IMO: Bodily Fluids are Funny

Mike was a student  athlete of mine. His father was a pilot and encouraged his son to obtain his own pilot’s license. During his four years of high school, Mike racked up his hours in the sky. I admired him for tackling the challenge in addition to being the star of two sports teams and maintaining a high grade point average. A couple years after his graduation, he reappeared as my student at the community college where I worked as an adjunct instructor.. Pleased to see him and pleased to hear he was becoming a cop, it was summer in Illinois, hot and muggy, and I asked him if he flew, and he happily informed me he had his license and flew regularly.

“Ms. Bruchman, you should let me take you flying.”

I arranged to meet him after lunch at the regional airport. Along the way, I stopped for a bite to eat–onion rings with horseradish sauce. At one, he proudly opened the door to the cockpit, and I climbed into the small space about the size of the interior of my car. It was loud and hot in there, as we ascended and zoomed around the valley, the corn fields in tight rows, the Illinois River serpentine, and my smile constant.

“So, Mike, what did you have to do to get your license?”

With a mischievous smile, he dipped his wing to the left and leveled. Then he did the same with the right. “And I had to do this one, too,” and that’s when he dropped the plane. He steadied it and laughed at my expression, but I had the last laugh.

     Oh, no! I looked for a paper bag. A plastic bag. A container of some kind. “Mike, I’m going to be sick. Please, what do I do?”

“Okay, I’ll take you back. Hold on!” The sweat dripped and my stomach flipped. I projectile-vomited the onion rings in horseradish sauce over the windshield of the cockpit and down the front of my peach colored dress. We had to sit in it for fifteen minutes while he returned to the airport and requested to land.

When the propellers came to a stop, and he had turned off the switches, Mike rushed around and opened the door for me. He looked at me and the chunks that speckled the interior and said gently, “Go home and rest; I’ll clean it up.” I was so embarrassed I couldn’t say anything. I had to walk through the hangar past a gauntlet of people who pretended to ignore me. When I got to my car, I couldn’t stop laughing. A decade passed, and I ran into Mike at a local bar who gave me a bear hug, and we shared a beer and had a good laugh.

*****

What’s my one memorable Thanksgiving? The one where my grown children and their kids had gathered at my house and in the span of six hours, five of us were struck with the flu. People were racing to every toilet and retching in the bathtubs. It was quite the sight and strikes me funny now, the sounds of people puking and the bodily fluids flushed and cleaned away.

*****

A flamboyant friend, Lisa, was in the middle of sharing a crazy story in her small office one morning. A deranged man suddenly stumbled into her office trying to find a bathroom. He had shat himself; and she pointed, shocked, to her bathroom. He locked the door and painted the walls. Authorities were called, the poor man escorted away, and Lisa retched uncontrollably and begged me, crying, to clean it up. It was a long morning. She still owes me, fifteen years later.

Why should the gross parts of being human bring about a laugh? Perverse!

Jack Lemmon and Steve Carell

No. Steve Carell isn’t a better actor than the late, great Jack Lemmon, but he might be a contender. Their talent is similar enough for me to make the connection; if I had the inside ear of Mr. Carell, I would advise him to step up and follow Jack’s path and fight for more dramatic roles, because once an actor is associated to their Golden Age counterpart, it amps up the brightness of their star power. Consider George Clooney and Cary Grant. Tom Hanks and Jimmie Stewart. Brad Pitt and Robert Redford. Meryl Streep and Katherine Hepburn. Michelle Pfeiffer and Lauren Bacall, Naomi Watts and Grace Kelly–pairings I associate when I watch either one.

Steve Carell has deviated from comedic roles and branched out to flex his dramatic muscles. Carell’s got a gift for comedic timing playing dorky, clueless, good-hearted men. Frequently he is the butt of the joke or the rag-doll of the Gods. I’ve been laughing at his voice, his expressions, and his situations for almost twenty years. He had a cult following for seven years as Michael Scott, the principal character in the television series, The Office. In films, he grew away from the sophomoric comedy and turned to dark comedy. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) was an indie-great. Then he surprised many with his dramatic portrayal of creepy John DuPont in Foxcatcher (2014). Carell was convincing in the A-list ensemble cast of the comedy-drama, The Big Short (2015). When I watched him in Woody Allen‘s Café Society (2016), I was impressed with Carell’s role as the uncle whose mistress broke the heart of the protagonist, Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg). In 2017, according to Indiewire, LAST FLAG FLYING a Richard Linklater film, is a “spiritual successor” to The Last Detail (1973). That should be good. Another intriguing role Steve Carell will play in 2017 is the comedy/drama, Battle of the Sexes as Bobby Riggs and Emma Stone as Billy Jean King. In fact, it seems as though a new genre is blossoming. What was once labeled a dark comedy is now a “comedy/drama”. Please, what’s the difference? It’s the perfect stage for Steve Carell who is the new King.

There are not many actors today who can pull off comedy and drama. Jack Lemmon was an expert at both. I can hardly think of another actor who had his breadth of talent. Nominated 8 times and winning 2 Oscars (Best Actor: Save the Tiger (1974); Best Supporting Actor: Mister Roberts (1956), Jack Lemmon was highly esteemed by everyone in the business. He was a nice guy. A ham who wasn’t afraid to show humility and a sharp mind.

When I consider Jack Lemmon’s career, his younger roles, his goofy antics and energetic bursts, it is a type of stoogy-sidekick, the butt-of-the-joke character that Carell has played numerous times. It’s when Lemmon expanded his repertoire and included dramatic roles like the drinking-buddy tragedy, Days of Wine and Roses (1962) or the frustrated Bud Baxter in The Apartment(1960), it tempered the wacky expectation from viewers. Over time, he became ambidextrous, balancing comedy with drama with precision. Some of my favorite roles Jack played were as older men. Characters where time had passed them by. Desperate workers and discarded human beings who had lost their purpose in society. The older Jack Lemmon conveyed multiple emotions in a single performance. He was never wooden.

Steve Carell is in his early 50s; Jack Lemmon passed at 76 and worked to his final days. If Steve Carell chooses scripts that allow him to stretch his acting potential, I doubt he’d catch up to Jack’s 8 Oscar nominations and 2 wins, but who cares, right? Jack has a legacy, and Steve is bankable. Let’s see if Carell has the longevity that bypassed several of his contemporaries.

Lucky 13 Film Club February Topic

What a great cast, script, and costumes. Bravo, Robert Altman
What a great cast, script, and costumes. Bravo, Robert Altman

The Revenant sparked up many discussions on January the 13th. I thank everyone who stopped by to take part. What you missed it? No worries, check out the day’s conversation and add to the https://cindybruchman.com/2016/01/13/the-lucky-13-film-club-the-revenant/. Thank you, Tom at digitalshortbread, for co-hosting.

Annette Bening gives a fine performance. I love the stories of W. Somerset Maugham.
Annette Bening gives a fine performance. I love the stories of W. Somerset Maugham.

For February 13, the day before Valentine’s Day, I’ve invited my pal (She visited AZ and we met and hiked in the Red Rocks.) and the most congenial movie buff in the blogosphere, Ruth at flixchatter, to co-host February’s topic.  Have you thought about the comedic style of British films set in the 1930s that star female protagonists? Let’s look at three examples: Being Julia, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and Gosford Park. 

Frances McDormand and Amy Adams recreate the 1930s comedy.
Frances McDormand and Amy Adams recreate the 1930s comedy.
All you need do is revisit one or more of these British love stories. On the surface their plots are silly, but their themes are deep and Oscar Wilde’s influence abounds. They are visual feasts and fun to watch. I also like this period offering a glimpse of the two worlds of the rich and poor before WWII.
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Do you see a connection? Join us on February 13 and let’s talk about it. 

Colin Firth and the Strategy of Actors

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Colin Firth is a British actor I never tire watching even if his films are tiresome. His vulnerable, winning portrayals are due to his inquisitive eyes, expressive facial features, and an overall countenance that is understated yet pervasive. His gift combines the trials of an uncomfortable male while exuding a gentleman persona that captures the heart of his leading ladies. Initially you saw him in period comedies and dramas — Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC television series of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Shakespeare in Love (1998), or in the flamboyant film version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest (2002) come to mind. Contemporary characters such as Mark in Bridget Jones’s Diary or Jamie in Love Actually, continue his trend of playing the conservative Brit in a wacky situation representing British dry humor for which he is a leader. And he deserved to be nominated for his performance in The King’s Speech (2010) for which he won Best Actor at the Oscars. He has the luxury to pick modern dramas or comedies. So then….

This brings me to ponder, in general, the strategy of the actor and his career. Let’s assume they all crave a forty-year career with stats bearing longevity and accolades to clutter the walls and mantles of their homes, and if British, to be a Sir or Dame would be an honor.

Let’s face it. Firth is a fine actor who plays in too many mediocre films. Does that help or hurt him? Consider Anthony Hopkins. He, too, is a fine actor who has starred in a life time of mediocre films. He’s knighted. He’s prolific. His performances are predictable. I can count on one hand superior performances while sixty others are forgettable. Counter that with the strategy of British/Irish Daniel Day-Lewis (and arguably Leonardo DiCaprio who is adopting DDL strategy) of selecting few roles. Quality vs. quantity. I remember every film DDL has made (and Leo) while the amount of films Colin Firth has made–well, can you remember more than a handful? But is Mama, Mia good?

Nicole Kidman is the female version of Firth.
Nicole Kidman is the female version of Firth.

I recently watched Railway Man. It had all the promise of an outstanding film. It had the cast. The story. And yet, there was something missing. The film was about Eric Lomax’s struggle with PTSD. Decades later. It debilitated not only him, but his mates who survived the torture of the infamous Burma Railway and the Japanese labor camp. Some are suicidal and most are incapable of sustaining emotional connections. The true story has a fantastic twist of forgiveness and closure; it’s the best ending that borders on a fairy tale. How amazing that Takeshi Nagase and Eric Lomax as the torturer and the tortured could become by the end of their lives friends. It’s incredulous, and yet, there it is, nothing short of inspirational.

When you have Firth, Kidman, Stellan Skarsgård in a film portraying true events, I wonder and hope the film has potential to be stellar. But this film is nothing compared to the classic, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). In The Railway Man, the acting by Firth is fine. Everyone’s acting in the film is strong. So is it the script by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson that seems lackluster and paling in comparison to other World War II films like Schindler’s List and The Pianist?  If you want to know the history behind Eric Lomax and The Railway Man, check out this site for differentiating Hollywood truth and fiction HERE.   My point is, The Railway Man is a magical story, and it didn’t come off that way to me. It felt mediocre. That’s a crime.

It made me squirm for Spectre this winter.
It made me squirm for Spectre this winter.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014). Did you like it? I saw some British dark humor in it that had me chuckling. Like Shaun of the Dead (2004), the scene where Galahad (Firth) swings through a radical congregation with a sword and decapitates the zombies to the tune of “Free Bird”.  Well, it was funny, in a sick way that had me recollecting Monty Python and the Black Knight scene in forest. “Tis but a scratch!” Dark British humor. Gotta love it.  However, the entire time I am watching Kingsman: The Secret Service, I kept wondering why Colin Firth chose to be in it? It was an awkward film. Samuel L. Jackson was horrible. It was a mediocre film at best.  

Because Firth can play comedy and drama smartly, like a favorite doll, I want to pick him up and place him in only great films. He’s a gifted actor who seems to stick out awkwardly in mediocre films. What do you think?

Robin Williams

Fast-talking and frenetic, his delivery and ad-libbing was pure genius. That type of comedy is hard to pull off, but what lingers in my heart were the characters he played in his more serious roles. Robin was smart, wise, and sardonic. His thought-provoking monologues made you think and learn about life. There were always puns in his lines. Twists. Wisdom. His greatest talent was his sincerity. He had a rare gift for becoming his characters. Actually, I think the characters mirrored the man.

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Dead Poets Society (1989)

John Keating: Thank you for playing Mr. Dalton. I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.

John Keating: Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!

 

Good Will Hunting( 1997)

Sean: So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that.

Sean: You’ll never have that kind of relationship in a world where you’re afraid to take the first step because all you see is every negative thing 10 miles down the road.

Good_Morning,_Vietnam

Good Morning Vietnam (1987)
Adrian Cronauer: Excuse me, sir. Seeing as how the V.P. is such a V.I.P., shouldn’t we keep the P.C. on the Q.T.? ‘Cause if it leaks to the V.C. he could end up M.I.A., and then we’d all be put out in K.P.

 

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What Dreams May Come (1998)

Chris Nielsen: There’s a man Ian never got to know, the man he was growing up to be. He’s a good-looking clear-eyed fella… about 25. I can see him. He’s the type of guy men want to be around, because he has integrity, you know ? He has character. You can’t fake that. And he’s a guy women want to be around, too. Because there’s tenderness in him… respect… and loyalty, and courage. And women respond to that. Makes him a terrific husband, this guy. I see him as a father. That’s where he really shines. See, when he looks in his kid’s eyes and that kid knows that his dad really, really sees him… he sees who he is. Then that child knows that he is an amazing person. He’s quite a guy… that I’ll never get to meet. I wish I had.

 

Mrs D hero

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Mrs. Doubtfire: Dear, I always say, a flawed husband is better than none at all.
Miranda: Who needs a husband when I’ve got you?

 

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Hook (1991)

Peter: I want always to be a boy, and have fun.

Wendy:  You say so, but I think it is your biggest pretend.

 

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Patch Adams (1998)
Hunter Patch Adams: All of life is a coming home.

RIP.

Dear Bill Murray,

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What I admire about you is your ability to evolve. I’ve watched you since Saturday Night Live from the 70s and at 63, you are still funny. Bill, you’ve managed to do it all from stupid comedy like Caddyshack to drama like Hyde Park on Hudson. You are smart enough to know there are many ways to get a laugh. Those comedians who rely on one technique fall away in popularity while you have managed to transcend into new territory. Through the decades, you have consistently made me laugh armed with a frozen expression and a sly remark.

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The bottom line is you are entertaining. You don’t offend me or smack me in the face with a joke like Jim Carrey or Robin Williams or Seth Rogan or fifty others. Your smirk says it all. You laugh at us, enjoying your own private joke and the naked crowd before you is clueless. That kind of irony makes you brilliant. Who would have thought Bill Murray was the sharpest tool in the shed when he looks like an idiot?

Wes Anderson

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The secret to your success is Wes Anderson. You traded in your goofy self for characters in dark comedies and satiric situations where your smirk radiates. We all know Wes likes to pose people like portraits with great colors. This fits your deadpan personality perfectly.

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The relationship you have with Wes Anderson brought you grace in your fifties. The ensemble casts are quirky and wonderful. You’ve been in all of Anderson’s films: Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited(2007, Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Could Wes Anderson do without starring you? Probably, but why would he since you both make each other look stellar.

Other Great Ones

Your ability with dark comedy and your acting garnered respect from everyone in Lost in Translation (2003)  written and directed by Sofia Coppola. It’s the stuff that catapulted Sofia’s career and we all hope it is not her one-hit-wonder. Your chemistry with Scarlett Johansson was mesmerizing, and it solidified you as a symbol of the man who went through life more or less doing what he was supposed to and look what all that passivity got him? Loneliness, apathy, and remorse. Bill, it’s been your calling card ever since. 

Hunter S. Thompson is as weird as it gets, and you played him perfectly as Gonzo. In 1980, it was an outrageous time; it reminds me of the hedonism in The Wolf on Wall Street. Here was another crazy person from the 80s that was way out of control. Who else but Bill Murray to play the legendary journalist? Johnny Depp did a good job in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but maybe people should start with the 80s version with this wacky comedy.

Harold Ramis and Saturday Night Live

How many Saturday nights as a teen did I watch you play the sleazy nightclub singer? You and the original set were fantastic. Harold Ramis was the leader of your pack and held you all together. The 2014 Oscars featured a segment where you paid tribute to your friend and comedian/writer/director, Harold Ramis who passed away this year. Even though you didn’t see eye to eye during the 1993 classic, Ground Hog Day, you reconciled with this statement to TIME following Ramis’ death:

“Harold Ramis and I together did the National Lampoon Show off Broadway, Meatballs, Stripes, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day. He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him.”

The 80s and 90s made you commercially popular and established your career. I think you went from Ramis to Anderson. I think you need a collaborator, a co-conspirator, and your relationship with Ramis had a beginning, a middle, and an end and Anderson took over after your estrangement with Ramis. Who was the producer/director of all those goofy hits that made you famous in the first place? Ivan Reitman.

 

I thought you did a great job as FDR in the 2012 biopic Hyde Park on Hudson. You and Laura Linney were fine together as Franklin D. Roosevelt and the secretary/caretaker relationship that lasted over 30 years. The film had its holes, but I thought it showcased a side of FDR in a humane way–with a sense of humor–and you got him. I liked it far more than your critics.

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You can read the review I wrote about the film here:

https://cindybruchman.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/fdr-and-eleanor-roosevelt-appearance-and-reality-in-films-and-history/

You have a hit-and-miss record over the last forty years. I appreciate that you are willing to take risks and try new projects. I think you are great with Wes Anderson and love your dark comedies. Hang in there, Bill, and thanks for making me laugh.

Sincerely,

Your Favorite Fan

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