Hollywood Fringe


Kirk and Prediger can’t believe the dialogue coming out of their mouths.

(2020) Comedy (Sleeper CellJennifer Prediger, Justin Kirk, Nishi Munshi, Maya Stojan, Tory Devon Smith, Rainbow Underhill, Erica Hernandez, Jim Holmes, Terryn Westbrook, Cyd Strittmatter, Frank Cappello, Shaughn Buchholz, Aaron Conte, Miles Dausuel, Amit May Cohen, Max Goudsmit, Neel Ghosh, Jolene Kay, Charley Koontz, Aimee McGuire, Anna Shields, Michelle Nakamoto. Directed by Meghan Huber and Wyatt McDill

I would assume at least some of my readers have attended a local fringe festival (and here in Orlando we happen to have a good one). For those not in the know, fringe festivals are a festival of short, generally experimental or avant garde performance media, generally theatrical in nature although some fringe festivals also include short film screenings. Fringe performances are meant to push the boundaries a bit, sometimes dealing with uncomfortable subject matter, sometimes involving audience participation, sometimes being really weird and way out there. Fringe festivals are something of an acquired taste, one I’m sad to say that I’ve never acquired and I’ve been to a few, mostly in California.

This piece is essentially a feature length fringe festival film involving married couple Samantha (Prediger) and Travis (Kirk). They are struggling actors and writers, originally from the Midwest but gradually coming to the realization that they are approaching 40 and have nothing to show for it. They have one last shot – a TV show they have developed about a self-sustaining farm – which they have pitched to a fictional network. If this doesn’t click for them, they have decided to leave L.A. and move back home and start a different life.

But there’s good news and there’s bad news for them; the series is picked up. Yay! But the network only wants Travis, finding Samantha to be too unlikable. Boo! This puts a strain on their marriage as Travis continues on with the show, getting more and more disillusioned as the network changes their original concept into something completely unrecognizable. Meanwhile, Samantha is looking to put on a piece from their younger days, entitled The Alien Play and after auditioning a group of actors from a long line of really bad actors, settles on a group of highly strung actors who, like Samantha, haven’t found success yet  Samantha is turning into a drama teacher as well as theater director, and as Travis gets discouraged, she gets more energized.

But wait! Is that what’s really happening? Co-directors McDill and Huber leave that extremely open-ended, presenting the story as a series of short vignettes that have an audience, generally a very small one. We are left to wonder whether this is reality or performance or a clever mix of both, and the filmmakers leave it to the audience to decide which. That’s to the good. Also to the good is Prediger, who has just enough of an edge to be interesting, but not so much as to be unlikable. She has some real screen presence and has a good deal of potential, kind of like a poor man’s Tina Fey.

But this is often a slog to watch. The dialogue is flat out bad; it is like the dialogue you’d find in a badly written community play. Now, that might well have been done on purpose, but it gets extremely annoying, as does the hand clapping and melodica blowing in between scenes. What probably sounded like an original idea on paper becomes on film somewhat gimmicky and overbearing. Less is definitely more.

I can’t say as I enjoyed this film very much, but take that with a grain of sand – as I intimated earlier, I’m not a big fan of fringe theater to begin with and that is a personal preference. The acting here is decent and the idea would be intriguing if the execution wasn’t so annoying. It comes off a little bit pretentious, like a Fringe performance without the intelligence, innovation or humor. Chalk this up as a noble failure.

REASONS TO SEE: Prediger has some real potential.
REASONS TO AVOID: Real. People. Don’t. Talk. Like. This. Very much like spending 90 minutes with people you can’t stand to be around.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Huber and McDill are a married couple.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/13/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING:Your local fringe festival.
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
3-Day Weekend

5 Years Apart


In golf, four’s a game; five’s a crowd.

(2019) Comedy (GravitasChloe Bennet, Scott Michael Foster, Ally Maki, Michael Vlamis, Craig Low, Michelle Randolph, Malcolm Hatchett, Chandler Bailey, Samuel Elhindi, Kyle Anderson, Spencer Waldner, John Cahill, Becky Robinson, Christian Pierce, John McKay, Isiah Miller, Judah Miller, Arsenio Castellanos. Directed by Joe Angelo Menconi

 

If you are looking for the most vindictive, vitriolic and vicious blood feuds there are, look no further than the wars between siblings. It’s difficult to hide who you are from someone you grew up with. You know all the dirty secrets, the moments of shame, and the flaws and defects. There also tends to be rivalries, particularly between siblings of the same sex. Family breeds familiarity, after all, and familiarity breeds contempt.

Andrew (Foster) is about to turn 30. He is a successful businessman, the sort of meticulous man who has every moment of every day planned down to the minute. His wife Olivia (Maki) is much the same way. She and Andrew are thinking of starting a family, but it would entail Andrew taking a second job to offset the loss of income from Olivia and she’s not willing to see him overwork himself. They decide to take a birthday weekend at the house of Andrew’s parents in Arizona while the parents are on holiday in Italy.

His younger brother Sammy (Vlamis) is about to turn 25 – in fact, on the same day as Andrew as the two brothers were born five years apart on the same day. He works as a salesman for a bounce house rental company. He and Andrew haven’t spoken in five years after an incident at a Christmas family gathering led to a physical confrontation between the two. Sammy didn’t even show up at Andrew’s wedding and has never met Olivia. As meticulous as Andrew is, so Sammy is carefree and fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants. He had gone to Arizona State but had dropped out – just one of many instances of Sammy not finishing what he started.

Sammy decides to spend the weekend of his birthday at his parent’s house since they are in Italy. On his way there he meets Emma (Bennet) at a bar. The two hit it off and eventually win up doing the horizontal rumba on the living room couch. This brings out Andrew and Olivia who were doing their own wild thing in the bedroom. It also turns out that Emma had been coming out to visit with Olivia – her half-sister, ain’t coincidence a wonderful thing if you’re a screenwriter – so that she could be set up with Mark (Low), an outgoing Aussie who Andrew has a high opinion of. Unfortunately, as it soon turns out, Emma doesn’t.

The two brothers aren’t willing to budge so reluctantly they spend the weekend together in the same house. Sammy goes out of his way to irritate his staid older brother, while it turns out there is some tension between Olivia and Emma as well. Can the two sets of siblings figure out a way to get past their hurt feelings and pride and find a way to forge an actual relationship?

The plot has a sitcom-y element to it which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are some contrivances, sure, but not in a too-in-your-face way that sitcoms sometimes get. Dysfunctional family relationships are not, as we all know, unheard of and in an era where we are being forced to spend more time with our families than perhaps we would normally thanks to quarantine, it’s easy to relate to how horrible they can get.

The cast is young and attractive and they do a pretty decent job here. Some of you may recognize Bennet from the Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television show and she is absolutely a lark here; the role plays very well to her strengths as an actress. Although her role on her TV show is more of an action heroine, she has some good comic timing and a flair for light comedy that should serve her well in her future career. She was my favorite part of 5 Years Apart.

For those who are cooped up with family, watching the brothers behave childishly towards each other may not be exactly what the doctor ordered; many of us are getting a heavy dose of that sort of thing in real life to want to watch much more than a smattering of it when we sit down to be entertained – in that sense, the film can be irritating. It is also, worse still, predictable, particularly in the last third.

This is a little bit better than I expected it to be in some ways; also, a little bit worse than I expected it to be in others. The performances are good, the characters are compelling and the chemistry is there. Unfortunately, there is also an abundance of sitcom tropes and a dearth of funny jokes. The comedy is mainly situational and I would have preferred if the filmmakers had gotten away from that a little bit. It gets a mild thumbs up at best, but if you’re looking for a diversion right now (and who isn’t) you could do worse.

REASONS TO SEE: A role tailor-made for Chloe Bennet’s talents.
REASONS TO AVOID: Predictable and occasionally irritating.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, sex, brief nudity and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bennet and Maki are close friends in real life and have been for years, but this is the first time they’ve acted alongside each other.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: AppleTV, Microsoft, Redbox
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/26/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Rachel Getting Married
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
At the Video Store

CRSHD


Digital girls in an internet world.

 (2019) Comedy (Lightyear/1091) Isabelle Barbier, Deeksha Ketkar, Sadie Scott, Ralph Fineberg, L.H. Gonzalez, Isabelle Kenet, Abdul Seidu, Will Janowitz, Jack Reynolds, Elliott Kreim, Brandon Halderman, Gabe Steller, Alyssa Mattocks, Joe Boyle, Zach Dahl, Brandon County, Brandon Richards, Dylan Rogers, Patricia Lawler Kenet, Wulfahrt Blankfield, Kim Rojas. Directed by Emily Cohn

 

At a particular phase in our lives, we become with sex and getting it – particularly if we haven’t had any yet. It can turn into an obsession if we’re not careful, which we often aren’t.

Izzy (Barbier) and her besties Anuka (Ketkar) and Fiona (Scott) all are finishing up their freshman year at a private liberal arts college in Ohio. The three hit it off from the get-go and have formed a deep bond in the course of their first year. While Izzy frets about an astronomy final that she needs to ace, Anuka and Fiona are more into winding down the year with parties – particularly the exclusive “crush party” that is taking place off-campus.

If you aren’t familiar with what a crush party is (and you can be forgiven if you haven’t because, as far as I can tell, it is an invention of this film), you submit the name of a person you have a crush on to the party organizers. They then send an invitation to that person. If someone turns in a crush request for you, then you get one. If nobody turns one in for you, no invite.

The somewhat socially awkward Izzy is looking for this party to be the occasion of the erasure of her virginity. All three girls had made a pact to end the year deflowered and Anuka and Fiona have thus far accomplished that. While Anuka is unaware that Izzy hasn’t, Fiona knows. So Izzy has to decide which crush she needs to invite; the super-cool DJ (Seidu), the barista who may or may not know she’s alive (Gonzalez) or the overeager astronomy student who she has already dismissed as too awkward (Fineberg).

But getting to the party will be a bit of an adventure as the girls decide to get blotto before the party to calm down their nerves and end up…well, let’s just say that stuff happens that isn’t on the agenda. Will Izzy lose her maidenhood? Will she pass astronomy? And who was the one who crushed on her and got her the sought-after invite?

This is a movie that is aimed squarely at Gen Z; Cohn, who also wrote the film, is very social media-conscious and while she has a tendency to mix her visual metaphors (modern app representations and 80s video game graphics?) she at least has a visual style. Unfortunately, that style will serve to make this movie seem dated in a matter of months, given the speed at which we switch from one media platform to another. Facebook? So 2004. Instagram? 2010.

While it is a bit refreshing to see a movie about college kids trying to lose their virginity from a female point of view, there are a lot of the clichés of the subgenre that serve to render the point of view less fresh. Why bother to have girls in a role that has generally been assigned to guys if you’re just going to have them do the same things guys do, and make the same mistakes they do. I suppose the director might be going for a “guys and girls are not really that different” message, but that really doesn’t fly. Cohn goes to the trouble of making Anuka, Fiona and Izzy pretty realistic – these aren’t 30-something super-hotties who nobody would believe for an instant would have any sort of difficulty getting laid. They are girls who are pretty but not spectacular, smart but not perfect, awkward but not buffoons.

We are entering an era in which women are becoming more of a voice in the industry, as creators and as industry executives. Cohn has a legitimate shot at becoming the John Hughes of Generation Z, but she needs to trust in her characters and instincts more and write these girls as if they aren’t Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. My intention was to write “This isn’t Superbad, it’s Superworse” but that would be snarky and unfair. There’s a lot here that is admirable, but like Izzy herself, Cohn needs a little more self-confidence to let the girls in her narrative be girls and not like other characters in other movies. That would be a movie I could crush on.

REASONS TO SEE: The lead girls are so much more real than what we usually see in this kind of movie.
REASONS TO AVOID: The app references and visuals are super-dated. The humor falls flat.
FAMILY VALUES: There are a lot of sexual references, some profanity and a bit of drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filmed entirely in the state of Ohio.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Superbad
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Starting at Zero

The Last Laugh (2019)


As you get older, life can be a gas.

(2019) Comedy (NetflixChevy Chase, Richard Dreyfus, Andie MacDowell, Kate Micucci, Chris Parnell, George Wallace, Lewis Black, Richard Kind, Ron Clark, Kit Willesee, Chris Fleming, Allan Harvey, Jason Batchko, Alan Demovsky, James Galea, Rafael Villegas Jr., Carol Sutton, Belinda D’Pree, Sharon Martin, Jessie Payo, Robin Wesley, Khiry Armstead, Giovannie Cruz. Directed by Greg Pritikin

 

As someone who is going to hit the big six-oh this year, films about being old have more of a resonance with me lately than usual. At the same time, as I am writing this, I’m listening to the latest album by Hamerkop.  Age is, truly, just a number.

Don’t tell Hollywood that, though. Most comedies about elderly sorts have a pretty condescending attitude towards the AARP generation. We’ll get more into that in a minute, though; let me tell you a little bit about the plot of this one though. Al Hart (Chase) was once upon a time a talent manager for some of the most talented stand-up comics in the business, but now he’s retired and mourning his wife. His granddaughter Jeannie (Micucci) is concerned that Al has been doing a lot of falling down lately. She is anxious for him to move into a facility where he can be seen to; Al is against the idea but after a particularly nasty spill agrees reluctantly.

At the retirement village, Al discovers Buddy Green (Dreyfus) is a resident. Buddy was Al’s first client and had the makings of being a major star; Al had him booked on the Ed Sullivan show which would have established Buddy as a major star. Inexplicably, he never showed up and turned his back on comedy, instead choosing to raise a family and become a podiatrist. Talk about the shoe being on the other foot.

But the what-ifs have never really left Buddy and Al, seeing the parade of residents to the morgue figures that Buddy deserves a last shot to see if he had the stuff; he books Buddy on a cross-country tour, starting off in cruddy venues in Podunk towns gradually working up to bigger shows until the big one – the Stephen Colbert Late Show in the Ed Sullivan theater in New York. Along the way, the two bicker like an old couple, pick up a free-spirited artist in Kansas City (MacDowell) that Al becomes sweet on, and discover that it’s never too late to pursue a dream.

If that last sentence sounds a bit maudlin, it’s meant to. The movie plays it about as safe as a movie can be played, with the exception of a magic mushroom sequence in which Al trips, imagining a musical number and a carriage ride with Abe Lincoln at the reins. No, I don’t know why.

Remember I talked about Hollywood’s condescending attitude towards the aging? This is the kind of movie that portrays old folks doing shrooms and having sex as kind of “isn’t that cute.” Let’s do the math; people turning 70 this year were born in 1950; they were in their teens and 20s in the 60s and 70s when just about everyone was doing drugs and having sex. I think Hollywood sees the elderly still as the Leave it to Beaver generation, except that they were doing drugs and having sex back then too. Guess what, America? Your grandparents used to get high and fool around. Get over it.

Worse still, the humor is of the safe, don’t-offend-anyone variety, which makes me want to scream. I’m not the biggest Chevy Chase fan ever, but dammit, the man was an integral part of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players, and played a major role in one of the most subversive comedies ever made – Caddyshack. Can we not accept that there are some great comedic minds hitting their 70s now and capable of making comedies that can be bigger game changers than some of the modern crop of comics are currently capable of making? Dreyfus – who is as good as he ever was in this movie – as well as Chase and MacDowell all deserve better than this mildly entertaining, eminently forgettable project.

REASONS TO SEE: Dreyfus is a gift.
REASONS TO AVOID: Unnecessarily maudlin.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a good amount of profanity including plenty of sexual references, as well as some drug use and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first leading role for Chase in a mainstream film since Snow Day in 2000.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/30/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 53% positive reviews, Metacritic: 31/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Sunshine Boys
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Glass

Lionheart (2018)


Genevieve Nnaji keeps a wary eye out for whatever could be standing in her way.

(2018) Comedy (Netflix) Genevieve Nnaji, Nkem Owoh, Pete Edochie Onyeka Onwenu, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Ngozi Ezeonu, Kalu Ikeagwu, Chibuzo “Phyno” Azubuike, Jemma Osunde, Sani MU’AZU, Yakubu Mohammed, Peter Okoye, Chika Okpala, Oramulu Peter, Clemson Agbogidi, Chudi Nwafo, Stan K. Amadi, Obi Jane Nkechi, Uzodinma Umeh, Okwesileze, Steve Eboh. Directed by Genevieve Nnaji

 

Africa is a diverse and beautiful continent. There is veldt and jungle, mountains and deserts, modern urban metropolises and dirt-poor villages. There is no pigeonholing a continent, and the more glimpses we get into the daily life in various African nations, the more we come to realize that we have a lot in common with them.

Nigeria has a film industry known as “Nollywood” that has made some headway under some pretty tough obstacles. Their economic struggles in the Eighties led to nearly every movie theater in the country being closed down. Their movies are largely distributed on tape and disc, and while streaming services are beginning to make headway there, the infrastructure makes Internet availability spotty particularly in the more rural areas of the country.

One of that country’s brightest stars is Genevieve Nnaji. She not only stars in the first Nigerian film to be distributed on Netflix, but she also directs and co-wrote the script. She plays Adaeze, a smart, ambitious woman working in her father’s (Edochie) transportation company. Even though she’s more able than most men, she is often met with derision and hostility; her ideas are often rejected out of hand and from time to time men in the male-dominated industry expect sexual favors from her in exchange for their cooperation. When her father takes ill, rather than pass on the leadership reins to his infinitely qualified daughter, he instead passes it on to his eccentric brother (Owoh) who has some interesting ideas about leadership.

Adaeze’s frustration further grows when she discovers that the company is in a precarious financial position. Her father, perhaps unwisely, took out several loans which the bank has called. They have 30 days to pay it back before they lose everything. She will have to figure out a way to team up with her uncle if they are able to save the company from predators both from without – and within.

Nnaji is an almost regal presence in the same way Angela Bassett is. Beautiful and elegant, she has a screen presence most American actresses would envy. She has a knack for the light comedy of the movie, and while she is no Kate McKinnon, she nonetheless knows what she’s doing in a comedic role. Owoh is definitely the comic presence here, however. Nnaji is essentially his “straight man.” The humor isn’t outrageous or over the top, but more a gentle ribbing of the foibles of life – a very African viewpoint, in other words.

The family dynamics of the Obiagu family are what make the movie really worthwhile. There is a good deal of bickering but there is also a good deal of love – in other words, just like families everywhere. Of course, it’s not exactly headline news that people are people everywhere you go, but it’s nice to see the people of a different culture share their similarities as well as the things that make their culture unique.

REASONS TO SEE: A glimpse at urban African life.
REASONS TO AVOID: A somewhat pedantic plot.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some occasionally rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was the official submission by Nigeria for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2019 Academy Awards but ended up being disqualified since it was determined that the bulk of the film was in English.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/27/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Gods Must Be Crazy
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Escape Room

The Trip to Greece


A couple of badass comedians walking the mean streets of Greece.

(2020) Comedy (IFC)  Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Timothy Leach, Claire Keenan, Rebecca Johnson, Tessa Walker, Michael Towns, Kareen Alkabbani, Marta Barrio, Richard Clews, Cordelia Budeja, Harry Tayler, Justin Edwards, Soraya Mahalia Hatner. Directed by Michael Winterbottom

While they’re no Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Trip pictures have always been welcome additions to the schedule at our beloved Enzian Theater; in fact, the film was scheduled to play the now-postponed Florida Film Festival this past April.

Like the previous trips to the North of England, Italy and Spain, Coogan and Brydon are traveling through some beautiful countryside, eating amazing meals with incredible vistas. As always, Coogan and Brydon are playing “exaggerated” versions of themselves, and the conceit here is that Coogan is writing a restaurant review piece for a newspaper loosely following the route that Odysseus took from Troy to Ithaca in The Odyssey. Along the way, they trade barbs, try to one-up each other with celebrity impressions and deal with situations going on back home; in Coogan’s case, an ill father and in Brydon’s, a suspicion that his extended absences might be getting to his wife (Johnson).

This version is a little bit darker than the first three; some of the banter between the two men reveal some frustrations between them and the situation with Coogan’s dad – which he keeps from Brydon – clearly wears on him as we see nightmares that clearly have to do with him being away from his father at a critical juncture.

Both men are well into their 50s now (as am I) and mortality is beginning to creep into their consciousness. For the first time, Brydon brings his wife along for a portion of the tour, and Coogan’s feelings about his father’s mortality are clearly not something he wants to face. In the meantime, he boasts whenever he has the opportunity about his awards that he’s won. “What are you most proudest of?” queries Rob. Steve responds, not-so-modestly, “My seven BAFTAs” (a combination of Oscars and Emmys in the UK). Rob says that he’s proudest of his children, to which Steve says “That’s because you don’t have any BAFTAs” to which Rob replies “No, but you have children, eh? Interesting…”

And, yes, there are some great comedy bits with references to Coogan’s BAFTA-nominated role as Stan Laurel in Stan & Ollie, to which the two do a bit as Stan Laurel and Tom Hardy, which isn’t quite as funny as it sounds on paper. However, better is the bit with Mich Jagger and Keith Richards which ends with Coogan (who was Jagger) opining that “When Keith Richards laughs, it’s like the last death throes of Muttley” referencing the children’s cartoon.

Basically, this is fairly formulaic but it’s a good formula, although it’s wearing thin. I suspect that if they do stick to their guns and make this the last Trip movie, it would be a good thing as I can see little reason to keep flogging a dead gourmet. However, a part of me can’t help wishing that they find reasons to do more.

REASONS TO SEE: As always, the movie is at its best when Coogan and Brydon are riffing and doing dueling impressions.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not really too different from the other Trip films.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the fourth and apparently final entry in the Trip series, which are all distillations of longer TV shows.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/22/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews: Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Green Book

The Social Ones


It’s Facebook’s world and we’re just living in it.

(2019) Comedy (Comedy Dynamics) Debra Jo Rupp, Richard Kind, Stephanie March, Peter Scolari, Colton Ryan, Amanda Giobbi, Laura Kosann, Danielle Kosann, Setareki Wainiqolo, Desi Domo, Allegra Edwards, David T. Patterson, Jackie Hoffman, Davram Steifler, Gianmarco Soresi, Nicky Maindiratta, Nancy Nagrant, Nicole Kang, Martin Tsien, Vera Kelman. Directed by Laura Kosann

 

Social media has become a major force in our lives. We peruse Facebook daily, check out the Instagram of those we admire, watch our YouTube video channels and hang out in SnapChat, among other social media enterprises. It’s gotten so that we can’t say anything without wondering how we can make it a hashtag.

This mockumentary sends up social media culture. It revolves Round Influencer magazine – which covers the celebrities of social media – that is about to celebrate their fifth anniversary. The cover story for their milestone issue will feature the five most important social media influencers. There’s SnapChat sensation Dan Summers (Ryan) who has the largest following of anyone and is considered the biggest influencer in social media; fashion diva Josie Z (Giobbi) who terrorizes her assistant (Steifler) no end, viral chef Dixie Bell (Domo) who has the vocabulary of a sailor to go with a butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth Southern demeanor away from the kitchen, the self-proclaimed God of Memes Kap Phat Jawacki (Wainiqolo), and vlogger Jane Zap (Kang) who dresses animals in costumes and asks important questions of the day – “should I wear one barrette or two?”

Presiding over this zoo are twins Ava (D. Kosann) and Mia (L. Kosann) Archer, co-editors in chief of the magazine. Dealing with all the egos and vapid demands are causing their anxiety levels to skyrocket through the roof. They are augmented by a university professor (Scolari) who teaches bored college kids about social media “What is a like? Anyone? How about a troll?” an author of breathless romantic novels based on social media (Rupp) and a psychiatrist who treats on emotional disorders brought on by social media (March). And in the background? The architect of modern social media (Kind) although don’t mention MySpace to him – we all have our triggers, after all.

The movie owes much to the oeuvre of Christopher Guest; his This is Spinal Tap! really established the genre. Kosann has a similar style to Guest’s and a similar deadpan delivery. As it is for Guest, that’s a double-edged sword that when it works (Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind) can be amazing but also can be excruciating to sit through when it doesn’t.

Guest also had the benefit of comedic firepower that Kosann simply doesn’t have access to, names like the late great Fred Willard, Michael McKean, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Rob Reiner, and Harry Shearer, among others. While there are some pretty decent talents here (Domo and Giobbi stand out as well as veterans Kind, Scolari and March), they don’t approach that level. Kosann also has to contend with built-in obsolescence; this is the kind of movie that will seem quaint and out-of-touch in only a few years, so its staying power on VOD will likely be short.

What Kosann does well is send up our shallow, self-obsessed internet culture in which we are absolutely frantic with FOMO and need to document everything to the point of mania. I have to admit that I find it amusing to see a person staring at their smartphone with an expression like they’re analyzing Plato’s Republic or thinking up a new algorithm that will make it possible to end disease, war and poverty in a single day. If we as a society put in the kind of effort to eradicating those things as we do at staring at cat videos, we might just actually accomplish something.

The dry humor may not be appealing to everyone but the movie does have some laugh-out-loud moments, although those who have trouble telling apart Facebook from Instagram may not get as much value from the movie as those who are caught up in social media, and those folks might find this trite and condescending. Still, those who obsessively follow influencers and endlessly document the minutiae of their day may well find the attention to be exactly what they’re after.

REASONS TO SEE: A fairly accurate skewering of the social media generation.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit dry and low-energy.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and rude behavior.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Laura and Danielle Kosann are sisters in real life, although not twins as depicted in the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/20/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Best in Show
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
A Peloton of One

Fairytale (Favola)


An All-American housewife.

(2017) Comedy (Breaking GlassFilippo Timi, Lucia Mascino, Piera Degli Esposti, Luca Santagostino, Sergio Albelli. Directed by Sebastiano Mauri

 

The Fifties were a decade here in the United States that in many ways symbolizes a kinder, gentler era; everyone liked Ike, prosperity after the war was undeniable and so long as you were white and straight, you had a pretty decent life just about guaranteed. America was indeed, the beautiful back then.

Mrs. Fairytale (Timi) lives in a bright, modern home that is packed to the gills with kitsch and alcohol. Her husband (Santasostino) leaves for work every morning, leaving her to clean house, cook dinner, commiserate with fellow housewife Mrs. Emerald (Mascino) and adore her poodle Lady (pronounced “Lye-dee” in this Italian-language film) who happens to be stuffed. She also spends time fending off the Stuart triplets (Albelli), all of whom want to get into her panties by hook or by crook – the movie doesn’t hesitate to get into the darker side of the decade, including spousal abuse and alcoholism.

That’s not the only thing that’s off-kilter in this comedy, in which the view out of one set of windows is a New York-like skyline and out another set, a Southwestern desert. Mrs. Fairytale is played in drag by Timi, who also co-wrote the adaptation of his original play; the director is his husband, Mauri who is making his feature directing debut.

Many critics are hailing that the lead role in drag is played by a gay man, which makes for a better understanding of the drag queen culture. I will be honest; I’m not so sure the role is meant to be a drag queen; the oddball story involves invading UFOs who may or may not have changed Mrs. Fairytale’s sex from feminine to masculine. The role is not meant to be an object of fun, like so many drag roles in mainstream movies tend to be, but is meant to be a matter-of-fact depiction of a male actor in a female role. Of late we’ve seen some female actresses playing male characters; I don’t see why the favor shouldn’t be returned.

The movie keeps you off-balance from beginning to end in the most delightful way, all the while remaining true to its aesthetic, and what an aesthetic it is – the production design by Dmitri Capuani is absolutely pitch-perfect, setting the tone for the movie’s eccentric plot, while the set décor by Alessia Anfuso is to die for – I know a lot of devotees of Fifties kitsch culture will be jealous. The costumes by Fabio Zambernardi are positively sumptuous and will have those who love hunting for vintage dressing in thrift stores positively green with envy.

Not everybody is going to love this. It is admittedly willfully weird, but then again, who doesn’t need a little weirdness every now and again, particularly now when confusion is the new normal. If there’s an objection to be had about this delightful film, it’s that it is awfully stagey, even though I think that it intentional on the filmmakers’ part. Still, it feels sometimes like you’re waiting for the rest of the audience to react and that’s not a good thing when you’re watching this while cloistered at home. Fans of LGBTQ cinema should definitely seek this out, but anyone out for a good laugh in a bizarre kitschy atmosphere should love this too.

REASONS TO SEE: Willfully strange and imaginative. Wonderful production design.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not everyone will get this.
FAMILY VALUES: There are sexual situations and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is an adaptation of a play originally written by Timi.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: AppleTV, Fandango Now, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Serial Mom
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Mule

Extra Ordinary


Will Forte goes all satanic on your ass.

(2019) Comedy (Good DeedMaeve Higgins, Barry Ward, Will Forte, Claudia O’Doherty, Jamie Beamish, Terri Chandler, Risteard Cooper, Emma Coleman, Carrie Crowley, Mary McEvoy, Sarah O’Farrell, Agatha Ellis, Jon Cheung, Valerie O’Connor, Siobhan Sweeney, Paul Holmes, Eamon Morrissey, Jed Murray, Mike Ahern, Daniel Reardon, Alison Spittle. Directed by Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman

 

I’ve heard that Ireland may be haunted, and that’s my weak attempt at sarcasm. The truth is, you can’t swing a dead cat (although why would you want to) without hitting a ghost, a banshee or some other spook.

Rose Dooley (Higgins) knows all about it and she has the dead cat to prove it (figuratively speaking, PETA – this isn’t that kind of movie). Her father Vincent (Cooper) hosted a paranormal direct-to-VHS series when Rose was a wee lass, before he met a tragic end that Rose blames herself for.

You see, Rose has a special talent; she can perceive ghosts and even communicate with them. After the passing of her father, Rose determined to ignore her gift, although it’s kind of hard to do when sometimes you can’t tell the living from the dead. So, Rose keeps mostly to herself, only her pregnant sister Sailor (Chandler) really having any sort of ongoing relationship with her. Rose runs a driving school in her tiny town which seems to suit her just fine.

Martin Martin (Ward) whose parents must have waned him to get beat up in school, has a different problem. His wife Bonnie may have passed on but she hasn’t moved on; she still picks out the clothes he’s to wear and sends messages like “The Dog has worms” burned into the toast and from time to time hits him in the face with a cabinet door when he shows any sort of sign of defiance. Their daughter Sarah (Coleman) is fed up; she can’t find closure until her mom’s spirit is at rest and she basically gives her pa an ultimatum; get help or I’m gone.

Sarah is aware of Rose’s past and gives Martin her business card. Martin, wary and kind of spineless, signs up for Rose’s driving course – even though he passed his exam years before. When he finally confesses his real reason for seeking her out, she orders him out of her car. Still, Rose feels a connection with the distraught man and eventually agrees to help.

In doing so, she inadvertently puts herself in the crosshairs of dark forces. You see, American ex-pat Christian Winter (Forte) was once a pop phenom, but after his big hit “Cosmic Woman” put him on top was unable to capitalize on the momentum and now has become a has-been staring at financial ruin. He needs a comeback album and makes a deal with the devil, who needs a virgin to be sacrificed. There really aren’t many of them in town though, but Sarah is one and Christian marks her for sacrifice to the demon Astaroth (Murray).

Rose knows that stopping Christian won’t be easy. She needs the ectoplasm of seven ghosts to do it but fortunately Martin has a talent of his own – ghosts can easily possess him, after which he ends up vomiting up (literally) ectoplasm. Unfortunately, the blood moon is approaching and the sacrifice is nigh. Can Rose and Martin figure out a way to save Sarah and also the world?

The Irish are nothing if not charming and this movie has oodles of that. Higgins is extremely likable as is Ward; they make a cute if awkward couple. Ahern and Loughman, who in addition to co-directing the film also co-wrote the screenplay, never let the horror elements (and there are some) overwhelm the comedy, nor do they let the humor go too over-the-top. This is about as laid back as a movie gets.

The special effects are pretty rudimentary although the appearance of Astaroth near the end of the movie is cleverly done. While the movie loses its momentum in the middle section, it grabs it back once Martin and Rose start tracking down ghosts. Ward gets a chance to show off his chops, taking on the persona of the ghost each time he’s possessed, often to hilarious effect. One of my favorite bits of business is that whenever his late wife Bonnie resides in him, an unlit cigarette dangles from his lips as it did with her while she was alive. How did it get there? Who cares, it works!

And that sums up how I feel about the movie. There’s a specific mythology that the movie builds as it goes along, but don’t be intimidated; it makes good sense and the background is accessed in painless ways, often by showing clips from Vincent’s low-budget show. This film is pleasant, inoffensive and should elicit a smile from all but the most jaded of filmgoers. In an age of pandemics, politics and climate change, heaven knows we can all use a bit of inoffensive pleasantness.

REASONS TO SEE: A very droll sense of humor.
REASONS TO AVOID: Drags a little bit in the middle.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, a bit of sexuality, horror violence and some gross images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Higgins, who plays a driving instructor, didn’t know how to drive before filming started.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/16/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews, Metacritic: 72/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ghost Team
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Workforce

Standing Up, Falling Down


Billy Crystal still looks mah-velous!

(2019) Comedy (SHOUT!) Billy Crystal, Ben Schwartz, Eloise Mumford, Grace Gummer, Nate Corddry, Jill Hennessy, Caitlin McGee, David Castañeda, Leonard Ouzts, John Behlmann, Debra Monk, Kevin Dunn, Wade Allain-Marcus, Kate Arrington, Mike Carlsen, Charlie Hankin, Nathan James, Hassan Jordan, Glenn Kubota, Kelsey Reinhardt. Directed by Matt Ratner

 

It’s not easy to make it out there. These days, it is not uncommon for kids to move back home with their parents when things don’t go their way in a career. I know I did that when I was younger; so did my own son. Most everyone knows someone who has been in that boat at one time or another.

=For Scott Rollins (Schwartz), that ship is on an indefinite cruise. After his attempt to become a stand-up comedian in Los Angeles crashed and burned, he has moved back home to Long Island – not the Hamptons part – with his mom (Monk) who is absolutely thrilled to have him home, his Dad (Dunn) who is disappointed and his younger sister Megan (Gummer) who trades acid-tongued barbs with him and is likely none-too-pleased to see him – her life isn’t going much better than his, although she does have a really great boyfriend (Castañeda).

Scott is 34 years old, with no direction in life and an uncertain future. Although his mom is pushing him in the direction of a post office job – which he is absolutely against – he doesn’t really have much in the way of a plan B. He is pining over his ex-fiancée Becky (Mumford) whom he left to go to the West Coast for. She has since married a mutual friend (Behlmann) and still lives in town.

>He meets the very drunk Marty (Crystal) in a bar bathroom; Marty is drunk enough to be pissing in a sink but not so drunk that his aim is off. He notices a skin condition on Scott’s arm and recommends a dermatologist. As it turns out, he’s the dermatologist. A more sober Marty treats Scott’s “stress hives” and the two develop a friendship.

Like Scott, Marty is damaged goods. He is totally alone and both of his marriages didn’t go the way he wanted. His son Adam (Corddry) can’t stand the sight of him and Marty knows he drinks far too much. But as it turns out, Marty and Scott are good for each other and help each other out in ways neither one of them could have anticipated.

The movie doesn’t break any particularly new ground; the concept of a thirty-something year old kid returning home in failure to his folks’ house has been done a number of times. There aren’t a whole lot of emotional highs and lows here although to be fair the ones that are here are handled well, particularly a scene between Marty and his son late in the film.

What the movie has in spades is charm which is mainly due to the casting. All of the actors, from Parks and Recreation vet Schwartz to the legendary Crystal all exude it and Ratner wisely lets them do their thing. In particular, Crystal is outstanding. This is some of his best work since his SNL days; it’s wonderful to see him display his impressive talent and screen presence again. He’ll be 72 in March but he’s still as funny as he ever was.

Schwartz, not so much. His stand-up routines are kind of flat, even when he’s supposedly killing it; there’s a fundamental lack of understanding of what makes a stand-up funny here. The filmmakers might have been better served picking a different occupation for Scott. However, to be fair, Schwartz has some screen presence and charisma going for him and even if his stand-up material doesn’t work so well, he does a commendable job in his role.

=Definitely, the attraction here is Crystal and fans of his should flock to see this. It is available on the major streaming services now with more to come I’m sure, and at the same time it is making a brief theatrical run including here at the Old Mill Theater in the Villages for those who would prefer to see this on the big screen. This isn’t going to be a movie you can’t live without, but it has enough warmth to make it worth your while.

REASONS TO SEE: There’s enough charm here to see the picture through. One of Crystal’s best performances ever.
REASONS TO AVOID: Is a little bit formulaic. Has a been there done that feel
FAMILY VALUES: There is more than a little profanity and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The crash scene into the pizza parlor was so well-staged that residents in Long Island called the police.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/25/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews: Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Comedian (2017)
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Nobody’s Fool