Don’t Think Twice


Nothing says kooky more than a wheel of Improv players.

Nothing says kooky more than a wheel of Improv players.

(2016) Dramedy (Film Arcade) Mike Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs, Keenan-Michael Key, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, Emily Skeggs, Chris Gethard, Sondra James, Richard Kline, Sunita Mani, Steve Waltien, Kati Rediger, Pete Holmes, Richard Masur, Adam Pally, Lena Dunham, Maggie Kemper, Ben Stiller, Miranda Bailey, Seth Barrish, Erin Drake. Directed by Mike Birbiglia

 

Funny isn’t easy. If it was, everybody’d be a comedian. Of all the comedic disciplines, improvisation is one of the hardest. It requires quick thinking, a quicker wit and gluttony for punishment. Improv artists have a tendency to live hand to mouth and the odds of them making it are long indeed.

The Commune is a long-time improv group in New York City founded by Miles (Birbiglia) and currently consisting of MC Samantha (Jacobs) who is the girlfriend of Jack (Key), the most promising individual comedian in the group. Allison (Micucci) is an aspiring graphic artist and Lindsay (Sagher) smokes a whole lot of pot and is the daughter of wealthy parents who pay for her therapy. Finally, there’s Bill (Gethard), a kind of sad sack kind of guy who has a number of personal problems.

All of them harbor the ambition of getting an audition with Weekend Live (Saturday Night Live if they could have gotten the rights to use the name and footage). However, they’ve been hit with the bombshell that the run-down theater they’ve been using has been sold and is about to be converted to an Urban Outfitter; they have one month to get out.

But all is not lost. While they look for an affordable space, a couple of members of the Weekend Live group caught the group at a performance and have extended audition invitations – but only to Jack and Sam, largely because Jack grandstanded at the performance knowing that the cast members were there.

The group is happy for them, but it is happiness tinged with jealousy, anger and disappointment. Miles, who makes a great deal out of the fact that he had auditioned for the show ten years earlier and had been, as he puts it, “inches away” from the big time, is particularly out of sorts about it. He’s also teaching improv to pay the bills and beds his students whenever possible.

Bill is dealing with a family issue that is taking up much of his attention, although he is grateful for his fellow Commune-ists who surround him and make inappropriate jokes to keep his spirits up. However, as the days wind down, it turns out that Jack gets the gig at Weekend Live and Sam doesn’t, although she doesn’t necessarily see that as a bad thing for reasons that become clear later on in the film but you should be able to figure out without any problem. Now with Jack gone and the clock ticking, the group is beginning to disintegrate as it becomes clear that not everyone is going to have their dreams come true.

Birbiglia is a gifted stand-up comic and as his first time in the director’s chair for Sleepwalk With Me showed, he has some potential in that role as well. As in that film, his character here is not always the most pleasant of people – Miles is arrogant and a bit jealous of Jack’s success which only points out the lack of his own. He sleeps with students which is a major no-no even though the students he’s teaching are adults, and he puts down his friends with barbs that have just enough truth in them to bury themselves in the skin.

Key shows off his formidable talent here better than he has in anything other than his Comedy Central show with partner Jordan Peele. In many ways, Key mirrors his character; of all the actors here (other than Stiller, who makes a cameo as himself) he has the best chance to reach stardom. With more performances like this under his belt, he certainly will get a look from the studios and the networks.

Most of the main actors here have improv experience other than Jacobs and she underwent rigorous training in the art which as mentioned earlier is not as easy as it looks. As a team they work well together and the onstage footage has some pretty fun moments, but the drawback is that improv really is best experienced live; it rarely holds up as well on film. Still, the movie has an air of authenticity about it because of the experience of Birbiglia and his cast (as well as Seth Barrish, the co-writer who also appears as a Lorne Michaels-like figure in the film).

It is a dramedy so the moments of savory and sweet are fairly balanced out, although given the subject matter I would have appreciated a bit more comedy than drama. There is a little bit of tendency towards soap opera in the middle third as the relationships begin to collapse and the Commune begins to implode.

For all that, this is a solid film that has some wonderful moments (a discussion between Jack and Sam that makes it painfully clear that their relationship is over comes immediately to mind) as well as a few misfires. It’s definitely worth seeing, even if you aren’t into improv. The truth is that this is the kind of movie that might actually make you a fan, or at the very least, more respectful of those who practice the art.

REASONS TO GO: A glimpse of what goes into making an improv group work.
REASONS TO STAY: Could have used some more laughs.
FAMILY VALUES:  There’s plenty of swearing and a good deal of drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The cast performed as an improv troupe for two weeks prior to shooting. Some of the footage of their performances is used in the film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/7/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 99% positive reviews. Metacritic: 83/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Punchline
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Our Little Sister

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New Releases for the Week of September 2, 2016


MorganMORGAN

(20th Century Fox) Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Toby Jones, Paul Giamatti, Boyd Holbrook, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Yeoh, Brian Cox. Directed by Luke Scott

A corporate troubleshooter is sent to a remote lab to investigate a recent accident and to evaluate whether the program being conducted there should be continued. When she arrives, it soon seems that the culprit behind the chaos is a seemingly innocent whose facade hides enormous potential – and incredible danger.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for brutal violence and some language)

Don’t Think Twice

(The Film Arcade) Mike Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Keegan-Michael Key. When the member of a popular New York City improv troupe gets a big break on an SNL-like late night sketch show, the others in the group – all friends – begin to realize that the odds are that not all of them are going to make it after all. And maybe, none of them will.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for language and some drug use)

Kickboxer: Vengeance

(RLJ) Alain Moussi, Georges St-Pierre, Dave Bautista, Jean-Claude van Damme. After his brother is killed in the ring by a brutal fighter, a young man swears vengeance upon the man that killed him but in order to beat him, he’ll have to get training from the best of the best – a kickboxer by the name of Durand.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Martial Arts
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

The Light Between Oceans

(DreamWorks) Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Jack Thompson. Just after the First World War, an army vet takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on the rugged, isolated Australian coast, two days ride from anywhere and only seeing a supply boat once a season. Here he brings his strong-willed wife and here they try to bring a baby into the world, but meet with miscarriages and a stillbirth. One day she hears a baby’s cries on the wind and finds a baby in a lifeboat with a dead man. Believing this to be a sign from God she keeps the baby for her own against her husband’s better judgment. However, when they return to the mainland, they discover that their choice may have been devastating for someone else – a woman who may well be the true mother of the child.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and some sexual content)

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax

(Miramax/Summit) Jamie Dornan, Sarah Gadon, Aaron Paul, Oliver Platt. After surviving eight near-death experiences, a little boy plunges off a cliff – and miraculously survives, but is left in a coma. In order to find out what really happened, an acclaimed neurologist tries an experimental procedure to get inside the boy’s mind – and finds something sinister lurking there.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Supernatural Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for some disturbing images and brief strong language)

No manches Frida

(Pantelion) Omar Chaparro, Martha Higareda, Monica Dionne, Rocio Garcia. After a bank robber is released from prison, he goes to recover his stolen money which he’d buried in a schoolyard. Unfortunately, while he was inside the school built a gymnasium on top of where he buried the loot. In order to get into the gym and dig for his cash, he must masquerade as a substitute teacher at the school – which quickly escalates into chaos.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC The Loop, Epic Theaters at Lee Vista

Rating: PG-13 (for crude sexual content, drug material, teen smoking and drinking, brief strong language and gestures and thematic elements)

The Sea of Trees

(A24) Matthew McConaughey, Naomi Watts, Ken Watanabe, Katie Aselton. A suicidal American enters a Japanese forest at the base of Mt. Fuji to finish himself off. While there he finds a Japanese man lost in the impenetrable woods and the two become friends. Finding the way out of the forest however turns out to be a lot more difficult than finding their way in. This is the latest from director Gus Van Sant.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, some disturbing images and brief strong language)

Yoga Hosers

(Invincible) Johnny Depp, Lily-Rose Depp, Harley Quinn Smith, Adam Brody. A pair of comely convenience store clerks in Winnipeg, Manitoba is chagrined to discover they’ll have to be working when they could be at the party of the year. To make matters worse, their store is ground zero for an interdimensional invasion of…Nazi sausages. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. Thankfully, director Kevin Smith can.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard (playing Friday night at midnight only)
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: PG-13 (for crude humor, sexual references, some violence and brief drug material)

Pick of the Litter – July 2016


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters

(Columbia) Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth. Who ya gonna call? One of the 80s most beloved films gets a reboot. There has been some grousing that the team of paranormal exterminators is all women, and that has led to a great deal of grousing on the Internet. I know, who would have thought that people on the Internet grouse? Seriously, director Paul Feig has made some of the funniest comedies of the past few years and generally utilizes a female-centric cast. While I generally would have preferred a sequel (although original Dan Aykroyd reportedly makes a cameo here), I’m really looking forward to this. July 15

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Buddymoon

Buddymoon

(Orion) David Giuntoli, Flula Borg, Claire Coffee, Brian T. Finney. Left at the altar on his wedding day, a former child actor is convinced by his German friend, DJ Flula, to take his honeymoon anyway – a hike in the Pacific Northwest’s Cascades Range. Reluctant at first, the two good friends prove to be anything but compatible hiking partners as neither one is used to the great outdoors. But gradually, they find their stride and maybe, discover what it means to be buddies. This played the Florida Film Festival this past April. July 1

Life, Animated

Life, Animated

(The Orchard) Jonathan Freeman, Gilbert Gottfried, Owen Suskind, Ron Suskind. An autistic child presents challenges for his or her family, but Jonathan Freeman’s family faced some enormous ones with him. Their love and devotion to him moved them to create an entire language using Disney animated films so that they could communicate with Jonathan. This documentary, showing their triumphs over adversity, has been wowing the festival circuit since it first made an appearance at Sundance earlier this year. July 1

Microbe and Gasoline

Microbe and Gasoline

(Screen Media) Ange Dargent, Théophile Baquet, Audrey Tautou, Diane Besnier. Michel Gondry is one of the most imaginative directors in the world and his latest is in many ways his most accessible film yet. It is a coming of age tale about two misfit young boys, certain that they will never fit in, who decide to leave town and take a road trip across France to find a place they do fit in. Not being old enough to drive, much less afford a car, they build one of their own – a kind of an RV if you use a little imagination and you can bet Gondry uses a lot more than a little. July 1

Captain Fantastic

Captain Fantastic

(Bleecker Street) Viggo Mortensen, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Frank Langella. Ben has raised his family in what can only be termed as a counterculture method. Away from civilization and technology, he has crafted a simple life for he and his family. When his wife gets sick, he relents and takes her to the hospital but it’s not enough. Her death sets Ben up against his wife’s heartbroken father, who determines to take the children and raise them in civilization before Ben kills another of them. This film is an allegory of the left vs. the right in a year where politics are everything. July 8

Fathers and Daughters

 Fathers and Daughters

(Vertical) Amanda Seyfried, Russell Crowe, Aaron Paul, Jane Fonda. Following the death of his wife, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author suffers a mental breakdown and is forced to give up his daughter while he recovers. 27 years later, his now-grown daughter struggles to forge connections of her own while trying to help a young girl who has lost everything. From director Gabriele Muccino, Oscar-nominated director of The Pursuit of Happyness. July 8

Our Little Sister

Our Little Sister

(Sony Classics) Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose. Three beautiful young women, sisters all, attend the funeral of their father, from whom they’ve been estranged for his philandering ways. When they arrive at the funeral, they discover that he left behind a fourth sister with the woman who they had blamed for wrecking the marriage of their parents. When they discover she has no place to go, they invite her to stay with them. This Japanese film looks beautiful from both a cinematography standpoint but also an emotional one and is based on a popular graphic novel. July 8

Tulip Fever

Tulip Fever

(Weinstein) Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz, Dane DeHaan, Judi Dench. In 17th century Amsterdam at the height of tulip mania in the Netherlands, a young artist is hired to paint the portrait of the wife of a well-to-do merchant. The artist and his subject fall in love, beginning a game of cat and mouse with the husband that might have deadly consequences. With a script by Tom Stoppard and a cast with some of the best actors from Hollywood and Europe, this is undoubtedly a must-see. July 15

Don't Think Twice

Don’t Think Twice

(The Film Arcade) Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci. A tight-knit New York City improv group has been laboring in relative obscurity in the city. When one of their number gets called upon to join the cast of an SNL-like TV show, the rest of his troupe begin to realize that they may not be destined for stardom after all. A bittersweet look at life in the comedy lane. July 22

Can We Take a Joke

Can We Take a Joke?

(Goldwyn) Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette, Lisa Lampinelli, Jim Norton. In this age of social media and instant gratification, comedy has come under fire for offending people. Anything that even smacks at poking fun at, say, racial stereotypes, gender stereotypes, religious stereotypes – all of these can end up getting the comedian in hot water, and sometimes in physical danger. This documentary asks if we’ve gotten too thin-skinned for our own good (SPOILER ALERT: yes we have). July 29

Viral

Viral

(Dimension/Radius) Analeigh Tipton, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Michael Kelly, Travis Tope. It isn’t often that I include a horror movie among my Picks of the Litter, but this one looks special. For one, it’s got Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman in the director’s chair, two of the brightest and promising directors in Hollywood. For another, it’s got a look that reminds me a little bit of the excellent FX series The Strain. And finally, it looks scary as hell. July 29