While I plan to continue writing on this, my personal blog, I was recently brought on to the PopMatters staff to write film reviews and features. My first article for them, a review of Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice (2016), was published this morning. You can check it out here if interested.
Mike Birbiglia’s second effort finds the comedian exploring existential crises and selfishness, with results that may not always be pleasing, but are throughly stimulating throughout.
Attending a college in the middle of Bumblef***, Ohio proved problematic when I became a film major. The closest town’s theater was difficult to access without a personal vehicle, but I managed to convince my parents to let me keep the family mini-van on campus sophomore year. When the nearby cinema, which only screened the most widely released projects, didn’t suffice, my friends and I looked elsewhere––one of them happened to be obsessed with stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia when his debut film, Sleepwalk With Me, was released. We stuffed into my Honda Odyssey, and made the more than 50-mile drive to Columbus. Though a memorable night, I returned six hours later with mixed feelings about the movie––as a 19-year-old, it was difficult to relate to Birbiglia’s middle-aged crises, but I respected the authenticity and relished his dark humor.
Nearly four years later, I consequently approached my screening of his sophomore effort, Don’t Think Twice, with mild anxiety. The film follows six improv artists in New York City, known together as The Commune, who desire to perform on the late-night show Weekend Live (a continuous jab at Saturday Night Live). When one is finally cast, each member suffers through a character-driven crisis, causing the group to fracture and threatening its existence altogether. The film stars Birbiglia himself, as well as Keegan-Michael Key (Keanu, Key and Peele) and Gillian Jacobs (Community, Girls). Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci and Tami Sagher round out the ensemble.
Though it is certainly the most impressive stop-motion animation achievement ever, Laika Entertainment’s latest release fails to reach its full potential because of piecemeal storytelling and a hazy emotional core.
I love animated films. They offer a boundless potential to bring to life foreign worlds that are immediately recognizable and relatable once on screen. They permit filmmakers to showcase emotionally turbulent childhoods without the challenge of navigating a human child’s psychology to procure a believable performance. They attract otherwise unimaginable casts thanks to their ease on the actors’ schedules. They can be works of staggering visual wonder.
The above are a few of the many reasons why the poster for Kubo and the Two Strings was enough to make me groundlessly excited for this film. It appeared that Studio Ghibli greatly influenced this effort from Laika Entertainment, based on the evident Japanese culture. The stop-motion animators drew heavily from the Pixar well for their previous films (Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls)––I am not opposed to this in the slightest, but do believe Ghibli produces better work more consistently.
The poster also made me aware of the film’s voice cast, which includes some of my favorite working performers, such as Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara and Matthew McConaughey––the white washing here is evident, but the assembly of that group of actors is a tour de force in itself. If that cast were in a live-action film, it would be the early favorite to win Best Picture and the Palme d’Or.
And to top it all off, the protagonist wears an eye patch without any indication why! Tantalizing!
I believe I have made the point that my enthusiasm was uncontrollable, and perhaps premature, so I’ll move on to a review that seeps with disappointment. Don’t mistake me, though: Kubo‘s a good movie. But at the end of the day, it is just Laika taking a step sideways rather than a step forward. Allow me to explain.
Despite some troublesome storytelling, the most recent filmic adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella manages to maintain altitude on the strength of its heart.
Please allow me to begin with a brief, personal anecdote, because if it were not for Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella, The Little Prince, I am not certain I would have the best friend I do today. Thus, my thoughts on the film are colored by my affections and memories of him.
Despite lacking any previous acting experience, I auditioned for a main stage theater production as a college sophomore. Though I did not obtain a part, I received a callback, which was enough to inspire me to audition for a smaller, student-run production. It was then that I met Tim.
Though words can describe anyone, they always fail to properly detail the joy I experience when I’m in Tim’s presence; I have yet to meet someone who lives life more fully than him. His numerable emotions are intense and infinite, but his passion for what he loves remains his most definitive quality. The Little Prince is his favorite book––he loves it so dearly he tattooed the iconic image of the boa constrictor digesting an elephant whole to his breast––and when he came across a theatrical adaptation of the story, he decided to helm his own production.
After months of unfounded online resentment, the most disappointing part of Paul Feig’s reboot is that it’s not nearly good enough to definitively silence the premature and misogynistic haters.
About 15 minutes into the Ghostbusters reboot, Leslie Jones leads Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon through a subway station in order to show them where she discovered a ghost the other day. They come across a graffiti artist, who Jones, an employee at the station, tries to shoo away, but this altercation’s occurred often enough that the tagger can “pretend” not to hear her as he finishes what is eventually revealed to be the iconic Ghostbusters logo. Wiig, McCarthy and McKinnon marvel at it for a moment, but Jones isn’t having it: “That ain’t art!” she exclaims. “Y’all just reinforcing him!” Unfortunately, this line of dialogue perfectly summarized my feelings towards a film that was polarizing before its release, and promises to continue to be so after.
Now that 2016’s halfway through, More Critical’s ready to hand out some awards and reflect on what cinema’s offered us so far this year.
As a child, I attended Camp Michigania annually. Located on the shores of Lake Walloon, I spent the last week of every June at the family camp; it always ended up being my favorite time of year. I loved the camp so much that I ended up working there for three summers as a counselor, and I now consider those months to be the best times of my young life.
At the end of each weekly camping session, there was a ceremony at which the counselors handed out “awards” (essentially paper certificates) to the majority of the campers; the more memorable the camper, the more likely it was that he or she would receive an award. Though I’m sure to return as a camper, my time as a Michigania staff member is over, so it seems time to transition my award-giving skills to my new love: movies. While the following awards certainly don’t document exclusively positive theatergoing experiences (I have to save those for six more months), I hope that I can channel enough of the spirit of Camp Michigania and make these awards memorable on their own.
Are you done yammering about nostalgia again? Jeez, every time…
Do you have to be here for this, Confusing Italicized Occasionally Questioning Alter Ego?
Yes! I do! Because I live in your head and you’ll never be free of me! Muahahaha!!
With plenty of heart and lots of laughs, the new documentary about Anthony Weiner helps prove that even our most scandalous politicians are still human beings, just like anyone else.
Weiner opens with a quote from the late communications professor Marshall McLuhan: “The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.” The message is clear: first-time directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg recognize their subject material’s inherent comedy, but want us to move on from immature humor. The disgraced politician can’t help that his last name is a synonym for penis, so let’s focus on the story and man behind the headline. Not only does this film prove it’s more than a one-note gag, but it shows Anthony Weiner is defined by more than his misguided mistakes: he’s a human being, just like you and me. Simply put, Weiner turns its titular character into 2016’s strongest cinematic protagonist thus far.