Two Comedies from Paramount
Louis C.K. "Hilarious" (January 11/11)
There are few contemporary comedians that are as consistently able to elicit laughs as Louis C.K., so it's not too surprising to note that his latest concert film, Louis C.K. "Hilarious", is generally as amusing as one might've anticipated - although the 84-minute running time ultimately does seem like too much of a good thing. C.K.'s act is concerned primarily with rants on a variety of topics, with everything from marriage to technology to children covered in as edgy and frequently gut-busting a fashion as one could envision. It's subsequently not surprising to note that there are few lulls within the proceedings, and while some of this stuff may not be laugh-out-loud funny, C.K. has done a superb job of packing the movie with a number of memorable and downright hilarious sequences (ie C.K.'s mesmerizing story of his seven-year-old daughter's unfortunate run-in with an aggressive pony clearly stands as the film's highlight). The film, shot at Milwaukee's Pabst Theater, admittedly does peter out somewhat as it passes the one-hour mark, however, with the entertaining yet far-from-engrossing atmosphere compounded by a handful of disappointingly underwhelming bits (ie C.K. recalls an incident in which his youngest daughter defecated in front of him). This is a minor complaint for what is otherwise a solid hour-and-a-half of comedy, as Louis C.K. "Hilarious" instantly establishes itself as an essential stand-up concert movie that deserves a place amongst the genre's best offerings.
Shirley Valentine (January 11/11)
An obnoxious and thoroughly tedious piece of work, Shirley Valentine follows the title character (Pauline Collins), a bored British housewife, as she grows tired of her humdrum life and subsequently embarks on a two-week vacation in Greece - where she inevitably discovers the inner peace that's been eluding her for years. Shirley Valentine is based on a one-woman play for which Collins won several awards, and it's clear virtually from minute one that screenwriter Willy Russell is simply unable to open the proceedings up beyond its stage-based origins - as the scripter compensates for the cinematic setting by having Shirley talk directly to the viewer (within the context of talking to her wall). It's a ridiculous choice that immediately sets the viewer on edge, with Shirley's relentless chatter establishing an atmosphere of pervasive artificiality that only grows more and more problematic as time progresses. The screenplay's eye-rollingly simplistic sensibilities, most keenly reflected in the less-than-subtle portrayal of Shirley's callous husband (Bernard Hill's Joe), ensure that the protagonist never quite becomes the sympathetic figure that she's clearly meant to, which, as a result, effectively prevents the viewer from both working up any interest in her exploits and rooting for her ongoing efforts at changing her life. It's ultimately rather obvious that one's feelings toward Shirley Valentine are directly related to one's feelings towards the character herself, as Collins' excessively sassy portrayal dominates the proceedings to an extent that immediately proves either endearing or infuriating.