Tag Archives: Amy Poehler

Feels Like Teen Spirit

Inside Out 2

by George Wolf

It’s been nine years since Pixar’s Inside Out took us on that wonderful ride through a young girl’s feelings. Almost a decade, and I’m still not over what happened to Bing Bong.

Revisiting Riley (voiced by Kensington Tallman) when she hits her teen years seems like a natural exercise. And beyond that, Inside Out 2 delivers enough warmth, humor and insight to make the sequel feel downright necessary.

Riley’s now turning 13, and all seems status quo. Joy (Amy Poehler) keeps the reins on Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale), Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and Disgust (Liza Lapira) as Riley gets set to head to the Bay Area hockey skills camp.

Then, overnight, the puberty alarm goes off. Oh Lord.

Director Kelsey Mann and writers Meg LeFauve (returning from part one) and Dave Holstein unleash this emotional onslaught with a mix of laughs and empathy that sets the perfect catalyst for another winning Pixar trip into a secret world.

And this world is more chaotic than ever. Anxiety (Maya Hawke) turns up with a plan to take over, leaning on Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser) and Ennui aka Boredom (Adèle Exarchopoulos) to steer Riley away from who she is and toward “who she needs to be”.

Will Riley abandon her BFF teammates Bree (Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green) and Grace (Grace Lu) to cozy up to star player Val (Lilimar) and the other older girls? Will Riley’s belief that “I’m a good person” crumble under doubt and desperation?

In his feature debut, Mann proves adept at showcasing what Pixar does best: meaningful stories for kids that are also emotional for parents. From the demo crew that arrives with puberty to the “sar-chasm”, this is another very clever romp through all that builds the sense of self. The film’s battle between joy and anxiety is relatable for all generations, and it’s filled with levels of creativity, humor, and visual flair that are undeniably fun.

And while it may not be Toy Story 4 funny, it is funny, especially when a leftover memory from Riley’s favorite kiddie show turns up to help our heroes out of “suppressed emotions” exile. His name is Pouchy (SNL’s James Austin Johnson). He’s a pouch. He’s hilarious. Trust me on this.

Could we now be moving closer to a Disney-fied treatment of Paul Almond’s Up series? Well, June Squibb’s charming cameo as Nostalgia just might be a peek at things to come. Either way, Inside Out 2 is a completely entertaining two-hour guide toward understanding – or appreciating – the messy emotions of growing up.

Love Story

Lucy and Desi

by George Wolf

You’ll see famous faces expressing some well deserved admiration for the legendary subjects of Lucy and Desi, but none come close to eclipsing the voice of the face you never see: director Amy Poehler.

The love and respect Poehler has for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz is evident in every frame, as she leans on a goldmine of archival footage to inform, entertain, and giddily geek out.

And the key to the family vault comes from daughter Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill, interviewed poolside while explaining her parents’ fondness for filling countless audio tapes with thoughts and recollections.

What a gift for Poehler and veteran documentary writer Mark Monroe, who weave Lucy and Desi’s own voices around home movie footage, news reports, both classic and rarely seen TV clips, and those raves from admirers to cast a spell that nearly glows with warmth.

Poehler, in her debut doc, shows a fine instinct for knowing killer from filler. She’s able to remind us of Lucy and Desi’s trailblazing show biz greatness, teach us some things we may not know (they aired the first “re-runs”), and take us behind the scenes of both their work and home life, without wasting even one of the film’s ninety some-odd minutes.

And yet, whether or not you’ve seen Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos (and if you have, this is a necessary companion), it’s hard not to feel like Poehler is pulling one big punch. Here, the end of Lucy and Desi’s marriage is attributed to the pressures of running their iconic DesiLu studios. Desi may admit to late nights “at the track” and a general lack of moderation in life, but the rumors of his affairs are never addressed.

But it’s clear that to Arnaz Luckibill, her parents’ journey together (one that ends with a very touching phone call) is only about “unconditional love.” So it may be that getting her on board (Desi, Jr. is heard from briefly, and seen only in old clips) came with a stipulation.

If so, that’s a deal Poehler had to take. Much like Linda Ronstadt’s first person storytelling made The Sound of My Voice so compelling despite a refusal to discuss her relationships, seeing and hearing Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz narrate their own lives is what gives the film the intimacy that enables it to soar.

Two people loved each other deeply, ’til the end. Those two people are legends for some damn good reasons. That’s the point of Lucy and Desi, and it’s one well taken.

Mr. and Mrs. Vegas

The House

by George Wolf

It’s a simple formula, really: D = sO2.

A comedy’s desperation is equal to the speed at which the outtakes start rolling, squared. Which means The House is mighty desperate to send you home laughing.

There’s plenty of talent involved, but it’s a film held together with barest of threads, as if the prompt for writers Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien (from the very funny Neighbors films – so what gives?) was merely to round up some funny people and hope they do funny things.

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler are certainly funny, and they star as Scott and Kate Johansen, who start to panic when their daughter Alex (a curiously bland Ryan Simpkins) is accepted to Bucknell University.

They can’t afford Bucknell University.

Teaming up with their crazy, Vegas-loving friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) the Johansens open a secret neighborhood casino, kicking off a wave of uninspired riffs on stuffy suburbanites acting all Soprano and shit.

Cohen, making his feature directing debut, leaves plenty of contrived loose ends behind in search of the next forced gag. Fred and Barney may have pulled off a similar premise for 23-minutes in an old Flintstones episode, but The House is built on a less than sturdy foundation.




Head Games

Inside Out

by George Wolf

Sometimes I think Pixar’s only goal is to make me a pile of emotional mush. The old man in Up was a dead ringer for my old man, and the Toy Story films were in perfect sync with my son’s childhood, right down to part 3 when Andy (voiced by the original, now grown up kid) was leaving home the same time our Riley was packing for Ohio State. Sniff.

Now, with Inside Out, Pixar builds their latest delightful adventure around the growing pains of a young girl whose name just happens to be…Riley.

Honey! We’re going to need more tissues!

I doubt we’re alone, and that’s one of the many wonderful things about Pixar films. At their best, they resonate with both infectious fun and relatable emotion. Make no mistake, Inside Out is one of their best, landing perhaps just a half notch below Up and the Toy Story trilogy.

It’s a tumultuous time in young Riley’s life. Her family has just moved from Minnesota to San Francisco, and her emotions are working overtime. Inside her mind, five particular feelings are running the show at Riley “headquarters.” There’s Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Joy is usually able to keep the rest in check (“I’m detecting high levels of sass!”), but when she and Sadness get lost in the outer regions of Riley’s psyche, the race is on to get back to base before the young girl’s personality is forever changed.

So, yes, Pixar returns to the “secret world” theme they know well, but there’s no denying this is just a brilliant premise and perfect execution by a veteran Pixar team, From rides on the “train of thought” to commercial jingles that get stuck in your head to a clever gag about mixing facts and opinions, co- directors/co-writers Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen keep things fresh and funny while maintaining a simple conflict that easily gets younger viewers invested.

The voice talent is stellar, particularly Black (Angry? Who’d have thought?) and Smith, who makes Sadness a lovable unlikely hero by reminding us that sometimes, it’s okay to be sad.

And that’s the real beauty of Inside Out. While you’re laughing at those silly emotions, the film is gently tugging at yours. Once again, Pixar examines the changing phases of life with charm, humor and a subtle intelligence that can’t help but give you a fresh appreciation for all the jumbled feelings that make life worth living.


Wet and Hot All Over Again

They Came Together

by Hope Madden

The non-threateningly attractive, amiable Paul Rudd is an easy guy to like. Maybe even to fall in love with…unless he’s a corporate drone working for the ultra-behemoth conglomerate that’s about to put your quirky, independent candy store out of business! Then he’s just a dreamy boy you could fall in love with but you won’t, damn it! You just won’t!

Director David Wain likes him, though. He likes him well enough to cast him as the lead in every single one of his films, including his latest, They Came Together.

For the provocatively titled newest effort, Wain collaborates with co-writer Michael Showalter, who helped him pen another Rudd vehicle, the cultish gem Wet Hot American Summer. Where that film lampooned summer camp films, the latest effort sends up New York City rom/coms.

Both films are endearingly silly, insightful, packed with genuine talent, and loaded with laughs. Rudd is joined this time around by reliably funny Amy Poehler as maybe the love of his life, if they can get past that candy store thing and a couple dozen other hurdles.

Wain is not just after the big, obvious genre clichés, either – though not one is safe. He’s equally adept at uncovering small, overlooked crutches of the romantic comedy and skewering those, as well. So what went so wrong?

Nothing feels fresh, for starters. So many films have poked fun at romantic comedy clichés that the satire is stale. The humor is broad when it needs to be, targeted at times, and often very funny, but utterly and immediately forgettable.

Just as problematic is that the 83 minute running time feels bloated. Jokes are repeated so incessantly that they lose potency, and Wain’s film has trouble mocking the tired and familiar without feeling a little spent itself. It plays like extended sketch comedy, some of which is spot-on, though too much of it is filler.

With laughs to be had, sight gags galore, priceless cameos, an enviable cast and a quick run time, it’s hardly the worst way to spend a little time in the air conditioning. You know, since Wet  Hot American Summer doesn’t stream on Netflix.