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Wet Hot Double Feature- First Day of Camp and Hurricane of Fun (2015)

11 Aug

How excited were you when the makers of Wet Hot American Summer announced that they would be releasing a season-long prequel, adapted for television and available streaming in its entirety this summer? Were you this excited?

Image from consequenceofsound.net

Image from consequenceofsound.net

first-day-of-camp.0I was jumping for joy. When you have watched Wet Hot American Summer as many times as I have, after nearly fifteen years you really don’t expect a sequel on the horizon. And then it hits you, just like an ice cream headache in the middle of July. And yes, ice cream is quite delicious, but sadly, you can have too much of a good thing. So, my friends, if you have not yet watched the whole season as I have, I urge you to savor it. Savor it as you would a delicious sorbet. Because when it’s gone it’s gone, and this time I don’t think we can expect another installment fifteen years down the line.

I paradoxically feel proud and ashamed that I consumed the entire season of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp in one sitting on the Sunday after its release. Netflix has its evil way of sinking its claws right through you and into your lazy couch on your day off, taking the grunt work out of even pressing play for the next episode. I just let it play through, delighting in the familiar faces, fifteen years later, as they danced across the screen. I was ecstatic to see new, but similarly joy-producing cameos such as H Jon Benjamin, Jon Hamm, Jason Schwartzman, and Michaela Watkins as well. But now I just feel empty inside. I had too much of a good thing, and it just left me craving more.

282689-hurricane-of-fun-the-making-of-wet-hot-0-230-0-345-cropHow elated I was, then, this evening when we discovered Hurricane of Fun: The Making of Wet Hot (2015) on Netflix this evening! This casual, behind-the-scenes look at the filming of the original movie was almost as delightful as the four hours I dedicated to the series last week. While I wish I could say that the show came as close to the movie as I would have hoped, this candid documentary of the original movie hit the nostalgia spot a little bit better. Everyone looks so fresh and young and little, and their sense of humor that carries off screen is so warm and relatable.  What I wouldn’t give to have been able to join the cast at their own Camp Firewood retreat as they filmed the movie back in 2000. I nearly shed a tear when Amy Poehler dances around one of their camp cabins during filming, lip synching to Le Tigre’s Deceptacon. Why can’t we just be friends in real life already??

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Them Females is Strong as Hell- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015)

30 Mar
Yaaaasss queen!

Yaaaasss queens!

When I first watched Broad City, it made me realize that up until that show, there was this big gap in television programming that I didn’t even notice before. I am still struggling for the words to explain what that gap actually is, but Broad City helped to fill it. Once I realized that television could be that wonderful, I also realized that it would probably be a long time before another show would even come close to the female-powered comedic majesty of Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson.

unbreakable-kimmy-schmidt-600And then, lo an behold, came the Netflix series out of left field, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which I will admit to have finished in a few days’ time, and have already started a second round. This show is catching onto the trend of naive Indiana girls trying to make it in the Big Apple (a lá Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt 23– which doesn’t hold a candle to Kimmy, but is still enjoyable). But Unbreakable has the added plot twist of Kimmy joining the real world after being locked away for 15 years in the underground bunker of a religious cult. Hard to picture, at first, quite how this can be spun into comedic gold, but trust me, it has been.

I have noticed many people have jumped aboard the Kimmy Schmidt train, albeit with reservations at first. I have read a lot of apprehension in people’s evaluations of the show, statements along the lines of, “I’m not entirely sure if I love this show, but I am binge-watching it just the same.” (Psst.. I think that means you might love it.) I think there is a part of every one of us that finds it easier to be wary of a show with a strong female cast and an underlying feminist message (more on that later). But watch a couple of episodes and believe me, you will be hooked. You might not even be annoyed by the opening title sequence, something that usually gets old real fast.

kimmy titus mrs voorhees

Titus Andromedon (Kimmy’s roommate), Jacqueline Voorhees (Kimmy’s boss), and Miss Kimmy Schmidt herself! (Along with robot Yuko)

You will like this show…

  • …if you liked 30 Rock. This is not just because Jane Krakowski (30 Rock‘s Jenna Maroney) is one of the leading ladies of the show, or because all of the background music is identical to the jazzy ensembles played in 30 Rock, but more likely because Tina Fey is executive producer. And we all know that Tina Fey can do no wrong. (Same goes for Amy Poehler, obviously, who also produced Broad City. Are we seeing a pattern here?)
  • …if you liked The Office, as Ellie Kemper (Kimmy), also played Erin on that show. (In a Bust magazine interview with Kemper, we learn that “she parlayed what was originally a four-episode arc into a recurring character”).
  • …if you liked Strangers with Candy or Arrested Development, due to the show’s “invisible humor,” as this article in Esquire magazine so aptly put it. The meticulous attention to detail for subtle comedic gems is what has me immediately returning to re-watch the series.

Case in point: this show is intelligent, y’all. And it’s perhaps a clandestinely feminist as well, which is wonderful for those people who couldn’t handle a more direct feminist approach. Tina Fey’s comic wit with a feminist twist shines in subtle moments, such as Matt Lauer’s line in a scene in which the Indiana mole women (aka bunker cult prisoners) visit The Today Show: “I’m always amazed at what women will do because they’re afraid of being rude.” This was in direct response to one mole woman’s explanation that “one night, [Cult leader Wayne Gary Wayne] invited me out to his car to see some baby rabbits and I didn’t want to be rude…so… here we are.”

Troll the respawn, Jeremy. (That means goodbye).

Peeno Noir- an ode to black penis:

Everybody Must Get Stoned- Inherent Vice (2014)

12 Jan

inherent-vice-pta-joaquin-banner

Part Big Lebowski, part Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, part Boogie Nights. Sound intriguing? Read on.

When I saw the ad for Inherent Vice, I was like “meh, probably not for me.” That is until the very end when I read the fine print: “Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Based on the book by Thomas Pynchon.” I pulled a complete 180 on my apprehensions about the movie and dove in, head first, on the second day of its nationwide theatrical release. I haven’t done that in quite some time, and I am ashamed to admit that although I have this (rarely updated) movie blog, I prefer to wait until the movie comes out on Netflix.

PT Anderson is the architect for such movies as There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, and my personal favorite, Magnolia (among others). In fact, my last review here was on his other most recent film, The Master, which, like Inherent Vice, starred Joaquin Phoenix as the protagonist. And like The Master, I don’t think that Inherent Vice quite hit the mark of those past films for me. I did like it much more than The Master, with the once exception being that I am sad it didn’t/couldn’t include Phillip Seymour Hoffman, for obvious reasons.

docThe good parts:
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Doc Sportello, a perma-stoned Private Investigator in 1970’s SoCal, following a breadcrumb trail of several different cases that twist and turn and intertwine in unexpected and comically unbelievable ways. Doc is the most lovable Joaquin Phoenix that I have ever experienced, so that is the a plus. Because of his permanently stoned state, Doc finds it just as incredulous as the viewer that all of these cases so coincidentally cross paths. His intoxication- mostly all of the joints in the tri-state area, along with an occasional nitrous tank or bump of heroin- is absolutely contagious. As a viewer your eyes will turn red, your perception will become hazy, your sense of humor will sharpen, and you will experience this ridiculous journey almost as stoned as Doc is. It’s truly unexplainable, and worth viewing the movie for that entertaining aspect. In addition, my beloved Joanna Newsom is an inspired choice for the narrator of the film (with occasional physical appearances). The star-studded cast is also a delight, and you never know who is going to make an appearance next (unless you ruin it by reading the cast list ahead of time).

Joanna Newsome as Sortilège. Swoon

Joanna Newsome as Sortilège. Swoon

The bad parts:
Although I am sure it is simply preserving the old school sentiments of 77-year old author of the novel, Thomas Pynchon, I cannot help but detest the sexist nature of this movie. The female characters are neither complex nor do they seem to act as agents of their own desires, but rather they exist as objects for the male gaze. (Although Joanna Newsom’s character, Sortilège, is actually rather sage and omnipotent, the only female character represented thusly). I find this incredibly frustrating, because I tend to like controversial movies that many people would find uncomfortable or that pushes boundaries of human decency, but I am somehow unable to get past this part of Inherent Vice, as much as I wish I could just ignore it. I am just sick of seeing movies that are so obviously written for men and by men without much consideration for women other than as some kind of accessory to the far more important male characters. This is my complaint with two of Wes Anderson’s recent movies as well: Darjeeling Limited and Grand Budapest Hotel.

Inherent-Vice_612x380I’ll give the movie a B, because I still found it wildly entertaining, and it is an uncomfortable movie. And as I mentioned, I am always a fan of those. Just like when I went to the theater to see Life Aquatic, I found myself laughing aloud a little more often than the rest of the moviegoers. Joaquin Phoenix and his constant high confusion kept me in a state of trying-to-hold-back-giggles throughout the movie, and although it was 2 and a half hours long, it didn’t feel as painfully long as I thought it might (thinking back to There Will Be Blood).

Spring Breakers (2013)

12 Apr

spring-breakers_new-poster_topslice

One more bucket list item completed: To see movies by my favorite and most-beloved directors in the theater when they come out. I dove into the finish line with this one, because I didn’t expect theaters in Asheville, NC to stop playing it in its third week running. When I went to look up the weekend showtimes yesterday, I discovered that it would be showing in first-run theaters one last time, last night. So for the spring-breakers-IGN-poster-debut-610x903first time since Moonrise Kingdom, I shelled out the ridiculous rate of $20.50 for two movie tickets. Perhaps what is more ridiculous is that I have a movie blog but don’t pay full-price very often to see new movies, but that shit ‘spensive, y’all. I am happy that maybe two dollars out of that ridiculous sum made its way into Harmony Korine’s hands, because Spring Breakers did not disappoint me in the least.

When I say that Spring Breakers is Korine’s most accessible film, I do not mean to condemn him for “selling out,” nor do I mean to say that most mainstream Americans could stomach this movie or pick up on its subtle message(s). This film occupies an uncomfortable limbo that I love that is between mainstream and totally “out there.” And I want everyone to see it. But then again, I still want everyone to see Gummo and that movie is certainly not conventional or remotely comfortable for 98% of the population. This movie is so much like Gummo, but because it is more accessible, I think it is more easily digested. When I say it’s like Gummo, what I mean this: Korine is famous for presenting uncomfortable or unbelievable characters, but believe me you, these EXACT people exist. In the hundreds. From

My favorite Spring Breakers promo material, snagged off of lostinthemultiplex.com, but I can't seem to find the original artist.

My favorite Spring Breakers promo material, snagged off of lostinthemultiplex.com, but I can’t seem to find the original artist.

Xenia, OH (Gummo); from weird-ass St. Petersburg, Florida (Spring Breakers); yeah, they’re real.

I avoided reviews of this little gem before seeing it, because I wanted it to be fresh when I finally caught it in the theater. I had read some murmurings on Facebook from friends whose opinions I respect that it was a fantastic movie, so that eased the doubts I had after seeing the trailer some months ago. These doubts may have returned in the first few minutes of the film, which were filled with beer-soaked, bouncing, spring break titties and lines of irritating dialogue from college coeds about how much their lives would suck if they didn’t go on the adventure of a lifetime by going on spring break. But I soon realized the underlying message of all of the “annoying” parts of the movie (like James Franco’s character, Alien, whom I couldn’t stand at first but then I learned to absolutely love him), and I turned to embrace this ironic commentary.

Riff Raff on the left, Franco to the right

Riff Raff on the left, who was the inspiration for Alien (Franco) on the right. (Source: animalnewyork.com)

No spoilers from me -like I said, I benefited from coming at the movie with a fresh outlook. But even from the trailer you’ll know that four Disney starlets (technically three plus Korine’s wife) go on spring break and get into some unsavory activities unbefitting of their reputations. They meet Allen, a.k.a. Alien, who is James Franco’s hilarious rendition of a Florida gangsta white boy, (inspired by this guy) and they all get into some more shenanigans. I laughed a ton throughout this movie, mostly at Alien’s antics and because he reminds me of someone I know (I’ll never tell…)

Please go see this movie in any capacity you can. Keep an open mind and try to put your annoyance at the beginning of the movie on the back burner. While I don’t condone the actions of these spring breakers, I kind of want to jump up and down on a bed in my bikini wielding a gun after seeing the movie. I think I’ll settle for finally getting to read some other reviews, starting with our dearly departed Roger Ebert, though just maybe I’ll go fill my pink squirt gun with some rum. Spring break 4ever bitches.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

16 Jul

Wes Anderson has made some of my favorite movies of all time, and because of my profound love for them, he can do no wrong. He is the equivalent to a tenured professor in my directorial lineup, and his movies will always hold a special place in my heart. It is perhaps because of this attitude that I happily came out of the theater after seeing Moonrise Kingdom today, satisfied with my viewing experience. It may have also helped that Asheville Fine Arts Theater serves beer, which is always a welcome movie companion, but also far too rare at movie theaters showing new films.

You cannot discuss Wes Anderson without mentioning his eye-catching way of presenting setting, costume and props. Every scene is a beautiful stage front, set up so meticulously that your eyes drink up every square centimeter of the screen. I tumble into the world of the film when the long, slow, panning shots take you through a detailed and complex tour of the setting. When I first saw The Royal Tenenbaums, I was enamored with scenes like this one, where Margot Tenenbaum meets her brother at the bus station for the first time in years.

In The Life Aquatic, it was the beautiful way they presented the Belafonte, Steve Zissou’s boat. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, it was the intricate and adorable little props and costumes he used.

Moonrise Kingdom, unsurprisingly, carried on Wes Anderson’s attention to beautiful cinematography and a feel for a vintage-inspired detail. This made it so that even if the plot wasn’t capturing my full attention or making me fall in love with the characters, I was still wrapped up in Anderson’s world. All it takes is a little bit of nerdy Edward Norton and unexpected appearances from Jason Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel to keep my attention and adoration for Mr. Anderson alive. (Although I think I speak for anyone and everyone when I say we all could have used some more Bill Murray in our lives throughout this movie).

I think that some may take issue to the movie for being a little “too cute,” which is undoubtedly why movies intended for an adult audience don’t often feature young children as main characters.  Anderson could have spent more time spent getting us connected with Suzy and Sam, our young love birds and the protagonists of the film. However, the flashbacks that did focus on a whirlwind tour of their separate pasts and  what drew these two misunderstood and somewhat neglected misfits together to plan to run away were some of my favorite parts of the whole movie. For me, a fanciful account of two tweens in love is still a little far from the world I know and relate to right now, even though I should probably just be drawing parallels between my world and theirs and leave well enough alone the literal story.

As I said, I still came out happy. I doubt I could ever come out of one of the worlds Wed Anderson has painted and not feel a little bit sunnier. From the awkward still shots of a character’s deadpan expression to the maps and charts and detailed accouterments that Anderson

I recommend that you see this movie. I would give it an A, I will buy it when it comes out, perhaps in a Criterion Collection format. Yeah, I said it… I think you will enjoy it, and it is definitely better than what else is going on out there at the theaters right now. Plus, I want Wes Anderson to make as many movies as possible so that he can continue to delight me with his whimsical filmmaking. So please give him more money so he can continue to pour it into meticulous set design and the like!

The Kids Are All Right

1 Aug

Once again, my movie review is going to contain spoilers, so if you have not seen the film and don’t want anything revealed ahead of time, read no more! I just will always put this kind of disclaimer up because one time I went to a friend’s house while he was watching Fight Club, walked in around the time of the big Tyler Durden plot twist, and he knowingly let me ruin the entire movie before I got to watch it from the beginning.

Last night I saw director Lisa Cholodenko’s newest film, The Kids Are All Right. Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) are a lesbian couple living in Southern California with their two children, Laser and Joni. Fifteen year old Laser decides he wants to contact the sperm donor responsible for bringing him and his sister into the world. Legally, eighteen year old Joni has to make the contact with donor Paul. Paul is a smooth-talking 30-something organic farmer/restaurateur whose hyper-masculine persona and irresponsible behavior first gains the love and admiration of the family, then their disgust and anger.

Rather than to regurgitate the plot here further, I want to talk about the way the movie addresses sexuality. I do not want to overstep my bounds here, after all, Cholodenko is, herself, a lesbian, and thus I trust that as the director she portrayed the lives of Jules and Nic in a way that was similar to her own experiences. After all, Cholodenko herself had a child with her life partner through an anonymous sperm donor. That being said, I was mostly pleased with the way sexuality and gender were portrayed in The Kids Are All Right.

To begin, I liked that this was a film that did not fall into the typical trap of needing to characterize the lesbian couple as a copy of a male and female couple. I wouldn’t say there was a butch or a femme role assumed by either Nic or Jules, which was refreshing to see, as I feel that lesbians are often portrayed as one hyper-masculine and one hyper-feminine partner. Sure, there was masculine and feminine performativity carried out by both characters, you can’t strip away the fact that gender is inherent, or at least deeply associated with many different traits. According to US or Western social standards, Nic’s short pixie haircut and no-nonsense attitude may be seen as a more masculine performance, while her sensitivity and maternal protectiveness is typically associated more with femininity. I don’t try to fall into these generalizations, of course men can be family-oriented and women cut their hair short all of the time. But there are gendered associations with behaviors and appearances in every culture, and I doubt you can argue that the associations I just laid down there don’t ring true, at least in the US. Thankfully, the film doesn’t portray these characteristics and behaviors as dichotomous.

I also like the way that sexuality was interpreted as a more fluid and complicated matter than simply hetero or homo. Nic and Jules get their kicks in the bedroom while watching all male porn. In fact, Jules goes quite in depth about the fluidity and convolutedness of sexuality when Laser asks why she and Nic watch “gay man porn.” Definitely a funny part of the movie as the hippie-esque Jules tries to be honestly explicit when explaining herself to her fifteen year old.

Jules does not turn out to follow an explicitly homosexual path as well, when she eventually comes to cheat on Nic with sperm donor Paul. I think this is where those who identify as strictly heterosexual or homosexual (i.e. 0 and 6 on the Kinsey scale) might have problems. I might be assuming here, but I have a feeling that many people thought, or even whispered to a fellow movie-goer “but I thought she was gay,” at the onset of Jules and Paul’s affair. And indeed, when Paul proposes that he and Jules move their relationship to an even more serious level after their affair is discovered by Nic, Jules says into the phone “I’m gay,” maybe even further confusing many audience members. But I think this was a realistic exhibition of human sexuality, especially under the conditions that the family and Jules was under. Namely, Joni is an emotional 18-year old preparing to leave for college, Nic is stressed out about Paul’s arrival and is downing more wine than ever, Laser is experimenting with drugs and hanging out with a sociopath, and Jules is trying to start a business and productive working lifestyle for the third time. Paul comes along and becomes Jules’ first customer at her new upstart landscape design business, and this galvanizes the whole sexual escapade.

Although I delved into the sexuality of the film, The Kids Are All Right is a movie that really tackles family, growing up, infidelity and other issues that many mainstream or heterocentric films cover, but it shows how these same issues are present in nontraditional (in typical Western culture) family structures. Any of the problems that come up are neither further exacerbated nor smoothed over by the fact that Jules and Nic are in a homosexual relationship, and I think that is such a good step in a society where many still think that shows like the L-Word are the Last Word (heh) in lesbian relationship representation.

Alice in Wonderland- A minute Review

7 Mar

I submitted this clip for consideration for the Current TV show, Rotten Tomatoes.

Here is a clip from Jan Svankmajer’s version:

In addition to this short video, I have plenty to say about the movie. I wanted it to be incredible since I am such a fan of Alice in Wonderland. Unfortunately, I’m more of a fan of American McGee’s video game version of Alice in Wonderland that Tim Burton’s highly anticipated film. I wanted it to be darker and more sinister. Although the insanity angle is played more thoroughly in Tim Burton’s new movie than Dinsey’s cartoon version, I still could have used more insanity. The acting was so exaggerated it drove me crazy. Anne Hathaway’s character, the White Queen, is always talking in the delicate whisper of a Disney princess, and always waving her hands back and forth whimsically. It was distracting to the point that I was hyper-aware of Hathaway’s presence as an actress, and I didn’t lose myself in the fantasy of Underland or any of its characters. Helena Bonham Carter (as the Red Queen) was by far the most enchanting part of the film, and I was relieved for her contribution whenever she came into a scene.

My disappointment may have partially come from the fact that I was in the fourth row at an IMAX theater, and my eyes and brain were fried after the 2 hour 3-D joyride. But I had been looking forward to this movie for a long time, and was heartbroken to be let down by Mr. Burton’s rendition.