New release explores building blocks of comedy
This week we begin in a dream state: Sleepwalk With Me (***) Not rated, 81 minutes. Available Tuesday in DVD and streaming formats.
Mike Birbiglia co-wrote, directed and then starred in this comedy that, while moderately funny, also does about as good a job imaginable in capturing the agony suffered by stand-up comedians.
He plays Matt, a part-time bartender who takes the microphone when offered, usually delivering a series of lame one-liners. But he grabs an unexpected chance and hits the road, performing in various low-paying gigs, all while improving his spiel. For material, he milks his long-term relationship with his overly patient girlfriend (Lauren Ambrose), who has thoughts of marriage.
The title comes from Matt’s chronic sleepwalking, a subplot providing for several imaginary scenes.
Birbiglia is a real-life comedian who has written extensively about his sleepwalking episodes, which have caused considerable property damage to at least one hotel, but only minor injuries for Birbiglia himself.
The DVD includes a 14-minute “making of” featurette, four minutes of outtakes, a 34-minute Q&A with Birbiglia at a Writers Guild conference, and five “behind-the-scenes” shorts totaling 14 minutes.
Trouble With the Curve (**1/2) Robert Lorenz directed from Randy Brown’s formulaic script this story of Gus (Clint Eastwood), a cranky, decrepit baseball scout who faces the end of his days because of failing eyesight.
Good friend Pete (John Goodman) enlists the help of Mickey (Amy Adams), Gus’ no-nonsense corporate lawyer daughter, named of course for Mickey Mantle. She travels to North Carolina to be with her prickly dad while he scouts a promising prospect. While there, she begins the obvious romantic entanglement with Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a former ballplayer and competing scout.
Conflict arises about Gus being forcibly retired as well as which players the two teams will draft. Despite the conflicts, however, a twist in the ending involving a local ballplayer is laughable. Still, overall, the professional cast elevates the production.
Rated PG-13, 111 minutes. The DVD, in all formats, includes a five-minute “behind-the-scenes” featurette and a six-minute featurette with Adams and Timberlake.
Liberal Arts (**1/2) Josh Radnor wrote, directed and stars as Jesse, a 35-year-old college administrator in New York who returns to his small liberal arts college in Ohio for the weekend for the retirement of a former professor (Richard Jenkins). While there, Jesse meets and develops a strong friendship with a 19-year-old student, Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen).
When he returns to New York, the two continue to correspond, until he eventually visits her for another weekend. Expectations on both sides are great, but not everything works according to hopes and plans.
Radnor follows his Happythankyoumoreplease with more characters who speak unnaturally while making the worst, and unnatural, choices. Still, Liberal Arts is an entertaining film — if at times annoying.
Not rated, 97 minutes. The DVD, in all formats, includes 17 minutes of deleted scenes and a brief “making of” featurette.
Why Stop Now (*1/2) It’s hard to dig up a more misguided idea for a comedy than this one centering on a young piano prodigy (the ever-twitchy Jesse Eisenberg) who must help care for his little sister because of the consistent irresponsible behavior of his mother (Melissa Leo).
When Mom decides to check herself into rehab after taking a few days off from drugs, the counselor tells her that because she tested clean, she is ineligible for help. So she enlists her son to help her buy drugs so she can then test positive.
They go to a drug dealer, Sprinkles (Tracy Morgan), setting off a wild and improbable quest that takes the group through variously ludicrous encounters. Wide, broad humor.
Rated R, 88 minutes. The DVD includes an eight-minute interview with Morgan and a brief “making of” featurette.
Second Best (***1/2) In this fine 1993 drama — manufactured on demand through the Warner Archive Collection — William Hurt stars as Graham, a withdrawn Welsh man who owns a small shop and serves as postmaster in his local village.
Never married and caring for a bed-ridden father, Graham fosters, with the intention of adopting, Jimmy (Nathan Yapp), an emotionally scarred 10-year-old boy abandoned by his jailed father. Graham’s shyness and Jimmy’s anger make for tense situations, as their time together draws out thoughts of childhood for both.
A well-paced, compelling, overall fine film. With Alan Cumming and Prunella Scales, and directed by Chris Menges. Rated PG-13, 105 minutes.
Osombie (**) It’s Walking Dead meets Zero Dark Thirty in this loopy horror spoof. A serious-looking Eve Mauro plays Dusty, on a mission to Afghanistan to rescue her brother who has ventured there because he believes Osama bin Laden is still alive. She joins up with a Special Forces unit, and before long, they confront their least expected enemy: zombies. Not rated, 94 minutes.
Forced to Fight (**) Gary Daniels plays Shane Slavin, a retired underground fighter who now lives a settled family life. He is forced back into the ring when his brother crosses a vicious mobster (Peter Weller). Mixed martial arts fans might enjoy the surplus of various battles.
Not rated, 100 minutes. The DVD includes a “behind-the-scenes” featurette and a featurette on “Filming the Fights.”
Finally, something for kids this week:
Bob the Builder: Teamwork Time In these five episodes, Bob and his buddies Spud, Dizzy, Roley and Scrambler learn to be determined and thoughtful, not only in their daily chores but also in their projects. Not rated, 55 minutes. The disc also holds three music videos.
Thomas and Friends: Sticky Situations In these five episodes set on the island of Sodor, Thomas and Butch land in a mess caused by their own inattention. They eventually join Spencer, Gordon, Edward and others in learning to pay attention and be useful. Not rated, 50 minutes. The disc also holds a game, a puzzle and a music video.
And, finally, from TV this week:
Shameless: The Complete Second Season The sophomore season of this unlikely hit series returns on 12 episodes on three discs. Based on a British TV show of the same name, it stars William H. Macy as Frank, the shifty, unrepentant head of the scheming Gallagher clan of Chicago.
They stick together no matter the obstacle and no matter how ridiculous some of the scrapes Frank lands them in. Emmy Rossum plays Fiona, the family voice of reason, and Lip (Jeremy Allen White) is the oldest son, and a part-time bootlegger.
Not rated, 10 1/2 hours. The set includes 10 minutes of deleted scenes (spread over three discs), “actor discussions” in five parts totaling around 38 minutes, a 19-minute featurette on writing the series and how it was transferred from the British version, a music video, a seven-minute featurette on “The Complicated Life of Fiona Gallagher,” and more.
Also available Tuesday on DVD: Pitch Perfect.