283 posts categorized "Comedy"

March 31, 2018


ZABU-THE-CAR“Chief Zabu” is a fascinating cult comedy for an odd collection of reasons, not the least of which is the punchy comic chemistry that flows between died-in-the-wool New Yorkers Zack Norman and Allen Garfield.

Garfield plays Ben Sydney, a slimy New York real estate developer angling for an economic foothold on Tiburaku, a tiny Polynesian (recently independent) island nation. Ben falls for conman George Dankworth’s (Allan Arbus) pie-in-the-sky promises about an island known for its proximity to French nuclear testing. Naturally, Ben wants to pitch Dankworth’s $5000 buy-in to his pal Sammy (Norman). Dankworth has gone so far as to ship over a phony diplomat Chief Zabu (Manu Yupou) who is supposedly attempting to gain admission of Tiburaku into the United Nations.

Lucianne Buchanan

The comedy is all about tone and irrational gags, as when Sammy has adulterous [loud] sex with an investor’s wife (Lucianne Buchanan) much to the dismay of his neighbors.

“Chief Zabu was completed in 1986 but yanked after negative previews. Nonetheless, for nine years, Zack Norman took out a weekly ad in Variety that featured his face with the line “ZACK NORMAN As SAMMY In “CHIEF ZABU” in the hope of finding a distributor for the movie. It took until 2016 for a newly-edited cut of “Chief Zabu” to be publicly presented. If you ever have a chance to see it, don’t pass it up. Here is a rare comic artifact worth savoring.   

Zack Norman & Allen Garfield

Rated R. 174 mins. (B) (Three Stars — out of five / no halves)

January 27, 2018


Trip_to_spainMichael Winterbottom’s reliable comic road movie franchise, featuring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon doing endless Michael Caine impersonations, is the best Cinema franchise going. The films are based on a British television sitcom from  2010. This third installment follows films where the duo toured northern England and Italy.

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play close versions of themselves while going on another food-and-culture tour. This time, Spain has the pleasure of accommodating, or absorbing, the funny men whose verbal wrangling is the wry stuff of brilliant British humor.


The competitive man/boys attempt to outdo one another. While waiting for their dinner to arrive Coogan creates a constant high-pitched hum while appearing to speak normally. Rob Brydon picks up the bit and pretends to not be able to hear Coogan because his hearing-aid battery has died. The goof leads into Brydon doing his signature “Small-Man-In-a-Box” voice, which lives in a universe of bizarre hilarity.

Coogan reports, “life affirming butter” over the gourmet meal the men share while trying to crack each other up. Steve’s not imbibing this trip, so Rob is left to savor great wines alone.

Brydon makes fun of Coogan wincing due to shoulder pain. “You look like a tentative Nazi,” Brydon says in a camp German accent. The carrot juice is served.

The Trip To Spain

Brydon draws blood when he holds out his fork with a piece of food that he informs Coogan, as his physician, of the good news that they’ve found the cyst and it’s benign, the bad news is that they’ve “found seven more of them.”

Steve Coogan just loses it, and so too does the audience. It's one of the funniest scenes I've ever witnessed.

The “Trip” films have the appeal of watching two comic masters riffing as you might experience while watching a Jazz duo (Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, for example). Winterbottom puts a grace note of drama at the end that doesn’t fit the funny tone of the movie. It’s a mistake the director can fix during the next installment of this exquisite series of films.

Here's a freebie, courtesy of Steve Coogan. "Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana." Ba-dum-bump. Thanks Mr. Coogan, thank you very much indeed. 


The Trip to Spain is currently streaming on Netflix

Not rated. 108 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five, no halves)

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January 13, 2018


Colesmithey.comJerry Seinfeld caps off his comedian’s masterclass web series (“Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee”) with a beautifully conceived, and executed, performance of the exact jokes he told while climbing his first stairs of stand-up comic success back in the mid ‘70s. Manhattan’s Comic Strip comedy club, located at 1568 2nd avenue between 81st and 82nd streets, provides the original venue where a teenaged Jerry Seinfeld honed his first bits and comic chops.

Many of the jokes are from Jerry’s childhood. He tells about being a kid and admiring adult men’s habit of checking their pockets for objects they clearly don’t possess. We get a glimpse of Jerry’s “Superman” bookends he’s had since his boyhood, exhibited on the back of the piano of the Comic Strip’s tiny stage.

The hilarious stand-up performance switches periodically to docu-styled narrated sequences that take us to locations where Seinfeld built his early reputation as a world-class comedian. We see him sitting in the same department store window at Madison and 57th street where he ate his lunch every day when he was 21, and dreamed of being able to live off a loaf of bread as a professional comedian.

Jerry Before Seinfeld

“Women need a constantly expanding of cotton balls, while men require none.” Funny stuff.  

Jerry takes questions from audience members as he flashes through performing his early jokes with exquisite timing, phrasing, and physical embellishments. His material is so sturdy, clean, and quick that Jerry Seinfeld’s stream-of-thought reveries hit you with a seamless logic of inevitable laughter. A more polished comic performance you will likely never witness. It’s no coincidence that Michael Bonfiglio (“Oprah’s Master Class” television series) is the filmmaker behind this perfect example of stand-up comic entertainment.   


Jerry Seinfeld is currently running victory laps in overdue response to his legendary career as one of history’s most popular comedians. “Jerry Before Seinfeld” (a reference to the “Seinfeld” television show that ran for nine seasons) is a thoroughly enjoyable comic romp with a ton of historic context thrown in for fun. Here is a comic performance that’s from the ages, and for the ages. It doesn’t get any better than this.


TV-14 62 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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Groupthink doesn't live here.

August 20, 2017


Logan-lucky-posterAside from one very cheesy subplot misstep involving a little girl (Farrah Mackenzie) singing “Country Roads,” Steven Soderbergh’s “Lucky Logan” is a rollicking heist movie with an appropriately greasy sense of slick humor. An ensemble piece in the vein of Soderbergh’s “Oceans” franchise, “Lucky Logan” pinballs between a litany of goofball characters with bell-rings and comic zaps.

Most enjoyable is Daniel Craig’s comic turn as Joe Bang, an incarcerated bomb specialist of the Appalachian persuasion. Craig’s sense of comic timing is every bit as sharp as his snappy determination in his typecast role as James Bond. There’s something deeply satisfying about hearing Craig chew on a West Virginia accent like a stiff piece of jerky.

First-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt balances comic set pieces with no-nonsense action sequences as Channing Tatum’s blue-collar construction worker Jimmy Logan concocts a plan to rip off the freshly minted Charlotte Motor Speedway during a big race day. Jimmy is especially motivated due to his recent termination from helping build the raceway. The ever-versatile Adam Driver plays Jimmy’s bad-luck-plagued Iraq war vet brother Clyde whose fortunes are poised for a 180-degree turn.   


As with any good heist movie, the joy is in the planning for the theft and the stuff that goes wrong during its execution. The movie wisely plays its narrative poker hand so that its closing reveal comes as a welcome surprise, albeit with a lurking plot element points to a sequel. Movie audiences could certainly do a hell of a lot worse than for Soderbergh’s Logan to get lucky twice, or more. This could be where Steven Soderbergh trades in one heist franchise for another. If so, sign me up for Luckier Logan now.   

Lucky Logan

Rated PG-13. 119 mins. (B+) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)

July 16, 2017


Colesmithey.comIf you’re the kind of person who likes to nap through summer movies in the air conditioned comfort of your neighborhood cinema then “The Little Hours” presents an ideal opportunity for a 90 minute nap. As comically flat as a glass top table, writer/director Jeff Baena’s would-be comic take on Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron” is nothing but a snooze from start to finish.

This filmmaker wouldn’t know slapstick from satire. Baena sets a mordant tempo for inert comic set pieces that never come together to form a coherent storyline. Talk about someone in need of binging on Mel Brooks and Sacha Baron Cohen movies for a year or two, Jeff Baena requires some serious immersion in humor because he hasn’t got a single funny bone in his body. There isn't an inch of comic depth to be found. Even scenes that have obvious opportunities for layers of comic suspense and multiple pay-offs get a one-note treatment. It's as if there wasn't a director on the set.

The narrative setup of a bunch of horny bitchy nuns living in a medieval convent might sound like great comic fodder but you come away from “The Little Hours” scratching your head as to why anyone in their right mind thinks Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, or Kate Micucci has any gift for making people laugh.

Of course, if Baena had really wanted to liven up the humor factor of this snooze-fest he could have picked up the phone and called, wait for it, yes, the one and only Amy Sedaris. I can never understand why Amy Sedaris isn't in every comedy made since 1990. Sedaris is the funny sauce to any filmic Hamburger Helper. But I digress. Amy Sedaris, Amy Sedaris, Amy Sedaris! I feel better now. 


Dave Franco fares little better as Masseto, a servant whose cuckolding services send him on the run and into the clutches of a nunnery where he must pretend to be deaf and dumb if he is to survive dominatrix-inclined nuns such as Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza). Fernanda is into verbal humiliation, knife play, and witch rituals involving male sacrifice. Plaza's twisted character comes across as too sincerely mean to laugh at. Too bad Fernanda forgot to wear a strap-on under her habit; that could have been funny.

This R-rated lame duck doesn’t begin to go far enough in its ostensible bawdiness. For that divine pleasure you’ll have to revisit Pier Paolo Pasolini’s far superior 1971 adaptation (properly entitled “The Decameron”). Talk about bringing "Kool-Aid" to the grown-ups party; there isn't even one comic gross-out bit in the whole movie. Remember "There's Something About Mary"? Now, there was one guffaw-inducing comedy.


I chuckled once during “The Little Hours” in a cinema occupied by one other person. If only I could have let myself fall asleep like I wanted to.

Rated R. 90 mins. (D-) (Zero stars — out of five / no halves)

August 18, 2016


Large_war_dogs_ver2“War Dogs” belongs to the same category of tone-deaf comedy as “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Venomously despicable white thieves are celebrated for their blind lack of ethics and integrity because these characters are oh-so [hilariously] gangsta, except they’re neither amusing nor badass. They’re people for whom no well-deserved ass beating is enough because they’re so smug it makes you want to throw up. You can tell a lot from this film’s tagline, “Money, Corruption and the American Dream.” We already know that those are all the same thing.

But I digress. If you don’t know the 2007 era tale of David Packouz’s and Efraim Diveroli’s adventures in making millions from the U.S. military by selling illegal guns and ammunition, you should read Guy Lawson’s March 16, 2011 piece for Rolling Stone. This film is not an appropriate way to wrap your head around the depth of incompetence and greed at play in U.S. Military’s halls of power and the rogue’s gallery of shysters that feed on America’s endless wars.

Miles Teller plays David Packouz, the posited good-guy of a duo rounded out by Jonah Hill’s lying-and-stealing Efraim Diveroli. While Ellen Page has built her career on playing outsiders, Jonah Hill is carving out his thespian livelihood as an eternal frat boy with a taste for skank and cocaine. Lou Reed said there was a justice in this world. Perhaps.


This film is inundated with Miles Teller doing such a carbon copy of Johan Hill’s speech patterns that the audience gets tripped up every time the disembodied voice-over narration comes on.

Directed and co-written by Todd Phillips (of “The Hangover” franchise fame) “War Dogs” is political satire lite. It’s a far cry from “Lord of War,” Andrew Niccol’s scathing 2005 satire about an arms dealer played by Nicolas Cage.

Packouz hates George Bush; Diveroli just pretends that he does too. Diveroli habitually mirrors his mark’s beliefs in order to swindle their money away, and oh what a filthy swindler he is. If anything, this is an anti-buddy movie. The narrative follows our dippy protagonist Packouz — he’s a masseur — as his former best friend from Yeshiva high school, returns to Miami to rope him into going into the arms business for a 70/30 split. Money flows but the biz is doomed from the beginning because neither of these guys understands the first thing about [illegal] arms dealing. Not that there is any other type of arms dealing than that of the illegitimate variety.


Bradley Cooper turns in the laziest performance of his career as arms terrorist Henry Girard. Cooper appears in all of five scenes with a laughably phoned-in performance. Ana de Armas provides the eye-candy as Packouz’s Cuban wife Iz, but even her portrayal feels remarkably thin due to yet another by-committee script. Like Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” this film is tailor-made for Trump supporters. Regardless of how stupid, reckless, wrongheaded, and uninformed they might be, most of those people aren’t making the mistake of selling Chinese ammo to the Pentagon.

The reason for these schmucks getting caught is the only funny piece of a movie that makes you feel dirty for having seen it. Do the right thing. Skip “War Dogs, and see Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World” instead. At least there you can feel equal parts bad and good.

Rated R. 114 mins. (D+) (One star — out of five / no halves)

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July 27, 2016



This predictably stagnant Hollywood reboot picks up a little entertaining momentum from its talented four female leads. The movie is worth watching if for no reason other than witnessing Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones turn on their comic charms. It might make you wonder why there aren’t more female-dominated movies coming out of Hollywood.

Co-writer/director Paul Feig’s vague attempts at splitting the difference between the '80s era of Ivan Reitman’s original story, and modern day New York, fail. Promising cameos from Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd tease at what could have added comedic texture to a paranormal adventure movie that goes through the motions when this comedy should obviously go over the top.

Scene-stealing credentials go to Kate McKinnon, whose winking character Jillian Holtzmann’s clear-cut lesbian tendencies provide comic jolts whenever she’s on screen. McKinnon's bold creation is one fun and funny character to watch.

An inspired dose of social satire rolls through the story. A clever reverse sexism subplot finds Chris Hemsworth playing Kevin, a straight man assistant to our lady scientists. Kristen Wiig plays the offending boss molester with masculine glee. Sadly, the filmmakers don’t exploit the set-up’s comic potential enough to make an impact.


Although the movie fails to connect its obligatory big spectacle sequences with the barely existent arc of its characters, the performances elevate the movie enough to keep you chuckling. It is a kids' movie after all. The Halloween costumes are already in production.

Rated PG-13. 116 mins. (B-) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

May 28, 2016


Cannes, France —Jim Jarmusch has grown as a filmmaker over the course of his rich and studied career. “Paterson” is his finest film to date. Everything about it resonates with a distinctly human scale. Every emotional expression carries the weight of patience. If there’s one thing Jim Jarmusch understands, it is poetry. Visual poetry. Filmic poetry. Poetry of thought. Poetry of intention. The list of ways that the auteur explores his subject’s sublime mundane reality, expands.

Adam Driver plays Paterson, a city bus driver from (where else?) Paterson, N.J. Paterson lives with his ingenious pixie of a wife Laura (Golashifteh Farahani). A Luddite sensibility provides the audience with a welcome escape from technology overload. Paterson doesn't even own a cellphone. Laura works solely in black and white, painting on textiles to create curtains, dresses, hats, and whatever strikes her fancy. She dreams of becoming a country singer. Perhaps a "harlequin" guitar by "Estoban" can help her dream come true. 

The compatible couple live in a just-so single lot cottage-style house with her dog Marvin. We know it’s Laura’s dog because Paterson never talks to Marvin; Laura does all of the people/animal communication. Still, Paterson takes Marvin for his nightly walk to a neighborhood bar populated by mostly black patrons. Paterson brings in a newspaper clipping about Iggy Pop being voted sexiest man alive after a gig in Patterson back in the late ‘60s.


The joint’s kindly owner/bartender Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley) adds the document to the Paterson Wall of Fame, which he keeps as a shrine over the cash register. It’s a poetic moment in a film gushing with emotional resonance. The ever-evolving filmmaker uses onscreen handwriting graphics to show Paterson’s beautiful poems flow from his hand.

“Paterson” is the kind of movie that you walk out of the cinema a changed person as a result of having seen it. The movie purifies the viewer in a gentle and loving way. It reminds us that we are all poets if we invest a little of our experiences into words. Welcome to Paterson.

Not Rated. 113 mins. (A) (Five Stars — out of five / no halves)


Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.


May 01, 2016


Keanu-posterKey and Peele (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) have become household names as a result of their hilarious and trenchant brand of comedy exhibited on their Comedy Central television series (“Key and Peele”). Their droll chemistry together is tighter and more magical than anything you’ve seen. Both comedians came from multi-racial families, and their innate connection shows in everything they do.

So it is that “Keanu” delivers laughs and sly social commentary with plenty of room set aside for kitten-cuteness from the title character. “I hear it means cool breeze in Hawaiian.”

You know going in that the movie is a riff on “John Wick,” the Keanu Reeves action film where he goes on a revenge/retrieval mission to get his stolen dog back from a band of ruthless gangsters. All of the bloodshed here is played up for its artificial nature. Characters are shot (apparently to death), only to pop up again later.

Rell (Peele) is a pot-smoking dude whose unseen girlfriend has abandoned. Rell’s soul-crushing heartbreak is quickly relieved when a kitten, formerly owned by a drug lord, shows up at his door. Rell’s best friend Clarence (Key) accurately describes his pal’s feline as the cutest kitten he’s ever seen. Indeed, slow-motion sequences of the freshly christened Keanu running across bodies and grass with equal ease prove the point.


At this film’s rollicking heart is a filmic discussion of code-switching, a topic that Key and Peele have addressed from various angles on their series. For the uninitiated, the practice of code-switching relates to “switching back and forth between two dialects or languages.” In this case the switching occurs between black slang and white-speak. You could call it “flipping” in the context of this film’s violence-prone action sequences that sometimes call for characters to run up walls and flip over backwards to land on their feet. At one point Rell accuses Clarence of sounding like Richard Pryor mocking white people. Clarence replies that Rell sounds like John Ritter. Funny stuff. Screenwriters Alex Rubens and Jordan Peele don’t hold back. N-bombs fall like hale on a clear day. In order to survive Rell and Clarence have to prove their street cred, and talking the talk is essential to their cause.

“Keanu” doesn’t approach high cinematic art, but it is an enjoyable and entertaining movie that features a slew of fun performances from the likes of Tiffany Haddish, Method Man, Darrell Britt-Gibson, and Will Forte. Naturally, the kitten steals the movie. All is as it should be.

Rated R. 98 mins. (B) (Three Stars — out of five / no halves)

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