Comedies (Sort Of) for a Melancholy Week

Cosmos_HighResCosmos” (2015, Kino) Law student Witold (Jonathan Genet) decides to stop fretting about his first novel to join his dunce of a pal (Johan Libreau) at a remote, fog-shrouded Portuguese village. There, the pair become embroiled in what seems like a mystery involving odd and unsettling clues – a hanged cat, a creeping water stain – while also dodging emotional and verbal outbursts from their hosts (Alain Resnais’ widow, Sabine Azema, and Jean-Francois Balmer) and pursuing, with increasing futility, their melancholy daughter (Victoria Guerra). This final film from Polish avant-garde director Andrzej Zulawski, who’s probably best known to American audiences for the Isabelle Adjani freakout “Possession,” is absurd, surreal, deliberately confusing and at times, completely out of its mind, but like the modernist novel by Witold Gombrowicz  on which it’s based, it delights in confounding viewer expectations in terms of plot, character (Clementine Pons plays two different women, one with a gruesome harelip) and even logic. Its universe – its cosmos, if you will – runs on confusion and misdirection, but it still fascinates, amuses and intrigues its cast of eccentrics (and, one hopes, the audience), which isn’t a bad metaphor for the state of things, and a fine coda for Zulawski’s unique career. Kino’s Blu-ray includes commentary by historian Daniel Bird and a bemused video essay by David Cairns; there’s also a making-of featurette and footage of Zulawski, along with cast and crew, prior to a screening.

883904330271Zero to Sixty” (1978, MGM Limited Edition Collection) Darren McGavin loses everything in a divorce case (though what did he expect by retaining Dick Martin as his lawyer?) but finds new purpose repossessing cars with a crew of eccentrics, including the Hudson Brothers (who also perform the title track), flinty teenager Denise Nickerson – Violet Beauregarde from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” – and Sylvia Miles as their boss. The machine gun delivery and frantic performances by the ensemble cast seem to suggest that McGavin – who wrote the script under his real name, W(illiam) Lyle Richardson – and director Don Weis were aiming for a sort of freewheeling, Preston Sturges-style comedy – “Sullivan’s Travels” in Repo-Land – which is an admirable course, but the dialogue is risible, as is a scene in a gay club (with Lyle Waggoner tending bar) and what seem like intimations that McGavin and Nickerson may just be more than workplace friends. The Hudsons’ Ritz Brothers Meet the Doobie Brothers antics are unbearable, too, which leaves just McGavin’s crabby, rumpled charm (even if we see his ass far too many times) and some modest auto stunts to maintain sputtering interest. Top-billed producer Katherine Brown was a former actress and McGavin’s second wife.

883904330165Sour Grapes” (1986, MGM Limited Edition Collection) Good-natured nonsense by some of the people involved in the “Killer Tomatoes” franchise, about a pair of science whizzes (Richard Gilliand and Debbie Gates) who develop a formula that makes beer addictive (I believe it already has addictive properties). Gilliand takes the credit and sells the formula to a Trump-ian business mogul, prompting Gates to steal the original solution and hands it off the the competition. Rich Little and Jamie Farr (as Crummy Fred) are undercover malcontents hired by the opposing breweries to cause low-wattage mayhem. As with “Zero to Sixty,” “Sour Grapes” – which is better known under its original and more sensible title, “Happy Hour” (since there are no grapes involved in the making of beer) – swings for the fences, hoping to hit somewhere in the neighborhood of corporate/modern times parodies like Billy Wilder’s “One, Two, Three.” Its breezy, silly tone and general indifference towards plot or character logic help in that regard, though not everyone in the surprisingly huge cast is on the same page in terms of performance (which can be charitably described as broad). Eddie Deezen and Tawny Kitaen (!), of all people, come off best as ill-matched cohorts turned commandos. If that doesn’t work for you, there are also extensive shots of mid-1980s San Diego to admire, and Devo performs  “I Wouldn’t Do That To You” over the opening credits. Co-producer/star/writer Stephen “Rock” Peace was a California State Assemblyman during the making of this picture, and later served in our Senate until 2002. I wonder if he ever screened this at staff parties.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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