This Is a Movie Review: Never Goin’ Back

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I give Never Goin’ Back 3 out of 5 Beer-Soaked Waitress Uniforms:

This Is a Movie Review: With ‘Brigsby Bear,’ Kyle Mooney Applies His One-of-a-Kind Style to a Rescued Kidnapping Victim

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

Starring: Kyle Mooney, Greg Kinnear, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simpkins, Claire Danes, Mark Hamill

Director: Dave McCary

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for First Times: First Time Doing Hand Stuff, First Time Tripping, First Time Making Dynamite

Release Date: July 28, 2017 (Limited)

It is certainly possible for a film about an escape from kidnapping to be about the triumph of the human spirit. But is it also possible to also make one in which the spirit was never really beaten down in the first place, just slightly confused? Brigsby Bear sure seems to think so. It’s basically what Room would have been if it were a quirky, offbeat comedy. If you’re a fan of writer/star Kyle Mooney, then you have already bought your tickets. If you’re unfamiliar, then let me explain a little more.

Like a lot of young adults who spend most of their time at home, James Pope (Mooney) is obsessed with his favorite TV show. But unlike most TV fanatics, he stays indoors because he has been led to believe that the outside air is toxic, and also unusually, his particular favorite show, “Brigsby Bear Adventures” (a sort of charmingly low-budget live-action spacefaring Saturday morning cartoon) is produced for an audience of one. Because, as it turns out, the people James thinks are his parents actually abducted him when he was a baby. When the authorities track down the compound and return James to his real family, he struggles to move forward in this strange new world. He is able to accept that these people are who they say are, and his social adjustment is relatively smooth, but what really bothers him is the astounding realization that he will never know how the story of Brigsby Bear concludes.

But wait – there is a solution to be had! James decides to put together his own amateur production of a Brigsby Bear film, and the result is a paean to the stirring power of filmmaking. Although… is it perhaps irresponsible to present the story of a kidnapping victim whose recovery consists mainly of a major element from the time of his captivity? It is acceptable that the pull of the familiar, however distorted it may be, cannot be denied (James revisits the bunker in a moment that plays exactly like the return to the shed in Room). And to be fair, every individual captive’s experience is unique. So it is ultimately inspiring to see James’ family and entire community embrace his Brigsby Bear obsession, because they recognize that as strange and as risky as it may be, this is his best chance to recover and flourish. There are certainly discomforting moments (especially in the case of Mark Hamill, who, as James’ impostor father and the man behind Brigsby, toes a tricky line between detestable and genuinely human), but they are among the intrinsic elements that make this story as heartwarming as it is.

Brigsby Bear is Recommended If You Like: Room, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Kyle Mooney’s YouTube/SNL videos

Grade: 4 out of 5 Giant Costume Heads


This Is a Movie Review: Zoolander 2

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The first Zoolander worked as satire because it was about an industry desperately holding onto its relevance (with the existence of said relevance questionable in the first place) and the bobos who represented that last grasp. There is nothing inherently wrong with a sequel premiering a decade after the original, but it is always a challenge, especially so in the case of Zoolander 2. Its setting is so far removed from a natural one in that the setup necessary to get everyone where they need to be is convoluted and exhausting. The sweat comes from effort, not embarrassment.

The film comes to life when it focuses on the here and now. Hot designer Don Atari (Kyle Mooney) is where the real story is at. Fashion – or any industry in 2016 driven entirely by trends – keeps dying and rebirthing and eating itself. Mooney plays Atari as 100% ironically hipster and 100% earnestly enthusiastic, expressing his admiration for Derek and Hansel by simultaneously praising and dismissing them. It is infuriating and intoxicating. This paradoxical approach is scary, but it is how films as broad as the Zoolander’s need to distinguish themselves (see also: Fred Armisen’s face digitally transposed onto a pre-teen’s body).

SNL Recap February 13, 2016: Melissa McCarthy/Kanye West

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SNL: Kanye West, Melissa McCarthy, Taran Killam (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in February 2016.

Melissa McCarthy is one of the most reliable “SNL” hosts of this decade. She always brings her A-game, making herself right at home at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. She has her critics who call her out for playing the same character over and over: brash, over-the-top, and painfully awkward. That can be a problem with a film career (though she usually brings more depth than her critics give her credit for), but in sketch comedy, it can easily be a winning formula. Frequent musical guest Kanye West is also reliable, but his is a reliable unreliability, in which the stage design and sound style will never be the same twice.

I Can’t Make You Love Me – Instead of the umpteenth debate sketch, the leadoff political sketch finds its angle via the electorate. Its take on what appeals to voters about Bernie over Hillary is a little shallow, but that is a small blemish, as that patter is just setup for the main thrust of the sketch: Hillary’s take on Bonnie Raitt. This is Kate McKinnon pulling off the same note of desperation she’s been hitting, but this time she is really complicating the question of whether or not Mrs. Clinton is cool. She tries so hard, which is cool because of the commitment but not cool because of the strain. There is some reference to how support of Hillary or lack thereof affects feminism, but this sketch is more astute about the much less complicated issue of whether or not Hillary is cooler than the drab, depressing Jeb Bush. B


SNL Recap March 28, 2015: Dwayne Johnson/George Ezra

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SNL: George Ezra, Dwayne Johnson, Aidy Bryant (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in March 2015.

“If you don’t have a boner right now, you should just kill yourself.”

As he noted in his monologue, Dwayne Johnson is known for joining established film franchises and giving them a successful shot in the arm.  Accordingly, his fourth “SNL” hosting stint heavily favored sketches that commented on the host’s reputation and familiar pop culture entities in general.  Many of this season’s hosts, even the most capable ones, have been relegated to mostly utility roles.  But Johnson was effectively given plenty of opportunities to shine, as he was allowed to play to his strengths, and the result was an episode that overall also played to its strengths.

The Rock Obama – While Dwayne Johnson is now unequivocally credited by his birth name, he has no qualms breaking out his wrestling moniker for a particular “SNL” sketch.  He first broke out his hulked-out alter ego of the president the last time he hosted back in March 2009, only a few months into Obama’s first term.  He brought it back in a cameo appearance later that year, and that was enough for it to reach iconic status.  In its current iteration, it was formulaic, but still vibrant enough to be worthwhile.  Michelle She-Hulking out as well provided a welcome addition, so it was nice that Leslie Jones was around to play the part.  Bobby Moynihan went above the call of duty by putting together his weaselly impression of Ted Cruz. B


SNL Recap March 7, 2015: Chris Hemsworth/Zac Brown Band


SNL: Chris Hemsworth March 2015 Monologue (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in March 2015.

It might just be pointlessly quixotic to ascribe a thesis statement to an episode of “SNL.”  Any detectable patterns may have just been accidental.  When the host and musical guest do not bring in a whole lot of baggage, that truth becomes emphasized.  Chris Hemsworth was host two months before the release of the next “Avengers” movie.  Zac Brown Band have new music, but they are not dominating the mainstream conversation.  This was certainly an episode that happened.  There were highlights, there were lowlights, and it will lead to a multiplicity of opinions.  Here’s one: it was cray-cray.

A Message From Hillary Clinton – Kate McKinnon made it clear that should Hillary Clinton run for president, she will not back down from the challenge of taking on this legendary impression.  This sketch was essentially a character piece, when it could have focused on sharper satire about whether or not Clinton’s e-mail correspondence is a legitimate controversy.  But as a character piece, it was encouraging, managing to imbue the tired “old person e-mail gag” with specific personality. B