Review: ‘Standing Up, Falling Down’ a Bona Fide Winner

It seems strange that Ben Schwartz (of Jean-Ralphio Saperstein from Parks & Recreation fame) had two films that opened on back-to-back weekends and they couldn’t be more different. The first, the much maligned Sonic the Hedgehog opened HUGE and took home the box office crown the past two weekends. The other, Standing Up, Falling Down, opened to much less fanfare but is the far more interesting of the two.

The film gives us the story of Scott Rollins (Schwartz), a down on his luck comedian living in LA who gives up on his dream of making it big the comedy world and comes home to Long Island to reset his life. Of course, like many who set off in the way of Horatio Alger and head west, Scott hangs his head in shame as the prodigal son returns home broken. He’s greeted half-heartedly by his father (Kevin Dunn) and enthusiastically by his mother (Debra Monk) who is happy to have him home. Scott settles into his childhood room that appears no different than when he lived there as a child. Of course, the girl he left behind brokenhearted, Becky (Eloise Mumford), has since married and looms large in the whole scenario. Adrift and unsure of what to do with himself, he meets up with his friend Murph (Leonard Ouzts) at a bar and sees what his life would have been like if he played it like most do – wife, kids, house and all that comes with it. While in the bathroom, he runs into Marty (Billy Crystal), an alcoholic dermatologist who pisses in the sink then tells Scott he’s got a skin issue and he should come by his office to have it checked out.

After meeting up again at a wake, the two form a quick bond and open up to one another about the various things they’ve screwed up in their lives. Marty acts as a guide of sorts, helping Scott navigate the shit situation he’s steered himself into. Likewise, connecting with Scott helps Marty work through his own shit although it happens a little more circuitously.

What unfolds is not all that surprising, but it is a ride worth taking. I found myself incredibly invested in both characters. I know that if I had made a few different decisions in my life, I could easily have been Scott, aimlessly wandering hoping to latch onto that one thing that will make me whole. I’m sure we’ve all had those thoughts.

What really drives this film is the performances of both Schwartz and Crystal. Both have larger than life personalities that can be overwhelming (in a good way, of course). While I lament that there was no running over by a Lexus, Schwartz especially surprised me with his standout performance – subdued but charming and funny with spot on timing and delivery. I hope to see much more of this type of role for Schwartz. Crystal is a legend and he didn’t disappoint. Always able to balance humor and drama, he gives a performance that stands up with his best. Both actors were so relatable and they played perfectly off of one another that kudos are necessary to whomever cast them together.

This is a very satisfying film experience and well crafted by director Matt Ratner with a solid script written by Peter Hoare. Grace Gummer, Caitlin McGee, Nate Corddry and David Castañeda round out the great cast.

I would highly suggest catching this one if you can. It is still in theaters and available through various streaming sources.

Review: ‘Olympics Dreams’ Goes for the Gold

One of my two first sports memories from my childhood was the Miracle on Ice victory of the US Olympic Hockey Team defeating the Russian team in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Ever since, it has been a quadrennial ritual of mine (and now my family’s) to watch with great intensity all of the drama that unfolds as champions from every nation in the world battle it out in their respective sports on the frozen slopes,rinks and tracks.

Olympic Dreams brings us to the world of the Winter Olympics in a way that has never really been seen before. It is the first film to ever be shot in the Olympic Village during an actual Olympics – the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. While this games was not without it’s nail biting moments (reference the shootout gold medal victory of the US Women’s Hockey Team) Olympic Dreams brings a different type of drama, one much more subtle although no less impactful.

Penelope (Alexi Pappas) is a cross country skier at her first Olympics and clearly is out of her element. She is adrift and alone in the Olympic Village, morose at a time when most 22-year olds would be living it up. Even though she is part of one of the largest delegation of athletes at the games, she awkwardly tries to connect to others without much success.

Away from the hustle and bustle that the athletes experience, we find 37-year old Ezra (Nick Kroll), a volunteer dentist from the US, who is equally adrift. Unsure of where to go and whom to see to get settled, Ezra, too, tries his best to fit in with the rarefied set of folks participating in Pyeongchang. He nervously admits to an athlete he’s giving a check up to that he and his fiancee are on a break as she doesn’t understand his desire to travel and experience new cultures and places. And as would have it in a film, he connects with Penelope while eating in the cafeteria setting up the arc of the rest of the film – two misfits meet…will they get together, or will they fuck it all up?

Penelope is isolated, not just being in South Korea so far from the US, but from her teammates, her coach who isn’t there with her and her family. She receives phone calls from her coach and father, but she is never at ease, emotional and clearly lost. She spent her entire childhood, training endlessly for this one shot missing out on so much to be at the Olympics, but in the end she’s alone. Hell, even her event, the 10km Freestyle, is 25-35 minutes of pure solitary hell. When she finishes, there are no fans, coaches or teammates there to greet like the other skiers with nothing but a personal best to show for it. She never got her Jessie Diggins moment. Was it really worth it? On the flipside, Ezra himself stuck in limbo between continents while his relationship is on hold, flounders in the same way that Penelope does. The budding relationship is akin to that of Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) in Lost in Translation.

I was surprised by this film and was really taken with Pappas who also co-wrote the film with Kroll and husband/director Jeremy Teicher. Her embodiment of Penelope opened up a narrative of an Olympic athlete that I hadn’t seen nor really considered before. She herself is a former Olympic long distance runner and I have no doubt that’s why her performance felt so authentic and visceral. It’s hard to separate Kroll from his previous bombastic roles in shows like The League and Parks and Recreation so his performance didn’t carry the same weight as Pappas’. They vibed well together in their scenes, but I was left with asking, why him of all people when it is no secret that the Olympic Village is a hot bed of lascivious activity.

All of the behind the scenes shots that Teicher was able to incorporate into the film were also fantastic. The scale of the Olympics is so huge and his direction made them seem so much more accessible through these characters. The inclusion of Olympian skiers Morgan Schild and Gus Kenworthy was also a really nice touch.

This is a film I really enjoyed. It’s a great film for the Valentine’s Day weekend. Would this film win the gold? Maybe, maybe not, but I think it might make the medal stand.

Olympic Dreams opens today in select cities and is also available on demand.

2015 Emmy Nominations are Here!

emmys_nominations_full_list

The 2015 Primetime Emmy Awards nominations were announced this morning. Here is the full list of nominees:

OUTSTANDING DRAMA
Better Call Saul
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
Homeland
House of Cards
Mad Men
Orange Is the New Black

OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Kyle Chandler, Bloodline
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards

OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Claire Danes, Homeland
Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder
Taraji P. Henson, Empire
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Robin Wright, House of Cards

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey
Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Uzo Aduba, Orange Is the New Black
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline
Jim Carter, Downton Abbey
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Michael Kelly, House of Cards
Alan Cumming, The Good Wife

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Diana Rigg, Game of Thrones
Rachel Brosnahan, House of Cards
Cicely Tyson, How to Get Away With Murder
Allison Janney, Masters of Sex
Khandi Alexander, Scandal
Margo Martindale, The Americans

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Alan Alda, The Blacklist
Michael J Fox, The Good Wife
F. Murray Abraham, Homeland
Reg E. Cathey, House of Cards
Beau Bridges, Masters of Sex
Pablo Schreiber, Orange Is the New Black

OUTSTANDING COMEDY
Louie
Modern Family
Parks and Recreation
Silicon Valley
Transparent
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Veep

OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Lisa Kudrow, The Comeback
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie

OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Anthony Anderson, black-ish
Louis C.K., Louie
Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Will Forte, Last Man on Earth
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
William H. Macy, Shameless
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Niecy Nash, Getting On
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Allison Janney, Mom
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
Gaby Hoffmann, Transparent
Jane Krakowski, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Anna Chlumsky, Veep

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Adam Driver, Girls
Keegan-Michael Key, Key & Peele
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Tony Hale, Veep

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Gaby Hoffmann, Girls
Pamela Adlon, Louie
Elizabeth Banks, Modern Family
Joan Cusack, Shameless
Christine Baranski, The Big Bang Theory
Tina Fey, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Mel Brooks, The Comedians
Paul Giamatti, Inside Amy Schumer
Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live
Louis C.K., Saturday Night Live
Bradley Whitford, Transparent
Jon Hamm, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

OUTSTANDING REALITY SHOW HOST
Tom Bergeron, DWTS
Jane Lynch, Hollywood Game Night
Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, Project Runway
Cat Deeley, SYTYCD
Anthony Bourdain, The Taste

OUTSTANDING REALITY SHOW COMPETITION
The Amazing Race
Dancing With the Stars
Project Runway
So You Think You Can Dance
Top Chef
The Voice

OUTSTANDING VARIETY, MUSIC, OR COMEDY SERIES
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Last Week Tonight
Late Show With David Letterman
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

OUTSTANDING LIMITED SERIES
American Crime
American Horror Story: Freak Show
The Honorable Woman
Olive Kitterridge
Wolf Hall

OUTSTANDING TV MOVIE
Agatha Christie’s Poirot — Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case
Bessie
Race of Monaco
Hello Ladies: The Movie
Killing Jesus
Nightingale

LEAD ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Queen Latifah, Bessie
Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Honorable Woman
Frances McDormand, Olive Kitteridge
Emma Thompson, Sweeney Todd

LEAD ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Timothy Hutton, American Crime
Ricky Gervais, Derek Special
Adrien Brody, Houdini
David Oyelowo, Nightingale
Richard Jenkins, Olive Kitteridge
Mark Rylance, Wolf Hall

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Regina King, American Crime
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Angela Bassett, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Mo’Nique, Bessie
Zoe Kazan, Olive Kitteridge

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Richard Cabral, American Crime
Denis O’Hare, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Finn Wittrock, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Michael Kenneth Williams, Bessie
Bill Murray, Olive Kitteridge
Damian Lewis, Wolf Hall