A hot dog sausage and his bun girlfriend realize that their existence at the Shopwell’s supermarket is based on a lie – those groceries that humans bring out of the store are not saved, but eaten. A 3D animated comedy targeted at adult audiences, a very raunchy, foul-mouthed spoof of Disney/Pixar movies. Filled with the expected stoner and sex jokes that are part of every Seth Rogen comedy. Some of it is funny, and those looking for food-related puns will get their fill… but what makes other Rogen movies more satisfying is an emotional core. This one’s too childish.
2016-U.S. Animated. 89 min. Color. Directed by Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon. Screenplay: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir. Voices of Seth Rogen (Frank), Kristen Wiig (Brenda), Jonah Hill (Carl), Bill Hader, Michael Cera, James Franco… Danny McBride, Paul Rudd, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek.
Twentysomething Amy Townsend (Amy Schumer), who wouldn’t dream of having a relationship, is assigned to write an article on a sports doctor (Bill Hader). Comedian Schumer’s first movie script is a treat in the hands of Judd Apatow who’s shown a knack for creating films that are funny, heartfelt and has roles for women that break typical Hollywood moulds. This is especially true here where Schumer plays a role that’s been traditionally reserved for men, which is weird since she’s hardly playing a female freak of nature. On the contrary, she’s utterly believable and engaging. Hilarious and sweet at times, with excellent supporting performances and a nice turn by Hader as the leading man.
2015-U.S. 125 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel. Directed by Judd Apatow. Screenplay: Amy Schumer. Cast: Amy Schumer (Amy Townsend), Bill Hader (Aaron Conners), Brie Larson (Kim Townsend), Tilda Swinton, Colin Quinn, John Cena… Ezra Miller, Norman Lloyd, LeBron James, Cliff “Method Man” Smith, Daniel Radcliffe, Marisa Tomei, Matthew Broderick.
Last word: “It was [Apatow’s] encouragement and his confidence in me that gave me this faith that I could maybe write a movie. I wrote one and it was about what was going on with me at that time in my life — and then more life happens. It’s kind of evolving all the time, and Judd said, ‘Why don’t you write about what’s going on with you now? Why don’t you write a real personal tale?’ So I did. It’s really just a lot of stuff I was learning about myself at the time I was writing. A lot of it’s very autobiographical, especially the family stuff.” (Schumer, Biography)
In 2009, director Pete Docter had completed and released the phenomenal Pixar film Up when he started noticing things about his preteen daughter Elie. She was becoming more shy and reserved, going through a process that Docter recognized from his own childhood. As he looked into the science behind what it is in our minds that form a personality, the idea for a new movie started taking shape. It was a gamble for Pixar, becoming the first project that lacked input from two of the company’s key figures, Steve Jobs (who passed away in 2011) and John Lasseter (who was busy elsewhere). There was also concern over how to market a film like this, Pixar’s thematically most ambitious.
When Riley is born one day in Minnesota, she enters life with a set-up of emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger, who are all manifestations in her mind, or Headquarters as it is known to this motley bunch. They all influence Riley in different ways, using a control console. When the girl is 11, she and her parents move to San Francisco, and things begin to happen. Joy and the other emotions have never quite understood the purpose of Sadness, but suddenly she’s becoming more active in ways that look accidental. When she causes Riley to cry in front of her class as she’s describing a memory from Minnesota, Joy is horrified to see this core memory turn “blue”. Riley’s memories consist of little orbs that carry the specific colors of each memory’s dominant emotion. Before this new sad memory orb reaches the central hub where it is stored, Joy tries to get rid of it… but then disaster strikes.
Adults will relate in more ways
It’s not the easiest story to recap, especially when you consider how this is a movie that’s meant to be understood and appreciated by children. Hopefully they’ll enjoy the surface (colorful characters, the 3D action, the comedy) and maybe even grasp part of the message, which is it’s OK to feel sad sometimes; there’s nothing wrong with that. Adults will relate to this movie in more ways, as it will remind them of their own childhood, make them think about how their own kids are developing and understand some of the science behind it. Docter and his collaborators spent a lot of time crafting the concept and consulted psychologists, including Paul Ekman who has written about our core emotions in the past. Turning them into characters in the movie is a smart and fun idea, although there are moments when the boisterous comedy of each emotion, except Sadness, becomes a tad strained or overly noisy. Still, the filmmakers found the perfect cast to bring their personalities to life. The most memorable character however is Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend (who’s part elephant, part cotton candy, among other things), an absurd figure who becomes of invaluable help to Joy later in the film; Richard Kind is hilarious and heartbreaking in that role. It’s interesting to see how Docter’s films are connected, from how a child’s fear was explored in Monsters, Inc. (2001) to kids bonding with older generations in Up; as in those movies, there’s also always a fun, creative adventure, be it in a city of monsters, or South America, or deep inside the mind of a little girl. The film’s depth of emotion is reinforced by Michael Giacchino, who has once again written a beautiful theme that is cleverly variated throughout.
The last truly great Pixar film was Toy Story 3 (2010), and the studio seems to have gotten sequels on its brain just like the rest of Hollywood. Which is why it’s a relief to see an original project like Inside Out work out so well. It is a true Joy to watch.
Inside Out 2015-U.S. Animated. 94 min. Color. Produced by Jonas Rivera. Directed by Pete Docter. Screenplay: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley. Music: Michael Giacchino. Voices of Amy Poehler (Joy), Phyllis Smith (Sadness), Richard Kind (Bing Bong), Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling… Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Frank Oz, John Ratzenberger.
Trivia: Poehler and Hader are credited for having written additional dialogue.
Oscar: Best Animated Feature. Golden Globe: Best Animated Feature. BAFTA: Best Animated Film.
Last word: “We had earlier versions where they had a microphone at the console, and would suggest things she should do or say. That got us into a big problem. The story is told from a parent’s point of view. We needed Joy to have this loving relationship with Riley. If Riley’s a big robot Joy can control, that’s a lot less understandable, so we stripped all that out. It also mirrors the way our own emotions work. We don’t choose to be angry, it happens to us, but what we do with that is up to us.” (Docter, The Dissolve)
Recruited by the world’s most successful inventor, Flint Lockwood and his friends return to their island where a habitat of living food animals has formed. A contrived sequel if there ever was one, but considering how crazy the first movie was – why not? The filmmakers are having a lot of fun with the food animals and the journey to the island has amusing echoes of Jurassic Park (1993) with more food jokes than there are grains of sugar on a doughnut. The motley gang of friends that Flint gathers for the expedition is also fun, the film is well-paced and the island is colorfully designed in 3D.
2013-U.S. Animated. 95 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Cody Cameron, Kris Pearn. Voices of Bill Hader (Flint Lockwood), Anna Faris (Samantha Sparks), James Caan (Tim Lockwood), Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt… Neil Patrick Harris, Terry Crews.
When an aspiring inventor comes up with a machine that turns water into all kinds of foods, he accidentally makes it so powerful that it shoots up into the sky and creates a cheeseburger rain over his island; fun at first, the machine becomes dangerous. A wacky adaptation of a children’s book that turns into a full-blown adventure where the island and the world needs rescuing from pasta tornados and what not. Attractively animated in 3D, very funny, and it also works as a social commentary on our wasteful way of life. The film takes advantage of its concept to the fullest and has a lot of charm; Bill Hader makes the lead character both hilarious and adorably dorky.
2009-U.S. Animated. 90 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Pam Marsden. Written and directed by Phil Lord, Chris Miller. Book: Judi Barrett, RonBarrett. Voices of Bill Hader (Flint Lockwood), Anna Faris (Samantha Sparks), James Caan (Tim Lockwood), Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, Mr. T… Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, Lauren Graham, Will Forte.
Last word: “Some of hardest stuff was the spaghetti tornado, just getting all the software for that and all the R & D that was put into that scene. The inside of the Jello mold where light had to refract and reflect and the surface had to warble. They’re using this new raytracer software called Arnold, which calculates light as it bounces off of surfaces. When the surface is changing and warbling and it had to recalculate every frame and almost blew up the computers because it was so difficult. The giant ‘Foodalanche’ that happens when the dam breaks…” (Miller on the film’s challenges, Coming Soon)
This prequel to Monsters, Inc. (2001) takes us back to school; the story has our two monstrous heroes meeting for the first time as students attending Monsters University. They take an instant disliking to each other, but are forced to work together as a team when they’re close to getting kicked out of school. A pretty slim excuse for a follow-up to the first film, but very appealing for kids and amusing as a satire of college life. Introduces a few new characters (including a strict dean voiced by Helen Mirren) and Billy Crystal and John Goodman seem comfortable in their comeback efforts.
2013-U.S. Animated. 103 min. Color. Directed by Dan Scanlon. Voices of Billy Crystal (Mike Wazowski), John Goodman (James P. Sullivan), Steve Buscemi (Randall “Randy” Boggs), Helen Mirren, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray… Sean Hayes, Alfred Molina, Bonnie Hunt, John Krasinski, Bill Hader.
When an alien criminal (Jemaine Clement) escapes from his lunar prison, Agent J (Will Smith) has to go back in time to 1969 to save K (Tommy Lee Jones)… and the Earth. Ten years after the last movie in the franchise came another sequel – which was more fun and had a better story. There’s a few breakneck chases (in 3D), wild aliens (including an amusingly grotesque performance by Clement as the villain) and it’s fun watching Smith and Jones work their old charm. Josh Brolin is a perfect choice to play the younger Agent K. Not blindingly original stuff, but having the Apollo 11 launch as part of the climax is a nifty idea.
2012-U.S. 105 min. Color. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Cast: Will Smith (J), Tommy Lee Jones (K), Josh Brolin (Young K), Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emma Thompson… Nicole Scherzinger. Cameos: Bill Hader, Will Arnett.
Trivia: Alec Baldwin and Sacha Baron Cohen were allegedly considered for parts.
After trying to kill himself, struggling L.A. actor Milo (Bill Hader) moves in with his estranged sister (Kristen Wiig) and her husband (Luke Wilson) in New York. The director’s second feature was a hit at Sundance and provides a perfect showcase for the two former Saturday Night Live talents in the leads; their friendship makes them very believable as brother and sister trying to repair their relationship. At the core of it, this is obviously a dark story about the shortcomings of our lives, but it also has plenty of charm and laughs, including an irresistible rendition of Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”. Appropriately autumnal locations in Halloween time.
2014-U.S. 93 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Stephanie Langhoff, Jennifer Lee, Jacob Pechenik. Directed by Craig Johnson. Screenplay: Mark Heyman, Craig Johnson. Cast: Kristen Wiig (Maggie), Bill Hader (Milo), Luke Wilson (Lance), Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook, Joanna Gleason.
Trivia: Anna Faris was allegedly first cast.
Last word: “I could never do a fully improvised movie — there’s some filmmakers that do that, they just write an 8-page treatment and go off and do it. That would freak me out too much, so I always have a script that’s really specifically written, but then once we get on set I love it when actors riff on the lines and ad-lib things and put things into their own words. I encourage them to do that whenever they want, and if it doesn’t work, I’ll pull them back onto the script, or sometimes, there’s a few instances where I say I’d like to do this just on-book, as it’s written. But I find that improv, when working with such world-class improvisers – it just makes everything better. It makes everything more real, natural, and really a lot more funny. I mean, some of the funniest stuff, for me, in ‘Skeleton Twins’, is some of the improvised stuff.” (Johnson, Salon)
Schmidt and Jenko (Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum) are back undercover, this time at a college where they’re looking for a dealer who’s been supplying students with a deadly new drug. The sequel to 21 Jump Street (2012) has such a loose attitude that it’s a wonder the two stars even remember their characters’ names. Tons of inside jokes that culminate in a very funny closing credit sequence where they send up potential future sequels! Hill and Tatum’s male bonding reaches new lovable heights, but the story is boring and it’s all extremely uneven.
2014-U.S. 111 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Phil Lord, Chris Miller. Cast: Jonah Hill (Morton Schmidt), Channing Tatum (Greg Jenko), Peter Stormare (Ghost), Ice Cube, Amber Stevens, Wyatt Russell… Dave Franco. Cameos: Patton Oswalt, Queen Latifah, Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Seth Rogen.
Trivia:21 Jump Street stars Richard Grieco and Dustin Nguyen appear in cameos.
Anyone who’s ever tried to meet someone online, especially if that someone doesn’t live close to you, recognizes the feeling. It’s as if the conversations and flirting isn’t entirely real; you’re talking with someone, getting to know one another, but it’s still just words exchanged, words that may be laden with romance… but you never really know. It’s when you finally meet in person that your feelings are either confirmed or bitterly refuted. This is a film about what happens when those romantic conversations can’t be confirmed by a physical presence.
In the near future, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) works as a copywriter at BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, a company that specializes in writing letters for people that don’t know how to express themselves. Shortly after divorcing Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore buys a new operating system with artificial intelligence and chooses a female voice for it. After the installation, the OS introduces itself to Theodore and picks a name, Samantha. They immediately hit it off and Samantha quickly goes from being a helper in Theodore’s life to a companion. Emotions between them grow stronger, which is happening to other users as well worldwide…
Inspired by Kaufman Apparently, Spike Jonze got the idea from reading about Cleverbot, an app that you can talk to online; that’s what shaped the technological backbone of the story. As for the emotional fabric, he was inspired by his frequent collaborator Charlie Kaufman who, when making Synecdoche, New York (2008), tried to put everything that came to his mind at a given moment, ideas and feelings, into the script. That really didn’t work for Kaufman’s movie, but it does help make the relationship between Theodore and Samantha credible and down to earth in this film, recognizable to anyone who has ever loved. Jonze has a sense of humor about it as well, because a deadly earnest approach to a story about the love affair between a man and his operating system would kill the movie. Jonze takes the story as far as you can expect and leads us to conclusions that make sense. One of the depressing things about it is that it feels so close to our own times; we are obsessed by our smartphones, tablets and social media that the allure of isolation might grow stronger the better the software gets. Scarlett Johansson, who provides the voice of Samantha, is so attractive that we understand why Theodore would reject real women over her. Phoenix delivers a touching performance; watching him act against primarily a voice is interesting because he’s really sharing that situation with his character. Amy Adams, Mara and Olivia Wilde offer varying, complex and valuable contributions as women who all view Theodore differently.
A final word on the design. The filmmakers’ vision of the future is interesting as the modern clashes with nostalgia in an utterly probable way. A lot of films set in the future forget that we always look back to the past as well. This is one of few movies to get that trends in fashion always come back in cycles. That helps us believe in its vision to a greater degree.
her 2013-U.S. 127 min. Color. Produced by Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze, Vincent Landay. Written and directed by Spike Jonze. Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema. Music: Will Butler, Owen Pallett. Song: “The Moon Song” (Karen O, Spike Jonze). Cast: Joaquin Phoenix (Theodore Twombly), Amy Adams (Amy), Rooney Mara (Catherine), Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt. Voices of Scarlett Johansson (Samantha), Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Spike Jonze, Brian Cox.
Trivia:Samantha Morton was first cast as Samantha; Carey Mulligan was allegedly considered for another part.
Oscar: Best Original Screenplay. Golden Globe: Best Screenplay.
Last word: “The timbre of her voice is beautiful. It’s the person inside the voice, it’s her intelligence, and it’s her wit. She’s the kind of person that can tease you and get right to your core but also it’s affectionate. You want to get teased by her. How do you define charisma, true charisma? She’s obviously beautiful, but you take that away and she’s just as captivating. She’s got that thing and combined with the emotional depth of where she’s willing to go – she really went there in this incredible way.” (Jonze on Johansson, The Playlist)
Nathan Flomm (Larry David), who’s moved to Martha’s Vineyard and assumed a new identity after botching the greatest business deal in history, suddenly sees his former partner (Jon Hamm) there and plots revenge… This HBO project was made in the same vein as David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, right down to the point where it’s impossible to separate Nathan Flomm from the David we know on the show. That’s probably one reason why many critics were unnecessary harsh in their reviews. We get spoiled, because the truth is had it not been for the show, this TV movie would have been celebrated. It’s simple, laidback, with improvised dialogue – and very funny.
2013-U.S. Made for TV. 90 min. Color. Produced by Larry David, Alec Berg, Monica Levinson, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer, Bradley Thomas. Directed by Greg Mottola. Teleplay: Larry David, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer. Music: Ludovic Bource. Cast: Larry David (Nathan Flomm/Rolly DaVore), Jon Hamm (Will Haney), Kate Hudson (Rhonda Haney), Danny McBride, Amy Ryan, Eva Mendes… Bill Hader, Michael Keaton, Philip Baker Hall. Cameo: Liev Schreiber.
Trivia: The members of the band Chicago appear as themselves.
Last word: “I heard that Larry was pitching this improvised movie, that he was meeting with directors and my name came up. And before I ever met with him, I thought, ‘God, how do you do that without making it like ‘Curb’?’ Then the flip side of that is that I thought, ‘Well, why, would you not want to make it like ‘Curb’?’ Obviously, you wanna differentiate it, but… What would you do if you were asked to direct a WC Fields movie? Would you be trying to push WC Fields away from playing WC Fields?” (Mottola, Indiewire)
In 2005, there were two new faces on Saturday Night Live, Jason Sudeikis and Bill Hader. This fall, neither of them will be on the show anymore. Hader we knew about, Sudeikis we sort of knew… but he confirmed it last night on Late Night with David Letterman. They gave it 8 years of their lives, both writing and performing, becoming invaluable members of Lorne Michaels’s crew.
The clips above show them at their best. The first is Hader as Stefon, the impossibly gay “Weekend Update” correspondent who found it hard to recommend just one family-friendly tourist spot for Seth Meyers. The clip is Stefon’s final (?) appearance on the show last May, complete with cameos by Anderson Cooper, Ben Affleck and… ALF. The second is Sudeikis on Conan last November, talking about how to imitate Mitt Romney on SNL.
So, what awaits these entertainers? Thats the thing. No one can tell really. In the old days, former SNL performers like Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Martin Short, Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell got rich in the movie business and it’s possible that Sudeikis and Hader (or one of them) could follow in their paths… but they don’t really seem to be doing that. Neither is known for their ability to carry a movie, although they have performed in hits. Still, this is a new era with plenty of possibilities. Hader and Sudeikis may succeed as writers or performers (or both) a la Tina Fey with a show like 30 Rock. In any case, I wish them the best. As long as they don’t turn into Victoria Jackson, I’m happy for them.