar Man. When an escaped lunatic insists he will only speak to Mindhorn, a washed-up Thorncroft sees an opportunity to revive his career by solving a real crime.

    Produced by and co-starring Steve Coogan, there’s definitely something a little bit Alan Partridge about Mindhorn — the blustering nobody who thinks he’s a star, rubbing people up the wrong way but carrying on regardless. It’s just one of several things Mindhorn is likely to vaguely remind you of. Even if it feels somewhat derivative, it’s still pretty funny, with some of the best bits coming from throwaway cameos. The whole supporting cast is very good indeed, actually, full of strong British actors having some fun. The film seems to derail a bit when it pretends to wrap the case up after half-an-hour, but it gets funny again once it has the common sense to restart it.

    So, not the greatest Brit-com ever — heck, it’s not even the greatest action-movie-spoofing Brit-com ever (*coughHotFuzzcough*) — but it’s mostly pretty amusing.

    3 out of 5

    In & Out
    (1997)

    2018 #39
    Frank Oz | 87 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

    In & Out

    Inspired by Tom Hanks’ acceptance speech at the 1994 Oscars — when, after winning for Philadelphia, he thanked a gay teacher — In & Out is about a teacher whose former pupil wins an Oscar and, during his acceptance speech, outs the teacher as gay. The twist is, the teacher in question (Kevin Kline) didn’t know he was gay, and nor did anyone else — including his fiancée (Joan Cusack). As the media descends on the quiet little old-fashioned town and whips up a frenzy, the whole thing turns into a bit of a farce, albeit with a positive underlying message about sexuality and, ultimately, community. The premise barely sustains even this brief running time, but it’s all quite good-natured and likeable.

    3 out of 5

    Zack and Miri Make a Porno
    (2008)

    2018 #179
    Kevin Smith | 98 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 18 / R

    Zack and Miri Make a Porno

    It’s funny how some movies cause a stir on release and then get kinda forgotten. The very concept of Zack and Miri Make a Porno (it’s in the title) was enough to give some people palpitations a decade ago, and the poster that alluded to oral sex (less a visual double entendre, more a single one) did nothing to help. And yet, does anyone really talk about it now? It’s only stuck in my mind because it’s on my 50 Unseen list from 2008, and I’ve not been able to cross it off because for a very long time it was never available to watch anywhere (it finally popped up on Netflix a couple of months ago). Well, I’m glad it did, because I really enjoyed it.

    As I said, the pitch is in the title. Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are two old friends and housemates struggling to make ends meet, and who (through various plot machinations) decide to make a porn film together. As you do. Despite that risqué theme, the main relationship follows all your typical romcom beats; but those work because they work, and the edgy subject matter covers them up somewhat. Most surprisingly, their romance turns out to be actually quite sweet — even if major turning points hinge on things like them fucking for the first time in front of an audience. Aside from that, the film is full of the rude, crude, gross-out style humour that you’d expect, but I found it very funny nonetheless.

    4 out of 5

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  • Dogma (1999)

    100 Films’ 100 Favourites #24

    It can be Hell getting into Heaven.

    Country: USA
    Language: English
    Runtime: 128 minutes
    BBFC: 15
    MPAA: R

    Original Release: 12th November 1999 (USA)
    UK Release: 26th December 1999
    First Seen: DVD, c.2004

    Stars
    Ben Affleck (Armageddon, Daredevil)
    Matt Damon (The Rainmaker, The Bourne Identity)
    Linda Fiorentino (The Last Seduction, Men in Black)
    Salma Hayek (Desperado, Frida)
    Alan Rickman (Die Hard, Galaxy Quest)

    Director
    Kevin Smith (Clerks, Red State)

    Screenwriter
    Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy, Zack and Miri Make a Porno)

    The Story
    When two fallen angels discover a loophole that might allow them back into Heaven, a normal woman is charged with stopping them before they bring about the apocalypse. Hilarity ensues.

    Our Heroes
    Abortion clinic worker Bethany has greatness heaped upon her when the voice of God gives her a mission (“I don’t want this, it’s too big.” “That’s what Jesus said.”). She ends up collecting a motley crew of followers and helpers, including 13th apostle Rufus, Serendipity herself, and idiot-prophets Jay and Silent Bob.

    Our Villains
    Banished angels Loki and Bartleby are fed up with living on Earth, but that’s okay because they’ve found a loophole that will get them back into Heaven. It might destroy the world or something, but, y’know, collateral damage ‘n’ all that.

    Best Supporting Character
    Alan Rickman again (see also: last time), this time as Metatron — not an anime hero or Power Rangers villain, but the dry-witted, genital-less Voice of God.

    Memorable Quote
    “Any moron with a pack of matches can set a fire. Raining down sulphur is like an endurance trial, man. Mass genocide is the most exhausting activity one can engage in, next to soccer.” — Loki

    Memorable Scene
    Whiling away time until they can execute their plan, Bartleby and Loki invade a company’s board meeting and expose the members’ secrets. (Any scene that features Bartleby + Loki + dialogue is among the film’s best bits.)

    Truly Special Effect
    I suppose it’s a relatively simple one really, but I’ve always thought the various characters’ wings look magnificently ‘real’. That’s the beauty of practical effects for you.

    Letting the Side Down
    This isn’t about the film itself, but they made a behind-the-scenes documentary, called Judge Not: In Defense of Dogma, which wasn’t actually ready for the film’s DVD release. Instead, it was included on the later DVD of Vulgar (not heard of it? Me either.) Eight years later, when Dogma made its way to Blu-ray, the making-of… still wasn’t included. I mean, how hard is it to pay attention when creating a new release and do more than just “copy and paste” the DVD’s contents?!

    Making of
    Even before the film opened it was picketed by Christian protestors. Unbeknownst to that mob, the film’s writer-director Kevin Smith joined them… and, unrecognised, got interviewed on TV. Sounds kinda implausible, but it happened.

    Awards
    1 Razzie nomination (Worst Supporting Actress (Salma Hayek, also for Wild Wild West))

    What the Critics Said
    “those who would call it sacrilegious (and there will be many) should look beyond the foul language and crude humor, to see more deeply into Smith’s intentions to give the dusty doctrines of the ancient faith a fresh new perspective. Foul language aside, the film has some interesting things to say about human nature, and about the nature of those non-humans we have come to know and love, and hate, and pray to, and obsess about, over the last few millennia.” — John R. McEwen, Film Quips

    Score: 67%

    What the Public Say
    “The beginning of the movie has a few disclaimers pleading with a sensitive audience to not hate this movie because of its seemingly antireligious rhetoric. To be honest, I thought the message of ultimate religious tolerance was fairly clear. […] I don’t think Dogma will make you examine your faith any more than before you watched it. Instead it will let you turn a more satirical eye to the absurdities of the modern church bureaucracy and hopefully make you laugh a little bit about how ridiculous some of this shit is. It’s okay to have faith in a higher power, but getting too extreme with your ideals can make you an asshole.” — ThomFiles

    Verdict

    Not nearly as disrespectful to Christianity as the Bible-bashing protestors would like you to think, Kevin Smith’s religious comedy can be a bit of a mixed bag — the story is occasionally a tad baggy and the toilet humour sometimes goes too far for my taste, but there are plenty of amusing scenes, lines and performances. Irreverent and crude, to be sure, but sometimes surprisingly clever, and consistently funny.

    #25 will be… setless.

    The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (2015)

    2015 #95
    Jon Schnepp | 104 mins | download (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | *

    Jon Schnepp’s widely-reviewed documentary about the batshit-crazy Nic Cage-starring Tim Burton-directed Superman movie that almost happened in 1999. If all you’ve seen are the photos of a stoned-looking Cage in a light-up abomination of a Superman costume that leaked onto the internet a few years ago, prepare to be amazed. Indeed, those infamous photos and footage are an aberration that this documentary explains.

    Schnepp guides us neatly through the film’s protracted development, from the early script stages — initially penned by Kevin Smith — right up to costume fittings and special effects tests. It’s remarkable how late in the day the film was canned. A wide array of interviewees means the documentary offers a genuine insight into the entire process, with the likes of screenwriters and concept artists offering details on specific elements, to producer Jon Peters (certainly a ‘character’) and director Tim Burton sharing more of an overview of the project. Indeed, the only significant absentee is Cage.

    Some have said Schnepp puts himself in the film too much. He’s a long, long way from the worst example of a documentary maker intruding too heavily, in my opinion, though it’s true that at times he could pull it back a bit. A sequence where someone takes a phone call mid-interview while Schnepp patiently has a drink is presumably supposed to be some kind of comedic interlude, but it’s obviously an inside joke because it’s a narrative-interrupting pause with no worthwhile effect. Thankfully, such indulgences are few and far between.

    There seem to be an increasing number of “making-of documentaries about films that didn’t get made”, to the extent where it’s almost turning into a sub-genre. The highly-praised Jodorowsky’s Dune is a fixture of my “must watch soon” list, while one looking into George “Mad Max” Miller’s very-nearly-happened Justice League movie is in the works. Schnepp has said that while producing The Death of “Superman Lives” he also uncovered information on a variety of other well-known didn’t-happen superhero movies (like J.J. Abrams’ Superman: Flyby, Wolfgang Petersen’s Batman vs Superman, and Darren Aronofksy’s Batman: Year One) and is considering turning those stories into a TV series. I hope he does.

    No one outright claims Superman Lives would have been a huge success, as you might expect they would (especially Peters). Instead, as the documentary comes to a close, an interesting consensus emerges from its contributors: that Superman Lives would have been either a completely revolutionary hit or a critical and commercial bomb, but, either way, it would certainly have been interesting. Although this documentary is only really worthwhile for anyone already intrigued by the project or fans of behind-the-scenes-of-blockbusters tales, it’s hard to disagree with that opinion.

    4 out of 5

    The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? is available to purchase in a variety of digital packages, as well as on DVD and Blu-ray, from tdoslwh.com.

    * There are no certificates because it’s not officially been released in the UK and it’s “not rated” in the US. If you’re bothered, it would probably be a 15 / R for language. ^

    TMNT (2007)

    2015 #99
    Kevin Munroe | 87 mins | streaming | 2.35:1 | USA & Hong Kong / English | PG / PG

    The kids’ phenomenon of the ’80s/’90s has never quite gone away, and this film is one thing that kept it ticking over in the ’00s. I watched out of nostalgia, which may’ve been a mistake.

    Eschewing an origin story, it dives in as a sequel rather than reboot; consequently, you constantly feel you’ve missed something, particularly given the focus on the heroes’ fractured relationships. The plot’s alright, though it’s an odd choice to not use any of the franchise’s major villains. Some action sequences are moderately entertaining, but other animations have provided better.

    I expected little and was still disappointed.

    2 out of 5

    Southland Tales (2006)

    2008 #63
    Richard Kelly | 139 mins | DVD | 15 / R

    Southland Tales

    – confusing mess? or profound experience?

    I won’t go into my full “how I discovered Donnie Darko” spiel [save that for whenever I finally watch the Director’s Cut!], but ever since I saw Richard Kelly’s first writing/directing effort way back on its original UK release I’ve been waiting eagerly for his second film. It’s a testament to the negativity of the reviews it received — and, perhaps, the influence of reviews in general — that I skipped Southland Tales at the cinema, left it five months after release before getting it on DVD… and even then it was only a rental.

    At some point, Kelly split his story into six parts and, in a Star Wars-like move, the film was to be Parts 4-6, while the first three would be told in accompanying graphic novels. “The film will work fine without reading them,” he said (I paraphrase here), “but reading them will lead to a deeper experience.” Southland Tales: The Movie begins with a long recap of events from these books, going so far as to include images from their art. “Oops”?

    You have to wonder, if you switched “Directed by Richard Kelly” for, say, “Directed by David Lynch”, would the critics’ reviews have suddenly jumped up a star or two? [some of it is certainly very Lynchian in feel — not a normal film with bemusing aspects, like Donnie Darko, but an all-out muddled weird-fest]

    • David Lynch fans may find this more entertaining than most. Or they may hate it for trying to be Lynchian but failing, or perhaps like it as an example of why Lynch is so good and others fail when they attempt similar feats. I don’t know how they’d use it like that, but I expect they would know.
    • the clear IV, V and VI presented at the start of each chapter — as well as showing I, II and III blatantly on screen during the recap, and having the narration have to recap bits of them — seems to hammer home that this is really for people who are prepared to invest in the whole thing, not people who just watch the film

    ** raises the question, should you ever have to go further (e.g. reading companion books, comics, websites, etc) to understand a film? Yes and no. If it’s consciously part of a wider ‘experience’, labelled and marketed as such, then why not? But if it’s sold as a film in its own right — or, at least, potentially in its own right (as this was) — then it should really work that way too.

    • narration: tries to explain everything, though does very little to help (difference between Kelly and someone like Lynch, who just leaves it all up to the viewer?) — at times almost uncomfortably over-explaining — you wish it could’ve been done properly, rather than with narration
    • Kelly spent months re-editing, following the critical panning it got at Cannes, trimming the length and restructuring it. And it seems to show, as it feels like a failed attempt to construct something legible out of a mess of half-thought-through scenes and subplots
    • one feels a good director’s commentary and/or the original cut might shed more light on things — this is the sort of film that could benefit from a decent DVD edition, that it probably won’t get due to its lack of popularity… unless it gains surprise critical acceptance years down the line, which isn’t unheard of… though I wouldn’t bank on it here. Perhaps, one day, when we’re all watching Data Crystals, Kelly will have gained enough reputation that a 20th anniversary release will finally explain the damned thing
    • seems to become clearer toward end — there are some answers, at least — but ultimately a lot is left out
    • too many of the ‘underlying ideas’ in the climax feel like a Donnie Darko rehash; odd musical numbers and long takes add to this feeling — almost like Kelly’s taken what he did in Darko and tried to expand it into some ensemble epic kinda thing

    i thought, with respect to the film’s crazy half-constructed mess of half-ideas, i’d copy&paste my notes rather than a normal review. so at least that’s one answer at the end for you.

    when it was originally conceived, it was set a couple of years in the future; now, it’s just set ‘now’; and soon, of course, it will be set in a fictional past — the copyright year on the film is 2005; it’s credited as 2006 on IMDb (which is when it turned up at Cannes); it was finally released in 2007; and it’s set in 2008

    I really wanted to like Southland Tales, in spite of the critical mauling it received, and because I loved Donnie Darko and actually enjoyed Domino too (which Kelly wrote). Maybe — maybe — with time to invest in reading the prequel graphic novels, and exploring whatever official sites or crazy fan theories may be out there on the web, I could get more from this film. Personally, I don’t have that kind of time to invest right now, but I might give it a shot sometime. Until then, it will just remain a largely disappointing mess.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0405336/faq

    this is the way the review ends, not with a bang but with a whimper

    2 out of 5

    Southland Tales featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2008, which can be read in full here.