Sausage Party

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Release: Friday, August 12, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Seth Rogen; Evan Goldberg; Kyle Hunter; Ariel Shaffir

Directed by: Greg Tiernan; Conrad Vernon

Sausage Party represents Seth Rogen’s strongest screenwriting effort since Superbad. It’s been even longer since he’s been this charming in a lead role as well, and he plays a six-inch-long frankfurter. Or sausage, wiener, whatever. He’s a real hot dog in this outing, a riotous, deliriously perverse bite of modern satire that will in all likelihood cause you to think twice the next time you’re thumbing through greens-turning-brown in your local Wal-Mart.

In the world of Sausage Party, Wal-Mart would be the Warsaw ghetto for perishables. In the world of Sausage Party the Food Pyramid takes on an entirely new meaning, a reality that’s manifested brilliantly via anthropomorphic food groups. There’s hierarchy and a universal belief system that shoppers are Gods. Food items believe they’re destined for great things once they’re Chosen, that they’re headed for a place called The Great Beyond where they’ll enjoy an eternity of being loved and treated like royalty by the human that rescued them from their prisons/shelves. A place where a sausage like Frank (Rogen) looks forward to slipping inside a nice, warm bun. A place where an Arabic flatbread named Kareem Abdul Lavash dreams of being greeted by 77 bottles of extra virgin olive oil that will help him stay lubricated and not dry out and be nasty and shit.

Broader arcs, involving Frank’s quest to save his sweet friends (and even salty foes) from continuing to be blinded to a horrible reality — food gets eaten, not laid — and Brenda’s determination to not act on her own sexual urges in fear of upsetting the Gods, are not exactly revelatory. Nor are the main beats delivered en route to one of the most ridiculous afterparties you are likely to ever see. (Yeah, This is the End may have been blessed by the Backstreet Boys but you’ve never seen food porn until you’ve watched this movie.) Because the story is rather store-brand generic, you’re left sort of worrying if there is a way Rogen and company can wrap things up without cooling off completely or melting down or some other food metaphor that suggests deterioration.

But there is no need to worry. At all.

And broad arcs be damned by the way. Getting lost in this supermarket is just way too much fun. There’s so much to see and do. Rogen, once again reunited with Evan Goldberg and aided as well by Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir (the latter two co-wrote The Night Before with Goldberg, a rare case in which Rogen did not share writing duties), has crafted a genuinely hilarious and heartfelt film that manages to strike a near-perfect balance between satire and sobriety. One wouldn’t necessarily think Sausage Party has any right to be stepping into arenas like proving the existence of God, thereby the purpose of religion, or that packaging certain foods into certain aisles could be viewed as segregation but we should never downplay Rogen’s creativity.

In this adventure there is strength in numbers. That applies both to the mission Frank and friends find themselves embarking on as well as to how we’re able to connect with this strange little world. Frank is joined with varying degrees of hesitation by fellow wiener Barry (Michael Cera), who suffers from serious confidence issues; Frank’s love interest, the curvaceous bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) and two squabbling neighbors from the International Foods Aisle in David Krumholtz’ Lavash and Edward Norton’s argumentative bagel Sammy (I still can’t believe that was not the voice of Woody Allen). The diverse selection of characters makes the watch more dynamic and energetic. Nevermind the fact that mainstays like Ketchup, Mustard, apples and oranges are wholly unoriginal, they don’t really lend themselves to comedy. And even though a hot dog does take center stage, brilliantly the summer grilling classic is broken down into two distinct characters. And of course we know why.

Food puns abound and as is expected, ethnic, gender and religious stereotypes play a role in deciding which items we are going to spend time with (for example: the non-perishable items are colored as wizened old Native Americans who have seen it all and it’s no coincidence that the film’s primary antagonist is a Douche named Nick Kroll. Er, played by Kroll, rather . . .). Incensed after Frank cost him his chance to go to The Great Beyond during a shopping cart collision, Douche sets out on a murderous vendetta to take out the wiener (and bun) responsible for not only the missed opportunity but his new physical deformity. (In this reviewer’s opinion we venture a little too deep into TMI territory when watching him mentally breaking down, mourning his lack of purpose. And we really could have done without 90% of Kroll’s brutal dude-broisms.)

It wouldn’t be a comedy from the Rogen-Goldberg school of puerility if it doesn’t make you feel at least a little guilty for laughing at some of the things you end up laughing at. Even still, Sausage Party (hehe) finds a number of ways to justify genre-defining tropes like making sex jokes out of literally everything. Wiig brings strength, courage and conviction to the part of a sexy piece of bread. Some things will never change though, as even here Rogen’s every bit the pothead we’ve come to love him for being as he finds room for a scene where a wiener gets roasted with a can of water and a gay Twinkie, and he does it without disrupting the flow of the narrative. The characters are well-defined and each have individual motivations for survival, which is critical in helping us actually “buy into” the situation at hand. (Let’s get real: we never take any of this seriously but we take it far more so than we thought we would when the project was first announced.)

Sausage Party is classic Seth Rogen-Evan Goldberg. It’s rib-ticklingly funny from start to finish, with only a few brief moments where all action comes to a halt in favor of more somber reflections on the state of life in a grocery store that’s about to erupt into civil war. You’ll find almost every alum from previous Rogen-Goldberg offerings here, and, hidden behind the guises of ordinary foods, they become icons. This is far too fattening a meal to keep having, but damn it all . . . why does fat have to taste so good?

Stephen fucking Hawking gum and Michael Cera the wiener

Recommendation: Irreverent, profane, over-the-top, delirious, and bizarrely heartwarming. Sausage Party uses anthropomorphism to its advantage and then some, creating memorable characters out of mundane food items and giving them distinct human personas that we can identity with and care about. (Obviously some more than others.) The rules of course still apply: fans of Seth Rogen’s sense of humor need apply while all others who aren’t big on the guy probably won’t find much mustard to squeeze out of this one. Visiting the supermarket will never be the same again, and I think that more than anything is the mark of an effective comedy.

Rated: R

Running Time: 89 mins.

Quoted: “Banana’s whole face peeled off, Peanut Butter’s wife Jelly is dead! Look at him, he’s right there.”

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

The BFG

'The BFG' movie poster

Release: Friday, July 1, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Melissa Mathison

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Great Gallywampers and fiddly tweezlesticks, I is very pleased indeed that Steven Spielberg has delivered the goodles in his very first venture into Roald Dahl‘s brilliant imagurnation. The BFG is breathtaker beautiful, and not just thanks to its scrumptioutious imagery, neither. It recalls the warminess and serenity of Brian Cosgrove’s 1989 animated adventure and ‘n fact it mighty jus’ be more endearin’ because of the live-action interplayery.

No, don’t worry, I’m not gonna speak in Dahlian tongues for the entire review. That’s just my overly dramatic way of expressing relief that The BFG turns out to be the real deal, rather than a pale imitator. The story is clumsier than you might expect with a Spielbergian production — we find as many lulls in the story as we do frobscottle-induced farts (excuse me, whizzpoppers) — but that’s merely the product of a director’s faithfulness to the source material. Spielberg otherwise hits every major note with an assured and playful touch, his knack for conjuring powerful feelings of wonder and awe giving this sweet summer diversion a personality all its own.

Indeed, The BFG is mostly a success in that it doesn’t create any new problems. It merely inherits those of its ancestor — namely, the aforementioned inconsistent and at-times sluggish pace and a few leaps of faith in logic in service of a narrative that just may well be Dahl’s strangest and most fanciful. Story concerns a young girl named Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill) who is whisked away one night from Mrs. Clonkers’ Orphanage by a huge, hooded creature and to Giant Country, a wondrous place filled with beauty. Do I smell a Best Visual Effects nomination? I do, as a matter of fact: that sequence in Dream Country by the dream tree is simply mesmeric.

But Giant Country isn’t total paradise, it’s fraught with danger as well. The other giants among whom the BFG ekes out a quiet existence as a Dream Blower are much larger, meaner and they eat human beings (or, beans, rather). After learning she’s not leaving Giant Country anytime soon, Sophie encourages her big friendly giant to stand up for himself and to rid the land of these brutes, led by Jemaine Clement‘s Fleshlumpeater, once and for all. The pair seek the help of the Queen (Penelope Wilton) and her Royal Army back in the real world to do just that.

As is the case with a great many Dahl adaptations, the suspension of disbelief is a requisite and that ability serves viewers well here, especially as the fearless Sophie encourages the two worlds to collide. The performances anchoring the film are so good they allow us to overlook many a flawed concept. And there are more than a few. Spielberg’s potential new muse in Mark Rylance loses himself in the role as the titular giant and very well might have upstaged David Jason’s original voice performance that made the larger-than-life being an unforgettable creation. His spoonerisms and awkward turns of phrase were a highlight of that original as they are here as well, and once again it’s a joy watching ten-year-old Sophie trying to update and expand his childlike vocabulary.

Rylance doesn’t do it alone, though. He gets tremendous support from the young Barnhill who embraces Sophie’s wide-eyed curiosity about the strange world surrounding her with real gusto. She’s also brilliant at balancing the heartbreak of growing up without parents with a sense of maturity that makes her as well-rounded a character as you’re likely going to find with a child actor. All those years ago Sophie had already been made a strong character thanks to Amanda Root’s precociousness and intellectual curiosity, and those qualities are only bolstered by Barnhill’s live-action incarnation. Most importantly, the quasi-parental bond between the two isn’t lost in translation. The problem of loneliness is resolved with respect for Dahl’s affinity for the weird very much intact come the tear-jerking conclusion.

One of the challenges Spielberg is up against with his take on a Dahlian classic is finding an audience outside of those loyal readers and those who keep the 1989 made-for-British-television special close to their heart. The BFG is certifiably obscure material but perhaps with names attached like Spielberg and Rylance it can reach for broader audiences. This uplifting, sweet tale of bravery and dream-making certainly deserves them.

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Recommendation: The BFG, as I have suspected since the announcement was first made, represents an ideal union of director and material. The world created by Roald Dahl is practically tailor-made for one of the world’s best when it comes to imaginative, inspiring filmmaking and the end product, while not perfect, is about as good as could be expected. The performances are wonderful and if you’re tired of the summer blockbuster trend, I have to recommend The BFG. Like, immediatarily. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “Why did you take me?” / “Because I hears your lonely heart, ‘n all the secret whisperings of the world.” 

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

TBT: Superbad (2007)

Time to break out your favorite JanSport backpack, No.2 pencils and loose leaf notebook paper boys and girls, because it’s once again time to go back to hell school in this second edition of Throwback to School September. (Catchy phrase, right?) Fortunately in this world, all you’ll really need is a backpack to throw in some illegally purchased bottles of liquor as you seek high school celebrity status in 

Today’s food for thought: Superbad.

Becoming McLovin’ since: August 17, 2007

[DVD]

Instead of offering my thoughts on this raucous comedy from the dirty minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, I figured I’d once again do something a little different with this TBT and list the ten things I was reminded of about high school having watched this movie. I will just say that one thing that works in this film’s favor, aside from the ideal casting of Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse — all three physically embodying high school seniors while simultaneously fully embracing their juvenile mentality — is a script that tells it like it is. After all, Superbad was never a film you wanted to watch with the parents, it’s too awkward. Just like high school.

TEN THINGS ABOUT HIGH SCHOOL SUPERBAD REMINDED ME OF

#1) Hormones dictate every decision (and purchase) you make.

#2) We gave teachers way too much shit. They’re too underpaid to be this under-appreciated, even if half of what they taught us we never ended up using.

#3) Some cliché about how generally useless P.E. classes were. Why couldn’t high school have recess, like the good old elementary school days? And why did we have to wear those tatty shirts that were cribbed from a Wal-Mart dumpster?

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#4) Of all the rites of passages, getting your driver’s license was one of the greatest because it meant you could go and hang out with your friends whenever you wanted. Only drawback? Being 16 and having a curfew.

#5) Going to a party where you didn’t really know anyone and where everyone was older than you was the most uncomfortable thing ever. Especially when you found out that some of them were coked out of their minds.

#6) Teenage crushes. Awwwwwwww

#7) Every year there seemed to be at least one major fight. We’d always gather in the parking lot of The Fresh Market to see who would win. Most of the time all they amounted to was a bunch of shouting and insults regarding a certain female parental unit. But every once in awhile we were treated to a spectacular showdown.

#8) Peer pressure could be a bitch.

#9) Adults seemed lame at the time. (Spoiler alert: they still are.)

#10) Senior year is a bittersweet time. Friendships are fleeting, and who knows where everyone ends up in college. The trick is to make the most of what time you have left together.


Recommendation: One of the definitive movies about the high school experience, Superbad is a must-watch, especially if you’re facing your ten year high school reunion. Endowed with an incredible script that’s essentially a pervert’s stream of consciousness, and armed with superb performances from its entire cast Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg struck comedic gold with their story that’s loosely based on their own experiences. Pretty much a modern classic. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 113 mins.

TBTrivia: When this was being filmed, Christopher Mintz-Plasse was 17 years old and so his mother had to be present on set during his sex scene. I guess for some, the awkwardness from high school never goes away.

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Trainwreck

Release: Friday, July 17, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Amy Schumer

Directed by: Judd Apatow

So I’m wondering if it’s some weird coincidence I’m listening to some softcore R&B while trying to decide whether Trainwreck‘s sappy or touching. There were some parts in this movie that were less than . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . I’m sorry, but this song is really damn good!

#guessthesong #winaprize

I genuinely should not be admitting to this, in the same way I shouldn’t fess up to going to see the flick on my own. (Le weep . . . ) But here I am, apologizing for nothing. Except for maybe leaving my phone number on the screen with the rapidly dissipating hope that maybe Amy Schumer would magically be in attendance, read it and then call me! Realistically, I’d be apologizing for my vandalizing the theater screen with desperation Sharpie.

Amy prefers one-night stands to having a boyfriend, to the point where she becomes uncomfortable when some hunk begs to stay the night. ‘Nope, out — out with you!’ But that’s before her editor at a gossip magazine (Tilda Swinton, yet again unrecognizable) sends her on an assignment to scoop up the dirt on Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a sports doctor. A meet-awkward turns into a proper first date, then a second and a third and a . . .

In spite of herself Amy starts having feelings for Dr. Connors, and before long she’s introducing him to Kim as well as earning the attention of LeBron James, a client and good friend of his. LeBron makes it clear Amy should be taking this relationship seriously, for Aaron is a good dude who needs not for his heart to be broken like a basketball player‘s ankles. In his feature film debut, LeBron is a minor revelation, becoming far less distracting than other superstar athletes who have come before. Shumer’s script certainly helps, but The King can actually act. Same applies for 12-time WWE Heavyweight Champion John Cena, who takes pleasure in spoofing his ridiculous physique as Amy’s sort-of fling, Steven. (Let’s not mention New York Knicks’ Amar’e Stoudemire, though.)

By design an off-putting, self-centered character, it speaks to Schumer’s talent that Amy, in all but one or two scenes, comes across as a thoroughly likable and empathetic twenty-something. Though her refusal to settle down with someone is clearly symptomatic of deep-seated insecurities. Since childhood Amy and her sister Kim (Brie Larson) have operated under the assumption that monogamy isn’t realistic. That was dad’s point of view, anyway. But kids grow up and the siblings take different roads — Kim, who was never really close with her father, takes the one more frequently traveled by having a family while Amy takes her dad’s words to heart.

If the buzz in a packed Thursday evening screening was any indication, Trainwreck is going to go down as Judd Apatow’s most fervently discussed film. The crème de la crème of cinema focusing on the casual encounter; his magnum opus of the minor comedy — minor, being a relative term. Like many of his productions Trainwreck is concerned with central characters — typically awkward adults — who become victims of and are desperate to escape their own personal arrested development. Amy happens to be a very strong example of the typical Apatowian character. As with tradition, the story remains slight but this time the film’s thematic aspirations — the necessity of personal commitment and its associated trepidation — feel more sincere and even more wholesome.

If there’s one thing more apparent than the brilliance of the lead performances, it’s how superior Trainwreck is to Apatow’s last effort, the middling middle-age dramedy we’ve already forgotten about, This is 40. Comparisons are often meaningless, particularly in a genre that’s as immune to consensus opinion as comedy, but if we are considering the two films in terms of the wealth and consistency of well-crafted jokes, then Apatow and his movie-making mojo have returned with a vengeance three years after an apparent hiatus from all the hilarity (and yes, the occasional sappy scene).

Recommendation: This free-spirited ride may address a certain text-messaging generation more eagerly than it tries to embrace a larger audience but Apatow’s style has never been for everyone anyway. For those who identify with Apatow Productions, the latest offering is absolutely not one to miss. Schumer and a fun, often surprising cast pull out all of the stops in Trainwreck.

Rated: R

Running Time: 125 mins.

Quoted: “My boy got intimate, sexual intercourse! Ohhhh!” 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.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!” 

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

The Skeleton Twins

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Release: Friday, September 12, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Craig Johnson; Mark Heyman

Directed by: Craig Johnson

Sniffle. It’s just so sad, you guys — these SNL kids are all growing up. . . !

Back in February I would not have looked at Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig — deserving as they are of their own vehicle — as contenders for Best Actor/Actress for next year, and I certainly would not have predicted this honor being bestowed upon them for their contributions to drama. In Craig Johnson’s sophomore effort The Skeleton Twins, the duo leaves an indelible mark upon 2014’s collage of strong performances, ranking as some of the most colorful as well as honest contributions all year.

In this unabashedly emotional drama about estranged — yes, twins, you got it — Hader and Wiig are physically full-grown versions of Eddie Schweighardt and Sydney Lucas’ little Milo and Maggie, respectively, who are limited to flashback sequences.

We aren’t shown their complete history, just enough to appreciate that their respective lives have slowly come unraveled, emotional and psychological pain taking unique tolls on the individuals while the pain of living in a very broken family haunts them both in perpetuity. As a measure of just how far we’ve come since the days of their six-minute skits, I need only refer to the opening scene, one in which we’re presented with Wiig’s Maggie, on the edge (of a toilet seat) and on the verge of making a rash decision. A handful of pills are about to be forced to her lips by her own hand, but she’s unable to follow through as a phone call intrudes upon her introspective hour. It’s about her brother; he’s in the hospital following his own suicide attempt.

Maggie decides it’d be best for both of them if Milo comes to stay with her and her husband Lance (Luke Wilson) for awhile. It’s been a decade since either of them spoke to one another so this is really quite the grand gesture. Particularly when its evident Maggie’s hubby isn’t exactly down with the lifestyle Milo leads as a gay actor from L.A. In turn, Milo’s not really impressed with his sister’s taste in men. Safe to say there are a few other things the two jab each other about over the coming days and weeks.

And herein lies the beauty of this movie. Despite opening on a rather confronting note using attempted suicide to introduce us to the characters, there’s still an ocean of things we can identify with as this dysfunctional brother-sister duo gradually open themselves back up to one another. They may be taking extreme measures, yet it’s their vulnerability that draws us towards them, makes us come to love them. Not pity them. A lot of that should be credited to the tag-team of Hader and Wiig, a typical comedic dream-team totally transformed into a sorrowful bunch still worth rooting for.

Good as the actors are, there is a perfect marriage between this script and these particular SNL alums. Words are lifted from the pages of Mark Heyman and Craig Johnson’s collaboration and in the mouths of the right people they’re transformed into weapons, some striking with almost deadly force as Milo and Maggie try their best to not create more problems for one another, as small cracks in their initial standoffish-ness eventually yield great, gaping chasms. Secrets are revealed: marital issues between Maggie and Lance; Milo’s dark past with a former teacher of his (Ty Burrell, who’s also excellent).

Not only are they mindful of how their script reflects the lives of the broken-spirited, Heyman and Johnson are careful to not sugarcoat proceedings nor dwell too long on the melancholic blue. The celluloid is tinted rather than soaked heavily in its own prejudices towards its characters, which is partly why the opening scenes work so effectively. There are a number of mesmerizing sequences throughout, most of them revolving around one of the most fully-realized characters Bill Hader has ever undertaken. A few include their bonding over laughing gas at Maggie’s dental office; a Halloween party in which Hader dresses in appropriately hilarious/horrifying drag; the duo’s lip-synched rendition of ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,’ by Starship.

Heartfelt, incredibly well-performed, highly entertaining and just quirky enough to escape a great many comparisons to other similar stories featuring an estranged pair making amends after lost time, The Skeleton Twins is not only one of the greatest dramedies this reviewer has seen, but one of the more tonally balanced and emotionally resonant efforts made all year.

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4-5Recommendation: If you call yourself a fan of either Hader or Wiig, what are you waiting for? Purr chase your ticket — pronto! Arguably their best work thus far, their latest outing sees them operating at an entirely different level. It’s not particularly a story you haven’t seen done before but none of that matters when the characters and dialogue is this convincing. I highly, highly recommend.

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 mins.

Quoted: “I can’t wait to be the creepy, gay uncle . . .”

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

The To Do List

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Release: Friday, July 26, 2013

[Theater]

Finally, another movie to showcase Aubrey Plaza’s ridiculous shpiel. Or however you spell that word — gee, it’s about as awkward to spell as Plaza’s mannerisms have been irresistible. From a quieter role in The Office spin-off (coughrip-off coughParks & Rec, to her winning performance in the spectacular and charmingly quirky Safety Not Guaranteed,  she is an indie-actress with unique sensibilities and an awareness of what she’s doing and even if not why, but how she’s doing what. Or maybe my celebrity crush on her just makes me biased, who knows.

This time Plaza holds nothing back as she takes on the role of Brandy Klark, a studious girl who’s just graduated high school but is finding herself desperately missing something having spent all four years buried under school work and not much else. Consequently she’s the valedictorian of her class. And a virgin.

Set in the early 1990s, here’s a raunchy comedy that wouldn’t exactly receive an ‘A’ as far as delivering its message effectively is concerned. Brandy wants to enter college next fall having at least some some sexual experience, and this point is made clear right from the get-go. As we delve further into Brandy’s nerd-gone-wild character arc, we are beaten over the head about the importance of keeping sex in perspective, what sex means, and what that first hook-up was like. The clumsily-structured situation comedy makes for some hilarious (if not awkward) moments  — mostly due to Plaza’s charm — but it may not suit everyone’s palate as far as quality filmmaking is concerned.

Apparently, this is loosely based around the real-life experiences of first-time writer/director Maggie Carey. When Brandy stumbles into Rusty Waters (Scott Porter) — a college student who appears to be sculpted from stone — at a party that she’s been dragged to by her more outgoing friends, her goal is to shed her nerdiness and figure out how best to get with this guy. In the process, she creates a “to do” list, one filled with all kinds of dirty and degrading acts that she has literally done research on, and she aims to accomplish it all come the fall semester. Though she is undeniably cute, she finds herself having a very difficult (and hilarious) time trying to get this thing going.

She picks up a summer job working at a pool in her home town of Boise, Idado, where she is constantly made fun of by her underachieving manager Willy (Bill Hader) and pretty much everyone else. Coincidentally (and annoyingly conveniently) Rusty works as a lifeguard there, as does another boy, Cameron (Johnny Simmons) who has already shown a genuine interest in Brandy. The public pool is something of a contrived plot device — we spend much more time around it than I thought necessary — but in this case it serves up more than a fair share of laughs and touching (literally, touching) moments.

While the story does get distracted far too much in its divulging of as much sexual innuendo as possible (as if trying to compete with American Pie for the “Most Perverted” movie award would do this film any favors) Plaza’s performance saves the film from being truly bad. Her character’s naivety is both perplexing and humorous; delightfully innocent yet inevitably provocative. As she has been in times past, she doesn’t have to do a whole lot to sell her situation competently. And as far as ridiculous situations go, perhaps none are as ripe for comedy than losing one’s virginity. The smallest matters become mountainous obstacles for her character to try to overcome. When they do, we arrive at the most expected of conclusions: sex is not a big deal, folks.

Well, color me shocked. . .

The To Do List is relatively harmless and most of the characters are agreeable enough. With the exception of Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Andy Samberg who feel like total wastes and who could have been supplanted by any no-name actor (an option which would have strengthened the film, truth be told), the cast turns in solid performances that work to elevate Plaza’s head-in-the-clouds, feet-on-the-ground quirkiness to head-scratching levels. That’s a compliment. I think.

At the end of the day, this won’t really be on many people’s minds, but it serves as a satisfactory study of how the perception of sex vastly differs from the actual experience of it. Again, the lessons to be learned here are anything but inconspicuous (and maybe slightly cheesy) but they’re important enough to warrant this film. I had a surprisingly good time despite its overt chick-flicky appeal.

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2-5Recommendation: Aubrey Plaza fans will delight in this; those who don’t understand her antics — stay far away. This is all her show, plus some. Is this the Superbad chick-flick version? Why yes, that’s probably how I would sum this one up.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

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