Let’s face it. Saturday Night Live is limited in showcasing the talent of their stars. Fred Armisen was doing double-duty as the only vaguely Latino or Asian person on the show. He created memorable characters but his true genius was not realized until Portlandia premiered.
Portlandia is Armisen’s collaboration with Sleater-Kinney musician Carrie Brownstein. The two skewer hipsters, pop culture, and the Pacific Northwest in this sketch comedy series that celebrates the beauty and weirdness of Portland, Oregon. Vegans, bike enthusiasts, and etsy craftmakers are all fair game for parody.
The series has a lot of slice of life moments of various parts of Portland. Toni and Candace are the bumbling owners of the feminist bookstore Women & Women First. The actors swap genders and play Nina and Lance, a high-maintenance girl and her biker boyfriend. Armisen and Brownstein even play fictionalized versions of themselves that work with the Mayor (Kyle MacLachlan).
Tons of amazing actors appear as guest stars in the series including Roseanne Barr, Jeff Goldblum, Jim Gaffigan, Matt Lucas, Steve Buscemi, and Chloë Sevigny to name a few.
The series makes fun of all of the most obnoxious elements of hipsterdom while still respecting that they’re part of our culture. Armisen and Brownstein prove they are amazing comedians, pop culture enthusiasts, and sociological commentators.
All three seasons are available on Netflix.
It is really hard to care about a movie when it seems like everyone involved doesn't seem to particularly care about it either. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to kids' movies relying on peeing-in-the-pool jokes and exaggerated facial expressions to try and coax a chuckle out of its audience.
The third movie based on the popular books by Jeff Kinney is a series of vaguely related vignettes that chronicle the misadventures of Greg Heffley (Zach Gordon) the eponymous wimpy kid. Whether or not the disjointed nature of the script is because it is based on two of Kinney's books — The Last Straw and Dog Days according to his website — is beside the point; the fact remains that it's a mess and perhaps one last cash grab at the series before its stars age out of their roles.
Greg's main problems are that his crush Holly (Peyton List) didn't get a chance to leave her entire number in his yearbook before she was whisked away and that his dad Frank (Steve Zahn) wants him to do something other than play video games all day. His solution is to tag along with his friend Rowley (Robert Capron) to the fancy country club where Holly teaches tennis lessons to kids. As a bonus Greg tells his dad he's got a job there too. However he's kind of a putz so his problems are really his fault and caused by him lying and generally acting like a jerk to people like Rowley. Rowley is of course dorky and chubby and feels terrible when he lies and is generally a good kid; he's supposed to be a comic foil or a sidekick but it's really hard to rustle up any sympathy for such a poorly written and acted character. The role itself is thankless; the round-faced nerd with the bowl cut who really loves his parents (albeit to an uncomfortable degree) and is a loyal friend is never going to be the real hero of the story.
The most pressing issue is that Greg is not a very compelling character. He's not really "wimpy" or unpopular or anything that would show he's as put-upon by the world as the title indicates; that would have at least opened up the opportunity for a discussion about bullying or something of that nature. He's not beleaguered he's exasperating. In fact pretty much all of the characters are. This is not drama that will lend itself to some grand epiphany but the father/son arc is so weak it's difficult to believe that they're having significant problems or that it means anything when they finally see eye to eye.
There is a small but insidious mean streak in the movie as well. An early scene shows Greg hunting for his little brother in the men's locker room at the local pool and his discomfort at the scenes around him — Men with hairy backs! Men clipping their gross yellowed toenails! — illustrates a squeamishness that sets off a few alarm bells. Yes it's scary and weird to see the bodies of naked strangers especially when your own body is about to be going all crazy growing hair and zits and weird stuff but the way it's played for laughs is downright icky. Later Greg's brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) pretends to be drowning to get the attention of his crush and ends up getting CPR from an older man a gesture that leaves Rodrick practically gagging. The idea that it's weak and therefore unmanly to have love for one's parents and value honesty (as per Rowley) or engage in selflessness (as per the CPR-giver) isn't really disproved by the end. Greg makes amends with Rowley and Greg realizes that his dad isn't perfect either and that it really is better to be honest and loving towards your friends and family but it's all as hollow as a Hallmark movie that wraps everything up in time for the commercial break.
The acting is about as good as you'd expect. Gordon reacts to almost everything with a sort of wizened/constipated look that may call to mind Woody Allen or some other menschy type but it doesn't fly. Zahn has an occasionally funny moment that some adults will pick up on but that's about it. Bostick reprises his role as Greg's older brother Rodrick who is a sort of mall punk desperate to impress Holly's horrible older sister Heather (Melissa Roxburgh). Bostick is sort of funny although this seems like the role that will probably embarrass him in years to come especially his performance in one of the very few entertaining scenes in the whole movie. (It involves pyrotechnics prissy sixteen-year-olds and a bug-eyed version of "Baby.") The talented Rachael Harris is saddled with the thankless job of playing the matriarch of this brood; she spends her scant time onscreen with a toddler on her hip imploring her husband and/or son to communicate and so forth.
It's hard to not be cynical about kids' movies and studios looking to make a quick summer buck and Dog Days is a great example why. There are plenty of other interesting things for you and your family to enjoy in theaters this summer; really you would actually be better off staying home and playing video games with your kids than seeing Dog Days.
While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
The comedy, based on Jeff Kinney's illustrated books about a quick-witted school kid, played by Zachary Gordon, scored top marks with an opening weekend take of $24.4 million (£15.25 million), leaving Sucker Punch trailing in second place with $19 million (£11.88 million).
Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro's movie Limitless slipped from one to three in its second week on release, while Matthew McConaughey's The Lincoln Lawyer took fourth place.
Johnny Depp's animated children's film Rango rounded out the new top five.