Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Comedies - Bob Ham ""

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Favorite Underrated Comedies - Bob Ham

Robert Ham has been slowly but surely worming his way into the world of film criticism, having spent the last eight years working as a freelance writer concentrating on the wide world of music. You can read him tackle both categories within the pages of Willamette Week. If you just want to read him write about music, pick up a copy of Alternative Press or The Oregonian, or point your web browser to Spinner. If you just want to read some of his film writing, visit the streaming movie site Fandor. 

Comfort & Joy (1984; dir. Bill Forsyth)
In the view of some critics, Forsyth's fifth feature paled in comparison to his international successes Gregory's Girl and Local Hero, but for these eyes, it is the equal of those fine films. This heartwarming tale has a one of those plot concepts that could only come from the (dare I say it) quirky mind of someone like Forsyth: after his girlfriend leaves him, Scottish radio DJ Alan Bird (played by the underrated Bill Paterson) finds himself adrift before stumbling into a turf war between two Italian families who run fleets of ice cream trucks. This isn't a laugh-out-loud side splitter, but a fantastic heart warmer that never ceases to leave me smiling.

Aaltra (2004; dir. Gustave de Kervern & Benoît Delépine)
A blacker than black comedy from a pair of Frenchmen known first in their home country for their satirical TV work, and another film whose plot should have you chuckling even before you watch it. Two neighbors (played by the directors), fighting with each other in a field, are crippled by a huge piece of farm equipment. They then team up to travel - in their wheelchairs - to Finland to seek recompense from the company that made the combine harvester. Each set piece along the way finds them over and over again playing upon people's empathy for their wheelchair bound situation, are the best kind of discomfort comedy.

Soul Kitchen (2009; dir. Faith Akin)
Found this one by going through the yearly top 10 lists of one of my film reviewing idols, Mike D'Angelo, and I'm so glad that I did. A shaggy dog makes good tale of a German restaurant owner who struggles to deal with a long-distance relationship, his paroled brother, a snarky chef, and a herniated disc in his back, not to mention the rapid decline in his finances. You probably see where this film is leading at this point, but you'll never be able to map out the weird and wonderful path that it takes to get there.

The Man With One Red Shoe (1985; dir. Stan Dragoti)
I still need to catch up with the 1972 French film this was based on, but I might not want to let it overshadow my view of this ridiculous romp featuring some of my favorite character actors (Dabney Coleman, Tom Noonan, Edward Herrmann, Charles Durning, and Carrie Fisher) and one of Hanks' best comedic performances. The plot is surprisingly dense for a slapstick comedy and not easily summed up. I'll let the film's Wikipedia entry ( do the work for me and then urge you to snap up one of the many inexpensive DVDs of it floating around in the world.

Spalding Gray: Terrors of Pleasure (1988; dir. Thomas Schlamme)
This was never released theatrically but was instead lumped in with HBO's Comedy Hour series, which makes sense aesthetically, as the live sequences have the same dry quality of a TV filmed standup set. But throughout Gray's funniest monologue about his adventures buying a home in upstate New York and going to Hollywood to try to make it as an actor, Schlamme interjects filmed sequences that re-enacted the choicest moments of the story. This one became such a part of the firmament of my family's life that we still recite lines to each other some 20 years later.

I'm Still Here (2010; dir. Casey Affleck)
Was it me, or did the world seem ready to throw Joaquin Phoenix on the next rocket to Mars after his unhinged Letterman appearance or following the release of this weird mockumentary? It's a complete mess of a movie, but in the best possible way. Watching Phoenix slowly fall apart as he tries to kick off a hip-hop career. His scenes with Puff Daddy are some of the funniest moments I've seen in a film in the past 15 years.

The Extra Man (2010; dir. Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini)
I sincerely hope that it doesn't take until his passing for people to catch up with one Kevin Kline's best comedic performances in this underappreciated gem. He's paired nicely with Paul Dano, who plays a strange man who finds himself sharing an apartment with Kline and getting wrapped up in his roommate's world of escorting rich women to parties and trying to maintain decorum and civility in an uncivil world. Throw in the blossoming of Dano's sexual proclivities and you have all the makings of a strange and strangely charming classic.

The Landlord (1970; dir. Hal Ashby)
This kicked off both one of the greatest eras of Hollywood filmmaking, and the career of one of that decade's finest directors. The titular character is played by Beau Bridges, a rich kid who buys a brownstone in inner city New York with the goal of turning it into a huge playhouse for himself. But as he gets to know his tenants more, his eyes are opened wider and wider to the divide between himself and the rest of the world. This is more social commentary than straight up comedy but when Lee Grant gets on screen, she soars as the withering matriarch of the landlord's overly entitled family.

My Favorite Year (1982; dir. Richard Benjamin)
Not sure this fits whatever the criteria for an underrated film is, especially as most people like to point to this as one of the great Peter O'Toole performances. Yet, I never hear this film talked about for all of its other great qualities: some of the snappiest dialogue this side of The Philadelphia Story, the fantastic interplay between Joe Bologna and the rest of the cast, the scene when O'Toole's character, Alan Swann, arrives at Benjy Stone's house for dinner, and, with no offense intended, the only Mark-Linn Baker performance I can tolerate.


SteveQ said...

I didn't care for "Tall Blonde Man with One Brown Shoe," but then again, I didn't care for the remake either, which seemed like a shot-for-shot remake. I agree on all the rest... but I have yet to see Aaltra (sounds great!)

KC said...

I think that part where Grant pops open her handbag for the ribs would qualify The Landlord as a comedy. There are other funny moments, but that part just kills me.

Anonymous said...

The Forsyth quartet (add in THAT SINKING FEELING) is one of the great unsung runs of any comedy director. COMFORT & JOY may not quite be up there with GREGORY'S & LOCAL HERO, but, it's pretty damned good

el cornichon said...

I'm a big fan of the original "Tall Blond Man" and was really disappointed in the remake, which came off prudish, mean-spirited, obvious, and loud by comparison. But then I didn't like "Return of The Tall Man...", the sequel to the original either - a case of lightning not striking twice, or three times for me.

"Comfort and Joy" I agree with fully - one of my favorite Christmas movies!