As the film ended and the lights in the theater came back on, the couple sitting in front of me kissed.
It was a simple, spontaneous gesture; a sharing of life, of love, of intimacy.
That’s exactly what this film is, and that is what it so clearly inspired in the audience. In that moment, they weren’t sharing a PDA. They were simply sharing a moment.
A quick summary of the plot: An improv group in New York City is disrupted when one of its members (Keegan-Michael Key) gets a shot at The Big Time, a slot on Weekend Live (a clear Saturday Night Live stand-in). His rise to fame is quick, and everyone is hoping to ride his coattails.
The only problem is, his coattails aren’t big enough for everyone.
Who is going to get left behind, and who is going to land their dream job?
It would be so easy for this to be a film about a ragtag group of losers who are looking for their break to stardom. On a base level, perhaps that’s what it is. Except, it is also much more. It would have been easy for Mike Birbiglia, the talented writer and director, to have made these people pitiable and pathetic. It would have been easy to have made it a story of fame corrupting and twisting everything good. It would have been easy to make it a rags-to-riches story. But, Mike Birbiglia didn’t settle for easy. Instead, he made a complex, beautiful, and funny film about adults growing up.
Sometimes, the showboat gets rewarded.
Sometimes, the rich get richer.
Sometimes, the ones who need it most have to let go.
Sometimes, that’s just the way life is.
And, sometimes, maybe that’s okay.
At its heart, this is about friendship. These people love each other and are for each other no matter what. They also hate each other, bicker, endlessly mock each other, and are simultaneously ridiculously proud and insanely jealous for every good break anyone else gets.
Their chemistry on-stage and off-stage is natural, funny, warm, and engaging. The audience is immediately drawn into their warm friendship, and we want so badly for all of them to get exactly what they want.
Of course, that’s now how life works.
That doesn’t mean there can’t be happy endings, they just aren’t the endings you expect.
The stand-out performance for me was definitely Gillian Jacobs. I’ve been a fan of hers since Community, and it was an absolute joy to see her get to show her full range. She imbued her character with depth and warmth, vulnerability and strength, and grace and humor. The scene where she has in Improv an entire scene alone on a stage is funny and heart-breaking. Her transformation throughout the film as a glorified fan of Improv who participates but is uncertain of her own place in the world, to the expert who teaches and even sacrifices for her art form, is touching and subtle.
Perhaps more than anything else, this movie understands comedy. Some of the jokes land, some don’t. That’s just the way comedy works, you throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. What’s important is that you have your friends to fall back on.
Some of the sketches we see on Weekend Live (there aren’t a lot) are great, some don’t go anywhere, but it’s all things you would reasonably see on Saturday Night Live. There aren’t any of the false-ringing, heavy-handed sketches of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
This film also doesn’t make any bones about comedy being an industry. Those who have made it leave people behind, because those who are worthy break through and those who aren’t flounder. You can’t make room for everyone, and if you’re not careful your own place on the top of the heap will be in jeopardy. Key does a great job portraying coming to terms with this reality. His character is a jerk sometimes, sure, but he’s not a villain. He’s a good guy just doing the best he can.
So far, for me, this is by far the best film of the year, and it’s one of the best films about comedy ever. Mike Birbiglia also wrote and directed Sleepwalk With Me, and between these two features, he is my new favorite filmmaker. He understands people, he understands life, and he understands why the things that make us laugh also make us cry.
As the film ended and the lights in the theater came back on, the couple sitting in front of me kissed.
First of all, we’re going to be talking about Ghostbusters (2016), so if you have a problem with spoilers, stay away until you’ve seen it.
And, go see it.
I was not sure this movie would be good. The trailer left me a little numb, truth be told. But, within thirty seconds of the film starting, I had laughed. Out loud. Twice.
That’s more than I generally laugh the entire 90 minute runtime of most comedies.
So, in short, see Ghostbusters. It’s fun. It’s funny. And, it’s important.
The entire cast is amazing. Each and every woman plays her role perfectly and is charming, witty, and amazing. I loved them all. But, for me, Kate McKinnon and Kristen Wiig have two specific moments that are not only completely badass, they are absolutely some of the most important moments of the year for women in cinema.
The first moment is McKinnon’s. If you’ve seen the movie, you know exactly what moment I’m talking about. In the third act, there is a giant ghost-busting-ass-kicking fight. McKinnon licks her supernatural sixshooter, and takes on what seems like a hundred ghosts on her own. She just obliterates them in amazing fashion.
That, right there. That was important.
Why, you may ask?
First of all, because it was awesome and actually elicited a cheer from my crowd. A raucous, spontaneous, CHEER. But, beyond that, it is important because she is a woman who, in that moment, is standing up and taking control. She’s not wearing a skimpy leather outfit while doing it. She’s not trying to look sexy. Her boobs aren’t perfectly accentuated in a halter top. No. Her hair’s a mess, she’s in a dirty jumpsuit, and she’s just going to kick asses and take names.
Most movies fall into the trap of thinking a strong, female character needs to be in a Catwoman-type costume. I’m not saying there’s no place for tight leather and whips, and I’m not judging that type of strong female at all. What I’m saying is, there are OTHER ways to be strong. There are other ways to be confident. In this moment, Kate McKinnon showed the world she could defy every Hollywood cliche, and she could still be the sexiest woman on Earth while doing it.
The second moment that is important for the future of women in cinema belongs to the fabulous Kristen Wiig, who has been a comedy hero of mine since before Bridesmaids. Her Katherine Hepburn impression on SNL won me to her side from minute one.
Ms. Wiig’s moment is slightly more subtle. It is also during the final fight scene. Her friends are all in danger, crushed beneath a giant, very familiar-seeming ghost. Then, out of no where, BAM! The ghost explodes, and standing there is Wiig in her full glory. She gets an amazing, Indiana Jones-style hero shot. An actual, real life, honest-to-God HERO SHOT where you just stare are her in her awesomeness and soak it in.
She’s a woman.
She defeated this ghost.
She didn’t wait for a man.
She didn’t give up.
She didn’t run.
She is the hero. Accept it, love it.
Again, she is not in a negligee. She is not accompanied by a love interest. She is not in a Princess Leia slave outfit. She is just there, also in her jumpsuit, also radiating pure womanly radiance in a way we just don’t generally get on screen.
Again, I am not judging the heroines on screen who are more overt with their sexuality. There is a place for that brand of feminism, too. What I’m saying it, this film dared to embrace a DIFFERENT brand of feminism. A brand of feminism that often goes overlooked in Hollywood because it might seem less glamorous, but after all, feminism is about the ability for ALL women to choose their fate, to choose how they live out their femininity. Neither McKinnon nor Wiig sacrifice an iota of womanliness or femininity. Theirs comes from their characters, their depth, their quirks, their smiles, and their determination.
It was glorious to behold.
So, take note, Hollywood.
Women are here.
ALL women are here.
And we’re not going anywhere.
Plot Synopsis: Season 4 picks up right where season 3 left off, with the ladies of Litchfield celebrating their short-lived freedom in the lake.
Well, almost all of the ladies are enjoying their freedom.
Alex is being strangled in the garden shed.
We all cross our fingers and hope this is the end.
Unfortunately for the audience, Lolly saves her, in the process beating the guard to death. Uh-oh. Can you guess what the over-arching story of THIS season is going to be? Just when you thought there might be a season NOT revolving around Alex and Piper.
Anyway, Alex and Lolly bury the body. But not before chopping it up. Gross.
Piper has now decided she is “Gangsta. Like with an ‘a’.” She feels she has earned some respect, and she’s going to get it.
Of course, she’s still Piper. No one respects Piper.
Caputo gets a new batch of guards from Max to help replace the ones who walked out last season, leading to the lake voyage. They prison also got an influx of new prisoners, so there is a huge over-crowding issue. The guards from Max are some scary-ass dudes. The guards hired by Litchfield are under-trained, but the Max guards are INTENSE. Especially Piscatella, who Caputo immediately takes a shine to.
Romances are blooming all around. Soso and Poussey. Suzanne and her crazy fan, Kukudio. All are fighting for the title of “Who will they finally spend more time on than Alex and Piper?”, because we instantly like each of them more than Piper and Alex. Kukudio is clearly even crazier than Suzanne, and her nickname is Crazy Eyes.
No sign of Larry the entire episode.
There is also no sign of
Piper reads a Nick Horny book.
We don’t know which one.
Don’t take Nick Hornby away from me, Piper. I like him. I don’t want to have to hate him because of you.
There’s a new prisoner: Judy King, a cooking show magnate clearly based on a cross between Martha Stewart and Paula Deen. She gets stuck being processed while everyone else deals with the new influx of prisoners.
Piper tries to establish dominance with the new inmates.
Of course she fails.
But she still manages to make us hate her.
Poor Poussey tries to talk to Judy King, her hero, but can’t get a word out. She’s adorable. And oh so gorgeous. Seriously. Who else makes sweats look that good?
I guess I should mention that the assassin that Lolly kills for Alex isn’t really dead, so Alex re-kills him. Frieda sees the body and helps them cut it up and bury it over the yard.
Analysis: Overall, not one of the strongest eps in the show’s history. No real classic moments, no real tension. Even the Alex killing the assassin scene, which should have been full of tension, fell pretty flat. The cutting up of the body came across as more unrealistic and “that would never happen in prison”, even a minimum security. I understand this series has a lot of those moments, but really. Honest to God, that shed is the worst. Why would prisoners be allowed unfettered access to ANY PLACE? Much less a freaking SHED with TOOLS THAT CAN CUT UP A BODY? I don’t see it happening.
Not much in the way of character development. No flashbacks. This episode really is just setting up the rest of the season, and it doesn’t do it all that well. If the bulk of the season is going to revolve around Alex and her body, then I’m not that interested.
None of the people or storylines we care about are being touched on. No mention of Sophia. Not much Red. Thankfully, we’re spared much of Daya, who has become kind of annoying over the last few seasons. She’s far from the wide-eyed, innocent, adorable woman who had a sweet romance in season 1. They really crapped on that romance.
We’ll have to wait to see what the rest of this season holds, but so far I’m not too optimistic.
Overall Grade: C-
First of all, there will be some spoilers here so if you care about that kind of thing, see the movie and come back later. I’m not going to go out of my way to spoil things, but I’m not going to avoid it, either. Just giving you fair warning.
You know the characters. You love them. You put a towel around your neck and pretend to be them in the backyard… or maybe that’s just me.
Whatever. Don’t judge me.
Anyway, this is the movie we’ve all been waiting for. Batman and Superman finally on screen together. What could be better?
Turns out, either of them separately.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a terrible movie. There is a lot to like here, and a ton of unrealized potential to be an amazing superhero slam-bang action flick for the ages. Alas, it ultimately falls short.
Let’s start with the positive:
1 – Ben Affleck is actually a good Batman. He’s older and wiser, and a hell of a lot more cynical and jaded, but he still kicks a lot of ass. I like the way this film emphasizes the detective aspect of being Batman, and how he uses each of his personas to the maximum degree to achieve his goals. I also like how secret identities don’t remain too secret to the smart people. It felt right. Also, he uses a voice modifier instead of a gravely voice. Good choice.
2 – Jeremy Irons is a great Alfred. Well, let’s be honest. Jeremy Irons is just great in general. But I like the way this Alfred is always seen doing practical, mechanical things. He’s much more of a partner than a butler. He’s not as quipy as other Alfreds have been, but I’m hoping he’ll have an expanded role in the future so he gets more screen time.
Just let Jeremy Irons be in everything, okay?
3 – The actual Batman versus Superman fight is AWESOME. It’s everything you want it to be, BUT–
(the Bad now)
1 – IT TAKES TOO DAMN LONG TO GET TO THE FIGHT! I mean, come on! It’s CALLED Batman V. Superman! Why does it take almost 2 whole hours to see them go at it?
2 – The movie is bloated and has WAY too much going on. The entire Zod suplot needed to be out of there. The whole focus should have been on the building tension between these two titans, and then their battle, the end. 90 minutes, in and out. A streamlined, simplified script would have been nice. And needed.
3 – Wonder Woman was useless and wasted. Again, that’s because there was too much going on. She should have been integral to the plot, trying to make peace and not wanting to choose sides, even if she has loyalties (which she doesn’t seem to). As it is, in this movie, she doesn’t seem to have a motivation for anything she does. Either give her something to DO, or just cut her out until the next one.
4 – The geography was weird and distracting. It took no one any time to get anywhere, and also since when are Gotham and Metropolis like in eye-sight of each other? Time, space, and scale was all wonky on every level, and it kept taking me out of the movie. I hated that. And you know it’s bad if I’m complaining about it.
5 – When people aren’t punching stuff, it’s boring. When people are punching stuff, it’s confusing.
6 – The chases are terrible, make no sense, and are hard to follow.
7 – Even if she’s played by Amy Adams, Lois Lane is a dumbass that I hate. Always have, always will.
Overall, I wasn’t bored by the film for the most part. It needed to be about an hour shorter, and I’m in no rush to see it again, but it was also uneven and inconsistent. You spend the whole movie thinking you’re building up to one thing, then that happens, then something ELSE happens for another forty minutes. It’s just too much.
We all know that Serial came along and changed the podcasting game forever. Believe me, no one is a bigger fan of Serial than me, and I don’t begrudge it any of its success. I live and die by those now bi-weekly updates to my podcast feed. However, what a lot of people don’t seem to know is that Serial was not the first podcast to ever exist.
The truth is that before Serial burned up the iTunes chart, there were hundreds of podcasts that had been around for years, killing it every week with brilliant hosts and amazing guests. If your podcasting knowledge begins and ends with Sarah Koenig, these are some shows you need to check out as soon as possible.
Like, when you’re done reading this, start listening to these shows.
1 – The Flop House
Ostensibly a “bad movie podcast”, where the hosts watch a bad movie every other week and then talk about it, The Flop House transcends all labels and confounds all attempts to explain it.
Daily Show writer Dan McCoy and his two co-hosts, former Daily Show head writer Elliott Kalan and ultimate too-cool-to-define-party-dude Stuart Wellington, try to work their way through the inane and often incomprehensible plot of a bad movie and poke fun at it, but they rarely get more than a sentence or two in before being derailed by insane tangents, goofy songs, words that sound like other words, and, of course, correcting the way Dan pronounces just about everything that comes out of his mouth.
Every episode is a roller coaster ride of laughs where the movie being discussed is the least important part of the show.
It’s difficult to point to what makes this format work, because it’s a combination of everything. It’s a perfect storm of personalities, wit, self-deprecation, stupidity, brilliance, and an incredibly deep and encyclopedic knowledge of film history.
In short, it’s amazing.
2 – My Brother, My Brother And Me
Okay, full disclosure: I am a loyal Maximumfun.org donor (the podcasting empire started by NPR’s Bullseye host, Jesse Thorn), so if it seems like this list skews heavily towards MaxFun shows, it probably does.
My Brother, My Brother and Me is among the best this network has to offer. Started by real-life brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy, who are now podcast magnates in their own right, this show is pure comedy under the guise of offering advice, a la Dear Abby.
If Dear Abby was on crack, and also a great comedian.
The Brothers pull from listener’s questions and Yahoo Answers and then riff on them, creating unforgettable bits in the process, and even spawning their own holiday. With three very different points of view, but a common desire to be decent human beings, you never know where an episode is going to take you. It’s a journey through madness, and as listeners we are merely along for the ride.
The Brothers also use their considerable influence to encourage their fans to give to worthy charities, and their fans respond in a big way. It’s heartening and inspiring to see so much good being done in the world by something that on its face seems so goofy.
3 – Answer Me This!
Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann, along with Martin the Sound Man, host this British podcast that goes beyond simply giving advice. Listeners use e-mail or Skype to submit questions on any topic, from word or phrase origins, to historical origins of traditions that make no sense, as well as advice about sex, and everything in between. Helen and Olly are then duty-bound to provide well-researched and hilarious answers to these queries.
Which, of course, they do. Time after time. It’s amazing how consistently witty and bright these hosts are, even after years of doing the show. It feels just as fresh as ever.
The show hums along at a brisk pace, without lingering too long on one question or bit. There is also a lot of original interstitial music that adds to the comedy, as well as gives the entire show a unique, jaunty feel.
Overall, it’s just a very professional sounding, well-produced, and funny podcast with extremely likable and charming hosts. They just began a three month hiatus, so now is a perfect time to get caught up!
4 – Black on Black Cinema
As a white girl originally from one of the whitest states in the Union, Vermont, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to admit I listen to this show. I know I’m not the intended demographic, but I love it. Unlike bad movie podcasts, which limit themselves to painful movies, Black on Black Cinema explores the good, the bad, and the ugly of Black films. They also dive into issues of Civil Rights, current events and politics, American history, and film history. My personal favorite episodes are the Tyler Perry movie episodes, which leave the hosts so befuddled and angry they can barely form coherent sentences.
I love hearing a point of view I’m not used to hearing in popular culture. I love hearing smart, articulate, passionate people debate the merits of a film they either loved or hated. And I love hosts that constantly insult and needle each other like best friends. It’s entertaining, enlightening, and just a lot of fun. Jay, Rob, Micah, and Ter-Bear (hopefully he doesn’t violently murder me for calling him that) mix serious social commentary and humor perfectly.
Full episodes come out every other week, but this is one show where the “mini” episodes are worth taking a look at, too. The shorter episodes feature debates and conversations about a specific issue.
5 – We Hate Movies
We Hate Movies takes bad movies personally. They seem to see each horrible frame as a personal assault on their souls, and that’s what makes this podcast work. Their righteous indignation at being subjected to crap, as well their joy and exuberance at finding hidden treasure amidst the dung heap, is infectious. They are definitely the angriest of the bad movie podcasts, but in a totally funny way.
Of all the bad movie podcasts I listen to, this one has the most deep cuts into obscure horror and titles I’ve simply never even heard of. Their depth of knowledge belies their ironic title. They don’t just not hate movies, they love them more than is perhaps, strictly speaking, healthy.
This love makes them extremely accessible, to the point you will even grow to love their bad celebrity impressions.
I could go on and on with this list. So many podcasts out there are absolutely amazing, and have been for years. I have been an avid podcast consumer for over five years now, and I’m no where near done yet. If you’re just starting your podcast journey, welcome to the madness. We’ve been waiting for you.
Movie Review: Hail, Caesar! (2016)
Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen, Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson
Letter Grade: B-
Hollywood in the early 1950’s was a place of glitz, glamor, and spin. The studios carefully guarded the reputations of their stars and measured every move they made to maximize appeal and profits. It was also an industry overcome by the Red Scare. Somehow, Hail, Caesar!, the newest entry in the Coen Brother’s illustrious oeuvre, is somehow simultaneously about all of this, and none of this.
Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) has a busy life between his days and nights as head of production for Capitol Studios and being the“fixer” of his celebrity’s missteps, all while trying to hide his smoking from his patient wife and going to confession every 27 hours or so. He gets more than he bargained for, however, when one of his starlets (Scarlett Johansson) gets pregnant while unmarried, and the biggest star in Hollywood (George Clooney) is kidnapped off the set of his latest film by a group of Communists, who demand an exorbitant ransom. What follows is a madcap romp through the Golden Age of Hollywood, complete with a dance number that, while silly, would make Gene Kelly himself proud.
At its best moments, Hail, Caesar! is a fun, smart satire of Hollywood and the mentality of the 1950’s. The dialogue sparkles and the one-liners fly quick and land perfectly. The best example of this is the amazing Ralph Fiennes, whose part is small but hilarious. He is easily the best part of the film, even when he is making you question your pronunciation of even the most mundane words.
There is also a charming, laugh-out-loud funny scene where Mannix interrogates a diverse group of religious leaders about the portrayal of Jesus on screen to make sure they will not offend any group.
If these scenes represented the film as a whole, this would be a solid A+ Coen Brothers comedy, and I would be able to wholeheartedly recommend it. Unfortunately, that is not the case. There’s very little drama in this film, and even less depth or actual stakes. This film is so light you can practically see it float. And therein lies the problem. Large chunks of the movie drag between jokes, or anything interesting happening. It’s slightly bloated and over-long for what it is, and this means the ending feels like it’s supposed to mean something to you as an audience member, but it’s impossible to decide what you’re supposed to feel or learn.
There is also annoying voice over narration that adds nothing to your understanding of the plot, and overall just seems tacked-on and pointless. If the writing quality was a little more consistent and sharper throughout, rather than just in brilliant patches, it wouldn’t have been deemed necessary.
Of course, the acting on all levels is great. Everyone nails their roles beautifully, they just don’t add up to anything worthwhile. It feels like a film that wants to say something, but doesn’t quite know what that something is.
If you love old Hollywood, the Coen Brothers, or snappy dialogue, Hail, Caesar! is worth checking out. It’s enjoyable and beautiful to look at, and much of the comedy is genuinely hilarious. But, the jokes is where it stops. It doesn’t go for the throat. It pulls its punches, and never really seems to skewer or pay homage but finds some odd, unsatisfying middle ground. There is no question it is the work of great filmmakers, it just isn’t the best work of the masters. Perhaps from less capable hands, we wouldn’t expect as much and would be willing to accept Hail, Caesar! on its face. But when you are Joel and Ethan Coen, for better or worse, we as an audience demand… just more than this.