A weekly feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at“A Wrinkle in Time,” “The Strangers: Prey At Night” and “Meditation Park.”
Richard and CP24 anchor Nick Dixon have a look at the weekend’s new movies including “A Wrinkle in Time” starring Oprah Winfrey, the horror film “The Strangers: Prey At Night” and the dark comedy “Gringo” featuring break-out comedic work from David Oyelowo.
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the weekend’s big releases, the highly anticipated “A Wrinkle in Time” starring Oprah Winfrey, the horror film “The Strangers: Prey At Night” and the dark comedy “Gringo” featuring break-out comedic work from David Oyelowo.
We can all agree that serial killers, teenage suicide, alcoholism and unemployment are not laughing matters and yet films like Serial Mom, Heathers and Withnail & I mine those topics for giggles. They’re called dark comedies and unspool jokes about taboo subjects.
Slaughterhouse Five novelist Kurt Vonnegut, who knows a thing or two about finding the cheer in gloom, says dark comedy is about “small people being pushed this way and that way, enormous armies and plagues and so forth, and still hanging on in the face of hopelessness.”
To a certain extent his definition describes the plot of this weekend’s Gringo. David Oyelowo plays Harold, a hapless man who finds himself kidnapped, then on the run from everyone from drug lords to the DEA after a quick business trip to Mexico.
“I am somewhere in Mexico with a gun to my head!” Harold screams into the phone. “What a crybaby,” scoffs his hard-as-nails boss, played by Charlize Theron.
From slapstick to verbal humour, Gringo misses no opportunity to take a dire situation and wring out the laughs. It’s trickier than it seems. “Dark comedy is very difficult,” said Pierce Brosnan, who played up the gallows humour in the hitman farce The Matador. “You have to bring the audience in and push them away at the same time.”
You might imagine that audiences drawn to grim humour are very specific, that they’re angry or perhaps have negative attitudes — but a recent study from the Medical University of Vienna suggests otherwise. They found people who laughed at dark jokes scored highest on verbal and non-verbal IQ tests, were more educated, scored lower on aggression and had better moods.
If that sounds like you, here are some films that successfully navigate the light side of the dark side:
A Serious Man, involves two very bad weeks in the life of physics professor Larry Gopnick, played by Michael Stuhlbarg. In an escalating series of events, his life is turned upside down.
Though billed as a comedy, this may be the bleakest movie the Coen Brothers have ever made. And remember these are the guys who once stuffed someone in a wood chipper on film. The story of a man who thought he did everything right, only to be jabbed in the eye by the fickle finger of fate is a tragiomedy that shows how ruthless real life can be.
Delicatessen is a high-voltage variation on Sweeney Todd, set in post-apocalyptic France where there is very little food and no meat; when people will eat almost anything — or anyone. It’s a dark and moody world worthy of any serious science-fiction movie that stylistically owes more to music videos and animator Tex Avery’s feverishly wild Bugs Bunny cartoons than to other post apocalyptic films.
At the same time it’s filled with belly laughs — especially for vegetarians.
What could be funnier than world annihilation? Coming just a couple years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Stanley Kubrick’s comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’s story of an almost nuclear holocaust works so well because it is an exaggerated look at something that could actually happen. It’s a masterwork of dark comedy featuring one of the best lines in movie history: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”
Everyone loves an underdog. From Rocky defying the odds to go from zero to hero to Billy Elliot chasing after his dream of being a dancer, tales of people beating the odds have been a Hollywood staple for years. “Gringo,” a new film starring Charlize Theron and David Oyelowo, features a character with the steepest climb to success that we’ll see this year.
Oyelowo, who earned a Golden Globe nomination for playing Martin Luther King in “Selma,” stars as the mild-mannered Harold Soyinka, a middle manager at a start up pharmaceutical company. Personally and professionally his life is a dumpster fire. In debt and on the verge of bankruptcy, his wife Bonnie (Thandie Newton) is having an affair with his boss Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton), who plans on selling the company and firing Harold.
As his life swirls out of control Harold accompanies Richard and business partner Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron) on a trip to their manufacturing facility in Mexico. Here things really start to unravel when it’s revealed that Richard and Elaine made a deal with a drug cartel to sell their product off the books for a quick infusion of cash. Now, trying to go completely legit, the devious pair wants out of that deal. Trouble is, the cartel isn’t ready to end the deal and poor old Harold is in the middle. “The world is upside down,” Harold moans. “It doesn’t play to pay by the rules.”
There is loads more like a kidnapping plot, a wide-eyed American (Amanda Seyfried), double-dealings, a mercenary with a heart-of-gold (Sharlto Copley) sent to find Harold and a deadly Beatles fan, but there will be no spoilers here.
It’s stuffed-to-the-gills with intrigue, which makes for a chaotic final third, but for all the huggermuggery, the big surprise here is Oyelowo’s light touch. Best known for his dramatic turns in movies like “A Most Violent Year” and “A United Kingdom,” here he finds a pleasing balance between Harold’s desperation and exasperation, mining the character’s situation for maximum humour. Most importantly for this underdog story, you want him to succeed.
Copley’s mercenary is fun but the same can’t be said for the rest of the generic characters populating the story. Theron is one note as a trash-talking executive who doesn’t hesitate to tell a man she just fired to “stop crying and go down to unemployment.” Edgerton, whose brother Nash directed the film, is all alpha-male bluster and not much else.
Aside from showcasing Oyelowo’s comedic side “Gringo” feels old fashioned, like it has been sitting around on a shelf somewhere, hidden from view since the 1990s. It was the heyday of indie crime dramas like “8 Heads in a Duffel Bag,” a time when writers looked to Tarantino for inspiration only to fall short. “Gringo” wears those fingerprints all over it. It’s a good but derivative effort that feels more like a Netflix film than a big screen experience.