Quick Movie Reviews: The Mitchells vs. The Machines, Nobody & Shiva Baby

The Mitchells vs. The Machines

Ever since the arrival of Vacation franchise in the ’80s, the dysfunctional family road trip movie has earned its place as a Hollywood mainstay, bringing plenty of mixed results in the offshoots that followed. In the animated variety, the unwaveringly sweet The Mitchells vs. The Machines, largely avoids the genre’s worst. Directed by Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe, the film centers on Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), a quirky cinephile teenager with big dreams of moving to California to be a filmmaker. She lives with her ever-supportive mother Linda (Maya Rudolph), her dinosaur fanatic little brother Aaron, yet doesn’t quite feel at home anymore with her outdoorsy father. Rick (Danny McBride) is the kind of well-intentioned dad who gives his family a “number 3 Robertson-head non-slip screwdriver” for birthdays and anniversaries and finds greater joy in building, fixing and hunting stuff rather than his daughter’s art projects. It’s not for a lack of trying; Rick’s big heart doesn’t outright attempt to knowingly crush her ambitions. But whenever he sees Katie’s eccentric student films, Rick fears she’ll fail in her creative career. Their long-established friction leads to plenty of slammed doors and hurt feelings and leaves Rick sitting along in the dark watching old home movies, wondering where it went wrong.

The movie from there looks to dive into the their dynamic. In desperate bid to rekindle their relationship, the clumsy father cancels Katie’s plane ticket to college and embarks with the family on a cross-country road trip to her school. It’s also there where the laughs arrive: from the a visit to a low-rent dinosaur theme park to the abundance of silly arguments. Yet, at nearly two hours, The Mitchells vs. The Machines loses some of its well-earned momentum when Rianda and Rowe flex technophobic tropes into the adventure. Lurking in the background is Mark Bowman (Eric Andre) and his Apple-esque tech company, “PAL.” While Rick’s adherence for his family to put away their screens stays in the foreground. He believes our eyes are nature’s reality and devices subtract us from each other’s company. We’ve seen this soapbox before, and the filmmakers do little to advance such fatigued arguments and the cautionary archetypes that follow.

Image via Netflix

When Bowman’s new streamlined A.I. servants betray him at the behest of PAL, his jilted A.I. smartphone (Olivia Colman), the movie also begins to suffer from the same uncomplicated interpretation of technological subjugation. Such a shallow concept lends a broadness to the robots’ scheme to launch the human race into space in the hopes of creating a utopian bot civilization and makes PAL a terribly dull villain. Thankfully, the mix of 2D and 3D animation injects lively hysterical swings into the humdrum commentary. In particularly, there’s some dazzling cartoon effects — Katie’s own hand-drawn, storyboarded plans and notebook doodles which externalize all her inner emotions. Sometimes the kitschy visual language is overused, but when its punctuated by other jokes the filmmakers score vibrant highs. The zany quest also remains on track due to its equally bizarre characters: two defective droids, Eric (Beck Bennett) and Dehorahbot 5000 (Fred Armisen), who have facial expressions doodled onto their black visors, stand out in the best way. But the faltering father-daughter relationship is what registers strongest in the filmmaker’s earnest fable. As Katie and Rick head to Silicon Valley, hoping to spoil PAL’s dastardly plan, the pair realize the sacrifices and talents the other shares, and we can’t help but fall under the same spell of reconciliation. With plenty of spastic absurdity to offset the genericity of its narrative, The Mitchells vs. The Machines finds genuine humor within its zippy pace.

Grade: B

The Mitchells vs. The Machines is available to stream on Netflix

Nobody

At times defying, while also at times following expectations, Nobody sees Bob Odenkirk take on the improbable role of action star. Directed by Ilya Naishuller, the entire premise of Nobody is, essentially, John Wick if reimagined by placing a taken-for-granted type in the lead role. Odenkirk stars as Hutch Mansell, the unassuming, unhappily married father of two, who is overlooked and unappreciated by his wife, family, and bosses. Unassertive and submissive, Hutch takes many of life’s insults and injustices on the chin and is essentially invisible to everyone, other than as the person you can take advantage of. But life begins to change and unlock one night when two thieves break into his suburban home. His teenage son, Blake (Gage Munroe), tries to fight back, but even though Hutch has the drop on one of the criminals, he elects to play it safe and lets him flee. Blake is deeply disappointed of his father, mistaking his need to keep his family safe, for cowardice, and Hutch’s already-distant wife, Becca (Connie Nielsen), seems doubly unimpressed. Sparked by the humiliation the incident produces, something snaps in Hutch, and he goes on a wild rampage of revenge.

What’s revealed through is that Hutch hasn’t so much gone berserk, as a long-dormant piece of him has finally snapped out of its daze. Because, as you might’ve guessed, Hutch is essentially another John Wick: a former assassin who has left it all behind for the suburban family life. Instead of the dead dog being the trigger that unleashes the wrath of hibernating impulses for violence, it’s the indignities of life that have activated this passive killer instinct. Now, most people likely are only looking to see Odenkirk cathartically break bones, bloody knuckles, and smash skulls. And, in that regard, Nobody checks the boxes: It provides brutal, visceral, well-staged action that also takes advantage of Odenkirk’s deadpan levity. But as much as this is superficially pleasurable, it’s also kind of rote. In fact, Nobody lets itself down because of its lack of follow-through.

Image via Universal Pictures

The film sets up discomforting ideas about being disregarded and unseen that provides Nobody with some thought-provoking engagement, until the movie instantaneously drops all that stuff in favor of Odenkrik creatively beating the shit out of people. Throughout, there’s antics that brings in Hutch’s father (Christopher Lloyd), his adopted brother (RZA) and a ruthless Russian mobster (Aleksey Serebryakov), yet none of that really saves Nobody, or at least promotes it past the average and semi-diverting actioner it is. Yes, Naishuller has his inventive action directorial touches, and Nobody might spark some joy for people. However, if you’re interested in seeing the more alluring ideas it teases through its action, you’ve got the wrong movie. It just seems content to be the “John Wick alternative.” There’s no doubt that Bob Odenkirk could in fact be an action-star, but Nobody, and it’s dancing around of engagement with intriguing ideas, takes its swiftness and sort of deadens it.

Grade: C+

Nobody is available on VOD

Shiva Baby

I’m not sure much is more uncomfortable than when a family function goes awry, and Emma Seligman’s nerve-racking comedy Shiva Baby damn well knows that. “Just try to behave yourself today,” her mother initially pleads. But alas, larger forces of the universe seem to be working against Danielle (Rachel Sennott), who finds all of the potential land mines in her life exploding simultaneously at the shiva of a family friend. At this particular moment, Danielle is feeling especially aimless; her parents are still paying her bills, and the money she tells them she makes from babysitting is, in fact, contributed by “sugar daddies.” She’s already rankled by the interrogations of family friends, and the unexpected presence of an ex-girlfriend (Molly Gordon), when here primary benefactor (Danny Deferrari) walks in the door — with his heretofore unmentioned wife (Dianna Argon) and baby in tow.

Image via Utopia

It’s pretty distressing from the start, as Danielle is passed around from one overbearing relation to the next, with everyone asking: Is she seeing anyone? Seligman shoots Danielle running this gauntlet of familial expectations like a horror movie, grouping the characters in claustrophobic clusters between Danielle and the judgmental eyes burning into her as she limply puts food onto a paper plate, then scrapes it back into the bowl. As the day wears on, things only get more surreal, culminating in a dizzying sequence that recalls the climax of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (although it’s more likely here that you’ll be squirming with sympathy not shock). The style of humor in Shiva Baby can be best described as “sex-positive cringe,” in which the secondhand embarrassment comes less from the sexual situations themselves than our heroine’s collision with polite society. Danielle is a young feminist, raised on self-esteem and “girls can do anything” messages, whose problem is less that no one believes in her abilities and more that she’s not sure what she wants to do with them. With a good education, robust support system, and financial resources to back her up, her potential is limitless. But the claustrophobic unease and pressure can contort what you actually want to do. Sullen and sarcastic, Shiva Baby is pleasurably uncomfortable; a cringe comedy of loopy vitality.

Grade: B

Shiva Baby is available on VOD

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