Movie Review: “Sisters”

Starring
Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ike Barinholtz, Maya Rudolph, James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, Bobby Moynihan, John Cena
Director
Jason Moore

For two actresses with such undeniable chemistry, it’s downright criminal that it’s been seven years since “Saturday Night Live” alumni Tina Fey and Amy Poehler last made a film. That film, 2008’s “Baby Mama,” was cute, but it was also terribly safe. Their new film “Sisters,” meanwhile, is quite possibly the most profane female-driven movie ever made, an apology of sorts for “Baby Mama.” The story also allows Poehler and Fey the ability to play themselves as well as each other, like a raunch-com version of “Face/Off.” As ridiculous as that sounds, it works incredibly well.

Kate Ellis (Fey) is in a bad way. Living on a near-stranger’s couch, her own daughter Haley (Madison Davenport) doesn’t even want to spend time with her. Kate’s saintly sister Maura (Poehler) is divorced, and basically hiding from the world. Kate and Maura’s parents (James Brolin and Dianne Weist) tell Maura that they’re selling the Orlando home they grew up in, and Kate and Maura decide to throw one last party, only Maura guilts wild child Kate to be the designated sober house mommy after Maura meets cute with new neighbor James (Ike Barinholtz). When they get to the house, they discover that it’s already been sold to an insufferable young couple (though they haven’t moved in), but that only strengthens their resolve to throw the party. The party begins as a wake (literally) but turns into a rager, and as it continues into the night, new information comes to light that causes Kate and Maura to rethink both the party and each other.

It was very smart to have Fey and Poehler go against type here. Think of Fey in “Mean Girls” as the straight-laced Precalculus teacher, and then think of Poehler as the “cool mom,” who lets her pre-tween daughter watch “Girls Gone Wild.” The script here is not exactly flipped, but it is mixed up. Maura is impossibly sensible, and until now has never let loose once in her life. Kate is a hothead who always has a reason for why she’s never to blame. In a nutshell, both women made it impossible for anyone to typecast them from here on.

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Movie Review: “Inside Out”

Starring
Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Richard Kind, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
Directors
Pete Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen

“Inside Out” has a sweet, entertaining story at its core, but it requires one of the characters to act like a complete idiot in order to set it into motion, and no matter how enjoyable the rest of the movie may be – and thankfully, it is – those acts will linger in the back of your mind, which, come to think of it, the filmmakers might find ironically funny. It’s not, though; it’s a shortcut, the kind of thing Pixar steadfastly avoided in their storytelling for well over a decade, and now that they have been getting their asses kicked by their peers at Disney Animation (“Frozen,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Big Hero 6”) for the last three years, you’d think that they would come up with a better story than this. And to be fair, they came up with a good concept; it just has a bad setup.

As Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias) is born, we see her emotions being “born,” as it were, in her head. The first two, as one might imagine, are Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), but they are soon joined by Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black, in the part he was born to play), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Most of the time, Joy is in charge of Riley’s emotions because Riley lives a charmed life, but when Riley’s father moves the family from Minnesota to San Francisco for a work opportunity, Riley’s emotions are all out of whack, a problem that is worsened when Sadness continues to taint core memories so that they turn from happy ones to sad ones in Riley’s mind. In her attempt to stop this from happening, Joy tries to take control of the situation, but in the process, she and Sadness accidentally get transferred to Riley’s long-term memory and far away from the control panel, leaving Fear, Anger and Disgust in charge. Riley becomes an emotional wreck, and the longer Joy is away, the worse things get.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Failed Pilots with All-Star Casts

As the new TV season rolls out, let’s take a look back at a few series that never actually made it on the air. Not that there aren’t plenty such series every single year, but sometimes you look back and wonder, “How could a show with all of these talented people not get on the schedule?” Not that we have an answer to that question, you understand, but at least we can all be mystified and annoyed together.

Next! (2001)

Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Fred Armisen, Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn, Nick Swardson
What you missed out on: After Bob Odenkirk and David Cross decided to put a bullet in their HBO sketch comedy series, “Mr. Show” (that’s right, it was their decision, not the network’s), the guys attempted to go their separate ways, with Odenkirk setting up shop at Fox with a pilot for a new sketch comedy series. If you think the above names are impressive, consider that several other “Mr. Show” alumni were in tow as well, including Jerry Minor, Jay Johnston, and Jill Talley, with Patton Oswalt also participating in some capacity or other. And, yes, if you’re wondering, Cross made an appearance in the pilot, too. So what happened? Apparently, Fox basically flipped a coin to decide which new sketch comedy series they’d add to their lineup, and “Cedric the Entertainer Presents” won the toss. Oh, what might’ve been…

North Hollywood (2001)

Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Poehler, Kevin Hart, and Judge Reinhold as himself
What you missed out on: Judd Apatow has never been ashamed to admit that the only reason that this pilot ever came into existence is that Fox refused to let him cast Jason Segel as his lead in the short-lived but highly-regarded “Undeclared,” but you can’t say he didn’t do his best to surround Segel with top-notch talent. Segel, Amy Poehler, and Kevin Hart played roommates, with Segel a struggling actor, Hart a struggling actor/comedian, and Poehler serving as Judge Reinhold’s personal assistant. There’s a more detailed look at the pilot here, but the long and the short of it is that, although Apatow admits that he really didn’t know if there was a decent series to be had in “North Hollywood,” he thinks the pilot’s pretty decent, but its tone didn’t match the sitcoms filling ABC’s lineup at the time, so they took a pass on it.

Saddle Rash (2002)


Starring: H. Jon Benjamin, Sarah Silverman, Todd Barry, Mitch Hedberg
What you missed out on: Created by Loren Bouchard, best known to animation fans as one of the creative forces behind “Home Movies,” “Saddle Rash” seemed to have all the elements necessary for a successful Adult Swim series, so why didn’t it make it beyond the pilot stage? Was it that westerns weren’t exactly in vogue at the time? Was there some sort of stigma attached to the project because they brought in country artists to continued voice work (including Waylon Jennings as a very special guest in the pilot)? Whatever the case, the pilot got aired – no doubt mostly because Adult Swim has a tendency to air just about every pilot it orders, whether it actually ends up going to series or not – but that was the end of the trail for the series.

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Weekly Web Series Review: Smart Girls at the Party

Described by host Amy Poehler as “a celebration of real friendship, real fellowship, and a kind of community with other girls,” the web series “Smart Girls at the Party” is a kind-hearted, fun and educational program for kids and their parents alike, but especially for young girls. Often specifically focusing on girls who enjoy activities traditionally thought of as being more for boys, the series enjoyed a significant viewership boost in its first season when it introduced its youngest interviewee, seven-year-old Ruby, who speaks precociously about feminism. Its most-viewed episode to date features a 14-year-old boxer named Precela, and another highlight features a young robotics engineer named Rachel.

These are the “girls who are changing the world by being themselves,” in the words of Poehler, who hosts the show with the tongue-in-cheek seriousness of a news anchor before ending each episode with a dance party. Along with producer Meredith Walker and musical director Amy Miles, Poehler explores the special talents and interests of each girl – or in a few episodes, groups of girls – and interviews them, always ending on a “very serious question,” such as “pizza or cotton candy?” or “which is cuter, a baby panda or a baby monkey?” However, despite poking fun at self-serious interview questions, the series never makes fun of the girls or treats them or their interests with cynicism or irony. Instead, it clearly aims to imbue its young audience with a sense of self-worth and individuality, without being boring or preachy.

Now in its second season, the series has markedly improved from its first few episodes, adding a “World Famous 20 Second Song” segment for Miles and boasting higher production values. There are also some familiar faces in the dance parties that parents will enjoy spotting, including Poehler’s husband Will Arnett (who returns from the first season), as well as her “Parks and Recreation co-stars Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Rashida Jones and Aubrey Plaza. Look closely and you’ll also spot folks like Jon Hamm, David Cross and Jack McBrayer in later episodes. With its own new channel on YouTube, “Smart Girls at the Party” is slicker and more fun than ever, and is highly recommended for viewing with children, especially daughters, between the ages of five and fifteen.

  

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