Who’s Feeling ‘Spirited’? Let’s Find Out!

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No spirits for you! (CREDIT: Apple TV+)

Starring: Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer, Sunita Mani, Patrick Page, Joe Tippett, Andrea Anders, Marlow Barkley, Tracy Morgan, Aimee Carrero

Director: Sean Anders

Running Time: 127 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: November 11, 2022 (Theaters)/November 18, 2022 (Apple TV+)

Right before seeing Spirited, I walked a few blocks past the theater and picked up a gelato milkshake. It was my first Christmas movie viewing of the season after all, and I wanted to feel festive. Now, it may be true that I didn’t order a candy cane variety or any other seasonal flavor, and it’s also true that I eat ice cream pretty much year-round anyway. But this shake managed to hit the spot I was seeking nonetheless. Anyway, I think the added sugar may have helped me stay awake the whole time, so I have to say thank you baby Jesus, because we’re talking a 2-hour-plus runtime here! Anyway, this riff on A Christmas Carol managed to pull off a minor heist, and the main love story was not what I would have guessed, so it’s got that going for it.

Grade: 2.5 Milkshakes out of 4 Bags of Popcorn

It’s Adorable But Deadly Aliens vs. An Adorable But Scatterbrained Couple Attempting to Disconnect in ‘Save Yourselves!’

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Sunita Mani in “Save Yourselves!” (CREDIT: Bleecker Street)

Starring: Sunita Mani, John Paul Reynolds

Directors: Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R for Profanity Screamed When Discovering a Little Alien

Release Date: October 2, 2020 (Theaters)/October 6, 2020 (Digital)

Young adults sure are so stuck in their own worlds that they could easily miss an entire invasion of aliens or monsters or some other army of supernatural creatures. I don’t think this is a generational thing. I suspect all people of past, current, and future generations are liable to succumb to this when they’re in their twenties and thirties. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if this pattern really started to take hold as cultural norms shifted to where they are now, with marriages happening later in life and job stability frequently in flux. There’s so much uncertainty about becoming a responsible adult! That was certainly the case in 2004’s Shaun of the Dead when zombies snuck their way into a land thick with ennui, and it’s a hot topic once again in Save Yourselves! as little killer furball aliens find themselves up against a millennial couple in the midst of a technology detox.

John Paul Reynolds in “Save Yourselves!” (CREDIT: Bleecker Street)

Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Paul Reynolds) are your basic Brooklynites who think it would be really good for themselves to head to an upstate cabin in the woods where the Internet is unplugged and the cell phone service is nonexistent. Reynolds is an especially smart casting choice here, as he’s best known for the sitcom Search Party, which has a similar (though much more biting) satirical lens as Save Yourselves! Writer/directors Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson frame Su and Jack as somewhat worthy of ridicule, but they also present them as kind of adorable. They’re agitated by the daily grind of modern life and their own annoying habits, but they also make an effort to listen and be affectionate to each other. We’re primed to be on their side!

Before the aliens arrive, it’s fun to watch Su and Jack struggle to keep straight the rules of unplugging. Among their quandaries is the classic of: are you allowed to refer to an online listicle that you saved from earlier, or is that off-limits because it originated on the internet? At a certain point, though, their antics do grow a little tiresome. Luckily, the real stars of the show are those extraterrestrials. They’re basically little piles of hair (think the Tribbles from Star Trek) with tongue-like appendages hidden within their fluff that are as deadly as a gunshot. Su and Jack’s attempts to engage with them are as fraught as any life-or-death situation, but also as silly as any slapstick scenario could possibly be. The creatures have a weakness for alcohol that our heroes do their best to exploit, but they’re also so bizarre and foreign and just plain adorable that it seems like there’s just no way to figure out what to do with them. It’s a metaphor for our times, methinks. Modern life is overwhelming and pretty much impossible to navigate no matter how much you are or are not plugged into the Information Overload.

Save Yourselves! is Recommended If You Like: Shaun of the Dead, Search Party, Furbys

Grade: 3 out of 5 Pouffes

‘The Death of Dick Long’ is Another Triumph of Bizarre Odds From ‘Swiss Army Man’ Director Daniel Scheinert

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CREDIT: A24

Starring: Michael Abbott Jr., Virginia Newcomb, Andre Hyland, Sarah Baker, Jess Weixler, Roy Wood Jr., Sunita Mani, Poppy Cunningham, Janelle Cochrane

Director: Daniel Scheinert

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Rating: R for Casual Cussing and Discussions of an Unusual Medical Accident

Release Date: September 27, 2019 (Limited)

The Death of Dick Long is a lot like director Daniel Scheinert’s last film, Swiss Army Man (which he co-directed with Daniel Kwan), which famously starred Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse. Dick Long is similarly interested in the prurient nature of life as a human being on Earth. But I can’t tell you any more than that. Not because the people who worked on the film or the studio reps at A24 asked me not to. They didn’t have to. What starts as a Coens-esque dark comedy about a couple of bumbling fools who have no idea how to clean up a bloody, possibly criminal mess evolves into a meditation about how everyone always deserves to be treated like a human being, no matter how abnormal their predilections are.

Dick Long is indeed dead. He’s dead almost from the get-go. That’s not the part that needs to be kept secret. The wretched state that his buddies Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr.) and Earl (Andre Hyland, who comes across like a redneck Mikey Day) leave him in at the hospital after a wild night together suggests that foul play was involved. But Zeke’s efforts to not upset anyone and Earl’s generally blasé attitude suggest that someone else, or something else, may have been responsible for Dick’s demise.

Most of the film consists of Zeke’s wife (Virginia Newcomb), Dick’s wife (Jess Weixler), and a couple of police detectives (Sarah Baker and Janelle Cochrane) doggedly attempting to suss out exactly what happened. They eventually uncover a whole lot more than any of them or any of us bargained for, and this revelation could easily lead to a hail of gross-out humor or condemnation. But instead, the whole affair concludes on a note of “People sure are inscrutable on their insides.” It’s altogether stunning how little The Death of Dick Long grossed me out and how much I found it moving. The magic of cinematic empathy extends far and low.

The Death of Dick Long is Recommended If You Like: Swiss Army Man, Fargo, Raising Arizona, Unexpectedly deep humanism

Grade: 4 out of 5 Car Seat Blood Stains