Shorties #20

The days are rapidly getting shorter, so that must mean it's time for some Shorties! OK, fine, that was a weak transition. Give me some coffee, and I'll do better. In the meantime, how about we take a quick look at a handful of movies?

#1: World of Tomorrow: This 2015 short film (it clocks in at 17 minutes) was nominated for an Animated Short Oscar for last year's awards. It was made by Don Hertzfeldt, whose work I've liked before. It becoming available on Netflix streaming was the final incentive I needed to watch it, and I'm glad I did! It tells the story of a little girl who is visited by a future version of herself. Future Emily tells Emily Prime in a flat, dispassionate voice about all the wonders and horrors that await in the future world, but since Emily Prime is just a little kid, she's more interested in pretty flashing colors than in the plight of clones. It's amazing how much pathos and story can be packed into just a handful of minutes, and World of Tomorrow is definitely worth your time. (Grade: A-)

#2: The Heat: I liked Bridesmaids and Spy, and Ghostbusters was decent enough, so I felt I had to fill in my final Paul Feig/Melissa McCarthy gap with 2013's movie about mismatched police partners (McCarthy and Sandra Bullock) attempting to take down a drug ring. It was okay, and I laughed out loud a few times, but it didn't blow me away. It seemed like an excuse for Melissa McCarthy to cut loose with some off-the-cuff profanity for an hour or so, and the humor that can be wrung from that is limited. Still, it was worth a Netflix watch. (Grade: B-)

#3: Force Majeure: This 2014 drama from Sweden made waves in international film chatter, and I remember reading how surprised everyone was when it wasn't nominated for an Oscar. My friend Kyle and I were looking for a movie to watch after dinner one evening, and this one had floated to the top of both our lists. A Swiss family is taking a ski vacation at a resort in the French Alps. One afternoon, as they sit on the patio enjoying lunch, a minor avalanche descends on the guests, freaking everyone out. Nobody is hurt, but when he sees the snow coming, the dad Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) hightails it out of the restaurant, leaving his wife (Lisa Loven Kongsli) behind, along with his children. At first, everyone is relieved that no harm was done, but the fact that Tomas' first instinct was to abandon his loved ones pulls a thread that threatens the entire family dynamic. It's a really fascinating movie that leads in interesting and realistic directions about how people react when their fight-or-flight response kicks in, and what that means about our relationships with others. (Grade: B+)

#4: The Peanuts Movie: I'll admit, I was suspicious of a modern take on Peanuts, which is such a classic property. Most remakes of childhood favorites are terrible, and I didn't want a smudge on Charlie Brown's legacy. But when this 2015 movie started getting decent word-of-mouth, I decided it was worth a Netflix rental. Happily, the filmmakers know how special these characters are, and were very respectful of the source material. That doesn't mean nothing's changed, of course. The animation has been updated, and for the first time ever, we actually meet the little red-haired girl that Charlie Brown has been so enamored with for decades. Though there was too much focus on Snoppy over the the kids, I know I'm in the minority on that opinion. Overall, though, this movie really captured the heartfelt, sincere tone of the original comic strip and cartoon specials. (Grade: B)

#5: The Overnight: I read a couple of things about this 2015 comedy, and figured Adam Scott was enough of a draw to check it out. He and Taylor Schilling play husband and wife, who are new in their neighborhood, and are looking for other friends. Their kid sparks an acquaintance with another child, whose dad is Jason Schwartzman. He invites them over for dinner with him and his wife (Judith Godrèche), and after a lot of liquor, the relationship forming between these people who find each other so fascinating starts to take a strange turn. The movie has its charms, and wasn't a waste of time or anything, but it seems to think itself really daring for "transgressions" that aren't that wild. It's not a bad movie, but nothing about it stands out as particularly noteworthy. (Grade: B-)

This World is Worth Fighting For!

It can be a challenge to review video games without a story (and thus, without an ending). You're never truly "done", and the mechanics could change at any moment, so any judgement calls you make could be irrelevant in a month. Still, I have to make the attempt, because I've been playing Overwatch for more than a month now, and it doesn't seem to be waning at all. I'm far from the only person it's hooked; currently it sits as Blizzard's best selling game ever (even topping World of Warcraft) and has something like 10 million players worldwide.

Normally, I'm on record as enjoying the more quiet, single-player, narrative-based games. What would I be doing playing a shooter with other gamers, a lot of whom are complete garbage humans?

Easy! All you have to do is make an impeccably-tailored game that excels at character design, sound design, map design, and has intuitive controls for beginners while leaving room to improve into an expert role. That's all there is to it! That's not to say the game is perfect, but a lot of its flaws aren't the designers' faults. Most of the issues result from those other gamers I just mentioned. When the entire game is based on teamwork with strangers, may of whom are basement-dwelling teenagers with inflated egos, of course some of the matches will be less than civil. Really, there's only one business practice that I've had a problem with, which I'll mention below. First, let's get to the good stuff.

I cannot overstate how cool this game's cast of characters is, and how much thought clearly went into it. You can play as any of twenty-two characters (with more in development!), and you can tell from that pic up there how diverse they are. They range not only in nationality, age, and abilities, but in temperament. Want to play as a wise, salty old woman? Meet Ana. An anarchic pyromaniac? Junkrat! A kindly Swiss doctor? Mercy! A semi-intelligent robot fascinated with birds? Bastion! Currently, my favorite character to play is Mei, a Chinese research scientist with an ice gun that excels in frustrating opponents by freezing them to the spot or walling them off from their destinations. In a lesser game, I'd figure out the three characters I enjoy playing and just focus on them. So it's an incredible feat that I've found something to enjoy about each and every one of these heroes. Sure, I don't really play as Genji or Bastion much, but there isn't one who's wholly unplayable to me, and I don't think I've ever seen that before.

Each character is adept against some of the others, and is vulnerable to some of the others. You and five other players form a team of six and either attack or defend an objective on one of thirteen current maps (again, more are in development, and each of the thirteen have multiple locales). Whoever is able to remain in control of a certain spot (or is able to escort/prevent a moving object from reaching a destination) wins, and then it's on to the next match.

It's deceptively simple, yet there are countless strategies to employ. There are also multiple game modes. You can play against AI robots. You can play a goof-around match against other people. You can design your own custom match. Or you can join the competitive ladder and work towards rewards for the best players. This is also a game that emphasizes positive teamwork; it features good plays and doesn't display your mistakes for others to see. There are built-in ways to congratulate and thank people. There really isn't much to criticize in the way of gameplay. It's all been terrific so far.

The only sticking point has been the leveling/loot system. Each hero has a bunch of cool cosmetic things to acquire, from voice lines to costumes to spray paint tags. Every time you level up, you receive a loot box with four of these items in it (or credits that can be used to purchase them). But the loot system is random, so it'll often give you the crappy little things you already own, offering a miniscule credit bump to compensate for duplicates. This is obviously a ploy to get people to spend real money on loot boxes, which I'm ashamed to admit I've done. It's irritating, but it was only a real problem during the Olympics, in which they offered games-themed items. Again, they were randomly generated, often duplicated, and you're not allowed to use in-game credits to purchase them. That means people who just want a simple costume could either spend an inordinate amount of money to get the chance to obtain it, or they can wait a year and try again. That seems overly greedy to me.

Besides that, Overwatch has been a joy to play, and has been sucking up all of my free time. Even as I type this, I wish I could go home and fire up a match, and am still thinking of ways to cajole my friends into joining up. Lines from the game have been infecting my everyday speech. Like I said at the top, though, this is a dynamic game, and they could change it whenever the whim strikes them. For now, though, it's been an extremely pleasant obsession.

Overwatch: A

Song of the Summer 2016

Well, it's dark by dinnertime now, so that must mean that summer is soon drawing to a close. As always, it's been a musical mix this season, between the catchy pop tunes, the inexplicably popular tracks, and the songs that aren't by a Big Name and thus fly under the radar.

And as always, the song that wound up most appealing to me is somewhat of a bridge between the pop and indie world. The songs that tend to draw me in have aspects of both worlds: It generally has the hook and earworminess of a pop song, but isn't an overplayed anthem on commercial radio.

I'm a big fan of Tegan and Sara, so it comes as no surprise that the winner of this year's Song of the Summer contest in my heart goes to their song, "U-Turn".

Just ignore the goofy video and enjoy the music. It had some competition, though. I'm also awfully fond of Lizzo's "Good as Hell", Wolf Alice's "Freazy", the Miguel/Kacey Musgraves version of "waves", and naturally, Carly Rae Jepsen's entire "Emotion - Side B" album.

It's been a pretty mellow season, musically, which I enjoy. There's plenty of lighthearted summer tunes, but nothing that smacks of trying too hard to capture the seasonal market. There also hasn't been an outright terrible song that other people like for some reason, so I don't have to walk around carping about kids these days. That's always refreshing.

So let's all grab a glass of wine, kick back with a 2016 summer playlist, and welcome the incoming season of amazing autumnal foods!

Young Adult

One of the themes of my entertainment consumption is that I like to pinball between genres pretty rapidly. If I've just read a weighty non-fiction book, the next one will likely be light and funny. If I've just shotgunned a bunch of sitcom episodes, I'll probably follow it up with a pensive drama. This pattern held firm with my two recent visits to the theater, with a duo of animated movies that couldn't have had more different tones.

The first was Sausage Party, the latest movie from Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg. I found a lot to like about This Is The End, though I'm not as enamored with "funny" gore as these guys are. But hey, here's an easy way to get around that problem: Make an animated movie about food. It's a lot easier for me to handle the death of a cartoon carton of milk than a live action evisceration. The hero of Sausage Party is Frank (Rogen), a supermarket hot dog that desperately wants to be chosen by Human Gods alongside his bun girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig) to go to the Great Beyond, where they'll finally be free to consummate their relationship.

It's not just them. All the denizens of the store assume that nothing but wonderful things await them once they're chosen. When a jar of honey mustard returns with tales of the horrors that really await the chosen food, it sets off a chain reaction of events involving a murderous douche (Nick Kroll), a lesbian taco shell (Salma Hayek), and the solution of the Israel/Palestine conflict via vigorous rimjobs. Nope, not kidding.

The movie isn't bad, per se. It's just so...obvious. The metaphor about blind faith in religion is fine, but pretty low-hanging fruit (no pun intended). And the rest of the comedy is derived from a combination of food puns, racial and sexual stereotyping, and extreme violence. Which, if you're into that, is fine. It's just not my bag, generally. I'm actually glad I saw this movie in the theater, because I wouldn't have liked it half so much without having the reactions of the other audience members to bounce off of. I'm already on the record as being emphatically fine with stupid comedy. But the best stupid comedies have a lot of brains behind them, and Sausage Party doesn't really have anything on its mind. It's just an excuse to goof around.

A few days later, it was time for an animated movie that has plenty on its mind. I'd heard a recommendation for Kubo and the Two Strings from the /Filmcast podcast, and based on that (plus it coming from the studio that made Coraline and ParaNorman), I sprinted to the theater with some friends for a 3D screening of it.

Kubo and the Two Strings is basically an Asian hero's journey movie, with all that entails (legends, fairy tales, epic heroism, ancestral heirlooms, and so on). Kubo lives in a small cave with his taciturn mother, who warns him never to venture to the nearby village past dark, because his grandfather and aunts are powerful enemies who have already plucked one of his eyes and are now after the remaining one. Kubo has the ability to animate origami paper with his music, and puts on shows for the delighted villagers, but when he spots the community conducting a twilight ritual honoring their dead relatives, he can't help but become enamored with participating to honor his dead father. This keeps him out past dark, and the shadows come for him. What follows is his journey to collect the mystical armor necessary to fighting off the evil. He's helped by a monkey (a figurine brought to life by his mother's magic) and an amnesiac soldier who's been cursed to be half beetle.

It's a terrific story, at times hauntingly sad, but always visually stunning. If there's one complaint to be made, it's that most of the Asian characters are voiced by white actors, which seems unnecessary at best, but in all but one case, it doesn't distract from the performances, which are excellent. Nobody knows quite to make of this film. It's too adult to be a kids' movie and too quiet to be a summer blockbuster. That doesn't mean it's any less gorgeous, though, and I wish more people were seeing it.

Sausage Party: C+
Kubo and the Two Strings: A-

Manic Depressive

When television shows want to make an attempt at addressing deep psychological issues, the traditional method would be to produce an intense character drama. Gritty, serious scenes are delivered by actors whose faces are perpetually grim, and the air hangs heavy with weighty dialogue.

Recently, though, television shows have been branching out into a new way to explore mental anguish: Comedy! And it's been working! Last year, I described how Steven Universe could take a simple show for kids and use it to reach in and yank my heartstrings. This year, it's the adults' turn, as two shows mined our common psychoses for giggles.

I've enthused over the first one before. Season 2 of Bojack Horseman ranked among my favorite shows of 2015, and Season 3 is similarly incredible. Bojack is riding a temporary high from the Oscar buzz surrounding his "performance" in Secretariat, and plenty of Hollywoo hangers-on are happy to ride his coattails. Those who know him best, however, know that Bojack excels at destroying anything positive in his life, and despite their best efforts to help, his depression and narcissism continue to drag him down, taking his friends with him. Sounds like a hoot, right? It actually is. Though the show is often intense, it never forgets to throw in plenty of jokes, visual gags, and anthropomorphic animal humor. But just as it builds up a steady stream of laughs, it pulls the rug out and hits you with some truly dark material.

I keep encouraging people to power through the relatively blah set-up of Season 1 to get to this wonderful stretch of episodes, and after watching another strong season, I'm going to keep at it. WATCH THIS SHOW.

The other journey into mental illness comes courtesy of Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), now that the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is finally on Netflix. This show does a lot of off-kilter things. As I mentioned, it uses humor to describe some pretty serious emotions, but that's just the beginning. It also has hour-long episodes, which is unusual for a comedy show, and every episode is peppered with insanely catchy songs.

The songs parody all sorts of styles, from Broadway to Disney movies to rap battles to bubblegum pop groups. But as joyous as those songs usually are, in this show, they can be describing insecurity, terrible advice, or smug arrogance. Though Rebecca is ostensibly the heroine of the show, she's often doing awful things in order to get her hooks into her childhood crush. It's a unique take on the romantic comedy genre, and the fact that the music is so goddamn good turns what would be a clever show into an unmissable one.

Bojack Horseman - Season 3: A-
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - Season 1: A-

Stars and Bars

Being in an era of "Peak TV" has made master schedulers of us all. We now need to conscientiously put aside time for specific shows to keep up with as they air, time for shows we know we'll need to catch up with later, and shows we'll allow to pass us by. This past week, I was able to put away multiple shows, and feel absurdly good about myself, as if I've just completed an important work project or something.

One of the show I just wrapped was the fourth season of Orange is the New Black, but in looking at this blog, I also realized that I'd never written about a show I watched several months ago, Making a Murderer. Since both shows revolve around the justice system, I figured I'd roll them together now.

I was among the people that rather liked the slower pace of Season 3 of Orange is the New Black, but I do have to admit that raising the stakes certainly got tongues to wag. The tension in Season 4 is significantly heightened. Loads of new inmates have arrived, and the problems they bring with them are far more dangerous than mere overcrowding. Adding to the powder keg is a new batch of guards, most of whom alternate between laziness and sadism.

As usual, there are so many stories to tell in a season that I can't mention them all, lest this wind up being a laundry list of who's up to what. But there are major changes afoot in Season 4. Piper is convinced that she's queen of the yard after her success with the panty business, and is clearly setting herself up for some major comeuppance. A new, famous inmate named Judy King (Blair Brown) appears to be a blend of Martha Stewart and Paula Deen, and is given special treatment, a move that both frustrates the other inmates and gives them ideas about cashing in. A figure from Alex's past comes to menace her, with far-reaching consequences for everyone in the entire prison.

With everything that's been in the news recently about how our law enforcement and justice systems treat African-American citizens, Orange is the New Black does not shy away from depicting the depressing reality of the abuse that minority populations suffer, taking it to a shocking and saddening extent. That doesn't mean that this is a Homework Show, though. It's still thoroughly entertaining, at times hilariously funny, and always a good watch.

I should have mentioned the Netflix true crime documentary series Making a Murderer back when everyone was talking about it, but it somehow slipped through the cracks. This show explores the story of Steven Avery, a man who was unjustly locked up for 18 years for sexual assault. Two years after he was exonerated, he was arrested again, this time for murder. His trial was a circus of inept police work and prosecutorial malfeasance, and yet he was convicted.

That's not to say that Avery is obviously innocent. Though the documentary goes to great lengths to show just how much reasonable doubt exists in this case, it still seems as though Avery is most likely guilty. That's not how the judicial system is supposed to work, though, and this documentary makes an almost unassailable case that Manitowoc County, Wisconsin did everything in their power to put Avery away, no matter what facet of the system they had to corrupt.

It's a very sad state of affairs, where nobody comes out looking good, and nobody wins. By the same token, though, it's an utterly fascinating case, and an extremely well-made show. It's certainly edited to be one-sided, but hey, it's a TV show, not an affidavit. The saga of Steven Avery continues, and they've announced that they'll be making more episodes, which I'm certainly looking forward to. Though I won't be one of those tiresome internet commentators who proclaim to know the truth of the situation, I will be one of those tiresome internet commentators who urge you to watch this show. It's gripping.

Orange is the New Black - Season 4: B+
Making a Murderer - Season 1: A-

Shaky Premise

I'm fortunate in that 95% of the entertainment I consume is by my choice. Sure, I may not have a loving husband to come home to, but that means I get full control of the remote. No kids means no suffering through whatever Chipmunk claptrap is oozing into theaters. And my circle of friends has diverse tastes, so there's nearly always someone ready and willing to accompany me to whatever happens to be catching my attention, whether it's a superhero blockbuster or an art-house character study.

Once in a while, though, I agree to ride in the sidecar to something someone else has chosen. Sometimes, it doesn't turn out too badly, but for the most part, if I was avoiding or ignoring a property, it's for a reason. That theory was put to the test again this week, when a friend wanted to go see the new Jason Bourne movie, a franchise I have minimal interest in. I dimly remember liking the original movie, but when the sequels got increasingly dependent on the scourge of the cinema known as ShakyCam, I officially checked out.

I keep up on film news, so I'm familiar with the strange path these movies have taken, including an entry without the star or director that made them popular in the first place. That divergence implied that when star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass returned to the series, it must be because the new movie was simply too awesome for them to pass up.

Nope. Everything that drove me away from the Bourne movies is still present in full force, with the newly-added detriment of making absolutely no sense, plot-wise. Characters ally with each other for no reason. Characters attack each other for no reason. Characters betray each other for no reason. Beyond some poorly-developed daddy issues, Bourne doesn't really have any motivation at all, really. He just reacts to things, and a lot of his decisions are straight-up terrible. At the heart of the movie is a big social media company that supposedly affects more than a billion people. What does the company do? Good question! They never bother to tell us. Want the audience to know that a flash drive has encrypted files on it? How about you just write "ENCRYPTED" in big block letters on the side, with a folder helpfully labeled "BLACK OPS" front-and-center? So dumb. Matt Damon phones in his performance, but I can't tell if that's because he's as bored as I was, or if he was just hung out to dry by the script. Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander do their best in supporting roles, but again, there's not much there to work with.

If the plot didn't make sense, at least the film-making was cool and exciting, right? Well, I can't really answer that, since hardly any of the shots last longer than 1/3 of a second. As I said on Facebook, a more appropriate title for this movie would be Caffeine-Addicted Parkinson's Sufferer on a Trampoline During an Earthquake. The ShakyCam is horrible, making even non-action scenes a chore to watch. And when the camera finally does settle down for a moment, it only reveals how shoddy the stunts and action beats are.

So really, the only interesting question this movie brings to mind is how fair it is for me to judge. After all, I didn't really want to see it in the first place; is me not liking it just confirmation bias? Well, after reading/listening to some reviews from people who went in ready to be dazzled, I think I'm good. But this movie sure as hell isn't.

Jason Bourne: C-

Goof Troop

In my last entry, I talked about a pretty serious trio of movies. They were all good, but none of them could be accused of being a bundle of laughs. Let's switch it up today, and talk about a trio of movies meant to tickle the funny bone. How successful were they? Read on!

The first was the new Pixar movie, Finding Dory. Once I finally get around to seeing The Good Dinosaur, I'll have to put them into the Rank and File project, but for now, let's just consider it on its own. Aside from shifting its focus from Marlin to Dory, Finding Dory has pretty much the same rhythm as Finding Nemo. Character sets off on a personal quest and is pursued across the ocean by concerned friends/family, all of whom have adventures along the way. Though the new movie borrows heavily from the old, it doesn't mean it worked just as well. Ellen DeGeneres is as winning as ever as the unfortunate fish with short-term memory problems, but the side characters aren't as compelling, and there are too many scenes that take place far from the aquatic atmosphere we've all come to love. A scene on a crowded highway is particularly egregious in its out-of-placeness. That's not to say it was a bad movie; it was perfectly enjoyable, and Sigourney Weaver's cameo was particularly awesome. But sequels often don't measure up to their predecessors, and this one is no exception.

Wanna hear about a sequel that does measure up? It's called Pee-Wee's Big Holiday. OK, maybe "sequel" is a stretch, since the character of Pee-Wee in this movie doesn't seem to have any connection with the Pee-Wee of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Still, it's essentially the same structure. In this universe, Pee-Wee is a beloved member of a small town community, who has never ventured outside his own small corner of the world, and doesn't feel any particular need to. That all changes when charismatic actor Joe Manganiello stops by for a milkshake and invites Pee-Wee to his upcoming birthday party in New York. Pee-Wee sets off on a road trip, and encounters all kinds of odd sorts, from a farmer with nine love-starved daughters to a trio of leonine bank robbers who can't help but be charmed by him to an aviatrix who's better at small talk than at staying aloft. I couldn't stop giggling throughout this whole movie. Paul Reubens' sense of childlike humor is still a delight, and every actor in this movie is totally game to share in the silliness.

OK, that brings us to the final movie, about which more internet ink has been spilled than every other film of the year combined. I'll avoid retreading all of the hubbub about the new Ghostbusters and just concentrate on the movie itself. It's funny. Good night, everyone!

Fine, I suppose I owe you more than that. Reboots of classics are always a challenge, and this update doesn't come close to capturing the hilarity and chemistry that the 1984 movie does. It's got structural issues, and there are parts that drag. Rating it PG-13 was good for getting families in the door, but it also meant that actors like Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig couldn't cut loose as much as they usually do. That said, I laughed plenty, which is all I can really ask from a comedy, right? Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones all have a chance to show off their comedic chops, with Wiig somewhat unfortunately relegated to the straight-woman role. Flipping the gender dynamic by casting Chris Hemsworth as a dumb himbo receptionist was a real treat, and most of the cameos by original cast members were cute (Sigourney Weaver was still better in Finding Dory, though). Was this a genius piece of cinema destined to grace the Hall of Fame forever? No. Was it a dumpster fire that ruined anyone's childhood? No. Sorry to disappoint anyone in this culture of thinking everything is either the best or worst thing ever, but Ghostbusters is a perfectly capable, middle-of-the-road comedy. I'm guessing nobody's going to write a thinkpiece with that title, but it doesn't make it any less true.

Finding Dory: B
Pee-Wee's Big Holiday: A
Ghostbusters (2016): B

Summer Catch

There's no escaping it now. We're in the sweltering days of summer, where I'm drenched in sweat by the time I get to work, to say nothing of that state I'm in by the time I get home. Truly, these are the days best spent indoors, watching the movies I should have seen last year, when they were being critically praised and given all sorts of awards. Now the cultural conversation has moved on, but I've finally found enough time to get some of 2015's hits under my belt, though there are still plenty to go. Today, though, let's breeze through a trio of movies that really deserve to have more than a short little blurb written about them, but that I'm just now getting around to.

Not that movies like Spotlight didn't get plenty of ink devoted to them. I had zero interest in The Revenant, and so I took a degree of smug satisfaction when Spotlight beat it out for Best Picture, even though I hadn't seen either one at that point. Thankfully, Netflix added it to streaming, so I happily set aside an evening to take in a lighthearted flick about child molestation. I took an almost anthropological interest in Spotlight. I have no personal experience with Boston, with the Catholic Church, or with sexual abuse, so it was up to the filmmakers to convey just how entrenched the first is, how powerful the second is, and how terribly transformative the third is. To me, priests aren't anything special. Reporting them for misconduct would be no more difficult than reporting a plumber. To families in Boston, though, a priest showing personal interest in you can be like getting attention from God himself, so when that trust is abused, feelings of guilt and shame can set in. The Church and law enforcement didn't help, shuffling the few priests that were accused around, but taking no real steps to discipline them or change the system.

That finally came to public light with the investigative reporting of the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe, who dug up all the details, and published a series of earth-shattering articles about the abuse the Church allows. In a way, this is a very quiet film. It deals with a very serious topic, but it had to make scenes of reporters finding old newspaper clips or interviewing sources exciting. That's a tough feat, but director Tom McCarthy makes it a very compelling journey. The movie is chock full of terrific actors, but ironically, the one I would single out for not quite fitting in is one of the two to get a nomination. Mark Ruffalo is a shade too hammy in his role as one of the reporters, but everyone else, from Michael Keaton to Rachel McAdams to the always-wonderful Stanley Tucci shines. Spotlight is not a movie that I feel like I'll want to revisit in future, but it certainly accomplished everything it set out to do, even if the problems it elucidates still persist.

Speaking of problems, how about an apocalyptic desert dystopia? My only excuse for avoiding George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road until now was that I was afraid it might be too gory for me. This is where having good friends comes in handy. They explained to me that there was really only one scene I should avoid, and if I watched the movie with them, they'd tell me when to hide my eyes. That sounded good to me, and it worked out incredibly well. I'm not a huge fan of the original movies. The first one was okay, I fell asleep during the second one, and the only other thing I remember from the series is Tina Turner looking awesome and singing an amazing song. So even with the rapturous critical praise and audience adoration this movie received, I went in with measured expectations.

Well. Finally, a Mad Max movie I truly enjoyed. The plot is extremely sparse, but somehow, that seems to work in its favor. A woman named Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is trying to get back to her home, but must rebel against the tyrant who runs the settlement she works for. She also is working to break a group of female prisoners out, and though she is reluctant to work with the drifter named Max (Tom Hardy), he eventually wins her over, and they work together to outrun their pursuers. It's a gorgeous movie, it's full of thrills, and it doesn't put its female characters on the back burner. Now I can see what all the fuss what about.

Finally, it's back to another quiet movie. I always enjoy movies that try something new and show some ambition, even if the results are mixed. "Trying something new" is a phrase that can definitely be applied to Charlie Kaufman's animated movie, Anomalisa. On the surface, you'd think it's pretty well-worn territory: A visiting motivational speaker meets a woman who sparks his interest, and he pursues a romantic relationship with her, only to discover complications. So what makes this different? A look at the cast list should give you a clue. David Thewlis as Michael Stone. Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lisa Hesselman. Tom Noonan as Everyone else. Michael Stone is so bored by his family and his life that everyone seems to have the same voice. When he meets Lisa, she strikes him as different, so he's naturally enchanted with her.

That's the aspect of the movie that intrigued me most, but if you've heard of this movie, you've probably heard about the other draw: Explicit puppet sex. Yeah, that was strange. Not off-putting or out-of-place, but... Well, it's just tough to contextualize explicit puppet sex when you're not watching a farcical comedy. That said, it was a really interesting movie that I enjoyed a lot. Kaufman is one of the most imaginative filmmakers working today, and this is a character study that is well worth your time. Even with that puppet penis.

Spotlight: B+
Mad Max: Fury Road: A-
Anomalisa: B+

Funny Girl

It's depressing that we're still having a bullshit cultural conversation about whether women can be as funny as men, because it's abundantly clear that neither sex has a monopoly on hilarity. Happily, the walls are crumbling faster than ever, with shows like Inside Amy Schumer, Broad City, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend dominating the watercooler conversation in the past few years. I have limited experience with that trio of shows, though, so today, let's talk about a different trio of female-driven comedy.

First up is the sophomore season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The inaugural season landed on my Top Five of the Year, and I came into this new batch of episodes with high expectations. If the first season was about Kimmy's wonder and delight at the world that she's been locked away from for 15 years, this new season is about her starting to deal with the trauma her kidnapping caused.

That makes it sound like a super-serious batch of episodes, but the show never strays far from the absurd laughs it's so good at wringing out of people. Still, Kimmy takes concrete steps towards putting the bunker behind her, from working with an alcoholic therapist (Tina Fey) to confronting her negligent mother (Lisa Kudrow). Meanwhile, her friends are dealing with their own issues. Jacqueline is trying to scheme her way back to financial security. Lillian is fighting encroaching gentrification. And in the most welcome change, Titus finds himself in a confusingly stable relationship.

Not everything works - Jacqueline has some bright spots, but is mostly wasted throughout the season - but Kimmy and the gang are as hilarious as ever, and the third season can't come soon enough for me. That show is all about subverting expectations with insanely clever writing. Something, though, all you want is a string of goofy sight gags. Angie Tribeca to the rescue! Think Police Squad! but set in modern day Los Angeles, and with Rashida Jones taking point as the titular character.

Dad Jokes and puns rule over this show, and for anyone who's a fan of such ridiculous humor, you're going to have a great time. In fact, I showed it to my actual dad, confident that he'd love it, and he dissolved into a puddle of giggles within five minutes. It would be a waste of time to even try and describe any plot beyond the basic framework of it taking place in a police station, because the entire show is just a joke delivery system. The second season just started, but as a cord-cutter, I've only been able to watch the first one so far. I'm looking forward to catching up with the new episodes as soon as they're streaming somewhere, but in the meantime, go check out that first absurd season on Hulu.

When I talked about Bojack Horseman last year, I alluded to the fact that one of its biggest strengths was that it was able to find the comedy in crippling depression. Still, even at his lowest points, Bojack could always take comfort in one thing: He's fictional. What about trying to tell the real story of a real person with bipolar disorder? And make it funny at the same time?

Enter Maria Bamford and her Netflix show, Lady Dynamite. Created by Pam Brady and Mitch Hurwitz, it's loosely based on Bamford's life, including her popular, manic commercials for Target (called Checklist in the show) and her time away from the entertainment industry as she tried to recover from a breakdown. Doesn't sound overly funny, does it? Indeed, it starts off a little rough, but around episode 3, it suddenly snaps into one of the most remarkable shows I've seen in a long time.

Just about every name in comedy stops by to guest star, whether it's as a character or as themselves. Just about all of my favorites pop up (Sarah Silverman, Tig Notaro, Jenny Slate, Missi Pyle, and many more!) and the antics surrounding Maria's failings and her attempts to atone for them and to pull her life together get funnier and funnier as the show goes along. Given the subject material, I honestly don't know if there's enough to put together a second season of this, but even if this show exists as just a small little capsule of what the state of comedy is like in 2016, we should count ourselves lucky.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 2: B+
Angie Tribeca - Season 1: B+
Lady Dynamite - Season 1: A-
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