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Reviews for July 26th, 2013

Neander-Jin: Return of the Neanderthal Man

Directed by Florian Steinbiss

      A time-traveling Neanderthal man (Jon Chardiet) suddenly appears in modern-day Germany where he befriends Barbara van Schmerling (Sarah Muehlhause), a 23-year-old environmental science student who allows him to seek refuge. They both become more than friends in the process. Meanwhile, two greedy, selfish, capitalistic individuals, namely, businessman Marc Armagnac (Milton Welsh) and anthropologist Jack Gallow (Jeff Hixon), have other plans in mind for the Neanderthal which involve getting rich by making him famous. Florian Steinbiss plays Barbara's dim-witted father.

      Comparing Neander-Jin to Encino Man is essentially a cul-de-sac argument because those two films share only a few things in common. Other than that, it's like comparing a watermelon to an orangutan. Writer/director Florian Steibiss and co-writer Jeff Hixon have made an outrageous, bizarre, screwball B-movie that never takes itself seriously and, in turn, feels quite diverting in a guilty pleasure sort of way.

      No one goes to a B-movie expecting good acting or a brilliant, logical plot or characters who have depth for that matter. Instead, there's just a lot of anarchic, irreverent fun to be had, as long as you check your brain at the door and suspend a lot of your disbelief. Steinbiss makes the most out of the film's low budget--the special effects have their own charm. Moreover, he wisely ends the film after 81 minutes and maintains a fast pace with humor to be found in every scene. If the film were any longer, it would have overstayed its welcome. What do gummy bears and a mental institution have to do with the plot's shenanigans? You'll have to see Neander-Jin: Return of the Neanderthal Man to find the answer to that. Please be sure to stay through the end credits for an additional scene, a.k.a a stinger.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Opens at the Quad Cinema.

The To Do List

Directed by Maggie Carey

      Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza), a straight-A student, has just graduated high school in Boise, Idaho. Feeling the urge to gain some sexual experience before starting college in September, she writes a to-do list of sexual activities that she hopes to check off one by one throughout the summer. Her best friends, Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele), and more experienced older sister, Amber (Rachel Bilson), help her in her quest to complete the activities found her list. Connie Britton and Clark Gregg play Brandy's parents, Bill Hader plays Willy, Brandy's manager at the pool she lifeguards at, and Johnny Simmons is Cameron, Brandy's friend who has a crush on her even though she has her eyes set upon another guy, Rusty Waters (Scott Porter).

      Yes, The To Do List is bold, raunchy and outrageous. Do all of its attempts to tickle your funny bone work? No, i.e. when Brandy flatulates or bites into a turd, but the vast majority of them do work which is more than could be said for any American comedy since Easy A. It's also very quotable. Beneath all of the sexual humor/gags in writer/director Maggie Carey's screenplay lies some warmth, depth and wit, three qualities that are rarely found in American comedies (case-in-point: Superbad, Bridesmaids, This is the End). Carey sets the film in 1993 for a specific reason that makes it all the more funnier: you couldn't Google sex terms like "rim job"; Brandy jokes that might have to ask her librarian for the meanings instead. While Brandy experiences the tasks in her list, she concurrently grows wiser and, most importantly, makes mistakes that lead to even more wisdom that probably wouldn't have been experienced a priori. Sure, the film does have its fair share of sexual language that lead the prude philistines at the MPAA to give it an R rating, but it's not fundamentally about sex; it's about teen angst, curiosity, freedom, open-mindedness, friendship and human nature, topics that would help to enlighten and even to liberate teenagers.

      Casting director Sheryl Levine deserves kudos for assembling such a great cast of underrated actors. Aubrey Plaza exudes charisma and has great comedic timing as Brandy. Moreover, she can handle the scenes that require some depth and poignancy with ease. Even those in the supporting roles like Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele, are all perfectly cast. The same can be said for Connie Britton and Clark Gregg who are quite believable as Brandy's parents, especially regarding their opposing views about Brandy's desire to have experience sex.

      Comparisons to American Pie might be tempting, but The To Do List has more to offer for your heart, mind and soul other than merely entertainment. At a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes, it's the funniest, smartest American comedy in years and is destined to become a cult classic.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by CBS Films.
Opens nationwide.

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