Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I Saw This!!

I Saw This (double exclamation point) is a new feature wherein either Graig or David attempts to write about a bunch of movies they watched some time ago and meant to write about, but just never got around to doing so and now they they have to strain to say anything meaningful lest they just not say anything at all.  And they can't do that, can they?

In this inaugural edition of "I Saw This!!" Graig covers:
Headhunters (Netflix)
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (TV)
Tai Chi Zero (netflix)
Match Point (DVD)
iSteve (Netflix)
Upstream Color (Netflix)
The Lincoln Lawyer (TV)


Right, here we go.  Headhunters (2011), we must have watched this during the TV dead zone in late-December/early-January...that's how far behind I am on talking about movies... this first came to my attention shortly after the first season of Game of Thrones ended and it was hitting the rep theatres around Toronto to favorable reviews.  It's a Danish film that co-stars Game of Thrones Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister) which is how it came to stick in my mind.  Its star is Aksel Hennie as a corporate recruiter (or headhunter) who steals valuable paintings as a side job.  He does this in order to supplement his income so as to ply his leggy, blonde, model-gorgeous wife with the finest everything.  He does this as overcompensation for his lack in height, and the inferiority complex he suffers when he's with her.  He also cheats on her, which I'm sure makes sense somewhere, but I forget the particulars.

Anyway, Hennie is recruiting for a high-profile position when he's introduced to Coster-Waldau at his wife's art gallery (ah, right, she's how he sources the fine art he steals), and he realizes he's found the perfect man for the job.  Stuff happens, like Hennie discovers that his wife is having an affair with Coster-Waldau, and then Coster-Waldau attempts to kill him, multiple times over.  Again, I don't remember the particulars, but Hennie thinks he's in mortal jeopardy for one reason, but then it turns out it's for something completely else, and it's quite smart actually.

I remember it being a fun movie but a bit inconsistent in tone, but certainly entertaining and yeah, maybe worth watching again, now that I think of it.


All I ever knew about Remo Williams, I knew from comic book ads for the movie.  It starred Fred Ward, and it had him hanging off the Statue of Liberty at one point.  Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985) was so obviously planned as a new franchise starter, as a new action hero in the Indiana Jones vein for kids to urge their parents to go see [update, apparently he was based off the Destroyer men's adventure novels).  With superhero movies still rather impossible to make at the time (noting the diminishing returns of the Superman franchise), Remo Williams was a superhero for the Reagan era, a street cop who is adopted by a Chinese sensei to hone his body to physical perfection and pristine fighting condition to foil the nefarious plots that plague the world.  This is his origin story, a painstaking run through how Remo is recruited and then thoroughly developed so that he can sit cross-legged, held aloft by only his two pointer fingers, or navigate an obstacle course in the dark, backwards.

Most of this film is taken up by Remo's training under Chiun (the great character actor Joel Grey in yellowface), with a few action pieces along the way.  The cast is loads of fun, including the never-not-awesome Kate Mulgrew, Wilford Brimley as a computer expert, and J.A. Preston.  The most memorable element, as highlighted by the film's poster, is the Statue of Liberty sequence, which was undergoing reconstruction at the time, and was surrounded by scaffolding.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime action sequence and they did a pretty fantastic job coordinating it.

The film, from my first impression, seemed like a modest-budget movie, like an upscale, feature-length Television pilot.  It's corny in that 1980s way PG movies were, with a whimsical soundtrack, and bright, open camerawork.  Director Guy Hamilton was a veteran Bond director so he handles all the action well enough but it never feels like a proper motion picture... always like a TV show.  But at the same time, I thought it was was a cute action-adventure movie that is relatively harmless, even with it's slight stereotyping peeking through.  I wonder what was in the hopper for later films?


Like many my age, I was introduced to kung-fu films in conjunction with the release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  A few students at my university took to having kung-fu nights where I got introduced to some of the best action films like Wing Chun, Iron Monkey and Drunken Master.  For the next dozen years, I took a keen interest in Asian cinema, marveling not just at the amazing wuxia films coming from across the pacific, but the masterful samurai and anime and comedy and drama and horror and crime and monster and romance and and and....  China and Japan both have a rich, deep history of quality cinema, and Korea has in more recent years developed a very formidable industry of its own.  A plethora of genuine auteurs, working across genres find their way to our shores.

Throughout the late-90's and early-aughts, the best of the best of Asian cinema would wash up on our shores, vetted by distributors and festival programmers, the skewed appearance was that the East only produced quality cinema.  But in the past half-decade, it seems that there is a market in North America for all Asian cinema, and films just crossover regardless of how well they did in their homeland, or whether they gel with western tastes.  Enter Tai Chi Zero (2012) the first of a planned trilogy (its sequel, Tai Chi Hero came out the same year, much like how Back To The Future II and III were released only 6 months apart), a direly mediocre martial arts film that aims to have all the weirdness of a Stephen Chow movie but none of the inspiration.

Tai Chi Zero is supremely forgettable.  I think the main reason I didn't write a review of it after watching it is I couldn't really remember much about it.  There were a couple of really cute girls in it, I do recall, (Mandy Lieu especially, but also Qi Shu) and they tried to incorporate a bit of a steampunk element, but they half-assed it to the point of ineffectiveness.  The central character of the film never seems like the main character, and the resolution of the film is a non-ending that allows the next film to pick up directly after it.  Beyond that, the weird power the main character has, as well as its dire side effect are a total Chechov's Gun that never pay off, in this film at least.  It felt incomplete, muddling and generally a waste of time...


I discussed my "year of Woody" in my Midnight in Paris review, but to recap, in 2010 I ploughed through about 1/3 of Woody Allen's then oeuvre (given the man's prolificness, it's probably only a quarter now) making it to the late-1980's before calling it quits.  There were still a few of the big ones, like Mighty Aphrodite, Bullets Over Broadway and Husbands and Wives to get to, but I had to tap out.  I've caught only one other Allen film from more recent years, the enjoyable but average (at this stage, expected?) May-December romantic comedy Whatever Works.  Midnight in Paris was terrific, and the general consensus about Allen in recent years is that he's found a new groove, batting at least .500 in his 2-films-a-year output after a supposed dire run at the turn of the millennium.  The critical community points to Match Point  (2005) as the start of his new creative groove, citing the auteur's tonal diversion as its greatest asset.

But Match Point, for me, fails because Allen is so uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the genre he's playing in that it never comes across as an assured effort.  Allen dives into the world of romantic entanglements, not anything he hasn't dealt with before, but this time he puts a suspenseful spin on it, adding a level of severity to the characters' actions that can only spell the downfall of the film's protagonist.  The second act ends in murder, turning the suspense into a crime drama, and if I didn't know better I would think Allen was attempting a Hitchcock homage, but, again, it's not his forte.

I can't say why it didn't work for me, because I'm more than a few months' detached from viewing now, but if I had to guess it was that I didn't buy into the characters or their motivations , and that it felt that the script was pulling the characters forward, that their behavior only makes sense in the context of what the plot needs out of them.  Frankly, by the time the film ends I loathed the picture... (SPOILER) It ends with Jonathan Rhys Meyers' getting rid of the last bit of evidence by tossing it into the Thames, only to have it not "make it over the net" (a tennis metaphor), but that "unlucky break" was actually a lucky break when the ring winds up on a criminal and the murder gets pinned on someone else.  Are we supposed to feel victory for Rhys Meyers when he triumphantly struts out of the police station?  Ugh.  Next Allen: Blue Jasmine, then maybe Vicky Cristina Barcelona.


I shouldn't poop on Ashton Kutcher's casting as Steve Jobs, for all I know he did a fine job (no pun intended), but the guy cannot be taken seriously as an actor.  He's a punchline and it's going to take years before the critical masses show him any sort of respect (I'd wager about 35 or 40... a Shatnerpath, if he's lucky).  Meanwhile, Funny or Die, the sketch comedy website founded by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, made iSteve (2013) an incredibly low-budget feature to get out ahead of Kutcher's interpretation of Jobs' life, and releasing it for free online.

I don't know shit about Steve Jobs' life, but I'm going to come out and say that iSteve is a weirdly faithful adaptation of Steve's life, though it obviously takes many, many, many...many...many, many liberties to make the film as bizarre as possible.  There's not a lot of outright jokes or gags in the film, just an ever building sense of oddness.  Jobs is played by Apple pitch man Justin Long, which naturally comes into play when they hit the early 2000s and gets ridiculously meta.  Jobs' partner, Steve Wozniak is played beautifully by Lost's Jorge Garcia as a demure, oft-forgotten, lingering-in-the-background figure.  You always want him to break out in a scene, but he never does.  And then there's Dr. Venture himself, James Urbaniak who plays Bill Gates, who forges an undying BFF bond with Jobs upon their first meeting that gets reaffirmed and reiterated to such lengths as to be ill fated.  Jobs' affair with Melinda Gates (Michaela Watkins) plays off the early 90's trend of virtual reality sex with brutally crude digital animation that allow it to go to extremes without ever feeling graphic.

My favourite scene involves a party for Jobs that ends with a Robert Palmer performance, and the wonderfully reductive and nonsensical pseudo Addicted To Love riff and the terrible-yet-effective Robert Palmer impersonation just kills me.  The film is slow to start but the weirdness builds so subtlely and continues to do so that it just catches you off guard.  I would find it hard to recommend it, but those who like their comedy extremely dry, subtle and weird, they will (maybe) find the same gangly gem I did.


Primer was one of those low-budget, hard sci-fi films that I loved in concept more than in execution, but I also liked the execution a lot.  I waited a long time for Shane Carruth to make another film, and Upstream Color (2013) seemed to arrive under the radar (well, under my radar, at least).  I completely missed any news or rumours that Carruth was working on a new film, I don't recall reading any reviews, the screenings in local theatres bypassed me completely, and any kind of online reaction towards it must have been scarce.  I think it was actually David who told me about the film, and shortly thereafter it cropped up on Netflix... welcome to the modern age of cinema.

I wish I had caught Upstream Color in cinema, as, well, it's a slow moving, meditative picture that requires undivided attention, and it doesn't necessarily provide much clarity on its events or meaning until it's deep into the picture.  And frankly, I don't recall much at all about it.  I'm not certain that I liked it, I'm not certain that I didn't.

Let's be perfectly honest, I've fallen asleep every single time I've tried to watch Primer on DVD.  Doesn't mean I don't like it, but I think Carruth's pictures need my complete focus in order for me to invest in them fully.  I believe even after watching the film I still had to read the Wikipedia entry on it to figure out what I just watched.

Looking for a picture to post alongside this, I actually started to recall the events of the film a little's about connectedness, a group of disparate people whose lives start crumbling after being kidnapped and experimented on, and something to do with pigs, and a weird flower...and...jesus, I dunno.  It was a trip, beautifully shot, but the puzzle of what's going on should be revealed to the audience (if not the characters) far earlier than it is, in order for us to have something to formulate a theory around what's happening.

It probably deserves a re-watch, but I'm not sure it earned it.


And there's the Lincoln Lawyer (2011).  David wrote about this a while back and his spin on it kind of stuck with me, or perhaps it was his spin on McConaughey, an actor whom I guess I had written off in a semi-Ashton Kutcher fashion as being kind of a shirtless, drawling punchline, having forgotten the guy can actually act and is fairly charming (a couple things Kutcher doesn't pull off quite so well). I love the concept of the Lincoln Lawyer (based off a book and a real guy too maybe?) about a super-capable defense attorney who operates out of the back of his Lincoln towncar, defends a lot of unsavory characters, which has established him quite a reputation.  I had assumed incorrectly that the film was going to be more vignette-style, showing the different sides of what he does, and you do get a taste of that, but like most 1980's Hollywood dramas, it works everything around a central plot.  In this case it's an upscale real estate brat played by Ryan Phillippe accused of a brutal assault.  It's a case that spins out of control threatening to take the whole movie with it.

It's a decent but conventional potboiler, the kind that sits comfortably next to The Pelican Brief and The Firm.  The nuanced elements of the script, like McConaughey's love-hate relationship with his ex-wife (the resurgent Marisa Tomei) and his less-in-focus business dealings are the more interesting meat of the movie and, I think David had the same feeling, that it was a missed opportunity to do something both unique and really special.

If anything came out of watching this, it's that even though I like McConaughey, I don't want to watch his films because I don't want to have to write about them because I don't want to have to butcher spelling his name anymore and then correct it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: Europa Report

2013, Sebastián Cordero -- download

I am not sure what I want out of my truly science fiction movies. Truly science fiction, you ask? The age old argument about hard science fiction vs soft comes down to a question of whether the dominant feature of the fictional piece is about the science involved and whether or not they strive for plausibility. But as a man of fantasy, I am not bent out of shape when a story of man's early attempts at space travel drops the reality in exchange for a creative story. But, as I was saying, I am not sure what I want out of true scifi but I guess it would have to be a sense of originality ... an attempt to explore something unique. This ain't it.

Sure, not the best opening paragraph for a movie I rather enjoyed. But, you see, the movie isn't altogether original. It's another depiction of humanity's first long term space flight. The Europa One was the first ship to leave near earth orbit since the guys went to the moon in the 60s. This time scientists send a team to Europa, the moon of Jupiter. Encased in ice, scientists believe there is water below the surface and where there is water, they hope ... life. But, for the sake of drama, things do not go well. So, we get suspense and drama and even a hint of horror. We don't get anything that has not been seen before when people in spaceships visit somewhere for the first time.

If the ideas are not original, the execution is at least expansive. They mix a bit of found footage styles with the feel of one of those BBC science drama-mentaries, where CG and special effects add to a story that is based on real science. The story sets itself up as a documentary explaining what happened to Europa One, so we know right away things did not go well. And through recollections and actual footage from the ship's cameras and helmet cams, we get the story of the last days of Europa One. The acting is tight, the cinematography exciting but like you always hope those TV science dramas would have a bit of Hollywood oomph behind them, I felt myself itching for a bit of fantasy with my hard scifi. What I did like was the though that this is how real space flight will be, fraught with disaster but still, the sense of discovery making it worth it.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: Elysium

2013, Neill Blomkamp (District 9) -- cinema

Even if Blomkamp never again does as ground breaking a scifi movie as District 9 was, i will probably always count him amongst my favourite of directors. I rather loved Elysium despite the story being quite facile. Shot in a different genre, this would have been a typical west LA movie where our anti-hero, who used to be a boy in the hood, is forced back from his attempt to go straight to pull off one final job; and it goes really really bad. Blomkamp takes this recognizable crime story and shifts it to LA a 150 years from now, when things have really really gone to shit.

In fact, Earth itself has gone to shit. The rich people abandoned it to live high above in a somewhat-Dyson ring space station. They left everyone else behind to work the crappy factories and live in giant shanty towns that probably cover almost every inch of surface. The poor work, get sick and die while the rich are idle and have magic med beds that heal all ills. This world is so fucking tangible I just loved it, obviously like the last movie, inspired by the shanty towns of Joburg. But there is a familiar hint of favelas there, as the people live half-way decent lives amidst the crap, doing jobs and raising kids, if you don't mind living in squalor. Where everything about Elysium, the space station, seemed plastic or CGI, Earth was dusty and rusty and so very real.

Damon's character is an ex-con working a factory job when he is fatally injured, forcing him back to the crime boss he worked for, to take that one last job. If he gets enough cash, he can buy his way onto a coyote style space shuttle, to break into the space station and use one of the med beds to heal himself, before his time runs out. To assist, the crime boss fits him in an exo skeleton that increases his strength and agility. That is the thing I love about Blomkamp -- his tech. The need for this thing of all hydraulics and electrics is minimal but it looks so good, so rough and ready. Add to that the rusting shuttles, the grungy street samurai played by Sharlto Copley and the nimble robots that do most of the dirty work for the citizens of Elysium and I am enamoured with Blomkamp's sense of design and setting. I just hope he can snag much more compelling scripts in the future.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: Evil Dead

2013, Fede Alvarez -- download

The original The Evil Dead is one of those movies we spent during college years sharing with everyone. It is the best of the best of low budget, cheezie, gory horror movies. It set the tone, like Halloween and Friday the 13th before it, for many bad clones and copies. It also established a precedent of mixing horror and humour together, but perfected keeping with the tone intended -- in other words, not turning into farce. 

This movie cares not a wit for the humour of the first, beyond in a comic relief "that is so dumb" sort of way.  But as a general horror movie it is not so bad. It takes the premise of the cabin in the woods that collects and tries to kill a bunch of dumb kids, to the current era.  This one takes place during a weekend to help an estranged brother and sister deal with her addiction problems, with some friends tagging along for good measure. The cabin has the infamous book of the dead, now Naturom Demonto, in the cellar and the usual dimwit decides to read it. Monsters are summoned, evil spirits abound and people pseudo-die. And very real kill each other.

The movie replaces Ash with resourceful, tenacious Mia, the recovering addict. She not only survives the onslaught of the demonic possessed bodies of her friends and brother, but also is able to kill the boss-level monster that is summoned during the events. She is as maniacal as Ash ever was but it is a cliche of another type to see a small featured woman overcome Big Evil. As an update to the movie, I cannot really complain about its buckets of blood and over the top tone, considering the source, but other than a replacement for a great movie that 20sumthins of today are not likely to find appealing, I didn't really see the point of this movie. It is technically well done, but left me cold. I think I will stick with Cabin in the Woods as an update to the genre.

P.S. Great poster but for the overlayed text. The text is pure B.S.  And for an even better poster, see this fanart at Deviant.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: Life of Pi

2012, Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Hulk, Eat Drink Man Woman) -- Netflix

There are some movies that you should see on the big screen. Pacific Rim is good on the small screen (yes, I got the BluRay on Tuesday *squeeeee*) but you really haven't seen it unless you've seen the big monsters big and heard the boom over large speakers. I do not think it would be worth seeing Gravity on a small screen.  This is one such film, but not for the explicit details you might miss or the large soundscape that most home sound systems can't handle. This movie is meant to be seen on a large screen, like a large painting should be seen at the museum in life size, in all its glory and bright colour. This movie is just stunning in its colour and grandeur. I regret not seeing it 12 feet high.

If you don't recall, the movie is the screen adaptation of a very very popular short novel from Yann Martel.  The story is of a young man trapped in a life raft with a tiger who together survive an ocean crossing.  I have not read the story, in my usual dismissing of things that are extremely popular, and assumed that the movie must have worked masterfully (yes, I am a fan of Lee) at extending the short premise into an entire Hollywood movie. But no; if i read my summaries correctly, the entirety of the story dominates the movie with very little artistic license, beyond the use of incredible visuals to supplement the fantastical nature of the story itself. It makes me want to go back and read the book.

One element of the movie, that I assumed was added to bring the story down to earth, and yes, *SPOILER* was the rendition of an alternate meaning for the circumstances told by Pi to the Japanese officials, whose ship was lost. He tells a much more realistic and gruesome version of being trapped on the life raft for so long, not with tiger and zebra and hyena but with other less than wholesome humans. While I am not religious, I rather enjoy the element of life being a story and that story is better with God. For me, I translate that to 'life is better with wonderment'. This is an essential part of human nature that adults give up far too early. I only hope I can keep my own story alive and full of fantasy, not dragged down by gruesome details.

Monday, October 21, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: GI Joe: Retaliation

2013, John M Chu (The LXD, Step Up 3D) -- download

From dance movies to franchise action movies? I get the director's transition... no, no I don't but who am I to decide how the suits move the popular franchise onward in a way the first movie didn't. The first movie was terrible, but it really didn't affect me. I am not a Joe... do GI Joe fans even have a nickname? If not, there it is. Go Joes. Anywayz, I was not broken up the first movie was terrible, as I have no childhood attachment to the subject matter. But I am always up for a genre action movie with some semblance of budget.

This is supposed to be a sequel and reboot of the first movie, dispensing with most of the characters (by killing them off which is an... odd choice) but hanging onto Channing Tatum's Duke for a short time to complete the transfer of authority. Actually, it was even longer than intended. I can remember the posters for this movie being all over Manhattan in the summer of 2012, claiming a July release date. It was Christmas before I wondered where the movie went.  Apparently Tatum's popularity demanded they expand his role. He still dies but more screen time brought the fans of his striptease to this movie, I guess. Makes complete sense to me. O_O

I am not sure why they had to kill the majority of the characters to reboot the franchise, as they could have easily just used alternate characters in a tight little plot that didn't involve the characters focused on in the first. But no, this is a big, flashy SaveTheWorld plot involving Zartan masquerading as the President of the United States and threatening to destroy the world. Of course, to accomplish the reboot, team GI Joe has to die. All of them, who apparently all were camped at a forward operating base which was obliterated. I would have assumed SOME would still be hanging out in fancy bases but I can only guess that any who survived were arrested and are locked away somewhere. So it leaves one tiny team to save the world. Plenty of action and explosions and mooks killed by ninjas, which might be all it needed to make the fans happy. I was very meh. But at least it wasn't terrible.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Three Short Paragraphs: The Bay

2012, Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Wag the Dog) -- download

I wanted to start this review with, "Yep, that is right, a director so Hollywood famous that you know his name, did a B-grade found-footage horror movie." But then I looked at Levinson's IMDB listing and, well, his heyday was quite a while ago. Not that there is anything wrong with that; one thing fame in Hollywood should afford is the right to take things easy, slow down and do the kind of movies you want to, instead of what is just handed to you by the producers having those cafe meetings I always imagine.  But, my point is, he is not trying to make a come back with this, he is not damaging his career, he is just doing a pointed movie about a topic that interested him, in genre fashion.

The movie takes place in a small Chesapeake Bay town. Pieced together from  "found footage", our main character was a fledgling reporter who saw it all first hand. She is coming clean about the ecological disaster caused by sewage run off from a chicken farm. I am not going to spoil anything by saying to you that the stars of the movie are the isopods. Go ahead, Google it. They are the water born cousins of sow bugs that can grow to horror-movie sized critters. And one breed of them is known to eat the tongue of certain types of fish. So, you can see the easy setup here. We are already creeped out by them.

Levinson had read about how Chesapeake Bay was becoming an ecological dead zone due to factory run-offs and other human created contaminates. He wanted to do a movie that brought this to light and ended up with a horror movie, that succeeds in pointing out what is going on, but exaggerates things to the n-th degree. This is not a ground-breaker, not a new revolution in horror film making. It is just a decently done, solidly told story that is equal parts Jaws, zombie movie (think the bio-contaminates ones) and infection movie. It also has hints of the 60s coldwar horror movie, where denial of any wrong-doing plays a big part. But I still wonder whether Levinson sees himself as succeeding, or not, in this genre.

P.S. Nope, no 31 Days of Halloween this year. But we are going to attempt to do a Countdown to Halloween on the last week. I will be starting a new job that week, so maybe.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

JFL42 Comedy Festival 2013

Last year's JFL42 festival of comedy started off on a wrong note with a horrendous delay in getting the festival passes after ordering.  Coupled with the confusion about how the festival works and not having a usable smart phone to effectively check in and reserve shows, there was a lot it had to overcome to make it worthwhile.  What it has was some damn incredible comedeians and the more shows you take in the more value you get out of the festival pass.

It was an easy decision to do it again this year, particularly when discovering the early announced line-up included four of my favourite acts (Mulaney, Kinane, Maron and Burress) with two of the headliners (Silverman and Ansari) vying for my headliner selection.  The ticket ordering process this year went incredibly smoothly, with my festival pass arriving within hours and buying a pass for my wife at the same time required only a couple clicks on a simple "Transfer My Pass" process.  Months before the festival, it had already started things off right.

What wasn't so great this year, however, was the scheduling, partly my fault but also a problem with the organization of the acts.  There was a bit of bunching of the bigger names towards the end of the festival, overlapping at the same time, which was problematic and caused me to miss out on two favourites, Hannibal Buress and Maria Bamford (there were midnight show options for each on Thursday and Friday nights, but not much of an option with work and kids.  As well, there didn't seem to be as many name acts this year as there were last year, and it was very close to the starting date when the last half of the 42 were revealed.  There were a lot more hosted events, which I guess is fine, but I didn't think to investigate them until deep into the festival.

So committed to the festival this year were we that I called in my mother to fly in to watch after the kids.  We only had four nights booked when we asked initially but we took advantage of the in-house babysitting and jumped on a couple of extra shows.  I matched my show attendance from last year (8 shows) but packed even more extracurriculars with my wife into the week.  Where she only saw three shows plus the headliner last year (Louis CK), she caught all the shows with me this year and it made for a far better festival experience.

Here's a few brief recaps of the shows:

Mark Little and Kyle Dooley (opener Todd Graham) - September 20, @The Comedy Bar, 7PM
I didn't know what to expect.  I love Picnicface, the sketch ensemble of which both are members, and Little is a great stand-up in his own right (saw him last year), so I had hopes they could deliver something entertaining.  And it was something, all right.

Todd Graham was an inspired choice for opening act.  He has a quiet, reserved delivery, with dry punchlines and methodical pacing led to a slow laugh build-up (often to the point of uncomfortably awkward), but ultimately quite funny.  Little and Dooley follow Graham on stage with a stark counterpoint, kicking over the mics, crunking to some hardcore hip-hop and screaming like they're wrestlers from the 1980's WWF.  The aggressiveness was disarming, like shocking your skin by jumping in the snow out of a sauna, bracing but it wakes you up.  They don't let up from there.

Little and Dooley construct a loose, free-flowing narrative about attending their high-school prom that takes dozens of diversions that seem improvised (and to a degree are) but are still an important part of the overall structure.  There's a third member to their team in the booth playing music queues and interfering with the proceedings causing Little and Dooley much hilarious consternation (as the unseen third man, he's brilliant and every gaffe or interruption led to comedy gold).

Little and Dooley's irreverent production was jam packed with so many clever elements and funny bits that my mind overloaded.  A section of the show found Little becoming so irate with the errors from the sound tech that he starts ranting, his rants at first repeated by Dooley, then Little starts speaking for Dooley (which Dooley also repeats) before stepping out into the crowd, doffing his shirt, taking glasses from various audience members and piling them all on one audience member as a "glasses totem".  It's hard to effectively describe, but certainly a memorable live experience.

The overall show was so amazing that my wife and I had every intention of returning for an additional viewing but scheduling conflicts interfered with that plan.  Definitely the right way to start off our festival, an easy highlight.  My biggest hope is that one of the performances was captured on video as there's so much in there I would like to witness again.  I wonder if much of it was the live setting (I'm quite sure of it) but I also believe that it would translate well to home viewing.

Jerrod Carmichael (opener Mark Forward) - September 20, @The Comedy Bar, 9PM
 I've heard him as a guest on Comedy Bang Bang a couple of times and heard a few short sets he's done.  Carmichael is a new-ish comic that's garnering a lot of attention, and the kid has some definite comedy chops as well as charm to spare. . What he doesn't have is a solid 45 minute set, and thus it felt more like a workshopping appearance and less a refined headliner.  His attempts to engage the crowd weren't received well.  He basically just asked two or three times if anyone wanted him to riff on anything, and the only reply he got was "Rob Ford" (eliciting major groans from the crowd), but once he learned he was the crack-smoking mayor, his eyes sparkled and he went off.  Carmichael can riff, I'll grant him that, but while full of promice, overall the set was a scattershot work in progress.

Opener Mark Forward was great.  Forwards a Canadian pro, with a solid roster of odd material (including an opening conceptual piece about monitoring his phone for news about his grandmother which had a great payoff).  I got the sense he could easily have pulled a headliner set.

Sam Simmons - September 23, @The Drake, 7PM
"In Australia, all comedy is like this".
What a delightfully odd place that must be.
Simmons I caught on a Jon Dore hosted Just For Laughs alternative program earlier this year.  I didn't catch his name at first but upon seeing a clip while looking for shows at the JFL42 site, I immediately recalled how much I enjoyed him.  His hybrid stand-up/prop comedy/performance piece ebbs and flows between self-effacing, self-aggrandizing, hyper-sexual, off-beat, way-off-beat, outright bizzare, conceptual, clever word play, silly word play, groan-inducing wordplay, audience interaction, odd-ience interaction, audience berating, conversations with himself (pre-recorded), and things with food.  Lots and lots of food.  It's a little more than an hour of weirdness pummeling the audience, with an 80-to-20 hit to miss ratio, and a lot of those misses Simmons can turn into hits with his self-effacing or audience-berating tactic ("Fuck you guys, that was brilliant").  Simmons has no shame, even when he's pretending to be ashamed.  There's running bits throughout the show, with the Old El Paso Taco Kit playing a major part right up until the epic taco-crushing finale.  A decidedly entertaining and unique experience.

Marc Maron (opener Andy Kindler) - September 24, @Queen Elizabeth Theatre, 7PM
I've been listening to Maron once or twice a week, almost every week for four years.  His podcast, WTF, has reached over 400 episodes now, and each episode he engages in a one-sided conversation about his life and what's going on.  Maron's not just a comedian to me, he's a friend, a dear friend, someone whom I care about, yet I've never met.  I had only heard him perform shorter sets, seeing them on youtube or Comedy Central programs, but it was only early in the year when I received all four of his stand up records that I ever heard him as a full act.  But listening to him over those four albums is to hear him evolve as a person, not just as a comedian, and a lot of the stories and jokes were familiar to me in one form or another as he reshapes them on the podcast in rants or conversations (often he retells them in a "I have a joke about that with X as the punch line" way).  It's great stuff, but at the same time, knowing Maron so intimately -- as all his regular What The Fuckers, What The Fuck Buddies, What The Fuckanadians etc do -- is to worry about him and hope his show goes well (he had just had a bomb set a week or two before his JFL42 appearance so that was fresh in my mind).

But Jesus, what I forgot is that Maron is a fucking professional comedian, a 30 veteran of the industry, and seeing him on stage is to see a master at work.  He is incredible.  Within seconds of him arriving on stage you could tell he was loose, poking fun at his opener and friend Andy Kindler (more on him at the end), and he was ready to get into it (he followed that up with a brutally funny physical impersonation of his friend and fellow comedian David Cross).  Maron is a professional talker.  He has bits and his bits are incredible.  He's managed to hone his bits into a form where they don't sound like bits, they sound like conversation, and so when he's not in his bits you can't really tell he's riffing.

This was the first time I've seen Maron perform an hour that's wholly fresh to me.  I was thinking that because of his podcast that I would have known all the jokes or knew where he was going but I was absolutely swept up by seeing someone so capable of working a crowd and engaging them both as friends and potential enemies.  I love Maron, so there's total bias in this write up, but he absolutely killed and I was just floating by the end of the show.  It was like I finally got to put a face and physicality to that disembodied voice that rings around my earholes so often (Maron's also taller and more handsome than I had pictured).

Now Andy Kindler, on the other hand... well, I was immediately soured when he was announced and took the stage as opener.  I don't like Kindler for all the reason's he seems so completely aware about why people don't like him.  He's opinionated but in a manner that makes him seem bitter and envious.  His act is free of jokes, save for some Vaudevillian one-liners he likes to toss around knowingly, otherwise he's just got this shtick of being a jaded bottom-rung Hollywood type and completely self-denegrating.  He gets his laughs from his sad-sack self-awareness (he acknowledged the warm crowd at length and discussed how this was his best show ever, despite the fact that it was only a lukewarm crowd), but it wears thin very quickly.  His anger and vitriol towards specific individuals or organizations or movies or programs in Hollywood seem to have no other viewpoint than "I don't like it because it's successful", leading to no jokes, just hate.  The best thing to come out of Kindler's set was the not that tired joke, but Maron's poking fun at him.  For all the jokes Kindler makes at his own expense, within a minute of being on stage Maron topped those two or three times over.

John Mulaney (opener Sean Patton) - September 25, @Queen Elizabeth Theatre, 7PM
If there was one act I could not miss this year, John Mulaney would be it.  His "The Best Meal I Ever Had" is my all-time favourite stand-up routine for a few years running.  His two albums, The Top Part and New In Town are comedy classics, the product of an affirmed comedic voice, one that seems to be getting better with age.  Mulaney's an expert storyteller, a gifted wordsmith, and he has mind-mouth coordination like few others.  His bits waver from funny to stitch-ripping hilariousness.  He entered the stage expressing that the evening would include a lot of new material, but if that was actually true, none of it was evident (except at one point where he declared "That's staying in the act!").  It seemed as polished a routine as either album, and whether it's just the confidence he has on stage or just general quick wit, there was nary a lull in his hour-long set.

Mulaney closed the show with a sister piece to "The Best Meal I Ever Had", which was a story called "The Best Night I Ever Had", about the time he was 8-years-old and met Bill Clinton.  The story takes a few necessary diversions (as most of his stories do) but it all builds an incredible picture that puts you right into the scene with young John as your avatar.  There's a moment in the story where Mulaney notes that the fundraiser where he would meet Clinton was held at the same ballroom that you see at the end of the Fugitive.  He drops a few notes of description, pauses for a moment to gauge the audience, then proceeds with the story, only to backtrack and detail more descriptors, not of the ballroom, but of the scene from the Fugitive.  He then pauses, assess the audience, then proceeds with the story once more, only to stop, backtrack and go off on a very intricate, 2-minute, obsessively detailed description of the climax of the Fugitive.  It's an applause worthy feat that sets a peak for the Clinton story that doesn't let down.

I was unfamiliar with his opener Sean Patton, but his set was entertaining, and I like his style, which was enough for us to fill in our Thursday night 9:00 gap with his headline performance.  More on him shortly.

Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet - September 26, @The Dakota Tavern, 7PM
Okay, I know it's not a JFL42 show, but it could have been.  Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet were the house band for the Kids in the Hall, which makes them a part of comedy history and certainly helped in endearing them to me as one of my favourite bands of all time.  The Shadowy Men, a not-quite-surf-a-billy threesome disbanded in the early 90's and after the death of bassist Reid Diamond were destined to be a band for the history books.  With their first album Savvy Show Stoppers reissued on vinyl last year, Shadowy Men reformed with Sadies frontman Dallas Good (if you're going to replace someone named Reid Diamond, only someone named Dallas Good can fit the bill), who played with Diamond and drummer Don Pyle in their post-Shadowy effort Phono-Comb.  The reforming was a three show event which led to a few more smaller shows last year, and a surprise residency during September this year at the Dakota Tavern.

This was my third Shadowy Men show in two years and where the first time was a quasi-religious experience (so many emotions from my youth came flooding back, as well having one of my best friends from high-school and adulthood there with me who lives on another coast, experiencing this live performance we never thought would happen... it was miraculous), this third time matched the second in a smaller, far more intimate venue with a hundred other devotees of old, and a few new.
The Shadowy Men rip through their repertoire at breakneck speed, one song leading into another, into another, into another...six or seven in a row without a pause.  I love the music and know the songs intimately, (though, through the years the names of the tracks have begun to escape me).  It's like a warm audio hug, just utter pleasure listening to Brian's guitar sing and watching his hands move, seeing Don's sweat over his drums and dropping a few pithy comments at rare intervals when he speaks.  I noticed I haven't paid much attention to Dallas Good in the past (since Pyle is the voice of the band, and Connelly is the spotlight, the bassist is easy to overlook), but I made a point to focus on what's going on with the bass this time.  Knowing that Good is playing Diamond's original bass I have to wonder just how much that particular instrument is integral to the band's sound.  The bass is so prevalent in the songs but also so overshadowed by Connelly's amazing hands that one so often wants to attribute signature moments in the songs to Connelly's guitar.

They played two sets, Connelly blowing out his amp at the end of the first set, causing a delay for the second, and thus causing us to miss out on its latter half as we had another place to be.  Still, absolutely amazing, every time.  I've had Shadowy Men songs running through my brain ever since.  I love it and will never tire of it.

Sean Patton (opener ?) - September 26, @The Comedy Bar, 9PM

This was a blessing.  Patton's opening set for John Mulaney was good, but it didn't imply how great Patton was a headliner.  The undersized crowd at the comedy bar spoke volumes as to how criminally below the radar Patton is flying, but judging by his uproarious, often shocking, often dark, often jubilant set, he's slated to appear all over that radar very soon.  Patton kicked off his act by sermonizing the crowd, then launching into his deep impression of Christian comedy, which at once is painfully unfunny, and conceptually hilarious in execution.  Patton then launches forward into a masterclass on storytelling, interspersed with some straight up jokes and aces crowd work.  His storytelling, an exaggeration of his own life, is filled with dark spots but presented with an affirmative nature so that it never drags too deep so as to take it out of comedy (though it threatens a few times in his closing story about his 12-year-old naive indiscretions).  He wavers in and out of hinting at a southern Nawleans drawling accent, and on occasion plays fully into it as a character type.  He knows his material and can command a stage, he's got a refined voice and he's ready for the next level.  His subject matter may not be to everyone's taste, and he likes to fuck with the audience's trust just enough to perhaps be off-putting to some, but overall should definitely break him out.  It was a revelation, one of my new favourite comedians.

His opener (whose name I've forgotten, but probably for the best) was a bit of a mess on the other hand.  Her act was a shambles, with punchlines flying out without jokes and jokes without punchlines.  Often repeated was "I don't know what I'm saying" which may not be a bad catch phrase if she's able to say a lot of hilarious non-sequiturs in a manner that seems like she doesn't know what she's saying.  Unfortunately it came across as her not actually knowing what she's saying, far too often.  It was continually unfocused and unrefined, there was a lot of senseless cursing and at times unbridled anger that seemed to have no direction.  Somewhere in there is a voice that has a unique perspective but judging by this performance it's a ways away from being found.

Kyle Kinane (opener Rob Mailloux) - September 27, @The Mod Club, 7PM

If there was a highlight of the festival, it would be Kyle Kinane.  I've been a fan of Kinane since he appeared on the Nerdist's first Comedians You Should Know showcase (episode 51) and he's only gotten better.  His first album Death of the Party found a not-so-young-but-still-young Kinane presenting his unique dark hilarity in a refined state, but his second album, Whiskey Icarus revealed the genius that was hiding from that first album.  Like Mulaney's set this year, Kinane has a new hour that seems polished and ready to go to press, his voice so strong that he fills every moment with a nugget of brain joy uniquely his own.

Comedy can be about telling jokes, but the best comedians are storytellers, those that can take even the smallest moments, like throwing out a handful of change, and turning them into epic reveals about the human psyche and making them relatable, as well as spinning them so cleverly on their previously unknown axis that they build in how funny they are.  Kinane this hour bares his soul, yet somehow in the most reserved way possible.  He's crying out about how lonely and damaged he is while contrasting it by doubling over his audience in laugher.  Kinane has a gift of riffing, able to talk and hit upon particular words that even if you miss two-thirds of what he's saying it's still going to perpetuate your laughter.  He has a bit about gay porn which is funny, but only crescendos when he starts expounding upon a scenario he's never seen but would like to see.  Though it's unlikely I'm ever to hear "butt-to-butt" out of the context of this joke, if ever I do I'll likely collapse in giggle fits.  His "butt-to-butt" riff sustained for so long that I nearly threw up from laughing so hard.  It's a good thing I didn't eat dinner before I went.

Kinane, even moreso than Mulaney, has one of the most unique voices in comedy, strictly speaking timbre and tone here.  The only other comedian who can make me laugh so hard just by talking is Buress (still sad I missed him).  Kinane's set was a gift, a treasure trove of turns of phrases that are so odd, yet sharp that you want to swirl it in your ear, rattle it around your brain and slide it out on your tongue again and again.  You will want to develop your own Kinane impersonation because half of the hilarity is in the delivery.

Rob Mailloux was the dark and tortured opening act.  Steeped in material from his seemingly very painful personal life, Mailloux talks about being adopted and his own anorexia as well as about horrifying medical maladies.  He's able to inject enough humour to make them palatable but they're still too shocking and too bleak of subject matter (and obviously still all too relevant to Mailloux) to fully transcend in the same way Maron or Bamford deal with their demons on stage.  His act is really good in foundation but it's still too much of a gut punch to be considered enjoyable.

Aziz Ansari (opener Kyle Kinane) - September 27, @The Sony Center, 10PM

In 2005, whilst visiting New York City, I bought 3-disc comedy compilation called Invite Them Up, a weekly premiere alternative stand-up showcase presented by Eugene Mirman and Bobby Tisdale.  It was a concerted effort on my part to discover more comedy, having then-recently found David Cross and Mitch Hedburg and realizing I liked this stuff.  On that compilation the stand-out sets came from two sources, one Demitri Martin, the other Aziz Ansari.

In that set, Ansari talked about a senator who compared gay marriage to bestiality, particularly with box turtles, and postulated that this senator was really into turtles.  He also had a delicious rip on Kanye West whose music he loves, and whose personality he's fascinated with, and speaking Tamin in a brief encounter with M.I.A.  Ansari's dive into both pop-culture and political arenas was just what I was looking for and he became a fast favourite well before his major turn on Parks and Recreation and his subsequently awesome comedy albums.

This time around Ansari is laser focused, a singular topic in mind...that of, err, being single.  His new set is part comedy, part culture study, as he walks through all he's researched and learned and observed on single life, dating rituals as they compare to other countries and other eras.  It's evident that Ansari is growing up, and despite being a successful actor and comedian he's still trying to figure out some aspect of life.  It was surprising to witness a whole act without a single story about Kanye, but also kind of refreshing to watch him interplay with the audience and build upon that freewheeling in his act.  It was a strangely intellectual yet no less enjoyable.

What I learned though was that a multi-thousand seat theatre, like the Sony Center, isn't the best way to view comedy.  Particularly after coming off of seeing Kinane in a few hundred seat room, it was interesting to see him repeat much of the same material in a much bigger room, on a much grander scale.  The comedy doesn't play as well, though still amazing, and I've figured out that, at least for me, it's the space.  The laughter doesn't fill the space of a big theatre like it does in a smaller setting, the laughter needn't drown out the comedian, but they should have to fight to keep pulling you back in.  For stand-up, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre is probably the largest venue that can house it without destroying the sense of intimacy.  Ansari has gotten used to working crowds the size of the Sony Center and has built an act that's meant for such a space.  At the same time, it doesn't have nearly the same impact as Kinane's Mod Club set or Mulaney or Maron's Queen Elizabeth Theatre set.


For JFL42 next year, some recommendations:
- Doug Benson for the whole week, doing stand-up, doing Doug Loves Movies, and doing Benson Movie Interruptions.  I would go to every single one.
- Deborah DiGiovanni I haven't seen do stand-up in some time, and I miss her.
- Kristen Schall and Kurt Braunohler
- Ron Funches
- Jonah Ray
- Kumail Nanjiani
- Headliner suggestions: Flight of the Conchords, Tenacious D, David Cross, Mindy Kaling, Joan Rivers (seriously)

...I've got more (I'll add them for posterity later).