Screening Room: ‘Irresistible’

In Jon Stewart’s new political comedy, two high-powered political consultants turn a tiny mayoral race in Wisconsin into an absurd battle for national attention.

Irresistible opens this week in VOD. My review is at Slant:

The film doesn’t focus its ire on Trump, conservatives, and the like, but rather on the cable news and consultant infrastructure that was accelerating America’s collapsing democratic polity long before anybody in a red baseball cap screamed “Lock her up!” and will continue to do so after Trump leaves the White House. This makes sense from Stewart, who went after Glenn Beck back in 2010 not through white-hot invective, but by holding a rally dedicated to polite, level-headed disagreement. These are desperate times, but if Stewart wants to tack toward a more Frank Capra vein, that’s just fine. We already have one Adam McKay…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Greed’

Steve Coogan in ‘Greed’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

In Michael Winterbottom’s new satire, Steve Coogan plays a morality-challenged fast-fashion billionaire whose sixtieth birthday bash becomes a Felliniesque disaster.

Greed is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Slant:

Steve Coogan plays the discount billionaire villain as a more malevolent variation on the smarmy selfish bastard he’s polished to a sheen in Winterbottom’s The Trip films. Sir Richard McCreadie, nicknamed “Greedy” by the tabloids, is one of those modern wizards of financial shell games who spin fortunes out of thin air, promise, hubris, and a particularly amoral strain of bastardry. He made his billions as the “king of the high street,” peddling cheap, celebrity-touted clothing through H&M and Zara-like chain stores. Now somewhat disreputable, having been hauled before a Parliamentary Select Committee to investigate the bankruptcy of one of his chains, the tangerine-tanned McCreadie is stewing in semi-exile on Mykonos…

Here’s the trailer:

In Memorium: Terry Jones

To honor the passing of the great Terry Jones, a comedic troubadour of some renown, let us take a moment to consider the glory that he brought to the character of one Sir Belvedere:

For something completely different, look for Jones’ highly underrated documentary Boom Bust Boom, a fantastic study of the history of economic catastrophe and irrational exuberance. Paul Krugman plus puppets. My review is here, and you should be able to find it streaming.

 

Screening Room: ‘Sword of Trust’

swordoftrust
(IFC Films)

In the new comedy from Lynn Shelton (Humpday), podcaster, comic, and Glow star Marc Maron plays a disgruntled pawn shop owner who gets sucked into a screwball plot about Civil War truthers when he comes across a rare sword.

Sword of Trust opens this week. My review is at PopMatters:

Sword of Trust is in many ways a quintessentially Southern movie. But that sensibility is primarily expressed in the laconic humor and slippery slides from bonhomie to violence. Shelton expends little effort on a cinematic sense of place, aside from some melancholic insets of faded storefronts around the Birmingham, Alabama pawn shop where the action takes place. That is, except for the obsession with the Civil War, or as some characters might characterize it, “Thuh Wah of Nawthun Aggression”…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: Flinty, Funny ‘Private Life’ Shouldn’t Get Lost On Netflix

The newest family comedy from Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills, The Savages) follows a literary New York couple in the middle of a years-long saga to get pregnant. The results are often funny, but not pretty.

Private Life opened at the New York Film Festival and is now on Netflix and in some theaters. My review is at The Playlist:

Does it matter that Tamara Jenkins’ newest movie, “Private Life,” is only getting one of those mini boutique theatrical releases at the same time being released somewhere into the unknown algorithm wilds of Netflix for the whole nation to see?…

The trailer is here:

Screening Room: ‘Eighth Grade’

Elsie Fisher in ‘Eighth Grade’ (A24)

My review of Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is at PopMatters:

Unlike most movies about school-age outsiders, Eighth Grade doesn’t rely on the traditional dramatic tropes of embarrassment and rebellion. Kayla wants desperately to have friends. Like most shy kids, she’s paralyzed in social settings. But unlike most shy kids, she pushes herself past that cocoon of diffident silence. First are her videos, which, you get the impression, are as much for herself as for anybody who might be come across her YouTube channel. This is a girl whose bedroom mirror is ringed with motivational quotes scribbled onto Post-It notes. (“Learn a joke every day!”) But also, instead of always hanging back on the periphery, occasionally she jumps…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Downsizing’

In Alexander Payne’s new comedy, Downsizing, Matt Damon plays a guy who takes advantage of new technology that shrinks people in order to offset their negative impact on the environment; also, leads to a life of luxury that is not as enjoyable as he initially thinks.

Downsizing opens next Friday. My review is at PopMatters:

No, being the size of a dog’s chew toy might not be to everybody’s taste, but it’s certainly a shortcut to a kind of upper middle-class luxury unobtainable for most of humanity. Around $150k in real-world money translates into $12.5 million in the little planned communities of the downsized. That buys a lot of McMansion. As the indelibly happy Dave (Jason Sudeikis) crows to occupational therapist Paul (Matt Damon), “Cheesecake Factory? We’ve got three of ’em!”…

Screening Room: ‘I, Tonya’

In 1994, the world of professional skating was hurled into the burgeoning tabloid TV landscape when an assailant clubbed skater Nancy Kerrigan and suspicion fell on another skater, Tonya Harding. The resulting media firestorm was like a runup to the O.J. trial.

Margot Robbie stars as Harding in the inside-out comedy I, Tonya, which opens next week. My review is at PopMatters:

“This is bullshit. I never did this,” Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) assures viewers in the meta-comedy I, Tonya just after she is seen unloading a blast of buckshot at her fleeing husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). Not that most of us would blame her. At that point, we already saw Jeff beat her for saying the wrong thing, or just for being there. Before that there was a long stretch of verbal and emotional abuse from LaVona (Allison Janney), Tonya’s cold-eyed villain of a mother. So this is somebody who had good reason to pick up a shotgun and let fly…

 

Screening Room: ‘Battles of the Sexes’

Battles of the Sexes, the serio-comic new movie about that time Billie Jean King played a washed-up ex-tennis champion for $100,000 and the chance to show up the male gender, is playing in limited release.

My review is at PopMatters:

When Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is at the salon and finds herself falling deep into the eyes of her hairdresser, Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), it’s not as though the married tennis star is free to fling open the closet door. Billie might not be able to shake the electric sensation of that meeting, but there’s a tour to go on, not to mention sponsors and a public who wouldn’t approve…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: ’10 Things I Learned About Literature from Monty Python’

My article ‘Proust, Hardy, and Spam: 10 Things I Learned About Literature from Monty Python’—including many handy and time-wasting YouTube links and a plethora of literary goodies—was just published at The Barnes & Noble Review:

As many gawky teens discovered in their misspent youths, there was comedy and then there was Monty Python. Exploding penguins, a crime-fighting bishop, and Karl Marx struggling to answer questions about soccer on a TV quiz show; it was all surreal grist for their mill. Fully embodying the high culture/low humor synthesis that produced the better countercultural artifacts of the 1970s, their TV series, films, concerts, and books embedded arch literary references inside a dense framework of Dada performance art-pieces, cultural satire, and broadly silly skits in a classically comedic idiom…

And don’t forget Monty Python FAQ, in finer bookstores now.

Shameless Self-Promotion: ‘Monty Python FAQ’

Have you any inkling what this T-shirt refers to?

Did you ever hop around on one foot while shouting, “’tis but a flesh wound!”?

Can you sing “The Philosopher’s Song” without referring to notes?

Was there a point during the United Kingdom’s recent snap election where you wondered whether there should have been a candidate from the Very Silly Party?

If you answered “yes” or asked “what’s all this, then?!” then it’s about 583% likely that Monty Python FAQ is the book for you!

Scribbled down in crayon by yours truly and his boon companions Brian Cogan and Jeff Massey, and then lovingly transcribed into proper book form by the dedicated editors at Applause Books, Monty Python FAQ is just about everything you ever wanted to know about the Python boys. That includes:

  • Words! Pictures! Lots of ’em.
  • An exegesis of every single Monty Python’s Flying Circus episode.
  • More than one could ever want or need to know about fish-slapping.
  • The deep, dark secret behind the one American Python, who hailed from the mystical, faraway land of … Minnesota.
  • Exploding penguins, dead budgies, Grannies from Hell … you get the picture.

It’s on sale now. Here. And hereAnd here. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

And now … this:

Screening Room: ‘David Brent: Life on the Road’

david-brent1

The great thing about BBC shows is that they now when to stop: six or eight episodes and then they’re out. Maybe a season two. That’s how the British original of The Office was. But then there was the Christmas special. And now Ricky Gervais returns us to the further adventures of his signature character, who’s now decided that he’s going to be a rock and roll star.

David Brent: Life on the Road is opening in limited release tomorrow and will also be available on Netflix. My review is at Film Journal International:

Gervais, who wrote and directed the film without the assistance of his “The Office”co-writer Stephen Merchant, is building off his 2013 web series “Learn Guitar with David Brent,” in which the salesman indulges his love of performing and pontificating. Of course, just as nobody who worked for Brent back when he was an office manager actually wanted to work for him, now that he’s an erstwhile pop star, nobody is in the least interested in hearing him perform…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Keeping Up With the Joneses’

Wonder Woman and Don Draper aren't sure why they're here, either.
Wonder Woman and Don Draper aren’t sure why they’re here, either.

Don’t you hate it when your humdrum suburban life is upended when a couple fabulously exotic super-spies move in next door? That’s the problem faced by Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher when confronted by their new neighbors Gal Gadot and Jon Hamm.

Keeping Up With the Joneses opens this week, for better or (much, much) worse. My review is at Film Journal International:

A subpar knockoff of the kind of tired action-comedy hybrid that Paul Feig’s suddenly made a career out of, Keeping Up with the Joneses is no Spy. It’s not even Spies Like Us. Like just about every other comedic spy film out there, its plot is just another one of those getting-out-of-your-comfort-zone devices. You know the drill, familiar in everything from True Lies to Date Night: ordinary person or couple gets accidentally mixed up in espionage shenanigans and along the way discovers reservoirs of strength, ingenuity and courage they didn’t realize were there…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Get Started

dontthinktwiceWhile touring the country promoting his film Don’t Think Twice, comic Mike Birbiglia was asked variations on the same question at pretty much every stop:  “If I want to be a comedian [or actor or writer or improviser or film director], how do I get started?”

Birbiglia boiled his advice down to “6 Tips for Making It Small in Hollywood. Or Anywhere.” The first tip, though, is the most helpful for people who ask that question:

1. Don’t Wait — Write. Make a short film. Go to an open mike. Take an improv class. There’s no substitute for actually doing something. Don’t talk about it anymore. Maybe don’t even finish reading this essay.

The sooner you get started, the sooner you can start failing all the dozens or thousands of times you will need to fail in order to get somewhere, creatively.