Category Archives: Screwball

Kung Fu Hustle (2004) 4.29/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 84.1
Genre: Martial Arts
Duration: 99 mins
Director: Stephen Chow
Stars: Stephen Chow, Wah Yuen, Qiu Yuen

Nothing will prepare you for the breadth of imagination, style, emotion, fight choreography, and just plain good story telling that Kung Fu Hustle serves up without interruption for 95 minutes. Writer/director/star/stunt man Stephen Chow is the best kept secret in the world of martial arts movie making. With his mind-boggling talent, he should be held in the same esteem as Quentin Tarantino but few outside the fans of the genre are aware of just how good this guy is. Chow leads the cast as a petty criminal determined to make a name for himself in a world of quirky yet powerful gangsters. However, things take a turn for the surreal when circumstances bring him to a tenement block on the outskirts of the city where the inhabitants are protected by an overbearing landlady and her husband, a couple who have more to them than meets the eye.

Chow’s characters inhabit a strange Kafkaesque world of Eastern noir where the traditional martial arts concept is injected with steroids. Super-fighters emerge when you’re least expecting it and do battle in some of the most innovative showdowns the medium has offered. This is the essence of a martial arts movie, a celebration of bold concepts, graceful momentum, and some thunderously good fight scenes. Surprisingly however, the story is just as good. Chow’s character is truly hilarious as he bumbles through the early scenes but undergoes real change as the story progresses. The film comes alive when the camera is on him and we’re rooting him for him all the way. There’s even a romantic angle thrown in that works a treat, allowing Chow to tie the whole thing together in a most satisfying fashion. There’s nothing about this masterpiece that isn’t fresh and inspiring and it’ll have you laughing and exhilarated from the first frame to the last.

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Caddyshack (1980) 3.72/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 88.9
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 98 mins
Director: Harold Ramis
Stars: Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield

If Caddyshack was merely a reflection of the sum of its parts, those parts (top comedic actors, original premise, tremendous script, outstanding soundtrack, and a great comedy director) are of such high quality that the film would still rank as a comedy classic. However, the film transcends the sum of those parts to become one of the most enjoyable movie watching experiences. Set in the hilarious Bushwood Country Club, the movie follows its caddies, the rich eccentrics they caddy for, and the various staff including its unstable groundskeeper as they go about their ridiculous daily business. Michael O’Keefe is perfect in the lead as the likable but cheeky Danny Noonan but this movie is as much if not more about the supporting cast of comedic heavyweights. Ted Knight is a riot as Judge Smails, Rodney Dangerfield finds the perfect vehicle for his unique brand of humour (“hey lady, you wanna make 14 dollars the hard way?”) while Chevy Chase’s Ty Webb is Chase at his skewed and improvisational best. Best of all though is Murray as the deranged groundskeeper Carl. This is easily one of his best performances and one of the most off the wall eccentric characters you’ll find in any film. From his “kill all the golfers” line to “you wore green so you could hide” Murray will have you howling with laughter for the full 90 mins and beyond. The quantifiable magic that occurs when every aspect of a movie comes together in perfect harmony is something we rarely encounter in life so let’s just be eternally thankful that Caddyshack is with us. “In the words of Jean Paul Sartre: au revoir”.

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MASH (1970) 3.86/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 87.4
Genre: Satire, War
Duration: 116 mins
Director: Robert Altman
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt

Robert Altman unfolds his broad interpersonal canvas to stunning effect in this classic piece of American cinema. Bold, hilarious, touching, and heartbreaking, there are few statements on war as focused as what he serves up here. Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerrit, and Elliot Gould are at their unorthodox best as the ragtag bunch of draftee surgeons working three miles from the front line of the Korean War to keep their spirits high and the endless wounded alive. Sally Kellerman and Robert Duvall are a hoot as the stiff career officers whom they pester unmercifully both intentionally and unintentionally. As with most of Altman’s films, the plot isn’t what drives M.A.S.H but rather the satirical vignettes which loosely coalesce around the personal conflicts. Whether it’s Hot Lips and Major Burns’ infamous broadcast or the gleeful irreverence of that “Last Supper”, Altman’s dry script and impeccable distance, not to mention the immense craft of his actors ensured they became immortal moments of humour. The result is an iconic piece of film making and one of the few movies that helps to definitively mark a moment in time and culture without ever feeling dated. “Hot Lips you incredible nincompoop, it’s the end of the quarter!”

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Used Cars (1980)


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Rating: The Good – 69.3
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 113 mins
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Kurt Russell, Jack Warden, Gerrit Graham

Used Cars is one of those low-key wacky comedies which Hollywood flirted with in the late 70’s/early 80’s and often to great success. Jack Warden takes on dual responsibilities by two playing two elderly brothers and rival used car salesman. When the meaner wealthier brother has the nicer and more modest one killed off so that he can inherit his business, the latter’s employees (led by Kurt Russell) hide the body and begin a game of advertising hardball which severely impacts the nasty brother’s business.

This is a cheeky yet charming comedy built around some excellent performances and madcap comedy set pieces. The various advertising stunts which Russell and his cronies pull are brilliantly put together and will have you in fits of laughter. Warden is terrific in both roles and it’s very satisfying seeing him with a more juicy and important role(s) to play with than he was typically getting at that time. Russell was actually quite good at this type of madcap comedy and so while adding strongly to the charm quotient of this movie he also elevates the humorous moments. The support players are just as good with Gerrit Graham and Frank McRae particularly shining during the advertising stunts.

Used Cars also counts as an interesting opportunity to see the Back to the Future partnership of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale honing their crafts. In fact, much of the playfulness that defines the Back to the Future franchise graces this movie too and as is the case with the aforementioned trilogy, that’s primarily what makes this film such an enjoyable watch.

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Evolution (2001) 2.93/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 67
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 101 mins
Director: Ivan Reitman
Stars: David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Julianne Moore

Hugely entertaining sci-fi comedy about a meteor that hits the earth and brings all sorts of nasty single-cell organisms with it that quickly begin evolving into ever more complex creatures bent on human destruction. David Duchovny plays a former military scientist turned community college professor who together with his colleague (played by Orlando Jones) begins studying the creatures until the nasty military show up and take control. Lots of fun is had winking to Duchovny’s X-Files persona but most of it ends up adding to the plot. Ivan Reitman is a dab hand at these types of comedies and he always builds his films around great screen chemistry. Evolution is no different in that sense. Duchovny (who tends to work well with everyone) and Jones complement each other perfectly. Rarely is one funny without the other’s involvement and together they are responsible for many a side-splitting moment. Even with the addition of Seann William Scott and later Julianne Moore to the main story line they don’t skip a beat and if anything the chemistry is improved by the latter’s involvement. The special effects are typical of Reitman films in that they’re quite well done but replete with bright colours and fake goo. And it’s this last point that makes Evolution a guilty pleasure movie. Reitman has never known how to close out a movie and his instinct to go bigger always brings him firmly into the territory of farce. In Ghostbusters 2 he had a goo-powered Statue of Liberty, in this he has a giant blob crawling around a desert. Even the acting starts getting cheesy towards the end suggesting the cast didn’t believe in the ending either.

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Death to Smoochy (2002) 2.86/5 (1)


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Rating: The Ugly – 60.1
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 109 mins
Director: Danny DeVito
Stars: Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener

Edward Norton and Robin Williams do battle as children’s entertainers with very different ideas about how to go about their business. Norton is a clean cut and innocent do-gooder whose alter ego Smoochy the Rhino is given the chance to be the lead star in a children’s show when its previous host, Rainbow Randolph (Williams), is fired for taking payola. Not taking it lying down, the increasingly deranged Randolph sets in motion a series of plans designed to kill Smoochy and get his old job back. Death to Smoochy is an enjoyable romp that constantly threatens to live up the potential of its premise. However, it never quite gets there due to some slightly detached directing from De Vito. That said, it’s great fun for the most part and gives us a chance to see Edward Norton in a different light.

Eight Legged Freaks (2002) 2.57/5 (2)


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Rating: The Ugly – 61.3
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 99 mins
Director: Ellory Elkayem
Stars: David Arquette, Kari Wuhrer, Scott Terra

Exactly what it says on the can. A town full of giant mutant spiders, wise-cracking and/or fleeing humans, and paper thin plots. The result: a totally enjoyable and sometimes genuinely funny horror spoof. David Arquette leads the cast as a man who has recently returned to his hometown only to find it being overrun by a swarm of creepy giant arachnids. Kari Wurher is the town sheriff with whom he has some history and a young Scarlett Johansson fleets in and out as her daughter. The CGI is fine but this movie is all about the the well conceived and executed set-pieces in which the spiders find new and imaginative ways to kill the blundering townspeople. Not the worst way to spend a lazy night in front of the TV.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) 2.71/5 (4)


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Rating: The Good – 71.2
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 90 mins
Director: Amy Heckerling
Stars: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold

It has dated somewhat over the years but Fast Times at Ridgemont High tapped the zeitgeist of its times and remains an enjoyable glimpse of a year in the life of a bunch of high school kids as they deal with romance, sex, jobs, and hardcase teachers. For those who grew up on 80′s comedies, the jokes are bolstered by the sense of nostalgia but for those who didn’t those same jokes may come across as dated and weak. Its major strength is that the movie doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a bit of fun. This might not be the right tack to take when dealing with some of the trials and travails that the characters go through but, for a slice of teen comedy, getting bogged down in the emotional trauma of abortion or betrayal just won’t do. So everything is artificially sugar-coated and the audience is left all the happier for it.

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Intolerable Cruelty (2003) 3.29/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 68.5
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 100  mins
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Stars: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Billy Bob Thornton

Although the general consensus is that Intolerable Cruelty is as a poor show by the bothers Joel and Ethan Coen, it’s in fact an often hilarious and delightfully goofy comedy about a successful and clever divorce lawyer (George Clooney) who gets romantically and professionally involved with a scheming and just as clever divorcee (Catherine Zeta Jones). The plot has some of the twists and turns of a typical Coen brothers’ film (though they are definitely dialed down) but much of the charm thanks mainly to Clooney’s fantastic slapstick performance and his chemistry with the thoroughly watchable Zeta Jones. The Coens are no doubt at half speed where the wackiness/zaniness is concerned but that itself is a welcome change of pace and reveals yet another more disciplined side to their film-making. That said, there are some great moments in this film with the showdown with Wheezy Joe being a particular standout. Their long-time collaborators, Carter Burwell (score) and Roger Deacons (cinematography) as usual contribute richly in their own respects.

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Beetlejuice (1988) 4.43/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 78.4
Genre: Fantasy
Duration: 92  mins
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis

Tim Burton’s imaginative and authentically quirky tale of a young married couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) who after dying in a car crash become trapped for an eternity as ghosts in their own home. When a somewhat unwholesome family (led by the always excellent Catherine O’Hara) move into the dead couple’s house, the two ghosts hire a professional exterminator of the living called Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) to get rid of them. Burton’s magical eye helped create one of the most distinctive looking films of the 1980′s and as a work of pure fantasy, it is arguably his most well-rounded work. Initially, the movie depicts two very incompatible worlds (mirroring the confusion of the young couple): the near-incomprehensible world of the afterlife set against the more familiar and comfortably framed world of the living. The real feat of genius, however, lies in how he subtly transforms the latter into the former as the film progresses only to rapidly invert that process at the end. If Burton is making magic happen behind the camera well then he is matched every inch of the way by what Keaton is doing in front of it. Keaton is simple astounding as the “ghost with the most” as his timing, delivery, and improvisation collide to form a whirlwind of comedy-horror and one of cinema’s most memorable characters. “You’re working with a professional here!”. You better believe it!

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Stripes (1981)


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Rating: The Good – 68.9
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 106 mins
Director: Ivan Reitman
Stars: Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, John Candy

Bill Murray and Harold Ramis team up as two layabouts who join the army in order to get some discipline only to find it a lot more work than they had figured. Directed by Ivan Reitman, the humour is very much of its era with lots of wacky scenarios but there are still many laughs to be had here. Murray has been much better but even at half steam he’s still the funniest man on the screen. Ramis is a good foil for Murray but does well on his own also. Stripes is one of those films that is very easy to watch particularly if you’re already in a good mood so just sit back and let it happen.

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Night Shift (1982) 3.43/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 67.7
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 106  mins
Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton, Shelley Long

Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton make a great comedy duo in this goofy comedy about two morgue night attendants who decide to run a pimping operation from their deserted offices during the small hours. Winkler continues his attempt to eschew his Fonz persona (and does quite well) as the reserved and timid Chuck who is intimidated by everyone including his fiancé. That is until he meets Bill (Keaton), a free spirit with lots of harebrained ideas and Belinda (Shelly Long), the plucky working girl next door who together get Chuck involved in the lucrative but dangerous business of prostitution. Cue wild morgue parties, fights with rival pimps, and other such mayhem. The most important thing is that it all works wonderfully. Ron Howard’s direction captures the spirit of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel’s witty script well and the various characters are all fleshed out in interesting ways. The chemistry between the three leads is spot on and each of them adds substantially to the humour levels. Keaton’s performance as the lovable doofus has been well remembered down through the years and it is brilliantly funny but this is a team effort from start to finish.

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