Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ricky Gervais: Out of England

If you’ve seen any stand-up comedy work from Ricky Gervais before, you’ll likely find some recycled material in this new DVD. In fact, Gervais defines his Out of England show as a “greatest hits” revue in the bonus interview included here. If you’re new to Gervais stand-up, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised by the fact that he even does stand-up after earning riches and acclaim as the co-creator and star of both the original BBC version of The Office as well as Extras. Gladly, his live comedy isn’t some worthless ego-stroking exercise; he takes his stand-up craft seriously and delivers a solid round of laughs that translates perfectly well to these shores.

After three previous stand-up tours and DVDs in his native England, Gervais finally brought his live show to the US late last year. The show was subsequently broadcast on HBO in advance of this DVD release. The DVD was filmed during his New York City engagement at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden. He’s not big on extensive engagements, joking in the extras about only hitting LA and NY and ignoring the rest of the country. He’s also not big on late starts or late nights (as this reviewer painfully found out during his LA engagement), having a laugh that he likes to start on time and be back in bed in his hotel room by 9:30.

As the show opens, he strolls onstage in a king’s robe while a mammoth “RICKY” sign in lights fills the stage. He goes on to joke about disparate subjects such as obesity, fame, and fundraising for about an hour, exhibiting great pacing with just a touch of rough transitions between bits. Gervais isn’t a particularly dirty comedian, although he hits a few mildly ribald sections in his act. He goes for fairly mass appeal here, pausing only long enough to visit his can of Fosters before launching into another story. It’s easy to imagine this mostly timeless material being developed in the company of friends in a neighborhood pub, marking Gervais as a classic storyteller rather than any kind of current events humorist or self-deprecating ego deflater. He’s completely at home on stage and well worth watching; thankfully all of the flyover states finally have the opportunity.

Ricky Gervais: Out of England is available on DVD on March 31st.

Labels: ,

Friday, March 20, 2009


Although the three short films comprising Tokyo! are completely self-contained and come from wildly dissimilar directors, they all share the same theme: alienation. Surprisingly, even though each film is set in Tokyo, none of them are vastly influenced by the setting. It’s rewarding to see how these non-Japanese directors approach the task of capturing the essence of Tokyo, but ultimately the core tales contained here are universal enough that they could be easily transplanted to any major metropolis.

The leadoff hitter here is likely the main draw for most US viewers, as Michel Gondry has amassed an impressive string of oddball hits accentuated by his propensity for whimsical, homemade touches. His segment, “Interior Design”, is surprisingly conventional for most of its running length until it veers firmly into the surreal in its closing minutes. A young couple moves to Tokyo to further the filmmaking career of the boyfriend, but with no home of their own and no marketable skills, the girlfriend slips further into the background as she searches for her own purpose in life. Lead actress Ayako Fujitani (daughter of Steven Segal) contributes a fine performance that admirably portrays her character’s displacement and desire to belong.

The unmistakable opening strains of the classic Godzilla score give a clear hint to the direction of Leos Carax‘s segment, “Merde”. A disheveled and seemingly deranged white man emerges from a manhole and proceeds to plow a path of destruction through the shocked pedestrians in his way, nonchalantly stripping them of their belonging including cash, crutches, and flowers (especially the flowers). This monster doesn’t stomp on buildings like Godzilla/Gojira, but he evokes a similar sense of terror in Tokyo as his manic id crashes against the traditionally stoic and reserved ego of its citizens. When his subsequent outing results in tremendous civilian casualties, he’s hunted down, captured, and outed as a bizarre loner who speaks a language supposedly known by only two other people on earth. This extreme alienation clearly affects his ability to interact with others and leads to many public questions, but he remains something of a mystery as his origin and intentions aren’t disclosed. While it seems that the character was originally developed to serve as a stark contrast to the conformist culture he inhabits, he’s ultimately so fascinating on his own that it’s a delightful albeit unlikely surprise when a final title card flashes “Coming Soon: The Adventures of Mr. Merde in New York”.

Joon-ho Bong gained traction with the crime drama Memories of Murder but rocketed to international acclaim on the back of his blockbuster Korean monster movie, The Host. In his segment here, “Shaking Tokyo”, he studies a hikikomori, an extreme recluse who has completely cut himself off from society, never leaving his abode and never even meeting the glance of the myriad deliverymen who facilitate his continued existence. The hikikomori’s idealized life of takeout meals and literature is literally and figuratively shaken one day when a pizza delivery girl faints on his doorstep during an earthquake. Initially appalled by the human contact but eventually intrigued by the promise she embodies, he forces himself out of his home in order to quench his curiosity. It’s a somewhat lightweight but enjoyable tale that succeeds thanks to Bong’s solid direction.

While anthology films typically come up short with at least one throwaway segment, the directors and stories selected for this film have such refreshing originality that the film never falters. Tokyo! is a delight from beginning to end, a winning example of a triptych done right.

Tokyo! is now playing in select markets including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles/Orange County. For a complete list of cities where this film will open see:

Labels: , , , ,