TV Review: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2018)


TitleUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Release Dates: 2018
Season: 4, part 1
Number of Episodes: 6
Summary/Review:

Netflix recently released 6 episodes of what it says will be the 4th and final season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (another 7 episodes will be released in January 2019).  While not quite Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, the half-season definitely has the feel of a contractual obligation rather than hilarious and insightful comedy of the first three seasons. Very little in these episodes made me laugh and the social commentary is smug rather than observant.

A key theme of the season thus far is women’s rights and sexual harassment, which is very topical, but the humor is done poorly.  For example, in the first episode, Kimmy in her new HR job tries to fire a male employee in a “friendly way” that comes off in classic sexual harassment tropes.  The joke completely misses the mark and is doubly unfunny since it doesn’t recognize Kimmy’s own history of sexual abuse by the Reverend.  Speaking of the Reverend, he returns in the third episode, a laugh-free parody of a cheap documentary by a famed DJ who looks to the Reverend as a hero, and eventually turns the documentary into a mens’ rights crusade.  As much as people (rightly) like John Hamm, the biggest mistake of this series is having the Reverend character return after the first season.

In other plotlines, there is a continuing mean spirited line of jokes about nerds (because punching down makes good satire?) which culminates in the punchline of Titus saying that nerds are actually real people with real feelings.  Titus, Jacqueline, and Lillian seem to be treading water through these episodes which is disappointing since they’re all portrayed by wonderful actors who have brought so much growth to these characters over three seasons.  It’s unfair to reduce them to caricatures of themselves at this point.

Tina Fey’s previous serious 30 Rock hit a low point before recovering and finishing strong in it’s final season.  One hopes that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt can accomplish the same feat in a more compressed time period.

Rating: *1/2

Previously Reviewed:

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Movie Review: Ant-Man (2015)


TitleAnt-Man
Release Date: July 17, 2015
Director: Peyton Reed
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Ant-Man is the 12th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, introducing Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Hank Pym (Michael Douglass), and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) into the MCU.  This may be the best “origin story” movie of the MCU and one of the funniest as well.  Lang is an idealistic cat burglar trying to stay clean after a stint in prison so he can reconnect with his young daughter.  Pym cleverly recruits him into putting his heist skills to work by introducing him to the Ant-Man suit and the ability to communicate with ants (this is not a movie for myrmecophobics!).  Pyms estranged daughter Hope helps with training Lang while also working with Pym’s rival Darren Cross (Corey Stoll).

There’s some interesting digital manipulation in a flashback scene at the beginning of the movie that brings back the appearance Michael Douglass of the his 1980s peak.  Douglass is rather hammy in his acting though.  However, Stoll is far worse,  as even for a comic book villain there’s absolutely no nuance to his portrayal as anything other than an evil psychopath.  Rather unoriginally, Pym and Cross’s story is basically a recreation of the first Iron Man movie.

Luckily, there’s Paul Rudd there to make things interesting and funny.  The concept of a “shrinking person” exploring a world where microscopic things are now giant is not new, but in this movie it’s filmed well with a lot of whimsy and attention to detail.  Pop culture artifacts such as Siri, Thomas the Tank Engine, and the classic Disneyland attraction Journey Thru Inner Space make interesting cameos. Michael Peña steals every scene he’s in as Lang’s former cellmate and member of his heist crew, Luis.

I look forward to seeing the sequel this summer, especially since it will rightfully be expanding Lilly’s role as an equal partner.

Rating: ***1/2

TV Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events (2018)


TitleA Series of Unfortunate Events
Release Dates: 2018
Season: 2
Number of Episodes: 10
Summary/Review:

The second year of this Netflix series adapts books five through nine.  As such, it suffers some of the problems as the books in the repetitiveness of the plots and the extreme frustration with the adult characters’ persistent obliviousness and casual cruelty.  Neil Patrick Harris’ hammy performance as Count Olaf has its moments but too often veers into just plain annoying (especially in The Vile Village when he’s disguised as Detective Dupin).

But this series is saved by the women.  In The Austere Academy, Kitana Turnbull as Carmelita Spats is absolutely hilarious as the evil, secretly cake-sniffing brat. Then in The Ersatz Elevator, Esme Squalor makes her debut as the most-stylish villain, wonderfully portrayed by Lucy Punch who basically steals the screen from Harris for the rest of the series (no small feet).  One of the biggest changes from the book is greatly expanding and changing the role of Olivia Caliban, played by Sara Rue, into a librarian at Prufrock Academy who becomes a VFD agent and delightful – if short-lived – ally of the Baudelaires.

Another great addition to the cast for this season is Nathan Fillion as Jacques Snicket which allows for a long-awaited reunion with Harris of rivals from Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.  Isadora and Duncan Quagmire make their debut, although there part is smaller than I remember in the books (perhaps I’m conflating with later books in the series?). But the Baudelaires are what really makes this show succeed: Malina Weissman as Violet Baudelaire, Louis Hynes as Klaus Baudelaire, and the greatest toddler actor ever, Presley Smith as Sunny Baudelaire.  This season shows them grow as characters, becoming more confident in their abilities, and willingness to stand up against those cruel, clueless adults.

The show remains a visual treat and is full of more memorable gags than I can document here. This show was made to be GIF-ed on Tumblr.

 

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Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)


TitleHot Tub Time Machine
Release Date: March 26, 2010
Director: Steve Pink
Production Company: United Artists
Summary/Review:

I’d be wanting to see this movie for some time even though I knew it was a low-brow, grossout movie. Still, I’m the target demographic for “men nostalgic about the 80s,” I like time travel stories, and I like the cast.  The most interesting choice in making this movie is to have all the characters be so unlikable but have them played by likable actors.  The mind spins as one finds oneself rooting for these jerks.  And while these men returning to 1986 to relieve a weekend as their younger selves is the key part of the film, it doesn’t really feel like the film reached the potential it had to say something about past & present, youth & adulthood.  It doesn’t even really seem like they tried to make it feel like the 1980s, although there are parallels to 80s comedies like Back to the Future and Weird Science. There are some good gags, but even with low expectations I’m underwhelmed by how Hot Tub Time Machine fails to explore the possibilities of its premise.

Rating: **

Movie Review: Mascots (2016)


Title: Mascots
Release Date: October 13, 2016
Director: Christopher Guest
Production Company: Netflix
Summary/Review:

Christopher Guest returns with a new “mockumentary,” this time set at a competition of sports team mascots from around the world convening in Anaheim.  Those of you who’ve watched movies like Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss or Robin Hood: Men in Tights may recognize the feeling I had of watching something that resembles the beloved movies that preceded them but just don’t have the laughs.  I think one reason is that there seems to be less of an attempt by Guess and co to make this look like a documentary, and it feels more scripted. Secondly, while community theater (Waiting for Guffman), a dog show (Best in Show), or a folk music concert (A Mighty Wind) are all set in reality that’s familiar, I don’t think there really is international mascot competition, and even if there is one, everything in this movie is designed to make it look totally fake.  Finally, there’s a cynical feel to the movie overall where the sense I got is that your supposed to think all of these people are losers and be happy to see them fail. The conclusion is all the more odd when Tom Bennet’s character puts on a lovely performance as Sid the Hedgehog. The scene doesn’t go for the big laugh that’s expected and nothing prepares one for the fact that this movie is actually trying to have heart.  The sad part is that a lot of the regulars returning for Mascots (Guest, Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, et al) really seem to be trying, but just missing the mark. Only Chris O’Dowd consistently made me laugh, perhaps because he was playing the character who clearly didn’t care.

Rating: *1/2

Movie Review: Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)


TitleCaptain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Release Date: 2017 June 2
Director: David Soren
Production Company: Dreamworks Animation
Summary/Review:

The extremely silly and slyly satirical Captain Underpants books are brought to the big screen in the epononymously-declared first of what will be many movies.  I’ve enjoyed the books as much as someone who was already an adult when they were first published, but I find the adaptation questionable.  Mostly, for a movie with a theme of the importance of laughter, the laughs are few and far between (albeit there are some undeniably hilarious moments).  The sense of superhero satire is lost in the final act when it is subsumed to the type of big action adventure climax they’re supposed to making fun of.  I give it a “nice try” but know that from the source material there is a better movie to be made.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Cool Runnings (1993)


TitleCool Runnings
Release Date: 1993 October 1
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

This comedy is loosely based on the Jamaican bobsled team’s unlikely performance at the 1988 Winter Olympics. It is disappointing that with a true life story worthy of movie, that all the characters and most of the details depicted are entirely fictional.  That being said, the fictional story has a good cast of archetypal characters: Derice (Leon Robinson) – the talented sprinter with Olympic dreams and endless optimism, his friend Sanka (Doug E. Doug) – the laid back champion push cart racers, Junior (Rawle D. Lewis) – the wealthy kid who is frightened to challenge his father’s plans for his future, and Yul (Malik Yoba) – the tough guy with the heart of gold.  Add to this John Candy as a successful American bobsledder who surrendered his medals after a cheating scandal in 1972 and is living in Jamaica working as bookie until Derice recruits him to be their coach.  This was the last movie released before Candy’s death and it’s interesting that he’s mostly the straight man and that his performance adds some gravitas to the movie.

Most of the humor comes from the mix of this group of characters working together, with the rest of course coming from the unlikelihood of people from a tropical nation attempting to compete in a winter sport that they’ve never done before.  Nothing can top the dialogue when they step outside for the first time in the subzero temperatures of Calgary:

Derice Bannock: Sanka mon, whatcha smoking?

Sanka Coffie: I’m not smoking, I’m breathing!

It is a bummer that in the effort to add more conflict to the already fictionalized story, the Jamaican bobsledders are treated with derision by the other athletes and have to jump through hoops to qualify due to Candy’s character’s history of cheating.  Not only is this contrary to real life when other athletes were supportive of the Jamaican team, but it’s also just unnecessary to the narrative. Still it’s a funny, inspirational movie and for an 80s kid very nostalgic – from the bold color patterns on the winter clothing to the inevitable slow clap at the climax of the movie.

Rating: ***

 

Movie Review: Jumanji


Title: Jumanji
Release Date:December 15, 1995
Director: Joe Johnston
Production Company: Interscope Communications
Summary/Review:

I watched this for the first time with my son although the story felt very familiar due to cultural osmosis.  The basic plot begins in 1969 when a boy named Alan discovers the board game and begins playing with his friend Sarah, ending up sucked into the jungle within the game.  26 years later, the siblings Judy and Peter (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce) discover the game in Alan’s former house and begin playing, releasing Alan from the jungle.  Alan (Robin Williams) is an adult now with experience in jungle survival but still emotionally a child.

Together they find Sarah (Bonnie Hunt) to finish the game and reverse the damaging effects, releasing on each roll of the dice wild animals, choking vines, an a sadistic Edwardian hunter, Van Pelt (perhaps the most draw-dropping moment of satire is how easily he acquires a semi-automatic weapon at a New Hampshire gun store). A subplot of the film focuses on the police officer Carl (David Alan Grier) who attempts to reign in the chaos engulfing the town while his new police cruiser is gradually demolished by the fauna and flora unleashed by the game.

I feel like the filmmakers could’ve have gone for an enjoyable, over-the-top spectacle, or they could’ve used the game to delve into deeper issues and development of the characters. What they made instead is an uncomfortable hybrid that feels very episodic.  They do focus on Alan’s struggles to connect with his father and Judy and Peter grieving their parents’ death, but those scenes don’t integrate well with the more madcap Jumanji adventure scenes.  I think it’s those problems that have made the movie merely memorable instead of the classic it could’ve been.

Rating: **1/2

 

Movie Review: Groundhog Day (1993)


TitleGroundhog Day
Release Date: 12 February 1993
Director: Harold Ramis
Production Company: Columbia Pictures
Summary/Review:

I hadn’t watched Groundhog Day since the 1990s so I figured the 25th anniversary of its release would be a good time to see if it has held up.  The first thing I noticed about the movie is that the production is very 80s/90s, and OMG! Bill Murray looks so young!  The story is familiar, seeped into our culture by now. We see egocentric meteorologist Phil Connors head to cover the Groundhog Day ceremony and then he has to live that same day again and again and again, until he learns a lesson and does it right.  The thing that’s always impressed me is that Phil doesn’t repeat the same day for a week or two, but it’s implied that he’s caught in the loop for thousands perhaps tens of thousands of times. It’s also impressive that the filmmakers were brave enough to never offer an explanation of how or why Phil gets caught in the loop (or how he gets out), it just happens.

Groundhog Day is more melancholy than I remembered.  It moves very smoothly among madcap comedy, romantic comedy, and a more solemn reflection on mortality and morality rather seamlessly.  Much of this is due to the versatility of Bill Murray who can offer both wacky and gravitas depending on the situation.  I guess Groundhog Day  set him up for these type of roles that he’s become more well-known for in his later career in movies such as Rushmore and Lost in Translation.

So it turns out that Groundhog Day is actually better than I remembered and a deserved classic.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Paddington (2014)


TitlePaddington
Release Date: 28 November 2014
Director: Paul King
Production Company: Studio Canal
Summary/Review:

While a lot of family films these days seem to focus on the lowest common denominator of fart jokes and rock music standards, this adaptation of Paddington strikes a nice balance between being faithful to source material with a contemporary appeal.  In fact, it feels a lot like the family films of the 1970s and 80s.  A prologue to the film where an explorer meets Paddington’s aunt and uncle in Peru in what appears to be the 1930s adds to this feeling because the main part of the film is supposed to be 40 years later which would place it in the 1970s although what’s on the the screen is clearly London in the 2010s.  Setting aside this chronological confusion, Paddington is a delight with well-timed slapstick humor and a lot of heart as Paddington finds a place with the quirky Brown family. There’s also a subtle commentary of the reception of immigrants in modern England, not just with Paddington but other characters such as an antique store owner who’s suggested to have fled Nazi persecution and a diagetic group of buskers whose mambo tunes comment on Paddington’s situation.

The thing that keeps the movie from being great is a plot involving Nicole Kidman as an evil taxidermist from the Natural History Museum eager to make her mark by stuffing a new species for display in the museum (namely, Paddington).  While this leads to the climax of the movie where the Brown family rallies to save Paddington, I think the movie would’ve been stronger if the filmmakers had the confidence that the story of Paddington adjust to life in London would be enough to carry the movie.

Rating: ***

TV Review: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2017)


Title:  Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Release Dates: 2017
Season: 3
Number of Episodes: 13
Summary/Review: The third season of the Netflix comedy series continues to be laugh out loud funny and thought-provoking.  Despite having her name in the title, at this point the show is about more than Kimmy Schmidt, but equally the stories of four major characters.  Kimmy continues to seek her place in the world attending college at Columbia University, but really wants to become a crossing guard after a test says it’s her most suitable job.  She finds a new romantic interest in Perry (Daveed Diggs) but her past with the Reverend (John Hamm) continues to haunt her.  Titus (Titus Burgess) returns from performing on a cruise ship unwilling to talk about what happened there and breaks up with Mikey (Mike Carlsen) in a ploy to win him over that backfires.  Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) continues to use her privilege for good and attempt to get the Washington Redskins to change their racist name, but hits a snag when an accident makes her fiance Russ (David Cross) more handsome causing him to become more shallow.  Lillian (Carol Kane) becomes a city councilor fighting gentrification, but ends up falling for Artie (Peter Riegert), the owner of the new high-end grocery store in the neighborhood.

There are a lot of funny plots and gags, but not everything goes well.  One of the most publicized gags of the season is Titus “Lemonading” but there seems to be no joke here other than a large, black man reenacting Beyonce’s music video.  There have been times in the past when I’ve wondered if Tina Fey is secretly Republican and that continues here.  The depiction of Columbia University students as social justice warriors who suppress free speech comes straight from Fox News and Breitbart.  Artie is presented as a compassionate millionaire bringing groceries to the poor and Lillian a loony leftist (although I do appreciate Reigert’s performance with his charm and dry humor).  On the other hand, the attempt to depict the NFL team owners as rightwing loons also misses the mark, so maybe Fey just can’t do political humor without being ridiculous and over the top.

All the same, I love these characters and their stories.  Excluding the “Lemonade” gag, Titus Burgess remains one of the funnies people on tv.  I look forward to seeing where the show goes in its next season.

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Movie Review: Sing (2016)


Title: Sing
Release Date: 21 December 2016
Director:  Christophe Lourdelet, Garth Jennings
Summary/Review:

Zootopia used a city of anthropomorphic animals as the setting for a socially-conscious police procedural, and Sing does essentially the same thing for the musical comedy, albeit not as sophisticated. Koala Buster Moon is a show biz impresario who decides to save his decaying theater by staging a talent competition.  Cue audition scenes followed by rehearsals with quirky core group of ambitious talent: a soulful gorilla who does not want to be part of his father’s bank-robbing gang, a punk rock porcupine more talented than her self-centered boyfriend, an overworked mother of 25 piglets looking for a chance to express herself, an exuberant, Teutonic pig in sparkly dance leotards, and a shy, teenage elephant with a strong voice.

The movie is full of gags and generally funny enough to entertain both children and adults.  But it also contains some serious undertones and cynicism about show business that seems a bit heavy, especially a terrifying scene in which the theater is destroyed.  The movie has it’s flaws, among them a soundtrack that switches frenetically among popular songs (the licensing bill must’ve been huge) and is a bit a bloated at nearly two hours in length.  But it’s better than the sum of it’s parts with some joyous musical performances, especially in the final performance at the end of the film.
Rating: ***

TV Review: BoJack Horseman (2016)


TitleBoJack Horseman
Release Dates: 2016
Season: 3
Number of Episodes: 12
Summary/Review:  This is the third series of the animated Netflix show that is laugh out loud funny, acerbically satirical, emotionally raw, and thoroughly depressing.  Two plots are intertwined through the series: BoJack making the circuit of appearances in hopes of getting an Oscar nomination for the biopic of Secretariat and flashbacks to 2007 when BoJack helped create a tv show that flopped (kind of eerie how the show makes 2007 feel like a long time ago!).  Both plots deal with BoJack’s inability to feel happiness, his capacity for self-sabotage, and his unreliability to friends and colleagues.  Looking back on the season it seems so glum, it’s hard to remember that there was a lot to laugh about, but BoJack Horseman is all about using humor to peel back the most painful wounds.  The highpoint of the season is episode 4, “Fish Out of Water,” where BoJack goes to a film festival in a community under the sea and thus there’s almost no dialogue in the entire episode as the undersea world is brought to life with fantastic visuals, sound effects, and music.  It’s a tour-de-force in what is a really well-done season of television.

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Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)


Title: Ghostbusters
Release Date: 15 July 2016
Director: Paul Feig
Summary/Review:

When I heard a new Ghostbusters movie was being made I was hoping it would be 30 years later and due to turnover they had a new crew, mostly because I’m tired of reboots.  But what I think about things doesn’t really matter because the makers of this movie have managed to make a Ghostbusters film (and a Ghostbusters origin story) that is totally fresh and original. There are lots of moments that pay tribute to the 1984 original – such as the firehouse, the Ghostbusters logo, Ecto-1, Slimer, and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man – but after the first moment of recognition these things are subverted in humorous ways.  The original cast also all appear in cameo roles (even the late Harold Ramis appears as a bust). But  despite all the nostalgia this Ghostbusters stands on its own with original ideas, a terrific script, and laugh out loud lines.

What really makes Ghostbusters terrific are the characters and the actors who play them.  There’s Erin (Kristen Wiig), the academic who appears alternately awed and enthused that her lifelong belief in ghosts is vindicated.  Abby (Melissa McCarthy) is an unabashed nerd.  There’s a special place in my heart for Patty (Leslie Jones) who brings her encyclopedic knowledge of the history of New York to the team.  But pretty much every scene is stolen by Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and her blasé weirdness. The main plot involves a villain who is using the ghosts to extract revenge on people  who made fun of him growing up, which is wonderfully contrasted with the Ghostbusters who also have tortured pasts but come together in solidarity and use their “outsider” traits to benefit the common good. It also can’t be overstated how important for girls and women to see themselves represented as funny and heroic in a movie like this.
Rating: ****

Movie Review: Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016)


Title: Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
Release Date: 22 July 2016
Director: Mandie Fletcher
Summary/Review:

“Oh god, I can’t believe you’re still…alive!” sputters Jon Hamm  to Patsy Stone at a party in this film adaptation of the long-running BBC comedy.  In a way it’s kind of an appropriate response to the continued existence of Absolutely Fabulous.  The premise of a pair of aging baby boomers deluding themselves into believing that they are popular, fashionable, and can party non-stop was delightfully absurd in the 1990s, but it seems inconceivable to continue the same story 25 years later. Luckily, the movie takes on aging and mortality – as well as the human connections lost while trying to grasp youth – as one of its theme, but this is still AbFab so they don’t get too mushy about it.  The basic plot is the Eddie kills model Kate Moss by pushing her into the Thames and she and Patsy have to go on the run.  Hijinks ensue with a number of one-liners and visual humor (I particular like when Saffy is forced to sing Janis Ian’s “Seventeen” to a club full of drag queens).

There are numerous celebrities appearing in cameos and small parts including Lulu, Gwendolyn Christie, Mark Gatis, Hamm, Rebel Wilson, and Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna) as well as lots of fashion models and designers I’ve never heard of before (apparently Paul McCartney has a daughter named Stella who is a fashion designer and she gets one of the best quips in the movie when she implies that Patsy broke up the Beatles, not Yoko Ono).  Ultimately, this is an extended length AbFab episode with higher production values.  Fans of AbFab will enjoy it,  but there’s nothing here for anyone who doesn’t like AbFab and anyone who’s not watched the show will be out to sea. It’s no comic masterpiece but I got a few laughs and a chance to renew my long-time crush on Julia Sawalha.
Rating: ***

Movie Review: Dope (2015)


Title: Dope
Release Date: 19 June 2015
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Summary/Review:

Growing up in “The Bottoms” of Inglewood, California, Malcolm and his friends Diggy and Jib get good grades, play in a punk band, and are obsessed with 1990s hip hop music and fashion.  As geeky misfits they have to navigate themselves around bullies, drug dealers, and gang members on a daily basis.  When a young woman invites Malcolm to a drug dealer’s party at a nightclub, they find themselves in the middle of a shootout and with a backpack filled with Molly and a gun.  All sorts of hijinks ensue as the trio attempt to get rid of and then sell the drugs. It’s reminiscent in many ways of teen comedies of the 1980s updated with contemporary references. It’s probably most analogous to Risky Business, but since I always hated that movie I’ll point out that it shares commonalities with Real Genius in the ways the young protagonists use their smarts to outwit and outsmart everyone else.  While this movie is laugh out loud funny, grim realities are close to the surface and it does not shy away from depicting gun violence, drug use, and the frequent use of the n-word.  This is a pretty spectacular movie on all levels – script, acting, cinematography, and the brilliant use of music.

Rating: ****

TV Review: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2016)


TitleUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Release Dates: 2016
Season: 2
Number of Episodes: 13
Summary/Review:

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is  the type of tv comedy that if you explain the premise it sounds like it would be absolutely awful, but somehow it works. In the first season Ellie Kemper’s titular character is rescued from an underground bunker where she’s been held for 15 years after being abducted as a child by a doomsday cult leader.  With the naivete of a child from the 90s in a woman’s body, she decides to move to New York where she successfully finds a place to live, a job, studies for a GED, and even finds love (although most of this falls apart by the end of the season).

In season 2, Kimmy’s characteristic cheerfulness and optimism begin to break as she’s unable to suppress the trauma of her childhood and the stress of trying to hold her new life together.  And yes, as I said above this is a comedy, but one that deals with deep and dark issues hilariously, in a manner that is just dense with jokes. Part of the success of the show is the ensemble cast of Kimmy’s friends and colleagues.

There are three standout characters.  Jane Krakowski plays the Manhattan socialite Jacqueline Voorhees having divorced on Kimmy’s advice is now trying to work her way back into wealth and power but with a nagging sense of conscience thanks to Kimmy.  Krakowski has always played funny characters in the past but she brings a lot of depth to Jacqueline who could otherwise easily be a vapid caricature.  Kimmy’s landlady Lillian Kaushtupper is played by Carol Kane who has a much bigger role in this season and just may be favorite character.  Throughout the season Lillian tries to stop gentrification in her neighborhood but only ends up making matters worse as incoming hipsters consider her charming local color.  Finally, a new character Andrea portrayed by show creator and writer Tina Fey is a straightlaced therapist by day and an obnoxious drunk.  Again, it’s a premise that sounds ridiculous, but Fey provides a realistic portrayal of addiction while keeping it funny, and provides a foil to Kimmy dealing with her own inner demons.

Not everything works. The episode “Kimmy Goes to a Play!” is a mean-spirited response to critics of the show who objected to casting a white actor as a Native American in the first season.  Kimmy finally consummates her relationship with on-again/off-again boyfriend Dong in episode 8, and then his character is deported and never mentioned again.  But overall this a sharp and unique comedy that will have you laughing but also keep you thinking.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Easy A (2010)


TitleEasy A
Release Date: 2010
Director:  Will Gluck
Summary/Review:

This movie was described to me as the high school comedy interpretation of The Scarlet Letter.  The story begins when 17 y.o. Olive tells her friend that she lost her virginity to a fictional college boyfriend.  Word gets out and Olive suddenly has a bad girl reputation.  Soon Olive is pretending to be sexually involved with several boys in order to help their reputations (that is for one boy to cover that he’s gay, for another that he’s an overweight loser, and so on).  Enjoying the attention and also making a statement about double standards and rumor mongering, Olive begins wearing more revealing clothing with the letter A stitched on.  A series of improbable but hilarious events ensue.

It’s a good mix of high school comedy with biting satire, and a fun way of addressing some serious topics such as bullying, gossip, and teen sexuality.  The movie is episodic but it’s tied together by the wit and charm of the lead actor Emma Stone.  And it’s really funny.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Fight Club (1999)


Title: Fight Club
Release Date: 1999
Director:  David Fincher
Summary/Review:

Scratch this off the list of movies everyone has seen except me.  Not that I hadn’t already known the basic plot details of the movie for some time.  Still that made it fun to watch for evidence of the big twist before it was revealed.  Of course there are things I didn’t know about like Helena Bonham Carter’s character and her significance in the movie (and why does every Helena Bonham Carter have black rings around her eyes?) And oh my, that final scene wouldn’t have gone over well if the movie was made a couple of years later.  This movie of course is a stylized and violent satire of masculinity and consumer culture.  I think it hits a few points pretty well, misses the mark on others, but basically is an interesting story with good acting and direction.

 

Rating: ***

TV Review: BoJack Horseman (2015)


TitleBoJack Horseman
Release Dates: 2015
Season: 2
Number of Episodes: 12
Summary/Review:

The first season focused on BoJack & Diane writing his memoirs, but the second series is more scattered in focus ranging from BoJack starring in a Secretariat biopic, Mr. Peanutbutter’s new game show (created by J.D. Salinger!), Todd getting involved in an improv comedy cult, and even an entire episode built around jokes about auto-erotic asphyxiation (disturbing, but surprisingly funny and touching too).  Over the course of the season both BoJack and Diane go in a downward spiral.  On the upside, Princess Carolyn and Mr. Peanutbutter get a lot of great character development. The best episodes are “After the Party” showing the stories of three couples after a disastrous party and “Hank After Dark” a takedown of the culture that protects celebrities from allegations of sexual assault (featuring a thinly-disguised Bill Cosby character).  The show gets darker and more serious while still being incredibly funny.  I eagerly look forward to season 3.