My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea


A wonderland of turgid prose.

(2016) Animated Feature (GKIDS) Starring the voices of Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph, Susan Sarandon, Thomas Jay Ryan, Alex Karpovsky, Louisa Krause, John Cameron Mitchell, Matthew Maher, Emily Davis. Directed by Dash Shaw

When an animated feature starts off with a warning that the movie features stroboscopic effects that may negatively affect people with photosensitive epilepsy, one isn’t sure to take it seriously or as the movie’s first joke. Not for nothing; take it seriously.

This is one of the most imaginative and self-consciously hip animated features to come along in quite awhile. It feels like an online comic strip come to life which is no coincidence since Shaw is a noted online comic artist whose Bottomless Belly Button has won a good deal of online acclaim. The dialogue is snappy with a bored but snarky sensitivity that falls in perfectly with the millennial milieu and I would guess that most people who love online comics are going to do cartwheels when they see this. Virtual cartwheels, anyway.

The plot is basically The Poseidon Adventure on acid; two good friends, Dash (Schwartzman) and Aasif (Watts) are starting their sophomore years at Tides High. They both work for the student newspaper – well, they essentially are the student newspaper along with their editor Verti (Rudolph) whose name is an off-shoot of the Latin word for truth (see, I did learn something in high school). When she develops a crush on Aasif and hands him the plum assignment that Dash wanted, it drives a wedge between the two which is further widened by Dash’s borderline libelous newspaper column about his ex-friend.

However, all that gets swept aside when Dash discovers paperwork that indicates the school’s foundations aren’t up to code and wouldn’t stand up in a natural disaster. Dash tries to tell everyone what’s going on but Principle Grimm (Ryan) shuts him down and nobody believes Dash anyway. Of course, right about then an earthquake knocks the entire high school off the cliff it sits on and into the ocean where it promptly begins to sink.

Dash and Aasif patch things up and along with Verti and Mary (Dunham), a popular girl who turns out to have a heart underneath her shallow exterior as well as Lunch Lady Lorraine (Sarandon), a no-nonsense military sort who has maintained her military skills, are forced to make their way up through the Junior floor and then to the Senior floor before graduating to the roof if they are to survive. They will have to take on Jellyfish attacks, shark attacks, a kangaroo court of jocks, electrical wires and school bus blockages in order to get there.

Shaw uses a variety of techniques, often hand drawn, throughout the film although he generally uses the sort of heavy black markers with crayon-like colors. The movie comes off as a disaster movie produced by Adult Swim animators and written by twenty-something online writers. There’s no doubt what kind of audience this is aimed at and it’s not the underage kind; there are some pretty nasty moments in the film that parents may not want their kids to deal with quite yet.

Shaw has been friends with Schwartzman for years which helped him get the kind of talent he managed to get for the film which include a few cultural touchstones for the Millennial generation, including Dunham, Mitchell and of course Schwartzman himself. Sarandon does a gravelly voiced job as Lunch Lady Lorraine and was one of my favorite characters in the movie.Parents of angst-suffused teenage children may get a vicarious thrill of watching so many teens offed during the course of the film. I know I did.

There is a psychedelic sequence near the end of the movie which I suppose is an attempt to 2001 the hell out of the movie but it runs much too long and slows the momentum of a movie that is already short and sweet. A scant 75 minutes long, it doesn’t overstay its welcome other than the aforementioned sequence.

I get that not everybody is going to love this film; it appeals to a younger, more savvy audience that is much more aware of current pop culture. As a result, the film might end up being dated even a few years from now but there is enough humor in it that it might stand on its own two feet as a legacy. Still, this is worth seeking out particularly as I mentioned earlier if you love online comics. It might just rock your world, if that phrase isn’t out of date yet.

REASONS TO GO: There is a good deal of allegory in the film which may lead to some interesting discussions among audience members. It’s sort of a modern “Boy Who Cried Wolf.”
REASONS TO STAY: This may be a bit too surreal for some and the psychedelic sequence is way too long.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of teen peril, some drug use and a few sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Shaw got his start doing online comic books and discovered he could animate the films using Photoshop and the same tools he used to create his online comics; in fact, this film was originally intended to be an online comic.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/8/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Daria
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Belko Experiment

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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

This is 40


Love can make anything bearable.

Love can make anything bearable.

(2012) Dramedy (Universal) Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Melissa McCarthy, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Jason Segel, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Annie Mumolo, Robert Smigel, Megan Fox, Charlyne Yi, Graham Parker, Michael Ian Black, Lena Dunham, Joanne Baron, Tatum O’Neal, Chris O’Dowd, Lisa Darr, Ava Sambora. Directed by Judd Apatow

As we get older our priorities change and in changing that aspect of our lives, we ourselves change. In a relationship, we’re constantly having to adjust not only to who we are but to who our partner is. Sometimes, those changes come at the expense of our relationships.

Pete (Rudd) owns a boutique record label that specializes in re-releases and new releases by bands from the 80s and so on. He is thrilled to have Graham Parker on his label, even though most of his friends and loved ones tell him that Parker isn’t going to sell any digital downloads. He is turning 40 although doesn’t look it. His record label is going down the toilet and he’s hinging his future on Parker; to fight the stress he retreats to the bathroom for hours on end and sneaks cupcakes that he swears he’s not eating. He also continues to lend money to his dad (Brooks) even though he can barely keep his own head above water.

His wife Debbie (Mann) is also turning 40 but she’s far less sanguine about it. She tells everyone she’s turning 38. Her trendy clothing store is being robbed blind by one of her employees; the mellow Jodi (Yi) swears it’s Desi (Fox) who drives an expensive car, wears expensive clothes and always seems to have a lot of money. Debbie fights stress by sneaking smokes when she thinks nobody is looking, even though her family thinks she’s quit. She’s completely estranged from her Dad (Lithgow) who ran out on the family when she was four, and the two of them are having trouble finding a way to bond.

Debbie and Pete snipe at each other and argue a lot which drives their kids – teenager Sadie (Maude Apatow) and her little sister Charlotte (Iris Apatow) nuts which they act out by constantly being at one another’s throats. This isn’t a happy family but it’s likely a family you’ve run into in your own neighborhood.

This is kind of a sequel to Knocked Up inasmuch as it concerns two characters who constituted the younger sister and her husband of the main female character. However don’t expect a similar tone as that movie because this is completely different. This isn’t as out-and-out funny as the previous film, for one thing. It’s listed as a comedy but there’s a whole lot of drama here with real world problems creeping into the marriage – financial stress, lack of communication, lack of desire, teenage hormones. Some viewers might find it hitting uncomfortably close to home.

Rudd and Mann come off as a real couple and while they clearly have some intimacy issues, they do have that easy familiarity when it comes to intimacy that couples that have been together awhile possess. It’s easy to picture them as a married couple, which is unsurprising as Mann is Apatow’s real life wife and Rudd has been a friend of his for a long time. The kids are also Mann’s children so her feelings for them (and theirs for her) don’t seem forced.

I was impressed by Mann’s performance particularly. There’s a moment when Debbie asks Pete if they’d have stayed together if she hadn’t have gotten pregnant (which is a bit of the flipside to Knocked Up) and when he hesitates, her look is absolutely priceless and heartbreaking. She does it all non-verbally and I was thinking in the audience “why oh why hasn’t this woman gotten better roles” because frankly she shows here that she can handle anything. I really hope she gets offered a few dramatic leads just so we can see what she’s really capable of. She, like Judy Greer, is much more than a second banana which is what both actresses seem to be cast as mostly.

I thought a few scenes ran a little too long and the pacing could have been a bit better. Universal is selling this as a comedy so I suspect it’s going to get some hating because people are walking into it expecting a laugh riot (and to be fair, with Judd Apatow’s name on it that’s not an unreasonable expectation) and will walk out disappointed. I’m sure that’s affected my rating of the film.

Being not what I expected isn’t a bad thing. There’s a lot to be said for throwing a change-up every once in a while. Young people might look at this and be turned off of marriage for good. All I can say about that is this: every relationship is a struggle and takes a good deal of work. Nothing is ever easy. But making a good woman happy is one of the noblest things a man can do, as is making a good man happy one of the best things a woman can do. In order to do it, there needs to be a lot of communication, a surfeit of honesty, a great deal of humbleness and a glaring lack of ego. These qualities are not always there in quantity and certainly not at every moment. We all go through rough times and they look a lot like this. Kudos to Apatow and his cast for attempting to capture that; it just may not necessarily be what you go to the movies to watch – it maybe what you go to the movies to get away from, and that needs to be a consideration before plunking down your cash at the box office.

REASONS TO GO: Great chemistry between Rudd and Mann. Some moments that are relatable and real.

REASONS TO STAY: Runs a little too long. Lacks the real laugh-out-loud funny jokes. Might be a little too “real” for some.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is quite a bit of sexual material, lots of bad language, a little bit of drug usage and some crude jokes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While neither of the main characters from Knocked Up appear in the film a picture of Alison (Katherine Heigl) can be seen on the wall of the home and Pete mentions that he got the marijuana cookies from Ben (Seth Rogen).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/29/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100. The reviews are pretty mixed.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

GRAHAM PARKER AND THE RUMOUR LOVERS: In the film, Parker is signed to Pete’s label and performs a couple of songs live – one solo and one with the band. In real life Parker just released a new album which has been acclaimed as one of the best albums he’s ever done.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Waiting For Forever