Talking Movies

November 2, 2012

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part VI

As the title suggests here are some short thoughts about the movies which aren’t quite substantial enough for each to merit an individual blog posting.

Star Search ’86 aka Hannah and Her Sisters

With apologies to Donnie Darko for that title, there is a scene in Woody Allen’s classic serious comedy Hannah and Her Sisters which really does double as a talent-spotting showcase. The scene in question is our introduction to Allen’s hypochondriac and endlessly harassed TV comedy writer/producer. As he walks along a corridor he is put upon by a remarkable set of actors who weren’t big names when the film was made but who would become well-known, even if some of them took their time about it. Allen has run into trouble over a sketch and the difficulty is being explained to him by Christian Clemenson, yes, the one lawyer capable of out-odd-balling Denny Crane in Boston Legal. Walking but not talking alongside Allen and Clemenson is one of the comedy show’s performers, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, just a few years before Seinfeld begins. Shouting advice at Allen is Julie Kavner, a few years away from voicing Marge Simpson. At the end of the walk a pre-Coens John Turturro explodes into the shot to complain about his PLO sketch being cut without anyone consulting him about it first, and then finally Allen meets the man from standards and practices who cut the sketch everyone is so concerned about; and the man is JT Walsh, in his only scene in the film, already starting to ply his trademark obstructive man in suit trade. It may have taken some of these actors longer to make their mark than others but boy does Woody have an eye for casting future stars or what?

Fassbendering Ahoy?

It’s been a while since I wrote about this blog’s signature concept of Fassbendering, but two recent pieces of production news indicate that 2013 may be a vintage year for it. Lenny Abrahamson isn’t a director you’d associate with comedy but his next project is co-written by the journalist Jon Ronson, a man with an eye for the absurd having written The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test, and Peter Straughan who adapted Ronson’s non-fiction book Goats for the screen. Their original script Frank is a comedy about a wannabe musician, Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), who discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he joins an eccentric pop band led by enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender). Shooting starts once Fassbender wraps Ridley Scott’s latest disaster movie The Counsellor. It’s about time Fassbender played a rock star when you think about it, few roles offer such potential for enjoying oneself far too much while working. Another two men who understand Fassbendering are reuniting after the success of The Guard as principal photography has begun in Co. Sligo on John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary, with Brendan Gleeson as a priest intent on making the world a better place who is continually shocked by the spiteful inhabitants of his small country town. After being threatened during confession, he must battle the dark forces closing in around him. Among his unruly flock in this blackly comic drama are Chris O’Dowd, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Pat Shortt, David Wilmot, and … yep, Domhnall Gleeson; whose impressive 2012 CV saw him recently named as one of Variety’s ’10 Actors to Watch’.

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March 29, 2011

Team CoCo

Writing about comedy is guaranteed to be unfunny, so there’s a good reason for this post not appearing on April Fool’s Day.

I’ve been watching Conan O’Brien’s new talk-show on 3e since before Christmas when Channel 4 were conducting late-night reruns of Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60. Since 2007 I’ve taken a show from auditions to performance in just over a week in UCD’s Dramsoc, which led to the shock realisation on revisiting Studio 60 that the not-SNL sketch-show Sorkin depicted was essentially a theatrical production. People tear thru various props and costumes and try to remember their lines after minimal scripting and rehearsing, while behind the scenes sets are desperately wheeled around, struck, and positioned for cameras. If a sketch works it plays brilliantly and if it doesn’t the performers and writers get to hear what 300 people not laughing sounds like… Why would a comedian like Conan O’Brien, who wrote the only episodes of The Simpsons I haven’t found unbearably smug, give that up by trading being a writer on Saturday Night Live for hosting a talk-show?

It took an embarrassingly long time for me to realise the answer. Conan stretches his opening monologue to as much as 15 minutes some nights with sketches. This means he can perform as much as 75 minutes of stand-up a week; effectively a new stand-up show’s worth of material every week rather than every year; and have it laughed at by a good audience in-house, but also be seen by millions across America – even if the TBS channel on basic cable reaches fewer people than NBC’s The Tonight Show. It also allows him to indulge his spectacular physicality. Conan can use his flailing body and dances to deflect from gags falling flat, and frequently does by acting out what he’s just said, to garner a laugh from bad material; but his elastic body and mobile face also sets him apart from every other talk-show host. You can’t see Jay Leno letting himself get rocketed across the stage, or be attacked with a real and very sharp samurai sword by a blindfolded stuntman going far too fast thru a barely rehearsed fight choreography. Conan is the only talk-show host in America who could sit next to an owl and make the same expressions, to the point where the staring spectacled owl whirled round to check, rightly suspecting that it was being mocked.

Conan is not to everyone’s taste. Last summer, alongside an unforgettable drawing (possibly nodding to Snoopy) of Conan standing to salute while crashing in a flaming Sopwith Camel, Wired memorably described Conan’s comedy as Cubist Absurdism which was being replaced by what they termed the sure-thing comediocrity of Jay Leno. And if cubist absurdism is the right term for Andy Richter and Conan playing a real-life Angry Birds with cut-outs of the cast of Jersey Shore, before Conan kills off a Snookie balloon with a blow-dart, then I guess I like cubist absurdism. Here’s why. Jay Leno may hit the laugh-mark more often but it’s most always a moderate laugh. Conan has a lot more dud jokes than Leno, but when he hits the mark, you will laugh more than you will at the best Leno jokes because Conan’s are so….you guessed….absurd.

(I would at this point attempt a serious comparison between Conan and the philosophy of Albert Camus but that would be an April 1st type piece.)

Conan airs weekdays at midnight on 3e.

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