Posts Tagged ‘Jenny Slate’

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Landline

In this 90’s-set ensemble dramedy, a woman (Jenny Slate) learns of her father’s affair while having one of her own. There’s a lot of talent on screen, with Jay Duplass, John Turturro and Edie Falco rounding out the top billing, but the movie never seems to alchemize its components into something more.

It’s a pleasant and charming enough film, doing interesting work with its web of familial and romantic relationships. Turturro and Falco, in particular, shine as two halves of a strained marriage.

It never quite pops though, resulting in a film that seems to simply exist and then  promptly evaporate when the credits roll.

Grade: C+

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Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press

It’s a tough time to be in the news business. Budgets are tight, left bare by the departure of traditional revenue sources, and the national readership is increasingly lacking in media literacy. According to Nobody Speak, those factors create an opening for the rich and powerful to bury the Constitutionally-protected voices that challenge them.

It’s a growing and disturbing trend expertly documented by director Brian Knappenberger, who focuses on the Hulk Hogan sex tape lawsuit that shuttered Gawker before spiraling outward to include the Silicon Valley billionaire that bankrolled that lawsuit as a personal vendetta, the Las Vegas casino titan that secretly purchased Nevada’s major newspaper to tailor coverage to his worldview, and finally to newly-inaugurated President Trump, who was pledged to “open up” libel laws to make it even easier to torpedo news outlets with crippling lawsuits if they step out of line.

For media junkies, the documentary is catnip. But to even the casual observer of politics and the free press it’s a chilling warning that the worst days for transparency are ahead of us.

Grade: A-

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In Loco Parentis

There’s a long tradition of the quirky school documentary at Sundance, but even within the limits of that at-times tired formula, In Loco Parentis woos with its charm and subtlety.

Set at a boarding school in Ireland, In Loco Parentis takes a fly-on-the-wall approach, soaking in the daily life of the school, with a particular focus on a married teaching couple in the twilight years of their careers. The decidedly European education style is half the fun, as the magicless Hogwarts nature of the boarding school differs from the traditional American school system. But the directors are also able to capture the special something that makes schooling special as kids open their eyes to a world of music, art, literature and discovery.

Grade: B

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Tell them We Are Rising: The Story Of Historically Black Colleges And Universities

Stanley Nelson is an extremely accomplished documentarian who is unafraid to capture difficult subjects. That said, his latest film, Tell Them We Are Rising, is boringly dull in its telling of America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs.

The first two-thirds of the film play like a discount Ken Burns, full of black and white still photos backed by dramatic voice-over reading of journal entires and other texts. It’s an extremely important subject and an often ignored piece of U.S. history, but by the time the film hits the modern era, injecting the screen with living images and color, the feeling of drag has already set in.

Grade: B-

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Chasing Coral

There’s any number of great documentaries out there that make the case that mankind is making devastating and potentially irreversible changes to the global ecosystem. Chasing Coral makes for a worthy addition that list, narrowing its focus to the damage that climate change inflicts on our oceans, in particular the life-giving coral that sustains marine activity.

It begins with the underwater photography of Richard Vevers before touching on the widespread bleaching that is occurring around the world. That leads to an Ocean’s 11-style assembly of a team to capture underwater time lapse of the bleaching in order to proof, in vivid detail the catastrophe occurring underwater.

It’s increasingly depressing stuff, as the vibrant and breathtaking coral scenes make way for images of death and decay. But the film allows for some optimism at the end, highlight the efforts underway to reverse climate trends, and a call to arms to push back against the dying of the light.

Grade: B+

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Wilson

Woody Harrelson’s “Wilson” is the type of movie that people will either love or loathe. The laughter in the screening venue proved that there are plenty of the former, while my own experience and the groans of patrons exiting afterward confirm a significant shareof the latter.

Harrelson stars as the titular Wilson, a loud-mouthed buffoon with no regard to personal boundaries or polite norms. After his father dies and his friend moves out of state, Wilson realizes he’s alone, prompting him to seek out his ex wife (the fantastic Laura Dern), which leads to the discovery that his presumed-aborted daughter is alive and living with an adoptive family.

The comedic punches lie solely on the shoulders of Harrelson, who plays his character in an uncomfortable grey area between clueless and mental illness. Dern elevates every film she’s in, but too much weight is carried by Harrelson, who prattles of an unending stream of listless dialogue. It has its moments, but they are very few and too far in between.

Grade: D

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One of the more memorable moments of 2007’s Juno comes at the close of the film’s first act, when our titular protagonists arrives at a clinic to undergo an abortion procedure, walks past a classmate chanting “All Babies Want to Get Borned” and is so unnerved by the idea of fingernails in utero and pie-smelling junk that she abandons her plans and commits to carrying her unborn child to term.

Without necessarily trying to be, that scene is quite indicative of how the subject of abortion is predominantly treated by Hollywood, which despite it’s lingering image by the conservative right as a lurid cesspool of progressive liberal villainy is overwhelmingly pro-life (this point has been made more articulately by other writers, such as Amy Nicholson).

Juno MacGuff is an edgy, wise-cracking character cooked up by an elaborately tattooed former-stipper, but when faced with the moral dilemma of ending the life growing inside her she chooses the physical discomfort and social exile that comes from a teen pregnancy: a decision increasingly uncommon to that of her off-screen peers.

Which is what makes Obvious Child so interesting, in that it is so ordinary. Aspiring comedienne Donna Stern (Parks and Rec’s Jenny Slate) gets dumped by a philandering boyfriend and rebounds via a drunken tryst with Max (The Office’s Jake Lacy), resulting in an unplanned pregnancy. No worries, there’s a Planned Parenthood nearby.

The internal conflict that results from Donna’s little biological miracle is not the moral quandaries of life and death. Instead, it’s the fear of a painful procedure, the anxiety over whether or not to tell Max about her pregnancy, the angst of disappointing her parents and the financial implications, since Donna is a Williamsburg millennial with student loans.

That’s the drama. The fun comes from the cringe-worthy honesty of Jenny Slate’s ebullient comedy style, manifested in occasional stage routines that include frank discussions of gender, culture and sexuality and girl-talk with bestie Nellie (Gaby Hoffman, playing a very Gaby Hoffman-type character).

It’s a perfect showcase for Slate, who has existed just outside the spotlight since her brief stint on Saturday Night Live (she infamously dropped an accidental F-bomb during her debut appearance and was politely shown the door at the end of the season).

And despite it’s cast of characters, Obvious Child is very much a one-woman show, placing a heavy burden on Slate’s shoulders to deliver the funny. Best of all, she succeeds.

Grade: A-

*Obvious Child opens in Salt Lake City theaters on Friday, June 27.

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