Tag Archives: Maya Rudolph

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: LIFE OF THE PARTY, WITH BONUS AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

The trashy frat house machismo of Animal House wasn’t my cup of tea in 1978 and, typical of ‘ work, its excesses have dated. With and hubby Ben Falcone co-writing and producing Life of the Party, I wasn’t expecting anything along the zany lines of the National Lampoon boys, but rather something akin to Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School, done via McCarthy’s typical cutsey dumb girl humor. Although McCarthy’s on-the-sleeve screen persona is not one I cozy up to, she was amiable enough in pleasantries such as Bridesmaids, The HeatSpy, and Ghostbusters (all directed by )

We’ll get back to that. Having a long day off (both a school break and a work break), I opted for a double-feature picture show. The first feature, Avengers: Infinity War, was essentially a 21st century update of Animal House, with the boys spinning their tires in school parking lots replaced with super dupers. Essentially, though, both of those movies are tailored for secular camo-wearing bucks. I’ve never quite understood extreme virile conservatism divorced from religion. Don’t the two kind of go hand-in-hand? But then, Avengers does feature an overload of costumed deities who practically all get slaughtered by a big guy with an even bigger chin. I suppose it gives fans of the funny paper bibles what they want: two-dimensional gods who die horribly. It’s not so much a movie as a collection of video game levels. All the super dudes and super gals (too many to name) are like walk-on figures who go through multiple battles before getting wasted and replaced by the next set of supers whose powers are interchangeable and vague.

Still from Avengers: Infinity War (2018)It’s so damned deafening and foul, made all the more so by “Game of Thrones”-fed audience members who acted like a rabid tribe of simians, a-gruntin’ and a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ at each explosion. The atmosphere reminded me of a news article I had just read online with hundreds of commenters rooting for the death of John McCain because he dared to oppose torture (after being tortured) and he stood up to Lord Thanos, er, Trump. Yes, there is a political current coursing throughout Avengers. It’s the politics of monochromatic deathlust, and the bloodbath is only alleviated by ingratiating macho jokiness. Then back to more carnage for 160 endless minutes.

Of course, it’s going to make a trillion dollars and in many quarters this pedestrian mess is preposterously being hailed as something on the scale of Empire Strikes Back. If it really matters, it’s about these infinity stones, and the fate of the universe, and Tolkien-like sacrifice and… it doesn’t matter one bit. Undoubtedly, the various action figures will rise again so fans can be rest assured that there will be more. However, there was an actual death permeating the entire experience; the repugnant death of the greatest art form birthed in the 20th century.

Life of the Party (2018) posterAfter TammyThe Boss, and Life of the Party, all made with Falcone, McCarthy would be wise to work solely with Paul Feig. Her collaborations with husband are comparatively bland, never more so than here. Translation: Life of the Party is a crashing bore, which is the kiss of death for a comedy—especially one that features a star whose reputation was built on pratfalls and mugging. Almost as bad as the direction, the script, like Avengers, is utterly pedestrian non-writing, with the only surprise being how lifeless this party is. While it wasn’t soulless in the way Avengers was, Life of the Party could have used the slobishness of a John Belushi, or the madcap salty pathos of a Dangerfield. Normally, for all her obviousness, McCarthy at least delivers something in between the two; but here, she takes the worst route of all: toning down her antics, thus zapping away any personality.

The ho-hum plot is a sputtering series of muddled vignettes. After her jerk hubby has left her for another woman, McCarthy enrolls in college to study archeology. Naturally, it’s the same school her daughter (Molly Gordon) goes to. No prizes will be awarded for guessing what comes next in this listless remake of Back to School. Yes, fish-outta-water, dejected McCarthy plays mom to all the students, embarrasses her daughter, hooks up with a young dumb stud, becomes a favorite of all, and everything turns out OK for those on the screen (not so much for us).

Surprisingly, McCarthy is upstaged by co-stars , Heidi Gardner, and Gillian Jacobs. While The Avengers was a bodiless set of redneck testicles, Life of the Party is spayed suburbia. The only mercy afforded was in its comparative brevity. Also, the audience was less overbearing, but then over half the seats were empty—probably not a good sign for the producers and star.

Nor is this a good sign for my upcoming summer slate. Both Avengers and Life are DOA. At this rate, perhaps 366 readers can chip in and gofundme for a couple of packs of smokes and a very large can of sugar-free Rock Star. I think I’m going to need them.

CAPSULE: MY ENTIRE HIGH SCHOOL SINKING INTO THE SEA (2016)

DIRECTED BY: Dash Shaw

FEATURING: Voices of , Reggie Watts, , Lena Dunham,

PLOT: An antisocial sophomore writer for the school newspaper becomes a hero when an earthquake causes (as the title suggests) his entire high school to sink into the sea.

Still from My Entire High School is Sinking into the Sea

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The central premise is more macabrely whimsical than surreal, and while the animation is out there, it’s not enough to advance this underground comic come to life to the grade of “weird.”

COMMENTS: An offbeat collision between “Daria” and The Poseidon Adventure, Dash Shaw’s My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea (adapted from his own comic) dips its toe into the waters of weirdness, but never wholly submerses itself. That’s fine, because it really isn’t aiming at all-out satire or savage surrealism. It’s content to be what it is: a quirky, amused, and almost-but-not-quite nostalgic look at horrors of high school cliquiness. Dash Shaw (yes, the protagonist is named after the writer) is a pretentious high school sophomore only recently recovered from a plague of freshman acne, with high hopes for the upcoming school year. He writes for the school paper and quarrels with his only friend, Assad, when the latter strikes up a romantic relationship with their editor, Verti, proving that just because you’re a nerd doesn’t mean you can’t also be a jerk. When an earthquake sends their precariously-perched school sinking into the sea, the three junior journalists team up with the sophomore class president and an ass-kicking lunch lady to save as many of their fellow students as possible.

Characterization, plot and comedy take a back seat to the visuals, which, while generally crude squigglevision-style inkings, are at the same time enormously inventive and constantly shifting so that the eye is never bored. Cut outs, silhouettes, and a yogic lung-cam are among the styles Shaw assays, along with undersea lava lamps and a psychedelic scene that features super-closeups on individual pixels. Among the visual gags are tributes to “Mortal Kombat” and “the Peanuts,” and Shaw gives even the “normal” scenes unreal color schemes to further liven things up.

Satirical highlights include a popular girl eaten by sharks and a senior football star who sets up his own fiefdom, but the plot is just a serviceable frame on which to hang the animation. As a comedy, it doesn’t produce a lot of laughs, but the gently snarky, tongue-in-cheek tone is pleasant. It comes close to earning a “recommended” tag, but while High School easily earns a passing grade—we’ll say a B+ average—it’s not graduating with honors. It’s a bit of a slacker, honestly, skating by on natural intelligence and outsider charm. It does earn a qualified recommendation for experimental animation fans, high school satire completists, and anyone looking for an amiable way to kill 90 minutes.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A super-fun, bananas-weird tale of thrilling heroics and life-defining friendships animated with collage, line art, paint, Sixties liquid-light effects, and realistic botanical and animal sketches.”–Ashley Moreno, Austin Chronicle (festival screening)