New Releases for the Week of November 17, 2017


THE JUSTICE LEAGUE

(Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Ciaran Hinds, Jesse Eisenberg, Amber Heard, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, Connie Nielsen. Directed by Zack Snyder

With Superman no longer in the picture, Earth is facing a threat beyond any it has surmounted up to now. Batman gathers the heroes of Earth – Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg – to stand against the threat of Steppenwolf and his legions but they may not be enough.

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX, DBOX, Dolby, RPX
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action)

Lady Bird

(A24) Saoirse Ronan, Odeya Rush, Timothée Chalamet, Laurie Metcalf. A spirited and iconoclastic young woman living in Northern California with a mom who doesn’t understand her confronts the obstacles of growing up as she tries to reconcile her own burgeoning sexuality. The director is writer and actress Greta Gerwig.

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

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

Rating: R (for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying)

Sidemen: Long Road to Glory

(Abramorama) Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Hubert Sumlin, Marc Maron. Three musicians who helped develop the Chicago blues sound with such legends as Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters have influenced not only the blues but popular music in general and rock and roll specifically. Late in life, they would win a Grammy on their own. This is their incredible story.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Monday only)
Rating: NR

The Star

(Columbia) Starring the voices of Steven Yeun, Kristin Chenoweth, Christopher Plummer, Zachary Levi. The story of the first Christmas as seen through the eyes of the animals who were present.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements)

Wonder

(Lionsgate) Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay, Mandy Patinkin. A young boy with facial disfigurements attends a mainstream school for the first time. Unsure of himself and self-conscious about his face, he endures bullying but slowly begins to win everyone over in the school with his amazing perseverance and optimistic attitude.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes 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 (for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Cook Off
Frank Serpico
Khakee: The Power of Police
Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru
Tumhari Sulu

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Aida’s Secrets
Khakee: The Power of Police
Last Flag Flying
Novitiate
Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru
Tragedy Girls
Tumhari Sulu

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Khakee: The Power of Police
Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

Ghost Bride
Khakee: The Power of Police
Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Justice League
Lady Bird
Novitiate
Sidemen: Long Road to Glory
Wonder

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Sidemen: Long Road to Glory


It’s not the years; it’s the mileage.

(2017) Musical Documentary (Abramorama) Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Hubert Sumlin, Marc Maron (voice), Derek Trucks, Joe Bonamassa, Eric Clapton, Joe Perry, Warren Haynes, John Landis, Brad Whitford, Kenny Wayne Shepard, Susan Tedeschi, Bob Margolin, Gary Davis, Ilene Louise Smith, Johnny Winters, Paul Nelson, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Bonnie Raitt. Directed by Scott D. Rosenbaum

 

Pinetop Perkins. Hubert Sumlin. Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. They are three giants in the history of the blues and huge influences on the sound of rock and roll. Sumlin was the guitar genius behind Howlin Wolf while Smith and Perkins played drums and piano for Muddy Waters. They have influenced bluesmen like the late Johnny Winters and Bonnie Raitt as well as rockers like Eric Clapton, Joe Perry and the Rolling Stones.

None of those three men have really gotten their due; even in their own genre they were overshadows by the men they backed up. They were true sidemen, and while they wore the label with pride they also felt the injustice of it – referring to the bandleaders they played for, Perkins mused “They got all the money and we got all the scraps.”

This documentary aims to remedy that. Rosenbaum – who in his debut feature film The Perfect Age of Rock and Roll posited a blues all-star band featuring these three giants and later saw life imitate art when the three men created their own band that would eventually win a Grammy – celebrates the life and art of these three sidemen. There’s a good deal of testimonial from Raitt, Winters, the late Gregg Allman, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Joe Perry, Warren Haynes and Joe Bonamassa. Perhaps a little too much; the movie professes a little too much adulation and while the praise is richly deserved, it gets to be a bit much as we hear over and over how great these guys were. We get it; what I really wanted to hear was their story.

When the film is concentrating on the story rather than the talking heads, it really hits its stride. All three of the men are natural storytellers and as you might imagine they have some stories to tell. Smith in particular is a delight to watch with an infectious smile and contagious laugh. If one person stands out from this documentary, it’s Smith..

We get a pretty good history from these guys, from their beginnings as the sons of sharecroppers, to their move to Chicago to find better economic opportunities to their days playing for Wolf and Waters and finally after both Wolf and Waters passed away, their days establishing themselves all over again. Some of the stories have a bit of a name-dropping element to them, as when Perkins recalls the time that Jimi Hendrix unexpectedly showed up at a concert, and others are told with gentle affection, as when Sumlin tells about how Clapton got on the notoriously curmudgeon Wolf’s good side by asking him to show them how “Little Red Rooster” was played, even though he was thoroughly familiar with the song.

There is some lovely archival footage of Wolf and Waters which is worth its weight in gold and the audio clips of the great blues songs these men were part of will absolutely send chills up your spine. There is a bit of an elegiac tone to the film however; the interviews with Winters and Allman took place before the musicians passed away. Also the three blues men in question have all since passed away – within eight months of each other, Perkins less than a month after the three won their Grammy.

Although they are gone, their legend lives on. There is a very real effort underway to get them elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, none of whom are currently inducted in and definitely should be. This is a documentary that should have been made. I would have preferred to hear more from the three gentlemen in question and less from the talking heads, but to be fair Smith, Sumlin and Perkins were interviewed during their final tour back in 2010 and little interview footage otherwise exists. That’s the true shame – the stories and memories that the three men had between them are gone with them.

REASONS TO GO: The music is amazing. Smith is absolutely delightful throughout.
REASONS TO STAY: More anecdotes and less adulation would have been welcome. The film over-relies on talking heads.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Perkins earned his only Grammy at age 97 (along with Smith and Sumlin) for Joined at the Hip which makes him the oldest Grammy recipient ever.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/20/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 86/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Twenty Feet from Stardom
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Liza, Liza, Skies of Grey

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates


Huddle up.

Huddle up.

(2016) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Adam Devine, Stephen Root, Stephanie Faracy, Sugar Lyn Beard, Sam Richardson, Alice Wetterlund, Lavell Crawford, Mary Holland, Kumail Nanjiani, Jake Johnson, Marc Maron, Erik Griffin, Jake Szymanski, Eugene Cordero, Wendy Williams, Kyle Smigielski, Andrea Micelli, Nancy Micelli, Christina Souza, Olga Kalashnikova. Directed by Jake Szymanski

 

In this modern age, relationships can be a bitch to establish. We’re more likely to meet someone on the Internet than in real life. In many ways, it’s much harder to find someone now than it was just ten years ago.

Mike (Devine) and Dave (Efron) Stangle are two brothers who like to have a good time. However, sometimes their desire to be the life of the party overwhelms what little common sense the brothers possess. There have been so many occasions at family gatherings that their plans have caused havoc and chaos to the point where their Dad (Root) doesn’t want them near any family events.

But he really can’t keep them away from their little sister Jeanie’s (Beard) Hawaiian wedding, so he gives them an ultimatum; they are to bring nice girls to the wedding as dates, or they can’t go at all. The problem is that the boys don’t really know any nice girls.

So Mike, the liquor salesman who employs his younger brother, gets the bright idea of putting an ad on Craigslist. The responses are many and varied and it lands them on the Wendy Williams show. This brings them to the attention of Tatiana (Plaza) and Alice (Kendrick), a couple of party chicks who may be even wilder than the Stangle brothers, but they don’t know that. The two girls want a Hawaiian vacation and Tatiana knows instinctively this is the best way to get one. So she schemes her way into meeting the boys and voila! Instant wedding dates.

Of course, while the girls masquerade as a hedge fund manager (Alice) and a teacher (Tatiana), they have as little common sense as their dates. This leads to an ATV accident, an X-rated massage for the bride and to the boys getting into a huge fight. The problem is that Alice and Dave might have genuine feelings for each other, but when Alice tries to calm Jeanie down with a little ecstasy, it leads to something that may bring the entire marriage to a screeching halt even before it’s begun.

Fans of the comedy that Judd Apatow and those inspired by him have been promulgating for the last decade or so will probably eat this up. It is vulgar, outrageous and occasionally downright mean. That pretty much seems to be the state of comedy 2016 when it comes to the multiplex and there’s something to be said for that kind of humor, but to be frank I’m getting kind of tired of it. I’d like to see some variation in the types of comedies we’ve been seeing; everything seems to be so over-the-top, from the spoofs to the romantic comedies that we’ve lost the art of subtlety when it comes to comedy.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some really funny moments; the sensual massage that Jeanie gets from a very limber masseuse (Nanjiani) is hysterical and some of the more slapstick bits are also bound to get more than a polite chuckle. Kendrick and Plaza are two of the most versatile actresses in Hollywood and they both have some truly memorable comic performances in their pockets, but while they do their best here, it’s not enough.

Efron, who isn’t one of my favorite actors, actually comes off extremely likable here and shows that when he relaxes a bit he has all the screen presence he needs to be a star. However Devine simply tries too hard to be funny and ends up looking the buffoon. He’s a bull in a china shop and while that can be useful from time to time, it just ends up being distracting here.

I guess my biggest problem with Mike and Dave is that it all seems recycled to me. As I watch it doesn’t feel original or exciting; in fact, it made me feel tired, like I’ve seen this movie before. And I have, in several other movies. It’s disappointing; I like the cast a lot, particularly the lady leads but there wasn’t enough creativity in the writing to make this worth recommending.

REASONS TO GO: Some genuinely funny bits from a talented cast.
REASONS TO STAY: Definitely a kind of “you’ve seen it all” vibe here. It may have been dumbed down a little too much.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s quite a bit of crude sexual content as well as some graphic nudity, a whole lot of language and some drug humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is based on an actual Craigslist ad placed by two real-life brothers named Mike and Dave Stangle. In reality, the ad received more than six thousand responses and netted the boys not only a movie deal but also an appearance on the Today show. The real life Stangle boys cameo here as a pair of guests at the wedding whom cousin Terry offers to be the center of a sandwich for.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/3/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 39% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hangover
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT: Front Cover

Misery Loves Comedy


Hanks talks comedy.

Hanks talks comedy.

(2014) Documentary (Tribeca) Freddie Prinze Jr., Amy Schumer, Tom Hanks, Jim Gaffigan, Christopher Guest, Jon Favreau, Jason Reitman, Steve Coogan, Kathleen Madigan, Martin Short, Judd Apatow, Jimmy Fallon, Andy Richter, Jim Norton, Kelly Carlin, Marc Maron, Lewis Black, Bobby Cannavale, Kevin Smith, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Chris Hardwick, Sam Rockwell, Jemaine Clement, Greg Proopst, Kumal Nanjiani, Jimmy Pardo, Maria Bamford. Directed by Kevin Pollak

Comedy is like a drug, both to the audience and the comedian. The audience uses the jokes as a means of escaping their daily lives, a way to find insight into those lives and a way to realize that just about nothing is above laughing at or about. The comedian feeds on their laughter, the laughter a validation of their craft and indirectly of themselves.

This documentary, directed by veteran comic, actor and impressionist Pollak who never appears on-camera but can be heard conducting the interview off-camera, has more than 40 subjects many of whom are on the A-list of stand-ups and several of whom have graduated on to bigger and better things. Some of the interviewees are comic actors, others directors of comedies. There are many more interviewees than we had room for at the top of this review, with Rob Brydon, Janeane Garafalo, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Jeffries, Robert Smigel, Larry Miller, David Koechner, Stephen Merchant, Nick Swardson, Gregg Hughes, William H. Macy and hordes of others.

The interviews don’t really go into the mechanics of comedy – putting together an act, writing jokes and so on – but more into how people become professional stand-ups. It looks at the influences of the various comics, and at what life events prompted them to become comedians. Many of the people interview have traumas at some point in their lives that prompted them to go into comedy, using standup almost as therapy.

It isn’t required for a comedian to be miserable, muses one of them, but “you have to know misery.” That makes a lot of sense when you think about it; to understand what makes people laugh you also have to understand what makes them cry. A good comedian can do both.

You do get a real sense of the insecurities that haunt a lot of the comics; they talk about what it’s like to bomb, what it’s like to kill and how comics bond together hoping that they all succeed. Nobody likes to follow a comic that bombed; the audience is less primed to laugh. When you follow someone who just killed, it’s not only easier to get the audience to laugh but they also laugh harder. Laughter multiplies exponentially.

One thing that is kind of glaring; there is only one African-American comic and no Latino comics among the forty or so interviewees and quite frankly, there’s too many interviewees to begin with. I would have liked to have seen a little more diversity in the interviews which might have given us some different perspectives. A lot of the stories the comics told about not being accepted in high school and so on were a little bit too similar; getting the perspective of minority comics might have really made for a more three-dimensional take on comedy than what we received.

Yes, there are a lot of laughs here but there are some truly affecting moments, as when Prinze talks about his father’s suicide and how it affected he and his mother. Indirectly, Prinze Junior went into stand-up mainly because his grandfather urged him to “clean up what your father effed up” which for a young kid can be kind of a daunting burden, considering the fame his dad had. Bamford also tells us about the first time she talked about her time in a mental hospital onstage, prompting others in the audience to shout out their own experiences. It must be a very powerful thing, having the ability to help others heal through the gift of laughter. It’s also a nice little grace note that the movie was dedicated to Robin Williams, whose suicide likely had people in the business thinking about the link between misery and comedy.

This isn’t a complete primer on what makes us laugh and how the people who make us laugh do it, but it does give us some insight into the mind of the standup comedian and of the others who make us laugh on the big and small screens. It is said that laughter is the best medicine; this is essentially over-the-counter stuff but it gets the job done.

REASONS TO GO: Lots of laughs as you’d expect hanging out with comedians. Powerful in places. Gives the viewer a sense of what the life of a standup comedian is like and why people do it.
REASONS TO STAY: Too many interviewees and only one African-American one and no Latinos. A little bit too scattershot.
FAMILY VALUES: Some fairly foul language and some adult comedy.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Pollak is best known for his standup routine and celebrity impressions, most notably Peter Falk and William Shatner.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/9/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 29% positive reviews. Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Aristocrats
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Water Diviner

Sleepwalk With Me


Sleepwalk With Me

Mike Birbiglia listens to Mitt Romney’s greatest speeches.

(2012) Dramedy (IFC) Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, James Rebhorn, Carol Kane, Lucy DeVito, Philip Ettinger, Marc Maron, Emily Meade, Sondra James, Cristin Milioti, Amanda Perez, Amy Schumer, Ben Levin, Kristen Schaal, Loudon Wainwright III. Directed by Mike Birbiglia and Seth Barrish

 

Stand-up comedy is not a career for the faint of heart. It is also mighty rough on relationships. Aspiring comics spend long, lonely nights on the road and often utilize intimate details of their relationships as fodder for their acts.

Mike Birbiglia knows that better than most. His experiences as a struggling stand-up comic led him to write an Off-Broadway one man show, a regular gig on the NPR hit This American Life, a best-selling book and a comedy album, all of which this film is based on. In other words, on his own life.

Here he plays Matt Pandamiglia, the son of a driven, somewhat judgmental physician (Rebhorn) who praises his gay physician son (Levin) while constantly criticizing the son he views as a failure – unmarried, working in a bar, his career non-existent. He has a point.

But Matt isn’t entirely unsuccessful. He has a beautiful girlfriend named Abby (Ambrose) who puts up with his idiosyncrasies with the patience of a saint. They’ve been together eight years, pointed out in a somewhat snarky manner by Dear Old Dad when the comparison to Matt’s sister Janet (Milioti), who is wedding her beau after two years, is made.

Matt’s career as a stand-up comic is in neutral and quite frankly, with only eleven minutes of material – none of it any good – and the kind of delivery that would put a meth addict high as a kite instantly to sleep. Matt is also showing signs of sleepwalking, which concerns his father but also Abby as well, both of whom urge Matt to seek help.

Matt is a master avoider however, and pretends not to hear when un-pleasantries are brought up, or simply changes the subject. He is the very definition of passive-aggressive and isn’t always the sweet cuddly guy he seems to be.

However, when it comes to stand-up comedy, it’s often more who you know than how talented you are. He finds himself an agent (James) who gets him crap gigs in crap venues for crap wages. It keeps him on the road, which is just as well since it’s just as easy to bomb at home as it is to bomb somewhere else. However, as he starts working his frustrations with Abby, who wants to get married – and who in a moment of panic not wanting to lose her he has proposed to – into the act, his act begins to improve. The gigs begin to get better. The road trips begin to get longer. The relationship begins to crumble. And the sleepwalking gets worse.

Birbiglia asserts that all of this is true on several occasions and it has that ring of truth to it that comes from an autobiographical work. Birbiglia for the most part comes off as likable and charismatic, which bodes well for his future; however, he sometimes comes off as a real bastard which shows more bravery than his character Matt shows at any time here.

One of the nifty things about the film is that often it is difficult to tell if you are observing Matt’s life or one of his dreams until things start to get weird. It keeps the audience just off-balance enough to keep us honest. The stand-up comedy, particularly in the later sequences when Matt gets good at it, are pretty damn funny.

This is really all about Birbiglia. The other characters in the movie, even Abby who shares the most screen time with him, really don’t get a ton of development. Even the delightful Carol Kane, as Matt’s mom, is given little to do than to act batty and protective. Matt’s passiveness is often frustrating but this is definitely worth hanging in there with. When Birbiglia focuses on his relationships, the movie seems more energized. When focusing on Birbiglia alone, it loses focus a little bit. It’s not a perfect movie (few movies are) but it is certainly worthwhile enough to make an effort to seek out if you can.

REASONS TO GO: Birbiglia is engaging most of the time. Weaves dream sequences in skillfully.

REASONS TO STAY: Could have used more character development of the characters not named Matt.

FAMILY VALUES:  A bit of sexuality and a bit of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In order to play himself, Birbiglia lost more than 20 pounds.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/7/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: 71/100. The reviews are definitely positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Punchline

STAND-UP COMEDY LOVERS: There are several sequences of stand-up comics, particularly Birbiglia, practicing their craft.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Waltz With Bashir