The Writers of ‘Bridesmaids’ Ramp Up the Delightful Absurdity in ‘Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar’

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Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (CREDIT: Lionsgate/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Damon Wayans Jr., Michael Hitchock, Reyn Doi, Kwame Patterson, Vanessa Bayer, Fortune Feimster, Rose Abdoo, Phyllis Smith, Wendi McClendon-Covey, Richard Cheese

Director: Josh Greenbaum

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Very Playful (and Kind of Explicit) Sexual Dialogue

Release Date: February 12, 2021 (On Demand)

A young boy in a canary yellow hat rides his bike down a picturesque suburban street while delivering newspapers and singing along to “Guilty,” the 1980 Barbra Streisand/Barry Gibb smooth jazz duet. Encountering a robot owl, he heads purposefully underground into a world of intrigue. A super-secret, super-important mission appears to be afoot. And that’s when we meet Barb and Star (Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, respectively), two fortysomething best friends who appear to have absolutely nothing to do with everything we’ve seen up to this point. Instead, they spend their days gabbing away about whatever absurd notions pop into their heads while sitting on one of the showroom couches at the furniture store where they work. But alas, horror of horrors: the store is closing forever, and Barb and Star have no idea what to do with all their newfound free time! They could hang out at their rigidly regimented friend group gabfest (run by a fantastically tightly wound Vanessa Bayer), but then an opportunity comes knocking in the form of a vacation to the resort town of Vista Del Mar. They’ve never been the type to venture outside their hometowns, but heckfire, what better time than now to throw caution to the wind and spread their wings!

Often when reviewing movies, I like to ask myself, “Does this film make me want to do the thing it says in its title?” So with that in mind, does Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar make me want to go to Vista Del Mar? And the answer is … heck yeah! It’s a beachside town full of bright colors, romance, magic, and Mark Jonathan Davis as his lounge act persona Richard Cheese singing naughty songs in a hotel lobby, after all. And if I could spend my stay there right alongside Barb and Star and their versatile culottes, oh wow, would I be in hog heaven. The world has made no effort to stop them from being who they really are, and their conversations reflect that, as Wiig and Mumolo bring an astounding improvisatory yes-and energy to every single one of their interactions.

There’s also so many more elements in this movie that I haven’t mentioned yet, mostly because I don’t want to mention them, as this is the most satisfyingly unpredictable comedy I have seen in quite some time. Wiig and Mumolo co-wrote the screenplay, and it feels like a passion project of two best friends daring each other to indulge in their most outré excesses. Playing straight(-ish) man to their whirligig of whimsy is Jamie Dornan, who seems to have found his perfect niche as a lovelorn hopeless romantic agent of espionage. Also of note: Wiig pulls double duty as a supervillian best left unremarked upon, Damon Wayans Jr. shows up for a running gag of very silly inadvertent secret-revealing, and Barb and Star’s conversations about a hypothetical woman named “Trish” eventually pay off handsomely. In conclusion, this is one of those funny flicks that delights me immediately and endlessly, but I’m not quite sure how to fully put into words why it makes me feel that way (the last few paragraphs notwithstanding). But I hope to continually revisit it and think about it much more in the coming years and then explain it as best I can when the proper time comes along.

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is Recommended If You Like: Zoolander, Hot Rod, AM Radio hits of the 70s

Grade: 4 out of 5 Seafood Jams

‘Wonder Woman 1984’: Surprising, Confusing, Unexpected

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Wonder Woman 1984 (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen

Director: Patty Jenkins

Running Time: 151 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: December 25, 2020 (Theaters/HBO Max)

Wonder Woman 1984 was … not exactly what I was expecting. It’s a “Monkey’s Paw”/be careful what you wish for-type story. In fact, at one point Diana Prince literally says “Monkey’s Paw.” Multiple times, if I’m remembering correctly. You see, there’s this stone that grants wishes to whomever’s touching it. Which sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? But alas of course, something important is taken from the wish-grantee in turn. Not exactly mold-breaking in terms of the history of storytelling, but quite unusual in the realm of big-budget superhero cinema. At the very least, I gotta give Patty Jenkins and company credit for very much not taking the road most travelled.

I wish I could say I was thrilled by the execution, though! Instead, I was trying to figure out what the whole deal with the execution was throughout most of the movie. And this is a long movie! Spending more than two hours trying to figure out a movie’s whole deal is not my preferred way of watching a movie. I could envision some structural changes to the script/editing that would make character motivations a bit more clear and resonant. I’m pretty sure I got what Diana’s situation was, and K-Wiig as Barbara Minerva and Mr. Pedro Pascal started with intriguing setups, but at the end, I found myself thinking, in multiple ways, “Wait, how’s that again?” Also, this movie took place in the 80s, but there were very few, if any, scenes of people doing coke or voting for Ronald Reagan.

Grade: More Lassos of Truth, Less Confusion

Jeff’s Wacky SNL Review: Kristen Wiig/Dua Lipa

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SNL: Dua Lipa, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

The final Saturday Night Live episode of 2020 aired six days before Christmas and was hosted by Kristen Wiig, who was accompanied by musical guest Dua Lipa. I love Christmas! Kristen Wiig has made me laugh, often! Dua Lipa’s songs have brought me so much joy! Sounds like we’re in for a good time…

I actually watched one (1) full sketch before I even started to eat my breakfast. Now onto my review…

The cold opening sketch is very, very, very often based on a notable piece of news from the past week, and that is indeed the case here, as Mike Pence Gets the Vaccine (Grade: A Plain Lollipop). Some silly impressions, Rudy pops in for a rabies joke, la la la la la, onto the opening montage.

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Jeff’s Wacky SNL at Home Review: Kristen Wiig/Boyz II Men

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CREDIT: NBC/YouTube Screenshot

Whoa-whoa-whoa, Saturday Night Live Season 45 wrapped things up before the dates in May even hit double digits. Well, actually, while the finale began airing on May 9, most of it aired on May 10, as this late night sketch show typically airs most of its episodes in the early morning hours (which of course feel more like night).

But no matter what particular minutes this 18th episode of Season 45 aired, it was indeed the season finale. Kristen Wiig wasn’t officially announced as the host during the opening montage, but she certainly performed more hostly duties than any of the other stay-at-home guests, so we’ll call her the host. And as for the music, we’ll take it II Motownphilly with some Boyz II Men (featuring Babyface).

As for my state of mind while watching, I cooked up some scrambled eggs that I started chowing into right as I summoned up the cold opening. I considered just having a quick bowl of cereal, but since it’s Mother’s Day, I decided I must get eggy with it. I added some milk to make it fluffy. It spilled a little out of my teaspoon, but not enough so that the dish up didn’t end up sufficiently fluffy.

Note: in honor of the holiday, all of my grades for this episode will be mom-based.

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Movie Review: Cate Blanchett Brings Us All Along to Antarctica in the Low-Key Unique ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’

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CREDIT: Wilson Webb/Annapurna Pictures

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Emma Nelson, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer, James Urbaniak, Laurence Fishburne

Director: Richard Linklater

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Arguments Between Neighbors and Family Members

Release Date: August 16, 2019

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is the sort of movie that I don’t want to say whether it’s good or bad. I’d rather just talk about what makes it unique. Because when you see more than a hundred movies per year like I do, uniqueness can seem like an endangered species, so when I come across it, I feel compelled to deconstruct it. First off, this movie doesn’t fully realize its premise until about two-thirds of the way through its running time – and that’s not a criticism! The title would seem to suggest that architect Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) runs right off from her family as fast as she can, but it actually takes quite a while until she is on her own in Antarctica. And get this – that destination was originally meant to be a family trip with her husband Elgin (Billy Crudup) and daughter Bee (Emma Nelson), so it’s not exactly like it’s supposed to be the most unpredictable hiding place.

You may have noticed that I mentioned that Bernadette is an architect, and that’s significant because this is a movie that cares A LOT about architecture. Director Richard Linklater apparently has a hidden passion for construction. Either that or he did his homework, because significant chunks of Where’d You Go, Bernadette could pass for an architecture mockumentary. The other major upending of expectations comes in the examination of Bernadette’s mental breakdown, or lack thereof. Everyone in her life is a little worried about her, but it turns out that the best solution is much less drastic – and much more fulfilling – than this genre has us conditioned to anticipate.

Pretty much everything about Where’d You Go, Bernadette is both slightly off-key and generally pleasant. A marriage that looks like it’s on the brink of disaster is actually quite healthy! Kristen Wiig plays a queen bee suburban mom who it turns out is actually a genuine human being! There’s a dog named Ice Cream! Anyone who is mildly adventurous will find something to enjoy.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is Recommended If You Like: Crucial James Urbaniak Supporting Performances

Grade: Not Applicable out of 5 Russian Identity Thieves

SNL Love It/Keep It/Leave It: Adam Sandler/Shawn Mendes

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CREDIT: Will Heath/NBC

Jeffrey Malone watches every new episode of Saturday Night Live and then organizes the sketches into the following categories: “Love It” (potentially Best of the Season-worthy), “Keep It” (perfectly adequate), or “Leave It” (in need of a rewrite, to say the least). Then he concludes with assessments of the host and musical guest.

Love It

Holes – So Beck and Kyle discovered that clothes are just holes to cover up your bodily holes, and then they made a song about it, and now we get to bask in the joy of their wonder. It sounds like a cheesy ’80s power ballad, although the sartorial style is more reminiscent of Michael Bolton and other over-the-top soft rockers. And there’s even some “We Didn’t Start the Fire” influence there with the rhyming of Federico Fellini and Roberto Benigni. Wonderfully singular.

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Movie Review: In ‘The Hidden World,’ The ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ Franchise is Not Particularly Fresh, But the Animation is as Beautiful as Ever

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CREDIT: DreamWorks Animation

Starring: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, F. Murray Abraham, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, Kit Harington, David Tennant

Director: Dean DeBlois

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG for High-Flying Fantasy Danger

Release Date: February 22, 2019

I do not remember a whole lot about the first two How to Train Your Dragon films other than the fact that I generally enjoyed them. The first one was among the initial wave of expansive 3D animated blockbusters. But nine years later, studios hardly ever bother to even screen their films in 3D, and I almost never seek the extra dimension out myself. But the CG animation is still of the utmost quality. Hair blows delightfully in the wind, and from what I have heard from the trenches of animation, realistic hair movement has been one of the biggest bugaboos in this medium. And this is a franchise about dragons, which don’t have a lot of hair! So the fact that the HTTYD team cares that much about rendering its human characters as well as its fantastical creatures should tell you all you need to know about the level of craft at play.

The Hidden World, the third in the series, finds Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his trusty dragon Toothless realizing that they are running out of room on their little island for all the humans and dragons to fruitfully co-exist. Meanwhile, an infamous dragon hunter named Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) has declared he has his sights set on Toothless and all the other domesticated fire-breathers. There are admirable messages here about looking past surface differences and treating nature with respect, but there is also a bit of a sense of same-old, same-old. At this point, shouldn’t everyone know that these dragons are as loyal and affectionate as dogs? But while the story may be a little pedestrian, the animation continues to stun. Toothless develops himself a bit of a crush, and let’s just say, the dragon seduction dance is a (family-friendly) sight to behold.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is Recommended If You Like: The Most Thorough Animation in the Business

Grade: 3 out of 5 Night Furies

This Is a Movie Review: Miniaturization is Only the Start of ‘Downsizing’s’ Quest to Save the Human Species

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2017.

Starring: Matt Damon, Hong Chau, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig, Udo Kier, Rolf Lassgård, Jason Sudeikis, Maribeth Monroe

Director: Alexander Payne

Running Time: 135 Minutes

Rating: R for Scientific Full-Frontal Nudity

Release Date: December 22, 2017

How do you live in such a way that ensures both the health of the planet and yourself? That’s really what Downsizing is asking. Its light sci-fi innovation about shrinking people is just a quirky way to get in there and explore this big conundrum. No single piece of entertainment is going to answer that question to everyone’s satisfaction, but Downsizing at least knows how to grab our attention, and Alexander Payne’s take is interesting enough in getting us to where he wants to go.

Fair warning, if it is not clear already, that Downsizing is not exactly the movie advertised in its trailer. Its whimsical tale of the land of the miniatures is present, but it is ultimately just an entry point to smuggle a thornier story into. After all, there is only so far you can go with the visual humor of size differential juxtaposition. There are a few bits wringing laughs out of giant (i.e., regular-sized) crackers or Jason Sudeikis sitting on a cutting board and drinking from a tiny wine glass, but those moments are there to just add quick bursts of establishing color. In fact, most of the shots in the miniature world do not feature any contrast to the normal-sized surroundings.

The miniaturization process has been invented to reduce the strain that humans have been putting on the environment, which makes clear sense: if you’re only 5 or 6 inches, you consume many fewer resources than if you’re 5 or 6 feet. And from a personal standpoint, it’s a no-brainer as well, as the exchange rate is tremendous, multiplying the real spending value of your money by about a hundredfold. So Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), bored by his office job and feeling glum at home, signs right up. But his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) pulls out of the procedure at the last minute, portending that everything may not be as rosy as promised.

Downsizing is primarily interested in digging into the questions raised by this near future world. The practical and scientific matters (like, do babies born to downsized adults grow up to be similarly small adults?) are not explained too thoroughly, but those matters are not ignored; you kind of have to roll with the film a bit and accept that those things have already been settled. Instead, the focus is on the knottier philosophical questions and the unexpected implications of downsizing. Why has this scientific breakthrough happened while people with chronic diseases still suffer? Should downsized people have the same rights as the natively-sized? Will governments use involuntary downsizing to tamp down undesirable segments of their populations?

The answer to that last question turns out to be a resounding yes, and we see its fallout in the form of Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau, giving the most forcefully charming performance of the year), a Vietnamese dissident who has been downsized against her will and then smuggled into America in a TV box. As we and Paul are introduced to her life, Downsizing makes it clear that it believes that humans are wired to always separate themselves into separate classes, no matter what utopian urges drive us. As she and Paul become entwined, the underlying, most burning question of this film becomes clear: is it better to specifically attempt to save the entire species, or to focus on being a good person in your own particular space? The resolution that Payne offers is a little pat, but not dishonest. Miniaturized or not, utopian or practical, whatever your station in life, no matter how weird things get, you have to give yourself the room to be a good person.

Downsizing is Recommended If You Like: Being John Malkovich, Captain Fantastic, Robot & Frank

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Utopias

This Is a Movie Review: mother!

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I don’t want to get into too many specifics, or really any specifics at all about mother!, even though I could just include a spoiler alert, and I imagine plenty of people reading this review have already seen it anyway. The plain truth is, this movie benefits particularly from going into it with as few preconceived notions as possible, perhaps more so than any other movie ever (give or take a Cabin in the Woods). The marketing has been so vague that anyone who feels like they’ve been misled really shouldn’t feel that way. For those who knew that they were getting into something unpredictable, there have been some criticisms that it is too heavy-handed, too unsubtle, and/or too cacophonous to effectively work as metaphor. And that may well be, but the whole thing is too deliriously energetic to not be enjoyable. This is… cinema.

One more note: if she weren’t already famous with her SNL persona, Kristen Wiig could easily establish a reputation as a character actress specializing in publicist/agent/manager roles.

I give mother! my acknowledgement that it exists.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Despicable Me 3’ Plays to Its Strength Just Often Enough

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CREDIT: Universal and Illumination

This review was originally posted on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Pierre Coffin, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel

Directors: Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: PG for Off-Color Minionese Jokes

Release Date: June 30, 2017

“I miss the Minions,” Gru laments about halfway through Despicable Me 3. Ever since the 2010 release of the first in this series, missing the Minions could only ever be relative. But when those little yellow pills are not on screen, you feel it. They may be divisive, inspiring just as much ire as they do unbridled joy, but there is good reason why they have been the breakout characters. As much as they inspire little kids (and some adults) to babble incessantly in Minionese, they are not lacking in ingenuity. Indeed, their moments in the spotlight continue to be the most imaginative, inventive, and playful in the DM-verse. When in DM3 they stumble into a live singing competition and are forced to come up on the spot with a signature babbling version of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General,” their versatile ability to think on their feet is as inspiring as ever.

Alas, this buoyancy is not present throughout, as directors Pierre Coffin (also the voice of most of the Minions) and Kyle Balda and writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio commit the cardinal sequel sin of splitting up their characters into dispersed storylines. Gru (Steve Carell, having a ball as always), Lucy (Kristen Wiig), and the girls all head out to the European mash-up/Marx Brothers reference country of Freedonia to meet Gru’s long-lost twin brother Dru (Carell pulling double duty), but everyone has their own thing going on. The much more outwardly charming Dru tries to pull Gru back into a life of villainy to fulfill a family legacy, while Lucy is more focused on getting the girls (who have their own subplots that have essentially nothing to do with anything else) to really truly think of her as a mom.

The Minions’ storyline succeeds the most by following an instinct of loyalty and getting everyone back together. Dru is not the only one trying to drag Gru back to a life of crime, as his little yellow assistants commence an insurrection that results in a mass resignation. They ultimately wind up imprisoned (if you love the Minions, you will love seeing them become the ruling jailhouse gang), where they see the error of their ways and craft an impromptu aircraft out of prison toilets and washing machines. There’s that ol’ Minion ingenuity, implemented for the purpose of absurd goodness.

This is a busy movie, leaving little room for its ostensible villain to make much of an impression. This series has never really needed strong antagonists, as its most interesting conflicts have been more internal. But with the heroes all now mostly on the side of good, it would help if diamond thief Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) were more of a complementary counterpoint. Instead, he is just a bizarre presence sticking out like a sore thumb, with his defining characteristic being his fetishization of the ’80s.

There is a weird tension at the heart of Despicable Me 3. So much happens, but so much is left teased. The ending suggests that this has been one 90 minute-long trailer for the next real Dru-centric adventure. But really, the problem here is that there is not a strong enough capitalization on this series’ enduring sweetness. The girls are adorable, they love Gru, Gru’s a great dad, Lucy never needed to try so hard to be accepted, and the Minions are so, so loyal. Everyone is on the same side, thus why it is such a shame that they are not all in the same scenes as often as possible.

Despicable Me 3 is Recommended If You Like: Cramming as Many Plotlines as Possible Into 90 Minutes

Grade: 3 out of 5 Minions Blowing Raspberries

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