Tag Archives: Jason Schwartzman

Sinter

Klaus

by Hope Madden

Be honest, when you saw the list of Oscar nominated animated films, did you wonder whether Klaus was somehow the international title for Frozen 2?

I have excellent news! It is not. Instead, it’s a clever, not-too-sentimental Hatfields v McCoys take on the legend of Santa Claus.

Co-directors Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martinez Lopez develop the story of a coddled would-be mailman named Jesper (Jason Schwartzman, perfect). His Postmaster General father tires of Jesper’s spoiled ways and sends him on a make-or-break assignment to the nether reaches of the north, Smeerensburg.

All Jesper has to do is collect and deliver 6000 parcels this year and he can go back to his warm, self-indulgent, cushy little home.

Naturally, there are obstacles. There’s a decades-long feud, for one. It’s so bad the school teacher has turned her school house into a fish market (parents won’t send their kids anywhere they might have to fraternize with the other clan). And then there’s that creepy, disproportionately large, old woodsman.

At times, the twisty tale threatens to collapse under its own weight, but it does not. Instead, it takes risks you don’t often see in family films and those risks mainly pay off. For a Christmas film, the movie manages to mainly avoid schmaltz. It offers clever explanations as to how many of the Santa Claus myths are born, affects just enough of a sense of wonder, and entertains from start to finish.

The vocal talent certainly helps. Flanking Schwartzman are the always welcome JK Simmons as the big guy himself, as well as Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack and Norm MacDonald as a smarmy boatman.

The animation itself is beautiful, but not especially showy. The images won’t disappoint, but they won’t make your jaw drop, either. Instead, Klaus relies on the perfect blend of sentimentality and wit to delight children and entertain their parents.

Hieronymus Bosch High

My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea

by Matt Weiner

There’s a paradox running through teen movies. While they’re often most enjoyable when first discovered as a kid relatively close to the characters’ ages—if not the actors’ ages (I’m looking at you, Spader… and every other 1980s actor)—they so rarely capture what it feels like in the moment during those chaotic and vulnerable years.

Instead there’s almost a prolonged sense of l’esprit de l’escalier powering the plots: an entire industry of outcast writers getting their just deserts, without reality getting in the way this time.

What’s so refreshing about My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is that not only does writer-director and comics artist Dash Shaw avoid that paradox, he does it through some of the most inventive and absurd art to be seen in any recent animated film, with a tactile humanity that can hold its own against Pixar.

Shaw keeps the action tight and focused with a quick setup that lets the comic stars riff while the world around them falls apart: best friends Dash (Jason Schwartzman) and Assaf (Reggie Watts) start their sophomore year at Tides High School looking to make a big splash writing for the school newspaper.

Fellow classmate and editor at the paper Verti (Maya Rudolph) is looking for more than just news copy from Assaf, and this tension fractures the trio just as an earthquake threatens to plunge the poorly built school into the sea.

The dialogue is cute, with lots of throwaway non-sequiturs helping to keep the movie surprisingly cheerful for what’s basically a mass casualty event with children. And the Verti-Assaf courtship will ring particularly true for any extracurricular misfits in love.

But more than anything else, it’s the artwork that takes the movie from good to great. Shaw uses deceptively simple figures for the characters, which lends a sharp contrast to the lush and ever-changing backgrounds.

As Dash, Assaf and Verti battle external and internal forces to make their way out of the sinking school, the scenery rapidly veers from Impressionistic canvas to disjointed scrawls—and with textures that feel more alive than the 3D in any superhero movie.

The chaos of the set pieces ebb and flow with the trio’s journey of self-discovery, and Shaw delights in creating kaleidoscopic homages to 1970s disaster movies. At heart, though, it’s also a teen movie—with an unsubtle reminder for adults that the bar for what feels like the end of the world is very different but no less serious when you’re a kid just trying to find your way in the world.

Verdict-4-0-Stars





Welcome to the Neighborhood

The Overnight

by Hope Madden

When handled properly, even the slightest premise or most ridiculous behavior can turn into an insightful and moving observation. Such is the case with the frank and uncomfortable sex comedy The Overnight.

Emily and Alex (Taylor Schilling and Adam Scott, respectively) recently relocated from Seattle to LA, and while their youngster RJ has a birthday party to attend that will help him make friends, they are still feeling a little isolated and friendless. That is, until uber-hipster Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) approaches them at the park after his son befriends theirs.

The kids hit it off, the parents hit it off, and Kurt invites the whole gang back to his place for an impromptu pizza party. What could be better? Go spend 24 hours with your neighbors and see how weird it gets.

Schwartzman is spot on perfection, as is often the case, with the smarmy but likeable but maybe creepy but kind of awesome Kurt. Few if any can hit these notes of self-parody caricature and earnest vulnerability quite this well.

Scott, as the tightly wound, trying-too-hard straight man to Schwartzman’s nut is equally impressive. Luckily, it’s not just odd couple schtick the two are after, though. They, as well as Schilling and Judith Godreche, as Kurt’s wife Charlotte, toggle nicely between broad comedy and precise, insightful characterization.

Like a less precious, more contemporary Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, The Overnight flirts with the idea of partner swapping as a way to explore more: personal insecurities, relationships, love, commitment, boredom, and breast pump fetishists.

Although you always have the sense of where things are going, there’s a surprise in nearly every scene. Not every one pays off, but most of them land with a laugh and maybe an awkward shudder. Though writer/director Patrick Brice mines the embarrassing situation on a near-Noah Baumbach level, his film is compassionate. He gives his four performers room to breathe, sometimes hold their breath, but they’re able to be mortified and vulnerable simultaneously.

The Overnight is a perceptive if bawdy comedy directed with nuance for laughs and resonance. Brice can’t nail the tone consistently enough, the overarching tale leans too heavily on giddy expectation, and the female characters are not given enough chance to evolve, but that hardly sinks this ship. Schwartzman and Scott are an inspired pairing and the film is a nice, adult minded comedy to offset the summer’s blockbuster glut.

Verdict-3-5-Stars





All the Awkwardness, No Mashed Potato Bloat

Listen Up Philip

By Christie Robb

As we head into the holiday season, do you worry that your family and friends are just too delightful? Do you long for awkward stories to share with co-workers in the break room about the rude kids with eyes glued to their smart phones, cousin Stan’s narcissistic monologues about how much money he makes, and repressed childhood rage erupting over Pillsbury Crescent Rolls?

If so, Listen Up Philip might fill the void.

Dive into the life of notable author Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) as he prepares to usher his second novel into publication. He’s got everything he wants: a New York apartment, a successful photographer girlfriend (Elizabeth Moss), and placement in a top 35 under 35 list.

But he is incapable of experiencing happiness, crippled with anxiety and dread.

When established-author Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) offers him craft advice and a place to crash, Philip flees upstate to the country.  With misanthropic Zimmerman as a model, Philip fully begins to explore the dark and musty corners of his asshattery. And this after he has made two separate social engagements to berate an unsupportive ex and his less successful college roommate (“This could have been us! Instead, I’m all alone.”) and thrown a tantrum, refusing to promote his novel.

With Schwartzman playing a novelist you might think you’re in for the wacky hijinks of HBOs Bored to Death. With the delightful faux vintage book covers and narrator, you might think you stumbled on a Wes Anderson knockoff.

Nope.

Instead writer/director Alex Ross Perry, treats us to character studies of entitled, white males who operate like emotional vampires, sucking their intimate relationships (and the women recovering from them) dry to fuel their work. Don’t expect any reformed curmudgeons in this one.

Listen Up Philip is faultlessly acted and often darkly funny, tickling a malignant funny bone when Ike and Philip brazen past the social niceties. (At one point, when a student in his creative writing class asks Philip for a recommendation, he scolds her while shuffling around on his desk, then shoves a blank piece of paper at her, saying, “Here’s a piece of paper with staples in it.”)

You may recognize this kind of guy from your humanities classes. Maybe you had the misfortune to have one sidle up to you at a party. Or perhaps one is waiting for you to pass him the turkey.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 


 





Quintessentially Disney

 

by George Wolf

 

The God of Irony must be smiling on Saving Mr. Banks, the “Disneyfied” account of a legendary author afraid the film version of her greatest work would get… Disneyfied.

Leave it to a pair of reliably great actors, and the memories of one of Disney’s most treasured classics, to make sure the whole affair turns out much better than a black fly in your Chardonnay.

Emma Thompson brings wit and humanity to the role of P.L. Travers, who for years rebuffed all offers from Walt Disney himself to turn her Mary Poppins stories into a movie. Tom Hanks plays Mr. Disney with the charming twinkle you’d expect, and from their first scenes together, he and Thompson exhibit a playful, unmistakeable chemistry that buoys the film.

The fact that Saving Mr. Banks is as enjoyable as it is feels like an underdog snatching victory from sure defeat.

The script, from Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, takes (according to numerous accounts) many “feel good” liberties with the story of how Mary Poppins came to fruition. Even worse, the director is John Lee  Hancock, the man behind The Blind Side, a downright criminal piece of whitewashing if ever there was one.

Together they fill the backstory of Travers’ troubled childhood with force-fed melodrama, attempting to pull every manipulative heartstring available. Though given less screen time, the treatment of heartbreak in Walt Disney’s own past is equally subtle.

But, in addition to the sublime lead performances and a strong supporting cast, Saving Mr. Banks has a powerful trump card:  Poppins!

Each time the music and writing team (Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford and B.J. Novak-all stellar) show Travers a proposed storyboard or play her a new song, you can’t help but smile. Finish up with classic footage from the 1964 film and still pics from the actual premiere, and it’s pretty hard not to surrender to the guilty pleasures.

Those without an affinity for the source material may not get the same warm feelings, but adding schmaltz to their own story of schmaltz-adding is perverted Disney genius. That, along with the well-played nostalgia for one of their greatest achievements, just might make Saving Mr. Banks the quintessential Disney film.

 

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars