Don’t Think Twice

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As someone who has only recently started doing improv, this movie is aptly named. My first improv teacher told me once, and I quote, “I wanna see you just going for it. If someone comes into a scene and says, ‘Hey! I’m here to kill you!’ you’re gonna say, ‘Alright! Let’s do it, baby!'”

That’s the idea. Abandon conscious thought and just exist in the moment; inside that scene. It’s sort of like Vegas. Whatever happens in the scene stays in the scene. Never to be recreated exactly the same way again. That’s one of the things that makes improv so genuine, challenging, and — to that end — entertaining for both the performers and the audience.

Don’t Think Twice is about a tenacious New York City based improv troupe called The Commune, comprised of six players; Jack, Samantha, Miles, Bill, Allison, and Lindsay (Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Mike Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci, and Tami Sagher, respectively).

Close-knit and deeply supportive of one another, the group functions as a family unit. They’re like a way less gooey version of The Partridge Family. While ready and able to ‘Yes, and…’ the crap out of each other, they’re also in that nice, comfy nook of familiarity where it’s totally cool to poke fun and even criticize — for the most part — without hurt feelings.

Their shows are typically sold out and the dynamic is super solid. Unfortunately, improv is rarely a lucrative career. The heart is invested but the rent still needs to get paid. The Commune has their collective eye on the prize, the prize being a popular sketch show on television called Weekend Live.

No matter how well things seem to be going, reality will always come barging in like the Kool-Aid man. When a couple of members of the group are invited to audition for Weekend Live after a successful show, tension builds and ties begin to sever, leaving everyone on the edge of an existential crisis.

For some, improv is a hobby; a fun thing to do with friends. For others, it is everything. But the universe will always inevitably draw a line in the sand at some point and we all wind up having to make a choice.

The crushing fear of failure is often the motive to our actions as people and artists. It can make us do things we mightn’t normally do. One of the writers of the film — and one of my favorite dudes — Mike Birbiglia has touched on betrayal and slandering amongst those trying to make it in comedy. It’s such a strange notion, but at the end of the day it’s like any other competitive field; Our natural instincts kick in and we do things out of desperation to get ahead.

As for The Commune, I think Birbiglia’s heart is bigger than his brain. We never see true savagery within them; the kind that might occur outside the confines of a passion project. Birbiglia wrote and directed the film. He also produced it along side Ira Glass of WBEZ’s This American Life with whom he co-wrote his first feature film, Sleepwalk With Me. Rounding out the foursome of producers on this movie are two wildly talented and funny women, Miranda Bailey and Amanda Marshall, both of whom also produced one of my favorites this year — Swiss Army Man.

It’s no surprise that the movie is sharp, authentic, and — at times — quite dismal. It’s also absurdly funny. Duh. The cast is packed with brilliantly entertaining, watchable actors. The story is honest and a little heartbreaking and that’s refreshing. Not everything in life has a happy ending.

After the screening I attending at the Music Box Theatre here in Chicago, Improv Nerd Podcast host Jimmy Carrane lead a Q&A with Birbigs. One of my favorite quotes of the night from Mike was, “As artists, all you have to give is yourself. That’s all you have. If you can’t, why do it?” It’s a lovely sentiment and couldn’t be more true.

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When it was my turn to ask a question, Birbigs had made it undeniably clear that he was hot. It was very hot in the theater. Unfortunately, I went fangirl on him and just had to tell him what a huge fan I am before asking my question.

The exchange went a little like this:

Me: Hi Mike! I’m such a huge fan.
Birbigs: That’s great. Do you have a question?
Me: I do! At this point, you’ve done it all: improv, stand up, television, movies…
Birbigs: I know what I’ve done. That’s me. What’s your question?

Crowd erupts.

Birbigs: I’m sorry. It’s so hot in here and people are leaving. I feel bad.
— turning back to me —
I’m sorry. What’s your name?
Me: Katie.
Birbigs: Katie, what’s your question? I’ve done stand up, improv, movies…
Me: Yes, you’ve done all of that, and I was wondering…
Birbigs: (shouting) Katie, I know!

Crowd erupts again.

Me: What’s been your favorite?
Birbigs: (to Jimmy) What’d she say?

Jimmy tried his best to reiterate, but the theater was a sweaty, hot ass mess at this point. People laughing. People leaving. Mike, sweating through his jacket.

Me: No. That wasn’t my question. My question was, out of those things, what has been your favorite?

He said that he’s really enjoyed doing film because of the creative freedom it offers. I sat back down and got ready. I’d brought a copy of Jaws and a sharpie. I wanted to be the only person in the world with a copy of Jaws signed by Mike Birbiglia. Unfortunately, when the Q&A came to a close, he high-tailed it outta there. I would’ve too, to be perfectly honest. I run at Human Torch temps all the time and I get it.

Anyway, I got a Mike Birbiglia patented, “I know” loudly addressed directly to me. Mainly because he was expiring under his button-down right before our eyes. That’s like Aaron Paul calling somebody a bitch. It was very special and I’ll keep it in my pocket forever.

Don’t Think Twice opens July 22nd. Don’t give it a second thought! Just go see it!

Sorry. I’ll show myself out.

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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Ivry so offen, a film comes along that makes you feel as happy as a box of budgies. A brilliant, corker of a movie. Taika Waititi — Kiwi, actor, writer, producer, director, dang handsome bloke, and a real hard case — spint heaps of time on this film. Well, good on ya, mate! All that hard yakka paid off in spades! Chur!

That’s it. That’s all the New Zealand slang I’ve got. If you didn’t read it in a New Zealand accent, you probably thought I was having a stroke. Nope! Just flexing my Kiwi muscle!

Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a bad egg. Known on the streets for kicking stuff, throwing stuff, stealing stuff, running away, and spitting — just to name a few — Ricky gets shipped off to live with a foster family in the country. His Foster Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) does her best to make him feel welcome, even decorating his room with fun kitsch and a “nice sharp knife to kill the monsters in the night”.

Unfortunately for Ricky, his Foster Uncle, Hec (Sam Neill), isn’t as keen on having him around as Bella is. They make it work, though, celebrating Ricky’s 13th birthday by gifting him a dog that he names Tupac. Perfect.

Feeling like he’s finally found his place in the world, Ricky spends his days playing  with Tupac, reciting Haiku poems, and hunting with Aunt Bella. Sadly, nothing gold can stay. Following events unforeseen, a letter arrives from Child Services explaining that Ricky must return to the foster system to find new placement.

Steadfastly refusing to return to the system, Ricky makes a run for it, burning a decoy Ricky in hopes that the paper plate head he’s fashioned of himself will throw Child Services, convincing them that he is only charred remains.

It doesn’t work. None of that matters, because he’s already off in the bush; a wild and unforgiving, muddy place where he’ll live on his own in Rickytown. Population: Ricky. And Tupac. Only he’s very slow and easy to track, leading Hec right to him to take him back. Finding shelter for the night, the two discover that Hec is wanted by the law and are forced to overcome their differences as they are now the subject of a nationwide manhunt.

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I’ve seen a lot of movies in my day. My favorite has been Jaws since I was 8-years-old. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is making me question that loyalty. This movie is choc-a-block with rock solid performances. That’s a little more Kiwi for ya.

Taika Waititi wrote his first adaptation of the book that Wilderpeople is based on — Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump — back in 2005. He’s gone on to say that he’s glad he didn’t make the movie then because he’s learned so much about what gets audiences to the theaters. Things like car chases and “the endurance of the renegade”. Whatever he’s doing is working like gangbusters.

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Wilderpeople is sneaky in the way that it gets the viewer to care deeply for Hec and Ricky. By the end, you’re so attached to these characters — who are both kind of assholes — but also share an extraordinarily relatable vulnerability. And that creates a sort of unspoken bond that exists not only between them, but for the audience as well.

Every single person in this movie contributes to its greatness. No role — however small — goes unnoticed or unappreciated. It is aggressively funny, clever, and — at times — perfectly absurd. And it’s all under the umbrella of a score that fits like a glove by Moniker.

For their part, Sam Neill and Julian Dennison absolutely murder their time on-screen. Neill — a Hollywood veteran — is always an enjoyable watch. Dennison — who has only recently started acting — is going to be incredibly successful in film. Not only is he adorable, but his comic timing is outstanding. And remember, he didn’t choose the skux life. The skux life chose him.

In closing, I’ve written a Haiku of my own. Ahem:

Wilderpeople is
majestical and the best
go see it right now

Chur!

The Fundamentals of Caring

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Life is an intricate composition of highs and lows. That’s just a nice way of saying that it’s an endless stream of shit between happy points. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t have sayings like, “If it wasn’t this, it’d be something else,” or, “It’s always something,”. Then, every so often, we are rewarded for the woeful melancholy with moments of unadulterated joy. Those moments are the ones that we stick around for.

The Fundamentals of Caring is a flawless encapsulation of that principle. Ben Benjamin (Paul Rudd) has just become a registered caregiver through a six-week program. Before giving care to another, we must first take care of ourselves. This is an idea that Ben — like so many of us — doesn’t do so well.

Nonetheless, he lands his first gig working for Elsa Conklin (Jennifer Ehle) and her 18-year-old son Trevor (Craig Roberts). Trevor was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy at the age of three, is confined to a motorized chair, and will be lucky if he makes it to 30.

Trevor Conklin is handsome and cool. He’s also a bit of a shit.

He’s bawdy, vulgar, and awfully brazen for someone who can’t run away. He’s also got an affinity for roadside attractions like Rufus, The World’s Biggest Bovine or a two-story outhouse. One in particular is marked by a big, sparkly red star on his map; The World’s Deepest Pit. And of course, he loves it because of how depressing it sounds.

When Ben suggests embarking on a road trip to see some of these in person, Elsa’s reluctance dissipates at the sight of that gentle, reassuring Paul Rudd gaze/half-smile and she bids Trevor farewell so that he can go see a giant hole in the earth.

Ben pushes Trevor out of his comfort zone several times. First, offering him a Slim Jim or, “bite of the James”, and later, making him ask a cute young hitchhiker that he’s got his eye on — with a mouth like a sailor — named Dot (Selena Gomez) to join their pilgrimage.

Together the three of them become four when they pick up a pregnant woman named Peaches (Megan Ferguson). They are, as Trevor states, a taxicab for America. But as we all know, when everything seems to be going just fine, something is just past the horizon waiting to fuck it all up. Ben and Trevor are soon forced to face their demons and try to make it out with minor bumps and bruises.

Paul Rudd is always charming and lovely, but he is especially so in this film. As someone who typically plays the funny guy, his ability to bring emotion to life on-screen is some kind of magic.

Craig Roberts is a Welsh actor and was brand new to me in Fundamentals. He’s got the thing. Something intangible that cannot be forged. Like Rudd, he was born to do this, which gives them out-of-this-world chemistry on-screen.

Oh, hey, Selena Gomez! I’d seen Gomez in Spring Breakers and she was alright, but that movie was just bad. So you can hardly blame her. That said, she was fantastic! Genuine, funny, and clearly in competition with Deadpool for F-bombs dropped in a single feature film.

The entire cast nailed it. This is one of those movies you watch and can’t picture anyone else in those roles. It had to be them.

This movie is a beacon of hope for anyone who has ever experienced hardship. It’s a hand reaching out into the darkness to grab onto. Someone to pick you up, dust you off, and tell everything’s going to be okay. Because life really does have a way of working out, even when things seem to be damaged beyond repair.

One of the best of the year to be sure, The Fundamentals of Caring is on Netflix right now. Watch it with a Slim Jim. If you haven’t had one, it’s the worst mistake of your life.

 

The Legend of Tarzan

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Summer Blockbuster? More like Bummer Lackluster, amirite? I guess this movie never really claims to be a Summer Blockbuster, but it definitely tries to be much bigger than it is. Visions of grandeur, I ‘spose.

John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgård) moved to Victorian England ten years ago after being born Tarzan and raised by gorillas. He and his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie), met in Africa and created a life there, bonding with locals who became family and becoming one with nature and shit. When a royal invitation arrives asking Clayton to return, Jane demands to be there at his side.

Together, the two travel back to Africa with John’s … advisor? … George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson). Upon arrival, they’re greeted by some tigers that Tarzan raised as cubs and their African kin — all of whom Jane remembers by name which, to me, is damn impressive. But I’m just terrible with names.

Meanwhile, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a devious yet fashionable messenger for the king has hatched a plan to capture Tarzan and deliver him to his old nemesis for diamonds. tumblr_lybsx7ekb21qk5fioo4_250

Rom manages to capture Jane and uses her to lure Tarzan to him. Obviously. Despite their best efforts and some kinda neat CGI, the movie falls pretty flat without a vine to swing on.

I have no idea what Samuel L. Jackson is doing in this movie. His character is gratuitous but does provide comic relief. In fact, the only time I laughed was in a scene where Tarzan and a bunch of dudes jump off of a cliff. Sam follows suit — loudly and reluctantly — shouting, “Shit!” as he jumps. It was hilarious.

Outside of that, the movie is essentially a just Skarsgård running around barely clothed. When he took his shirt off for the first time, there was an audible sigh followed by giggles and a couple “Mm-mmm”s. I’m not into super ripped dudes, so not even that was incentive for me.

Give me a movie about Samuel L. Jackson actually navigating the jungle by himself. I would watch 100 hours of that.

 

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

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If imitation is in fact the sincerest form of flattery, then Wedding Crashers and Step Brothers should be flattered af. This movie is just a crappy mash-up of those two movies with less endearing players.

Mike and Dave (Adam Devine and Zac Efron, respectively) are brothers in the liquor business. Both selling and consuming copious amounts of liquor. They’re the guys at any party without dates, working the room, getting the kegs stands going. Sound familiar?

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With their sister Jeanie’s (Sugar Lyn Beard) wedding right around the corner, Mom and Dad (Stephanie Faracy and Stephen Root, respectively) stage an intervention wherein they inform Mike and Dave that they must bring nice, respectable dates to the wedding because despite what they think, Mike and Dave have a tendancy to ruin events.

After placing an ad on Craigslist and meeting a myriad of misfits and crackpots, the boys begin to worry that their search may be fruitless. Little do they know that two broke-ass, unemployed, crass ‘n crude chicks, Alice and Tatiana (Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza, respectively), have gotten wind of their endeavor and plan to use the opportunity to go on a Hawaiian vacay.

One pseudo-elaborate ploy later and the foursome are on their way to the Aloha State. Upon arrival, the girls — all cleaned up in dresses and bows — meet Mike and Dave’s parents, their sister Jeanie, and her husband-to-be, Eric (Sam Richardson). Swiftly earning everyone’s approval, Alice and Tatiana peace tf out and revert back to their bad girl ways, watching porn and smoking pot in their hotel room.

The rest of the movie is what you’d imagine; hijinks, fuckery, and potty humor with saccharine undertones.

What I liked: Hollywood has certainly stepped up its game in terms of putting women in roles that would traditionally feature men. Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Kristen Wiig in the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot, and so, so many women in the Marvel universe. This movie takes that same approach in turning the female lead stereotype on its ear.

Here, we’re presented with the idea that the guys are the delinquents. But then you have Plaza and Kendrick swearing, drinking, scratching themselves… not necessarily heroic, but they are certainly in control in this movie. They’re callin’ the shots. And doin’ the shots.

It’s pretty neat. That said, I would NEVER let my apartment get as filthy as theirs. However, I have eaten cereal out of a giant bowl in my underwear sporting last night’s makeup.

What I didn’t like: how much time do you have? First off, I enjoy most of this cast. I think Anna Kendrick is a goddamn national treasure. This movie just doesn’t do a good job of showcasing how good these actors can be. I try not to let my general disdain for young Hollywood cloud my judgement, but nobody in this movie was given the chance to be as awesome as they usually are.

Sugar Lyn Beard, the woman who plays Jeanie, has the most obnoxious voice I have ever heard in my life. It’s like an angry, persistent toothache. That’s neither here nor there.

At one point, she gets hit in the face by the wheel of an ATV that’s flying through the air. And the damage, as you may expect, is really bad. Then, like a day later, she gets a massage to help her relax.

Now, I’ve gotten a massage before and put my face in that hole on the table. It’s uncomfortable at best WITHOUT a face full of fresh cuts and bruises. There is NO FREAKING WAY she would’ve been able to do that.

The most enjoyable characters were Sam Richarson’s Eric and Jeanie’s best friend, Becky (Mary Holland). They were arguably two of the smallest roles, but both were so watchable and effortlessly funny.

Zac Efron and Adam Devine. These guys. Devine’s schtick is that he is socially awkward and screams a lot. Efron doesn’t have a schtick. He just takes his shirt off, like, all the time. Efron plays the John to Devine’s Jeremy. The Brennan to his Dale. The Lloyd to his Harry. Just not nearly as well as any of those duos.

The movie lacks creativity, even opening with a montage of the two at various parties, laughing, dancing with women, and doing party tricks. Uh, Steve Faber? Bob Fisher? You guys gonna say anything about this?

I’m glad I saw it for free.