Need A Laugh?

In the classic movie “The Caine Mutiny” the petty tyrant Captain Queeg assigns the deceptive title of morale officer to one of his unfortunate junior officers.  His responsibility in this position was to ruthlessly enforce the dress code down to the buttoning of shirts and the length of hair on the enlisted men.  Whereas this was a mockery of the concept of morale I believe that a morale officer is exactly what the country needs right now.  And to a large extent that is what President Trump has been attempting to do with his COVID-19 press conferences.  He’s trying to provide helpful information and an optimistic assessment of the progress we’re making in the dreary business of navigating through the pandemic swamp.  But we need more than that.  Trapped in our homes and deprived of even the opportunity to work we need some distractions.  We need some entertainment.

In a happier time, even just a short generation ago we could turn on the television and we would find on every network at least one show that was funny enough to distract us.  Back in the early 1990s you could watch Home Improvement with Tim Allen as a tv dad with his wife and three boys stumbling through the foibles of American family life with gentle humor and a very muted take on the battle of the sexes and the revolt of the young against their parents.  Later on, you could still laugh at the misanthropic but relatively harmless antics of Seinfeld and his neurotic associates.  Even during the 2000s you could see a show like King of Queens where the humor was more like a pitched battle between the husband and wife and the dysfunctionality of the older generation was on full display with Jerry Stiller’s portrayal of Arthur Spooner more resembling a mental patient than a normal adult.  But it was funny and the characters somewhat resembled real people.

That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.  The loss of any originality on network television seems to have killed off the sitcom.  The stupidity of the writing and the restrictions on the plot dictated by political correctness have rendered these shows unwatchable.  Maybe the better writers have moved over to cable stations like HBO and Netflix but the darkness of most of what passes for comedy on cable is pretty extreme.

And that is where we are.  As a society we are surrounded by joyless dysfunctional productions that are supposed to be entertainment.  The action shows aren’t good but they’re just supposed to tell a simple story of good versus evil.  That’s easy enough to do.  Comedy is harder.  It takes intelligence and an actual sense of humor.  Those two things are mostly absent now.  But that’s what we need.  A good laugh.

Luckily, there is a lot of old comedy available.  And there is probably something there for all tastes.  Everything from the tame antics of the Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello and the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s, to the early modern comedy of George Carlin, Mel Brooks and Rodney Dangerfield, to the outrageous Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, right up to the current rants of Dave Chappelle.  Of course, the definition of funny varies enormously depending on the audience.  It’s probably safe to say that generational tastes will divide the audience into several camps.  But what is undeniable is that the modern entertainment industry has destroyed comedy.

But we still need a laugh.  So, go looking for something that is funny and put it on and have a good laugh.  You need it and the rest of us do too.

What I would recommend is do a search online for what movies, tv shows and comedy recordings are considered the funniest for the time periods when your concept of comedy was formed and see if you agree with the opinion.  Look at general lists of comedies for these time periods and make a list of your own favorites.  Then rent or buy or stream a few of these comedies together in your own film festival.  Make sure you have your favorite popcorn or other snacks and enjoy.  Maybe tell a friend or two and have a virtual movie festival in separate homes.  You can make a deal to swap favorites and compare notes after the fact.

Just to show that my heart is in the right place I’ll throw a few out.  Now mind you, I’ll start off by saying my tastes are peculiar.  But there they are.  I’ll go with two W. C. Fields movies, “It’s a Gift” and “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.”  I always enjoy his henpecked husband routine and the melodramatic actress who plays his wife in both these movies is perfect.  I love telling Camera Girl that she treats me just as badly as Field’s wife in the movies.

Add in the first installment of the “Thin Man” series.  And finish off the early movies with the Marx Brother’s “A Night at the Opera.”  For the later decades we could take a couple of Bill Murray movies, say “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day.”  Maybe add a Jim Carrey movie, say the “Mask.”  And finish off with a cartoon that’s mostly a comedy like “The Incredibles.”  For a classic tv series I’d go with Jackie Gleason’s, “The Honeymooners.”

If you have any picks you’d like to volunteer leave them in the comments and share the wealth.

6 Underground – A Movie Review

Some of the longest-term readers of OCF may remember that I was a big fan of the first Deadpool movie.  And the lion’s share of that regards is probably due to the scathingly sarcastic humor that Ryan Reynolds brought to the part.  While discussing the attributes that I admired most in that movie with a millennial friend at work he mentioned that Reynolds had made a movie in 2019 that he thought also possessed some of these same characteristics.  That movie is “6 Underground.”  After watching the movie, I will agree that it does have some of the right stuff.

The premise of 6 Underground is that a billionaire technology inventor decides to fake his own death and recruit five mercenaries to form a team of ghosts to take down the worst of the worst human plagues.  Each will have faked his death and thereby prevent their family or friends from being hostages to their actions.  And even among themselves they are anonymous.  Ryan Reynolds is One.  A blonde CIA Spook is Two.  Three is a Hit-Man.  Four is a “Skywalker” (a traceur or one who practices parkour).  Five is a lady doctor.  Six is their driver.

The film is told in various jumps forward and back to show how Reynolds recruited his team and then to set the stage for the mission, to replace a brutal dictator with his more civilized brother.

One of the most memorable scenes is a car chase through the streets of Florence, Italy with the team being chased by a seemingly unending string of black sedans seeking revenge for a mafia lawyer who was robbed of his retina-scan-locked cell phone and also the retina needed to open it.  The driving and crashes are very well done and they are interspersed around Reynolds trying to unlock the phone with his victim’s gouged out eye in the front seat while Five attempts to remove a bullet from Two in the back seat while she is fighting a running gun battle against the other cars.

Reynolds isn’t as funny in this movie as in Deadpool but I enjoyed the movie.  I would say it is one of the better action adventure comedies.  So, if that’s a type of movie you enjoy give it a try and especially if you’re a fan of Deadpool.

The Shorter Fiction of P. G. Wodehouse – A Book Review

Pelham Grenville (P. G.) Wodehouse was an Englishman who came to America in the early years of the twentieth century and made his name as an author of comic fiction and musical comedies.  I’ve never indulged in his work for the stage but I have read a good dose of his novels, both long and short and probably all his short stories.  You may know of him as the author of the Jeeves books.  In these stories, Jeeves is gentleman’s gentleman to a rather dim-witted young British aristocrat named Bertie Wooster who invariable runs afoul of everything in his life from unsympathetic aunts, to equally dim-witted friends, to ill-fated romances, to, …, well basically anything more complicated than a highball glass.  The charm in the stories is the narration and dialog that Wodehouse assigns to these characters.  Bertie is an amiable and good-hearted nitwit and Jeeves is the brilliant, ever sympathetic and always accommodating vassal to his hare-brained liege.

In addition to his Jeeves stories Wodehouse had a number of other series that all take place in a semi-mythical England inhabited by, the useless younger sons of English peers at the Drones Club, the friends of Mr. Mulliner hearing about his various relatives at the Anglers’ Rest pub, the golfers buttonholed by the Oldest Member of the country club and the unfortunate associates of Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge reliving the misadventures of that much suffering man.

There is something like six hundred pages of Jeeves stories available and probably another six hundred pages of the shorter fiction for the other storylines.  But I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that there is a great deal of sameness in the plots in the Wodehouse universe.  Bertie runs afoul of a number of girlfriends.  His Aunt Agatha is the cause of more than a few of his misadventures, and the romantic disasters of his friends Tuppy Glossop, Bingo Little and Gussie Fink-Nottle all start to run into each other in the matter of plot elements.

And this is unsurprising.  Wodehouse admitted that he approached his comic fiction in the same manner as he wrote musical comedy.  The plots are straight forward and paper thin.  But the whole thing is an excuse for the dialog that showcases the blithering idiocy of the protagonists and forces them to throw their fate into the lap of Jeeves who like some kind of domestic genie provides a miraculous solution to the tempest in a teapot that Bertie and his circle of acquaintances have gotten themselves into.

I enjoy the stories.  But I recognize that tastes will vary.  Luckily any library will contain copies of Wodehouse’s Jeeves and other works to try out.  As a fairly representative sample I would recommend the story titled Jeeves and the Song of Songs.  Read it and put up some comments on what you think of it.

Here’s a representative sample of the prose:

“I don’t know why, but somehow, I had got it into my head that the first thing thrown at Tuppy would be a potato. One gets these fancies. It was, however, as a matter of fact, a banana, and I saw in an instant that the choice had been made by wiser heads than mine. These blokes who have grown up from childhood in the knowledge of how to treat a dramatic entertainment that doesn’t please them are aware by a sort of instinct just what to do for the best, and the moment I saw that banana splash on Tuppy’s shirt-front I realized how infinitely more effective and artistic it was than any potato could have been.  Not that the potato school of thought had not also its supporters. As the proceedings warmed up, I noticed several intelligent-looking fellows who threw nothing else.   The effect on young Tuppy was rather remarkable.  His eyes bulged and his hair seemed to stand up, and yet his mouth went on opening and shutting, and you could see that in a dazed, automatic way he was still singing ‘Sonny Boy.’  Then, coming out of his trance, he began to pull for the shore with some rapidity. The last seen of him, he was beating a tomato to the exit by a short head.

Academy Awards 2019 – Wake for the Woke

Dramatis Personae:  Ellen DeGeneris (ED);  Rachel Maddow (RM);  Caitlyn Jenner (CJ);

Scene 1: Announcer’s Booth at the Dolby Theater, Rachel Maddow, Ellen DeGeneres and Caitlyn Jenner hosting the PBS Oscars preview broadcast.

RM – Hello Woke Resistance America.  I’m here with Ellen and Caitlyn to cover the first completely hetero-male purged Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards.

ED – And what a liberating experience it is.  Not to have to deal with the male gaze.

CJ – Sing it sister.

RM – Whoohoo!

ED – Oh yeah.

CJ – And finally the Oscars are free to explore films about real people instead of restricting topics to dated stale paradigms.

RM – Well this isn’t the first time that will be possible.  Remember last year we had the fabulous, “Call Me by Your Name.”

ED – Yes, indeed and in 2017 we had the diversity rich, “Moonlight.”

CJ – At this late date must I remind you of the damning circumstance that neither of those films had a single transgendered character?

RM – True, but both were groundbreaking positive portrayals of gay people overcoming the hurdles that a judgmental world places in front of them.

CJ – How can you begin to compare the trivial annoyances of being gay to the titanic struggle of being trans?  I mean it’s unthinkable.  It’s almost as if you are transphobic or something.

RM – What?  Are you nu …   I mean no, no, no.  I’m so pro-trans it isn’t even funny.  Some of my best friends are trans.

ED – Me too.  Not like # metoo but as in, I also.  I’m a big trans-fan.

RM – Right sure.  You’ve really straightened me out about this.  But not that kind of straight.  I hate straight.

CJ – But I’m straight.  Do you hate me?

RM – How could you be straight?  You’ve had your penis removed.

CJ – But I’m a trans-woman.  Being straight just means I like men.  Are you doubting I’m a woman?  Because that would be trans-phobic.

RM – No, no.  I was just a little confused on the terminology.  Now I get it.  It’s all good now.

ED – Sure straight’s great.  It’s all good.

CJ – Hmmm, I’ll have to think about how I feel about all this but for now let’s move forward with the show.

RM – Absolutely.

ED – Yes let’s.

CJ – So the nominees for best picture are truly exciting and run the full gamut of artistic expression.

RM – It’s interesting that this year the Academy didn’t announce the nominees ahead of time but will reveal them as the award is being announced.  As a member of the Academy you know the list of nominees.  Can you tell us a little bit about their plots?

CJ – Certainly.  The first nominee is called “Unhealing Wound.”  It’s the story of a trans-woman coming to terms with the endless pain and psychic agony of hormone therapy and vaginoplasty.  This movie celebrates the bravery and specialness of trans-women.

RM – Hey that’s really something.  How brave.  How solemn.  That will be on my top ten for March.

ED – I’m there for sure.

CJ – The next movie up is “Man Enough.”  It’s the fictional account of the first trans-man in the Navy Seals.  It follows this extraordinary man as he battles arbitrary requirements of the transphobic military traditions to soar to the top of his field.  And he knows that he has finally arrived when he is joined by his fellow Seals writing their names in the snow during a training maneuver in Alaska.

RM – Inspirational, truly solemn.

CJ – It’s a musical comedy.

RM – Oh.   …  Brave then?

CJ – Sure why not.  Next up is the top contender for the Oscar.  It called “Made for Each Other.”  It’s the story of a straight married couple who get swept up in the excitement of transgenderism and become a transcouple.  This is also a musical although not a comedy.  There is a thought-provoking scene on their trans-honeymoon night where they bravely face the challenges of a trans/trans sexual relationship when they sing the duet, “Your Guess is as Good as Mine.”

ED – It sounds magical.

RM – I’ll bet the Chicago Tribune raved.

CJ – Absolutely.  And the last entry is a science fiction film about the first trans-gendered robot called eloquently AC/DC.

ED – So cutting edge.  I’m sure the special effects are ground breaking.

CJ – It’s in 3D.

RM – You know Caitlyn, these movies are just amazing and groundbreaking as well.  But I’ve detected a trend.

CJ – What’s that Rachel.

RM – Every single one of them is about transgendered characters.

CJ – Yes.  So?

RM – Well, don’t you think that there’s a danger of over-representing a very small proportion of the population and thereby losing the interest of the general public.

CJ – Nonsense.  The public is clamoring for trans-themed entertainment.

RM – But what about representing the rest of even the LGBTQ community?  Where are the lesbian and gay characters?

CJ – Stop being reactionary.  The debate is over.  It’s been decided.  Since the first ninety years of Oscar were essentially transgender phobic the next twenty years need to be exclusively transgender themed.  It will be fabulous.  It’s even being renamed the Olivias and the statuette will be put on hormone therapy immediately.

ED – Well there you have it folks.  Caitlyn has introduced us to the brave new world of the Oscars, I mean Olivias and we’ll go live to the ceremonies already in progress.  Speaking for myself, Caitlyn and Rachel, … uh where did Rachel go?

CJ – She just bolted and mumbled something about heading over to FoxNews.

ED – Oh, okay.  Well from me and Caitlyn, goodnight and have a brave tomorrow.