Bill Cosby: Far From Finished

Bill Cosby: Far From Finished

Bill Cosby: Far From Finished

 

Bill Cosby has been an artist who has always been around who I never took the time to familiarize. Growing up, he was always the Jello guy and then later the host of the hilarious Kids Say The Darndest Things. A few Youtube clips aside, I have not seen any of his standup specials in completion.

The simplicity and universalness of Cosby’s comedic material is the price of admission. Most of the act is themed towards dissecting love and marriage. The highlights for me were his opening bit about people’s expectations of him swearing on Comedy Central, a bit about chess, and another where Cosby uses audience interaction to build a surprise twist.

Cosby’s drawled out diction makes it hard to focus on what he’s saying. I zoned out a few times because he took so much time between words. Maybe this is a case of me not being previously familiar with his past stand up specials, but there was much rewinding on my part. It is ultimately something one just tunes to or doesn’t.

Cosby’s persona and ability to act out his concepts makes up for it. His facial expressions are world creation; they instantly transport the viewer and place them where he wants to them to see the absurdity of his jokes. His persona is likened to an senile man trying to prove that his mind is still working. Don’t be fooled, he’s still very sharp. There’s one noteworthy hilarious moment where he barks at the audience for finishing one of his punchlines. It still boggles my mind how he can rouse that much energy on stage sitting down.

Anybody who wants a laugh for an hour, I recommend it. Anybody can enjoy it.

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Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive

Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive

Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive

The core aspect to Aziz Ansari’s standup, from his previous specials Dangerously Delicious and Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening, is his ability to create random tangents. Here is the structure: 1) Aziz encounters something absurd or silly. 2) He deconstructs it with logic. 3) He then expands the absurd concept on imaginary random tangents. For his last special, this got repetitive and I distinctly remember zoning out until he changed it up. They’re funny anecdotes, but the core message under his bits don’t hold water because we know these imaginary tangents he exits his jokes on never happened. More importantly, they never could happen.

He has improved upon this for Buried Alive, no longer relying on anecdotes of meeting strange people or talking about his oddball cousin Harris or Kayne West stories. Instead he focuses his logic and ability to create imaginary scenarios onto real life. In Buried Alive, it’s mostly centered upon the subjects of dating, marriage and raising a family. The difference is, he has a point of view and uses his humor to highlight his fears and trepidations about marriage, the massive responsibilities of marriage and raising a child and how strange dating has become in the day of modern technology.

My two favorite segments where Aziz does crowd work, a considerably risky move for a comedian taping a comedy special. He interviews a couple on how they got engaged and another woman about receiving obscene penis photos from men. It’s in these segments where he displays his immediate comedic reflexes, quickly spinning jokes out of people’s answers. He probably has performed this a thousand times touring the country with this hour, but it still had a raw quality to it that brought genuine surprises. These were the highlights of the special.

There’s one portion where Aziz boasts how many white women he beds to argue how pointless it is for people being against interracial dating. I agree with his point. I don’t even like the word ‘interracial’ as a concept. But the fact that he put himself above the audience for a laugh seemed off color for a moment.

Part of the fun of following an artist is watching them grow. For that reason, fans that have watched Aziz’s two previous specials will probably enjoy this one more. This is Aziz Ansari’s best comedy hour thus far and he knows it. He has found meaningful things to say and more clever ways to deliver them.

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Before Midnight by Richard Linklater

Before Midnight by Richard Linklater

Before Midnight continues the story of Jesse and Céline nine years after the events of Before Sunset, they are now a couple with twin daughters spending the final day of a summer holiday in Greece.

For the first time after the first two films, in Before Midnight we finally get to see Jesse and Celine actually in a relationship. Ethan Hawke in an interview on KCRW’s The Treatment recalled a behind-the-scenes story of how the steadi-cam operator got upset shooting a scene in Before Midnight where Jesse gazes upon a young girl in a bikini, stating that Jesse would never do that to Celine. That is key. We feel like we know Jesse and Celine deeply. These characters mean something to us, whether we value how real they seem or romanticize their relationship from the last two films.

I’ll give you an example. From having watched Jesse and Celine converse for two films now, I love that I am familiar with all their little ticks and peccadilloes. I know Celine hides her face with her long hair when she’s uncomfortable and that she hates it when Jesse interrupts her romantic fancies with realism. I know Jesse likes getting his money’s worth and often changes the subject when he doesn’t want to talk about something. These characters mean something to us, whether we value how real they seem or romanticize their would-be relationship from the last two films. The things they do and say have a more profound effect on us as an audience. Richard Linklater understands this and uses it to his advantage.

Never does it feel like Hawke or Delphy are acting. They just are these characters. I don’t know if it’s because they’re the writers of their own dialogue, their mutual camaraderie with each other and director Richard Linklater or all of the above. There’s a magic that’s still present after all these years. I use the word “magic” because I can’t pinpoint its mechanics. But when Jesse and Celine get talking, it feels like it’s happening right before me.

The conversations are the spectacle. On the surface, the characters are just telling interesting stories or giving their 2 cents on a given topic, but the conversations are designed with multiple arcs, callbacks and continually suggest and build character. The group dinner scene is a lot of fun as we see several characters converse with Jesse and Celine for the first time. It was a change in format and I found myself wanting to chime in and give my two cents on various topics. The climatic hotel scene is an impressive dialogue set piece, and it accurately captures how couples fight. They’re both fighting to stop themselves from having the last word, but can’t help saying it anyway.

If you haven’t seen the first two, I’d suggest go seeing them first. Before Midnight does work as a standalone film, but watching it standalone will cut off the journey of these two characters. By default, this third film would just mean less. This is a good third movie. I cannot help but see all three films as one story now. I almost don’t want to see a fourth film.

Unlike a lot of love stories where it concentrates on the pursuit of love, Before Midnight refreshingly focuses on the means to sustaining a relationship. It’s never tonally bitter or cynical. The film celebrates love by just presenting the simple truth, which includes the full spectrum of the sour, bitter and sweet. I love that Richard Linklater is using these iconic characters to say something profound about love, relationships and life in your forties. It’s a risky move considering where the second film left off, but he accomplished it beautifully and delivered a earnest message. I was scared, touched and at the end I felt like I saw two old friends and learned something.

 

Take Shelter by Jeff Nichols

A man gets intense apocalyptic nightmares. He hides this from his family and begins to build a shelter, but this begins to strain his relationship with his family and the community.Is he just plain crazy or is there something bad on the horizon?

Michael Shannon gives a subtle layered performance as Curtis LaForche. He communicates the difficulty of having an unexplainable problem. He feels something bad is about to happen. It’s nothing concrete but something about the world doesn’t seem right. He loves his wife, but doesn’t want to worry her. He communicates all this with his face.

Jessica Chastain is a believable onscreen wife and mother. A lot of cinematic mothers tend to be unconvincing and this is noteworthy. Most cinematic wives have too much makeup on, do not carry enough worry in their eyes and most importantly they perform without a familiarity  of their own spaces. When Jessica Chastain does household chores or embraces her own child, she does it with a muscle memory as if she performs these tasks daily. When Curtis and Samantha argue, it is a very realistic portray of how a married couple fights. This added a lot of believability to the story, especially when the central husband and wife relationship comes into strain. Actually yeah, I’d like a wife like Jessica Chastain in this movie.

You know how when you continually look at leaves being tossed in the wind or waves crashing upon a beach, you start to space out and ponder about the workings of the universe? The film’s cinematography captures that feeling exactly in scenes where Curtis looks at his environment around him with suspicion. In Take Shelter, nature is an uncertain place. Underlying beneath it’s beauty is something bigger behind that’s going on that we are unaware of. To say it’s beautiful cinematography is almost missing the point, it’s definitely the deepest, most communicative cinematography I have seen this year.

This is Jeff Nichols’ second film. He has mastered the art of slow-boiled tension, which is a storytelling technique that is on the brink of extinction in an age where the short-attention gene is on the rise. I also love how the story moves forward and how fresh story points are revealed. There’s not much Basil Exposition, they just jump right into it and at times the audiences is set to figure out the context. David Wingo’s soundtrack is ambiguous and embodies a creeping sensation of foreboding. And along with the story, this ambiguity uneases the audience. After all, do we want Curtis to be crazy and committed to an asylum? Or do we want to see something big bad happen?

The story has a strong grasp of how the audience feels about the story in any given moment. It knows when to slow down and does so, particularly in the shelter sequence where Samantha and Curtis discuss whether to exit the shelter. You want and dread the conclusion at the same time. The ending is truly something. It’s an glorious epic finale.

And I have to say, I was very pleased to be manipulated this way.