Jan. 2 John Hamburg: Here’s a good article from the Globe and Mail. It was from Nov. 15, 2010. It’s where they interview John Hamburg who discusses his comedy movies.
"The best comedic actors don't play it like they're in a comedy," New York screenwriter and director John Hamburg says. "They play it as if they're in a drama. And the more seriously they take it, the funnier they are."
In that esteemed company, the 40-year-old Hamburg puts Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Ben Stiller, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel and Robert De Niro - all of whom he has worked with in a string of successful comedies, including Zoolander, I Love You, Man and the Focker films ( Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers, in theatres next month).
In Toronto on Monday night to take part in a master class that is part of the Telefilm Canada Features Comedy Lab (a collaboration of the Canadian Film Centre and Just for Laughs), Hamburg says the secret to great comedy is simple: hard work. And the best talent - like those above - are pros who always show up with their game face.
Taxi Driver , Raging Bull, The Godfather. Those are the types of roles that come to mind when you hear Robert De Niro. Why was he cast in Meet the Parents as the sour, comedic foil to Stiller's Gaylord Focker?
Because he plays comedy dead straight. You're not going to see Robert perform a Saturday-night comedy club, but he understands precisely where the comedy lies in the scenes.
And why Streisand as the ideal pair to Hoffman's Bernie Focker?
Dustin just has this impulsive, childlike enthusiasm [in real life]that was perfect for the role. And he's just an energetic now as he was back when he did The Graduate. He's like a big kid. Barbra is a brilliant woman, who didn't get to be Barbra Streisand just because she has a beautiful voice. I remember getting a call from her after I'd put a word back into the script. She phoned and said, "Why did you put that back in?" You can't get anything past her. That directness works with Dustin's puppy-dog-like character.
How much improvisation from the actors ends up on the screen that wasn't in your script?
Rudd, Segel and Stiller are brilliant improvisers and I always encourage them to do improv. In I Love You, Man, Paul came up with the line "I slap the bass big time," using a Jamaican accent. It's the line that defines the film's entire sensibility.
Film critics tend to pooh-pooh sequels for falling short of the original. How did you keep Focker 2 and 3 fresh?
Had I not been involved in the making of these movies, I'd probably be cynical too. But you can't approach it like you're cashing in on something. You have to view it as a rare opportunity to follow these characters over 10 years. It's like a family you're watching develop and grow up. And the dynamics have to change. This time around, Jack Byrnes (De Niro) is considering his mortality and Greg (Gaylord) Foster (Stiller) is grappling with obligations to a young family. Those are the things we're exploring. And we push ourselves, go back to the previous movies, ditch devices we now think are boring.
How much of your life is reflected in your comedies?
I use a lot. In Meet the Parents, I tapped into that uncomfortable feeling we all have the first time you meet your girlfriend's folks - although I'm fortunate my father-in-law is much nicer than Jack. Even the contrast between the Jewish and non-Jewish culture. My wife is not Jewish.
Why are you in Toronto mentoring comedy writers and directors?
It's fun to meet people who are interested in the same things I'm interested in. Talking to new groups of people inspires me to think about my own work and future movies. So it might seem like networking, but it's selfish at the same time. It's all about the exchange of ideas. Having all this stuff in the air makes us all better filmmakers.
I emailed my notes to him and mentioned about the dialogue was too expository, and there were lots of punctuation marks missing. The story was too unbelievable for me. I did send comments on how to make it believable. I hoped my notes helped him.
Jan. 10 Metro writers: I have some comments on these Metro writers. I’ve been reading Metro starting Aug. 2013 because 24 news closed down in Edmonton. I’ve been reading a lot of John Mazerolle columns and I will say: They’re not that good. I feel like he’s trying too hard to be funny.
Paul Sullivan "Just Sayin'" articles are news. They’re average.
Jessica Napier "She says" columns are opinions, not really news. They’re not really good.
Jan. 12 Superheroes and surveillance: “Who are the Masked Men?” by Sarah Boesveld in the National Post on Jun. 6, 2011. I can’t copy and paste the article, but it’s short with these cool and fun pictures of comic book heroes.
It mentions Batman, Watchmen, X-Men, Iron Man, and Scott Pilgrim.
“All superhero movies, although engaging with the ethical dilemmas of vigilantism and by extension surveillance, in the end…actively promote the need for more surveillance.” (–Evangelos Tziallas, a “University of Concordia doctoral candidate who presented at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. Last week)
“Batman comes to represent the needs of stability, capitalism and hierarchy. Batman simply affirms the upper-class’s ordained right to rule and snuff out those who oppose them or want to rattle the system for change.”
Kieron Gillen, writer of Uncanny X-Men: “In terms of the films specifically, I’d say the axis is between those who believe the system can be reformed (Xavier) and those who don’t (Magneto), which makes it a debate about the correct mode of progressive politics rather than a meek capitulation to the powers that be. It’s also about dudes who can fire zap-rays out of their eyes.”
Tziallas on Iron Man: “The first film promoted weapons manufacturing, so long as the weapons stay in the hands of smart, rich, white, straight American men who have license to destroy when they feel it is necessary for the ‘greater good.’”
Intelligence pilot: I didn’t watch this new show, but I was reminded of it when I read the above about Iron Man and who weapons should belong to. On imdb.com, here’s the pilot summary:
“The head of the U.S. Cyber Command, Lillian Strand, hires Secret Service agent Riley Neal to protect their greatest asset - agent Gabriel Vaughn who has has a cyber chip implanted in his brain which connects him to the Internet and various data banks. They are quickly on the job when the creator of Gabriel's implant, Dr. Shenandoah Cassidy, is kidnapped by Chinese agents. Cassidy was recently let go by Cyber Command and it seems he had a new and improved version the chip which the Chinese have him implant into one of their own agents.”
That’s a pretty common storyline, about how one character shouldn’t have this power or powerful item because it will be used for good or evil.