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2012/06/24

Chopper

By Dave Best

The Australian film industry has a history of producing low-budget films which gain a cult audience and serve as a springboard to international success for their stars. Mad Max (1979) marked the debut of Mel Gibson, Romper Stomper (1992) gave us Russell Crowe, Two Hands (1999) presented Heath Ledger to the world, and in 2000 Eric Bana firmly arrived on the scene as the titular character in Andrew Dominik’s superb, Chopper.

 
In this (loosely) based-on-a-true-story biopic, Bana plays Mark Brandon ‘Chopper’ Read; a charismatic, larger-than-life career criminal and subsequent best-selling author who made a living from robbing and extorting drug dealers and other shady figures from the Australian criminal underworld. Read, prone to acts of casual violence and torture, is undeniably a psychopath but he is also a charming, sympathetic and laugh-out-loud hilarious character. This is testament to the incredible performance which Bana delivers, playing Read as equal parts side splittingly funny and head splittingly insane whilst emanating hypnotic charisma at all times. His physical presence (Bana is almost unrecognisable, having bulked up heavily for the role), deft delivery of dialogue and multitude of nuanced mannerisms all add up to create a portrait of a deeply flawed but undeniably loveable character that you will find yourself quoting relentlessly.

Come on Eric, Hulk wasn't that bad...
 Bana’s performance isn’t the only reason Chopper is a stand out film though. The real life Read is notorious for embellishing, exaggerating and flat out fabricating tales of his own dark deeds. As such, creating a biopic about him was always going to be a challenge. The film’s narrative takes its inspirations from Read’s own reality-stretching memoirs and more grounded independent research (interviews with accomplices, witnesses and victims, etc.), then weaves the two together to form a razor sharp and darkly comical script which plays with the concepts of truth and reality. The filmmakers regularly address the fact that Read is often self-delusional about his actions and provide alternate versions of key points in his life, leaving the viewer to question which version of events, if any, they choose to believe. This ambiguity is one of the reasons Chopper is such an intriguing and engaging movie.

Moments later a tiny helicopter would land on Bana's chest and ruin the shot
It is a thoughtfully shot film. A multitude of different techniques are used throughout the piece, creating an episodic feel to the different chapters in Read’s life. The prison sequences, for instance, are cold and sparse with the colour dialled down to the bare minimum giving the scenes a blue-ish hue (see above); the scenes after Read is returned to society are flooded with garish colour almost to the point of being overwhelming, reflecting the prisoners experience of going from a basic and restricted environment out into an over stimulating and unfamiliar world. Having so many scenes differ in tone and style to one another could be a jarring experience, but in the context of Chopper it works well and helps gives you a similar perspective to the erratic lead character.  

The man himself, Mark 'Chopper' Read
(silly caption withheld, as I value my health)
This is a fantastic piece of world cinema and a showcase of acting-as-an-art-form from Bana. It will make you laugh at things you probably shouldn’t laugh at, it will make you feel sorry for a man you probably shouldn’t feel sorry for, and much of what you see may or may not have ever actually happened; but as the film's tagline says; “never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn”, and this is most definitely a good yarn. 


For further information visit Chopper's IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0221073/

Suggested further viewing: Munich (2005), Bronson (2008), Animal Kingdom (2010).

2012/06/17

The New Adventures of Old Christine

By Jav Rivera

An unorganized, self-conscious single mom on the verge of being an alcoholic is one way to describe Julia Louis-Dreyfus' television series "The New Adventures of Old Christine".  The excellent title comes from the fact that Julia's ex-husband on the show, Richard, is dating a younger woman, also named Christine.  By default, that makes Julia's character "Old Christine."


But describing the show does little to express the enjoyment of the actual experience.  Julia pulls out all the stops in a no holds barred performance.  Some of her best moments are the more unexpected jokes.  Her obsessive behavior adds to these moments.  She wants so badly to do things right that she doesn't pay attention to what she's doing wrong.

In the third season episode "One and a Half Men", Christine starts using a testosterone cream to help with what she believes is perimenopause.  Every scene shows her masculinity escalate to the point of absurdity.  But Julia excels as absurdity.


In another season 3 episode entitled "Beauty Is Only Spanx Deep", Christine obsesses over plastic surgery.  She receives an image of what she might look like after surgery, which can only be described as horrifically funny.  But Christine, in her disillusioned mind, thinks it's an improvement.  The episode, one of the funnier ones, actually does a great job expressing people's obsession with body image.  And it's this responsible writing that helps make the show more realistic.  Christine is basically a more animated version of the typical American woman.  The men on the show do a good job of representing a typical male as well.  They even poke fun at the unfair stereotypes that are commonly seen on television.

Created by Kari Lizer ("Will and Grace"), the Emmy-winning series surrounds Julia with an amazing cast: Clark Gregg as ex-husband, Richard; Hamish Linklater as younger brother, Matthew; Trevor Gagnon as son, Ritchie; Emily Rutherfurd as "New Christine" (Richard's girlfriend); and Wanda Sykes as Julia's best friend, Barb.  And of course rounding out the cast are meanie moms Tricia O'Kelley, as Marly, and Alex Kapp Horner, as Lindsay, who constantly make Julia feel out of place at Ritchie's private school.

L-R: Ritchie, Barb, Richard, Old Christine, Matthew, New Christine, Lindsay, and Marly
Old Christine's ex-husband, played by Clark Gregg, adds a perfect balance to Christine's insanity.  He may not be the brightest bulb, but his logic for "manly" things help Christine better understand the male's point of view, something of which she is horribly clueless.  And for a single mom with a terrible track record, she needs all the help she can get, even if it's from her ex-husband.

And if Clark Gregg looks familiar, you've probably seen him in the majority of the recent Avengers-related films as Agent Phil Coulson (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Avengers).  His comedic timing and perfect deliveries were in tune during his time on "Old Christine" and has helped gain him a huge fan base.  In fact, his role as Agent Coulson was originally very small and limited to the first Iron Man movie. The character never even existed in the Marvel universe until the film.  But it's Gregg's screen presence that not only made Coulson a bigger role, but also a solid character for Marvel.  So much so that his character is now on the animated series, "Ultimate Spider-Man", which Gregg voices.

Old Christine and Richard (Clark Gregg)
The show boasts incredible guest stars with incredible characters.  Andy Richter stands out as Stan, or, better known as "Sad Dad".  Sad Dad is a single father who hunts for single moms with low self-esteem.  Though Richter only appears on the show a total of four times, his presence is magnificent. And his appearances are sporadic enough to surprise you every time.

Lindsay, Stan "Sad Dad" (Andy Richter), and Marly
Other noteworthy guest stars are Tim Meadows, Scott Bakula, Stephen Tobolowsky, Amy Sedaris, Jason Alexander, Blair Underwood, and Eric McCormack.  And from this list of guest stars, it's obvious the show is well-connected with some of the best comedic actors.  And that connection is the result of a solid cast and crew.

Behind the scenes, Andy Ackerman takes directing duties.  Ackerman is best remembered for directing such hit television series as "Seinfeld", "Cheers", "Fraiser", "Wings", and most recently, "Whitney".  Sadly, "Old Christine" only ran for five seasons (from 2006-2010), but each episode is a winner.  The show is currently being syndicated on Lifetime which has fortunately given the show a new breed of followers.

L-R: Andy Ackerman with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Larry David
Probably the most commendable aspect of Julia Louis-Dreyfus is her fearless approach to humor.  She has no reservations about making herself appear both unattractive and unappealing.  Those who remember her best for her incredible "Seinfeld" character, Elaine, will be amazed to see how much more range her Christine character allowed her.  It's easy to compare her beauty and talent to someone like Madeline Kahn, but Julia is truly on her own level of a comedic actor.


The show itself is cleverly written for both male and female viewers, making it fun for the whole family. Julia had moments on "Seinfeld" when she could show off her slapstick humor but it's on "Old Christine" that really proves her talent.

For more information about "The New Adventures of Old Christine," visit the official IMDb page: www.imdb.com/title/tt0462128

TRIVIA: Julia Louis-Dreyfus received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on May 4, 2010.

2012/06/10

Du Levande (You, the Living)

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless


It might be a poor choice to start things off by telling you that I spent an evening laughing at other people’s misery recently.  But, I assure you; I’m really not an awful person.  I was watching Swedish director Roy Andersson’s 2007 film, Du Levande (You, the Living), and I was maybe not so much laughing at the characters but with them.

Hard to believe, but not everyone is a music fan
You, the Living is a film full of dry, dark humor that not only makes the audience laugh, but makes them feel less alone and more connected by showing that there truly are some very universal things that people all over the world have in common.  It's presented in vignette format, with fifty different scenarios.  In some, we’re merely privy to moments in people’s lives, looking on as they happen.  In others, the characters turn to the audience and speak directly to us, explaining their thoughts and feelings.  The vignettes follow a variety of people in all walks of life, with viewers sure to be able to relate to at least one (but probably more) of them.  There’s a woman whose catch phrase throughout her scenes in the film is “No one understands me”; she’s convinced that if she just had a motorcycle to get out of the city and away from all of her problems, she’d be happy.  A young woman has a crush on a singer in a local rock band, and believes that if she could only win his heart and marry him, life would be good.  A man is shown in an amorous moment with his lover, yet he’s somewhere else completely, carrying on the entire time about how poorly his retirement fund is doing.  (Note: this particular scene does show some nudity and depicts a sexual situation, but it’s presented very humorously; it was one of many that made me laugh out loud.)  In a different scene, a father is in the middle of a very important event, only to be interrupted by a son who needs to borrow money from him--again.  You won't find polished supermodel types or gorgeous leading men in this movie; just realistic characters that the audience can empathize with.  There's also a lot of "real time" lingering in scenes, and that's complimented by mostly uncomplicated settings, usually without many bright colors or strong light.  Since so much of the film deals with the idea of everyday struggles and some of the more mundane aspects of life though, the drabness is a perfect technique.

Anna, pining after singer/guitarist, Micke Larsson 

To call the film “understated” would be both true and a mistake.  It makes definite statements on the human condition, profound in their simplicity, but does it without in-your-face effects or fast pacing.  This is Andersson’s trademark style though: lingering scenes and absurdist comedy.  Andersson’s professional career has focused mostly on advertisements (he has over four hundred of them to his credit), but he’s also directed several short films over the past three decades, as well as four feature-length films.  A new one, A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence, is in production for a 2014 release.

This man learns that being polite to the person holding the hair clippers is always the best policy
I’ve never seen a film quite like this before, and that’s a shame.  You, the Living shows that even when we feel utterly alone, we’re far from it.  There are usually other people out there who understand what we’re going through, be it next door or halfway around the globe.  And the cliché holds true; often, things could be worse.  I highly recommend checking out not only this film, but some of the advertisements that Andersson has directed too (various clips can be found on YouTube).  To visit the IMDb page for the film, go to www.imdb.com/title/tt0445336.

2012/06/03

Trailer Park Boys

By Jav Rivera

Whenever I try to explain to people how genius Trailer Park Boys is, I end up sounding somewhat stupid.  Think about how this television series would be described: a couple of Canadian trailer trash, with the help of their oddball neighbors, constantly try to score one last job so they can finally retire.  Of course, their schemes almost always involve drugs, booze, or theft and almost always land them in jail.  In fact, it's become a running joke of the series that at the end of every season you can expect that they get arrested (almost every season, that is).

But the genius is less about the context of the show and more about the delivery.  Robb Wells (Ricky), for example, has mastered the art of dumb.  You can actually see his character's lack of brain power as he struggles to make words come out of his mouth.  It's a very limited vocabulary for Ricky that includes one major component: swearing.  He also has a habit of using incorrect versions of famous sayings.  For Ricky, it's not "I told you so"; instead, it's "atodaso".  It's not "Indiana Jones," it's "Indianapolis Jones".  And it's not that he's totally dim-witted.  He just doesn't know how to process things outside of his childlike brain.  Of course, it doesn't help that he's nearly always doped up.  But to play a character that believably dumb, you're either a great actor or truly that dumb.  Having seen Wells being interview in his own voice proves it's the former.  Mike Smith, especially, adds to that proof.  For several seasons, I thought Bubbles was somewhat real, but as it turns out, Mike Smith is nothing like Bubbles.  As I said: genius.

Ricky, Bubbles, and Julian
The show is also delivered to viewers as a low-fi mockumentary.  It's brought up immediately in the first episode that Julian (played by John Paul Tremblay) is being filmed by a documentary crew to follow the day-in-the-life of a man, fresh out of jail, with a new profound vision that he wants to become a legitimate member of a civilized community.  Things don't really work out.

The low-fi video quality adds to the show's charm and logically makes sense.  Who else but a low budget film crew with old technology would want to document trailer trash?  Not that I'm insulting the trailer park community, but neither is the show.  They're simply using stereotypical characters in a stereotypical setting.  Fortunately, however, they've added heart to these people.

First Scene of First Episode
(Warning: Explicit Language)

Trailer Park Boys was created by Mike Clattenburg (Director) utilizing the skills of his actor friends Robb Wells and John Paul Tremblay.  In 1998, Clattenburg wrote and directed a short film titled One Last Shot, which followed the exploits, in documentary style, of Ricky and Julian (Wells and Tremblay, respectively).  After which, Clattenburg directed a feature film entitled Trailer Park Boys in 1999.  The film caught the attention of Producer Barrie Dunn who suggested the idea of a television series based on the characters.  Clattenburg and Dunn, along with Wells and Tremblay, pitched the idea to Showcase and were rewarded with a 6-episode season.  Its success led to more seasons and the development of more characters.

Mike Clattenburg (Director, Co-Creator)
The team adjusted some elements from the film to better fit a television series.  One of which was the inclusion of Bubbles, played by Mike Smith.  Bubbles is, surprisingly, one of the wiser characters of the show.  Despite his looks and high-pitched voice, Bubbles has a good heart and logical brain.  He often gets upset with the ridiculous plans of his best mates Ricky and Julian, and is usually the voice of reason.  He also has a huge love for cats but that doesn't stop Bubbles from drinking and occasionally smoking pot.  C'mon...it's called Trailer Park Boys.  What do you expect?  Oh, and he can fix a shopping cart like no one's business.

Mike Smith as "Bubbles"
The show's style can be described very simply as lowbrow humor for a highbrow audience.  There's a surprisingly large amount of smart dialogue and intelligent references within each episode.  It's typical of the show to combine witty (and sometimes witless) remarks and slapstick humor.  It caters to a wide audience, not just dumb jokes.  Of course some of their dumber recurring jokes are their strongest.  The fact that Julian always has a drink in his hand is never mentioned but always intact.

The show also walks a fine line of realism.  There are moments when you have to wonder if the people within the "documentary" are showing off because they know they're being filmed.  That awareness helps make the characters believable.  It explains why so many of them have bad lines and inconsistent behavior - they're just saying and doing what they think is cool for the camera at that moment.  Why else would every driving scene end with a car coming to a screeching halt?  How would the cameramen know when and where to frame the camera that perfectly?  It's as if Ricky had suggested it to the documentary crew off screen.  As if he would say, "Hey, stand right there 'cause it would be cool if my car stopped right in front of your camera."

Ricky's Car
The cast is a group of very strange but lovable characters.  The main characters: John Paul Tremblay (as Julian), Robb Wells (as Ricky), Mike Smith (as Bubbles), John Dunsworth (as Jim Lahey), Patrick Roach (as Randy), Lucy Decoutere (as Lucy), Sarah Dunsworth (as Sarah), Jonathan Torrens (as J-Roc), Barrie Dunn (as Ray, a.k.a. Ricky's Dad), Jeanna Harrison (as Trinity), Tyrone Parsons (as T), Shelley Thompson (as Barb Lahey), Michael Jackson (as Trevor), and Cory Bowles (as Cory).  They all have intertwining lives within the small universe of Sunnyvale Trailer Park.  Sometimes you hate them, sometimes you like them, sometimes you laugh at them, sometimes you feel sorry for them.  But in the end, you always want more.

TPB gang circa fourth season
L-R Top Row:  Detroit Velvet Smooth, J-Roc, and Tyrone
Middle Row: Sarah, Lucy, Trinity, Julian, Bubbles, Ricky, Barb, Jim Lahey, Randy
Bottom Row: Cory and Trevor
The show ran for a whopping seven seasons and produced two feature films.  There's also a live show entitled The Ricky, Julian and Bubbles Community Service Variety Show.  The premise is that they are fulfilling court ordered community service to demonstrate the dangers of alcohol and drugs; another genius idea.

Mike Smith, John Paul Tremblay, and Robb Wells also created a new series entitled The Drunk and On Drugs Happy Funtime Hour which showcases the actors playing "themselves."  They wake up in a drunken haze and soon realize that they've been drugged, and apparently during their hallucination they created a TV series.  To make matters worse, everyone on the show has been drugged as well and actually believe they're the characters that they're playing.  The show boasts several well-known actors including Amy Sedaris, Maury Chaykin, Jay Baruchel, and some familiar faces from Trailer Park Boys.

It's definitely worth a look, but keep an open mind because it's not fair to compare it to Trailer Park Boys.  The two shows each have their own distinct flavors.  It is fair to say, however, that if you love the actors from Trailer Park Boys, then you just might appreciate what they've done on Happy Funtime Hour.  (Note: Happy Funtime Hour may be hard to find outside of Canada.  Here's a Youtube link for the first episode: www.youtu.be/oKli8X4RsmM)

www.drunkandondrugs.com
Trailer Park Boys is a show all its own.  It's definitely not something you'd expect with that title and definitely more clever than you'd imagine.  Genius?  Most certainly.  If you don't think so after watching the first season, then count how many times you reference or quote the show in a month.  And for those of us who have sadly watched all that exists of this show, I'm happy to say that watching Trailer Park Boys a second time around is even better.

John Paul Tremblay, Mike Smith, and Robb Wells
For more information on Trailer Park Boys, visit their official IMDb page: www.imdb.com/title/tt0290988

TRIVIA: A tradition in the series is that Ricky will wear the same shirt for the entire season.