Don’t Think Twice (2016)

R, 92 minutes, Drama

StarringKeegan-Michael KeyGillian JacobsMike Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher

Growing up, there were two comedy shows that reigned supreme: Saturday Night Live and its lesser competitor MadTV. I feel like these two occupy different realities as I grew out of SNL, but never stopped loving MadTV. I found it be sketch comedy perfection. Perhaps because it wasn’t as notorious, so the actors always had to be on top of their game, but I never wanted it to end. It did, of course, with the exception of a small revival, but two of its later cast members, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, have made the most of their time since then.

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Most of us would be lucky to have a group of friends like this.

Don’t Think Twice follows The Commune, an improv troupe in love with their own work. The tight-knit group of comedians are put through the ringer when faced with the crushing reality of their hopes and dreams going up in smoke. New opportunities and feelings of betrayal begin to crumble the loving relationship the troupe once had.

This film is an intimate look at the struggles of becoming a comedian, but I feel like it’s more biography of Birbiglia–or even Key. Or Amy Poehler. Heck, it could be about anyone in the industry. However, I’m more attached to Key due to his involvement with MadTV, plus his character’s dream of being on “Weekend Live” fleshes out the process of moving up in the world. This doesn’t overshadow the other intertwining plots, but I focused on him possibly out of sheer familiarity. I couldn’t help but wonder if Key’s old life fell apart after he got the call to join the cast of Mad. It made me think of all the what-ifs he must have gone through…

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Watching this movie made me realize I need to visit the UCB Theatre.

Unsurprisingly, the cinematography is just actors on camera, but that’s not what this story is about. That’s just it: it’s a story, not a film. A look into a way of life I’ll never have; a drama of being an underdog. The layman will never understand you, but screw it, you’re passionate about your work and at least you have friends. It is the heart and soul of art itself. Perhaps I’m being gooshy here, but having my own “struggling artist” personal mindset allows me to really relate to this movie. I FEEL FOR YOU, MADE UP CHARACTERS!!!

That being said, this movie may not be for everyone, but it’s still a solid drama with plenty going on to keep you engaged. Honestly, it’s more than I expected it to be. I thought it was going to be a comedy, but (and in a good way) I was wrong. Give it a go if you’re foolish enough to consider yourself a dreamer.

Rating: Watch it.

tl;dr
Watch: Because it’s an excellent look at a world you probably don’t understand.
Don’t watch: If you’re not a drama fan and you’re just not that curious about comedians.

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Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

PG, 101 minutes, Fantasy

Staring: Art ParkinsonCharlize TheronMatthew McConaughey

Let be known that ANY movie I review with stop-motion animation will ultimately be ranked higher than most other films simply because of the painstakingly colossal effort that goes into making each and every frame. Spending an entire 12-hour work day to come up with only forty seconds of usable screen time takes more patience than I can ever hope to muster. That being said, I’m bound to find some real stinkers in the future…

Kubo isn’t one of them. It’s a tale about a boy who has three strings… Yeah, I don’t get the title either, but I’ll come back to that. At Kubo’s birth his grandfather steals one of the infant’s eyes causing his mother flee into hiding with him. As Kubo grows, he begins to utilize a magical ability that brings life to paper via a shamisen. Eventually Kubo accidentally reveals himself to his sinister aunts which forces him to embark on a tragic journey of retribution.

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Smoking is bad, kids. And so are villains.

Let me just start by saying that any flaw this movie possesses is far overshadowed by the amazing style it presents. It comes off to me as a European film trying to create a Japanese story.  I’m an American and this movie feels totally foreign to me despite the fact that it isn’t. Every model appears to inhabit an individual reality full of gritty, detailed depth. Simply watching an eye move is a showcase of the animator skill that far exceeds the silly warping animation of today’s cartoons. I might just fangasm…

The story itself is a little rough in patches. I honestly don’t understand the whole “two strings” bit. At one point it seems to make sense… until Kubo gets a third string. I don’t really want to go into detail as it might ruin the plot, but I honestly would have felt better about the whole ordeal if this movie had been titled “Kubo and the Three Strings.” Because there are three. Three strings. Not two.

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The fact that he isn’t constantly covered in paper cuts almost seems like an oversight.

As far as characters go, our main cast is small, but pretty great. Except Beetle. I couldn’t really feel out the character as the creators perhaps wanted me to and that’s probably because of the constant freaking whistle in McConaughey’s voice. While he does play his part in the story, I mostly found him an annoying and useless shield–fodder for the bad guys. But oh, the bad guys… Or gals rather. The twin aunts are menacing beyond words; mechanically haunting (yes, “mechanical” and not “maniacal”) and a devastating force that makes Kubo’s childhood a nightmare. They have to be watched in order to be fully appreciated.

It’s not a perfect movie, but it easily counts a great movie. Family friendly, yet dark enough to appeal to older audiences, Kubo at face value might be a story that’s already been told over and over again, but it’s presentation has few rivals.

Rating: Own it.

tl;dr
Watch: Dat stop-animation tho.
Don’t watch: If you grew up hating Gopher from Winnie the Pooh.

The Cable Guy (1996)

PG-13, 96 minutes, Thriller

StarringJim CarreyMatthew BroderickLeslie MannJack Black

Back when I was a kid I had a neighbor friend named Bobby. Bobby was probably more spoiled than I was at that age as he had both a Sega AND a Nintendo, hordes of toys (some of which had set-ups that took the better part of a room), and a stack of Jim Carrey movies that the both of us watched until our mothers yelled at us to stop. Our constant viewings prompted us to act like complete weirdos as kids, but what else is new at that age?

I went back. Way back to my childhood and found this bizarre case of a movie. The Cable Guy is about Steven (Broderick) moving out during some relationship struggles only to find himself mixed up with a lonely cable installer.  The cable guy (Carrey) then proceeds to fling Steven’s life out of control and the helpless Steven can only hang on as his world falls apart around him.

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You either get it or you don’t.

I imagine this film is something that a large number of people have seen. It was probably on TV movie channels every two hours for a few years after its release, but while I had remembered it I didn’t exactly remember it being quite the way it was. I mean, it was a comedy, right? Gosh, did my perception change. While this movie is full of comedians in bit parts, this is really fits better in the horror genre. Well, let’s go more with thriller, but any introvert or anyone who has ever had an uncomfortable friendship with someone will understand just how freaky this is as the cable guy goes from weirdo to stalker in no time flat. Medieval battles, destroyed relationships, sexual references, and nightmares permeate this movie with the cable guy’s psychosis.

Can we talk about Ben Stiller for just a little bit? I mean, the guy DIRECTED this, which is something that totally threw me off. I had no idea he directed anything until I rewatched this. So much has seemed to make sense after finding that out. It completely explains why the same actors keep showing up alongside him–it’s part of the culture. And then there’s the murder trial subplot throughout the movie. I had no idea the suspect was Stiller–I thought it was a REAL trial. My childhood brain apparently replaced the very real trial of the Menendez brothers with the fictional one of Sam Sweet. Goes to show how crazy I am…

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I’m not sure how I escaped having nightmares about this face.

Speaking of surprises, something that pleasantly surprised me about this movie is how much of a snapshot it is of the ’90s. There’s an awful lot of media packed into it, because, well, our antagonist is obsessed with television. Not only does our cable guy keep making references to popular shows and movies, but he is a walking embodiment of the moving media. If you don’t get it, just watch it and you’ll understand. Further encompassing the media of the time, we’re given a soundtrack worth buying full of songs I’d nearly forgotten about. It’s great. And it’s great to see this cyclone of comedians, music, and media forming this bizarre, but memorable story.

Okay, so this movie doesn’t count as one of THE greats, but the things you grew up with always hold a special place, you know? Perhaps, dear reader, you aren’t as overly obsessed with watching and collecting movies as I am, so this may not speak to you. But if you grew up during the golden age of Jim Carrey or if you really just loved the ’90s you might want to take a look back at this little time capsule.

Rating: Watch it.

tl;dr
Watch: Because you were raised with ’90s culture and ’90s culture is the best so :P.
Don’t watch: Because what the heck is going on, man?

Flop Friday: You Don’t with the Zohan (2008)

PG-13, 113 minutes, Comedy

StarringAdam SandlerEmmanuelle ChriquiJohn TurturroNick SwardsonRob Schneider

If there’s two things I can count in an Adam Sandler movie is his devotion to former Saturday Night Live veterans and making Jewish references. Sometimes he hits, sometimes he misses, but the real enjoyment comes from seeing “the band” get back together. Perhaps it’s because we live in a time where actors are always trying to out-do one another, but love seeing acting troupes (B-list or otherwise) work together time after time.

Merging comedic and Jewish cast members alike into a crazy story about counter-terrorism, Adam Sandler plays Zohan, a humus-obsessed nearly-invincible sex-addict special forces operative who just really wants to cut hair. After faking his death in Israel and fleeing to America, Zohan quite literally screws his way onto the hair-styling scene. But when an old foe returns, Zohan must face the life he left behind.

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Just like that bully who stomped on my LEGOs in the 2nd grade…

It’s just that… Zohan doesn’t really work for me. I’m sure there was landslide of criticism about the religious and sexual motifs prevalent in this film, but that’s not what I want to focus on. Although, reflecting back upon that it was REALLY FREAKING WEIRD. But what I do want to talk about is the bizarre call for peace this movie slaps you across the face with. Look, it’s 2017 and back when this movie was created (2008) things were basically the same. The Middle East is at war and no one likes each other. Fantastic (note: sarcasm). But why would you come up with this utterly bizarre way of stamping a “coexist” on the audience’s brain? “Don’t panic just style and screw.” “This MUST work!”

Having semi-recently seen good Adam Sandler movies like Hotel Translyvania, Pixels, and Blended and fondly remembering older ones like Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, I just have to say one word: WHAT?!?!? Crude humor works in the other movies, but I can’t help but wonder if something simpler like slapstick or dark satire would have worked better in Zohan. I know they can’t all be hits, but I expected more Sandler and especially from Robert Smigel, creator of the brilliant Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

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Legends are made, not born.

It’s not like there was anything really wrong with this movie other than it’s touchy subject matter. But perhaps that was the point all along: make a risky maneuver in order to promote brotherhood and hopefully entertain in the process… No matter how many known actors, musicians, and entertainers fill the screen, I just can’t get on board for free lovin’ with every ’80s hairstyle.

Rating: Don’t bother.

tl;dr
Watch: If your wires are crossed and your circuits have shorted.
Don’t watch: Religiously offensive to some and because why would anyone want to watch Sandler screw little old ladies?

Kick-Ass (2010)

R, 117 minutes, Crime

StarringAaron Taylor-JohnsonChloe Grace MoretzMark StrongNicolas CageChristopher Mintz-Plasse

We’ve all wanted to stand up for something. We see the kids getting bullied, friends go through hardships, and jerks cut us off on the freeway, but have we ever really put ourselves in the position to seek justice? Or perhaps to enact our own version of justice…?

Kick-Ass plays off of a bizarre trend (okay, so maybe it’s just me that thinks it’s bizarre) where average citizens dawn masks and capes in order to fight crime. No, I mean it. Real people. Like, this is a thing that actually happens. Except, of course, our story takes the reality of the trend and mashes it with the glitz and glam of comic books. What comic book nerd hasn’t thought of running around stopping purse snatchers and metallic supervillains who have tapped into the power of the Dark Arts?

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I just wanted to find Mr. Bitey!!!

Meet Dave (Taylor-Johnson), better known in this case as Kick-Ass.  Dave gets the idea to go vigilante from the pages of his favorite comics because he keeps getting robbed. When his first attempt at being a superhero doesn’t go so well, he gains the attention of other like-minded individuals. Before he knows it, Kick-Ass becomes embroiled in a war against a drug lord that turns out to be more than he can handle.

Although this movie plays off comic panels with familiar notations like “Meanwhile…” and “Elsewhere…” the stand out aspect is actually the color-coding of the main cast. When on screen, each hero pops against the background thus gaining territory over the frame. The bright colors are reminiscent of the drawn inspirations, because let’s face it–what superhero looks good on paper without bright colors? Don’t answer that…

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Hey, look! It’s Batman! Wait, why does he have a sniper rifle and a Fu Manchu?

On the controversial side, this flick does a grandiose job of making cute, little Mindy/Danger Girl (Moretz) into a stabbing, swearing, slicing, killing machine. Moretz filmed this movie when she was still about 12 or 13. Her age and her acting caused some people to fret as they didn’t think she should be depicted as dropping f-bombs and hacking people to bits. Ah, Hollywood…

Overall this title isn’t going to outshine the rest of the Marvel line-up. It isn’t even going to involve the rest of the Marvel line-up. It plays outside of the rules by being a superhero movie that isn’t technically a superhero movie. It’s coarse and it’s unfair. It’s introspective and it’s hormonal. It’s… mortal. It’s more just a movie for the rest of us.

Rating: Watch it.

tl;dr
Watch: Offbeat superhero film about people who aren’t superheros.
Don’t watch: Violence, gore, and free-flowing swearing (mostly involving a 13 year-old girl).

Deathtrap (1982)

PG (should be PG-13), 116 minutes, Thriller

StarringMichael CaineChristopher ReeveDyan CannonIrene WorthHenry Jones

Recently I went to the theater. The stage and intermission kind. It had been a while, but I still end up seeing live performances about once a year. It’s a nice experience that leaves an impression of being “cultured.” Honestly, it just tends to make for a great date night.

In walks Deathtrap: a one stage, two act, five player set. I’m given the unique perspective of watching it in the round. Each audience member gets a different view of the action as they surround the stage. Quite cool, in my opinion. I go home with mixed feelings about the performance, but I ask myself: If it was set in the late ’70s, does that mean it was written then? First search result: Deathtrap–the movie. The library has it. Screw it: I’m watchin’ it.

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Oh look! A cliche room of medieval weaponry!

While the movie is not the original incarnation, it certainly is the most commercial. Without giving too much away I can tell you that the story involves two people who set out to murder a third… and that’s about all I can say. There would really be no point in describing more as it would 1) dissolve the thriller aspect of the story and 2) GIVE EVERYTHING AWAY. No point in discovering a movie if you already know how it ends, right? That being said, I’ll try to continue lightly…

It is an interesting premise having such a limited cast and play area. In an age of all-star ensembles where they appear to have to stretch casting budgets just to pack in another well-known name, having only five (well, focusing on five) people on one (well, mostly on one) set is a stark difference. That’s where the charm of this film comes into play. Not only is the story limited to one set, two acts, and five players, but characters are working with the idea of writing a script that involves one set, two acts, and five players based around the experience they are going through. This creates an entire story based on treacherous introspection.

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Hey, man? You alright? You’ve got, uh, a little something on your face.

The acting is fine and there’s little technical going on here. It’s really just a story-driven movie that perhaps climaxes too soon with one chaotic moment that is so charged the rest of the story turns into a lackluster game of cat and mouse until the second, although not as intense, climax that finishes off the story. It is interesting, though dated, but I don’t see this being for everyone, which would explain why I had never heard of the story in the first place.

Rating: Don’t bother.

tl;dr
Watch: The first climatic scene is fun.
Don’t watch: Guy-on-guy mouth-to-mouth.