Tag Archives: Maya Rudolph

Sleeps with the Fishes

Luca

by Hope Madden

It’s summertime. Who doesn’t want to look out on the bluest water as little boats rock in the breeze and kids cavort in a tiny seaside villa on the Italian Riviera? Awash in the wonder of childhood, the latest adventure from Pixar follows someone from under the sea who’s lured to dry land—against their parents’ wishes—and finds a whole new world.

Wait, that last phrase evokes a different movie, but Luca – a Disney + release that doesn’t require the Premier Access fee – does share a winking resemblance to Disney’s most famous fish out of water story. Young sea monster Luca (Jacob Tremblay) finds the idea of the world above sea level equally forbidding and fascinating. He discovers, with the assistance of another young sea monster named Alberto (It’s Jack Dylan Grazier), that as long as he stays dry, he can pass for human.

Good thing, since the whole villa where they hide from Luca’s parents (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan) is obsessed with finding and killing the elusive sea monsters of lore.

Writers Jesse Andrews (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) and Mike Jones (who co-wrote last year’s Oscar winner for Pixar, Soul) essentially turned The Little Mermaid into a buddy comedy. Rather than digging into a lot of angst, self-sacrifice or villainy, director Enrico Casarosa— longtime animator and writer/director of Pixar’s lovely 2011 short La Luna—keeps things light and harmless.

The water here is shallow but bubbling with activity. Luca and Alberto make a friend in the feisty Giulia (Emma Berman), make an enemy of the conniving Ercole (Saverio Visconti), learn a trade, discover a love of pasta, develop a longing to learn, and take part in an Italian triathlon (the middle leg is pasta eating) so they can win enough money to buy a Vespa and see the world.

It’s busy. It looks pretty. The message – embrace who you are – is worthy, but there’s just not much in the delivery for the film to call its own. From any other animation studio, Luca would be a solid summer release, but for Pixar, it’s a middling effort on par with Onward or Finding Dory. It’s a forgettable if lovely time waster.

A for Effort

Life of the Party

by Matt Weiner

One of these days we’ll finally get a Melissa McCarthy movie that deserves her talents and doesn’t just desperately depend on them. Even though Life of the Party is written by McCarthy along with husband and frequent collaborator Ben Falcone… well, the wait isn’t over quite yet.

McCarthy stars as Deanna Miles, a woman whose life is upended by a sudden divorce with her husband Dan (Matt Walsh). Realizing that she spent her adult life meekly going along with other people’s wishes, Deanna decides to finish her abandoned senior year of college. It’s a positive message, as far as mid-life crises go.

This brings her into embarrassingly close contact with her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon), who is also finishing her senior year at school, as well as Maddie’s sorority sisters. (All standard “not actually that weird” movie misfits, except for Gillian Jacobs, who injects some actual off-kilter menace as Helen.)

The idea of a former student getting into classes immediately (apparently without the need to re-take additional core requirements), and paying to live on campus despite living 20 minutes away raises some logistical questions. But McCarthy’s comedic gifts have saved staler setups. She turns Deanna into a woman to root for, not pity, as she completes her degree, relives her youth and gets over her spineless ex-husband.

Not that the film’s cringe comedy with a heart comes without a cost: the gentle nudges toward empowerment and inclusivity make for a welcoming message. But the steady laughs are all a bit defanged, especially for a setup about a woman whose husband has just divorced her after decades of building a life together (and who apparently still controls their finances in a way that makes her life materially difficult).

Given how much the story invests in the contrived college setup, the real missed opportunity feels like the uninhibited adult comedy nipping at the outer edges of what ended up on screen. Maya Rudolph is wickedly good as Christine, the best friend living vicariously through Deanna. And Walsh can tease out more notes than should be possible when given the room to work his sad sack variations.

It doesn’t really seem like the film is trying to connect with a younger audience anyway. The film is more homage to the triumphant ‘80s teen movies that McCarthy and Falcone would have eaten up as teens, with a “Save Deanna” finale and all.

This is a good thing when it comes to the sexual politics. (Have you re-watched Revenge of the Nerds lately?) But the predictable setup makes Life of the Party diverting yet wholly forgettable.

It’s a passing grade, but just barely.

 

 





Nuttin, Honey

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature

by George Wolf

Nut Job 2 is here, which immediately raises a question.

Was there a Nut Job 1?

There was, in 2014, and despite being completely forgettable it raked in enough cash to warrant a sequel. Plus, there’s a third installment already on the docket whether the franchise deserves it or not.

It doesn’t, as Nutty by Nature offers another uninspired, completely forgettable adventure that can’t find the depth to render its political themes effective.

We catch up with Surly the squirrel (voiced by Will Arnett) and his rodent friends living large off the forgotten inventory of the now-abandoned nut shop from the first film. Andi the squirrel (Katherine Heigl) thinks they all are getting too fat and lazy, but when a corrupt mayor (Bobby Moynihan) levels their habitat to build a theme park, the gang must work together to provide a successful…ahem…resistance.

Despite a couple scene-stealing moments from Maya Rudolph (Precious the Pug) and Jackie Chan (Mr. Feng, the Weapon of Mouse Destruction), director/co-writer Cal Brunker (Escape from Planet Earth) offers precious little in the way of personality, humor or resonance. Music sequences cranked up to dialogue-obscuring volumes are no help.

Just last year, Zootopia set the bar for socially conscious animation very, very high. While it’s commendable that Nut Job 2 has similar ambitions, the result will be appreciated only by the youngest viewers who just like watching the silly animals.

Verdict-2-0-Stars





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





There’s Heart in the Wizz

 

by George Wolf

 

When I was young, my brother and I called it “the way back,” that place at the rear of an old station wagon just big enough for a kid to take refuge.

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash call that same area, and their new film, The Way, Way Back, a poignant and often very funny look at the bittersweet awkwardness of adolescence.

Faxon and Rash actually wrote the script years ago, but couldn’t get it sold. Then they won an Oscar in 2011 for co-writing The Descendants, and decided to spend their new Hollywood capital by resurrecting the old project and directing it themselves.

The centerpiece is 14 year old Duncan (Liam James), who is truly underjoyed at having to spend summer vacation with his mom Pam (Toni Collette), her tool boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his daughter.

Things start to look up when Duncan stumbles into a job at Water Wizz, the local water park (Water Wizz!). Falling under the tutelage of Owen, the Wizz manager (Sam Rockwell) Duncan gets a fresh outlook, as well as confidence enough to chat up cutie Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb).

Faxon and Rash establish themselves as a team with a bright future. Though less assured than The Descendants (the lack of director Alexander Payne might have something to do with that), The Way, Way Back is full of crisp dialogue, well formed characters and situations that, for the most part, ring true.

The ensemble cast (which also includes Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry, Faxon and Rash) is splendid, with Carell impressively playing against type, and the young James crafting Duncan as the wince-inducing personification of teenage nerdery.

As good as everyone is, this is Rockwell’s show to steal, and he’s hilariously guilty. A freewheeling mix of Bill Murray and Hawkeye Pierce, Owen unleashes a barrage of one liners and real world philosophy. As Duncan becomes more comfortable with his water fun family, a nice dichotomy is created between the d-bag father figure Trent smugly thinks he is, and the supercool one Owen easily becomes.

Some moments are a bit forced, but on the whole, this is the rare coming of age story that feels fresh. With a big heart that both adults and teens should find relatable, The Way, Way Back is the surprise gem of the summer.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars