Sunday, February 8, 2015

Five Hilarious Moments in Tragic Movies!

The unintentionally side-splitting scenes in serious motion pictures we can’t help but LOL at … even though it will probably send all of us to hell someday. 

Movies, by their very nature, are vicarious experiences. They allow us to feel a full spectrum of synthetic emotions, from joy to sorrow to fright to empathy to wanting a goddamn refund after nothing happened in “Interstellar” after two and a half fucking hours.

Probably the two hardest emotions to evoke, I would suppose, are comedy and tragedy. Yes, the old Greek stand-bys are still the most difficult for modern filmmaker to capture, with many modern “comedies” falling flat  and uninspired while contemporary “tragic” motion pictures produce not tears, but formulaic ennui.

Interestingly enough, the line between tears of comedy and tears of tragedy is often a blurry boundary. Sure, there are mostly comedic films that make us weep (pick any pre-”Cars 2” Pixar offering) and tragic films with glimmers of humor (I guess “50/50” would be the most recognizable recent offering), but what about those films that are designed to evoke one pure, concentrated reaction, only to inspire the exact opposite feeling out of audiences?

Aye, such films are uncommon, but not unheard of. Remember “Freddy Got Fingered,” the sophomoric comedy that actually turned out to be an expressionistic horror masterpiece? “From Justin to Kelly” was supposed to be a moving romantic comedy, but from what I recollect, there were quite a few tears of pain at the multiplex I attended. Conversely, I personally laugh my ass of every time Buffalo Bill starts to dance with his man parts tucked between his legs in “Silence of the Lambs,” and there is just something about Ricky's death in “Boyz in the Hood” that is just transcendentally comical.

While these films -- intentionally or not -- failed in their alleged emotional aspirations, they at least somewhat remained within the lines of their respective genres. Today, I want to look at the flip side of the reel, and examine five films that were no doubt meant to be bone-rattling unfunny that, through some cosmic twist of fate, somehow produced one or two scenes that -- for a menagerie of reasons -- turned out to be funny as heck. Now, that’s not to say that the totality of said movies are unintentionally funny, or that their central messages about super serious subject matters like the Holocaust and racism are by any means humorous, it’s just that … well, I will leave the grotesque guffaws and gruesome giggles for you to assess and self-analyze.

Movie Number One:

“Schindler’s List” (1993)
A Really Wrong Note…

OK, I know what you’re thinking here. “You find anything about ‘Schindler’s List’ to be comedic? Surely, you must be some kind of heartless dreg on society, like a neo-Nazi or a Cher fan or something.”

Well, I hate to burst your bubble hater-haters, but I am by no means a skinhead, white supremacist, Holocaust denier or general admirer of mustaches, for that matter. This one actually has more to do with the circumstances surrounding my particular viewing of the film; let’s take a trip back to the year of our lord, 2004, why don’t we?

Picture it: I’m a senior in high school, and my final elective is cinema. One of the in-class assignments is “Schindler’s List,” which as we all know by now, is one of the few Spielberg movies that isn’t gloriously overrated/and/or involve high quantities of foreboding chi-mo subtext. Now, I had seen the film before -- my mom actually rented it when it first hit video stores, and made me watch it when I was just eight or nine -- so none of what was coming was really unexpected.

The big variable, however, was that my instructor had an absolutely authoritarian stance on audience reactions to the film. If anybody so much as chortled the teensiest chortle during the screening, they were going to be written up. This film is so goddamn serious that you’re not even allowed to think it’s not serious, which is not at all the exact type of mind-crime totalitarianism responsible for the Nazi party emerging in the first place … but I digress.

And with that little edict implanted in the minds of 30 plus youngsters, “Schindler’s List” all of a sudden turned into the funniest movie in history. Simply because we were told to have a very specific reaction to the film from an authoritarian figure, of course, we had to fight with every fiber of our collective beings to keep from exploding in a cacophony of laughter as soon as the flick started. You know that part at the beginning when they’re lighting the candles and doing the prayers? Holy shit, I almost thought I was going to pee my pants. Everything in the movie became absolutely hysterical, simply because we were challenged by our instructor to see it as anything but.

So, we struggled and struggled, with people literally holding their breath like five-year-olds to keep from bursting out laughing. And then, the moment came; it’s the part where that one guy is hiding in the piano, and after he eludes the S.S., he unfortunately steps on the keys, alerting the Nazzies to his precise location. Goddamn, you’d think there was a laughing gas leak in the classroom or something. Everybody -- I mean every single student -- just went full on nuclear with their laughter, with some kids beating their hands on their desks and dabbing away tears of pure comedic bliss. Needless to say, our teacher shut off the movie and gave us a stern lecture about being sociopaths, but come on … as soon as she chunked down that gauntlet, how did she expect three dozen 17 and 18 year old degenerates to react? I mean, shit, “Life is Beautiful” came out just five years later, proving that it is possible to make an uplifting family comedy set in a concentration camp … are we really that wrong as a peoples to chortle a cheap, context-less chuckle at its precedent from five years before? The answer, of course, is “yeah, probably.”

Movie Number Two:

“American History X” (1998)
Honky Slamma-Jamma and White (Meat) Power!

There are a lot of lessons in “American History X,” like “don’t be a racist or else you’ll ironically get raped in prison by other racists,” and “holy shit, Edward Furlong was still making movies that late into the 1990s?”

It’s also a film with two of the most hilarious-but-not-really-meant-to-be-hilarious moments in film history. The first occurs when Ed Norton and his Aryan pals decide to hit the half court with some Afro-American ballers. Shot in oh-so-significant black and white, the scene ultimately leads to Eddie Boy dropping the absolute shittiest slam dunk you have ever seen in your life, complete with facial expressions so artificially pained that even Jean Claude Van-Damme is like, “dude, you be chewing the scenery and shit.” It’s a funny scene, to be sure, but even it is nothing compared to the dinner sequence.

Once again filmed in artistically-inspired grey-tones, the sequence involves Eddie’s mama (whose husband was killed by gang members as he responded to a house fire), who is dating a guy who is … well, kind of Jewish. Since Ed Norton’s character has a swastika tattooed on his he-boobies, he’s none too pleased with his ma’s selection in breeding partners, leading to a fairly drawn-out discussion about the Rodney King beatings. Sensing his mother’s new boyfriend isn’t smelling what he’s cooking, he decides to respond, as any reasonable sort would, by grabbing a handful of white meat (har-har!) and jamming it down her throat, to really emphasize the fact that he’s racist and don’t give a darn. The cherry atop the unintentionally hilarious sundae is when Mr. Boyfriend screams “she can’t breath!” while Eddie tries to wedge a chunk of turkey down his mom’s gullet, in a concerned-but-not-that-concerned explicatory manner.

Oh, and as for the actual type of roast used in the scene? I can only assume it was slow-roasted jive turkey.

Movie Number Three:

“Do the Right Thing” (1989)
Or, How to Learn a Lifetime of Slurs in Under a Minute!

“Do the Right Thing” is one of my all-time favorite movies. Like most scared white folks, I didn’t actually screen until a couple of years back, simply assuming it was the “hate-whitey agitprop” that everybody had fraudulently convinced me it was since I was like 10 and stuff.

The beauty of the film -- which Spike Lee has yet to surpass even this far into his career -- is that it truly has nothing in the way of answers for anybody on U.S. race relations. Concluding with completely contradictory remarks from Dr. Martin Luther Professor X and Malcolm-Neto, Lee has the brazen honesty to come out and tell us that he had no clue what the hell could be done; despite all the accolades the film receives, that’s probably its most significant, singular achievement (to me, at least) as a motion picture.

That said, even though “Do the Right Thing” is clearly a film that’s anti-racism, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have one of the greatest (and morbidly hilarious) montages in the history of cinema. Oh, you know what scene I’m talking about -- this one.

HOLY SHIT. Not until “Gran Torino” came out do I believe American theatergoers were treated to such a vast, vocabulary-expanding cinematic experience. My linguistic knowledge of hurtful race and ethnicity based terms pretty much grew four-fold after watching the afore-mentioned scene, and as has everybody else in Generation Y who is worth a damn, I can pretty much do the entire sequence note for note now -- complete with the even more meta/semi-racist ethnic inflections and intonations tossed in for dramatic effect.

The lesson here, I suppose? Deep down, we’re all racist scumbag motherfuckers, and even deeper down, we all think a high-speed potpourri of racial epitaphs and various other stereotypes is inherently funny. Once again, because we are all probably racist scumbug motherfuckers.

Movie Number Four:

“Precious” (2010)

The first time I saw “Precious,” I was absolutely awestruck it ever got made. I mean, Hollywood can make some depressing movies, but the plotline for this film was so absurdly tragic that you have to wonder why one of the film studio execs didn't at least try to convince Lee Daniels to tone down some of the subplots about incest and AIDS.

Really, this movie is an MC Escher portrait of human misery -- a confounding, ceaseless, never-ending tapestry of "oh god, please make it stop." Not only is the protagonist a morbidly obese illiterate teenage girl living in abject poverty, she’s pregnant by her own daddy, who also gave her HIV. To top it all off, she lives with a mother so abusive, she might as well be the photo-negative version of Dwight Yokam’s character in “Sling Blade.”

The intrinsic misery of this film naturally leads to some painfully comedic moments. I think you pretty much have to laugh throughout the film, simply as a defense mechanism. Where do we begin on this one? How about the scene where Precious steals a bucket of chicken, breaks into Mariah Carey’s office and eats it? Or what about the part where Precious takes her newborn home and her mama literally tosses it at her as a projectile weapon? This film, simply put, is the definition of too much to bear. I mean, watching Mo’Nique club teenagers with pigs feet, what other natural response would suffice except uproarious laughter?

Movie Number Five:

“Diary of a Mad Black Woman” (2005)
The Big Song and Dance Finale!

To the uninitiated, you may be wondering why this movie is included on the countdown. I mean, it’s a Tyler Perry movie, after all -- doesn’t he make comedic pictures?

Sure, this movie may feature Madea and Uncle Joe (for our whiter readers, the two fatsuit characters played by Perry himself), but the very core of the picture is undoubtedly a disturbing one. You see, the movie is actually about a woman experiencing a psychotic breakdown after her hotshot lawyer husband leaves her for a younger woman. The film may have some comedic elements, but at heart, this thing is actually a psychological horror film for about 90 percent of the picture.

And when  I say “psychological horror film,” I really do mean it. One of the prominent plot points in the film is that her ex-husband winds up getting SHOT AND PARALYZED in a courtroom murder attempt, and she proceeds to TORTURE HIM afterward by leaving him unattended in his manor, to marinate in his own urine and feces for days on end. No, I’m serious … that actually happens in the movie. It gets worse, unbelievably, as she then tortures him further by tossing him into a bathtub and nearly drowning his paraplegic ass -- by the way, all of this is going on while she’s courting some other dude, whom she likes so much because of his Christian beliefs.

Now, all of this is going on while a secondary plotline unravels about a former gospel singer (played by that one chick from “Bones”) who, somehow, wound up becoming a drug addict after hitting the big time. Which leads us to the big, dramatic finale, which takes place during a spirited Sunday morning choir scene.

With the entire community clapping and a praising, the semi-handicapped ex-husband tries to stand up and testify, which in and of itself, is probably one of the three or four most hilarious things I have ever seen in a movie. And just when you think this thing can’t get any more unintentionally, morbidly hilarious .. in storms the crackhead, who breaks out into passionate verse like a hymn-belting Kool-Aid Man.

To this day, I have a hard time believing I actually saw what I saw. Forget the eyeball-slicing in “Un Chien Andalou,” that scene had to be the absolute most surreal ever committed to celluloid. When it comes to Schadenfreude Cinema, that sequence is the form’s veritable Odessa Steps … incontestably the funniest thing in movie history that was never designed to be funny in the first place.


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