‘Licorice Pizza’ Invites Us to Come of Age, P.T. Anderson-Style

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Licorice Pizza (CREDIT: Paul Thomas Anderson/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Starring: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, John Michael Higgins, Skyler Gisondo, Este Haim, Danielle Haim, Moti Haim, Donna Haim, Christine Ebersole, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie, Joseph Cross, Maya Rudolph

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Running Time: 133 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Indelicate Language

Release Date: November 26, 2021 (Theaters)/Expands December 25, 2021

When I hear the title “Licorice Pizza,” it makes me think of that classic Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen song about putting every conceivable topping you can think of on the top of the crust. I can’t help but shout, “Licorice? Put it on the pizza!” But as it turns out, the directorial approach of Paul Thomas Anderson vis-a-vis Licorice Pizza has basically nothing in common with the Olsen twins. That’s okay, though!

Instead, this movie has me feeling like Linda Richman, which is to say, “Licorice Pizza is neither licorice, nor pizza: discuss.” So discuss I will! A couple of kiddos named Alana (Alana Haim) and Gary (Cooper Hoffman) cross paths in 1973 in the San Fernando Valley and then strike up a sorta-friendship, maybe-romance, partnership-in-hustling. Gary’s an accomplished child actor, but when he meets up with Alana, they switch their focus to selling waterbeds. They eventually splinter off into their own interests, as they get involved with the likes of politics and pinball legalization, contend with a gas crisis, and meet a bunch of memorable characters along the way. It feels like Anderson wanted to make a movie about some of the touchstone moments of his youth (or toddlerhood – he was born in 1970) and created a couple of central characters who could Forrest Gump their way through it all. Not a bad idea if you have a knack for populating an ensemble cast full of an endless stream of oddballs and eccentrics.

One question I had throughout watching Licorice Pizza was:just how old are Alana and Gary really? She says she’s 25, and he says he’s 15, which sounds perfectly plausible at first. But it’s of course more than a little concerning that a twentysomething would be hanging out so much with a teenager. Although it doesn’t come across as creepy as it could, mostly because Gary feels a lot older than he ostensibly is. I suppose that’s the lot of the child actor, to mature faster than everyone else (in some ways). Furthermore, when you consider all the various business ventures that are launched and folded over the course of the runtime, it feels like multiple years must be passing. So I started to surmise that maybe Gary was a little older by the end of it all anyway. But actually, I’m pretty sure all this action somehow takes place within one year (or less!). Latchkey kids apparently could get away with a lot way back when. Or in Gary’s case, teenage adults could do pretty much whatever they wanted in the 70s. These are the discombobulating thoughts I had while watching this movie!

In conclusion, Licorice Pizza is more or less a series of chuckle-inducing zesty vignettes with a bent-but-bighearted emotional throughline. Worth checking out!

Licorice Pizza is Recommended If You Like: Old sitcom bits and other pop culture ephemera, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Sisters yelling at each other

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Waterbeds

Jeff’s Wacky SNL Review: Maya Rudolph/Jack Harlow

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SNL: Jack Harlow, Maya Rudolph, Chris Redd (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

When Maya Rudolph was announced as the host of the March 27, 2021 episode of Saturday Night Live, I mentioned to my dad that this was only her second time returning to host. Then I guessed that in addition to all that, she’s also probably made approximately another dozen guest appearances. But it turned out the actual total is about double that! Musical guest Jack Harlow, meanwhile, is here for the first time. As for me and the number of times I’ve watched this show, that’s gotta be in the thousands.

If someone told you that an SNL episode would start with a pretend game show, would you believe it? Well, you’d better believe it, because that’s exactly what happened in this episode! It’s called Snatched, Vaxed, or Waxed (Grade: 2.5/5 Marches), and I laughed at the name “Cece Vuvuzela.”

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I Liked These 5 Super Bowl LV Commercials

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People who are known for making me laugh made me laugh in these ads. Makes sense.

5. Bud Light Legends: I appreciate a sense of history.

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We Need Some Candy on October 31. Do We Also Need ‘Hubie Halloween’?

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Hubie Halloween (CREDIT: Netflix)

Starring: Adam Sandler, Julie Bowen, June Squibb, Kevin James, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi, Maya Rudolph, Tim Meadows, Kenan Thompson, Rob Schneider, Michael Chiklis, Karan Brar, Noah Schnapp, Paris Berelc, Sadie Sandler, Sunny Sandler, George Wallace, Colin Quinn, Kym Whitley, Mikey Day

Director: Steven Brill

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Release Date: October 7, 2020 (Netflix)

I decided that I simply must have something to say about Hubie Halloween, since I hold so dearly Adam Sandler’s last-minute Halloween costume ideas on Weekend Update from back in the day. So the big question is: did this tale of Salem’s official Halloween monitor give me those same warm, sugary feelings?

The Sandman has busted that old Shabadoo-voice, so that certainly helps. But what’s up with all the kids in town (and some adults) pelting him with candy whatever chance they get? Hubie wants you to have a happy Halloween! It’s hard to do that when you’re sacrificing your own candy! Furthermore, in addition to all the mischief, there’s several attempted felonies, a fair degree of mental instability, and pretty much no attempt to reconcile that darkness with the purely comical tone.

Ultimately, in a weird way this is all in keeping with the spirit of last-minute costume ideas. Hubie Halloween feels like a last-minute movie that was quickly cobbled together from a bunch of silly Halloween-related ideas bouncing around in Sandler’s head. In conclusion, I found myself in a good mood after watching, and I’m happy to declare, once again, “Now give me some candy!”

Grade: 3 out of 5 Crazy Protractor Beards

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Happytime Murders’ Combines Noir Mystery with Wonderfully Inventive Crude Puppet Gags

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CREDIT: Hopper Stone/STXfilms

This review was originally posted on News Cult in August 2018.

Starring: Bill Barretta, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Leslie David Baker, Elizabeth Banks, Joel McHale

Director: Brian Henson

Running Time: 91 Minutes

Rating: R for Raucous Puppet Sex, Loopy Puppet Drug Use, Constant Puppet and Human Profanity, and a Description of an Unspeakable Act Involving Rice Pilaf

Release Date: August 24, 2018

The advertising for The Happytime Murders has made a big deal about how out of the ordinary its existence is: puppets that are usually family-friendly about to get no-holds-barred dirty to an unprecedented degree! But the movie itself, with a typical noir-style murder mystery premise, is fairly unassuming. It’s not particularly hard-bitten, just accepting of the fact that certain and lewd and violent acts are known to happen in this world. It’s as if puppet-noir were a well-established cinematic genre, as Happytime Murders does not feel the need to explain itself, at least no more so than any other movie.

It is not as if audiences should be wholly unfamiliar with what director Brian Henson and company are trying to pull off, as Happytime has a great deal in common with a certain 1988 film called Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Both feature a human and a non-human partnering up to solve a series of murders that the non-human has been framed for, in a Los Angeles in which the human population lives uneasily alongside their neighbors from another medium. Both are more adult in their storytelling than the average Disney or Muppet concoction, but while Roger Rabbit is safe for most ages, Happytime decidedly is not. And while the latter can be enjoyed simply as a story of a cynical puppet private investigator trying to clear his name, the main reason to see it is why the kids cannot come.

The jokes about the anatomy, sexual predilections, and drug habits of puppets do not have the tenor of “Look how disgusting we can be!” Instead, they are the sort of clever, fully committed gags that examine a previously unexamined premise and then take the consequences to their most absurd conclusions. The climaxes are both explosive and filled with a deep well of laser-deployed knowledge. As P.I. Phil Philips, Bill Barretta (the current performer of Muppets like Swedish Chef and Pepe) gives about as much depth as possible to a puppet character. His crackling banter with Melissa McCarthy is filled with a loopy zest that can only come from looking at an askew world and keeping a straight face. Every cast member realizes something important, and it is why Happytime works as well as it does: this is all very silly, but we must commit to everything like the joy of the world depends on it.

The Happytime Murders is Recommended If You Like: Who Framed Roger Rabbit, A femme fatale walking into a P.I. office, The Muppets, Spy, The Heat

Grade: 3.75 out of 5 Puppet Carpets Matching the Drapes

SNL Recap December 19, 2015: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler/Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

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SNL: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in December 2015.

“SNL’s” Christmas episodes often have a homecoming feel, insofar as good vibes are easier to come by than usual, and visits from old friends are part of the deal. Usually sports teams designate a winnable game as homecoming, because nobody wants to lose homecoming. So it only makes sense when the “SNL” Christmas lineup features as co-hosts two of the show’s most famous alums who have developed quite the comedic partnership, and as musical guest one of the most iconic rock stars of all time who has a beloved Christmas song in his arsenal. It would take a lot of effort to screw this one up.

Republican Presidential Debate – The GOP primary circus is a bit of a boon but also a formidable challenge for “SNL’s” political machine. The endless supply of candidates ensures plenty of buffoonery but makes for material that is by definition unfocused. Sketches that cruise through a menagerie of characters are reliable for a few laughs, but they are rarely classics. The best political moments have one or two star impressions. Who is the star of this sketch? Is it Darrell Hammond dropping in for his iconic Trump, Beck Bennett as a wimpy Jeb Bush, or is the star the lack of a true star? The best impression is probably Jay Pharoah’s Ben Carson, but he does not have the screen time to show for it. This is all to say, there is plenty of quality here, but it’s all just crowding each other out. B-

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SNL Recap February 18, 2012: Maya Rudolph/Sleigh Bells

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As always, Worst in Show went to Ralph.

Cold Opening – New York Sports Now
If this was an accurate representation, then I didn’t realize how Lin-sane these puns have been.  Instead of introducing the racial insensitivity aspect, I think I would have preferred if they would have just continued with the punning, which, while not particularly unique, would have been steadily goofy.  Instead, it settled into a stale formula. B-

Maya Rudolph’s Monologue
Another singing monologue?  Ah, well, I guess it’s Maya. B-

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