Tag Archives: Jenny Slate

Brain On Fire

Susannah is working her dream job at a newspaper in New York City, but just as it seems as though the 21 year old has it all together – a cute apartment, a musician boyfriend, and a hot assignment from her boss things start to go wonky.

A super caring (read: sarcasm) doctor diagnoses her with “partying too hard” based on the one glass of wine she cops to drinking occasionally but something’s definitely up and whatever it is, it ain’t that. She’s not acting like herself. She zones out. She convulses with seizures. What the heck is happening with Susannah?

MV5BNjE4OTcyZDUtN2Y0My00NzlhLWJhODgtMjZlMTNjNzU0ZDIzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkwNTM3OTA@._V1_In theory this is an interesting little mystery, but on tape it’s surprisingly boring. Chloe Grace Moretz “acts” a great range of symptoms by making crazy eyes and flaring her nostrils while we maintain a polite distance. In fact, there’s such a remove that’s built-in it kind of makes me feel like I’m visiting my own sick relative and just nosily eavesdropping on Susannah’s shit.

I read the book on which this movie is based and it didn’t really light my fire either. Not to make light of her disease, but I sort of think a brain on fire is preferable to what this movie did to mine, ie, turned it into pea soup. Now I’m going to have to stand on one foot and hop up and down trying to mushify those peas and get them draining out the various holes in my face. You know, best case scenario.

Anyway, I’m sure there’s some weird network on television that airs diseases of the week, and that’ll be no worse than this, but your expectations should be more realistically aligned. This movie is just a no for me. I would have rather spent the time in the waiting room of my local ER – at least as long as there are KitKats in the vending machine.

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Landline

This movie is deliciously familiar.

Manhattan, 1995: a time when people still smoked inside, while sitting on their plush, wall-to-wall carpeting. Personal phone calls were made on the street corner, on a dirty pay phone, and it cost a quarter. And in the Jacobs home, a forgotten floppy disk leads teenager Ali to discover her father’s affair (and embarrassing erotic poetry). Ali (Abby Quinn) recruits older sister Dana (Jenny Slate) into her investigation. The pair are bonding for the first time, perhaps even bonding over the secrets and lies, while also coming to terms with their own sex and love lives.

It’s really fun to watch Quinn and Slate together on screen. It’s obvious the sisters have some history but ultimately they care about each other, and about their parents, who are seeming more and more human all the time. Do you remember the first time you saw your parents as fallible, flawed people? This is their discover. Their father (John landline-5931Turturro) may be stepping out on their mom, but he’s also the geeky guy who still takes them to Benihana for special occasions even though they’re far too old. Their mother (Edie Falco) has never struck them as a sexual being before, but it turns out that she too has wants and needs, and that maybe not all her tears and concerns are for them. This is a really great script that unfolds over just a couple of days, but pivotal days that will completely reconstruct the family.

Director Gillian Robespierre clearly has some love for the 90s and at times coasts on those references, which are admittedly a bit indulgent, but fun to savour. Landline doesn’t exactly break new ground in terms of theme or content but it’s a commentary on cheating by cheaters, and the implosion of a nuclear family just as it was about to expire anyway. There’s some nostalgia here, not just for the time period, but for that period of time before the kids grow wiser than the parents. The family’s shifting dynamics exhibit growing pains that are universal. And the great work by a talented ensemble means this family is fun to watch even as their ship is going down.

 

 

The Polka King

Jan Lewan, Polish immigrant, is a hard-working polka enthusiast. He works 18 day time jobs just so he can afford to keep touring the Pennsylvania polka circuit. His band, however, isn’t content to work for peanuts. In a bid to fatten their paycheques, he recruits some of his elderly fans to become “investors”, and he writes promissory notes guaranteeing a 12% return on investment. His investors are quite happy: Jan always finds new investors, so he can always cover generous quarterly payments. But then the FBI finds out.

polka-kingThe FBI gets one whiff of this and feel it must be some sort of Ponzi scheme. They shut Jan down, but since he promises it was an honest mistake, and to pay back his investors, problem solved. Except, in order to pay back his investors, he ends up creating a second, bigger scheme.

The thing about our Polka King is that he’s very, very charming. Jack Black is perfect to play him: guileless, open-faced, enthusiastic. Even when he’s dirty, his heart is squeaky-clean. Jenny Slate appears as his beauty queen wife, Jacki Weaver as his scowling mother-in-law,  and Jason Schwartzman as his best friend and bandmate, Mickey Pizzazz. The film bubbles with energy thanks to its cast, and Jack Black’s eyes are never not dancing. Black’s been honing his indie acting chops these past few years, and it shows. But it never hurts that this wacky guy is exactly in his wheelhouse. It just so happens that this wacky guy is a real person, and if you were a polka fan in the 1990s, especially around Scranton, you may have caught a performance. But even if you didn’t, now all you need is a Netflix subscription. The screwball energy is infectious…although it must be said: directors Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky seem to love their protagonist a little too much. But heck, I love him a little too much too. The Polka King is endearing and entertaining.  He may be conning his way into our hearts, but he’s there.

Despicable Me 3

Nope.

This movie was made to take your money; it does not feel obliged to entertain you in return. The first two films in the franchise felt sweet in their own way, heart-warming in a villainous sort of fashion. But this one just feels incomplete. The movie ended and I felt nothing had really happened. Gru  (voiced by Steve Carrell), our nefarious villain turned secret agent thanks to do-gooder wife, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), meets his twin brother Dru for the first time (Carrell, again). Dru, though seemingly successful and handsome(er), has always been something of a disappointment bad-guy-wise, and begs his brother to teach him everything he knows. Reluctant to go back to his bad guy ways, Gru instead has them steal the world’s largest diamond back from the evil clutches of Balthazar Bratt, a villain who eluded him at the agency.

nintchdbpict000290313314Bratt is an entertaining character on paper: a washed up 80s TV child star who aged out and resented it until his old shows inspired him to become the very villain he played. Middle aged now, and armed with a mullet, a keytar, and a juicy 80s soundtrack that follows his every move, he pulls of heists with exploding bubble gum and an army of dolls who look just like him.

My nephews, who love the franchise, call this movie Minions 3, which tells you what puts 5 year old butts in the seat. Gru has no need for his minions now that he’s turned straight, but some of their side action lands them in prison, and the movie basically splits in two, one plot following Gru and Dru, and the other following the minions. The movie does just enough to satisfy the kids, but anyone over the age of 8 is out of luck. This is yet another franchise that ran out of steam. There’s no focus, no charm. The only good thing about this movie is Steve Carrell’s voicework. I spent a lot of the movie imagining him in a soundproof booth. It’s not the recitation of dialogue that impresses me, but rather I am intrigued by all the assorted random grunts and noises. He had to sit in his booth, and think, now, if I was about to get impaled butt-first on a poisonous stake, what sort of heavily-accented screech would I let out? And what sort of relieved exhalation would I make if I avoided it? And what sort of self-starting grunt would I make to get back to work? And how out of breath would I get trying to sticky-climb up the side of a lair? These questions fascinated me, and kept me entertained during a movie that was supposed to be doing the entertaining.

But okay, there was a SECOND thing that was rather cute. Gru’s unicorn-loving daughter Agnes is again in unicorn mode, determined to see one in person. A kindred spirit, I happen to be hosting a unicorns & rainbows party on Sunday. Because they’re so fluffy I want to die. But two little bright spots do not a good movie make. Despicable Me 3 was boring. Not so boring I wanted to die but I was certainly conscious that its 90 minute runtime brought me closer to the grave, which is not exactly what you want out of a children’s movie. The end.

Joshy

Joshy has planned a fun bachelor-party weekend away in Ojai, just him and his buddies celebrating his upcoming marriage with as much booze and drugs and strippers as time and space allows. Except Joshy’s fiancee commits suicide, and the weekend’s now been downgraded to just a “hangout” among friends.

Only a few brave friends arrive, besides Joshy (Thomas Middleditch): stable Ari (Adam Pally), determined to keep things light, neurotic Adam (Alex Ross Perry) whose default mode is wet blanket, and Eric (Nick Kroll), the friend with coke and bad ideas. They pick 2f03a127a57d72e5de9a6d7fb71e9cf5up some hangers-on (Jenny Slate among them) and proceed to have a very weird weekend.

How do men mourn and commiserate with their grieving friend? They mostly don’t. They mostly tamp down their feelings in favour of whatever self-destruction’s close by. The film is largely improvised, making use of all the comedic chops, so the chemistry is crackling even if it feels like the plot goes absolutely nowhere. It’s really about the presumption of our perceptions, and maybe the unknowability of people. The characters disclose things to each other, and expose themselves to us, but we don’t come away really understanding them any better for it.

Joshy has a really ephemeral quality to it, a sense that nothing can last, good or otherwise, and things will inevitably be left unsettled. This may be a comment on closure and its real-life attainability, and that’s exactly when the movie feels the most honest.

This was a humbly entertaining watch for me because I like these guys, but it wasn’t exactly earth-shattering goodness. It’s kind of a cross between a raunchy comedy and mumblecore, so take that admonition with the grain of salt it deserves.

Gifted

Apart from dramatic courtroom confessions, dick jokes, and Shia LaBeouf, there’s nothing more obnoxious onscreen than smart kids.

The smart kid in Gifted- Marc Webb’s first non-Spiderman film since 2009’s 500 Days of Mckenna Grace as “Mary Adler” and Chris Evans as “Frank AdSummer- is a 7 year-old math prodigy named Mary. Mary (Mckenna Grace) has been doing just fine being home schooled by her uncle Frank (a bearded Chris Evans) and hanging out with their neighbour (Octavia Spencer) until Frank decides she needs friends her own age and sends her to public school. It doesn’t take long for her first-grade teacher (Jenny Slate) to discover that she’s a genius and word travels fast to Mary’s estranged but suddenly very interested British grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan).

For a child prodigy in a movie called Gifted, Mary isn’t that bright. And, believe it or not, that’s a good thing. Compared to the smartass, impossibly wise and witty kids in most Hollywood movies, she’s surprisingly and refreshingly childish. She acts like a kid, talks like a kid, and plays like a kid. She’s just crazy good at math. Like Rain Man good at math. But apart from the advanced calculations that she can do in her head, she’s just an ordinary 7 year-old. And, as played by the also very gifted Mckenna Grace, she’s the best thing about this movie and is much more convincing than an uncharacteristically charismaless Evans.

Chris-Evan-GiftedScreenwriter Tom Flynn doesn’t handle complex problems quite as well as Mary does. Because the question of how best to raise any child, never mind such an unusual one, can’t be as easy as his script seems to think. The drama unfolds at a tense custody battle between Frank (who just wants Mary to have a normal childhood) and Evelyn (who wants her to go to some fancy school and dedicate herself to reaching her full potential). There are interesting questions to be had here but Flynn comes up with enough sneaky screenwriting tricks and twists to get out of having to have any of them.

If you can forgive Evans’ bland performance and Flynn’s sentimental approach, there’s a lot to like about Gifted. Actually, I’m quite confident that most people will love it and even be annoyed with me for nitpicking at it. The local audience at Wednesday’s preview screening applauded wildly at at least a half-dozen zingers and speeches. Which is my only real problem with it. It’s an entertaining movie about characters that we care about but it’s more interested in soliciting applause than it is provoking discussion.

SXSW: Female Voices

It’s International Women’s Day so we’re looking at some of the strong female voices coming out of the South By SouthWest programming this year.

Valerie Weiss: we discovered her work for the first time at the New Hampshire Film Festival, where we saw and really enjoyed A Light Beneath Their Feet. This year she’s giving SXSW the world premiere of her new film, The Archer, about a high school archery champion called Lauren who’s stuck in juvenile correctional facility in the wilderness, after hospitalizing a boy in self-defense. After discovering some not-nice things about her prison and its warden, Lauren goes on the run…but getting away won’t be easy!

Katherine Fairfax Wright: billed as the director, editor AND cinematographer of Behind The Curtain: Todrick Hall, Wright is screening her new documentary about Hall’s ambitious attempt to stage an original musical called Straight Outta Oz about growing up gay and black in small-town Texas.

The Female Lens: Creating Change Beyond The Bubble is a panel about film’s unique ability to do just that, with female directors, writers, and actors all using their work to change the perception of women onscreen and off in real world ways. Jenny Slate, Danielle MacDonald, Gabourey Sibide, and Janicza Bravo discuss how films do (and don’t) alter perceptions of women across America.

Speaking of Janicza Bravo: she’s the director of Lemon, a movie about a middle-aged man who must admit he’s just a dud. The film stars Judy Greer, Brett Gelman, Michael Cera, Nia Long, Rhea Perlman, Gillian Jacobs, Martin Starr, and David Paymer, and I’m betting on it being worth a look.

Eleanor Coppola: Paris Can Wait may be her first fiction film, but she’s starting at the top, with Diane Lane and Alec Baldwin as a lacklustre Hollywood couple wherein the wife goes through a bit of a reawakening.

How Humor is Evolving the Body Positivity Movement is a panel that touches on how comedy has helped start a cultural conversation on the female body, and comedians like Phoebe Robinson and Gillian Jacobs use humour to bring awareness to women’s health and body issues, from miscarriage to mental health.

Alice Lowe: known for her work as a UK television comedy actress, Lowe made her move into film with her screenwriting debut Sightseers, directed by Ben Wheatley, and now she’s dipping her toe into the body horror\dark comedy hybrid genre with Prevenge, about a pregnant woman on a killing spree, with her unborn baby dictating her violent actions. Lowe also stars in Prevenge, which was filmed during her own ACTUAL pregnancy. Kick ass!

 

The Secret Life of Pets

Illumination Entertainment has taken a page from Pixar’s mega success and included a short in front of their recent effort, The Secret Life of Pets. It’s called Mower Minions and reminds you that these little yellow compatriots are still celebrities to the 6-and-under crowd, their fart jokes just as relevant and hilarious as ever.

On to the main event, a 90 minute movie that also wants to remind you that it’s by the same team behind the Minions.  The little owner of a guinea pig snuggles beside a Minion toy at night. maxresdefaultAnd a dog gets dressed up as a Minion for Halloween (is it just me or does a second dog get outfitted as the foul-mouthed teddy bear, Ted?). Pixar does the same sly product placement, making sure its current characters are fans and consumers of their older stuff. The comparisons to Pixar, much as the humans behind Despicable Me might hope they continue, pretty much end there.

I liked this movie. Very much. But I’m a dog person and a quadruple dog owner. If you remind me of them, or engage me about them, of course I’ll smile. They’re furry little bundles of unconditional love and loyalty and joy. If you make a movie about dogs and it’s not a complete delight, you’re probably a miserable fuck.

The Secret Life of Pets earns a belly rub every time it reminds you of your own four-legged friends. For me it was the escape via temporary fencing (we had a pool built this summer, and our yard was a logistical nightmare) and the sausage-induced delirium. While I don’t think ourthumbnail_23930 dogs have ever broken into a hot dog factory (though how would I know?), they do experience what we call “wiener fever” every time we have leftovers from the grill.

The movie merely gets a perfunctory pat on the head though when it comes to story-telling. Oh, it’ll please the pants right off your kids. They’ll love it. And you’ll find it much less annoying than those insufferable Minions. But it’s a superficial story that will have no lasting impact on anyone. Of all the talking animal movies this year (Finding Dory, Zootopia), this one will seem inconsequential in comparison. Yes the doggies talked – but what did they have to say?

So take it for what it is: an incredibly talented voice cast, a solid use of 3D, and a pleasant way to either babysit the kids or while away a rainy afternoon.

Obvious Child

I hated the first 3 minutes of this film, and then loved the next 81.

Donna (Jenny Slate) is a confessional comic; she spills the dirty details of her life to a small obviouschild__jennyslateaudience in the back room of a dingy place. Not everyone in her life can handle being the subject of her standup, and the truth is, I could barely tolerate it myself. It was the usual stuff: I have a vagina, I’m Jewish, etc etc. But. But when she leaves the stage, she’s enormously funny. You get the sense that her stand-up will in fact take off one day, maybe even one day soon.

But not today.  Because today she’s been “dumped up with” and she’s drinking and she’s oversharing, which is the only kind of sharing she knows how to do. With a microphone and a whine. And like, 17 shots. Cut to: drunken one-night stand, which leads to pregnancy, which leads to an abortion.

obviouschildBut a funny abortion! Okay, it’s not so funny. It’s actually dealt with pretty realistically, but with the kind of wit and truth that bathes the subject in a new light. Refreshingly unapologetic. And oddly becomes something of a romantic comedy, because who doesn’t take a date to the abortion clinic on Valentine’s Day? And P.S. – if you do, do you bring flowers?

I really like Slate on the Kroll Show, and director Gillian Robespierre knew she had the chops to handle a title role. Donna is a sometimes exasperating character but Slate pulls it off and is magnetic in every scene, whether petulant, snarky, or earnest.

I jotted down so many brilliant lines, all worth quoting, but I’m refraining for your sake, so that you may enjoy them from the right voice. But there are also fart jokes, which have no business even existing. So this is not a perfect film, but I was really won over by it. I’ll take the lows with the highs. I was charmed by Obvious Child, even if there was very little obvious about it. And I expect big and bigger things from both Robespierre and Slate in the future.