NYFF57 review: ’45 Seconds on Laughter’ Tim Robbins’ doc brings levity to the lives of those who need it most.

45 SECONDS OF LAUGHTER

  • Tim Robbins
  • 2019
  • USA
  • 95 minutes

North American Premiere

In his contemplative, pared-down, and wildly engaging documentary, Tim Robbins captures a series of extraordinary sessions in which a group of inmates at the Calipatria State maximum-security facility take part in acting exercises that enhance bonding and emotional connection.

Zip. Zap. Zop. This is one of the most familiar improv games for theater nerds all over the country. In the first 20 minutes of Tim Robbins‘ new doc we watch a group of maximum security prisoners experience their very first acting class with The Actor’s Gang Prison Project. Ordinarily divided by race and gang affliction out in the yard, these men from all different backgrounds allow themselves to be free. They allow happiness, vulnerability, doubt, fear, and reflection into their normally regimented day and existence. The human connections and breakthroughs made in an acting class can change the very way you think and process information. It is an outlet that is unique and to see the effect it has on this particular group of people is profound. As the classes progress, they are challenged to emote, not just feign happy or sad, but truly feel anguish, rage, glee. To see men who are oftentimes not allowed to express themselves because of toxic masculinity and their specific surrounding, finally, feel safe enough to do so is truly breathtaking. Robbins and his teaching team, which includes an ex-prisoner, give us a masterclass in this documentary. 45 Seconds of Laughter (which is also how they end each class) is more than a film, it is a brilliant human experience. You will see transformations right in front of your eyes. Destroying boundaries through art, building friendships through mask play, and repairing relationships with loved ones by taking a chance on something completely outside of their comfort zone is nothing short of extraordinary. 45 Seconds of Laughter is a joyous film. Bravo to all.

 

DVD Review: ‘THE SPOILS BEFORE DYING’ is another hit for Funny Or Die and IFC


THE SPOILS BEFORE DYING 

Starring Michael Kenneth Williams, Maya Rudolph 
and Kristen Wiig

Available on DVD as of June 7, 2016

The Spoils Before Dying” showcases an all-star cast including, Michael Kenneth Williams (12 Years a Slave, RoboCop, “The Wire”), Maya Rudolph (“Saturday Night Live,” Bridesmaids, Big Hero 6), Kristen Wiig (“Saturday Night Live,” Bridesmaids), and Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense, Pay It Forward). Produced by Funny Or Die with executive producers Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Nate Young, Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, “The Spoils Before Dying” was written by Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont (who also directed). “The Spoils Before Dying” is the second book, based on fictional famous author Eric Jonrosh’s (Will Ferrell) first best-selling epic novel The Spoils of Babylon. Season two from the “Spoils” franchise premiered on IFC on July 8, 2015, and includes six half-hour episodes.
maya rudolph and michael KENNETH WILLIAMSThe series centers on Michael Kenneth Williams as Rock Banyon, who becomes the prime suspect in the double murder of his occasional lover Fresno Foxglove (Maya Rudolph) who is found dead with another man. Panicked, Rock splits for Mexico where he reunites with his one-time big band singer Delores DeWinter (Kristen Wiig). With 72 hours to clear his name or fry in the electric chair, Rock and Delores embark on a dangerous quest for the truth that takes them into an abyss of sex, drugs, betrayal, and of course, jazz. While his world crumbles, Rock’s hard-charging manager Alistair St. Barnaby (Haley Joel Osment) pressures him to record a mainstream jazz album.

will ferrell TSBD stillFunny Or Die can pretty much do no wrong in my opinion. Following up on the 2014 The Spoils of Babylon, The Spoils Before Dying is another total win. If you haven’t seen the first season in IFC, imagine a Sin City narrative combined with the Rodriguez/Tarantino Grindhouse schlock and add in the compressed timing of an SNL Digital Short (sort of, each episode is 30 minutes). Tough in our age of binge-watching, you can happily run through the entire series in the time it would take you to watch any other film, half as fun. The mock commercials stuck into the episodes are as completely tongue-in-cheek as the rest of the production. kristen wiig TSBDThe performances are off the rails hilarious. Will Ferrell reprising his role as Eric Jonrosh is pure insanity. His oftentimes linear thinking combined with overindulgence and narcissism is pitch perfect. Michael Kenneth Williams is a breath of fresh air as he takes on his role with (almost) complete seriousness. We all knew Maya Rudolf has a set of pipes on her, but I had no idea that Kristen Wiig can sing. And when I say sing, I really mean SAAAANNNNNGGGG. The songs are unapologetically ridiculous AND maintain gorgeous melodies. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Haley Joel Osment, who steals each scene he appears in with total commitment and one over-the-top accent. With appearances by Tim Robbins, Kate McKinnon, Molly Shannon, Michael Sheen, Chris Parnell, Tim Meadows, to name a few,  you simply cannot go wrong with this series. The Spoils Before Dying is now available in DVD. Check out the trailer below!

Liz’s Review: ‘WELCOME TO ME’ takes on mental illness with heart and humor.

welcome to  me poster
Mental illness is a touchy subject. Certainly putting a pretty face to it makes us more comfortable to talk about it. Films like Gabriel and Silver Linings Playbook have since tackled these issues, on two very opposite ends of the spectrum. A new film starring Kristen Wiig, Welcome to Me, looks at both sides of  something that can be hard to discuss. The story revolves around a young woman with borderline personality disorder who wins 86 million dollars in the lottery. Obsessed with being the next Oprah, Alice approaches a local TV station and pays a great sum of money for them create a talk show just for her, about her, and only, her. Believing that her new found wealth can solve anything in her recently unmedicated surroundings, Alice’s behavior spins out of control as she becomes an internet sensation. The show becomes an inappropriate arena for her to air all the emotional hurt in her head. The station is owned by two very different brothers, Rich and Gabe. The first is desperate for the checks to keep rolling in from Alice, while the other, has his own issues and a thing for his new host. Can Alice pull her life together in time to save any of the relationships in her life?

Welcome to Me Wes Bentley and James MarsdenThis film is filled with a crazy talented cast. James Marsden plays the smarmier of the two brothers, while Wes Bentley is the odder, more lovable one. Marsden is a real dick, while Bentley is sensitive and interesting. The two are totally believable as siblings. Alan Tudyk, who I can never get enough of, is Alice’s gay ex-husband and charming and adorable as always. Joan Cusak, funny lady extraordinaire, plays Welcome To Me’s director so  think Gelman à la Live with Kelly and Michael. Her sincerity is what makes her so effortlessly hilarious. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the more realistic producer who spends most of her time face palming and attempting to interject reason to this insane scenario. Linda Cardellini is Gina, Alice’s best friend since middle school. Cardellini is loving, quiet, and the ultimate caretaker. Tim Robbins plays Alice’s therapist. He puts his foot down when it comes to Alice pushing boundaries, and I would hire him as my real life Dr. in a heartbeat… is that weird?Welcome to me, Alan Tudyk, Linda CardeliniBut let’s get to our leading lady, Kristen Wiig. Famous for her SNL characters like “The Target Lady”, “Penelope”, “Judy Grimes” (Just Kidding Lady), “Babe” (One-of-Two A-Holes), and “Junice Merill” (Slightly-Off Laurwence Welk Performer) but since her departure we’ve seen her take on some truly challenging indie roles. She was a delight in Hateship Loveship, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and The Skeleton Twins. She, of course, has impeccable comic timing, but is exceptionally gifted in the dramatic. Also, on aside note, she is a pretty woman, no doubt, but there is something altogether gorgeous about her in Welcome To Me. The character of Alice Klieg is incredibly damaged, but if I’m being honest, she is just acting in the ways we all wish we could if they were socially acceptable. This is yet another performance in a long line of impressive ones for Kristen. For the love of all that is holy, go see her in this!Welcome to Me Kristen Wiig

Synopsis: A woman with borderline personality disorder (Kristen Wiig) wins the Mega-
Millions and—much to the dismay of her parents, therapist, gay ex-husband and local TV station—uses the winnings to fund her lifelong dream of becoming the next Oprah.

Starring:

Kristen Wiig, Wes Bentley, Linda Cardellini, Joan Cusak, Loretta Devine, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Thomas Mann, James Marsden, Tim Robbins, Alan Tudyk

Written by Eliot Laurence

Directed by Shira Piven

WELCOME TO ME comes to theaters May 1st.