Don’t Think Twice

Posted on August 4, 2016 at 5:53 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and drug use
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Sad offscreen death
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 5, 2016
Date Released to DVD: December 5, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01IV40HUY

Life is pretty much improv, after all. We are constantly challenged to respond to what we cannot predict. But we do not have the two foundational rules that make performance improvisation so compelling. First is “yes, and.” Whatever anyone on stage says or does, everyone else has to build on it. If someone says, “Wow, it’s cold in here,” no one is allowed to say, “What do you mean? We’re outside and it’s warm.” You have to say something that takes what the first person said to the next level, maybe “Yes, who turned the air conditioning down to 60?” Or even, “Well, there’s really no practical way to heat an igloo.” It is the high-wire without a net act of improv group’s lightning quick, sharply observed, and deftly funny scenes that audiences enjoy.

Copyright 2016 Film Arcade
Copyright 2016 Film Arcade

The other fundamental rule is what improvers say to each other before they go on stage: “I’ve got your back.” Improv is about the group, not the individuals. “Don’t Think Twice” is the story of an improv group called The Commune, suggestive of its familial, interdependent, collegial quality. They are something like a family, if a dysfunctional one. While they have very different backgrounds and goals, the way they come together on stage is, at least for now, enough to make them feel they have a home together.

The closest thing they have to a leader is Miles (writer/director Mike Birbiglia of “Sleepwalk With Me”), who is a little older and taught many of them. He is still teaching improv classes and often has brief affairs with the young women who are his students. Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) and Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) are a couple. Allison (Kate Micucci) is a quiet woman who is working on a graphic novel. Jill (“Inside Amy Schumer” writer Tami Sagher) lives with her parents and is the only one who does not have money problems. And Bill (Chris Gethard) is making ends meet by handing out hummus and chips in the grocery store. “Your 20’s are all about hope. And then your 30’s are all about realizing how dumb it was to hope,” one character says.

The group is presented with some bad news and some good news, two crises that expose the fragility of their connection. They are about to lose their performing space, and there are no alternatives they can afford. And Jack and Samantha achieve the most coveted of opportunities, the chance to audition for a television program that is the equivalent of “Saturday Night Live,” a sketch comedy show that is a major cultural institution. Both put enormous pressure on the group, and the sense of desperation, jealousy, and competition shatters their pretense of unity and endless support for one another. At the same time, Bill’s father becomes critically ill, which gives them a way to continue to connect.

Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk with Me” showed great promise. The transfer from stand-up to screen was awkward, but the atmosphere and the specifics of life on the road as a comedian were exceptionally well handled and he is on screen, as on stage, an engaging character. Here he once again takes us unto a very specific world that we can all relate to, especially when it comes to the way the characters use humor to reach a place of honesty. Birbiglia takes a risk here, making Miles less likeable, but it works as he very effectively creates real and vivid characters who have to figure out who they are when they are offstage. While the first film gave us one perspective, this one expands with a clear-eyed but generous take on each of them. So, the individual stories work and they provide balance and counterpoint. Even family members have to grow up, accept responsibility, and decide when to change course.

Parents should know that this film has very strong language, sexual references and an explicit situation, rude humor, sad death of a parent, drinking and drugs.

Family discussion: Why is it important to say “yes, and?” Is it sometimes hard for you to be happy when your friends succeed?

If you like this, try: “Sleepwalk With Me” and Mike Birbiglia’s short film on YouTube, “Fresh Air 2: 2 Fresh 2 Furious”

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Comedy Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Independent

Indie Movies Reach Older Audiences

Posted on July 10, 2016 at 3:55 pm

Summer is the season for sequels, superheroes, special effects, chases, and explosions, with some slob comedies and animated family films added to the mix. But The Guardian points out that while Hollywood has been ignoring older audiences, indie films have showcased more mature performers and more mature storylines. While Glenn Close was barely recognizable in a brief, highly CGI’d performance in the video-game inspired sword and sorcery film “Warcraft,” her contemporaries Susan Sarandon, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Sally Field, and Meryl Streep have had starring roles in first-rate independent films this year.

Faced with such few worthwhile options in the multiplex, older moviegoers have opted to flock to the arthouse theaters instead, making their presence known in a big way. Of the top 10 most profitable independent films to play in cinemas in 2016 so far, seven are aimed strictly at adults, many of them centered on characters age 60 and over.

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Independent Movies for Grown-Ups

New York City’s Independent Film Festival 2015

Posted on September 14, 2015 at 6:37 pm

The 6th Annual NYC Independent Film Festival, taking place October 12 – 18, 2015 in the heart of New York City, will host an incredible lineup of over 300 films from 39 countries. In addition to film screenings throughout the week, the festival will also be hosting networking events, panels and seminars on topics from digital distribution to music licensing, as well as special burlesque performances on Friday and Saturday. Festival attendees can purchase tickets for individual sessions, day or week passes.

This year’s batch of over 300 films set to screen during the festival include international submissions ranging from super short films to narrative features. Some highlights from this year’s films include Wildlike, Keep In Touch, Get Happy – The Film, Girl On The Edge, Women Of 69, Southern Rites, My Kingdom, A Warm Spell, and many others.

Full list of screenings

Tickets and more information

WHO: 6th Annual New York City Independent Film Festival
WHAT: Selection of over 300 independent movies spanning feature, documentary, short, super short, music videos and art videos.
WHEN: October 12th to 18th, from 12PM to 11PM
WHERE: Producers Club, 358 West 44th Street | New York, NY

Stay updated on NYC Independent Film Festival:

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Festivals Independent

Welcome to Me

Posted on April 30, 2015 at 5:15 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, language and brief drug use
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations, brief violence
Diversity Issues: Treatment of people with mental illness
Date Released to Theaters: May 1, 2015
Copyright 2015 Alechemy
Copyright 2015 Alechemy

In “Welcome to Me,” Kristen Wiig plays Alice, a depressed woman diagnosed with borderline personality disorder who wins $86 million in the lottery. She uses much of it to create a one-woman television series that feature monologues about her life and re-enactments of some of her most traumatic moments. This is the most recent in a series of Wiig’s depressed/repressed roles in mostly indie films like “Girl Most Likely,” “The Skeleton Twins,” “Hateship Loveship,” and “Bridesmaids.” Even as the romantic interest in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” she played a character so low-key she came across as diffident. No one is asking her to do a perky rom-com, but it would be nice to see her try something different.

Alice is off her meds. She makes inappropriate comments that make the people around her feel uncomfortable, although she has the support of her parents, her ex-husband and his new boyfriend, and her best friend Gina (Linda Cardellini). And she gets a lot of support from Oprah, via VHS tapes of her talk show, which Alice plays so often she knows them by heart. Oprah’s exhortation to find “something you were born to give,” to “figure out your calling and then begin to honor it” fascinates and inspires her, though probably not in the way Oprah had in mind. When she wins the lottery, she goes to a tiny television station that has been barely surviving on infomercials, run by two brothers, the three-times married on-air talent Gabe (Wes Bentley) and the behind-the scenes guy Rich (James Marsden). “I’m Rich,” he says. “No, I’m rich,” she replies.

Alice gives them $15 million to create a daily two-hour series for her to talk about herself. Oh, and she wants to enter on a swan boat. Soon there is a string of applicants for roles in her re-enactments of difficult and traumatic moments like the time someone took her make-up or the time Gina thought she did not look good in a bikini. Her comments are bizarre snippets of what she has absorbed from television mixed with more bizarre assertions and confessions, all delivered in near-monotone. “I have a prepared statement,” she says as though everything is a press conference, even to her family.

Is this one of those “crazy people are less crazy than normal people” movies? Or a comic but sympathetic portrayal of the challenges of mental illness? Or a satire of our media-saturated age? Despite excellent performances all around, especially Tim Robbins as Alice’s therapist, it does not succeed in any of those categories. The movie opens with a quote from Montaigne: “I study myself more than any other subject. That is my physics. That is my metaphysics.” But Montaigne drew insights about the human condition from that study, which neither Alice nor this film is able to manage.

Parents should know that this movie includes very strong language and explicit and crude sexual references and an explicit sexual situation.

Family discussion: If you could re-enact a moment from your life, what would you pick? If you had $86 million, what would you do with the money?

If you like this, try: “The Skeleton Twins” and “Girl Most Likely”

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Drama Independent Movies

Chef

Posted on May 15, 2014 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, including some suggestive references
Profanity: Very strong and graphic language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 16, 2014
Date Released to DVD: September 29. 2014
Amazon.com ASIN: B00KQTGWPC

You’re writer/director/actor Jon Favreau.  You’ve been making big-budget films, mostly huge blockbuster successes (“Elf,” “Iron Man”), but also a big-budget bust (Cowboys & Aliens, which I liked).  This might put you in mind of a simpler, more chef poster headersatisfyingly creative time (Favreau wrote the indie smash “Swingers” and wrote and directed “Made”).  And that might inspire a movie like “Chef,” with Favreau as writer. director, and star and a small-scale story with, thanks to his connections, a big-scale cast, about an artist who, like a movie director, creates the kind of art that must be appreciated by others to be satisfying.  And director Jon Favreau brings the same loving care to the creations made by his character that the chef does himself.  This movie will be on lists of “Great Food Films” forever, along with classics like “Big Night” and “Babette’s Feast.”  The food is so lusciously photographed you can almost smell it.  And the music perfectly matches the food, sensual and spicy.  This is an utterly delectable treat.

No surprise — it is about a guy who has a big-time, high pressure job, loses his mojo, his inspiration and his sense of creativity, and then finds it again in a smaller venue.  The job is in the title.  Favreau plays Carl, a passionate chef at a high-end restaurant, frustrated because the owner (Dustin Hoffman) wants him to stick to his “greatest hits,” the solid, reliable favorites that Carl now finds boring.  “You remember what happened when you put guts on the menu?”  When an influential restaurant critic gives him a bad review, Carl quits in a fury.  Then, in an even bigger fury, he tweets what he thinks is a private response to the critic (he is not sure of the difference between Twitter and email). It goes viral.  (“You’re trending, bro.”) Carl goes into a shame spiral fueled by self-pity and blame, both self and everyone else.

Carl’s passion for his job led to the end of his marriage to Inez (Sofia Vergara).  He is a devoted but harried father to Percy (Emjay Anthony), a young social media expert who enjoys the fun activities his dad plans for them when he has time but wishes they could just plain hang out more.  Inez, wanting to get Carl out of his funk, invites him to come with her on a business trip to Miami, so he can watch Percy.  It will get him away from the Twitterverse gaffe of the day crowd and give him some time with his son.  She also has another plan.  Her previous ex-husband (a movie-stealing performance by the scene-stealing master thief and “Iron Man” star Robert Downey, Jr.), who gives Carl a food truck.  Well, apparently there is a food truck there underneath the layers of grime and fry oil.  Joined by a friend (John Leguizamo) and Percy, they drive the truck back home to Los Angeles, stopping along the way to feed the people who have been following Percy’s social media updates.

There are no surprises in the story, and there is not one female character with any reason to exist other than supporting/adoring Carl, but the characters feel genuine and the food is mesmerizingly luscious.  Favreau has his mojo back, and I hope he will keep ours going by serving us food truck movies along with his five star restaurants.

Parents should know that this movie includes very strong and crude language and some vulgar references.

Family discussion: What is your favorite meal to cook?  Why was it hard for Carl to just hang out with Percy before the food truck?

If you like this, try: “Big Night” and “No Reservations”

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Comedy Date movie Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues Independent
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