REVIEW: “SISTERS” (2015) Universal Pictures

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sisters
We’ve all heard the saying “Sisters from another mother”. Well that’s pretty much how Kate Ellis (Tina Fey) & Maura Ellis (Amy Poehler) are here as they look nothing alike and yes, they play/are sisters in this funny at times, throwback to our party days, comedy. Here the parents are Deanna, the fantastic Dianne Wiest and the truly who-knew-he-could-be-funny James Brolin is dad Bucky.

In case I didn’t mention it .. the sister’s are polar opposites. Since her divorce two years ago the responsible straight arrow, Maura, who is beyond do-gooder even in her job as a nurse. On the other hand we have the irresponsible, unable to hold a job or keep a place to live, mess up Kate. She is game for anything yet so childish that her daughter Haley (Madison Davenport), although still a teenager herself, seems to act much more mature than her own mother. But what the two sisters share in is going into complete and utter shock, to put it lightly, when going to visit their parents home they see a “SOLD” sign at the family house in Orlando. Seemingly by not informing or hinting at the fact they have sold it, their parents ask them now to clean out their former childhood rooms before the new owners come in.
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Reluctantly the sister dig through all their old stuff and while the two reminisce over their youth, Kate gets the idea to throw an for old times sake – “Ellis Island” –  one last party as they once were called and with that, one last party IS going down at the parent’s house.

The film definitely hits it’s high notes here as the invitations go out to all their former classmates – including as the scene stealer once again here as in Trainwreck, the how shall we say – robust – drug dealer Pazuzu (John Cena), to whom Kate has got her eye set on in some truly hilarious moments. As for Maura, well she’s got the charming nice guy love interest James (Ike Barinholtz), and they get themselves in the big ‘this-is-so-wrong moment’ of the film. Even high school mean-girl Brinda (Maya Rudolph) appears, although she is most definitely not on the guest list.
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As predicted, the party is soon out-of-control, so much so that the future homeowners might only be left with an entirely demolished home, sinkhole and all. There is mass destruction and a plowed-through dry wall. There’s also more token sad comedy bits than probably needed ending this.

A pre-party moment that stands out for me is a flat out hysterical nail salon visit with Hae-Won (Greta Lee), that had me rolling in my seat. Along with John Leguizamo’s character Dave, who’s never quite let go of his high-school party ways, the notable SNL cast members who do their bits are fun. There’s Bobby Moynihan playing an always “on” never-funny aspiring comedian Alex, who accidentally hoovers up some futuristic combo of blow and heroin and literally goes bananas.
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“Sisters” has a hard time stopping once the party has ended, but when it’s moving as an out-of-control party stacked with people worrying about getting old, it knows how to move. When it’s not, the story becomes a bit lackluster.

Grade: C+
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Review Screening: Tuesday, December 15, 2015 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Nationwide release: Friday, December 18, 2015

“THE HUMBLING” (2015) – REVIEW ~ incl. Q & A w/Al Pacino

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The humbling
What happens to actors when they can no longer remember their lines or worse when they can no longer deliver them? Well this film might have your answer and was simply quite fun to watch while finding out.

Al Pacino plays fictional acclaimed stage actor “Simon Axler”. We first meet him backstage, warming up before going on stage, talking to the mirror, asking his reflection how good his recitation is. He has two masks, one representing comedy, the other tragedy, and these masks could very well be the metaphor for this film. We watch the tragedy of a man losing his talent and losing his mind, but at the same time there are lots of laughs to be had on the way. Axler gets lost backstage and finds himself outside boxed in an alleyway. When let back in, he isn’t recognized and is kicked out of the theatre and though I felt like I’d seen this scene before ala Michael Keaton in Birdman, it didn’t lose it’s luster here.
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As the film moves along we discover that this is all in his head and this is where the fun parts of the film kick in as we are not always certain that what we see is occurring or whether it is a figment of Axler’s quite funny and oh~so~vivid imagination. After throwing himself off stage, Axler heads to rehab where he meets “Sybil” (Nina Arianda) who is hysterical in this role and probably my favourite character after Simon in film. She wants Axler to kill her husband, who she claims is sexually abusing her daughter and as she turns into one of the funniest stalkers ever, popping up at the most inopportune of places and times, you can’t help but wonder is she really batshit crazy or did any of what she says.. really happen. I’m guessing it’s the former.

Back home, Axler receives a visit from “Pegeen” (Greta Gerwig), the lesbian daughter of his old theatre friends “Asa” (Dan Hedaya) & his wife (Dianne Wiest). Pegeen has worshipped Simon since she was a little girl and her childhood obsession was with a successful actor, not this old man who can’t seem to pick up a bag without throwing his back out and she lets him know this in no uncertain terms, even though he is supporting her every whim to the point of bankrupting himself. Herein lies the question of the film…How long can Simon resist not only the lure of the stage despite its risk of further humiliation for him, but the fact that he needs to make money is also paramount here.
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As the film leads towards Axler’s return to the Broadway stage, the situation around him becomes ever more chaotic and surreal, leaving us to wonder just how much of all this is really going on. But it doesn’t really matter because it is all real to him. Pacino is in every scene of the film and we see everything from his viewpoint, real or not real, this is his experience. For Simon Axler, life and performance have somehow become fused and there is no way for him to work out what the difference is any more.

As he has done so often in the past, Levinson has made an intelligent, funny and most human film. The cast, including Charles Grodin as Axler’s agent “Jerry”, and Kyra Sedgewick as “Louise Trenner” the jilted lover of Pegeen, are all a pleasure to watch. Pacino’s wonderfully fun performance never wavers and though of a similar age as his character, but so unlike him in real life as his legendary talent seems far from burning out.
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After the screening we were treated to a Q & A with the man himself, the consummate storyteller both on and off screen, Al Pacino. The man is a just a treat to listen to explain not only this role & film, but stories about ‘Dog Day Afternoon’, another of my fav directors, Sidney Lumet whom he worked with many times, and so many others. As he spoke noting a few fun things about making the film making us all laugh: “It was about an actor, so I thought, ‘Gee, it’s possible I could make this into a film.’ Because at least it’s a little something that I know about — an actor on the way out,” “The world it’s in, it’s sort of my wheelhouse.” “It’s an advantage to know the world you’re making a movie about”
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Grade: C+
*Note: Oscar screening series took place on Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 at The Landmark (Westwood). The Humbling is in very limited release with a set release date of January 23rd, 2015.

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(See grading scale)