A Very Murray Christmas

A Very Murray Christmas movie poster

Release: Friday, December 4, 2015 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Sophia Coppola; Mitch Glazer; Bill Murray

Directed by: Sophia Coppola

A Very Murray Christmas is kind of an odd package. It’s a fairly self-indulgent vanity project but only in the best way possible. I mean, how do you say ‘no’ to Bill Murray?

It’s a movie but not a movie; a musical but not really a musical; a short story without much of a tale to tell. It’s roughly an hour of Murray lamenting being left alone for Christmas Eve as he’s holed up in the famous Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan as a blizzard rages outside, preventing anyone from traveling anywhere and from taking part in his Christmas Special in which he is to live broadcast a number of classic tunes for the masses to enjoy.

Then the weather intensifies and shuts down the production, leaving him to his own devices in the hotel lobby, where he slowly starts gathering random hotel guests and staff members together for an impromptu session of Christmas caroling. In essence, this is Murray’s way of saying Happy Holidays without resorting to social media. It’s a live recording of him nudging even the grumps into the holiday spirit. He starts off the film in a lousy mood and slowly overcomes his depression as said guests gather round in drunken merriment.

Despite the aimlessness of it all, A Very Murray Christmas is a good bit of fun. It’s cozy and will fill your heart with warmth come the surprisingly entertaining introduction of Miley Cyrus and George Clooney in a bizarre dream sequence that results after Murray collapses in the hotel lobby after drinking one too many shots of tequila.

It’s a who’s who of the Murray entourage. The guest list is rather impressive: Amy Poehler, Paul Shaffer, Jenny Lewis, Maya Rudolph, Michael Cera, Demitri Dimitrov, Rashida Jones, Jason Schwartzman, David Johansen, Miley Cyrus, Julie White, Chris Rock, George Clooney (he seems to be owing Murray a favor after Murray did Monument’s Men) and members of the band Phoenix all donate their time to the cause.

Ultimately this is nothing you will regret having missed but for the Murray faithful, this Christmas special makes one feel as though this is the closest they can get to actually interacting with the great Bill Murray. That in itself is a gift.

A Very Murray Christmas

Recommendation: Fans of Bill Murray are going to greatly enjoy this while anyone else who isn’t so much a fan are probably going to find it a chore to sit through. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 56 mins.

Quoted: “I don’t even know how to express my shame in this moment. The Murricane skulking down the back stairs like some $25 an hour, Twin Cities hooker.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.theguardian.com 

Inside Out

Release: Friday, June 19, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Pete Docter; Meg LeFauve; Josh Cooley

Directed by: Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen

Spoiler alert: Inside Out is an emotional rollercoaster.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, here’s another kicker: it’s being extremely well-received. But you probably already know that. Pixar’s latest can’t escape comparisons to the studio’s paragons of the late ’90s and early 2000s, and why should it even try? The likes of Toy Story and Up may have the nostalgia factor working for them but it’s hard to recall a(n animated) film that embraces such an abstract concept like trying to personify emotions while ostensibly marketing it to a young audience — an audience, mind you, who unfortunately may not fully appreciate the value thereof. Inside Out could very well be that rare experience where the attendant adult viewer gets more out of the film than their children.

Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias) is 11 years old and her father has just taken a new job, relocating the family from the comforts of their Minnesota home, where she learned to play hockey, to the unfamiliar urban sprawl of San Francisco. The transitional period is ripe for displaying the emotional development of a child trying to come to terms with what’s happening to and around them.

For as long as Riley can remember, Joy (Amy Poehler) has defined who she is. But there are other feelings now coming into play: there’s Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (a perfectly cast Lewis Black). Inside Out jumps into the recesses of Riley’s mind to create an endearing, if not simplified, model for how emotions dictate our responses to certain situations. In crucial moments, it refocuses attention on Riley’s exterior as the emotions manifest themselves in her facial expressions.

Having been a part of Riley from a very early age, Joy likes to run things in ‘Headquarters.’ It’s never a good thing when Sadness happens to touch a memory, each of which are wrapped up in color-coded, spherical orbs that roll down a track and are stored on a kind of library shelf. The other emotions wittily banter amongst themselves, determined to find their roles. At headquarters they have at their disposal Riley’s core memories (look, but don’t touch!), and they oversee a landscape that includes five different personality ‘islands’ as well as Imagination Land, Abstract Thought and a revolving door of indefinable (at least to those without a degree in psychology) characters and features responsible for shaping Riley’s mental state. Perhaps the easiest one to embrace is the Train of Thought.

Inside Out balances out ambition with a focused, decidedly simplistic conflict. Once again Pete Docter proves that with profoundly touching, universal themes comes Pixar’s responsibility to present them with narrative clarity and an obligation to avoid convolution. Or boring the viewer with cliches and lazy execution. The internal struggle (literally and figuratively speaking) occurs when Joy and Sadness are ejected from Headquarters after Sadness touches one of Riley’s core memories, tinting it blue accordingly. In an effort to prevent further damage at the hands of Fear, Anger and Disgust who remain at the control center, the unlikely pair must journey across this whacky landscape and restore balance. In the process, Joy realizes that she’s not the only emotion with a crucial role to play in the shaping of Riley’s future; every emotion is necessary. Even Sadness.

Laden with gorgeous animation and sparky personality — Black may be the best suited to his character given his generally blustery personality — Inside Out manages to strike rare emotional depths with its portrayal of a young child torn between feeling hopeless and hopeful. San Francisco, particularly her first day at her new school, throws her a curveball she’s not ready to swing at. And yet, thanks to the film’s unique perspective, we see she’s ultimately equipped with the tools to overcome. This is the stuff that perhaps those who have already endured the turbulence of childhood will identify with easier. But let’s get one thing straight: moving, at any phase in one’s life, is a challenge. And before you believe the film has covered all the bases, it hints at the next major stepping stone: adolescence.

Of course, younger viewers come to see animated films for more than the bright, shiny colors and goofy characters. They come to entertain their imagination, to laugh and feel all kinds of feely things, physical manifestations they can’t exactly explain for themselves. Kids understand well enough that Andy moving on from Buzz and Woody and all of his toys doesn’t create the best feeling in the world; they feel melancholic and maybe even pure sadness.

Inside Out boldly tackles that very phenomenon, breaking new ground by defining and giving character to core emotions that will eventually (and hopefully) transform generally happy children into well-adjusted adults. The ambition is probably too much for a lot of younger viewers to grasp, and I don’t mean to imply that they aren’t smart enough to get it. It’s just too natural to think that the average 11 year old won’t appreciate that Inside Out is an uncommonly perceptive production. They won’t realize how lucky they are to have a film like this at their disposal, at least not until they’ve grown up a bit more.

Recommendation: An emotional masterpiece, Inside Out gives some of the studio’s finest a run for their money in terms of conceptual complexity and character depth. Give this one a few years and making comparisons among Pixar’s classics will become an even more interesting conversation. Take your kids to see it of course, but be prepared for a quality and moving experience yourself. This is a film loaded with surprises. One of my favorites of the year. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 94 mins.

Quoted: “All right, make a show of force. I don’t want to have to put the foot down . . .” / “No, not the foot!” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.gokaiju.tumblr.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Mean Girls (2004)

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Well the final bell is about to ring on this back-to-school portion of TBT. . . and. . .I bet at least three of my readers would have never seen this one coming today. I will have to admit I didn’t either. I’m not even quite sure what prompted me to seek out this title, but boy am I glad that I did. This is one of those times I’m dually rewarded; not just for my bravery in going with something completely out of the blue at the last moment, but for chancing a film titled something like 

Today’s food for thought: Mean Girls.

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Missing this side of Lindsay Lohan since: April 30, 2004

[Netflix]

This Thursday is a great reminder of why it’s important to not judge a book (film) by its cover (weak title). I loved Mean Girls.

Sharp, intelligent writing and some surprisingly heartfelt moments made this teen drama a worthy entry into the crowded coming-of-age genre, and it lay on the laughs in fitful doses in spite of what once appeared as audience-pandering varnish. The glitz and the glam in this film applies sorta like it does in real life: turns out, beauty’s skin deep, and there’s much more to be found in this story about a white girl from Africa — Cady (it’s pronounced “Katie,” thank you very much), played by a Lindsay Lohan we hope is sober — who goes behind enemy lines of the ‘popular crowd,’ here referred to as ‘The Plastics,’ to upend the social order.

This, at the behest of the outcast but really cool kid Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan) who wants nothing more than to topple the queen of the bitches, Regina George (Rachel McAdams, who clearly reveled in the opportunity to break from her sweet-girl persona).

While the attending tropes of the genre were almost as easy to pick out as Cady’s social clumsiness was in the beginning, Mean Girls is not as dumb as it looked, thanks to the wit of one Tina Fey, who not only services the film gracefully and amusingly as your vintage “I recognize how unhip I am as a math teacher” type role model — she also penned the script.

That second part? Definitely good news for me, and for anyone under the false assumption this movie is just about applying make-up and making fun of the fuglies. Well, there is a little of that too. But oh my gosh, it’s like. . . so totally fetch.

Fey conjured up a school environment ripe with drama and interesting characters. There were the obvious targets: the aforementioned high-brows who wear high-heels and bad attitudes, the jocks, and the sexually-deprived math nerds. Moving on down the list of significance to the more frequently overlooked: the punk-rockers, the try-too-hard’s, the — and I’m paraphrasing — very pretty but unfriendly black girls, the awkwardly disfigured, the burn-outs, the downright not-good-lookers. Comprehensive. Thorough. Borderline insensitive. In essence, not at all what I had this movie pegged for.

But what perhaps solidified Mean Girls‘ status as a valid piece of commentary on the high school experience was the attention to detail. Conversations are often brutal, even heart-breaking, especially when it comes to evaluating waist sizes. Characters mattered (see: Daniel Franzese’s hilarious Damian). The set-up’s also engaging. Whereas certain developments play out predictably — the eventual downfall of Cady is none too subtle and neither are the fates of a few relationship triangles, romantic or otherwise — there are others that come out of left field, but in the best possible way. The idea Principal Duvall (Tim Meadows, master of the dead-pan delivery) had to gather all females in the gym for one hell of an interesting conflict resolution session stood out among them. There was also the reciprocating of the evils between newcomer Cady and the queen of the bitches.

Back-stabbing never seemed so much fun you guys! Despite colliding with several cliches, Mean Girls delivered big on laughs, entertainment and faithfulness to a certain culture of irrepressible silliness. When scenes played out in Cady’s head, we are treated to the scenario in slow-motion, backed-up with vicious animal noises, an effect that might seem goofy when read about, but whose effect gradually provides a cumulative effect that brought out the best in this mean-spirited mayhem.

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3-5Recommendation: A thoroughly entertaining comedy from the early 2000s that provided as much heart as it did laughs, while in the guise of what’s ostensibly a chick flick. Perhaps the surprise factor helped, but I laughed myself silly in key scenes here. The film had spirit, good-looking girls, and it also had something of an important message to impart its viewers with. It’s also ironic. If you can’t be accepted as Lindsay Lohan, just. . . try something else until that doesn’t work. Then go back to being Lindsay Lohan.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 96 mins.

TBTrivia: Tim Meadows had apparently broken his hand prior to shooting, and his character ends up wearing a cast for the duration. It is explained away as him having carpal tunnel syndrome.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com

A.C.O.D. (Adult Children of Divorce)

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Release: Friday, October 4, 2013

[Redbox]

If ever you wanted to test the limits of your moviegoing patience and goodwill, rent a little flick by the name of Adult Children of Divorce, or A.C.O.D. for short.

A nail biter, a fist-clencher, an intensely palm-sweating experience for all of the wrong reasons, first-time director Stu Zicherman’s romantic comedy is the most unromantic comedy this reviewer has seen in ages. So why the nail biting, fist-clenching, etcetera? Though not an exhaustive list, these are the physical reactions a viewer is likely to have while enduring a film like this. (See also: head-bashing, eyeball-gouging, and the immediate chugging of rubbing alcohol to induce permanent blindness.)

Phew. Well, after flushing the system of those reactions, I have to concede that A.C.O.D. is not quite that despicable. But it’s not a good film, not by any stretch. It strands a talented cast in a story that is exasperatingly dull, one that misses its potential like the Titanic missed its final destination. The snail’s pace and amateur plot development together result in some of the longest 87 minutes you’re likely to experience, at least while watching a comedy.

Let’s back up a little bit before I go into a full-fledged rant. The premise is about a grown man, Carter (played by Adam Scott) whose parents have been divorced for most of his life and haven’t so much as spoken for the majority of that time. When his younger brother Trey (Clark Duke) drops the news of his upcoming wedding to his “super hot girlfriend,” Carter’s horrified to learn that Trey wants their now-remarried parents to attend the wedding. That sounds awkward enough, but the nature of Hugh (Richard Jenkins) and Melissa (Catherine O’Hara)’s separation has rubbed salt into the wound. And thus, the movie being the most unromantic romantic-comedy created in years. A family dynamic that’s this dysfunctional begs the question as to who decided this would fit the description of a rom-com.

Making matters worse, Carter learns one day that a family friend who is also a psychotherapist (Jane Lynch) has been studying people like him for years, tracking the rippling effects a divorce has on the children of separated parents. He’s unwittingly become a caricature in Dr. Judith’s book, titled ‘Children of Divorce.’ Though Carter wants to believe he only shares physical traits of those who raised him, the doc thinks there’s something lurking underneath the surface that makes him more like his parents than he’d care to admit. So she approaches him for a follow-up, a sequel to her highly successful book. She’ll call it ‘Adult Children of Divorce,’ with the intent being. . .well, that much isn’t so clear. The movie falls down on its knees in this department, providing the greatest flaw in the design.

Not only does the movie not take advantage of what appears to be, on paper anyway, a poignant statement on the nature of love and commitment in modern society, the damn thing’s not funny. Save for the odd guffaw caused by good old Richard Jenkins, everyone else in this film suffers from over-dramatization (Amy Poehler’s bitchy sorority alum Sondra, who is also Hugh’s latest wife, being the worst offender — seriously, can we please go back to the days of SNL, where she was actually funny. . .and live in that time?) and limited character development.

There’s a goldmine that Zicherman fails to tap into here. One cannot deny the appeal of the film’s title. It has real potential, although a comedic approach to the matter is questionable in the first place. With the divorce rate — as it pertains to the United States — hovering at or around 50%, a statement on the alarming rate at which the phrase ‘for as long as you both shall live’ is being cast aside- in present-day marriages should make for a really great movie. Channelling my inner Arnold Schwarzenegger here: negative.

Despite a select few moments in which Jenkins and O’Hara try their hardest to pull a rabbit out of the hat with regards to this conceit-, the vast majority of the story is bogged down in footage that would seem more useful in B-roll takes. Adult children of divorce is apparently a ‘real’ concept, as the end credits introduces the viewer to people involved in the making of the film who describe themselves as such; it’s a shame we can’t really care by the time they introduce themselves.

A.C.O.D.

2-0Recommendation: This is a frustratingly mediocre product that begins with promise and steadily declines over the course of less than 90 minutes — and to reiterate, the film feels more like a two-hour affair than something that registers just shy of a standard full-length feature. Performances all around aren’t that memorable. If you are a die-hard Richard Jenkins fan, you might check this out but that is the most positive recommendation I can really give the film. Otherwise, it’s a squandering of potential in any other way.

Rated: R

Running Time: 87 mins.

Quoted: “You know, the thing about Portuguese whores is some are born in Portugal, some are born in Africa. It’s a real mix.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.moviefone.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Anchorman-2

Release: Wednesday, December 18, 2013

[RPX Theater]

Baxter! Bark twice if you’re in this movie!

“Woof-woof!”

. . .and, oh how he is! Baxter and the entire Channel Four News team assemble for the much-anticipated follow-up to Adam McKay’s 2004 smash hit. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. . .is, to put it completely unbiased-like and everything, well. . .it’s exactly the product you were expecting, but quite possibly funnier.

While the decades may have changed — the likes of Ron, Brian, Champ and Brick are now gone from Channel 4 News, doing their own thing, finding themselves slightly displaced with the 70s behind them — the characters that made the first movie so hilarious sure haven’t.

Sure, originality has faded a little since the prospect of seeing the guys “again” by definition means we are already accustomed to the antics and shenanigans that are likely to come our way. McKay does not take his audiences for fools, despite what some may think of the quality of his work. That we are already acclimated to this feverish silliness coming into the second film is really an advantage, since that leaves him with one option: making sure that we get to know the characters on a deeper level. That might not be something to necessarily expect from a sequel to a slapstick comedy like Anchorman, but that’s just what we get out of our second time around the block with four of Hollywood’s funniest forty-somethings. Well written, familiarly yet painfully hilarious, and perhaps even a touch more sincere than its predecessor, Anchorman 2 delivers the good news, and quickly.

The sequel can only be described as the natural succession in Will Ferrell’s most successful comedy outing. Mr. Burgundy and his former colleagues find themselves struggling to make ends meet in the new decade; that is, until Ron gets hired by a major 24-hour news station, GNN (Global News Network). He wants to reunite his team and deliver New York, and the world, the best damned news one mustache could provide.

Of course that means pitting his San Diego resume against that of the slick, professional and comically un-intimidating Jack Lime (hehe. . .Jack Lame). Ron soon finds that its going to take some serious news anchoring to get his name out, especially when he learns that his team is given the worst time slot to be on air (from 2 to 5 in the morning). Ron quickly discovers that no matter what time they’re getting to report the news, wouldn’t it be better to give the people greater quantity of “what they want” (like high-speed car chases and celebrity gossip) instead of what “they need” (high-profile interviews and clearly more quality stories like the ones Veronica Corningstone is trying to nail)? What is Ron going to sacrifice to get to that prime-time spot on GNN?

Fortunately none of the guys sacrifice their comedic wit in this second outing. McKay and company, much to their credit, bring back a lot of the jokes that helped make its predecessor so outrageous, and while that sounds like potentially lazy filmmaking, in this case it was a good idea. Familiarity can breed contempt, but rare are the dull moments when you’re around Ron and his dim-witted colleagues. Their antics are met with greater opposition at this station, as the four of them are overseen by a particularly no-nonsense station manager by the name of Linda Jackson (Meagan Good). . .and in comparison to others, the four seem to be the station’s least successful contributors.

That is, yes, until Ron discovers the secret of news reporting. Though set in the 80s, the heart and soul of this cackle-inducing comedy very much riffs on the state of more contemporary news outlets and the way they present information to the masses. It’s the soft news being spewed out by the likes of TMZ, MTV and even to some extent more reputable sources like NBC that get targeted by Ferrell and McKay’s still sharp and witty script. For the most part, it is as successful a formula as the one they came up with roughly a decade ago.

The only thing this film will likely not do is compete with the first’s quotability factor. While there are some epic moments here to remember, there are no glass cases of emotion to be found, nor one liners of pure gold such as “where did you get those clothes, at the toilet store?” Much to its credit though, this film’s sight gags are far more plentiful and these alone are worth paying for a ticket. One particular side-story is responsible for one of Ferrell’s most bizarre yet hilarious running visual jokes (that’s a pun, actually), a sequence which culminates in the most satisfying of comic climaxes. If you thought the scale of the last news team battle (and the list of big-name extras) was impressive in the first movie, just you wait.

The Legend does indeed continue. This is everything that a sequel to a comedy should be, and thanks to the reuniting of McKay with the same guys who helped make him a success in the early 2000s, the line between remaining reliably funny and becoming pretentious about what it’s trying to achieve is carefully avoided. It’s not a film that has a great amount of purpose, but it’s a deliciously entertaining film that shows a progression of the relationships between the guys from the Channel 4 News desk. It also makes some great use of supporting roles in Meagan Good and Greg Kinnear, bearing witness to some of the most brazenly racist and childish behavior any news team member has ever seen at GNN. You almost feel sorry for these two. Almost.

Long live the mustache, and most importantly, long live Baxter — the coolest dog any movie has ever seen.

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3-5Recommendation: This section is remarkably easy for this one. If you were a fan of the first, this will more than satisfy. If you weren’t, here’s one this December you can probably skip out on. The silliness is back in fine form here and although we had to wait nearly a decade to see a sequel, it’s more than great news that what awaited was not simply a ship waiting to sink.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 119 mins.

Quoted: “Suicide makes you hungry, I don’t care what anybody says.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.screencrush.com; http://www.imdb.com