Tag Archives: Comedy

CAPSULE: THE ADVENTURES OF PICASSO [PICASSOS ÄVENTYR] (1978)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Tage Danielsson

FEATURING: Gösta Ekman, Hans Alfredson, Margaretha Krook, Lena Olin, Bernard Cribbins, Wilfrid Brambell

PLOT: The life of the legendary Spanish painter, told with a  questionable level of veracity.

Still from The Adventures of Picasso (1978)

COMMENTS: In a few weeks, a motion picture will make its streaming debut purporting to tell the remarkable story of pop music’s crown prince of parody, . Weird promises to cover every step of the master accordionist’s life and, whenever possible, to subvert the proceedings with lies and misdirections. It’s a fitting approach for someone who has built a career out of taking familiar sounds and destroying them from within.

What it won’t be is unprecedented. The grand womb-to-tomb biopic has been assailed before. Its conventions have been savagely parodied. We’ve seen lives thoroughly misappropriated with falsehoods and flights of invention. (And that’s to say nothing of legitimate productions that shred the truth to achieve better storytelling.) It turns out that a leading exemplar of the ridiculous film biography hit screens years earlier, the product of a Swedish comedy duo who wondered what it would be like to make an authoritative biography when you have virtually no knowledge of the subject.

Like a book report by a student who did absolutely none of the reading, this take on the life of Picasso is drenched in flopsweat. Within the first 15 minutes of the movie, the pieces of the Picasso legend are already falling into place: young Pablo has established his bonafides at art school (successfully painting a nude after seeing the model for a split second), relocated to Madrid, adopted his trademark striped shirt and white trousers, and invented cubism. Having burned what few facts they have available, the filmmakers pivot to wildly making stuff up. Did you know that Picasso was gifted with a vial of magical ink by a woman he saved from a pair of foul brigands? Maybe you recall his illustrious contemporaries, who evidently include Ernest Hemingway, Erik Satie, two Toulouse-Lautrecs, Puccini (and his real life Mimi), Vincent van Gogh, and even Rembrandt. And who can forget the real story of how a petty artistic quibble between Churchill and Hitler presaged World War II. (No wonder Picasso would seek refuge in America, despite the notorious Art Prohibition of the Roaring Twenties.) The Adventures of Picasso is the movie equivalent of converting text into Japanese in Google Translate and then back.

One of the film’s most inventive techniques is the choice to dispense with dialogue altogether. Actors speak in grunts and gibberish or spout cursory and irrelevant phrases in pidgin versions of various languages. (A persistent chanteuse sings lyrics that are actually a recipe for a Finnish fish pastry.) Even the headline of the traditional newspaper carrying the word of the outbreak of World War I reads simply “BOOM KRASCH BANG!” Only the narration is necessary to carry the story forward, and you get a different version depending upon your native tongue. (English-speakers like myself are treated to comic actor Bernard Cribbins, in his role as Gertrude Stein.) The filmmakers have thus given themselves an out: don’t understand what’s going on? No worries; you’re not supposed to.

While writers Danielsson and Alfredson will do anything for a joke, they show surprising empathy for the Picasso they’ve created. There’s an extended skit where the onscreen Picasso is forced to do whatever the narrator dictates, and that typifies the notion that Picasso ultimately had no agency, a victim of his own success. His father is a relentless huckster; when his dicey hair tonic instantly produces Picasso’s famous baldness, the old man immediately sells the locks to capitalize on his son’s fame. Throughout the rest of his “career,” dear old dad will be there, making friends with history’s greatest monsters and looking for the quickest way to make a buck. At the end, the great artist is nothing more than an exhibit himself; his home is a theme park and his doves of peace are trinkets to be sold. In this telling, Picasso doesn’t so much die as drop out, leaving our materialistic world behind.

The Adventures of Picasso certainly takes an unusual approach to biography; if you come hoping to learn anything about the creative mind behind “Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon” or “Guernica,” you will surely be disappointed. And even the deeper truth that may be lurking within seems suspect; the real Picasso was far from an innocent and was in full control of his brand. But there’s something almost noble about the notion that if you can’t get it right, then by all means get it completely and utterly wrong. Or, as another great biographical subject once observed, “It doesn’t matter if it’s boiled or fried. Just eat it.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

The Adventures of Picasso‘ is billed as ‘a lunatic comedy,’ and while it does achieve that feeling on a couple of rare occasions, for the most part it’s like a bad dream… The film’s strategy is to make everything as feverishly absurd as it can be…. But too much of it has the ring of desperation. It’s all too frantic for words.” Janet Maslin, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Ettin, who called it a “[S]wedish surreal comedy” that ” [I]’m sure you will like.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)        

CAPSULE: APPLES (2020)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Apples is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

DIRECTED BY: Christos Nikou

FEATURING: Aris Servetalis, Sofia Georgovassili

PLOT:  After falling victim to a syndrome that causes sudden memory loss, Aris enters an odd recovery program designed to create new memories for a new identity.

Still from Apples (2020)

COMMENTS: When a man snarls traffic by abandoning his vehicle in the road and sitting on the curb, then denies it was his car, a fellow passenger takes it in stride and calls an ambulance. In Apples, an incurable plague of sudden-onset amnesia is so common that people don’t get angry about the inconveniences it causes. When Aris forgets his name and where he’s going on a public bus, he is routinely sent to a hospital wing dedicated to amnesiacs. After no friends or family come to claim him, he is enrolled in an experimental new program designed to give amnesiacs a new beginning. The regimen involves the subject recreating a series of representative experiences—riding a bicycle, crashing a car, having a one-night stand—and taking Polaroids of themselves at the scene, which they place in a special memory album. With no other obvious options, Aris dutifully enters the program and sets about following the doctors’ instructions for creating a life. A few tantalizing memories of his old existence occasionally break through the fog: a dog’s name, a street address. But all we can be reasonably certain of from his previous life is that he loved apples.

Apples will necessarily be seen as a late entry in the Greek Weird Wave—launched by with the deadpan absurdity of 2009’s Dogtoothand I doubt debuting director Christos Nikou would disavow the influence. Apples is Lanthomisian in rhythm and style, but pared-down to its essential moods. The acting is restrained but subtle, as opposed to the in-your-face, disconnected-from-reality non-acting that inhabits much of the Weird Wave. Servetalis’ nondescript, bearded face forms the perfect blank canvas on which we can project our own anxieties and melancholy. The sense of humor is absurd—Aris on a child’s bike, a doctor suggesting patients’ make therapeutic Molotov cocktails—but never approaches the surreal heights of something like The Lobster. The world here is only slightly askew, with the unexplained amnesia plague and the low-tech setting (Polaroids and cassette tapes instead of cell phones) serving as the only clues we’re not in present day reality. The spare cinematic compositions are designed to reinforce a sense of isolation, even in urban settings, but they are classically framed. (A cemetery scene with bone-white tombstones set against a gray sky and Aris standing in a slumped silhouette is one of the sweeter shots of the year.) It all seems designed to be more audience friendly than usual for the genre, but that choice doesn’t feel like a calculated compromise; rather, Nikou locates a natural space between standard arthouse drama and experimental film where he’s comfortable exploring penetrating ideas.

Note that there are two parts to the program Aris enters: constructing false memories, and creating a new identity for himself. Apples‘ plot focuses our attention on the bizarre methodology of the first part, but thematically, it’s more interested the second part of the formula. Apples becomes an existential fable raising open-ended questions: is Aris’ amnesia a result of traumatic event? Is it, in some sense, a choice? How essential is memory to our identity—if I forget everything, am I still me? Does the hospital’s structured regimen help or hinder Aris to live authentically? Apples invites you to puzzle out these questions on your own. The ending is, ironically, memorable.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It all sounds bizarre on paper. But Apples, the first feature from the director and co-writer Christos Nikou, unfolds with an understated deadpan wit that makes even its weirder touches seem plausible, even logical. At times it reminded me of some of the brilliant absurdist satires, like Dogtooth and Attenberg, that have put Greek cinema on the map over the past two decades.”–Justin Chang, NPR (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: KUNG FURY (2015)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: David Sandberg

FEATURING: David Sandberg, Jorma Taccone, Leopold Nilsson

PLOT: After his captain is murdered via telephone, policeman Kung Fury must travel back in time to kill the assassin, Kung Führer (AKA Adolf Hitler).

Still from Kung Fury (2015)

COMMENTS: Kung Fury is one of the most ridiculous things I have seen. It is also one of the funniest. Even more impressively, it is that rarest of silly comedy films: one that has the wherewithal and willpower not to overstay its welcome. Apart from its other (considerable) qualities, I’d tip my had to Sandberg for shutting up shop and spinning the closing credits well before he wore through the already well-worn tropes that are the bread and bullets of the genre. From the opening skateboard car-flip to the smugly defiant Hitler soaring amidst the high-rises of 1985 downtown Miami on his mechanized Nazi eagle, it never felt forced, fatigued, or unfunny.

Even before (or… after?) Hitler’s appearance in downtown Miami, the city’s not a pretty sight. Street toughs hassle cops with impunity, flipping their squad cars like skeet discs for target practice. Arcade machines flash a nasty “Fuck You!” to the unhappy gamers who kick it after their sky unicorn is shot down on-screen. And transformer death machines spring to life, smashing up passing motorists and menacing passing canines. These hassles are all in a day’s work for… Kung Fury: a super cop who does not play by the book. The chip on his shoulder is as real as his sardonic gruffness is fake: years back, he lost his partner and mentor at the hands of a Kung fu master; before young Fury could pull the trigger on the assailant, he was “…hit by lightning and bitten by a cobra.” The rest is history.

And there is quite a lot of history: ancient Vikings astride their dinosaur mounts, the mighty god Thor (who utters his immortal words, “Stop! Hammer Time”), and, of course, the requisite hundreds of Nazi goons ready to fall under the righteous bullet spray sof Hackerman, Triceracop, Barbarianna and Katana. Oh, and a second welcome appearance from Thor and his epic pecs. Added to all this inspired lunacy is Jorma Taccone’s performance as a martial arts fascist; the actor perfectly captures the bizarre speechifying articulations of the erstwhile Führer.

Kung Fury is first and foremost a lampoon of ’80s crime/martial arts television and film. The creative team is spot on with everything—gaudy New Wave score, “futuristic” Tron-style animations, and even a seamlessly included advertisement for a newfangled mobile telephone. It’s as resourceful as it is silly. Leaning heavily on the retrowave vibe, occasional “tracking” issues conveniently crop up to disturb the image just when the most expensive effects sequences might take place. The fight choreography is masterful, too; during the Nazi fight, it switches to a long uninterrupted side-scroller video game ballet. Absurd surrealism pops up as well, as when Fury’s boss is shot through a telephone. (A similar stunt from a classic ’70s film comes to mind.) Sandberg is informed, witty, and has an eye for action timing. Kung Fury is, admittedly, no “Must See”, but I would be hard-pressed to recommend it enough.

At the time of this writing, the producers have made Kung Fury available for free (see below).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an insane and ultra bizarre film…”–Martin Hafer, Influx Magazine

CAPSULE: INSPECTOR IKE (2020)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Graham Mason

FEATURING: Ikechukwu Ufomadu, Matt Barats, Grace Rex, Jessica Damouni, Ana Fabrega, Anthony Oberbeck, John Early

PLOT: Inspector Ike investigates a murder at an avant-garde theater group.

Strill from Inspector Ike (2020)

COMMENTS: Inspector Ike is a parody of a very specific subgenre— 1970’s mystery-themed “movies of the week,” a la “Columbo”—from the nearly extinct Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker-Mel Brooks school of tomfoolery. Presented as a faux episode of a ongoing movie-of-the-week series, complete with animated intro with a magnifying-glass carrying, trenchcoated sleuth, the movie drops us into a world where Inspector Ike already exists, catching new crooks week after week with his signature finishing move: hiding handcuffs near some incriminating piece of physical evidence, then toasting the perp with a wink and a glass of champagne.

This “episode” (“Audition for Death”) follows an struggling actor who kills his mentor so he can take the lead in his troupe’s production of the one-man musical “Mannie.” In “Columbo” fashion, we see the murder first, and suspense comes from watching Ike try to put the pieces together, while the killer tries to cover his tracks. The theater world setting allows the film to poke some gentle fun at the off-off-Broadway scene (the mythical “Avant-Garde Alley,” where you find mimes and kabuki actors smoking on stoops in-between rehearsals); that milieu, after all, is not all that different than the world of New York’s underground comedy scene from which Ike‘s cast was drawn. Like a true TV villain, murderer Matt Barats hams the hell out of his part, all sideways glances and sly grins before the heat turns on, then big-eyed and twitchy, like a hack in the Scottish play seeing an imaginary drop of blood on his corduroy sleeve. By contrast, Ufomadu’s Ike is totally deadpan; suave and quietly competent whether he’s fixing a tilted picture with his shadow or cooking a pot of chili in a nervous suspect’s apartment. A wide range of always humorous supporting actors occupy the spaces between these two combatants, most notably scene-stealing Deputies Hawthorne and Dinardo, who can never seem to stay on topic during their consultations with Ike.

Inspector Ike gets the fond camp tone exactly right—possibly because there’s not a lot of well-worn tropes to overparody in this extremely specific subgenre, which allows the script freedom to simply wander in the direction of whatever joke it finds most amusing at the moment. Despite the minuscule budget, Ike seems like a relic of the era, based mainly on accurate 70s wardrobes (Harry’s mustard turtleneck, Ike’s powder-blue suit with wide striped tie) and appropriate touches like commercial fadeouts. The film was shot on the streets of Brooklyn, carefully avoiding anachronisms. Casting such a project with local stand-ups rather than full-time thespians was a wise choice; low-budget comedies often fail because the actors lack comic timing and instincts, which is never an issue here. I’ll confess that I rarely found any of the gags laugh-out-loud funny, but that wasn’t a problem, because the likeable cast carries the movie along on a pleasant current of low-key absurdity that never becomes either boring or upsetting.

So it’s fun, but is it a weird movie? Well, mildly so, in at least in its general conception. In his director’s commentary, Mason says that he was trying to create something that “nobody asked for,” an artifact that would leave the audience wondering “why does this even exist?” but glad that it does. He succeeds in this goal admirably, and I’d love to see more stuff from the Mason/Ufomadu team that I never asked for.

It’s a shame that Inspector Ike did not land a streaming deal so that more people could see it, but the Blu-ray package is well worth the purchase for comedy fans. It features a commentary track by director/co-writer Mason, and a booklet with more Graham commentary, an “Inspector Ike” episode guide, and a word search puzzle. Along with the memorable trailer, two comic Ufomadu/Mason short collaborations round out the package: “Words with Ike” (a “word of the day” TV parody) and “The Photos of Ana” (with “Detective Hawthorne” Ana Fabrega). Both shorts have the same underplayed, off-kilter comic sensibilities as Inspector Ike. The package even includes an official Inspector Ike recipe card, which you can use to jot down ingredients and directions for Ike’s detailed chili recipe when prompted.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“As pop culture deep cuts go in 2022, ‘Inspector Ike’ certainly has the weirdest inspiration in recent memory… Ufomadu is terrific in the part, and the rest of the cast commits to the weirdness of the effort. Not every joke lands, or is even attempted, but there are spirited, dryly hilarious performances to enjoy throughout the endeavor.”–Brian Orndorf, Blu-ray.com (Blu-ray)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: INCREDIBLE BUT TRUE (2022)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Incroyable mais vrai

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Quentin Dupieux

FEATURING: , , Benoît Magimel,

PLOT: Unlike his wife, Alain isn’t impressed by the dazzling feature hidden away in the basement of their new home, and his boss Gérard can’t believe that neither of them are impressed by his new penis.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Dupieux takes on two absurd premises and runs with both in tandem, and in so doing explores some lofty themes by way of a time-travel plot device and a “steerable” iPenis.

COMMENTS: Please believe me when I say there was a legitimate reason why I began earnestly checking my watch two-thirds into this (*gasp*), and for hoofing it out of the auditorium before the end credits had finished (double-*gasp*). Incredible But True filled me with such enthusiasm that I felt it imperative to return to my hotel room as quickly as possible to write this review. So, here I am. I made good time—and that is a perfect segue.

Dupieux’s latest film is predominately about time, and its passing. About aging, and aging’s ramifications. Alain (Alain Chabat, in full-on mellow) is an insurance functionary, and he and his wife purchase a new home featuring an odd basement amenity that, as the realtor explains after much breathless “You won’t be believe this…”, defies the laws of space and time. The upshot of it is a slooooow path to youth. This prospect leaves Alain amused, but fairly indifferent; his wife Marie becomes obsessed. Before the domestic feature takes over her life, the two have dinner with Alain’s boss Gérard, and his girlfriend Jeanne. These dinner guests explain, after much delay in the reveal, that Gérard got an upgrade.

The deadpan comedy trundles along to a plucky score, with the surrounding absurdity perfectly bouncing off Alain Chabat’s unflappable demeanor. His character is older, and content with it; has his limitations, and is at peace with those. Marie becomes obsessed with youth, Gérard is obsessed with being perceived as masculine—exemplified most obviously by his implant, but also by his penchant for fast cars and firing ranges, where a nasty recoil incident triggers his first run-in with technological fallibility. In many ways, Alain is more like Jeanne, an avidly sexual being who lives for the now and neither makes nor demands apologies from others living their lives.

Having set this plot in motion, Dupieux lets it roll nicely until…

Until…

Until… it just kind of ends. I like to think that I understand, as much as one might hope to, what Dupieux is about. I love that no idea is too crazy, and that someone out there is making comedies that are clever and outlandish. But too often, his movies just seem to stop. He’s got the middles nailed, and is good enough setting his various gears in motion (maybe he’d do well to talk with Steven Penny), but though I don’t necessarily demand a punchline, or, Heaven forbid, a nicely wrapped-up narrative complete with expository ribbon, RubberKeep an Eye Out, and now Incredible But True all feel like they cop-out on the finale. That said, I can still full-throatedly recommend this movie—as could the hundreds of fellow viewers who laughed along with me through the feature. Indeed, watching a Dupieux film in a theater full of avid enthusiasts was almost as surreal as the film itself.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Throughout the film’s lean 74 minutes, Dupieux coaxes four strong core performances, while the jaunty bounce of Jon Santo’s synth-led score mirrors the film’s cheerful weirdness.” -Lou Thomas, Sight & Sound (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: GLORIOUS (2022)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Rebekah McKendry

FEATURING: Ryan Kwanten, J.K. Simmons

PLOT: Wes finds himself unable to leave the company of a mysterious, genial stranger in rest stop bathroom.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Sam Beckett, eat your heart out. Glorious is a two-man show where no philosophy is too heavy and no fate for mankind is too abominable. Never before has such unspeakable horror emerged through a glory hole.

COMMENTS: Rebekah McKendry’s one set comedy leaves me hamstrung in a number of ways. First, it steals the word “glorious” from me. Second, and more important, it’s a movie best seen without any foreknowledge to speak of. But, as the director overcame the challenge of crafting a manic thriller set almost entirely in one dingy, four-walled room, I shall do my best to overcome my challenges of discussing the merits of this Glorious film.

The set-up can (and should) be revealed: Wes’ only traveling companion through the backwoods highways of Nowhere, Middle America is a teddy who utters “I love you bear-y much” at the squeeze of a paw. This cloying recorded-phrase could be enough to drive a man around the bend on its own, but Wes (oh, poor poor Wes) has other things on his mind. Among them, he’s lost his girlfriend, the “one” he had not been anticipating to be the love of his life. Stricken with grief, panic, and fatigue, he pulls off the road into the parking lot of a highway rest stop. While chugging his bottle of definitely-not-Jack Daniels, he blasts his car radio and burns most of his meager possessions—including his slacks. Waking up the next morning, he crashes into the men’s room, vomits copiously, and a kindly voice inquires if he’s feeling better.

It becomes clear later on that this cordial question is one of the few instances a stranger has expressed concern for Wes, and he latches on to it, indulging the eccentric conversationalist in the neighboring stall. This voice belongs to J.K. Simmons, so you know you are in for a treat. Simmons is a natural speaker: someone we can imagine—no, scratch that—someone we’d love to inquire after our health having heard us spent a solid minute puking our guts out. His voice is key to relieving much of the claustrophobic (but never static) anxiety that bubbles up and over as Glorious proceeds. Part historian, part therapist, and all-parts good humored, Simmons’ unnamed character is a perfect foil to Wes’ broken, scumbag beardo. One of the strangest things about the movie is how compelling discourse between two fellows in a rest stop bathroom can be. The other strange thing about this movie is [redacted].

Hmm. I suppose you’ll just have to trust me: you haven’t seen a conversation-core comedy like this once since requested of André Gregory, “Encore, mais avec une puissance cosmique ultime cette fois.”

WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:

“…one of the more unique movies I have seen come out of the Fantasia Film festival… While it can be a strange sit at times, for fans of cosmic horror, Glorious delivers in odd ways.”–Brendan Frye, CGM Backlot Magazine (fetsival screening)