Tag Archives: comedy

Letterboxing: Trainwreck

[This review originally appeared on my Letterboxd page as part of an ongoing effort to watch 365 new movies in 2015. Yeah, I know.]

[via Collider]

I really expected more. Trainwreck is a conventional rom-com dressed up in the edgy honesty of Amy Schumer’s humour and the obscuring improv of Judd Apatow, and neither of them does either of those as well as they should.

Any film over two hours long needs to fight for your attention more than others, but Apatow (directing from Schumer’s first feature script) lets most scenes run far longer than they should and the result is often tedious. If you’re going to have a scene in which tertiary characters are the only ones speaking, at least make it semi-relevant to the story, maybe?

Schumer is fine in her first leading role (and it is incredibly refreshing to see a woman of her body type as the romantic lead. She’s not particularly strange or different, other than the fact that she looks like a real friggin’ woman) but brings little her stand-up material doesn’t already exhibit.

For the record, I think she’s a great comedian, but her script is a real sheep in wolf’s clothing. She starts out a confident, independent character (albeit an alcoholic one) and finishes up compromising pretty much her entire way of life for one man. The film takes the archaic stance that ONLY MONOGAMY CAN WORK and anyone who takes multiple partners must be either morally bankrupt or have serious character flaws based largely in daddy issues.

I love Brie Larson – she’s steadily becoming one of my favourite working actresses – but in this she’s simply reduced to an oasis of morality: get a husband! Have a kid! Paint your next kid’s room pink BECAUSE THAT’S HOW WE KNOW SHE’S A GIRL! (That particular piece of heteronormativity was eye-rollingly outdated.) She does well with the material as does her husband played by Mike Birbiglia, who gets to perform some of the rare moments of genuine discomfort in the film. These are what makes it worth watching; moments when characters butt heads about what is and isn’t socially acceptable.

Unfortunately this makes up very little of Trainwreck as Schumer’s character (conveniently also named Amy) lets most everyone force their morality upon her. It’s not about what Amy will do with her life; it’s about when she’ll fall in line with everyone else’s.

Yes, I did laugh a few times, because, well – have you seen the cast? – but I grimaced a hell of a lot more.

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Review: Caesar & Otto’s Deadly Xmas

[This review originally appeared on Nerdly. I would have put it up sooner, but shortly after the piece went up the director commented on the site and we entered into a slightly embarrassing – you’ll see why – discourse about the film. I wanted to see how that played out before posting this and leading him to my personal site. I’m paranoid like that.]

Stars: Dave Campfield, Paul Chomicki, Linnea Quigley, Deron Miller, Summer Ferguson | Written by Dave Campfield, Joe Randazzo | Directed by Dave Campfield

caesar-and-ottos-deadly-xmas-cast

It would be pointless – not to mention foolish – to judge Caesar And Otto’s Deadly Xmas by the same standards as other films. This is chiefly because if we did we’d have to face up to the fact that this Christmas-themed horror/campfest doesn’t even deserve in the same VHS bargain bins as the films it clumsily imitates. That said, if the only movies people ever enjoyed were the good ones then…well, Netflix wouldn’t exist, for one thing.

With that in mind, I decided to view Caesar And Otto in the spirit in which I hope and pray it was intended: with tongue firmly embedded in cheek. It’s a good thing I did so immediately, as an early scene sees the recent recipient of a double arm transplant having his new limbs lopped off by a psycho in a Santa suit (CKY’s Deron Miller). He manages to escape this most unchristian fellow by headbutting him and manages to hotwire a car with his feet and escape without bleeding out.

It’s a silly enough way to begin a movie that concerns itself largely with pointing out how cheap the writing is, but it’s actually kind of a refreshing take on slasher movie tropes, albeit a nonsensical one.

The remaining minutes mostly follow the eponymous leads – Caesar (Campfield), a highly effeminate and OTT aspiring actor, and Otto (Chomicki), his overweight and underworked half-brother who wants nothing more than to reunite with his childhood sweetheart –  as they attempt to bring in some rent money by first playing a charity Santa Claus and later shooting a Christmas horror movie. The brothers’ violent banter with one another gives way to flashbacks (called “cheap devices” by Caesar, channeling his former screenwriting professor) and cutaways to scenes of decapitation by the grisly Santa. The violence in these scenes, as throughout the film, is occasionally ridiculous enough to raise a chuckle but ultimately far too cartoonish to create any sense of horror the filmmakers hope to achieve.

However, as the plot progresses and Caesar & Otto take Demion – the killer – on as their new roommate and various dream sequences and non-sequiturs are had, I started to wonder whether or not they should have just picked one genre and stuck to it. While there are some laughs to be had in the nudge-nudge-wink-wink of almost every line of dialogue, Caesar And Otto fails to elicit the kind of thrills that even bad horror movies manage to achieve.

Much of the problem, I’d wager, is down to the director, co-writer and co-star of the film, Dave Campfield. Placing himself in almost every scene as a thoroughly unlikeable, prissy bully with an irrational fear of Santa Claus, Campfield attempts to ridicule the overused tropes of bad movies in his script but ends up using far more than he ever comments on – sometimes exploiting the same one twice! – resulting in a parody that’s often too cynical to be funny.

The end of the film is a perfect case in point: Caesar and Otto have tracked down Demion and seemingly won the day, only for three unbelievable twists to come at once and the movie ends with the two leads mostly sitting back and watching it happen. Our armless victim from the very beginning of the movie makes a baffling yet triumphant return – this time with both arms back but wheelchair-bound – but even he’s not enough to make us forgive Caesar And Otto‘s many contrivances.

Ultimately, despite an endearingly schlubby performance from Paul Chomicki, some only-slightly-forced laughs and a welcome but all too brief cameo from Return of the Living Dead‘s Linnea Quigley, Caesar And Otto’s Deadly Xmas suffers as a comedy by trying to be off-the-wall wacky and far too fragmented, losing any chance at proper hilarity or scares as a result. It might well have been better off as a slapstick short – Campfield certainly has enough ideas to fill ten minutes – but, alas, the teaser in the final scene reveals that we’ve another feature to come in (the recently crowdfunded) Caesar And Otto’s Paranormal Halloween. This will join the four other Caesar And Otto films that I’ve just learned exist thanks to a quick Google search.

I clearly don’t know what I’m talking about, because these guys have a whole film franchise under their belts. Maybe I need to go rethink my life.

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Dawn of the Reds – An I Am Tim Commentary

I’d really love to write a longer post about this (and probably will), including interviews with the various people involved in this episode since its conception years ago, but right now it’s somewhat more prudent to just get the thing in front of your eyes. Not a part of the original Season 2 line-up (which is a whole other story altogether; in fact, the fidgety, dysfunctional nature of I Am Tim as its own entity would make a great post all on its own), this “very special” episode of Tim likely exists in a slightly different universe to that of the series for the cast and crew most familiar with it due to the many attempts to figure out the right approach and its fluid, increasingly mythical status as…well, not so much “unfilmable” as “filmable when we get around to it”.

Hell, you should just watch the damn thing before I waffle on too much. Part Battle Royale, part Running Man and all nonsense, here’s Dawn of the Reds:

And there you have it. Since my fingers are flying and I haven’t posted much of anything in almost a week, I might as well carry on while there’s still gas in the tank.

This is an odd episode to think about having a hand in, especially since it existed in some form or another (like the bulk of Tim which I’m anachronistically credited in) about two years before I had even met creator Jamie McKeller. This is an educated guess so take it with a pinch of salt (and am happy to be corrected by anyone with the pertinent info) but I believe the first draft/outline of DotR came about in 2010, around the time when Season 1 was being made on no budget by a crew of two who (by Jamie’s own confession) had no idea what they were doing. I met Jamie in late 2011 on the set of the yet-to-be-released microbudget feature Nothing Man,
in which he was appearing and showing bits of Season 2 to the cast and crew during lunch breaks.

The rest is nostalgia fodder for some other time, but by spring 2013 I was writing Season 3 with Jamie & James, and Dawn was still a seldom-whispered notion to me and a twinkle in Jamie’s eye. I couldn’t tell you exactly how many drafts there had been before I was asked to have a crack at the script, but it’s not modesty that leads me to say that what I received was pretty damn close to the finished product, and most definitely an object of McKeller’s invention. Mostly I just added some jokes, trimmed some dialogue and tried to sprinkle some added character depth here and there, so I wouldn’t have been surprised or hurt if I ultimately got an “additional material” credit or even just a “special thanks”, but Jamie’s a generous guy.

I’ve occasionally beaten myself up for not trying to overhaul the script in order to make it as good as it could have possibly been, but to do that would have been to alter its essence and turn it into something not inherently I Am Tim (especially with the ideas I had and still have for new episodes…), and that would have been a mistake.

It seems odd to talk about the “essence” of a Youtube video in which young people in uniform try to dig bombs out of each others’ scalps and the most heartfelt line reading comes from a mass-murderer who really wants a Twix, but when you spend a while with this stuff you kind of get attached to it. Which is in itself weird because I almost feel like as much of an audience member as anyone else, despite having a not in/significant (delete as appropriate) hand in its creation, and yet I can’t watch the episode with any kind of objective eye.

I suspect that’s a similar feeling for a few people who’ve been involved with Tim generally and DotR specifically over the years, who wonder how much their contribution mattered in the long run, if at all. I’m kind of an optimist in that regard, insofar as that a Dawn of the Reds made four years ago would probably have been a far inferior product, for countless reasons.

It occurs to me that I’ve been talking about appropriate credit this whole time despite there not actually being a credits list for this episode yet, at least not on the credits page of the I Am Tim site where they live (there are never credits on an episode of Tim, in keeping with its mockumentary nature), as it’s been due for an update since episode 2.10.

[Not that I’m suggesting anyone needs to buck their ideas up and GIVE ME A DAMN WRITING CREDIT ALREADY.]

So I could be way off. Maybe everyone who’s ever suggested a fun death scene or supportively asked, “So how’s that Dawn of the Reds thingy going?” might end up getting a healthy mention. Not that the inclusion of something like that would change or legitimise their involvement in any way. I mean, does anyone beside me actually read the credits of web series anyway?

I thought not. Anyway, all this has made me think of a quote attributed to Harry S. Truman: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” I’ve applied it to projects I’ve been on and think it’s a pretty pragmatic mantra for anyone wanting to get into the screenwriting business, but it’s especially pertinent when talking about no-budget productions and web series, in which the chief satisfaction comes from actually having made something, rather than having someone know you made something.

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Hot Cameo Action

I Am Tim Episode 2.13, featuring ghosts, scares, pantomime sexual politics and an abundance of face time from yours truly:

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A Coupl’a Cool Videos

So last week Redshirt Films launched our new webseries Nights At The Round Table, which I contributed material to, recorded sound on a couple of episodes and occasionally made attempts to stop things falling apart (mostly by heading to the shops to buy flapjacks).

It’s picked up a fair few fawning reviews and a ton of steam (at the time of writing the view count’s pushing 1100, which is excellent news for a video posted five days ago), and I hope everyone who worked – and is still working – on it is as proud as I am that it’s finding an audience, especially the show’s creator Jamie, who regularly comes close to killing himself at every stage of production so that not only can an episode be finished but to such a high quality that it astounds people to learn that the only budget we had was for tea.

Anyway, if you’ve somehow missed my laser-guided social media bombardments of the first episode until now, here’s your chance to catch the premiere episode:

And if that didn’t whet your appetite for the next episode, perhaps the tantalising promise of a cameo from your humble blogger will suffice? Yeah, I thought so.

In other York-related movie news, local production company Parashoots just posted this trailer for a Blade Runner-inspired advert that looks (predictably) pretty incredible. I thought you might like it:

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The Zomblog Fundraiser For Hungry Undead

The Zomblogalypse guys (and gal) want your money, and I’d be hard-pressed to find you a good reason not to give them it (other than taste), if you can afford it:

Yarn-related perks. You don’t get those every day. Unless your dog really likes to knit or something.

If a Veronica Mars movie can fly past $2 million in a day or two, don’t these guys deserve their ten grand? Hit the link at the top if you think they do, or you could just click here if you’re really lazy.

If you don’t know what the heck a Zomblogellipsis even is in the first place, take a look at some choice cuts from the series to educate yo’self, son:

RELATIONSHIPS from Season 1, featuring zombie romance:

and

NATURAL SELECTION from Season 2, featuring the first appearance of Manix and “you can’t knit your way out of a zombie apocalypse”:

What, you want ANOTHER hyperlink so you don’t have to scroll all the way up to the top of the page? What are you, fingerless?

Oh, go on then.

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Spot the Difference

There’s an opportunity for interesting back-to-back I Am Tim viewing this week:

Season 1 episode The Daily Grind:

Season 2 episode Back To The Daily Grind:

Same carnage, different Tim.

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An(other) Appreciation of Girls

Girls is kind of a contentious topic, especially on the global entertainment forums of the net but also occasionally among my friends, who alternately love and despise the show with a worryingly quick turnaround. And certainly there have been ostentatious moments (Hannah’s coke-fuelled, insincere rant at Marnie in Bad Friend, every scene Jessa’s in), but for every one of those there are three incredibly well-observed moments of social awkwardness or facepalm-worthy train wrecks of jokes or a completely unexpected emotional gut-punch.

Which makes it well worth wading through all the hype and bile surrounding the show and just letting yourself feel the characters’ pain and embarrassment and unintentional hurt. I kind of live for those moments in shows, because while I love being sweet-talked by laughter and raucous set-pieces in one, I know that I’ve fallen in love when a(n ostensible) comedy hurts me just as bad as its characters.

Last week’s episode One Man’s Trash did so beautifully in what was more or less a bottle episode about series creator Lena Dunham’s character Hannah, who for my money works best when stripped of all her airs and hipster affectations (as opposed to her clothes), not when she’s telling us what she’s not really feeling but when we’re seeing what she really is.

The episode takes place largely in 42 year-old Joshua’s brownstone house, wherein he and Hannah (complete strangers until that morning) develop a strange romantic companionship, an isolated couple of days that act as a sabbatical from their real lives (Joshua’s getting divorced, Hannah’s avoiding both her train wreck of a love life and highly dysfunctional friendships) and seems almost too good to be true…which, of course, it is, and though the cracks are there from the very start (both Hannah’s sudden desire to give Josh space and his subsequent dismissal of the notion are the first flashing red lights) they both clearly just want someone to pretend and play house with, if only for a night or two.

And though both realise it won’t last quickly enough, the fact that Hannah’s late to that party – waking up in Joshua’s house alone, eating breakfast on his patio and even taking out his trash (it’s perfect when you see it) – is just enough to break my heart all over again. She’ll be fine after this – well, as fine as she was before – but I can’t help but feel somewhat melancholy over the sense that baring your soul to a complete stranger might only serve to make you even lonelier in the end, with the slightest catharsis your sole comfort. And even that’s fleeting.

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THE SALMON GAMES

Either in my old age I’m beginning to tolerate middle-of-the-road romantic comedies a hell of a lot more than I used to or Salmon Fishing In The Yemen was much more enjoyable than I’d initially given it credit for. Hmm. It’s a doozy. Either way, a review shall be up on Blogomatic tomorrow. Or today. Yes, I know that this post is late. And if you didn’t already, you now do too. Crap.

I also re-watched The Hunger Games today for another review, and while I still like it a great deal, I’ve changed my mind about which parts of the film I liked best. Before, it was during the games. Now it’s before. Go figure. Still not nearly enough violence though. If you’ve spoken to me about the movie already, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not, just read the review tomorrow, doofus!

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The Men Who Would Be Tim

On Saturday I’m off to York to catch some Shakespeare in the park, performed in part by a few friends and collaborators. Hopefully it’ll be a little breezier than the last time I saw one of Bill’s works, a 3-hour rendition of The Merry Wives of Windsor that required at least two toilet trips during the performance.

On Sunday I and the aforementioned friends will gather to read through the scripts for the next series of I Am Tim, that horror-comedy web series you may have seen me talk about and that I help out on. Previously having done sound recording and script supervising on the first-season-recut-and-reshot-as-a-movie, I was promoted to plotter and co-writer for series 3, which is the web series equivalent of watching the first two seasons of Buffy as they air and then being asked to hop aboard for the next.

My collaborators are Jamie McKeller – creator, director and Helsing Prime – and James Rotchell – Tim II. (Yes, they both play the main character. Confused? Good. Go watch the series.)

Our writing process is somewhat similar to the yanks’ version: all the writers get together in a room to decide where they want the story to go this season, having a few arguments about who should die, who should turn gay and which actor should get more screentime because they promised the director sexual favours, then beating the plot into a shape that resembles a watchable story and divvying up the episodes between the writers.

They then scurry off to write drafts of those episodes (ours thankfully average at 8-10 minutes as opposed to your regular 22 or 42-minute TV show) and return with said drafts to have them torn to shreds by the other writers, at which point the original scribes will head back to redraft and polish or another will take an episode off their plate if it’s being problematic.

Rinse and repeat until delicious web-delivered content is in your sweaty, donut-covered mitts.

Please bear in mind that this is a fairly simplified version of my understanding of how a normal US TV show is written. Obviously every writer has a different method, and each team will have their own procedures and quirks, but that’s what experience leads me to believe goes on in those concrete basements with no windows or doors.

For all I know, they could just be telling each other jokes. Hell, from what I’ve heard about most sitcoms, that actually is what happens, each writer trying to one-up the others’ jokes until they have a bulletproof script. It would certainly explain why most British sitcoms are about as funny as roadkill – production companies can only afford one writer, and have you ever tried bouncing ideas off yourself?

Of course, all that sounds fairly sensible and streamlined, and that we know what we’re doing. Which is clearly ludicrous in our case. Especially the last part.

Crossed wires, awkward conversations about character motivations, fluffed deadlines, semi-serious discussions about racism and scripts passed around like the proverbial town bike. That’s a fairly concise summary of what our writing process has really been like. But it’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing something so far.

The thing about coming onto a series that you’ve previously been a fan of is that you can see it more objectively than the people who were on it at the start. Or, rather, your subjective view as a fan is incredibly valuable when considering how an audience is going to receive an episode.

There have been character quirks I’ve noticed and been able to implement into my episodes, and even at the plotting stage I was able to contribute how myself  ‘as a viewer’ would react to the events unfolding, and modify them for the better accordingly.

One of my favourite things about writing this show is that I get to put lines in the mouths of characters I’ve grown to love from watching them, and knowing that you’re getting their voices right – having two other writers peering over your shoulder to ensure you don’t fuck up – is alternately wonderful and terrifying.

It’s been a while – a month or two – since I actually ‘wrote’ anything for Tim, but all the scripts are now in and we’re starting to gear up to prepare to ready ourselves to shoot the new series later this year, so a quick tidy up of my episodes before the readthrough to polish dialogue and add jokes/pathos seemed appropriate.

It got me all excited again.

Oh, and speaking of the readthroughs? They may possibly be the funnest part. If you ever involve yourself in any scripted production with a lot of jokes, get yourself in on the table reads, because chances are you’ll have a blast with some awesome actors, and putting your own spin on a beloved character is always ripe for hilarity.

And if we have that much fun just reading some words on paper, just imagine how great the actual series is gonna be.

I can’t wait for you guys to see it.

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