When Sebastian Maniscalco Calls His Movie ‘About My Father,’ You’d Better Believe Him

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Sebastian Maniscalco, next to his father (CREDIT: Dan Anderson/Lionsgate)

Starring: Sebastian Maniscalco, Robert De Niro, Leslie Bibb, Kim Cattrall, David Rasche, Anders Holm, Brett Dier

Director: Laura Terruso

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Some Mildly Off-Color Jokes and A Full Moon

Release Date: May 26, 2023

What’s It About?: Sebastian Maniscalco has now joined the time-honored tradition of comedians making movies about their very own lives. Ain’t that something? It certainly helps that he knows some memorable characters, including one in particular. That would be his Sicilian immigrant father Salvo, here played by none other than Bobby De Niro. Salvo values hard work and frugality above all else, except when it comes to cologne. You might not expect a guy like that to be a hairdresser, but he is in fact an undisputed master of the cosmotelogical arts. As for the plot, Sebastian is finally ready to propose to his girlfriend Ellie (Leslie Bibb) on a Fourth of July trip. He brings his dad along, but a little warily, because he’s not so sure about the impression he’ll make on Ellie’s upper crust family. If that sounds like a formula for gags involving peacock slaughter and accidental indecent exposure, then you know exactly what you’re in for!

What Made an Impression?: I’m fairly certain that the screening of About My Father I attended was mostly filled with Sebastian Maniscalco fans, and they were cracking up the whole way through. So if you count yourself a connoisseur of his comedy, then you should probably check it out as well. I wouldn’t say that he’s fully won me over, but I see the appeal, and it’s an enduring and pretty much universal hook. You don’t have to be Italian-American to understand his family’s immigrant story, and you don’t have to be a child of immigrants to have wacky relatives. About My Father doesn’t break the mold at all with its family dynamics. In fact, it’s as moldy as they come, but it knows exactly what it wants to do, and it pulls it off comfortably.

It certainly helps to have pros on hand who can sell the emotion and trust in the wilder flights of fancy. This isn’t vintage De Niro, but it’s not sleepwalking De Niro either. I imagine he caught some of Sebastian’s stand-up, cracked a smile, said “That’s funny,” and then knew exactly how he was going to play the part. Ellie’s generically conservative parents seem to exist totally divorced from any political reality, but David Rasche is comforting even when you hate what he’s doing, and Kim Cattrall of course cannot be denied. As Ellie’s brothers, Anders Holm is maybe a little too much of a hardcore country club douche (though that’s of course what you hire him for), while Brett Dier is a scene-stealer as a woo-woo positive energy seeker. In conclusion, everyone hits their marks on time, the laughs arrive efficiently, and we all get to go home after an hour and a half.

About My Father is Recommended If You Like: Mining new laughs out of old clichés

Grade: 3 out of 5 Colognes

Movie Review: What ‘Fresh’ Hell is This?!

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Fresh (CREDIT: Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved)

Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Jonica T. Gibbs, Charlotte Le Bon, Dayo Okeniyi, Andrea Bang, Brett Dier

Director: Mimi Cave

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: R for Plenty of Blood and a Decent Amount of Flesh

Release Date: March 4, 2022 (Hulu)

Where do monsters exist in today’s society? If you look to Fresh for the answer to that question, you’ll be met with some terrifying, exhilarating results. To wit: modern dating sucks, but also: what’s in our food? It’s a lot to keep track of for someone who wants to live both deliciously and ethically!

For Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), she’s endured enough epically bad dates that you could easily imagine a Netflix exec hitting her up out of the blue and giving her carte blanche to produce whatever she wants out of all that raw material. Somehow, though, she’s actually in a headspace to accept a proposition in the grocery produce aisle. That’s where she meets a charming fellow by the name of Steve (Sebastian Stan), and next thing you know, they’re heading off for a weekend away together. This is the exact sort of meet-cute that tends to only happen in the movies, and everyone involved in making Fresh is trying to convince us that it should stay that way.

This is the point in my review in which I tell my readers that I am going to do my best to avoid specifics from here on out, as this is the sort of movie that works hard to keep its premise under wraps. The opening credits don’t even arrive until about a half hour in. (Perhaps starting a bit of a trendlet in that regard alongside Drive My Car.) I knew that the scares were coming, but if you go in completely cold, you might think that this is just a cynical comedy about the Tinder era. But everything is just edgy enough, and the colors are rendered in such vivid, bloody detail, that you can probably sense the horror lurking. But is it Noa or Steve pulling the strings as the puppetmaster behind it all?

Like so much great horror, Fresh zeroes in on an  examination of people who live beyond the morals of civilized society. It’s despicable, but also intoxicating to those who lap up these visions of monstrousness. I almost found myself rooting for Noa and Steve to end up together despite the massive degree of exploitation at the core of their connection, even as I was also rooting for the captive to escape in a cathartic turning of the tables. Rest assured, that comeuppance will come, and it will be glorious. In the meantime, we can revel in the bloody beauty from the safety of our viewing devices and maybe learn a thing or two about keeping that darkness cooped up where it belongs.

Fresh is Recommended If You Like: Raw, Promising Young Woman, American Psycho, Get Out, NBC’s Hannibal

Grade: 4 out of 5 Slices

If You Were Promised Robots and Got ‘After Yang,’ What Would You Think?

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After Yang (CREDIT: A24)

Starring: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, Haley Lu Richardson, Sarita Choudhury, Clifton Collins Jr., Ava DeMary, Brett Dier

Director: Kogonada

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rating: PG for A Mortality-Tinged Milieu

Release Date: March 4, 2022 (Theaters and Showtime)

After Yang opens with a really rousing dance number that establishes an initial joyous note, although the rest of the film quickly settles into a much more reflective and melancholy mood. This is a near-future vision in which “techno-sapiens”serve as live-in babysitters, although the particular techno-sapien we get to know is really more of a big brother. For those of you who are so excited by the potential of robotics that you just can’t keep still, After Yang‘s opening choreography is for you. This dance session is an opportunity for the whole family – dad Jake (Colin Farrell), mom Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), young daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), and android Yang (Justin H. Min) – to get up and really get moving. It also appears to be some sort of worldwide tradition that other families of four are participating in. It’s a delightfully colorful good time, and quite frankly, I wanted it to last forever.

I like to think that Yang’s family is also chasing that dancing high for the rest of the film, if only metaphorically. (Or perhaps literally as well.) The trouble is, Yang starts to break down, and he’s an older model, so it’s difficult to find a place that will get him back to his old self. That sends Mika into a funk, as she can’t find the strength to go to school without Yang to rely on. I know how she’s feeling. It’s like trying to shake your sillies out the way you’ve always done, but then you discover that your shins have suddenly become massively inflamed. Indeed, the entire family starts behaving like they’ve lost a limb.

But maybe they can grow a new one back? In Jake’s efforts to figure out what to do with Yang, he ends up on a sort of spiritual quest, as he examines Yang’s memories and seems to be traversing new planes of existence. He discovers that Yang may have somehow developed a fully human romantic relationship, but the real kicker is the alternate perspective it provides to his family history. After Yang is pondering the big questions that science fiction has been pondering for decades, centuries even. That examination can be sublime, but it can also be frustrating, because definitive answers never really come. Sometimes it’s best to just devote your energy to dancing it all off, but the journey you take when you can’t do that is likely to stick in your craw.

After Yang is Recommended If You Like: Just Dance, Home movies, Contemplation

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Memories