DVD Review: Lewis Black - Stark Raving Black
Lewis Black, one of the angriest comedians working today, really broke out for a lot of people with his ‘Back in Black’ segments on The Daily Show. I quite like his comedy, less because it’s angry (though people who know me well will certainly see a connection between Black’s animated, furious ranting and my own), but because it’s so smart. Black is a very intelligent, informed man (he used to be a playwright!), and much of his comedy is based on what’s going on in the world. Which isn’t to say he’s a political comedian, but rather that he’s a comedian whose material goes deeper than pointing out the differences between men and women or the perils of the dating scene.
Stark Raving Black is a pretty solid package, especially for fans. It’s got an 80-minute stand-up special, as well as a 50-minute documentary called Basic Black about his life and career. The special itself is quality stuff – Black is very funny, and like a lot of my favorite comics, he’s particularly good at long, involved stories that don’t follow the traditional stand-up comic joke structure – covering topics as diverse as the economy, politics, his parents and his own bizarre career path to the mainstream (which culminates in a fantastic story about him following Vince Gill and Amy Grant at a benefit show). I’m not sure if it’s the sort of thing that will win over non-fans, but as a guy who enjoys Lewis Black, I quite liked it.
Basic Black, the documentary, was much more comprehensive than I expected. It’s a fairly insightful look at the man, covering his life and career as a playwright and how and why he transitioned from that into comedy. It’s got a lot of the expected clips of friends and colleagues talking about how brilliant he is (as well as Vince Gill's reaction to Black's bit about him), but it’s also a nice look into his process (which seems to largely consist of him reading the newspaper, getting really angry, and generating a bunch of material based on that). It’s also got lots of footage of Black performing in the ‘80s and ‘90s, where he seemed much angrier and less accessible (which only made me like him more). And at less than an hour, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
On the whole, Stark Raving Black is an excellent DVD for fans of stand-up comedy fans, and if you’re a particular fan of Lewis Black, it’s essential viewing.
Labels: comedy, DVD review
DVD Review: Youth In Revolt
Michael Cera is an actor about whom I'm somewhat split. Like a lot of people, I discovered him in his breakout role as George Michael Bluth on the brilliant sitcom Arrested Development, and he remains one of the best things in the entire show. It's where he perfected his stuttering-wallflower shtick, and, in the context of the show (where he plays an awkward 15-year-old with a sad crush on his cousin), it's perfect. But Cera's basically been playing variations of George Michael ever since, which has led to a lot of people experiencing a sort of Cera fatigue. (I know more than one person who pretty much hates him because he always seems to be doing the exact same thing in everything he does.)Youth In Revolt is a movie that directly plays on Cera's on-screen persona. He plays Nick Twisp, a shy Michael Cera type who falls for Sheeni, a girl at the trailer park his mom and her boyfriend have forced him to spend his summer at. After hearing about Sheeni's too-cool boyfriend, Nick creates a new persona for himself, the devil-may-care, cigarette-smoking Francois Dillinger. Francois appears as another character who only Nick can see, and he's the exact opposite of Nick (and by extension, the Cera Persona).
With Youth In Revolt, Cera does prove that he can go outside of his usual stuttering-geek wheelhouse, and most of the scenes with him in character as Francois are hilarious. Cera's also surrounded by an able supporting cast, including Zach Galifianakis, Justin Long, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi and the always-game Fred Willard, and they're all doing solid, funny work.
The main problem that the movie can't string together enough quirky, vaguely funny scenes to overcome is the fact that the character of Sheeni (who, as the girl Nick is pursuing, is sort of the primary driver of the plot) is sort of horrible. She's pretentious, manipulative and appears to take great pleasure in messing with Nick, always happy to mention her mysterious, apparently perfect boyfriend, Troy, to make Nick feel jealous and inadequate. Which, considering every action our hero takes is in pursuit of her, ends up undermining the movie. I was sort of amused for much of Youth In Revolt's running time, but I never actually cared about Nick or whether or not he won Sheeni. Many of the characters are funny and eccentric, but none of them are what I'd call likeable or engaging, so I never cared about what happened to any of them. And I certainly didn't care if Nick ended up with Sheeni.
Youth In Revolt exists halfway between something close to reality and the absurd fantasy-world of movies by filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Napoleon Dynamite's Jared Hess. Almost every character in the movie except for Nick has a weird eccentricity that feels manufactured and put-on, with the exceptions of Nick's dual father figures of his actual father (Buscemi) and his mom's boyfriend (Galifianakis), who are both blue-collar slobs that the movie really seems to look down on.There's some funny scenes in Youth In Revolt, but on the whole there's little more going on than forced quirkiness. Despite its flirtation with indie-film pretension, Youth In Revolt has nothing to say about youth or rebellion or puberty beyond "teenagers want to get laid." Bravo.Overall there are movies that cover much of the same ground that are funnier and more observant than Youth In Revolt. The biggest thing I got out of watching this movie was reassurances for the upcoming Scott Pilgrim vs. The World that there's more to Michael Cera than his Arrested Development shtick. And there is, but unfortunately it's been largely wasted with this film. The good news is, Scott Pilgrim hits theaters in just over a month. Now that movie looks awesome.GRADE: C
Labels: comedy, DVD review