When I first heard that Charlie Chaplin made a movie that poked fun at Adolf Hitler, I didn’t quite believe it. Chaplin started work on The Great Dictator well before World War II broke out, and the film was released before the United States entered the war, so, rather unintentionally, this became one of the first American propaganda films. Chaplin later said that had he known what was going on in Germany, he never would have made the film. But the film was made, and it is quite funny even today. Chaplin held onto his silent film style for a long time after sound became the norm, and this is his first foray into the world of recorded dialogue. But this is a Chaplin film, so wacky physical humor still takes center stage. This film is a bit of a relic, but it is interesting to see something I learned about mostly in history books lampooned in such a spectacular way, and also to learn more about the pop culture that contributed to America joining the war. And, like I said, it is surprisingly funny even today.
After some internal debate, I’ve decided to review The Room, written and directed by and starring Tommy Wiseau. Now before you freak out, I know this movie is bad. If you don’t know, it is so, so, so bad that it’s become legendary simply for how bad it is. So what’s it doing on this site of classic, essential, or just plain good movies? It’s so bad that it’s actually extremely entertaining to watch. There is no parody movie in existence that so perfectly parodies basic tropes in major movies as this, and this was done with total sincerity. It’s often said of bad but interesting things that they’re like a train wreck; this is like a train colliding with a submarine in the middle of the jungle. It is just so out there and completely inept that you wonder how any of this got put together in the first place. But it’s all there, and it’s immortalized on film, and there’s really nothing else like it.
“It’s such a fine line between stupid and, uh… clever.”
The concept of satire has been lost along the way of modern movie production. The American Heritage Dictionary defines satire as: “A literary work in which human foolishness or vice is attacked through irony, derision, or wit.” Most work marketed as satire today is instead simply parody, which imitates for comedic effect rather than use wit for social commentary. This is Spinal Tap, directed by Rob Reiner (Stand By Me, The Princess Bride) and starring Christopher Guest and Michael McKean, is a satire of the rock music scene of the late 70s and early 80s that uses parody as well as wit and derision to showcase how ridiculous it is. It’s produced as a documentary about a fictional band, and followed that formula so well that some viewers commented that they loved the movie, but wished it would have covered a more popular band. This mockumentary style has produced many films over the years, from Best in Show to Borat to What We Do in the Shadows, but my favorite remains This is Spinal Tap. It’s hilarious, memorable, extremely quotable, and earns its place as the greatest rock and roll comedy of all time.
“Let’s just say that we won’t be short of Chunky Monkey for the next month!”
We’ve had cop movies, and we’ve had funny cop movies, but I can’t think of another quirky British parody of a cop movie, let alone one that’s so hilarious as this one. Hot Fuzz, directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is at once familiar territory, parodying famous cop movies, and also delightfully different, set in a small British town in the country. The combination makes for one of the best parodies I’ve ever seen, and it’s a very good comedy in its own right as well. The Wright-Pegg team matured a lot since Shaun of the Dead, and the brilliance and execution of this movie mark a point when both truly hit their stride.
Though often overlooked, disaster movies are big business. The airplane subgenre alone currently has 77 entries—and the movie Airplane! lampoons all of them. It was written and directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, who were known mostly for sketch comedy at the time (Kentucky Fried Movie), but went on to write other parodies like the Hot Shots and Naked Gun series. It was also the first comedic performance of traditionally serious actors like Leslie Nielsen and Lloyd Bridges, who went on to be comedy legends. Whether you get the parody references or not, the movie is a serious contender for best comedy of all time and still holds up very well today.
The Princess Bride, directed by Rob Reiner (The Wolf of Wall Street, This is Spinal Tap), is a romantic comedy-adventure that’s quite unlike any other movie out there. It’s simultaneously a fairytale and a parody of a fairytale, and it excels at each. While other movies, like Shrek, have tried to walk this line, I can’t think of any that balance the two so expertly as this one.
“Just look at the face: it’s vacant, with a hint of sadness. Like a drunk who’s lost a bet.”
We live in a world today where there are well-written zombie serial dramas, successful zombie action movie franchises, and even zombie romantic comedies. It’s easy to forget that, for a long time, zombies were only a cult hit—they were not exceedingly popular, even when they had a commercial success. But when Resident Evil brought traditional action to zombie movies in 2002 and 28 Days Later brought smart writing to zombie movies in 2003, the stage was set for zombies to move into the spotlight. In 2004, Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim Versus the World) co-wrote and directed the first mainstream zombie comedy movie, Shaun of the Dead, starring Simon Pegg. Bear in mind, I’m watching this just after binge-watching six seasons of The Walking Dead. Does it hold up 12 years later? I think so.
“On second thought, let’s not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.”
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is so often quoted that it almost needs no introduction. Even if you’ve never watched the movie, you’ve likely heard phrases like, “It’s only a flesh wound!” or “Come and see the violence inherent in the system.” You may have even heard these so many times that you’ve been turned off to the movie. If that’s you, I urge you to give this movie a chance. There’s a reason why it’s one of the most quoted movies ever: it’s funnier than just about any other movie you will ever see.