Tag: dark comedy

Cold Fish


Cold Fish (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

When Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara) was caught shoplifting by a store manager, he called her father, Syamoto (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), and stepmother, Taeko (Megumi Kagurazaka), before calling the police. But when Murata (Denden), the store manager’s friend who happened to be on the same tropical fish business as Syamoto, came barging in the office to brag about his gigantic rare fish, he persuaded that the police needn’t be involved. Syamoto and his family were very grateful, but Murata wasn’t as generous a man he seemed. Behind his fish business, he and his wife, Aiko (Asuka Kurosawa), murdered people for money. Written by Shion Sono and Yoshiki Takahashi, “Tsumetai nettaigyo,” also known as “Cold Fish,” was an exercise on how a family, through a paternal figure, needed to be shaken up by horrific events in hopes of breaking out of their rut. Mitsuko was a wild teen who didn’t have an ounce of respect for her parents. She beat her stepmother without remorse and considered her father as a joke. Hoping that she’d change for the better, it was no wonder her guardians agreed for Mitsuko, equipped with free room and board, to work for Murata. The father was partly to blame. He was too lenient. If I was a teenager and got caught stealing from a store, my parents would throw a fit. When Murata allowed Mitsuko off the hook, there was not one scene where the father attempted to discuss with his daughter why what she did was unacceptable. We should be disturbed by that lack of proper parenting. The filmmakers made sure that the family drama was deeply rooted in reality before diving into the excess of gore, perversity, and dark comedy. The murders and step-by-step ways to make a person “invisible” didn’t leave much for the imagination. Once the victim had been poisoned, he was taken to a remote location, a shack next to a church, to be chopped into manageable pieces. Red liquid flooded the bathroom floor like sickness, organs were everywhere, and body parts that were still whole glistened in morbidity. However, it was mostly done in a comedic way. For instance, a silly, playful music would play in the background as someone desperately gasped for air. Close-up of the Aiko devoid of reaction, almost somnolent, because she’d seen a man struggle for his life more than she could count. As Syamoto was forced to dispose human meat in the size of chicken nuggets by the river, Murata would enthusiastically say things like, “You’re doing a good job!” and “The fish will be happy!” Shion Sono, the director, paired violence with sex. The physical act meant differently for each character. For instance, Taeko considered it a way to escape her miserable marriage while Aiko held it a symbol for being wanted. I admired “Cold Fish” most because I felt like it wasn’t restrained by anything. It was able to make a statement, with clarity, about how we live and the powerful elements that influence, consciously or otherwise, our decisions. It was a lesson in responsibility.

Down Terrace


Down Terrace (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Bill (Robert Hill) and Karl (Robin Hill), father and son, had recently been released from jail. Bill was convinced that the reason why they were sent to jail was because there was an informant in their midst. It was a matter of finding out the informant’s identity and putting him in the ground. Meanwhile, Karl’s girlfriend (Kerry Peacock) revealed that she was pregnant and about to have the baby in a few weeks. Despite the big surprise, Bill and Maggie (Julia Deakin), his wife, were unmoved and did not look forward to becoming grandparents. They thought she was impregnated by another man. There was something wonderfully devilish about “Down Terrace.” It had my type of dark humor: a tablespoon of family dysfunction, a pinch of a character beginning to question his place and true value within a group, and a gallon of strange coincidences coming together in which the characters were led to believe they were smart and had a firm handle with what was going on but, in reality, they were as lost as ants without scent trails. While the film was also about finding a mole within their crime circle, I was far more fascinated with watching the way the dynamics within the family unfolded. I thought the material was highly amusing because the family had only one way of communicating their personal problems. They yelled at each other to the top of their lungs which didn’t help their situation because each of them was like fortress. They knew how to voice out their wild opinions but they didn’t know how to listen. They saw questioning and changing themselves as a sign of weakness, something to be ashamed of. Another source of great comedy was the pregnancy and the naming of the baby. I couldn’t help but laugh when Bill, with enthusiasm to spare, would go from talking about experimenting with all sorts of drugs in order to gain enlightenment to brainstorming names for his future grandchild. He was an intimidating figure but a fun person, given the right temperament, in family gatherings. But what didn’t work for me was in finding the identity of the mole. It was important because it was one of the two elements that drove the story forward. In the end, I was somewhat confused whether there really was an informant and why some of characters had to be killed. To me, it felt like a convenient way to generate cheaper laughs. From that angle, I wish it didn’t try so hard to impress. Directed by Ben Wheatley, “Down Terrace” had, without a doubt, something different to offer in terms of crime families. From the looks of it, the budget may have been relatively low but its dark humor were like punches that came hard and fast. I just wished the murder scenes made more sense and were as intense as the increasingly suffocating and crumbling family.

Peep World


Peep World (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

It was Henry Meyerwitz’ (Ron Rifkin) 70th birthday and his children were less than happy to celebrate over dinner. Nathan (Ben Schwartz), the youngest of the clan, wrote a book called “Peep World,” an extremely accurate portrayal of his dysfunctional family. Cheri (Sarah Silverman), his only sister, hated him for exposing her idiosyncrasies and self-loathing. On the other hand, Jack (Michael C. Hall), the eldest, was the responsible one. His architectural business was about to collapse because he was easy with money. When Joel (Rainn Wilson), the least ambitious sibling, called to ask for help in terms of pecuniary matters, Jack was always willing to lend a hand. Written by Peter Himmelstein, “Peep World” had the ingredients to construct a truly scathing film about family members who just did not mesh well. Unfortunately, the writing was limited. I noticed that it consistently went for easy laughs when it didn’t need to. For instance, Nathan, concerned about his tendency to prematurely ejaculate, turned to a dubious-looking doctor for a solution. Naturally, the drug didn’t work and it left his penis erect for several hours. There was a painful scene in which Nathan had to deliver a public reading and he desperately tried to hide the bulge in his pants. As the scene unfolded, I couldn’t help but think that the material was better than it was. Why lean on slapstick instead of further observing the seething rage within the family? All of Henry’s children were messed up in some way and they blamed him for how they turned out. But I found it odd that there was not a single scene of Henry prior to the uncomfortable, to say the least, dinner sequence. When Henry was on that table ready to celebrate his birthday and ecstatic to see his children, I just felt sorry for him because no one was really there to celebrate the father’s life. Perhaps we weren’t supposed to take Henry’s side despite not knowing much about him, but when he went around that table and pointed out to his children what he had done for them, I just saw the four as ungrateful brats. None of them would have gotten away with so much in my family. I do have to single out Taraji P. Henson as Joel’s supportive girlfriend. Out of everyone, her character was the one I identified with the most. She was a strong and honest person without having to be cruel, so unlike everyone else in the film. I wanted to know more about her. Henson was fantastic; when she shared a shot with all the other actors as they screamed at each other’s faces, I found my eyes being drawn to her. Since I related to her most, I wanted to see her facial expressions and how she processed the many spilled secrets of the broken family she was about to be a part of. Directed by Barry W. Blaustein, “Peep World” was occasionally brilliant yet filled with critical missteps which significantly weighed down the project. Although capable, the material didn’t soar.

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly


Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly (1970)
★ / ★★★★

A well-to-do British family without a father figure immersed themselves in childhood games. They picked men off the streets–men who would not be missed such as hippies and homeless folks–and if the men tried to escape the mansion or expressed that they no longer wanted to play games, they were killed in a ritualistic manner. Mumsy (Ursula Howells), Nanny (Pat Heywood), Sonny (Howard Trevor), and Girly (Vanessa Howard) were the demented predators and their most recent prey was named New Friend (Michael Bryant) who took an intense liking for Girly even though she was at least twenty years younger than him. I thought the premise of the picture was fascinating but I’m afraid the screenplay was stuck in one concept and it grew more stale as it went on. I understood the psychoanalytical message. The film was all about commenting on the suffocation of constantly having the need to remain loyal with traditions. Since the father was not there to lead the family, the movie made an argument that the family would most likely rot from the inside. Since the father was believed to have a key role in the maturity of children, the teenagers became fixated in acting like six-year-olds. Since there was no father to take care of the mother, the mother and the nanny developed an unusually close bond. They even slept in the same room. Anyone with a basic understanding of psychology would be able to pinpoint such obvious messages, so I was hoping that the director, Freddie Francis, allowed the picture to evolve. While the acting was tolerable most of the time, at times I felt like the actors were rehearsing a play. Since the subject was already so bold, the actors’ decision to portray their roles as caricatures was like hammering the audiences over the head with mallet. Its cartoonish tone was very distracting so the horror did not work. As a dark comedy, it was arguably effective but I was not convinced that the filmmakers wanted it to be more amusing than horrific. In a nutshell, its arguable success was accidental. It should have paid more attention in generating tension because there were far too few rewards in between the sinister kills. At the time of its release, the film’s subject matter was very controversial. While I do enjoy movies that are different, the anti-formula to the formula has to have intelligence and an energy that does not leave me so frustrated after the experience. Unfortunately, “Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly” wasted its potential to be something great.

Please Give


Please Give (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

A married couple (Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt) living in New York City bought the apartment next door in hopes of expanding their home. All they had to do was to await the death of their elderly neighbor (Ann Morgan Guilbert) so they could move in and make the necessary changes. But the old woman, helped by her two granddaughters (Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet), did not seem to show any sign of passing away any time soon. “Please Give,” written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, was an effective comedy, which at times made me feel uneasy, because it showcased unlikable people doing and saying things that were, in the least, inappropriate. In others words, it captured real life. Even though it made me feel uncomfortable, I constantly laughed because I could imagine myself making the same decisions as the characters did here. Many scenes were familiar. For instance, while at a restaurant or a diner, we could hear banal conversations of others from a few tables away. There were also scenes where the characters expressed, without holding back, their anger toward their grandparents without regard for people, mostly strangers, who just happened to be there. I liked its honesty despite how painful certain truths were. I also enjoyed how I wasn’t quite sure whether the director was being emotionally sincere or poking fun at the characters as it moved from one scene to another. When Keener decided to volunteer for mentally challenged kids, on one hand, I was touched because I was reminded of the time when I used to volunteer at an Alzheimer’s facility. On some level, I felt like she was serious about wanting to commit and make a difference on those children’s lives. On the other hand, I thought it was very amusing because Keener’s character was such an insecure person but was not even aware of it. She felt like helping the world (she found giving money to homeless people rewarding) but she had important unresolved issues such as her guilt regarding her job and her increasingly difficult relationship with her pimply-faced teenage daughter (Sarah Steele). When the material became emotionally complex, I thought it was at its best. “Please Give” focused on people’s insecurities and their inability to deal with the way they saw themselves compared to how they thought the world perceived them. Best of all, in order to remain honest with the material, the ending gave a sufficient sense of closure to its characters without being melodramatic or heavy-handed. It felt just right because, while not every problem was solved, I felt like the characters would continue to be a work in progress.

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)


The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Lindsay and Jenny (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie), American tourists in Germany, were invited by a boy to attend a party. But on the way there, their car broke down in the middle of nowhere. Desperate for help, they decided to walk to the nearest house they could find and telephone for help. The two unlucky women knocked on Dr. Heiter’s (Dieter Laser) door. It just so happened that the doctor, a renowned surgeon for dividing siamese twins, was in need of human subjects for his latest experiment. Written and directed by Tom Six, when the film started, I thought it was completely hopeless. The acting was egregiously laughable, the script was terrible because the characters lacked internal dialogue, and the kidnapping happened on a cold, foggy, rainy night. On top of that, Lindsay and Jenny made the worst decisions. When asked by Dr. Heiter if they were alone, they decided to be honest instead of saying that the rest of their friends were waiting for them in the car. When offered water, they made no hesitation to drink it. Not for one second did I believe that the girls were from New York. They lacked common sense. However, there was something mesmerizing about how the twisted events played out. When the girls had finally woken from the effects of the drugged water, I was convinced that the director purposely made the first fifteen minutes to be comical. He was aware of the conventions of the horror genre and he wanted to make fun of it. The real horror was thrown on our lap when the doctor explained to his subjects, using images from a projector, what his experiment was about. Although I felt sick to my stomach, admittedly, I was curious how it would turn out. The best scenes were when Lindsay ran around the house to look for an escape route. I was glad that Six remained true to Lindsay’s character. She just wasn’t a very bright person. When given the chance between going through an open door that led to freedom and saving her friend in the basement, she chose the latter. A smart person would have ran like the wind through that door and not stopped until she found help. Through delayed gratification, you can save someone later by not saving them now. Instead, she was stuck trying to carry her friend’s body up the stairs and around the house. Didn’t it occur to her that Jenny was recently drugged and would not regain consciousness any time soon? But I digress. Maybe she just panicked. I must commend Laser for playing such a cold and utterly unsympathetic character. Every look, body movement, and silence between his words was terrifying. The film offered no reason why he wanted to make a so-called human centipede. Perhaps it was simply because he had an innately curious scientific mind and he just wanted to see if he could do it. “The Human Centipede (First Sequence)” was a shocking, disgusting, grotesque horror picture. But it was also, and more importantly, brazen, darkly comic and inventive. The more I looked into the details of its craft, such as having a Japanese character which was most likely a wink to equally twisted Japanese horror films, the more impressed I was with it.

Deathtrap


Deathtrap (1982)
★★★ / ★★★★

Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine) had a dark ideation. Once a successful playwright but now struggling to keep up with his reputation due to his recent flops, he came across a manuscript written by one of his former students named Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve). Sidney invited unsuspecting Clifford to visit his home in order to offer some advice to make the play better, murder him, and pass Clifford’s work as his own. Sidney’s wife (Dyan Cannon) had heart problems in the past but she reluctantly went along with her husband’s devious plan. It took a bit of time for me to get into this film. At first I thought the plot didn’t quite know how to move forward. I also had some problems with its tone. Did it want to be funny or thrilling or both? I wondered, could it have its cake and eat it, too? I also found the acting a bit amateurish, especially Cannon. I was aware that the picture was based on a play written by Ira Levin but her acting felt stuck in that medium. I thought she was annoying, whiny and needy–a damsel-in-distress who stuck by her husband for no good reason. However, after about forty minutes, it gained its footing and the material showed me it had intelligence. Very unexpected twists upon twists were abound but what I liked best about it was it felt like a play but it gained enough power to work in a cinematic medium. The tension became so high to the point where the exaggerations almost felt necessary. Caine impressed me because I’m used to watching him play quieter characters that are almost grandfather-like and humble. It was a breath of fresh air to see him so bitter, so angry, so flawed. His character caught my attention because it was the kind of character that valued his reputation more than anything else. He talked of sociopaths which made me wonder if he was projecting his own characteristics onto someone else. Sidney Lumet, the director, astutely used mood as a weapon to surprise the audiences. At times watching the film was like reading a novel. Just when I thought the picture was over because the mood was reaching a serene plateau, it suddenly came to life and delivered shocking punches. In less experienced hands, it might have felt too contrived or forced. Lumet’s direction certainly helped the sudden shifts in mood to feel as natural as possible. “Deathtrap” did not start off with flying colors but it is difficult to deny that it was a sublime murder mystery once it found a connection with its core. Fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s slow but compelling thrillers should eat this one up like candy.