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Catching Up on 2016: Josh Reviews Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

April 10th, 2017
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In Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Andy Samberg stars as Conner Friel.  Conner used to be “Kid Conner” in a popular three-person group, the Style Boyz, along with Lawrence “Kid Brain” Dunn (Akiva Schaffer) and Owen “Kid Contact” Bouchard (Jorma Taccone).  But the group broke up, and while two of the boys faded into obscurity, Andy Samberg’s “Kid Conner” morphed himself into Conner4Real and became a global superstar.  But while Conner is on the top of the world at the start of the film, as you can imagine, things are about to come crashing down around the ears of the oblivious, self-absorbed and self-obsessed superstar.

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This film didn’t make much of an impact when it was released this year, but I thought it was terrific.  This is Spinal Tap is the first and last word on fake, funny music documentaries, but Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping finds a lot of places to mine for big laughs in this parody of modern pop silliness.

I’m not that familiar with the Lonely Island team, but all three members do great work here in this film.  Andy Samberg has demonstrated his movie-star chops in films like Celeste and Jesse Forever, and these days he is doing fantastic work every week on the terrific Brooklyn 99.  He’s effortless in bringing Conner to life.  Mr. Samberg is incredibly skilled at playing charming and self-absorbed, and his comedic timing is incredible.  I was less familiar with the other two members of the Lonely Island team, but both Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone do absolutely terrific work.  They’re both so funny and so invested in their characters.  All three men have an extraordinary chemistry together, and Popstar works as well as it does because of the wonderful rapport that the three leads have with one another.  It’s a pleasure to see them on screen together.

Beyond the three leads, there is a wealth of spectacular comedic actors who appear in supporting roles.  This film’s cast is a king’s ransom of riches.  Tim Meadows is slyly hysterical as Conner’s manager, while Sarah Silverman plays it very deadpan as Conner’s publicist.  Bill Hader gets big laughs in a few small scenes as a bumbling roadie.  The great Joan Cusack only has a few moments as Conner’s mom, but boy is it great to see her on-screen as always.  Imogen Poots is fun as Conner’s girlfriend Wednesday, and Justin Timberlake kills as Conner’s chef.  Will Arnett, Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Kevin Nealon, Mike Birbiglia, Chelsea Peretti, and many other familiar faces pop up throughout the film.

Then there are also a million famous faces from the music world who all appear as themselves.  Snoop Dogg, Questlove, RZA, 50 Cent, … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Movies of 2016 — Part One!

I am very excited to present my list of my Twenty Favorite Movies from 2016!  While I don’t think 2016 was quite as strong a year for movies as 2015 was, there were still a heck of a lot of great movies released this year!  I debated cutting back and presenting a list of my fifteen favorites this year, but I found that I was easily able to fill a list of twenty, just as I did last year.

Though I have seen a ton of movies in 2016, as always there is still a boatload of movies that I wanted to see but didn’t get to.  These include Silence, Live By Night, Fences, Twentieth Century Women, Collateral Beauty, Moonlight, The Edge of Seventeen, Rules Don’t Apply, Hidden Figures, Everybody Wants Some!, Keanu, Denial, War Dogs, American Pastoral, Frank & Lola, Cafe Society, Whisky Tango Foxtrot, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and more.  So if you’re wondering why any of those films aren’t on this list, well, now you know.  I am hopeful that I will be able to see many of those films I just listed in the coming weeks, but I couldn’t wait any longer before publishing this list.

Meanwhile, there were plenty of wonderful 2016 movies that I did see and enjoy and yet didn’t make this list.  Those include Jackie, Green Room, The Lobster, Midnight Special, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Office Christmas Party, For The Love of Spockand many others.  (In a few weeks, after I finish posting my Best of 2016 lists, I’ll be posting reviews of many of the films that I saw in my end-of-the-year rush to catch up with as many 2016 films as I could.)

Honorable Mention: Brooklyn This was a 2015 film that I didn’t get to see until well into 2016.  But if I had seen it earlier, it surely would have been one of the top films on my 2015 list.  This gentle story of a young Irish immigrant to the U.S. in the nineteen-fifties was gorgeous and very moving.  Saoirse Ronan makes an extraordinary impression in the lead role, elevating herself from great character actor to true movie star.  In a modern era in which so many American politicians like to demonize the “other,” fostering suspicion and mistrust of anyone not born in the United States, Brooklyn tells a story that brings the immigrant experience to life in a positive way.  This is an important film, and one that is truly alive with joy and pain and a wealth of human emotion.  I loved it.  Click here for my full review.

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20. The Jungle Book[continued]

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Back in 2010, I had a hard time coming up with ten movies I liked enough to put on my Top 10 Movies of the year list.  Last, year, in 2011, I thought there were so many great movies that I had a Top 15 list (and I even squeezed in a few extra movies by including several ties).  I thought 2012 was another fantastic year at the movies.  I could have easily had a Top 20 list this year, but I thought that might have been excessive.

There were a lot of great films I saw in 2012 which didn’t make this list, including: Silver Linings Playbook, Wanderlust, Skyfall, This is 40, Ted, Chronicle, Paul Williams Still Alive, and many more.

As always, I also like to make mention of the many films that interested me that I just didn’t get a chance to see in 2012.  These include: Killing them Softly, Flight, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Hyde Park Hudson, Butter, Hitchcock, Wreck-It Ralph, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Holy Motors, Smashed, Detention, and Savages.  So if you loved one or more of those films are are wondering why they’re not on my list, well, now you know.

Here now is my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2012:

15. The Five-Year Engagement This film has really grown on me since I first saw it, early this year.  I love how unusual its structure is — whereas most romantic comedies keep the two main characters apart until the very end, this movie starts with Tom (Jason Segel) proposing to Violet (Emily Blunt).  Things go downhill for there.  For a romantic comedy, this film goes into some grim territory — since much of the movie is about the happy couple slowly growing apart, there are certainly some parts of the film without a lot of yuks.  That threw me a bit the first time I saw the film, but I have come to really love and admire this film for its weird structure and premise.  And while there certainly are a few serious moments in the film, everything else is is pretty much jam-packed with big laughs and wonderful, very memorable characters.  Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation) and Alison Brie (Mad Men, Community) steal the film as Tom’s best-friend and Violet’s sister, who meet at Tom and Violet’s engagement party and quickly fall in love, get married, and have kids before Tom and Violet even make it to the altar.  (Chris Pratt singing to Alison Brie at their characters’ wedding is one of my favorite moments I’ve seen onscreen all year.)  But wait, this film also has substantial, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Celeste and Jesse Forever

September 24th, 2012
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What a fantastically enjoyable surprise this little movie was!  A romantic (but not really romantic) drama that is very funny (but which I wouldn’t really call a comedy), Celeste and Jesse Forever is a wonderful little film for adults.  It’s somewhat raunchy and juvenile but also remarkably sophisticated and unexpected, eschewing the usual romantic comedy formula for something a little messier, a little rougher-around-the-edges.  I loved it!

The film was written by Rashida Jones (who made her bones on The Office and is now a part of the spectacular ensemble on Parks and Recreation) and her friend Will McCormack (check out this article that explores the pair’s relationship, much of which served as an inspiration for the film’s story), and stars Ms. Jones as the titular Celeste and SNL’s Andy Samberg as Jesse.

Rashida Jones was instantly terrific on The Office, and she’s been pretty great in some supporting film roles recently (such as I Love You, Manclick here for my review, and My Idiot Brotherclick here for my review), so it’s great fun to see her take a leading role.  She’s spectacular, able to be extremely funny while also able to absolutely convincingly sell the film’s dramatic moments.  But she’s been great in everything I just mentioned, so this isn’t a huge surprise.  What is a surprise is how fantastic Andy Samberg is.  Of course it was clear he could be funny, but I think he gives a terrific performance creating a very fleshed-out character in Jesse.  He knows when to flash his huge grin, but he dials back his zaniness to just the right level, creating a character who is a lovable goofball but very much a human being.  When it comes to the dramatic moments, he’s every bit Ms. Jones’ equal.  I love their chemistry in the film — I could watch these two actors play off of one another all day long.  There are some early moments between the two that are so funny (their weird German-accented menu-reading, and of course their off-color lip-balm routine) that it’s pretty impossible not to buy into the idea that these two are soul-mates, made for one another.  Which of course is the point.  Which makes the fact that the film is all about their NOT being together all the more agonizing.  Which, again, is sort of the point.

Obviously I’m not going to spoil the ending (well, at least not before my big spoiler warning a few paragraphs from now), but I am not ruining anything to note that five minutes into the film we learn that Celeste and Jesse are very much not together as a couple.  What follows … [continued]

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Josh Reviews I Love You, Man!

In I Love You, Man, Paul Rudd plays Peter Klaven, an LA real estate agent who discovers, after getting engaged to his girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones), that he doesn’t really have any male friends he could ask to be his groomsmen.  With some help from Zooey and his brother Robbie (SNL‘s Andy Samberg), Peter embarks on a series on “man-dates” to try to find some guy friends.  After a bizarre but amusing encounter at one of his open houses, Peter strikes up a friendship with Sydney Fife (Jason Segal).  Not suprisingly, this new friendship quickly throws much of the rest of Peter’s life into disarray.

The success (and high quality — the two don’t always go hand-in-hand, you know!) of Judd Apatow’s films (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) have really sparked a wave of truly excellent comedies in a similar style.  But while these could have all wound up being pale imitations of Apatow’s films, it has been quite remarkable to see actors from his ensembles continue to work together and collaborate with other talented actors, writers, and directors to produce additional high quality films. I Love You, Man is certainly a prime example of this.

Directed by John Hamburg (who directed several episodes of Apatow’s brilliant TV series Undeclared, as well as the film Along Came Polly, which I must admit to having had no interest in seeing) and written by Hamburg and Larry Levin (who wrote the classic Keith Hernandez episode of Seinfeld, “The Boyfriend”), I Love You, Man feels very similar in tone to me to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which was released last year at almost exactly this time, and which also starred Paul Rudd and Jason Segal.  (Sarah Marshall was produced by Judd Apatow, although I Love You, Man was not.)  Both films have a real sweetness to them, while also being uproariously funny.  That blend of sweetness with fierce comedy is, to me, a big part of what I referred to a moment ago as the “Apatow style.”  Another mark of that style is a loose, almost improvisational feel to a lot of the comedy and the dialogue (Paul Rudd’s lengthy, intensely hilarious riff on the phrase “slapping the bass” in I Love You, Man is a prime example of what I’m talking about).

Of course, a big part of the “Apatow style” has also been the growing ensemble of brilliant actors who have filled out his films.  Rudd and Segal have both appeared in many previous Apatow works (Segal was in Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, Rudd was in The 40 Year Old Virgin, and both appeared in Knocked Up), … [continued]