Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Don't Think Twice

Year 9, Day 206 - 7/25/17 - Movie #2,695

BEFORE: I'm back from Comic-Con, exhausted and frustrated.  Since I've got "Geek Week" coming up in just a few days - that's a whole week of documentaries about geek culture, including the Comic-Con phenomenon, I'm going to save my thoughts about Comic-Con for then.  I've got a myriad of complaints, but I'm going to type them up for my boss's blog first, and then maybe I'll reprint them here in early August.  The bottom line is that may have been my last time going out to San Diego (I know, I say that every year, but this time I'm serious) and I'm surprisingly OK with that.  The event has changed a LOT since I started attending 15 or 16 years ago, and mostly it's not for the better.  Now that I'm back, I can focus on what's really important - getting ready for New York Comic-Con.

But I did something before I left, which was quite amazing - I blocked out my movie schedule for the rest of the year, and the linking is solid now (with 2 small exceptions, but I allow exceptions for things like documentaries and horror films) right through to the last film of the year.  I went on a linking tear, which has been made easier now that I'm considering Netflix films, films streaming on Amazon, and Academy screeners all fair game.  Those things have opened up a new world of possibilities where linking is concerned, which almost makes up for the fact that they've nearly doubled the potential size of my watchlist.  To keep my cool, I've kept all of those films on a separate list, apart from the main watchlist, so I can still maintain some semblance of "progress", whatever that means.  Like tonight's film, which I found on Netflix, and it's going straight from the "Add this eventually" list on to the "Movies Watched in 2017" list - skipping the main watchlist all together.  And Keegan-Michael Key carries over from "The Angry Birds Movie", and he'll be here tomorrow as well.

The Watchlist has already crept up to 135 (it was 130 before I began watching all those animated films on Netflix) and since Geek Week will be mostly Netflix films too, it may be a long time before the Watchlist starts shrinking again - but hey, at least I've got a plan for the rest of 2017 that will allow me to see "Thor: Ragnarok", "Justice League", "Blade Runner 2049", and "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" all on time (more or less) and it WORKS with the calendar, in a way that makes me happy.  And it gets me to more of those films like "Spotlight", that I've been dying to see, but which never seem to run on premium cable, like "Into the Wild", "Drive", and "Lovelace".

Now, I did have a rough plan for 2017 already - though I hadn't done the linking to confirm that I could connect all of those 2017 releases in a way that made sense.  But I was amazed how easily the plan fell into place once I started looking closely at the cast lists.  In fact, it almost came together TOO well, after reducing my October horror chain to just 24 films, I gained some wiggle room, but I didn't have to add more than 7 films to make everything connect.  In fact at that point I was still five films short, and I only had to close a gap between the end of a Ben Affleck chain (one of 4 possible films) and the start of a Jennifer Lawrence chain ("Winter's Bone").  If I could do that in 5 films, I was golden.  The answer was strikingly simple - one of the actors in a Ben Affleck film was also in the first "Hunger Games" film, so if I added that 4-film series (umm, I have been avoiding it...), I was nearly there.  I added one more Warren Beatty film between two of his other films, and I had my final 105 films for 2017.

Then I could breathe easy, relax and get on board the plane for San Diego - and I wasn't focused on movies the whole time I was out there.  Sure, I could have watched a movie on the plane, but then that would have thrown off my count.  Instead I watched the first four episodes of the mini-series "11.22.63", based on Stephen King's novel about time-travelling to try and stop the JFK assassination.  Now I'll have to log on to my wife's Hulu account to watch the final four eps.  On the flight back I watched a short (1 hr.) documentary called "I Killed JFK" (kept the theme going) and then a Pete Holmes comedy special (I really needed to laugh).  And Pete has a cameo in today's film, so hey, it all worked out.  I don't feel the need to count that documentary on my list, it's barely even worth mentioning.  I mean, I'll count it if I need to, but I'd rather just regard it as a quick follow-up to the "Jackie" feature.


THE PLOT: When a member of a popular New York City improv troupe gets a huge break, the rest of the group - all best friends - start to realize that not everyone is going to make it after all.

AFTER: I've been watching the Showtime series "I'm Dying Up Here", and this film is sort of cut from the same cloth - a look at what a bunch of comedians go through when they're both on and off-stage, and navigating their way through their day jobs while cultivating their nascent comedy careers.  Some things will go well, other things won't, particularly relationships, and life's a bitch even if you're prone to see the funny side of things.  (The Showtime series is set in 1970's L.A., and this is set in present-day NYC, but the main thrust of the story is the same.)

One or two of those 1970's L.A. standup comics is going to make it to the Carson show, and one or two of the improv comics here may get an audition for "Weekend Live", which is the obvious stand-in here for SNL, complete with a dictator-like producer who speaks in a monotone similar to Lorne Michaels'.  But when one of the comics manages to break through, what happens to the others?  Does the group break up or does it forge ahead without him?  Can a successful comic continue to date someone who not only isn't as successful, but seems to have no desire to be?  And at what point should someone stop trying to break into acting, writing or performing and seriously consider getting a job that pays real money?

These are all valid questions, and I don't think there are any right answers.  If you've got your heart set on something, then you keep trying until you make it, or until circumstances force you to stop.  Hey, if Hitler hadn't given up on his art career, then maybe World War II would never have happened - it's something to think about.  When I was a kid I thought maybe I could be a comedian, and my mom desperately wanted me to be the next Rich Little, but I think maybe my impressions sounded better to her than to anyone else.  I studied comedy writing at NYU, which included both improv and scripted work, so I know you really have to put yourself out there and not get embarrassed easily.  I did meet my first wife in that class, so something good came out of it, even though that turned to crap about 5 years later.

But even though I don't perform any more, the skills are still there, or so I tell myself.  I'm quick to come up with punny titles for things, and I'm workshopping a 10-minute set about the inconvenient restrooms I encountered in San Diego, though I'm sure a lot of the material has been done by professional stand-ups by now.  I was working on a whole thing about how self-entitled and annoying people are in public - you know, parents with babies in restaurants, people who bring dogs into the bagel shop - and I turned on the TV last night and caught an Erik Griffin special that touched on many of the same ideas, and went even five steps further, so there's no point in me getting up on stage with it now.

But this is the kind of film I would love to make, in some ways - I've been sitting on the story of my first marriage, trying to turn it into a screenplay via several attempts over the years.  Just replace "improv comedy" with student filmmaking and "Dungeons & Dragons", and "Don't Think Twice" is very close to the story I wanted to tell - 6 friends who participate in activities together and are all trying to be successful, and there are hook-ups and break-ups within the group, which eventually can't take the strains of in-fighting and petty jealousy.

Someone here probably had an inside knowledge of "SNL", or perhaps a track record of trying out for the show and being turned down - Mike Birbiglia, I'm guessing.  Maybe this whole story came from his real life and he watched his friends land roles, or writing gigs, on that show - it's a great way to turn personal pain into the backbone of a comedic story.  (Comedy is just tragedy plus time, right?) And it hits very close to the mark, because "SNL" hasn't been funny for years, except for the "Weekend Update" segments.  Why can't the writers on SNL use punchlines to end their skits, or at least do something original once in a while?  Or am I just too old to appreciate it, or get all of the references?  You can probably tell how old someone is by asking them to fill in this blank: "Saturday Night Live hasn't been funny since ________ left."  Now if they say Will Ferrell, Eddie Murphy or Chevy Chase, you can peg what generation they're part of.

But it's also about being self-aware, about knowing when something is over - a relationship, a writing/performing partnership, a job - and deciding to motivate yourself to move on.  And thus it's very appropriate that I watched this right after San Diego Comic-Con, which I have decided not to attend any more, for reasons which I'll discuss further in a couple weeks.

Also starring Gillian Jacobs (last seen in "Hot Tub Time Machine 2"), Mike Birbiglia (last seen in "Hot Pursuit"), Kate Micucci (last heard in "The Lego Batman Movie"), Tami Sagher (last seen in "Knocked Up"), Chris Gerhard (last seen in "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn"), Seth Barrish (last seen in "True Story"), Richard Masur (last seen in "Heartburn"), Richard Kline (last seen in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry"), Adam Pally (last seen in "Dirty Grandpa"), Sondra James (last seen in "Spider-Man: Homecoming"), Gary Richardson (ditto), Erin Darke (last seen in "Still Alice"), Maggie Kemper, Connor Ratliff, Sunita Mani, Miranda Bailey, with cameos from Lena Dunham (last seen in "It's Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise"), Ben Stiller (last seen in "Zoolander 2"), Pete Holmes.

RATING: 6 out of 10 quotes from Del Close

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