Produced by: Andrea Berentsen Ottmar, Dyveke Bjørkly Graver
Cast: Kristine Kujath Thorp , Eirik Sæther, Fanny Vaager, Henrik Mestad, Andrea Bræin Hovig, Steinar Klouman Hallert, Fredrik Stenberg, etc.
Cinematography by Benjamin Loeb
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Human beings are capable of incredible acts of compassion, creativity, kindness, artistry, charity, care and beauty. But I have to admit there is a flaw, and in some people a sickness, which makes them narcissistic, selfish and image-obsessed with the constant need for attention. Indeed, with the advent of mobile phones and social media anyone with an internet connection can drop a video on YouTube, Facebook, TikTok or Instagram and get instant gratification. Not to mention the plague of TV talent and reality programming which showcase the epitome of this “me-me-me” generation.
Maybe society has always been like this, full of attention seekers desiring to become actors or singers or comedians or artists. But now there is a constant platform for the talented, untalented and arguably mentally unbalanced to post their wares online for an ego hit, likes and if they’re lucky, to “go viral.” But it’s just a bit entertainment isn’t it? A bit of a laugh? Getting a bit of attention and maybe even becoming famous. But there is a dark, horrific side to social media and reality show attention. The internet is replete with stories about people who have killed themselves having found “fame” this way. Sometimes too much attention becomes too much for some.
The Norwegian black comedy, Sick of Myself (2022) written and directed byKristoffer Borgli, darkly explores the themes of narcissism, art and attention-seeking through the twentysomething characters of Signe and Thomas. The couple live somewhat regular lives in Oslo. Signe is a coffee shop server, while Thomas is an aspiring artist. Two excellent scenes introduce their characters succinctly. Thomas, who it is revealed throughout to be a kleptomaniac, initially gets a hit stealing an expensive bottle of wine from a posh restaurant. While Signe gets a massive adrenaline punch from the attention she receives when assisting a bloodied customer savaged by a dog. These fascinating narrative strands are the foundation for a series of funny, cringeworthy and horrific scenes expertly developed by Borgli.
The film is very much delivered in a believable and realistic style as, Sick of Myself (2022), develops its character and thematic analysis with understated direction. But the actions of the characters are anything but understated. Signe diverts attention away from Thomas’ growing fame in the art world by resorting to more extreme ways to get people to notice to her. The initial comedic situations, such as Signe faking a nut allergy to interrupt Thomas’ speech in a restaurant, give way to constant lying and actual self-harm, as her personality is blighted by undiagnosed Munchausen’s syndrome. With echoes of DeNiro’s and Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1983), Signe is a grotesque creation reflecting a dangerous side within our society. But whereas Rupert Pupkin had a goal to become a famous stand-up comedian, Signe, as portrayed with muted and natural brilliance by Kristine Kujath Thorp, has no such career desire other than to just be constantly noticed. She is a tragic character, like many in society, who desperately need psychological help.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande etc.
Cinematography: Linus Sandgren
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Adam McKay has had an interesting filmmaking career. He was a head writer on Saturday Night Live for two seasons before moving into cinema comedy by writing and directing gag-heavy comedies such as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy(2004) plus the sequel, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006), Step Brothers (2008), and The Other Guys (2010). While one could see these films as silly and knockabout Will Ferrell clown vehicles, certain films contained explorations of social issues relating to sexism in the workplace and big corporation fraud. Nevertheless, it was still surprising when McKay shifted toward more dramatic work full of barbed satire and social commentary. While both The Big Short (2015) and Vice (2018) certainly had humour, they also impressively dissected the mortgage crash and the political rise of Dick Cheney, respectively.
His latest film is the Netflix produced Don’t Look Up (2021). It is a disaster movie in genre, that also mixes in comedy, political satire and drama. The story concerns Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), an astronomy Ph.D. candidate, discovers a previously unknown comet. Kate’s professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) work together and find that it is an extinction event which will destroy all life on Earth. Only having presented their findings to NASA and the White House do they find themselves dealing with indifference, administrative incompetence and corporate neglect lead by insane financial greed. As news of the impending doom hits society, the population become split between believers and naysayers leading to division and chaos.
Don’t Look Up (2021) is arguably less serious in tone compared to Adam McKay’s previous two films, but the message is ultimately more damning of the U.S. Presidency and humanity as a whole. Because the gigantic comet heading for Earth is very much a metaphor for climate change. Here Meryl Streep’s President is dizzyingly dismissive of the science and only begins to act when it is politically and financially beneficial. Her Chief of Staff son, a brilliant Jonah Hill, is a sycophantic numbskull more interested in Lawrence’s raging scientist, rather than saving the world. Indeed, Dibiasky and Mindy get side-tracked by glamour, celebrity and the toxicity of social media. DiCaprio’s arc is amusing as he goes from nervous mouse to confident commentator in the middle act, only to experience a costly personal comeuppance.
Rich in fast-paced gags at the expense of pop, media, political, corporate and dumb human personalities, Don’t Look Up (2021), is a highly entertaining disaster movie with a terrific ensemble cast. I felt Leonardo DiCaprio, one of my favourite actors, was a tad miscast as the science everyman, but he still gives a great performance. Lawrence provides the most grounded and empathetic character playing it straight amidst the all-round insanity. The White House “vending” machine running gag is the best in a film full of funny lines. Mark Rylance is craftily good as the social media megalomaniac manipulating the catastrophic narrative to his own means, but as aforementioned Jonah Hill steals the comedy show. Lastly, Adam McKay probably over-reaches with the poignant family-driven ending. However, I did feel a true sense of loss for the characters and our planet as a whole. The Earth may be full of idiots who don’t want to look up, but thankfully there are storytellers trying to turn their minds in an amusing, silly and intelligent fashion.
Season 5: 3 Episodes (excludes Bandersnatch (2019)
Original Network: Netflix
Having positively reviewed Season 4 of Charlie Brooker’s wonderful anthology show here and the recent “choose-your-own-adventure” stand alone film, Bandersnatch (2019), here – I can further confirm I am a massive Black Mirror fan. Indeed, if Charlie Brooker wrote and produced a story about himself having his toenails clipped in the future, I would definitely enjoy it that too.
Lastly, it’s safe to say I certainly loved the latest three episodes of the programme and not just because Brooker wrote them. It’s because the ideas relating to the darker side of technology are so fascinating and of course the productions are of very high quality. Here are mini reviews of each episode with usual marks out of eleven.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
STRIKING VIPERS (2019)
Director: Owen Harris
Cast: Anthony Mackie, Nicole Beharie, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Pom Klementieff and Ludi Lin.
Danny (Mackie) and Theo (Beharie) portray a loving couple who having been together for some time suffer a marriage dip and a somewhat curious eleven-year itch. This drama is especially propelled when Danny’s best mate, Karl (Abdul-Mateen II) reconnects with Danny and the two play the Virtual-Reality video-game, Striking Vipers, online. Soon the two enter into a curious online relationship, one which threatens their relationships and sanity.
While the danger of videogames and VR have been explored before in Black Mirror, this is freshly presented both dramatically and humorously via an unexpected and bizarre love triangle. I was very empathetic for the main characters as they felt trapped by family life and struggle to keep the romance going. Plus, that need to escape propels some hilarious scenes that pay homage and parody combat videogames in general. Funny, touching and surprising, Striking Vipers is an excellent season opener.
Mark: 9 out of 11
Director: James Hawes
Cast: Andrew Scott, Damson Idris, Amanda Drew, Monica Dolan, Topher Grace etc.
Actor-of-the-moment, Andrew Scott, gives another blistering performance as a rideshare/”Uber” driver, Chris Gillhaney, who kidnaps a young Smithereen employee, Jaden (Damson Idris). Smithereen are a social media company not dissimilar to Facebook or Twitter, and Gillhaney holds a serious grudge against them. It’s so serious in fact, he will kill Jaden if he doesn’t get to speak directly to Smithereen CEO, Billy Bauer (Topher Grace).
Structured around a very tense standoff in an English field between Gillhaney and the Police, the events also go ‘viral’ via social media and online news platforms. Scott’s characterisation of Gillhaney is dramatically impressive. He emits a sadness, guilt and anxiety which forces his character to commit an unlikely crime. While we do not condone his actions Scott keeps you onside with his sterling portrayal of a man on the edge. Ultimately, the narrative turn at the end impacted me because it felt so believable and human. Once again Brooker taps into the heart of the technological matter and how reliance on it can cause tragedy and senseless loss of life.
Mark: 9.5 out of 11
RACHEL, JACK AND ASHLEY TOO (2019)
Director: Anne Sewitsky
Cast: Miley Cyrus, Angourie Rice, Madison Davenport, Susan Pourfar etc.
Pop star Miley Cyrus stars as pop star Ashley-O in this dramatic and comedic techno satire, which finds her character being pushed to the creative limit by her unscrupulous manager. At the same time Ashley-O uber-fan, Rachel (Angourie Rice), worships every word Ashley O’s manufactured persona spits out; much to the chagrin of her metal-head sister, Jack (Madison Davenport.) The two sisters’ conflict is exacerbated when Rachel is given an Ashley-O smart speaker and Rachel becomes obsessed with the techno doll. As the story progresses the two Ashley-O narratives connect in a somewhat contrived but captivating way.
Starting as a teenage-rites-of-passage-profile-of-a-pop-star-mash-up, this narrative crosses the genres and becomes a heist-led comedy by the end. With so many criss-crossing leaps in style the characters get a little bit lost in the mix of ideas. However, use of technology to exploit both the pop singer and the all-consuming fan finds Charlie Brooker’s satirical darts hitting more targets than it misses. Arguably, this is the weakest of the three episodes as the onerous pop manager is a bit of a cliche. Plus, more planning could have gone into the final act when it all felt rushed. It is nonetheless very entertaining episode, very much on point in its vision of pop culture, the music industry and society’s ever reliance on technology for emotional interaction.
In this stinking cesspool of a world run by greedy corporations, bringers-of-war and crazed megalomaniacs it’s important one finds some solace with which to hide from the slings and arrows of this venal society. Indeed, one has to keep an eye out from the barricades and parapets, holding out a shield to deflect, and mirror to reflect, the emotional barbs of every day existence. One such means of deflection is to laugh at the world and its leaders, gods, physicians, media outlets and political snake-oil salesmen, who twist and dance and continually sell us bullshit on a daily basis.
Television is a valuable tool with which to cocoon one’s heart and mind against the stream of negativity and injustice brought down up on us within the oppressive capitalist system. It gives us a chance to laugh and cry at the world through comedy and drama. One such longstanding shield against the tide of money and war is the always-relevant South Park. For twenty-one seasons it has now poked, prodded, electrified, boiled and defecated on the sacred cows of civilisation such as: religious figures, moronic yet dangerous politicians, gluttonous fats cats, media whores and narcissistic plastic celebrities.
After the incredible satirical and narrative success of Season 19 (review here), where showrunner Trey Parker committed to a superlative serialization structure the bar was raised very high. Thus, Season 20 (review here), suffered in comparison as it over-egged the pudding somewhat with a convoluted multi-stranded plot dominated by internet cyber-trolling. Nonetheless, South Park, even firing at three-quarter’ capacity is funnier, on-point, and more scathing than any show out there.
As South Park is a phenomenal staple of my televisual calendar I was very happy when: Cartman, Stan, Randy, Cartman’s mum, Wendy, Butters, PC Principal, Kyle, President Garrison et al were back in Season 21 with satire of the highest order! Moreover, gone was the complex interlinking plots and in this run we experienced some wonderful stand-alone episodes which ran a zeitgeist hyper-link to many of the cultural, political and social events of 2017.
The one thematic web which was woven through the ten shows was Cartman’s dysfunctional and destructive relationship with his girlfriend Heidi. This narrative found Heidi actually becoming a female Cartman much to the other kids’ horror. Here, the writing mined some familiar, almost soap-operatic, but mature story lines to much satisfaction overall; especially in episode 7, Doubling Down, and episode 8, Moss Piglets.
Season 21 was, in keeping with the previous 20 seasons, crammed to the brim with references to media and socio-political culture, while also being fucking hilarious. The opening episode White People Renovating Houses poked humour at the latest Alexa culture and the hailstorm of “flipping” property shows. While Randy, the hare-brained addict, became obsessed with genetically re-correcting his heritage in the hilarious 3rd episode: Holiday Special.
Of course the kids took centre stage in many of the shows, notably Franchise Prequel, where their superhero alter egos – scurrilously led by Cartman’s ‘Coon’ – attempt to get their own Netflix and movie franchise off the ground to rival Marvel and DC. Mark Zuckerberg makes an appearance as a goofy, geeky Scott Pilgrim-type-video-game-end-boss too. Here the seeming bottomless pit of money that is called Netflix is also amusingly slated; mainly due to apparently green-lighting any project irrespective of its’ quality.
Trey Parker and his team took many swipes at the egregious political and, arguably hysterical social media “movements”. In episode 6, Sons of Witches the Harvey Weinstein “situation” was skewed, with all parties involved: men, women and social media keyboard warriors critiqued with much humour. Of course, based on the evidence presented in the media, Weinstein is a stain on humanity, a sexual animal exploiting his powerful position and money-balls! But Sons of Witches was keen to point out that while many men are dicks, they are not ALL bad witches so perhaps some calm and perspective is also required.
While the final two episodes Super Hard PCness and Splatty Tomato ended with President Garrison gone into hiding due to the bombing of Canada, the episodes also had some fine gags on recent horror adaptations It (2017) and Stranger Things (2017). But my favourite episodes of the series were Put It Down, which put the boot into that moron in the White House and his inexplicably dumb twitter feed that spews out an inordinate amount of bile and idiocy. Finally, episode 5, Hummels & Heroin, brilliantly satirised prison movies by transplanting the genre tropes to an old people’s home; advocating ire for pharmaceutical companies pushing drugs on old people and damning poor medical practices.
What makes South Park great and still valid is it does not takes sides. The liberal left and fascistic right are all shown to be, in certain circumstances, controlling and hysterical. Trey Parker and his team do not respect authority or celebrity or media fads or political correctness or social bandwagons; so long may their intelligent, crass, scurrilous, scatological, offensive, all-singing, all dancing satire continue! With Trump in the White House some may say satire is dead but we need the South Park team alive to protect us from this slew of never-ending societal insanity and above all else: MAKE US LAUGH!
CAST: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, Billy Magnussen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Pom Klementieff,
**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**
Grief is something which we will, or have already experienced, and given the dramatic possibilities, death and overcoming the death of a loved one propels many narratives in the cinema, literature and music etc. Ingrid Knows Best is one such narrative and while much is made of the plague that is social media and Instagram culture, this is ultimately a story of how our anti-hero deals with the loss of her mother and, in some ways, her own identity. In short: she doesn’t handle it very well, but rather disassociates her grief and fixates on so-called on-line celebrities in order to distract herself and escape the pain.
Aubrey Plaza is brilliant as Ingrid and she is fast becoming one of my favourite actors. I loved her in Office-influenced sitcom, Parks and Recreation and the brilliant lo-fi-sci-fi-rom-com Safety Not Guaranteed (2012). However, in this film and the mind-bending science fiction series Legion (2017), she completely owns the show. Plaza has a rare skill for vulnerable insanity where she does crazy stuff but at the same time you really empathise with her character.
In the opening scene she commits an act of pretty despicable revenge but once you see her living arrangements and family situation you really gain understanding of her character. Even when Ingrid heads west and begins stalking her next obsession, Plaza’s doe-eyed-butter-wouldn’t-melt façade and crumbling inner humanity ensure you never lose empathy for her. The writing is excellent as the script creates humour, drama and skilful satire of the facile, narcissistic and selfie-obsessed culture we live in today. Elizabeth Olsen too is impressive as the “Instagram Queen” and object of Ingrid’s obsession.
Overall, this was just #brilliant #dark #funny #sad! I was really satisfied with this film and while the slightly off-kilter crime-plot-turn near the end slightly unhinged the character study, the touching and thematically perfect ending was a brilliant pay-off for Ingrid’s character. Plaza though is the shining light of the film as she imbues Ingrid with not only the pathos of a zeitgeist Travis Bickle, but also a comedic mania which really brings the satire home.
GLOBAL MOURNING: DEATH AND THE (ANTI) SOCIAL MEDIA by PAUL LAIGHT
“All that live must die, passing through nature to eternity.” William Shakespeare
Death: the final frontier. The long anorexic finger of the reaper hangs over all of us and the annoying thing is we can do nothing about this. We are cold hard truth Cassandra. We know we are going to die; we just don’t know when. The cruel irony of life is we don’t know why we are here or where we are going when it ends. Today alone – according to Google – the utter bastard that is death has taken approximately 150,000 people worldwide due to: illness, war, old age, murder, accidents, suicide, natural disaster and so on. Of course we cannot grieve everyone but death is always magnified when we lose a famous or esteemed person. Recently we have lost musical genius David Bowie, acting gentleman Alan Rickman and hard-rocker Lemmy.
Of course these are sad losses to the art and entertainment worlds as all were esteemed entertainers who seemingly lived their lives to the full. Bowie especially had a phenomenal talent for Phoenix-from-the-flames-like reinvention and for me remains one of the greatest songwriters this country has ever produced; while Rickman was a fine acting talent who always brought gravitas to every role. Lemmy was well, Lemmy: a hard-drinking-hard-playing-hard-drug-taking-mad-man!
What I have observed is the various approaches to mourning across the world, media and more specifically the Internet, which generally explodes with a combination of emotions. More often than not humans also attack each other with Facebook and YouTube being especially brilliant for hilarious rows which quickly descend into personal attacks on parentage, religion, sexual preference; or whether someone’s Gran is a Nazi or not.
Ultimately, we all know death is a prick and people handle it in a variety of different ways, including:
Overwhelming outpouring of emotion for the life lost.
Praise and celebration of the artists’ work.
Irreverent comments where people say “I didn’t know them so why be upset?”
Aggressive comments which accuse people of “grief tourism”!
Humorous retorts such as, “Bowie is dead at 69. Rickman is dead at 69. Donald Trump is NOT DEAD at 69!”
Angry comments such as: “I hate you God – you took Bowie and Rickman but Rupert Murdoch is still living and now getting married!”
Personally I prefer the silent contemplative response and the people who are overly negative and criticise people for “grief tourism” irk me a bit. Indeed, it especially annoys me when the whole “you did not know them — so why are you grieving” statements come out. Well, I disagree with that because you do “know” them through their art and knowledge one has of their songs, acting, product and performances.
Surely, it’s instinctive to react to someone’s death? Are people really using a famous persons’ death to gain attention for themselves? Maybe they are; nothing surprises me with human beings. But to be honest, if they are holidaying in death and they’re not harming me then who cares! Let’s face it even the “grief-trolls” or “haters” or whatever-you –want-to-call them are scared of death and their defensive, satirical or ironic approach is a valid way of dealing with death and grief. Therefore, I respect their reaction as that is how THEY are grieving.
Ultimately, we’re all animals who get scared when illness and death comes a knocking and when a hero or an artist or someone famous dies we are all confronted with our OWN mortality and I suspect that is what we are most upset about. I mean who actually thought David Bowie would die – the guy is immortal surely?! But he has passed away and that is sad; but we should celebrate a wonderful life of creativity. We should also respect how a person chooses to grieve however over-the-top or emotional or irreverent or negative it may be. We are all human. Let’s just try and get on as we’re all in the same sinking boat. You win some – you lose some. Nothing lasts forever; apart from death that is.
Getting on stage and making a room full of strangers laugh spontaneously through a joke, impression, improvisation, song etc. is arguably one of the mightiest challenges facing a performer. But for many successful stand-up comedians the thrill of reducing a room to shakes of laughter is not enough; hence why so many have attempted to transfer their undoubted comic and acting artistry to the silver screen. Plus there’s more dough involved in making movies. As a massive fan of both cinema and stand-up comedy I thought it interesting to look at some of the best dramatic performances committed to celluloid by stand-up comics.
Eddie Murphy – 48 Hours (1982)
Before Eddie Murphy single-handedly set about making his very own list of the worst movies ever made he took his raw, rap, crack and pop stand-up persona and committed to screen great performances in Trading Places (1983) Beverley Hills Cop (1984) and Walter Hill’s rock hard-boiled 48Hours (1982). Buddied-up with Nick Nolte’s life-frazzled cop, Murphy was perfectly cast as cool convict Reggie Hammond. Murphy is tough, uncompromising and funny: spitting out classic dialogue such as “I’ve been in prison for three years. My dick gets hard if the wind blows” – with a verve that is sorely missing from virtually all his film output of the last 15 years.
Woody Allen – Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989)
Arguably, Allen’s recent movies have not been up to the quality of his earlier “funnier” films but I like them nonetheless as he has consistently produced work rich with great lines, ideas and characters. In the 1980’s Allen’s films matured and more often than not centred around familial, human and sexual relationships. As well as writing and directing Allen also acted in most of his films using his Jewish, neurotic, angsty persona to comic and dramatic effect. In Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) he delivers another fine performance drawing out pathos, empathy and pain as a documentary filmmaker who is trying to make sense of life and why we are on this planet. The film is multi-stranded with a wonderful ensemble cast including Alan Alda and Martin Landau on particularly great form.
Whoopi Goldberg – The Color Purple (1985)
Multi-talented Emmy, Oscar, Tony winner Goldberg is one of the most versatile comedian/actors to grace the stage and screen. She developed her abilities at the Blake Street Hawkeyes Comedy troupe where her work and would then be cast in Spielberg’s adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winning The Color Purple (1985). While Goldberg would earn an Oscar for her over-the-top turn in potter’s-wheel-ten-hankie-weepie Ghost (1990), but it is her first ever screen appearance which will stay in the memory. Goldberg’s Celie Johnson is a character battered and beaten by life but whom amidst the misery and abuse retains a strength and desire to not let life destroy her. Goldberg brings a tremendous innocence, fortitude and compassion to the part; and considering it is her first ever movie role it is an amazing achievement.
Will Ferrell – Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Ferrell cut his comedy fangs in The Groundlings, an LA improv group, and would later take his comic creations onto Saturday Night Live. Hilarious turns as hick racing driver Ricky Bobby in Talledega Nights (2006) and more famously as Ron Burgundy – the king of unreconstructed male chauvinist stupidity – in Anchorman (2004) would cement Ferrell’s success as a movie actor. Famous for stupid haircuts, overcharged yelling and screen-mugging Ferrell toned it down as tax inspector Harold Crick in Marc Forster’s moving dramedy, Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Ferrell’s Crick is a lonely individual, a man of routine and commonplace whose life is turned topside down when he hears his every move being narrated by Emma Thompson’s meta-omnipotent author. As he struggles to find ‘the voice’ Crick begins to question his whole existence and this gives Ferrell the opportunity to live a character with depth and emotion hitherto unseen in his previous screen caricatures.
Jamie Foxx – Ray (2004)
While Chris Rock arguably takes the stand-up comic kudos between these two graduates of influential American sketch show, In Living Color, Foxx’s film career has flourished with a series of fantastic movie performances. But it was playing Ray Charles in Ray (2004) that Foxx left Rock’s movie career, in comparison, eating the proverbial dust sandwich. Of course it won him the Oscar but it was more than just an impression of Charles as Foxx gave this musical genius a flawed humanity and pain that moved both the audience and the Academy. Foxx threw himself into the role with abandon musically and dramatically, showing Charles’ darker addictive side as well as his magnetism, humour and incredible drive. Unsurprisingly, the same year, Foxx was also nominated for his sterling work in Mann’s urban noir Collateral losing out in that category to the king-of-expositional-voiceover Morgan Freeman.
Robin Williams – One Hour Photo (2002)
A running trope in this list finds many of the acts turning their manic comedic persona on its’ head and internalizing the mania or psychosis with understated performances. Indeed, I have read articles which link certain mental states with the comedic mind and in Robin Williams you could not get a more manic, fevered, out-of-this-world performer. After a slow start cinematic success would arrive eventually and I could have chosen Good Will Hunting (1997) or Good Morning Vietnam (1987) or Dead Poet’s Society (1989)as these were great roles for Williams. But in 2002 he took a couple of darker turns in Nolan’s pre-Batman thriller Insomnia and a lower-budget thriller called One Hour Photo. The latter found Williams playing a solitary Photo Technician who takes an unhealthy interest in one particular family. Yet Williams’ character is no ordinary psycho but rather a pained individual longing to be part of a family unit. The actor terrifies the audience with his obsessive nature but at the end the performance humanizes the character rather than making him a one-dimensional lunatic he could so easily of been.
Jim Carrey – Man On The Moon (1998)
Carrey is an absolute force of nature as a stage and sketch performer and brought that dynamic physicality, silly voices and zany gurning to great effect in films such as: Dumb and Dumber (1994) and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994). As he gained further success he would stretch his acting muscles with more dramatic and riskier roles. He was ideally cast as Intergender Wrestling Champion of the world Andy Kaufmann and (best known for his role in U.S. sitcom Taxi) and also doubled-up by playing Kaufmann’s alter-ego Tony Clifton (with Paul Giamatti.) Kaufmann was arguably the very first anti-comedian; gaining laughs or at the very least trying to get laughs from being deliberately unfunny and antagonistic. Carrey takes on all the incarnations with much skill and humour and rather than be just a very good impression he zones his usual mania, creating a complex character whose life was tragically cut short by cancer. The film was criticized by some for taking liberties with Kaufmann’s life and it was a relative failure at the box office, but Carrey deservedly won many awards and nominations for his diverse performance.
Billy Connolly – The Debt Collector (1997)
Connolly’s performance in Mrs Brown would be the most obvious choice for Scotland’s imperious stand-up comedy legend, however, I’m not a fan of films about the Royal Family and the brutal Debt Collector is more to my taste. The Big Yin is compelling in this grim, gritty thriller inspired by career criminal turned artist/novelist, Jimmy Boyle. Connolly’s working class and artistic background also resonates in the Nicky Dryden character trying to go straight; only to be pursued relentlessly by Ken Stott’s obsessive cop. Connolly’s raconteurial, larger-than-life stand-up style is in complete contrast to the serious character of Dryden who having escaped the mean streets of snooker halls of Glasgow is now a feted figure on the art scene. Stott’s vindictive cop cannot abide Dryden’s success and sets about bringing Dryden down. The scenes between Connolly and Stott are the stand-out in this dark, violent tale which is unflinching in tone and certainly darker than anything Connolly has been in before or since.
Richard Pryor – Blue Collar (1980)
Paul Schrader wrote existential urban Western Taxi Driver (1976) but also directed some compelling dramas. Blue Collar is probably his best film and it is my favourite Richard Pryor performance. Pryor had reinvented himself as a stand-up comedian shifting his persona from likeable TV friendly gag-man to a snarling, coked-up, angry social satirist. He would roughen out the edges of this act to become the slick, effervescent and honest performer who turned the dramas and stories of his life into comedy gold. Pryor would be a natural comic force on silver screen and formed a fine double act with Gene Wilder. However, Blue Collar is the best film I saw him in as it combines the humour, drama and social commentary that Pryor himself included in his act. Set in Detroit it highlights the hypocritical machinations of Union practices at a car plant. Pryor provided some humour but his character shows an anger and energy throughout which may or may not have been fuelled by his Olympic coke-taking. Egos clashed among cast (including Yaphet Kotto and Harvey Keitel) and crew and it shows on screen in a fiery examination of the working class man and his lot.
Jerry Lewis – The King Of Comedy (1983)
To be able to steal the acting honours from Robert DeNiro at the height of his golden acting period takes some beating. But that is what old-school-crazed-slapstick-movie-mad-man Jerry Lewis did in Scorcese’s dramedy about obsessives. DeNiro is funny, embarrassing and tragic as the bottom-runged comedian but Lewis’ performance as hangdog, lonely and jaded chat-show host Jerry Langford stole the show. Langford, a successful TV presenter, remains at the height of his career but lives a seemingly lonely life with just his work for company. On the surface a decent guy but underneath he’s a jaded workaholic. DeNiro’s Pupkin enthusiastic, aspirational, hero-worshipping comic stalks him and becomes Langford’s own worst nightmare. There are so many painful scenes of toe-curling embarrassment in this movie notably when deluded Pupkin invites himself to Langford’s country retreat. When Langford is left at the mercy of Sandra Bernhard’s unhinged harpy Lewis’ performance is one of raging deadpan as he simmers with rage until he bursts like a pustule on escape and leaps down the road with tape around his ankles like bicycle clips. A truly under-rated gem of a performance and film.
Eric Bana – Chopper (2000)
Australian actor Bana started off in stand-up and TV sketch shows and was a novice dramatically speaking when cast as violent-criminal-turned-best-selling-novelist Marc Brandon Read. Given his comedic background Bana’s rendition is very funny but ultimately there is a dark drama and bloody violence too in the representations of this powerhouse of the Melbourne underworld. His creation is a paranoid, angsty, neurotic monster capable of terrific rage one moment then over-powering guilt the next. It’s a rounded version of a split-personality both interested in robbing drug dealers but also with his own myth, persona and media representation. There’s some terrific dialogue and Aussie banter between Chopper and the various low-lifes he encounters; and some visceral violence, notably when Chopper gets his ears cut off to navigate a route out of jail. The film holds a mirror up to a twisted society which creates celebrities out of killers and those who act outside of the law and it is to Bana’s credit that he makes this monster funny and likeable despite his actions deserving the contrary.
Mo’Nique – Precious (2009)
I wasn’t aware of Mo’Nique’s background as a stand-up comedian when I first saw this heartwrenching drama, but after witnessing her incredible performance I did some research and found she worked her way up from the open-mic circuit of Baltimore to the lofty heights of Best Supporting Actress. Her character Mary Lee Johnson is an emotionally-damaged-dysfunctional-car-crash-human-bully who puts her daughter Precious (equally brilliant Gabourey Sidibe) through all manner of abuse and neglect. As horror after horror befalls the story’s heroine her mother sits on the sofa barking, castigating, demanding; making her life a living hell. It’s a monstrous creation but one which is not without compassion as shown in one of the final scenes in the film where Mary Lee Johnson, in tears, asks, “Who was gonna love me?” And the strength of the performance is that we almost feel bad for this woman. Almost.
Steve Martin – The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
Steve Martin’s film career is quite similar to Eddie Murphy’s inasmuch as his early films matched the brilliance and energy of his stand-up career only to find him moving later to more sub-par-Hollywood-generic-remakes like Bilko. But you can’t blame a performer wanting to make a living and Martin is one of the great Renaissance Men. He also wrote of one of the greatest books I’ve read about comedy: Born Standing Up. As an actor he’s always really funny playing downtrodden man-children or idiots happy to send himself up gaining laughs from crazed anger while remaining totally unthreatening; e.g. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987). In David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner he played against type with a sinister turn in this cold, twisting thriller. Martin underplays throughout with intelligence and handles Mamet’s crisp dialogue with aplomb. It’s a fine film and performance utilising his linguistic skills expertly and I have no Clouseau why he didn’t go darker more often.