Tag Archives: Comedy

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2020: #SHAKESPEARE’S SHITSTORM (2020)

Shakespeare’s Sh*tstorm

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Screening online for Canadians at 2020’s online Fantasia Film Festival

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Lloyd Kaufman, Kate McGarrigle, Erin Miller, Monique Dupree, Abraham Sparrow, Amanda Flowers

PLOT: Very loosely following the plot of ‘s “The Tempest,” the story involves a party ship packed with pharmaceutical executives washed up on the shores of Troma, New Jersey, after a storm of whale feces.

Still from #SHAKESPEARE'S SHITSTORM (2020)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: You’ll get more out of it if you know “The Tempest” (and know Troma well enough to catch Easter eggs like the “Kabuki flip”)—but, Shakespeare’s Shitstorm should shock and amaze anyone with a sense of cinematic adventure and strong stomach. It’s one long hedonistic orgy of grossout comedy and Bardic references. It’s got Lloyd Kaufman in two roles, including one in drag (in a Snow White costume, for reasons never explained); William Shakespeare telling a donkey show joke to a panel of Ph.Ds; and a climax that is accurately characterized as “like a Hieronymus Bosch painting” (if Bosch had been just a bit fonder of green slime, prosthetic boobs, and punk rock anthems). It’s the stuff that dreams are made of—at least, the kind of dreams you might have if you ate an entire herring pizza laced with ketamine as a midnight snack before going to bed.

COMMENTS: “The Tempest” was not William Shakespeare’s final play, but it was his last masterpiece. Its closing acts are widely interpreted as the Bard’s farewell to the theater. At 74 years of age, Lloyd Kaufman has already outlived Shakespeare, but the feeling that Shakespeare’s Shitstorm is intended as his final trashterpiece is inescapable.

Something about Shakespeare inspires Kaufman and his Troma team to heights of lunacy even beyond their usual excesses. Shitstorm may not be quite as surreal as Troma’s weirdest feature, Tromeo & Juliet, but it represents a capstone of their transgressive punk aesthetic. One affinity between Stratford-upon-Avon’s favorite son and New Jersey’s least reputable film studio is the large cast of characters: Troma has always favored maxamilized plots and as many odd-looking extras as they can convince to work for a mention in the rolling credits. The discipline (such as it is) imposed by being forced to parody the Bard’s sprawling plots enforces some structure on Kaufman, whose tendency is to make his movies as digressive and improvised-looking as possible. And of course, the tension between Shakespeare’s humanistic aspirations and Troma’s scurrilous antics is inherently amusing. The combination gives the studio the chance to argue, “sure, we may be lowbrow… but we’re smart lowbrow.” After all, they quote from the play’s text and throw in references to other plays and sonnets (always undercut by a corny or obscene joke), along with bits of Shelley and bawdy couplets of their own devise. It reminds us that there is an intelligence hiding under the layers of shit jokes.

Shakespeare’s Shitstorm isn’t just offensive; it’s an ode to offensiveness. It starts off with a toddler spattered with blood from her mother’s suicide. There’s a “diversity hire” stripper in a wheelchair, two separate subplots involving crack whores (including one who sings a musical number with the lines “suck her in and blow her out, my crack pipe never screams and shouts”), and bloody oral rape scene performed by an animatronic chicken. After all that, the nauseating scenes of characters getting lapdances while being showered by brownish buckets of cetacean “fecal bloom” seem positively quaint. The only real suspense is whether—or rather, when and how—they’ll drop the N-word. That’s all standard practice for Troma, though I daresay that Shitstorm breaks all previous Tromatic records for repulsion. But this time, offensiveness itself is the front-and-center theme of the movie; it makes the studio’s boldest case that causing offense is a social service. Shitstorm‘s chief satirical targets are entitled “SJW” bloggers with no sense of humor. Shitstorm‘s final moral is delivered as a string of ethnic jokes—with accompanying visual metaphor—an argument that mocking everyone and everything equally is a better route to solidarity than contorting our speech awkwardly to avoid stepping on any one group’s toes. In other words, lighten up. We’re all here to laugh, and if your in-group gets lambasted, it will be someone else’s turn in about 30 seconds.

And thankfully, the movie is funny. They even insert what I think is a joke for early reviewers only. Often, when you watch pre-release screeners, there will be a legend that periodically appears warning “for review purposes only.” In Shitstorm, that reminder instead reads “for bootlegging purposes only.”

Shakespeare’s Shitstorm is a monumental movie. When you sit through the nine minutes of end credits—taking care to watch those amazing outtakes and read the jokes hidden in the text—you’ll realize that it takes an enormous pile of money to make something that looks this cheap. We are unlikely to see a Lloyd Kaufman movie on this scale ever again, and it’s a shame that Covid-19 prevented it from having the grandiose premiere to a packed house that it deserved. Troma has worked its way up from a disreputable B-movie studio to an underground institution. I haven’t always been the biggest fan of their approach, but Kaufman and team have worked ceaselessly doing their own thing their own way for 35 years now—and that deserves a celebration. Of course, Kaufman’s Prospero might actually like it better this way. He doesn’t deal well with sudden popularity near the end of Shitstorm: “You’re supposed to be triggered! Do not put me on a pedestal!” So instead, let’s send him off with a quote from Shakespeare: “As you from crimes would pardon’d be,/Let your indulgence set me free.” We’ll indulge you, Mr. Kaufman, in one last glorious barf fest.

 

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2020 CAPSULE: MONSTER SEAFOOD WARS (2020)

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Screening online for Canadians at 2020’s online Fantasia Film Festival

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Keisuke Ueda, Ayano Christie Yoshida

PLOT: Someone steals Yuta’s temple offering of a squid, an octopus, and a crab, and soon giant versions of these three creatures begin terrorizing Japan; an anti-squid squad is formed to combat the menace.

Still from Monster Seafood Wars (2020)

COMMENTS: If you’re looking for a light kaiju appetizer that won’t ruin your appetite for more substantial fare, Monster Seafood Wars may be your dish. Minoru Kawasaki’s spoof follows a sushi delivery boy/genetic engineering prodigy Yuta as his stolen seafood goes bad in unanticipated ways. Along the way he joins a monster-fighting squad, attempts to woo his love interest away from a rival, and tries out a mouthwatering array of kaiju sushi dishes.

Unfortunately, the film is poorly paced, with too much exposition and too few battles stuffed into in the first thirty minutes. Monster Seafood Wars drops in a number of documentary-style retrospective interviews throughout its runtime, which, while not too intrusive, rarely add much beyond a bit of unnecessary pseudoscientific explication. They feel mostly like padding. When monster tentacles are sliced off during a battle—and are subsequently found to be delicious—the film’s middle section takes a long foodie detour as kaiju cuisine mania grips Japan. These segments may be parodies of actual Japanese cooking shows, but they’re mildly amusing at best, and again play like padding. The main plot is utterly ridiculous, and at times inconsistent: the monsters can’t seem to decide whether they’re teammates or adversaries. This lack of coherence isn’t a bug so much as a feature, but I wanted to see wackier characters enacting this stupidity—more like the mystical video game maven who blindfolds himself to awaken his “fifth personality” (and to set record high scores) would have been welcome.

The lightly comic plot is the starchy rice to complement the main dish—the amphibious kaiju and their awkward attempts to wreak havoc. Kawasaki goes back to basics: guys in rubber suits plodding around on miniature sets, trying to wave their heavy unarticulated limbs in as a much of a semblance of unwieldy menace as humanly (monsterly?) possible. Anatomical accuracy is not a concern: the lobster-red octopus not only has very human-looking eyes, but also a nose, and crab pincers. These giant sea creatures are all surprisingly bipedal, to boot. But like the rest of the movie, the battles are cheap. The monsters perform behind a Lego skyline, while PAs sitting just offscreen toss handfuls of Styrofoam rubble into the frame. The budget apparently didn’t allow them to actually destroy those Lego buildings, so Tokyo is not actually stomped here; no scale models were damaged, and could be returned to the hobby store after usage for a full refund. The producers couldn’t afford to risk ripping holes in those rubber suits, either; when tentacles are lopped off, it happens offscreen, then we see the giant piece of newly-cut sushi sailing through the air in a separate shot. There’s also some cheesy CGI to further season the spectacle. In other words, Big Man Japan this is not, although Monster Seafood Wars revels in its own recipe for Japanese corn. Although the costumes are goofy parodies of classic kaiju, the sound effects are quite authentic to the 1960s monster movie era Seafood is spoofing; the synthesizer shrieks and echo-chamber collisions might have been lifted from a vintage Gamera film. And the final showdown is fun, bringing in an appropriate new giant to do battle with the seafood trio.

If silly monster battles are your thing, Monster Seafood Wars will satisfy you well enough. But it seems like the kind of ground others have trod before, and I’m confident that Minoru Kawasaki is still capable of more imaginative moviemaking than this.

Kawasaki based Monster Seafood Wars on an unproduced screenplay by Eiji Tsuburaya about a giant octopus eventually defeated by a vinegar gun. If it had gone into production, that unmade project would have pre-dated Godzilla.

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2020 CAPSULE: THE OLD MAN MOVIE (2019)

Vanamehe film; AKA The Old Man: The Movie

Screening online for Canadians at 2020’s online Fantasia Film Festival

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DIRECTED BY: Oskar Lehemaa, Mikk Mägi

FEATURING: Voices of Märt Avandi, Jaagup Kreem, Mart Kukk

PLOT: Three kids are dropped off at grandpa’s to spend the summer in the country, and things go crazy when his prize cow wanders from the barn.

COMMENTS: What better way to wrap up the summer than to visit a dairy farm in the beautiful Estonian countryside? Milky clouds, milk-obsessed townsfolk, and a milk-blooded villain all await in a sleepy unnamed town in the middle of nowhere that faces an impending Lactopalypse. The silliness in The Old Man Movie is off the charts; as I recently remarked to a friend, this is the most ridiculous moo-vie I’ve seen all year.

Mart, Priidik, and Naim are unceremoniously pushed out of their parents’ car in front of a derelict barn that’s emitting strange wailing sounds. They enter, and we are introduced to a trio of darkly chanting sheep, a quietly sinister pig, and the creepiest cockerel ever to grace the screen. Off in the dark corner, surrounded by piles of manure, sits the source of the wailing: an old man, frantically milking a cow. He rises, seems to have a stroke, and collapses face-down onto his milking bucket. There is a funeral, and a local hobo swipes the ceremonial bottle of vodka laid with the old man. A bitter-looking old woman spits on the corpse before kicking its funeral bier into the river—flicking her cigarette on to the kindling. But the man arises, and so begins Mart, Priidik, and Naim’s adventures with grandpa.

After recovering from the creamsplosion at the film’s climax (whoops, spoiler alert), I did a little research and found that this oddity was no weirdo one-off, but the culmination of this guy‘s work over the past decade. Imagine that cross-over between Shaun the Sheep and The Mighty Boosh you’ve been dreaming about, and you’ll know the tone. The Old Man Movie is the kind of film that makes me wish we had a “Ridiculous!” tag at 366, because by the end you’ll have seen a newsreel about a milk-mushroom cloud, a creepy sex tree, the lead singer of an Estonian metal group slashing a power ballad from the (literal) bowels of a bear, and cinema’s one and only “Cowju” monster.

There isn’t much more to say about The Old Man Movie, ’cause you’ll know within minutes whether it’s right for you. The 2020 Fantasia Festival officially opened with some creepy-looking period drama set during plague years, but I’m thrilled to have kicked my remote coverage off right with a deep dive into a creamy bucket of inspired foolishness.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Scenes where one of the children left behind builds a mechanical cow to satisfy the hoard of thirsty customers or where characters must use the power of rock and roll to escape the colon of a giant bear that has just eaten them exemplifies this idea of a silly and bizarre concept coming together with immature and low-brow humor to create a truly hilarious set piece… It’s immature, it’s crass, it’s vulgar, and it’s all the better for it.” -Sean Coates, MovieBabble.com (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: HEARTBEEPS (1981)

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DIRECTED BY: Allan Arkush

FEATURING: Bernadette Peters, Andy Kaufman, Randy Quaid, Kenneth McMillan, and voices of Jack Carter and Ron Gans

PLOT: Two humanoid robots from the “GM” factory get distracted by the view of the outdoors seen from their storage repair bay, and head out to explore the woods.

COMMENTS: There is an insurmountable, glaring problem with the movie Heartbeeps, in the form of an animal designation by “Val” (Andy Kaufman). Ostensibly a stocks/bonds/accountant-bot, he misidentifies a forest predator that any stocks/bonds/account-bot (human or otherwise) would know: a bear. There is a bear, in a bear cave. Stocks/bonds/accountant-bots would know what a bear is: they would be programmed with the knowledge of a “Bear Market,” and as such have an awareness of the underlying animal. But, no: Val identifies the bear as a “camel.”

Were it not for this glaring flaw in the scriptwriting, Heartbeeps would… still be utterly terrible! My word, I cannot express how drawn-out this movie felt at only seventy-eight damn minutes. I have always been suspicious of Bernadette Peters (who played “Aqua”, the lady-bot), so now if anyone waxes eloquent about her in my presence, I’ll finally have some tangible ammo. I’d be hard on Andy Kaufman, too, but considering much of his shtick was pushing the audience to hate him, I don’t want to give him the satisfaction.

Let me see, let me see…something worthwhile in this wreck of robot-isms, family creation/bonding, junkyard nerds, and a psychotic ED-209/Dalek hybrid law-enforcement “Crimebuster” tank-bot… Ah yes, almost something: every time the synth music cranked up for the Crimebuster robot, it almost sounded like it might segue into ELO’s version of “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” But it never quite did, and so I was left disappointed—much like I was during the rest of the movie.

All right, there was one actually worthwhile element: Randy Quaid was pretty good, despite being limited to the secondary pursuit-of-wandering-robot-family story line. So, maybe eight salvageable minutes. But being 10% bearable is too low a bar; or as Val might say, “camelable”.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Heartbeeps… is a three-minute television sketch stretched to last nearly 90 unbearable minutes and fitted out with enough futuristic hardware to stock a short trailer for a science-fiction film.” -Vincent Canby, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “John,” who, perhaps facetiously, called it “strongly recommended.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL TIME, VOL 3: COMEDY & CAMP (2020)

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DIRECTED BY: Danny Wolf

FEATURING: Joe Dante, John Waters, Illeana Douglas, Kevin Pollak

PLOT: The final installment of a three-part survey of cult films, focusing on comedies and films with a camp sensibility. (Volume 1 is reviewed here, Volume 2 here.)

Still from Time Warp Greatest Cult Movies of All Time Vol. 3: Comedy and Camp

COMMENTS: This omnibus collection of mini-documentaries confronts its most challenging subject matter here in the third act. In the case of comedy, the ability to make audiences laugh is subjective, underappreciated, and difficult to discuss without destroying the very qualities of humor. When it comes to discussing camp, the concept itself carries with it issues of gender, sexuality, race, and power. How would the producers of the Time Warp series address these important, sometimes even incendiary topics?

The answer is: pretty much not at all. Time Warp just wants to have fun and share some rabidly adored films. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. But the fact that the filmmakers don’t even want to engage with some of these interesting topics means that the whole enterprise carries about as much weight as “VH-1’s 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders.”

There’s a pretty straightforward recipe for Time Warp’s method: play some clips from a film that took time to find its audience, get some of the movie’s participants to recount tales from the production, throw in some well-chosen clips and a little commentary from talking heads to explain why the film has a devoted following, and let simmer for 10 minutes. Then queue up another movie and do it all again. The panel of hosts clocks in barely 5 minutes of screen time, and offers virtually nothing in the way of analysis, context, or debate. So you just kind of have to trust that the producers have done their best in picking the comedies and camp-fests that best exemplify the label of “greatest cult films of all time.” Clerks? Yeah, I can see that. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls? Yes, I am totally convinced. Super Troopers? Um… sure, I guess.

That said, the list assembled here is pretty entertaining. These actors and directors are genuinely and justifiably proud of their work, and thrilled that it has managed to endure and thrive over the years. Diedrich Bader and Jim Gaffigan tell stories of having their famous lines quoted back to them. B-movie legends Erica Gavin and Mary Woronov offer gleefully unrestrained accounts of the conditions in which their movies were made. Jon Gries (whose name is misspelled in his chyron) is interviewed while holding a noisy parrot, and why not. And it’s a bittersweet surprise to see the late Fred Willard show up. Interspersed with well-chosen clips and some thoughtful commentary from critics and other professionals (gold medal to Amy Nicholson for her explanation as to why John Lazar should have become a legend), Vol. 3 makes a pretty strong case that any one of these films could easily merit its own feature-length documentary.

But it’s hard to be sure what distinguishes this from a video version of a Buzzfeed listicle. As my colleague Terri McSorley noted in reviewing Vol. 2, these selections are pretty anodyne. These 18 films are almost wholly American (only Monty Python and the Holy Grail can legitimately call itself a non-US film), largely recent (more than half are less than 30 years old), and predominantly white (actresses Shondrella Avery and Marcia McBroom and actor/director Jay Chandrasekhar help vary the palette). This roster feels like a good place to start the conversation about cult movies, but hardly the end-all be-all of the form.

Maybe I’m just jaded by the extensive efforts of this website to justify the films we crown. After all, consider the fact that Danny Peary needed three volumes to chronicle 200 films in his “Cult Movies” series, or that Scott Tobias’ New Cult Canon accumulated 130 entries over the course of five years. To spend a decent amount of time with 47 films in less than six hours is really a solid achievement. But it still feels like the format makes it impossible to do much more than pay lip service to a handful of films that have earned passionate devotion, without examining the phenomenon or delving into why these films are such good ambassadors.

I’m including the complete list of films discussed in this volume, with links to our reviews. And it’s possibly instructive to compare our attention to campy vs. funny flicks. Guess a comedy’s got to work really hard to land on our radar.

* Part of the 366 Weird Movies Canon

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Wolf has a more interview-packed chapter to finish with, securing sunnier features to study, closing on a bright note of classic endeavors that provided a sense of danger, delirium, and human insight, brought to life by talented filmmakers. Any chance to spend time with these titles is most welcome.”–Brian Orndorf, Blu-ray.com (contemporaneous)