The Brothers Grimsby (2016)

EPSON MFP image

three star

campstamp

“When you’re young, you have way fewer taboo topics, and then as you go through life and you have experiences with people getting cancer and dying and all the things you would have made fun of, then you don’t make fun of them anymore. So rebelliousness really is the province of young people — that kind of iconoclasm.”Steve Martin

By all means, I should’ve hated The Brothers Grimsby with a fiery passion. It’s a cruel, crass, derivative work that turns the phrase “sophomoric humor” into a badge of honor & a mission statement. Still, I found myself quietly rooting for Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest work of depraved triviality. The film managed to pull a few hearty laughs out of me in some of its isolated gags and when a joke fell horrifically, sometimes offensively flat I felt sorta bad for the movie instead of turning against it. Since The Dictator was released upon a nonplussed world in 2012, the looming question has been if Cohen’s politically pointed shock humor shtick has become stale or if his audience has merely outgrown him as he has stubbornly refused to grow with them. I’m not sure what the correct answer is in that dichotomy (or if those two explanations are even mutually exclusive), but as a fan of Cohen’s Ali G/Borat/Brüno glory days I’m not yet willing to let him vanish into the ether. I sincerely want Cohen to return to relevant, pointed work that can carry his particular brand of cynical silliness into 2010s longevity. The Brothers Grimsby is by no means that return to form, but my desperate desire to see Cohen do well again might explain why I was soft on its many, many flaws.

Of all the various characters Cohen has played over the years, The Brothers Grimsby‘s Nobby Butcher might be the least defined. A drunk soccer hooligan from the working class community of Grimsby, England, Nobby is essentially a poverty-bound buffoon with little to no character nuance. Picture a version of Idiocracy set in the UK & you pretty much get the full picture. Nobby has “too many” children. He’s eternally intoxicated. He’s prone to anally inserting lit fireworks to impress his pub buddies, yet is an unrepentant homophobe. In his own words, Nobby is “working class scum.” There’s nothing remotely real or human about his character that could make you fall for him in any empathetic sense the same way you could for Melissa McCarthy’s somewhat similar titular character in Tammy. Nobby exists purely to prove a point, which may have worked if he were employed in the same candid camera prank mockumentary format as the Borat & Brüno movies. In a fictionalized setting, however, his paper thin, archetypal qualities fall flat the same way they did in The Dictator & The Ali G Movie.

The aspect that almost saves The Brothers Grimsby from total vapidity is Nobby’s relationship with the other Butcher brother, Sebastian. Sebastian is a Jason Statham-type superspy baldy with a chip on his shoulder & a license to kill. Nobby is hell-bent on reuniting with his much more posh brother & reminding him of his humble Grimsby roots. Sebastian’s half of The Brothers Grimsby functions well enough as a cheap-end action thriller, even giving a fairly decent preview of the dizzying-looking 1st person shooter flick Hardcore Henry that’s barreling towards us in the coming months. When Nobby starts to get involved, the film takes a turn for superspy spoofery that pales in comparison to countless comedies that have done it better in the past, most notably last year’s Spy (another McCarthy vehicle; perhaps these two should collaborate; Cohen might learn a thing or two). It’s not the superspy spoofery that threatens to elevate The Brothers Grimsby, though. It’s the familial bond between the Butcher boys. There’s real pain in their separation-anxious childhood flashbacks. Watching them reconnect is even more touching (sometimes graphically so). I never would’ve expected that a film featuring untold gallons of elephant semen would center on a message as sweet as “Family is the greatest gift in life”, but it’s that very aspect of The Brothers Grimsby that provides a window into a better world where Cohen could possibly become lovable again.

Speaking of elephant semen, The Brothers Grimsby seems intentionally dead-set on outdoing Freddy Got Fingered on sheer volume of the stuff. That’s not the only way Freddy Got Fingered functions as a telling reference point for The Brothers Grimsby either. In the hellish version of reality where every movie is a sophomoric, depraved work of delirious slapstick comedy, Freddy Got Fingered is Citizen Kane & The Brothers Grimsby is Forrest Gump. It’s almost good, far from great, and sure to send plenty of discerning, right-minded folks into a huff at the mere mention of its name. In the slightly less horrific world we actually live in, The Brothers Grimsby is more in line with scatologically-obsessed, entirely forgettable flicks like Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star.  Dumb-comedy apologists (myself included) might find a surprising amount of entertainment value in there somewhere, but no one’s seriously going to bat to defend it against the flood of negative criticism it assuredly deserves.

Roger Ebert once wrote “The day may come when ‘Freddy Got Fingered’ is seen as a milestone of neo-surrealism. The day may never come when it is seen as funny.” There is no such doubt about the future of The Brothers Grimsby, which is never quite irreverent enough to touch on formal surrealism & also wholly dedicated to punching-down humor. Jokes about AIDS, Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, poop, child molestation, crack addiction, non-consensual genital contact, small town poverty and, yes, elephant semen are disappointingly cheap & forgettable, greatly distracting from the very few things the film actually, improbably gets right. If Cohen wants to stick around any longer in any semblance of relevance, he’d be smart to keep The Brothers Grimsby‘s emotional core & knack for deliriously silly diversion, leaving his misanthropic cruelty & scatological fascination in the rear-view. Otherwise, he’ll become as stale & regrettable as titles like South Park & “Two Girls, One Cup”, which are both all-too-appropriately referenced in the film. A small glimmer of hope is still out there for Cohen to grow as an artist & join us in the 2010s, but it’s fading fast.

-Brandon Ledet

The Mermaid (2016)

EPSON MFP image

fourhalfstar

campstamp

It’s downright shocking how little of an impact The Mermaid is making in American theaters. Disregarding the fact that director Stephen Chow has two legitimate cult classics under his belt, Kung Fu Hustle & Shaolin Soccer, the film is also, no big deal, the single highest grossing film Chinese theaters of all time. It also doesn’t hurt that the film is a bizarre, hilarious, wonderfully idiosyncratic live action cartoon that might stand as the director’s most satisfying work to date (though I’ve heard great things about Journey to the West & haven’t seen it yet). In a better world The Mermaid would be making waves in American theaters at the very least out of cultural curiosity. In the world we live in it’s a difficult film to track down (opening to a beyond-depressing number of 35 theaters across the country), suffering a dismally small distribution for a remarkably silly film that truly deserves much, much better.

I’ll admit that for the first ten minutes or so of The Mermaid I had a somewhat awkward time adjusting to its comedic vibes. A trip through a tourist trap “museum” of “exotic animals” (think of Uncle Stan’s bullshit gift shop on Gravity Falls), a post-auction business meeting involving a malfunctioning jetpack, and a billionaire playboy’s rap video-opulence pool party all are enjoyably silly in  a minor way, but also a little awkward from the outside looking in. It isn’t until the titular mermaid hijacks the film’s narrative that the weirdness opens up in a beautifully satisfying way. The mermaid of The Mermaid‘s moniker not only steals the show with her effortlessly charming, singing, dancing, flying, skateboarding ways, she also brings out the best (and worst) in all the characters that surround her. What at first promises to be a dull male lead in a billionaire playboy pollution junkie ends up being a gutbusting buffoon & a worthy player in the mermaid’s literal fish out of water romance once she brings him to life. The film might need to get kickstarted before it wins you over, but once it gets rolling there’s a relentlessly bizarre, cartoonish sense of humor to it that’s genuinely eager to please in an endearing way.

In The Mermaid‘s mythology, humans & merpeople are both evolutionary descendants of apes. Merpeople just happen to descend from apes who lived in water, having no use for their legs & forming fish tails in their stead. Merpeople traditionally choose to avoid humans due to their historical tendency to hunt & maim their seafaring counterparts, but their populations are disrupted & effectively destroyed by a grand “reclamation” project that makes it no longer possible for the merpeople to live in reclusive peace. Because the heartless business man responsible for the destructive reclamation project is known in the tabloids to be a notorious “pervert”, the merpeople decide to send one of their own to seduce & assassinate him in cold blood. Things inevitably go awry when the mermaid falls in love with the business monster who has ruthlessly maimed her people for profits & brings out a better person from within his damaged soul. The question is whether she’s willing to betray her people in the name of true love or whether the business prick will change his heart in time to reverse the damage he’s done to the mermaid’s natural environment.

At heart, The Mermaid is a very basic tale of “evil” humans learning that making money isn’t necessarily more worthwhile than simple universal needs like clean, unpolluted water & air. What’s fascinating is the way that director Steven Chow tells this story through a kaleidoscope of different cinematic genres. Parts of the film feel like an over-earnest romcom. Parts could pass as a heartbreaking drama about environmental destruction, complete with real life images of very real big business pollution atrocities. Parts are a straight-up spoof of the 60s super-spy genre. The whole thing is bizarrely subverted & repurposed through Chow’s hyper-specific & increasingly focused comedic lens that feels like a melting pot of aesthetics that range from Tim & Eric to Looney Tunes to ZAZ-style genre parody. Chow is becoming a master of his own aesthetic, a sort of goofball auteur. At different times throughout The Mermaid, I felt sincere romance, I laughed until I was physically sore, and I sat in abject terror as the movie took a nastily violent turn in his portrayal of just how “evil” humanity can be. Like most parody artists (or at least most of the ones who are good at what they do) Chow has an innate sense of how genre tropes work & how they can be repurposed for varying effects.

It’s not at all surprising that The Mermaid is performing so well in foreign markets. The film requires a leap of faith in its opening minutes, but once you get into its cartoonish, almost psychedelic groove it’s greatly rewarding. What is surprising is that its commercial success isn’t translating well to American theaters (not that Sony’s distribution gave it much of a chance). This isn’t a bleak foreign film about the ravages of war & the emotional turmoil of the economically downtrodden (at least not the whole film works that way). It’s a sublimely silly, largely physical, slapstick comedic fantasy with a charming romance & a unique visual palette (one that puts its cheap CGI to profoundly effective & deeply silly use) at its core. It should be a commercial hit. If you have the chance to catch it in its limited domestic run, it might be worth a gamble of a ticket price. You’re likely to find something about it that’s worthwhile, since Chow covers so much ground here & the film is, at heart, a shameless crowdpleaser.

Side note: Part of the reason it might’ve been difficult to get on The Mermaid‘s wavelength in its opening minutes is that the version I saw was dubbed into Cantonese & then subtitled in English. The dissonance of this out of sync presentation was at first a little disorienting, but that awkwardness did fade a great deal in time. I do believe the opening minutes are the film’s weakest stretch, but the awkward effect of that double translation should probably still be noted & further points to just how mishandle this film’s distribution truly was.

-Brandon Ledet

Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael (1990) is to John Hughes’ Oeuvre what Big Business (1988) is to Old Hollywood Comedies

EPSON MFP image

After my discovery that our February Movie of the Month, Big Business, was directed by one third of the ZAZ creative team behind classic genre parodies like Airplane!, Top Secret!, and The Naked Gun, I’ve been trying to make sense of the rest of Jim Abrahams’ catalog. What I found most interesting was that there were only three titles that didn’t fall in line with his genre-defining work in parody comedy. Big Business, as we know, is more of an homage than an outright spoof, but it could’ve easily undergone the typical ZAZ treatment with a couple re-writes. Ruthless People is a much more difficult film to understand in that context. A pitch black comedy inspired by the kidnapping of Patty Hearst (and starring Bette Midler, who steals the show in Big Business), it was made by the full ZAZ team, but never really threatens to be a parody or a spoof of the ransom-driven thriller as a genre. It’s by far the the furthest ZAZ outlier. Much closer in line to what Abrahams achieves in Big Business‘s Old Hollywood pastiche is the Winona Rider comedy Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael, which feels palpably close to spoofing John Hughes’ work in teen comedies, but ends up functioning much more like a loving tribute.

A moody, gothy Winona Ryder headlines Roxy Carmichael as a fullblown version Aly Sheedy’s dour recluse in The Breakfast Club. Just like Sheedy, she looks like the world’s biggest Robert Smith fan, intentionally  isolates herself from peers, and treats the idea of personal hygiene like the exact kind of afflictions you might acquire if you completely disregarded personal hygiene. The movie pushes her high school “weird kid” attributes to an even more cartoonish degree, though, equipping her with an “ark” of abandoned animals that she adopts like a shanty farm, because that’s apparently what weirdo high schoolers do in their free time. The aching-for-a-boy-out-of-her-league growing pains, poor kid vs. the world class warfare, and uncaring parents all resemble characteristics of Molly Ringwald films like Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles, except that they’re all crammed into the same feature. The movie even ends in a Big Dance confrontation, which feels like classic Hughes, and Ryder’s protagonist’s name sounds exactly like what she’d be called if she were the Weird Kid archetype in Not Another 80s Teen Movie: Dinky. Much like with Big Business, the line between homage & spoof feels very thin here & with the right push, Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael could’ve easily fallen in line with the rest of the ZAZ catalog.

There’s something about working in the John Hughes realm that brings out new territory in Abraham’s work that might’ve been missing in his spoof & pastiche films (and whatever you want to call Ruthless People): genuine heart. It takes an innate understanding of genre tropes to be able to understand how to make an homage or a spoof work as a feature film & here Abrahams recognizes that what distinguishes John Hughes’ brand of 80s teen comedies is their heart on the sleeve sentimentality. It’s possible in this case, though, that he might’ve outdone his source material in creating the homage. Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael has some brutal character moments, carried by both Winona Ryder & costar Jeff Daniels, who both play broken shells of people who feel cruelly rejected by both the ones they love & the world at large. And instead of bringing the drama to an everything-works-out-fine cinema magic climax, the film instead stages a huge emotional gut punch that feels a little rough for the genre that Abrahams was working in here. It was surprisingly powerful stuff.

It’s difficult to say whether or not a fan of Big Business would necessarily be floored by what’s offered in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael. The films are both heavily rooted in 80s fashion & genre convention, so there’s at least a chance that fans would bleed over. What’s far more important, though, is what the two films reveal about Jim Abrahams as a comedy director. It’s tempting to think of the ZAZ team as a sarcastic group of pranksters who simply regurgitate tropes with silly gags added, especially after watching how their comedy style has lead to such creative voids as Fifty Shades of Black, Vampires Suck, and Superfast!. However, what Big Business & Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael reveal is that Abrahams & his Zucker brother collaborators had a genuine love for the movies they were parodying & a deep understanding of how their tropes could be picked apart, reproduced, and repurposed for a new effect. Whether or not Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael is just as good as the genuine John Hughes product is debatable (although it’d certainly be an easier case than arguing that Big Business is just as good as the Old Hollywood farces it emulates), but it’s undeniable that Abrahams understood how those films ticked & how they could be replicated for a new effect, a skill he presumably learned as a parody-happy prankster.

For more on February’s Movie of the Month, 1988’s Big Business, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film, a look at its borrowed gag from The Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, and a reflection on where the film sits in relation to the rest of the Jim Abrahams catalog.

-Brandon Ledet

If Released in Another Time, Big Business (1988) Could’ve Easily Been a ZAZ-Style Spoof of Old Hollywood Farces

EPSON MFP image

Somehow during our lengthy conversation surrounding our February Movie of the Month, the Bette Midler/Lily Tomlin swapped-twins comedy Big Business, I had foolishly overlooked who had actually directed the damned thing. Big Business‘s director, Jim Abrahams, is the “A” in the infamous comedic filmmaking team ZAZ. Along with brothers David & Jerry Zucker, Abrahams was responsible for popularizing the concept of the spoof comedy. As a collaborative trio ZAZ penned & directed Airplane!, Top Secret!, Hot Shots, Hot Shots Part Deux, and the Naked Gun trilogy, which pretty much covers the pillars of the medium. Flying solo, Abrahams also has screenwriting credits for Scary Movie 4, Kentucky Fried Movie, an some horrific-looking monster titled Jane Austen’s Mafia!. In isolation the name Jim Abrahams failed to ring any bells, but the team of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker was a force to be reckoned with, one that changed the comedy cinema landscape if not for the better than at least for the sillier.

Although I feel foolish that I didn’t recognize Abrahams’ hand in Big Business sooner, it totally makes sense in retrospect. The most crucial aspect of the film that stuck out to me was its dedicated homage to Old Hollywood comedies. Viewing the film with Abrahams in mind now, I see a much different sort of half-formed homage lurking in Big Business. It’s basically just one gentle push away from an Old Hollywood spoof. The film’s swapped-twins contrivance, grand hotel setting, borrowed gag from Duck Soup, endless line of eligible bachelors waiting to marry its protagonists, narrow-minded depictions of the difference between wealth & poverty, and over-the-top lengths to keep its mismatched twins from ending the ruse all once played like a love letter to a bygone era in studio system filmmaking. Now they feel like seeds to what could’ve been a fullblown Old Hollywood spoof after a couple of joke-heavy rewrites. The framework for a ZAZ-style spoof is lurking just under the surface of Big Business, waiting, begging for a sea of juvenile gags to fill in the blanks.

I think the major reason why Big Business didn’t take that direction is a question of timing. The film was released during a time frame where Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker were still a functioning unit, but the timing was off for an Old Hollywood spoof in terms of box office potential. If you look at the trio’s M.O., they generally stuck to spoofing film genres that were active in the era in which they worked. Airplane! spoofed the large-cast disaster film genre (specifically parodying Airport 1975 most heavily) at the tail end of the decade when they were A Thing. Top Secret! spoofed spy movies, a genre that never dies. The Hot Shots! series spoofed 80s & 90s action cinema in a time when that would’ve still been a relevant target, focusing heavily on Top Gun & Rambo for inspiration. Seeing as how it would’ve been impossible for Abrahams to create an Old Hollywood spoof in the Old Hollywood era, given that he was a child in its heyday, he would have had to achieved that distinction sometime in the 2000s or 2010s, long after the dissolution of the ZAZ partnership & well into his old age. Why so recently? Nostalgia has been kind to homages & parodies to the genre, which made room for wonderful comedies like Forgotten Silver & Hail, Caesar! to exist (though not flourish financially, unfortunately). In the 1988 an Old Hollywood spoof might’ve been hard to pitch to financiers, but in 2016 it’d have a much easier time making it to the cinema.

As is, Big Business has no interest in being an Old Hollywood parody. It is instead a loving homage to a bygone era in filmmaking. What Abrahams does instead is update the era’s comedic farce conventions for a 1980s sensibility, which was much less of a commercial gamble. That’s not to say that his history in genre parody did not inform his work in Big Business, though. If nothing else, Abrahams’ films display a consistent, innate understanding of genre tropes & how they can be made effective, whether for a genuine or a sarcastic effect. And if there’s any question to whether or not Big Business‘s toying with the idea of Old Hollywood parody was intentional, just look to Abrahams’ directorial cameo in the film. He plays a homeless drunk who rubs his eyes & tosses his liquor bottle aside when he keeps seeing the two sets of twins separately, a gag that’s about as old as comedy cinema itself (if not older). At the very beat before the end credits the film reveals that a second, well-dressed, far-from-homeless character was also portrayed by Abrahams, a reveal that’s meant to play as a huge prank. That moment feels like it easily could’ve been at home in the theoretical spoof version of Big Business that sadly doesn’t exist, not only because it feels so hokily old-fashioned, but also because its “Gotcha!” sarcasm is such a classic ZAZ-style tactic.

For more on February’s Movie of the Month, 1988’s Big Business, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film & last week’s look at its borrowed gag from The Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup.

-Brandon Ledet

Morty Fineman’s Filmography as Listed at the End of The Independent (2000)

Our selection for December’s Movie of the Month is The Independent, a straight-to-DVD mockumentary in which Jerry Stiller plays Morty Fineman, a Roger Corman/Russ Meyer/Ed Wood/David Friedman schlock director archetype with a grand vision & limited means. Way ahead of its time considering the modern comedy landscape, The Independent features great Christopher Guest-style character work in its talented cast of deeply flawed anti-heroes, but our favorite part of the film is its short-form B-movie spoofs handpicked from Fineman’s fictional filmography. There are dozens of titles from Finemans’ collection represented in the film in the form of brief clips & mock-up posters, but the only representation of his work as a whole can be found in the “complete filmography” that runs in tandem with the end credits, kind of like James O. Incandenza’s “complete filmography” footnote at the back of Infinite Jest.

Fandom for The Independent is scarce at best, so it’s difficult to find too much information on the film. I though it was a shame, for instance, that there’s no trace of Morty Fineman’s “complete filmography” listed online, since it is a pretty great collection of ridiculous one-liners. A lot of our conversation about the film centered on which of Fineman’s films we’d like to see realized, but since the complete list is only available in the end credits, I’m sure we missed a bunch of great gags worth exploring. So, here’s a complete transcription of Morty Finemans’ 427 feature filmography as it appears in The Independent. I don’t mean to make myself out to be a hero, but I feel I’m doing the world a great service here, just as I expect Fineman felt he was doing the world a service when he warned the troops about the dangers of herpes in The Simplex Complex or when he exposed the evils of marijuana in Panic Grass.

MORTY FINEMAN: A COMPLETE FILMOGRAPHY

1964
The Simplex Complex (Non-Theatrical)

1967
Corn: The Ear of Plenty (Non-Theatrical)

1969
Groovy Hippie Slumber Party
Free Love for Sale
Psychedelic Elevator
Brothers Divided
Mondo World
The Young Hip-Ocrits
The Mod, Mod Miniskirt

1970
The Student Coeds
The President Wore a Bikini
The Peacenik Orgy
Bummer, Ma’am
Teenage Flag Burners
Suburban Peepers
Pig Busters
Hillbilly Slip-Around
Panic Grass
33 1/3rd Sexual Revolutions

1971
L.S.D.-Day
The Naughty Swingers
Meter Reader Lolita
One-Eyed Wink
Sock It To the Man
Hot Pants Hoedown
The Evil Membrane
Luv Canal
His ‘n’ Hers ‘n’ His
Papa Woody!
The Eco-Angels

1972
Teenie Weenie Bikini Beach
Squished
Draft Dodger
Lawn Honkie
Crazy Dragonbreath: The Forgettin’ Tibetan
Shindig Motel
Strong, Hard and Black
The Free Riders (Chico and Chaco)
The Well-Marbled Goddess
Itty Bitty Fragidity
Sympathetic Vibrations
Diaper Service
The Peace Zombies

1973
The Moistening
Kung Funk: The Funky Fu
World War III
Diorhythm Method
P.U.!
Day Glo Decolletage
Legalize It
Der Ubergoober
Brothers Under the Covers
The Pollenators
Blood Haze
Neat But Not Clean
Amazon Hot Box
Giant Rabbit, Run!
Destination ‘Shroom
Bald Justice

1974
(Plain Ole) Pud
Draft Dodger II: Makin’ Canadian Bacon
Hollywood Squares: The Movie
Kung Funk II: The Spooky Fu
Coven of Witchiness
American Flesh
Our Gas Line Affair
Kidnap Those Kooks
Chicks With Hicks
I am Curious . . . You are Yellow
The Harlem Globetrotters Meet the Black Panthers
Giant Crab, Run!
Roachclip Motel
Venus De Mofo
Romeo-a-Go-Go
Buddy Cops: Bookworm and Garter Snake
The True Life Historical Search (For Genuine Real Stuff in the Bible)
Carnival of Mutants
Giant Rabid Dog, Run!

1975
Kent State Nurses
What Planet is This? (Oh My God It’s Earth!)
The Wrath of the Sabine Women
Truckstop Nurses
White House Crooks
C.B.B.C. (Citizen’s Band Before Christ)
Pull My Finger
Brick Sh*thouse
Puberty County Line
Strong, Hard and Native American
What’s Your Sign, M’Lady?
Kohutek, Run!
Swig and Guzzle
Smooth Move, Ex-Wife
Buddy Cops II: Hammerhead and Nailbiter
Life Spasm
Psycho Vet
BT off a Zombie
Infection
Something Big’s on Fire ’75
Bigfoot, All American
Gas, Grass or Ass
Pigeonholers
Assassin in a See-Thru Blouse

1976
The Foxy Chocolate Robot
Return to Moonshine High
The Greatest Bicentennial American Patriot
Da Brothers Bump
Cage Full of Waitresses
Draft Dodger III: The Me Decade
Contact High School
Hot Mamarama
Three Times Fast
Unknown Epidemic, Run!
Metaphors Are Like Dreams
Used Tissue of Lies
Wind and Rain and Wet T-Shirts
Dirt Claude
Ten on a Couch
Buddy Cops III: Strawman and Firebrand
Fat, Dumb and Fuzzy
Sand in my Teddy
Sex Doctor to the Stars
Third Leg’s a Charm
A Stranger Wears My Pants
Nuclear Nun
Wise and Foolish Vixens

1977
Psycho Vet II: The Reenlistment
Cattle Mutilation
Prescription for Justice
Tarzan of the Mall
Neurotica
Mythomania
Steel Hog Hunger Rumbles
Dirt Road Blacktop
Similes Are Dreams
Six-Chambered Heart, Four-Chambered Gun
Go Tell it on the Mountain, Just Get the Hell Out of My House!
Normal Horny Norman
Ebony, Fawn & Jade
Buddy Cops IV: Short Fuse and Longhair
FLK [Funny Lookin’ Kid]
The Family Jeweler
Driving Under My Influence (In Hypnovision)
Saturday Night Fever Blister
Hot Buttered Fingers
Talkin’ Dirty to the Dead
Abra-Cadaver
A Very Malcolm X-Mas

1978
Nanny Hooter’s Hootenanny
Recycled White Trash
World War III II
The Twin Ledgers of Justice
Aerobicaphobia
Gin Blossom Special
“Bang!” (There, I Said It)
Pong: The Movie
Tora! Tora! Tora!
Shuda, Wuda, Cuda
Fudge Factor
Strong, Hard and Chicano
That Rascally Mutt
Dying Kids
Cousin Bloodshot Buckshot
A Stiletto Affair
Buddy Cops V: Hayseed and Toughnut
Plumber’s Little Helper
Esperanto Girls
Baby Booty, Booty Baby
Where to, Brute?
Punks Vs. Jocks
We’re F.*.C.K.E.D.!

1979
Adolescent Sexopolis
Your Stepfather’s Mustache
Lover is a Five Letter Word
Hot Justice in Less than Thirty Minutes (Pizza Franchises as Heroes)
Disco Incantations
Uncle Tomboy
Dying Kids II: The Plague
Summer Bods (For Women)
Summer Bods (For Men)
Barnyard of Hate
Marry Me Heels
Buddy Cops VI: Milquetoast and Honey
Love Hears Everything
Fireball
Pigtails
Pants Full of Ambition
Keeping Secretions
Jungle Freaks
S-E-X! That Spells Sex!

1980
Hoary Old Truths and Truthful Old Whores
The Earth Movers
The Devil Needs a Drink
Asylum of Angels
Victoria’s Principles and Secrets
One Million Years A.D.
The Justice League of Superfreaks
The Love Bombardier
Dying Kids III: Schoolbus Full of Donor Hearts
The Bodacious Oasis
Buddy Cops VII: Flatfoot and Higheel
Did You Feel That?
Starring the Braless Cloggers
Andy Opia: Lazy Private Eye
Pencils Down!
Chunk of Change
Monster Truck Monster
He Bites!

1981
I See London, I See France
Casting Out Nines
Nazis of the Third Reich
Hooked on Classics: The Movie
A Tempting Fate
Solid Gold Dancer Murders
Alfpha and Omega and Pinky
The Ominous Attic
A Filthy Masquerade
Rock ‘n Roll Golem
Festering Destiny
The Despot Removers
Calamari
The Arouser
(Steam Rises At) The Hump Swamp
Throb
Trolling Stone Sober
Whale of a Cop
Nocturnal Suspicions

1982
Sick Gloria’s Transit
Sammy Davis Junior High
Don’t Pick at It
The Pagan Gladiators
Hello, Me!
Undercover Monk
The French Method
The Tender Gender Bender’s Agenda
Priapism Diary
Undulations
The Dirty-Minded Dozen
Death Toll: Turnpike of Destruction
Laughing Til I Hurt You
Joan of Arkansas
Large Angry Antennae
Wallets and Groins
U.F.O. Babes
Aromarama
The Mummy Blushes

1983
Psycho Vet III: Assignment Grenada
I Say!
Right to Live, Left to Die
The Pulverizer
Feelin’ Your First One
Madam Madman
Strong, Hard and Vietnamese
Muff
Two Humans
The Telltale Sheet
King Kong Christmas
Serrations
Foresaking No Others
Learn to Paint with Morty Fineman
Acupuncture Academy
Madam, I’m Adam
Pitbulls vs. Piranhas (Animated)
Which Way to the Money?
The Savage Rebel Savages
Heil, Titler!

1984
Christ for the Defense
Lottery of Doom
Shaft Canary
II Madam, I’m Adam II
Man in the Iron Lung, The
Stop it, You
Cannibalistic Missiles
The Rupture
Hip-Hopocratic Oaths
AKA Dickweed
Jazzercide
Two Humans II: The Humid Humus
A Lick and a Promise
Fistula
A Single Shard of Mercy
Philosophy of Desire
Acupuncture Academy II: Pointy, Pointy, Pointy
E. Teen
The Grounded Stewardesses
Sweet Sinews of Grief
You Killed My Partner, Now I Want Revenge
Cheerleader Camp Massacre

1985
Grounded Stewardesses II: Snowed in at Lake Tahoe
Lower Education
Camisole Man
Three Ho’ Punchout
Street Value of Seduction
The Long Tongue of Memory
Abrupt Reclosure
Ablation!
Blackout (Released in Europe as “Noir”)
Big Burning Boat
The Terrorarium
In the Eyes of the Apes
Arrows and Quivers
Get Down, Moses
The Mini-Computer Wore a Mini-Skirt

1986
Thong Monster
Akimbo Drumbeat
Teachers vs. Students
That’s General Psycho Vet to You!
Attack and Decay
Death’s Black Beemer
Aboriginal Sin
The Vile Turn-On
Dear God, No!
Perpetration
The Phantasy Cult
Thicker Than Blood
This Constipated Earth
Tactile Concentration
Heather, Tethered
Nude Cop
Grounded Stewardesses III: Mechanical Failure in Rio
Ten Million Ways to Die
Dreams, Wet and Arid
Celebrate for the Hell of It

1987
K-9 Bone Patrol
The Grammar of Longhair
1-900-TABOOOO
Twelve Angry Men and a Baby
Eden for Hedonists
Requiem for a Babysitter
Lascivious Neighborhood
Strong, Hard and Hmong
Geographical Bachelors
Grounded Stewardesses IV: Extended Layover in Miami
Large, Natural Laughs
To Hell in a Basket
Star Light and Coffee Black
Safeword Abductions
Trauma, Bwnt Trauma
The French (They are a Funny Race)
Planet Perverted

1988
The Heart is a Strong Muscle
Drive-By Drive-In
Elephant Walk
Searching for L’Ptetomaine
Love is the Right to Leave
I Do; Adieu
RoboHomo
Gladhand
Splattered Palate of Urges
The Moon’s White Torso
A Tube of Forgiveness
Rogue Mime, The Taoist Tatooist
Grounded Stewardess Christmas, A
Man With Two Things, The

1989
Telegasm
Dracula Lambada
B.F. DeeDee
I Smell London, I Smell France
Executrix
Temblor!
Insignificant Others
Sans-a-Belt Slackers
The Electrocutioner
Unnecessary Roughage
Perchance to Nightmare
Dead Cat Bounce
Thai Food Mary

1990
Supermodel Carnival
The Decapitators
Psycho Vet IV: Panama
That’s President Draft Dodger to You!
The Temptation game
Asphalt by Candelight
The Violet Catastrophie
Squall!
Compassion Fagigues
Herm-Aphrodite: God and Goddess of Love
Oh, Flagrant Fragrance! Oh, Pungent Ungent!
Tantric or Treat
The Uncensored History of Revealing Swimwear

1991
You’re Only Worth One Bullet
The Ignoble Calculations of Mme. F. and Her Pimp
Grounded Stewardess Reunion, A
Pomegranite: An Extended Metaphor
Desert Psycho Vet
Hollywood’s Private Personalized Plates
Aromatherapy Execution
My People are Naked
Song of the Pitiful
Vicissitudes of Wickedness
Fluff Pulp Babe
Supermodel Carnival II: Runway Runaways
Secrets the Mouth Won’t Tell

1992
Meal of Generation X
Def 2 Da Noiz
Draft Dodger Meets Psycho Vet
D.O.A. Hole
Obsessionary Income
Thrill Collector
Requesting Network Attention
First Lady Chatterly
Rap Riot
Supermodel Carnival III: Adam and Evil
The Whole of America

1993
Amateur Faces of Death
A Man and a Woman and a Deck of Cards
Psycho Vet Meets Hercules
Consortium and Loss
Duk ‘n’ Run
Two-Hand Solitare
Hot Squat
Uncle Sampire
Who Got the Soul Clap?

1994
Deep Bruise
Prickly Heat
The Sad Forehead in My Mirror
Large Bore Killers
Highest and Best Use

1995
Dessicant Sky
The Spanking Machine

1996
Learn to Paint with Morty Fineman
Learn to Cook with Morty Fineman
Learn to Make Love with Morty Fineman

1997
Arriverderci, Morty
Virtual Wife

1998
The Desert of Small Dreams
Tatoo II: Pierced by an Angel

2000
Ms. Kevorkian

For more on December’s Movie of the Month, 2000’s The Independent, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film.

-Brandon Ledet

 

Movie of the Month: The Independent (2000)

EPSON MFP image

Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before & we discuss it afterwards. This month Brandon made Boomer, Britnee, and Erin watch The Independent (2000).

Brandon: I first was alerted to the low-stakes indie comedy The Independent this past summer when Britnee posted an article about how our former Movie of the Month Highway to Hell happened to feature every member of the Stiller family: Jerry, Ben, Anne (Mearea), and Amy. An observant Swampflix reader, Tom Morton, was kind enough to point us in the direction of yet another film that featured every member of the Stiller clan, The Independent. I fell in love. I gushed heavily in my review of the film & added it to the growing list of our so-called Swampflix Cannon after just one viewing, despite it being a fairly simple, straightforward comedy. Something about the subject matter just clicked perfectly with my own pet cinema obsessions, especially in the B-movie spectrum. In the film Jerry Stiller plays Morty Fineman, a Roger Corman archetype who’s made a career out of schilling an infinite stream of schlock for decades on end. Unlike Corman, who is generally calm on the surface but expressive in his filmmaking, Fineman is on the same violently explosive vibe Stiller brought to his role as Frank Constanza on Seinfeld. He also (for the most part) lacks Corman’s thirst for making art films, like The Masque of the Red Death, and sticks mostly to genre fare that’s main selling point is “tits, ass, and bombs”.

The great thing about this set-up is that Morty is not only a stand-in for Corman (who appears as himself within the film), but also fills the role of countless other legendary B-movie directors & producers: Ed Wood, Russ Meyer, David Friedman, etc. In other words, he is schlock personified. Morty Fineman is the entire B-movie industry wrapped up into one convenient, hilarious package. A lot of the soul of The Independent is in the brief clips & promotional material for Morty’s work. There’s a Meyer-esque sexploitation pic about an eco-friendly biker girl gang, a wonderful mushroom cloud pun mockup for a film called LSD-Day, a Fred Williamson-falls-in-love-with-a-sexy-robot blaxploitation called Foxy Chocolate Robot, and so on. These schlock spoofs are consistently funny & evenly spaced from beginning to end, supported only by the flimsiest of narrative glue about Fineman’s struggle in his old age to climb out of financial ruin either by filming a morally-reprehensible musical about a real-life serial killer or accepting a film festival gig in a shithole town he dubs “Blowjob, Nevada.”

At the time of its release, reviews of The Independent were mixed at best, but I honestly believe it was ahead of its time. If pitched in the current cultural climate, it would make for a knock-out HBO comedy series. Its mockumentary format, improv-based looseness, tendency towards one-off gags & celebrity cameos, and loveable reprobate of a protagonist would all play perfectly into the modern HBO comedy. It’s a wonderful little love-letter to the schlock movie industry that recognizes its faults (like the literally fatal risks of some of the less-than-safe sets) as much as its glorious heights. I’m not going to pretend to know the entirety of Jerry Stiller’s career, but I will say this is the best feature-length vehicle I’ve ever seen for his brand of comedy.

Boomer, do you think part of the reason audiences did not connect with The Independent when it was released 15 years ago was that there was too much focus on the one-off B-movie spoofs & not enough of a fully-fleshed narrative to support a full-length feature? Do you think that breaking up the spoofs into a weekly sketch comedy format would’ve benefited the story it was trying to tell or was the film satisfying enough as a self-contained, low-stakes tale of a struggling, past-his-prime director trying to keep his family & his business intact?

Boomer: When watching this movie, the thing that struck me most about it was, as you noted above, how ahead of its time it felt. Debuting a year before the original UK version of The Office, it was not the first mockumentary, but it was made during a time when the tropes and rhetorical shorthand methodologies of the genre were largely unknown by the general population. I’d wager that if The Independent were to have been made after the airings of Arrested Development and, to a much greater degree, the US version of The Office, then the film would have seen wider appeal. We live in a world full of sitcoms that use talking head confessionals as a quick and dirty way of telling jokes in a more succinct way, for better or worse, even when the show itself doesn’t lend itself to that (for instance, it works for The Office, and that show eventually incorporated the film crew as part of the action in its final season, but why exactly do the Dunphys and Pritchetts of Modern Family mug for–and talk directly to–the camera?). I think it’s safe to say that, should there be an interested producer looking for a project, a series adaptation of The Independent would not be out of place in today’s television landscape.

I’m hesitant to commit to watching this hypothetical series, however. So much of what makes The Independent work is that the film’s tone never becomes too sentimental or unfocused on Stiller’s objectively reprehensible but subjectively human protagonist, and I feel like a series, even a serialized, single season adaptation, would find itself going to the well of emotional pathos much more than the source material did. The quick shots we see of his films contribute to the sense of his character, and his films convey a great deal in their (relative) understatement, regardless of how outlandish the films themselves may be. I get the feeling that an adaptation would rapidly experience diminished returns as we saw more and more of his body of work, pushing beyond their initial humor into exponentially more outlandish film outings that would undermine the film’s taut use of this device. Der Ubergoober, Truckstop Nurses, and The Despot Removers are all film titles that are pure perfection in the abstract but wouldn’t work, or would disappoint, if we were presented with them on film (although I have to admit that I would love to see Hot Justice in Thirty Minutes or Less, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Golem sounds like a blast).

That the film is simply that, a film, works best for me personally. That we see Janeane Garofalo’s Paloma exact revenge on facsimiles of the cheerleaders who spurned her in less than thirty seconds of Cheerleader Camp Massacre, for instance, shows that the strength of The Independent lies in knowing what to expand and what to explore only briefly. Given contemporary television’s tendency to decompress storylines at the expense of consistency and viewer patience, as well as the general saturation of the mockumentary-as-comedy style, I feel like a series adaptation would be a letdown. As a concept, it was ahead of its time, and now that its time has come, it has no real place among its contemporary peers.

That having been said, there are quite a few of these films that I would love to see in full, especially with a little MST3k-esque riffing. What about you, Britnee? Are there any of Fineman’s movies that you would desperately like to see as real films? Any that you think are best left imagined rather than realized? And why?

Blombas: Without a doubt, I would love to see Whale of a Cop (1981) as a full-length film. From what the trailer implied, a cop, played by Ben Stiller, is the human form of a whale, and he has a close friendship with a 8-10 year old kid. Stiller makes all sorts of whale noises, and he even spits out water! In the trailer, the kid is having one of those shoo-the-dog goodbye moments. Stiller looks all dopey-eyed and confused while this kid is crying up a storm and yelling something along the lines of “go be with your own kind!” I was crying from laughing so hard during this scene. How did the spirit of a whale end up in the body of a cop? Why is this super young kid with a bowl cut his best friend? These are all questions that I am dying to have answered. Hopefully, they were both once whales, but the boy fully turned into a human while Stiller is only half human. The police department recruited him because his special whale senses were helpful with their criminal investigations.

Another film that sounds like a blast would be A Very Malcolm Xmas. It’s never discussed during the actual film, but the title is shown during the credits (along with the rest of Fineman’s filmography). As an admirer of Malcolm X, I would love to know how Fineman would blend his legacy with Christmas traditions. As a lover of bad films and just being a curious person in general, I can’t really think of any fake Fineman movies that I would not want to see as actual films.

Other than the many “fake” film trailers featured in the movie, something in the film that really stood out to me was the duo that is Jerry Stiller and Janeane Garofalo. The chemistry between the two was so unexpected but, by God, it was extraordinary. They both have such different styles of comedy, and I think that’s why they got so many laughs out of me.

Erin, did you feel the same about Garofalo and Stiller? Would you like to see the two act in similar roles again? Or was this more of a one time thing?

Erin: I have to say, seeing Janeane Garofalo as a fake-tanned daddy’s girl was a lot of fun, since I’m most familiar with her acidic side, a la Heather of Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion.  And Jerry Stiller is perfect as Morty Fineman.  After watching The Independent, it’s hard to imagine him as any other role (although, I suspect that Stiller’s acting talents often lie in adding quite a bit of himself to his roles).  I liked seeing Garofalo and Stiller playing off each other, and the were really, truly believable as adults navigating a parent-child relationship.  Oddly enough, though, I would have to say that while I would like to see more of Jerry Stiller in similar roles, I’m not sure that I’m sold on Garofalo in similar roles.  I think that it might be because Garofalo was acting against type that her performance in this movie comes off so well, and I think that this kind of magic might lose its luster if repeated too often.

To change the subject a bit, I think that one of the things that made this movie so watchable was the pacing, the way that little glimpses of the Fineman world were revealed in a way that eased us into the madness of it all.  I wouldn’t have accepted the immediate introduction of Fineman’s car-dwelling ex wife, even after the strangeness of the opening scene.  However, by the time we meet her, we’re fully prepared for the next wacky turn of events. The Independent takes us by the hand and leads us happily down the lane, and by the time we think to ask where we’re going we’ve left the real world behind.  It’s the skillful story telling that makes me think of The Independent as a filmmaker’s film, something made not necessarily to entertain the masses but turn the lens of film back on itself.

The Independent is like watching a home movie.  I think, perhaps, that this home movie is meant for filmmakers, to see themselves and their passions through the fiction of a movie.  It’s interesting to see how the filmmakers portray themselves here – confident, persistent, optimistic, and terrible to live with.

What do you think, Brandon?  Is The Independent a self portrait, meant for filmmakers?  Is is self-indulgent, or a surreal confessional asking for atonement?

Brandon: So far I’ve honestly only thought of this movie as a film for schlock junkies. Fans of the trash auteurs of yesteryear will find plenty to chew on in The Independent, especially in those short-form spoofs & Roger Corman interviews. I don’t think that descriptions excludes filmmakers from the intended audience, though. A lot of filmmakers, even the ones who make endless piles of garbage, are really at heart just big movie fans who can’t help but make the the things they love. For example, Morty Fineman didn’t make hundreds of movies on accident. He made it because them because he doesn’t know what else to do with himself. It’s in his blood. Also, because he liked “the tits, bombs, and ass,” as he confessed in the fabulous scene in his ex-wife’s house/car Erin just mentioned.

Something I always wonder about directors like Roger Corman & Morty Fineman is whether or not they ever have time to actually watch movies for fun. In the documentary Corman’s World (which is required viewing, by the way) Corman recalls an anecdote where he was running almost a dozen simultaneous film production. When his wife asked him if he could actually name them all from memory, he could only recite the titles of all but two & then said something to the effect of, “Well, whatever the rest are, I’m going to cancel them in the morning.” Folks like Fineman & Corman are constantly swamped with shooting schedules & issues of financial backing, but their work is obviously influenced by the cinematic world surrounding them, so they somehow have to be watching movies in their leisure time. For instance, Fineman’s lost herpes PSA film The Simplex Complex was a spoof of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Corman’s production of Joe Dante’s Pihranna was a thinly veiled response to Spiendberg’s Jaws (which, in turn, was heavily influenced by Corman’s own creature feature work). I have no idea how an over-productive schlock director could find the time to keep up with their contemporaries that way, given the near impossible weight of their workloads.

To bring it home to Erin’s question, if this film were made with any particular filmmaker in mind it’d be Roger Corman, but would he even have had time to watch it? Even his contributions as an extended cameo seemed to be brief & succinct, probably shot on a break between a dozen other projects. It’s interesting to think of a what a Fineman-esque schlockmeister would get out of The Independent, considering the film’s admiration of their work & acknowledgement of their sleaziness, but I’m not sure they’d ever have the time to engage with it in that way. Did Corman ever sit down to watch this movie even though he appears in it? I’m curious, but doubtful.

It seems that The Independent‘s best chance for a cult audience is in comedy nerds who enjoy a Christopher Guest-style mockumentaries & weirdo sketch comedy and in schlock junkies who genuinely love bad movies as an art form, even beyond the MST3k brand of sarcastic derision. My question is whether or not you’d have to exist in the overlap of that Venn diagram to enjoy the film for all it’s worth. It’s obviously difficult for me to discuss The Independent without droning on about folks like Roger Corman & Russ Meyer, so I’m wondering if someone without that sense of B-movie context would get the same kind of appreciation of the movie’s insular little world of shoddy filmmaking.

What do you think, Mark? Is familiarity with the world of folks like Roger Corman necessary for loving this film beyond a tossed off “That was pretty funny, I guess.”? Is being a fan of irreverent comedy enough to fully appreciate The Independent or do you also have to be a little bit of a B-movie nerd to get on its wavelength?

Boomer: It’s interesting to me that you mention Christopher Guest, especially since his movies were the first point of contact I thought of when viewing The Independent, not Roger Corman, despite Corman’s cameo in the film’s opening moments. There’s a fine line tread here between the kind of zealous schlock that characterizes Corman’s work and the nuanced character work that typifies Guest’s. To be honest, I think that an appreciation for the kind of work that Guest does may be more integral to the overall enjoyment of The Independent as a movie than an appreciation for Corman and his ilk. Guest’s films generally feature a mixture of understatedly human emotions acted out by larger-than-life characters in situations that are incredibly idiosyncratic, be it a high-stakes dog show or a folk music reunion concert. The characters that populate the faux-documentary, especially but not limited to Morty, his assistant, and Paloma, are very much Guest-type people.

Of course, the prevalence of Corman-esque style in Morty’s works themselves can’t be ignored, either. Morty is Corman as a Guest character, and it works very, very well. It’s not hard to imagine Corman creating a film like Bald Justice, and a line like “You’re gonna like Leavenworth; they’ve got a great barber,” could have flowed from his pen just as easily as it did from Stephen Kessler and Mike Wilkins’s. Overall, though, I think it would be easier to enjoy the movie if you knew Guest but not Corman, rather than Corman but not Guest, simply given the fact that the homages to Corman, while pitch perfect and hilarious, don’t carry the weight of the narrative in and of themselves.

I would love to see more films of this type. Maybe a satirical slasher film that centered around a Hitchcock type, or a desert island survival story wherein all the characters are the stars of a seventies sci-fi show reunited for a convention cruise that goes awry. Or, of course, more mockumentaries about eccentric artists who are secretly self-deluded hacks. What about you, Britnee? How would you adapt this format into a personal instant classic?

Britnee: I’ve always wished and hoped for someone to make a John Waters biopic that would depict his work with the Dreamlanders crew. Could you imagine such a treat? So when thinking about what sort of film I would like to see in the style of The Independent, I would love to see a film that follows the journey of a Waters-like director and his band of misfits. The crew would travel the country creating snuff films in small, all-American towns. They would have a cult following of all ages willing to “die for art.” If anyone with the connections and resources ever reads this, please, oh please, make this happen.

Come to think of it, there really aren’t enough films that focus on the careers of movie directors, and they have one of the most interesting jobs on the planet! When director roles are featured in films, they are usually portrayed in a negative way. Most of the time, they’re sleazy douchebags that promise cast members leading roles in exchange for sex. It was nice to see a director portrayed in a positive light in The Independent. Morty has so much passion for filmmaking, and he truly loved all 400+ of his terrible b-movies. What an inspiration!

Going back to the discussing the film’s unique style, I don’t think it would be as enjoyable if it were anything other than a mockumentary. Erin, if The Independent was not filmed as a mocumentary, but was still a comedy, do you think it would still be as likeable? Why or why not?

Erin: Interesting question, Britnee!  I agree with you.  The mocumentary style of The Independent is an important part of its charm.  It allows for Morty’s character to be portrayed as humanly as possible.

That’s where I connected most with The Independent, with its portrayal of humanity.  The hyperbole used in the storytelling lets the actors tell a deeply human story about the the struggle to balance the compulsion to create and live according to one’s own heart against the very real impact that every human has on those around him or her.
As fluffy and ridiculous as The Independent is, there are moments of genuine pathos and discomfort.  Those moments, in a way, make the movie. They use of comic relief and exaggeration to tell real truths about the human condition is one of our best introspective tools as a species.

Lagniappe

Erin:I really, really want to see Whale of Cop brought to fruition.  There’s no shame in that game.

Britnee: I’m so glad to know that there’s another film other than Highway to Hell that involves all members of the Stiller clan. I have to say, I really wish there was more Rita (Anne Meara)!  Rita (Morty’s ex-wife that lives in a luxury car) was probably my favorite character in the film, but she was definitely not given enough screen time.

Boomer: Rita was definitely a character that I would have loved to see more of, especially with regards to her relationship with her eternally devoted doorman/chauffeur/lover. I also really loved the moment of footage we saw of Rat Fuck; it was such a great, minimal joke. In my notes from watching the film, I noted that Christ for the Defense reminded me, at least visually, of Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, which never came up organically in this discussion but which I think bears mentioning, if anyone feels like watching a movie that Morty may as well have directed.

Brandon: When started doing Movie of the Month Swampchats this past February I joked that the cold weather was making us a depressed bunch. The first few movies we discussed (The Masque of the Red Death, The Seventh Seal, Blood & Black Lace, etc) were a morbid procession of death & pestilence. I’m glad to say we pulled out of the funk in the past few months & started having some fun with a few comedies & even a kids’ movie, but it’s also remarkable how the year came full circle, beginning & ending with Roger Corman, who directed Masque & had a large influence on The Independent. There are few filmmakers out there who I love more or who could better represent this site’s love of where trash meets art. Let’s hope next year’s just as tidy & well-rounded. It’s been fun.

-The Swampflix Crew

High Anxiety (1977)

EPSON MFP image

fourhalfstar

My first experience with Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t actually with the work of the man himself. When I was a child, my grandparents lived in Waukegan, a suburb of Chicago, and I would often spend a month or two with them every summer. There was a station they received that would show the same movie every day for a week, perhaps longer, and it was on this station that I first watched Back to the Future II (at least a dozen times) and often-overlooked Joe Dante flick Explorers, both of which I loved. The best movie shown on this repeating station, however, was Mel Brooks comedy High Anxiety. Although not as well known or beloved as pictures like Blazing Saddles, The Producers, or Spaceballs, High Anxiety remains, to this day, my favorite of the entire Brooks oeuvre. It’s a pastiche homage to the films of the Master of Suspense, and, as with Head Over Heels, I couldn’t stop thinking about it during and after watching Dario Argento’s Do You Like Hitchcock? I didn’t understand the references when I was a child, but every time my grandmother would laugh out loud, she would explain which of Hitchcock’s films was being parodied, and why the joke worked. I recently rewatched the film and was worried it would pale in comparison to my memory of it, but I’m delighted to say it’s only gotten better with time.

Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Brooks), a Harvard professor, has just flown to California to take over as the director of the Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. After making his way through a notably dramatic airport, he is greeted by his driver, Brophy (Ron Carey), a motormouth shutterbug who exposits about the institute and its staff, whom Thorndyke meets upon arrival. Many of them are played by part of Brooks’s recurring stable of actors: Cloris Leachman plays Nurse Diesel, a parody of Rebecca‘s Mrs. Danvers; Harvey Corman is Dr. Montague, who is engaged in a scheme and a BDSM relationship, both with Diesel; and Dick Van Patten portrays Dr. Wentworth, who tries to warn Thorndyke that something is amiss. Thorndyke is eventually led to investigate the institute’s violent ward, where he is introduced to the very wealthy patient Arthur Brisbane, now suffering under the belief that he is a dog, the result of a nervous breakdown. On a business trip to San Francisco, Thorndyke meets Brisbane’s daughter, Victoria (longterm Brooks collaborator and one of the greatest comediennes of all time, Madeline Kahn), with whom he discovers that Diesel and Montague are attempting to steal the Brisbane fortune and that the man Thorndyke met was a random patient. The dastardly duo hire a hitman to frame Thorndyke for murder, causing the good doctor and Victoria to flee the city while Brophy works to prove Thorndyke’s innocence. And, as with most Hitchcock homages, there’s a climactic altercation at a great height waiting at the end.

The above plot summary outlines the larger elements of the Hitchcockian thriller narrative but belies just how funny this movie is. Film comedy, by its nature, does not demand that its plot be tightly structured in order to be successful; many comedies have only the barest of plots, which exist only to be a skeleton upon which jokes and gags are hung. I’m always more impressed when a comedy takes the time to construct an intricate plot that would stand alone as a decent mystery without comic elements, which is probably why I love Clue (also starring Madeline Kahn) and Hot Fuzz (which is basically the apotheosis of mystery comedy) so much. While High Anxiety‘s plot isn’t as airtight as it could be, it does stand out as part of what makes the movie work.

The homages run fast and heavy, and they work much better here than they did in Argento’s film. The overall plot about a scheme within a mental institution that is brought to light by the newly arrived overseer is taken from Spellbound, my second favorite Hitchcock (side note: Salvador Dali was an art director on Spellbound, which makes it an absolute must-see for any fan of art and cinema). The finale, like Do You Like Hitchcock?’s, borrows most heavily from Vertigo. But there’s also the scene in which Thorndyke tries to escape from a huge flock of birds, or Birds, and the scene in the hotel which presents Thorndyke’s framing for murder is evocative of the similar scene in North by Northwest. Meanwhile, the gags range from broad (wealthy heiress Victoria Brisbane drives a car that is covered in Louis Vuitton leather—not upholstered, covering the outside) to the specific (future Good Morning, Vietnam director Barry Levinson plays an uptight bellboy who attacks Thorndyke with a newspaper in the shower, causing gray newsprint to funnel into the drain, just like Marion Crane’s B&W blood in Psycho) and some fall all over the spectrum.

Hollywood legend says that the Master of Suspense himself sent Brooks six bottles of 1961 Château Haut-Brion to express his appreciation for the thorough and engaging send-up of the British director’s body of work. That alone speaks volumes about just how much love and effort went into crafting High Anxiety‘s homages. It’s reflective of the amount of adoring attention that went into, say, Argento’s adaptation of Poe’s “The Black Cat,” but not his more metatextual and by-the-numbers Hitchcock piece. High Anxiety is a movie that anyone who loves comedy, or classics, or Hitchcock should watch and watch again.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (1984)

EPSON MFP image

onehalfstar

campstamp

Ever encounter a movie so poorly made that you’re not quite sure it even qualifies as a real film? Over a year ago Britnee pressured me to take a couple shady-looking DVDs from the trunk of her car in a NASA parking lot in New Orleans East (true story) & I’m not quite sure that either one qualifies as a “real” film. I stil haven’t forced myself to suffer through whatever Da Hip Hop Witch is (though I plan to soon), but after much procrastination I finally dove into the bargain bin depths of Desperate Teenage Lovedolls. Having now actually watched the movie, I still remain unconvinced of its validity as a feature film. Recorded on super 8 cameras in the 80s California punk scene, the “movie” has the feeling of a goofball group of kids’ backyard home video. As soon as the animated heroin needle on the DVD menu & the horrendously dubbed dialogue of the first scene grace the screen, Desperate Teenage Lovedolls at best feels like a project the Troma kids started, but never bothered to complete. It’s an effortlessly punk production for sure, but it’s the kind of half-assed, sloppily drunk punk that registers as less than endearing.

With direct references to past virgins-in-peril melodramas like Valley of the Dolls, Desperate Teenage Lovedolls is a very straightforward story of two female teen punks navigating a male-dominated world of rock & roll stardom. In their pursuit of fame, the two protagonists find themselves homeless, drug addicted, thieving, and suffering the sexual advances of record label sleazeballs before their band (The Lovedolls, duh) finally hits it big time (in a little over a month). By the time they achieve fame, of course, it’s far too late & their lives are destroyed by heroin, gang violence, and looming murder charges. Since the “movie” can’t even muster up a full hour of running time, these plot points all whiz by at a pace that should benefit what is essentially a genre spoof comedy, but no attempts at humor even come close to landing, despite the charmingly amateur “actors” constantly stifling their girlish laughter. Here’s an example of a typical “joke”: a man in drag plays one of the teen’s pesky mothers, so the teen complains, “Mom, you’re such a drag.” The mother later comes back at her, “I’ve always tried to be a mother & a father to you.” Laughing yet? I couldn’t conjur up a chuckle either. And that’s not even to mention the way the “movie” casually mines homophobic slurs & sexual assault for “humor”. Throw in some pitifully slapped-together costumes & knife fights as well as some obviously uncleared tunes from names like Hendrix, Zepplin, and The Fab Four and you’re still left wondering at the end credits, “Is this a real movie?”

Here’s where I try to say some nice things about Desperate Teenage Lovedolls, whether or not it felt like a legitimate movie. If nothing else, it’s a great historical document of 80s California punks, particularly that of teenage girls. I know many a Tumblr that would salivate over the fashion on display. I also got one genuine laugh from the deadpan exchange “Thanks for killing my mom.” “No problem.” Although the “movie” was missing more outright humor in that vein, it did have the general feeling of kids having fun, just making a movie for kicks. I’m glad they had fun, but a lot of what made it to the screen has the distinct feeling of “highdeas”: things that were probably funny while the writers/performers were stoned, but didn’t hold up to later scrutiny. There’s no way that anyone could actually believe the blurb on the cover that claims Desperate Teenage Lovedolls “rates up there with John Waters’ finest early work” (at least I hope not; those are some of my favorite movies), but you can at least feel some of Waters’ style (as well as that of his early muse Russ Meyer’s) coursing through the film’s veins. I can also say this: the film has an incredible soundtrack, headlined by the big deal punk band Redd Kross, who proved its theme song: “Ballad of a Lovedoll” & a villainous performance from bassist Steve McDonald. Some of the “movie”’s best moments were montages that let the music breathe & the failed humor dissipate. It was also amusing to watch the girls pretend that the were playing Redd Kross’ songs, despite the male lead vocals. There were some other interesting incongruities, like a melodramatic drug freakout that relied on strobe lights & paused VHS tapes as well as the fact that the girls are supposed to be homeless, but still have a place to store & practice on their band equipment.

Still, none of this adds up much in terms of a completed product. Desperate Teenage Lovedolls still feels surreally fake to me, exactly like the kind of movie a friend who usually can stomach the worst media imaginable passes off to you in perplexed defeat. There are enough real movies out there that achieve what Desperate Teenage Lovedolls vaguely attempts (drugged out weirdos having fun being drugged out weirdos on film), ranging from John Waters’ Dreamlanders era all the way to this year’s wonderful Tangerine, that you needn’t bother with this half-assed mess, yet it still exists. It exists & it was well remembered enough to reach the DVD format two decades after its release. Even stranger, this supposed “movie” even spurned a sequel titled Lovedolls Superstar in 1986. That can’t possibly be true, but there it is, existing, being a real thing, even though I remain unconvinced.

-Brandon Ledet

Superfast! (2015)

EPSON MFP image

halfstar

campstamp

If you only paid attention to the examples of ZAZ-style spoof media inflicted upon the world by Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer, it’d be understandable if you thought the format dead & worthless. For every brilliant spoof movie like Spy & Walk Hard, Friedberg & Seltzer have released a slew of awful garbage fires like Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie, and Vampires Suck. The duo have an incredible talent for sucking the humor out of even the silliest of genre films under the guise of “making fun”. Their films suffer from something I used to call Mad TV Syndrome (back when that was a relevant reference): the subject they’re parodying is always more amusing in reality than it is in the spoof.

Even though I knew that I had very little patience for Friedberg & Seltzer’s brand of subpar spoof comedy, I was still morbidly curious about their Fast & Furious parody Superfast!. What was most interesting to me about the film was the timing. First of all, it seems strange that they waited until seven films into the franchise to spoof it, but even stranger still is their decision to make fun of Paul Walker so soon after his tragic death. Superfast! is not funny. It’s not clever. It boasts no commendable performances or standout gags. It’s not even particularly knowledgeable about the target of its “comedy”. It is, however, a fascinating exercise in bad taste. Reducing a beloved & much missed action movie star to a punchline in a movie meant to wean scrap change off the release of his final film was ill-advised at best & repugnantly cruel at worst.

Within the film, Walker’s surrogate, Lucas, is dumb & Californian. That’s essentially the extent of the film’s humorous insight into his seven-film stretch as an undercover cop turned international criminal with a heart of gold. Lucas isn’t bright & he sounds like a surfer. Boy, did they get him good. They really showed his recently-deceased ass who’s boss. To be fair, Superfast! also makes time to poke fun at the supposed low intelligence of Vin Diesel & The Rock (who are, by all accounts, intelligent & kind human beings in real life) and at the very least they didn’t name the character “Paul” (despite other characters being named Vin, Michelle, and Jordana after the real-life actors who play their counterparts), so it easily could’ve been worse. That still isn’t much a consolation, though, considering the nature of Walker’s death & the timing of the film’s release.

The film isn’t completely devoid of insightful jabs at the Fast & Furious franchise. It picks up on a lot of the same rapper cameos, car parts gibberish, and Corona ad-placement elements that I poked a little fun at in my own tour through the series. It just feels like it’s at least four or five films into the franchise too late, considering the kind of jokes it’s making at the film’s expense. Despite the inclusion of a The Rock stand-in, almost all of the film’s humor is based on the first three Fast & Furious movies, a major mistake considering that the franchise didn’t culminate until its own unique property until almost five films into its run. There wasn’t even a single reference to Vin Diesel’s longwinded rants about “family”, which have essentially become the heart of the franchise. At this point, it’s been so long since the series’ trashy lowpoint beginnings that titles like Tokyo Drift play much more humorously than any jokes about the movie ever could. Combine Superfast!‘s too-late 12 year old boy humor with the porn-quality production, an extended reference to Minions (a vile offense, that), the misguided belief that it’s just hilarious to suggest that Michelle Rodriguez is homosexual (she’s bi), and the cringe-inducing mistake of poking fun at a recently-deceased actor and you have one terrible film that I’m already actively trying to forget.

-Brandon Ledet

Spy (2015)

EPSON MFP image

fourstar

campstamp

The absurdist genre-spoof comedy that hit its apex with cult classics like ZAZ’s Airplane & Top Secret has sadly become a dying art in recent years. Titles like Not Another Disaster Movie & Scary Movie 19 have tarnished the genre’s cultural cachet and more or less reduced its target audience to twelve year old boys who are emotionally stunted even for twelve year old boys. There have been a couple great exceptions in the past decade that give me hope for the genre’s future, though. The Judd Apatow comedy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, while posed as a spoof of the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, was a brilliant take-down of the entire biopic genre. Walk Hard somehow included every single biopic cliché & American genre of music into one silly, but intellectually extensive spoof. The Will Forte vehicle MacGruber did more or less the same thing with the violent action flick genre that saw its heyday in the 1980s. The difference is that instead of limiting itself to brilliant send-ups of films like Commando & Cobra, MacGruber went a step further and created one of the most vile, pathetic protagonists in all of cinema. Both Walk Hard & MacGruber breathed fresh air into the genre-spoof, but they’re just two titles in a sea of bad examples.

After a single viewing of Spy at the theater, I’m already confident enough to include it along with Walk Hard & MacGruber on the list of the best spoof movies of the past decade. Sure, the James Bond international spy genre has been spoofed before in movies like Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Casino Royale (1967), and Our Man Flint, but Spy distinguishes itself from its predecessors by feeling distinctly modern. There’s a self-aware, crass irreverence to the film that feels distinctly 2015. Although it’s riffing on an entirely different genre, Spy is very much in the vein of MacGruber more than it is in the very 90s Austin Powers. Besides the general crassness of its script & general improv-enhanced vibe of its sense of humor, Spy also continues MacGruber’s undermining of alpha male action movie types that turns the typical hero (this time as a frivolous side character hilariously played by Jason Statham as opposed to MacGruber’s central protagonist) into vile worms of the lowest order. As Statham’s misogynist prick brags to the main character that he is immune to 179 varieties of poison & can water-ski blindfolded, it’s easy to see how an exact MacGruber successor would’ve been born if he was the central character, but Spy is smart to leave him sidelined while the more morally-palatable, but just as crass Melissa McCarthy serves as a much more relatable audience surrogate.

McCarthy hit her creative peak for me last year with the goofy road trip comedy Tammy, which felt like a wonderful culmination of everything she’s been building towards since Paul Feig’s breakout comedy Bridesmaids. Feig, who also worked with McCarthy on the similarly crass buddy cop comedy The Heat, finds an entirely new kind of role for her to play in Spy. In Tammy, McCarthy was a complete mess, more raccoon than human in her thoughtless pursuit of laze-about surface pleasures. While I found that character incredibly charming, she was a far cry from the in-over-her-head every-woman McCarthy plays so well in Spy. There are flashes of Tammy’s feral nature in Spy, but they’re dialed back enough to allow McCarthy to shine though as a relatable human being. With Spy, Feig has not only created a modern classic in genre spoofery, but also helped to open a door for an incredibly talented comedic actress who’s more or less hit a typecasting wall she hasn’t been able to sidestep since her wonderful turn on Gilmore Girls nearly a decade ago. Let’s hope he can keep the productive streak going when he works with her on their fourth film in a row together, the all-female cast Ghostbusters reboot.

-Brandon Ledet