Despite COVID-19 restrictions, Aussie writer, director, producer and cinematographer David Parker (Malcolm, Diana & Me) has just uploaded a new short film called Isolation Restaurant [made with life partner and frequent collaborator Nadia Tass] online for free. We chat to him about his long and winding career.
Though best known for playing Danny Tanner on the TV sitcom Full House and hosting America’s Funniest Home Videos (remember that one?), Bob Saget’s creative tendencies on the whole veer into far darker territory. His stand-up comedy is coarse and full of F-bombs, and he famously parodied himself to shocking effect on TV’s Entourage. Saget also has a sideline career as a director, with titles like Dirty Work with fellow comic Norm MacDonald and the full-tilt piss-take Farce Of The Penguins. Benjamin is his most ambitious film yet, and like his very career itself, it walks a fine line between sentiment and outrageous political incorrectness. Driven on by the script from Joshua Turek (making his feature debut after a host of shorts), Saget doesn’t hold back on this comedy about a bizarre case of family fracture.
When the harried, anxious Ed (Saget) discovers drug paraphernalia belonging to his quiet, near somnambulant teenage son Benjamin (Mark Burkholder), he does what any parent would do: he stages an intervention, and invites over seemingly everybody he knows. There’s his cocky brother Rick (Kevin Pollak); his best friend, also Ed (Rob Corddry); his personal assistant come lover Jeanette (Mary Lynn Rajskub); his daughter Amber (Clara Mamet) and her two boy pals; his ex-wife Marley (Peri Gilpin); and two distant relatives (Cheri Oteri, Dave Foley) who proceed to lift all of his removable possessions as soon as they arrive. Once in place, the intervention soon takes second place to the bizarre interactions between this truly strange collection of characters.
With its single location, heavy reliance on dialogue over action, and uninhibited ensemble cast, Benjamin feels curiously like an adaptation of a stage play that never was. Its insularity, however, is exploded by the inherent kookiness of the script and the inventive performances of the cast, all of whom are more than happy to “go there.” Featuring quite possibly the (intentionally) worst man-on-man fight scene ever filmed and an amusingly loose approach to subjects like drugs, cross-dressing, infidelity, and family relationships, the very funny (and often very wrong) Benjamin is another appropriately original entry in the career of Bob Saget.
“Where shall we go next?” “Oh, Greece is nice this time of year”. “Yes, let’s go there.” Is this the conversation that pertains in the planning meetings for Michael Winterbottom’s now extensive series starring two comedians going on a trip?
Whatever prompts their choices or governs their schedule (and of course they won’t be flying anywhere for the foreseeable future), this series has gathered some loyal fans.
Once again, we have Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing themselves and bantering and bumbling along in enviable locations. They have the grace not to play themselves as too perfect, but this too is becoming part of the shtick. Steve is a bit vain and self-aggrandising (but he has shown a broader range as an actor and screen writer in real life than Brydon), but prone to flirting and taking offence at imagined slights. Rob is more the family man; more stable perhaps, and his job is to gently needle his friend. This time there is a major drama for one of them but somehow the gravity of this can’t be treated too head on for fear of spoiling the whole concoction.
Both of the performers are killer mimics, of course, and the greatest pleasures here, as in the others, is when they riff on a theme or a celebrity and do whole conversations in character. Some of the voices they adopt would be better known to English audiences perhaps (Brydon’s version of playwright Alan Bennett is eerily perfect) but the ideas of the impromptu sketches are always funny in their own terms.
This time, there is a running gag that they are following in Odysseus’s footsteps and so there is room to do a kind of Horrible Histories piss take on mythical heroes’ travails. But this never really had much legs. Also, usually there is more concentration upon the food which is traditionally a mix of gourmet restaurants and perfect local eateries. This time, we scarcely catch the waiter’s description of the little plated marvels. An obligatory foreign waitress provides some opportunities for self-conscious flirtation.
It doesn’t seem to matter in one way, as it was never really about the food any more than it was about the views or the travel details. Then what IS it about? Well, that is both the mystery and the problem. The chemistry between them made it easy watching, and the banter often contained absolute gems. They have still got some of that, of course, and diehard fans will get something out of this repast.
Judd Apatow's latest (overlong) comedy stars SNL's Pete Davidson as a dead fireman's son who smokes too much pot, has heaps of tattoos, an overachieving sister (Maude Apatow), a secret girlfriend (Bel Powley), a mum (Marisa Tomei) dating another fireman (Bill Burr, who looks like the MVP) and Steve Buscemi as a mentor. Count us in!
Some of Australia's best male character actors - Jamie Oxenbould (who also wrote), Richard Sydenham,Gerard Carroll, John Batchelor, Harley Connor, David Callan - join a dancing anonymous type group, in director Claude Gonzalez' fun film.
Australia is busting at the seams with talented young filmmakers creating content for TV and the web, all off their own steam, and with seemingly little financial reward. Though high quality material is abundant, much of this work fails to break through into the mainstream, which is, to put it mildly, a damn shame. Hopefully, the utterly delightful comedy, Hot Mess, will buck the trend and capture hearts on the large scale that it truly deserves.
Written and directed by Lucy Coleman (whose web series, On The Fringe, is online now), this thoroughly contemporary tale of love, desperation, and misplaced priorities has the smarts and savvy to make its non-existent budget an instant non-problem, and even a strange kind of strength.
At the centre of this finely judged piece of comedic economy is 25-year-old Loz (Sarah Gaul is an absolute revelation here, expertly navigating a difficult but truly loveable character who bounces all over the emotional map), a burgeoning writer who seems intent on sabotaging her own success. Hotly touted to be awarded with a coveted writer-in-residence gig at a theatre run by the no-nonsense Greg (a nice turn from Sydney acting school godfather, Terry Serio), the talented Loz constantly jeopardises her chances by coming up with increasingly graphic and confronting feminist-minded material. Harangued by her concerned and disapproving mum (well played by Zoe Carides), the hopelessly adrift Loz sees an anchor in Dave (the gifted and charismatic Marshall Campbell), a nice guy who might just be the answer to her romantic dreams. Unless he’s not…
Cleanly but imaginatively shot by DOP, Jay Grant, and boasting a just-right musical score by Jack Hambling and Tom O’Dea, Hot Mess really sings when it comes to performance and script. Lucy Coleman’s dialogue is loopily of-the-moment, but it never feels cloying or contrived. Her characters speak like smart, thoughtful young people do in “real life”, and the creation of such pitch-perfect dialogue is no mean feat indeed. It’s helped to no end by the actors speaking it, all of whom ring and sing with wit and authenticity. Effortlessly current but undeniably timeless, Hot Mess is a warm and wonderful work from a very exciting new voice in Australian comedy.
Laura Dundovic, Miss Universe Australia 2008, features in this clip from the Australian rom-com written and directed by, and starring (obviously - he's in this scene) Alex Lykos, taking a lot of inspiration from Woody Allen.
Biology fact: The left hemisphere of the brain controls the right of the body. It is the part of the brain that deals with analytic thought, logic and reasoning. And it’s also known for having a goatee, wearing sunnies and wrist full of bracelets. At least that’s how it is in Me and My Left Brain, the latest from aussie filmmaker Alex Lykos (Alex and Eve).
Lykos plays Arthur, a man who gave up a cushy job so he could pursue his dream of being an actor. His success appears to be fair to middling with Arthur carving out a career for himself in independent theatre. However, when an audition call is made for a higher profile project, Arthur decides he needs to put himself out there. Wanting to have an early night before the big day, Arthur instead begins to obsess about his relationship with his friend, Helen (Chantelle Berry), and starts spiralling down a rabbit hole of past memories.
That right there is enough to fill up your average indie, but Lykos goes a couple of steps further by having Arthur air out his insecurities and panic to the personification of his Left Brain, played by Malcolm Kennard (Catching Milat). Cutting magic realism off at the pass, Me and My Left Brain doesn’t rely on a Drop Dead Fred scenario wherein Left Brain becomes a real boy and gets up to ‘shenanigans’. No, Left Brain is just an average part of Arthur’s life; a roommate who doesn’t need a lot of maintenance.
Kennard plays Left Brain with the joyous swagger of someone who cares for their dweeby little human but finds frustration in their Woody Allen-esque pontification. When Arthur bumps into friends who have done better than him, Left Brain is on hand to hurl abuse at them on behalf of Arthur, who can only be meekly polite.
As the night wears on, the two men – one man and a lobe? – bicker about whether Helen was much more than a friend whilst buying milk, watching pornography and pretty much anything else that isn’t going to get him a good night’s sleep before the Big Day.
Me and Left Brain could easily jack-knife into bro-ish, friend zone lamenting, clap trap where ‘women just don’t get it, man’, but avoids it by Left Brain skewering Arthur’s obsessive nature. As memories are rehashed via flashbacks, Helen is never made out to be flirt or a tease; she’s a fully rounded human who isn’t as easy to read as she would be in other rom-coms.
Lykos and Kennard play off each other well, but so too does Lykos with his other co-star Rachael Beck, who portrays Arthur’s best friend, fellow actor Vivien.
At times, however, Me and My Left Brain is too theatrical in its execution and begs for more of a flourish to separate present day Arthur from his night time worries. With Left Brain cutting down Arthur’s worry, it feels like there was a missed opportunity for a Rashomon effect, where we see events from the logical lobe. Additionally, the film’s conclusion, despite its obvious charm feels like we’ve spent so long with Arthur’s head that we now need to rush towards the end credits.
Overall, for anyone who has ever experienced that late-night self-doubt that blossoms into insomnia and anxiety, Me and My Left Brain will be immediately relatable. Through his snappy dialogue, Lykos captures that never-ending circle of a thought process where you manage to put something to bed before a fresh new detail arrives on the scene to unpick everything.