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HBO REVIEW – CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – SEASON 10 – another stream of comedic offence, farce and genius!

HBO REVIEW – CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – SEASON 10

Created by: Larry David

Executive producer(s): Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Robert B. Weide, Larry Charles, Erin O’Malley, Alec Berg etc.

Writers: Larry David, Jeff Schaffer, Justin Hurwitz, Steve Leff, Carol Leifer

Directors: Jeff Schaffer, Cheryl Hines, Erin O’Malley

Main Cast: Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman, J. B. Smoove, Ted Danson, Richard Lewis, Vince Vaughan, Kaitlin Olson etc.

Guests: Mila Kunis, Clive Owen, Laverne Cox, Chris Martin, Sean Penn, Jonah Hill, Jon Hamm, Philip Rosenthal and many more.

Distribution Platform: HBO (USA) – SKY (UK)

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**



“AH! INTERESTING. . . “

During a lengthy hiatus from 2011 to 2017, fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm were left bereft of their dose of Larry David’s inimitable and eccentric behaviour. The multi-millionaire writer of Seinfeld had carved out a wonderfully politically incorrect comedy series, full of misunderstanding, farce and hilariously embarrassing situations. Thankfully, he returned with season 9, and it was absolutely brilliant. Larry managed to get himself a death sentence, having written a musical called Fatwa, along with all manner of other comedic shenanigans. Season 10 has now followed and, once again, anti-heroic Larry delivers ten more fantastically offensive and funny episodes. More often than not we find his behaviour abhorrent as he goes about upsetting friends, family members, celebrities, and strangers on a daily basis. However, sometimes we are with Larry and his actions have merit and reason. Furthermore, due to the wonderful writing, improvising, cast and situations the humour is always more than pretty, pretty good!


NARRATIVE ARC (OF THE COVENANT)

Usually, Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes can stand alone due to the richness of the narrative strands Larry David and his writers create. But most seasons will have a very solid narrative arc running through it to provide looping rejoinders, a structural spine and a fitting conclusion. In season 10, there were echoes of storylines from prior seasons. Larry wanted to get back with Cheryl and they even committed divorced adultery, cuckolding Ted Danson in the process. However, the main arc revolved around the return of coffee store owner, Mocha Joe (Saverio Guerra). Larry pisses Mocha Joe off because he complains about “cold” coffee, wobbly tables and weak scones. Following Larry’s customary banishing he swears revenge on Mocha Joe. This takes the form of the wonderfully named ‘spite store’ he sets up next door. Thus, Latte Larry’s is born, and ten episodes of fast-paced, tit-for-tat, vengeful and hilarious scenes ensue.



“THE GOLDEN RULE” – STYLE AND THEMES

Curb Your Enthusiasm is not just funny because of the situations, dialogue, observations, guest stars and acting performances. It is also very sophisticated and stupid, combining a variety of comedy styles to fuel the humour. Earlier seasons could be argued to be more based in reality per se. The interactions between the characters felt more natural, in keeping with the pilot episode which was shot as a mockumentary about Larry returning to stand-up. Later seasons, especially seasons 9 and 10, upped the gag rate and one could even say felt slicker. Don’t get me wrong, the jokes have always come thick and fast in Curb Your Enthusiasm, but in the last two seasons there is not only a reliance on the usual comedy of embarrassment, observations and satire, but farce, slapstick and gross-out humour too have been added to the palette. Lastly, the show has always skated close to the edge in regard to non-PC humour and causing offence. Evidently, Larry David has now fully thrown himself over that edge and is happy to offend everyone in a two-fingered salute to so-called snowflakes or liberals out there.

In regard to thematics, Larry David clearly has his finger on the pulse relating to contemporary society, politics and human behaviour. Much of the humour and funny scenarios derive from what is acceptable behaviour and certain “rules” within everyday living. In season 10, Larry finds himself questioning, among other things: the behaviour of a pregnant woman; the merits of artificial fruit; what is and what isn’t’ sufficient praise; usage of disable parking badges; whether he should be in a restaurant’s ‘ugly section’; whether sex with Cheryl’s sister is post-relationship cheating; and the overall benefits of running a spite store. These elements, the running feuds with Ted Danson, Mocha Joe and Larry’s assistant, Alice, and themes relating to the Harvey Weinstein scandal and #MeToo movement; Larry and Leon’s continued chats about the nature of being black/white; Donald Trump’s presidency; fat shaming; suicide; Susie’s alleged plot to murder Jeff; nationalist ridicule; egotistic actor types; and transgender issues, all connectedly make this season a very rich product, full of ideas and challenging storylines.



“PRETTY GOOD. . . ” – EPISODE RATINGS

Episode 1 – Happy New Year – (8.5 out of 10)

Larry goes to war with Mocha Joe and reignites his romance with Cheryl. His relationship with his assistant also descends into accusations of sexual harassment.

Highlight: Larry wearing his Donald Trump, “Make America Great Again!” and ensuring no one wants to be seen with him.


Episode 2 – Side Sitting – (8.5 out of 10)

Larry’s relationship with his assistant, Alice, is possibly going to court unless he settles and makes amends. His attempts to get back with Cheryl are rebuked, so he dates his lawyer’s assistant.

Highlight: Larry gives Susie a portrait of herself as a birthday present. She loves it – but Jeff doesn’t.


Episode 3 – Artificial Fruit – (9 out of 10)

Larry’s donation to a charity fails to bring forward redemption when he refuses to hug Laverne Cox at an event, because she has a cold. Meanwhile, Richard and Larry argue over who is paying a lunch bill, leading to a very embarrassing escapade at a Spanish funeral.

Highlights: Larry is unsure if the Heimlich manoeuvre is appropriate when his assistant is choking. Plus, Larry’s doodle debate with Christine Lahti blows up into a serious disagreement.


Episode 4 – You’re not going to get me to say anything bad About! – (9 out of 10)

Larry, Donna (his new girlfriend), Cheryl, Jeff, Susie and Leon go to Cabo San Lucas for a friend’s wedding. Larry becomes fixated with Donna’s yo-yo dieting, but he and Leon do find some incredible coffee beans for Latte Larry’s.

Highlight: Larry’s determination to locate a toothbrush descends into a farcical conclusion. Later, at the wedding, Ted discovers Larry and Cheryl’s infidelity in a hilarious fashion.


Episode 5 – Insufficient Praise! – (9 out of 10)

Preparations for Latte Larry’s gather pace as Larry asks for a specific urinal type. Larry also gets a new housekeeper and is given a sex doll by Freddy Funkhouser. Meanwhile, Larry clashes with actor Clive Owen and Richard Lewis’ new girlfriend; a professional “crier”.

Highlights: Larry’s frantic battle with the sex doll resulting in his housekeeper and Cheryl catching him. Also, Clive Owen’s brilliantly pretentious send-up of narcissistic acting types.



Episode 6 – The Surprise Party! – (8.5 out of 10)

Larry meets a German inventor who has an anti-Semitic Alsatian called Adolf, and he gains joy from the use of a disabled parking badge. He also clashes with Susie over the surprise party she intends to throw for Jeff.

Highlight: Despite not having an appointment, Larry uses his cardiologist’s reception area to wait, because it’s a “waiting room”.


Episode 7 – The Ugly Section! – (9.5 out of 10)

Larry consistently keeps getting placed in the “ugly section” at the back of a restaurant. Simultaneously, he attempts to woo the widow of his friend who recently committed suicide.

Highlights: Larry asking Jane Krakowski’s character where she got the handles for her husband’s coffin. Later, Larry ruins a possible sexual liaison with her by arguing about the New York Jets. Lastly, Larry insults Susie as she should be in the restaurant “ugly section”.


Episode 8 – Elizabeth, Margaret and Larry! – (10 out of 10)

Actor, Jon Hamm, shadows Larry as he prepares to play a character like him in a film. Larry and Leon start a new business venture which initially proves profitable. Cheryl is angered when Larry spontaneously begins a relationship with her sister, Becky.

Highlights: Jon Hamm slowly turning into Larry throughout the episode, culminating in them both being ejected from a dinner party. Also, Kaitlin Olson returning as Becky and the surprising sex with Larry.


Episode 9 – Beep Panic! – (9 out of 10)

Larry strikes up a friendship with a waitress that dripped sweat into his soup. He also becomes obsessed with the liqorice at his car showroom. Meanwhile, Mocha Joe plots his own revenge using DVD film screeners.

Highlights: Leon and Larry succumb to the severe laxative effect of the liqorice in a silly bit of toilet humour.


Episode 10 – The Spite Store! – (10 out of 10)

Latte Larry’s is well and truly open, and it inspires other celebrities to open similar spite stores. Larry is irked by siren abusers and gives a job to Joey Funkhouser, but his big penis causes the store no end of issues.

Highlights: Sean Penn’s opening a spite-driven pet store. All Larry’s innovations at the coffee store ultimately lead to a very explosive downfall.


“NO GOOD?” – CONCLUSION

In preparing for this review I rewatched season 9 and watched season 10 twice. So, it’s obvious to say that I love, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Overall, I found the latest season to be a wonderful mix of old-fashioned slapstick and farce, combined with Larry David’s original and skewed vision of humanity. What was also impressive was the structural coherence of juggling so many comedy plots and situations. Plus, Larry behaves appallingly, and this is very appealing in an ever-increasingly politically correct world. Many times, throughout the season Larry is shown to be a provocative arsehole, but on occasions he very much has a valid point. Larry’s issues are very much first world problems, but because of the skilled writing and consistently high joke rate I related greatly to this season. Plus, Larry doesn’t win. His spiteful plotting and perpetual disagreements with those around him mostly fail. Indeed, ultimately, the joke is always on him.

Overall Mark: 9 out of 10


FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #8 – DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE (2018)

FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #8 – DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE (2018)

Written and directed by: S. Craig Zahler

Produced by: Sefton Fincham, Jack Heller, Tyler Jackson, Keith Kjarval, Dallas Sonnier

Cast: Vince Vaughn, Mel Gibson, Tory Kittles, Michael Jai White, Jennifer Carpenter, Laurie Holden, Don Johnson, Thomas Kretschmann etc.

Cinematography: Benji Bakshi

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



As a major fan of S. Craig Zahler’s first two film releases, namely Bone Tomahawk (2015) and Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017), I was really looking forward to another example of pulpy, slow burn and hard-bitten genre filmmaking with Dragged Across Concrete (2018). Thus, I was very upset when I found out the Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn starring cop drama was not released in UK cinemas. I finally caught up with it on Amazon Prime and, while it was probably too long, it was a hypnotically powerful crime thriller.

Set in the city of Bulwark, the film opens with a lengthy preamble which introduces disparate characters whose paths are destined to cross later in the film. These include recent parolee, Henry Johns (Tory Kittles), grizzled-long-in-the-tooth-cop, Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and his younger, but equally cynical partner, Anthony Lusaretti (Vince Vaughn). Later, Zahler throws professional criminal, Lorentz Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann), and his dressed-in-black crew into the dark city soup. After a glacial set-up, the plot kicks in when Ridgeman and Lusaretti are suspended for what is perceived as a racially motivated attack on a suspect. Desiring a way out of the neo-noir and industrial decay, Ridgeman sets up a plan to steal from Vogelmann’s gang. Safe to say that given this is a Zahler film, we do not end up with a soft toy and candy apple ending.

Throwing a succession of anti-heroes at the audience and a litany of cursing and politically incorrect language makes Dragged Across Concrete (2018) a morally questionable film to experience. Do not watch if you are easily offended. Nonetheless, my feeling is Zahler, like Tarantino, is reflecting the world as it is rather than how it should be. Humanity is in the gutter and the only way out of it, in his mind, is to swear and fight and steal and kill. That isn’t to say that the characters are not empathetic. As Zahler’s hard-boiled dialogue is very poetic in places it draws you to them in a way Raymond Chandler used to do. Similarly, the performances from Gibson and Vaughn are brilliant. The scenes where they just sit in the car and eat sandwiches while staking out their quarry, are both hilarious and absorbing. Ultimately, it’s the lengthy second half robbery and final act ultra-violence which makes the film a pulsating and brutally rewarding experience.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (2017) – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017 REVIEW

BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (2017) – REVIEW

“Through me you go into a city of weeping; through me you go into eternal pain; through me you go amongst the lost people.”
Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

The concept of Katabasis is a descent of some kind, such as moving downhill, or a military retreat, or in this context, a violent journey into the underworld. The term has multiple related meanings in poetry, psychology and Greek Mythology. Heroes such as: Orpheus, Odysseus and Lazarus went down into the depths of Hades to locate lost loved ones, collect information and battle their demons. Conversely, writer-director S. Craig Waller has produced something akin to Sam Peckinpah reinventing the story of Orpheus. But instead of employing beautiful music to crush the enemy, Waller’s anti-hero Bradley Thomas, uses his fists, head, body, bats, bars, guns, and hulking power to defeat his foes.

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The story opens with a stunning shot from behind of Vince Vaughn’s bald, bulking head emblazoned with a startling crucifix tattoo. As a means of establishing character and showing us the world we’re in it is emphatic, visceral and deviously economic. You know immediately not to mess with Bradley Thomas as he is a coiled spring of masculine power, yet he also has a strong moral compass. Finding himself out-of-work and in difficult financial times, Thomas takes up drug courier work to support his pregnant wife portrayed by Jennifer Carpenter. All is going smoothly until a deal with a Mexican drug cartel goes awry and, from when Thomas enters prison, all manner of sickening and brutal hell breaks loose.

The film is shot on a low budget but the style is impressive. The cinematographer, Benji Bakshi, along with the director Waller, are brave in their choices; utilising natural light, drained colours, shadows and darkness. Often Thomas’ is lit by a slit or shaft or box of light as his character finds himself trapped in corridors and cells as well as his own life choices. Much will also be made of the ultra-violence which includes some impressive bone-crunching Foley sound work. But, the hyper-real violence, while reminiscent of the cartoon horror gore of early Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series, is paradoxically not exploitative. This is because it is contextualised within the brutal crime setting and driven by Thomas’ powerful desire to save the people he loves.

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The screenplay, also written by Waller, is full of witty one-liners and deadpan repartee between hard-bitten, desperate criminals and jailers who look as though they have been transported right out of hard-pipe thrillers such as: John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) and Don Siegel’s crime gem Charley Varrick (1973).  While over two hours long the plot moves pretty quickly, yet Waller takes his time deliberately building character, suspense and tension before busting out into spectacular violence. Having previously directed the stunning B-movie Western Bone Tomahawk (2015), S. Craig Waller is certainly making a name for himself as an independent film director of some note.

Waller finds a compelling cinematic partner-in-crime in Vince Vaughn too. Vaughn, who burst on the scene with a hilarious performance in brilliant indie-hit Swingers (1996), could be argued to have not lived up to his full acting potential. While he has performed in some excellent movies his CV is also peppered with unfunny comedies, soporific romances and bland family films. Don’t get me wrong, we have to pay the mortgage but there’s always been a nagging sense Vaughn was not utilising his meaty acting ability. Having said that in Hacksaw Ridge (2016) and now Brawl in Cell Block 99, he proves himself to be a character actor of some force. Indeed, his natural comedic timing, muscular frame and searing intensity are all utilised here to mesmeric impact in a career-best performance.

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Katabasis, as aforementioned, is about descent; but the archetypal hero will usually return triumphant in victory. Brawl in Cell Block 99 offers an alternative vision of moral redemption though within Bradley Thomas’ avenging-angel-versus-the-devil narrative. As such, Brawl in Cell Block 99 joins a list of recent lower-budgeted-independent-minded movies such as: Cold in July (2014), Green Room (2015), Out of the Furnace (2013) and Hell or High Water (2016), which rip into the dark underbelly of United States’ industrial and criminal landscape leaving us in no doubt to the destructive nature of the American dream.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)