I won't compare Wanderlust to Portlandia. Comparisons of Portlandia to everything are cropping up all over the pop cultureverse, helped by entertainment writers desperate to craft an easy parallel between the hit Independent Film Channel show and something people without IFC -- or Netflix -- actually watch.
Besides, Wanderlust is aimed squarely at fans of an older, comparably absurdist, equally under seen and ridiculously funny mid-90s MTV sketch comedy series, The State.
Written and directed by David Wain, a co-creator of The State, Wanderlust stars pretty much most of the cast of that show. Some, like Michael Ian Black and Michael Showatler (Michael and Michael Have Issues) pop up in cameos -- as hypercritically caddish newscasters, of course -- while Joe Lo Truglio and Kerri Kinney (Reno 911!) have great supporting roles as a couple of the hippie denizens of Elysium, a Georgia commune where expat New Yorkers, Linda and George (Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd) find themselves stranded after getting violently screwed by capitalism.
Linda has failed to sell her documentary about penguins with testicular cancer to HBO whilst George lost his high paying finance gig after federal regulators shut down the company, all immediately after they've both signed the mortgage on a "mini-loft" that's underwater before the ink is even dry.
George's brother, Rick (Wanderlust's co-writer -- and State alum -- Ken Marino), a narcissistic dildo with no filter, passive/aggressive rage issues and a shell shocked, alcoholic wife (Michaela Watkins) entices George and Linda to come to Atlanta with the promise of a communal roof and a job with his construction business.
But with a detour to Elysium, with it's cadre of cultural cast offs, killer weed and institutional disdain for boundaries, George and Linda -- after learning that nuclear families can be radioactive -- decide to pursue a possibly more satisfying way of life (if even for a few weeks) amongst the idyllic, mushroom eating, polyamorous, 1990s-entrenched drum circle set.
Ponder the Possibilities.
The group of comedic talents on display here is the culmination of years of blessed interbreeding. The State was where Wain got his start in the early '90s and thus his cast features those actors heavily. But Wain's breakout film, Wet Hot American Summer got Paul Rudd into the mix. They reunited for 2008's Role Models but by then Judd Apatow and Adam McKay further put Rudd on the map with his hysterical performances in The Forty Year Old Virgin and Anchorman.
Wanderlust is a dream-team combination of over twenty years of that percolating soup of influences; The State crew, Apatow -- who produces here -- and Rudd, whose almost peerless ability to combine deadpan hilarity with a charming warmth tie together an All-Star game of some of the best comedic minds America has to offer.
Wain and Marino's script is endlessly quotable -- Rudd's ad-libbing alone, as he tries to motivate his hopelessly married self to have sex with the accessible and tempting Eva (Malin Ackerman) is worth the ticket -- and loaded with perfectly timed characters whose absurdity is perfectly balanced.
Alan Alda, delightfully cast as Carvin, the burnt out patriarch of the commune is one of the gems of Wanderlust, a little sign that Wain knows how to cast a comedy not just with his own well-cultivated brigade of actors but with his influences. He must have been a M*A*S*H fan.
Rudd and Aniston make for a silly, if sensible couple, and Aniston seems invigorated here. Her turn in Horrible Bosses was a precursor to this, after a run of shitty comedies and misguided dramas. Aniston's comic timing holds up against the onslaught of Justin Theroux's Seth, the creepily bohemian, lothario who may just be exploiting his brethren's trust.
But Wanderlust is Rudd's film. For anyone who thinks that his deadpan delivery and boyish good looks make for the perfect everyman, smart ass, Wanderlust will only reinforce that notion. In a film studded with golden comedic performances -- Joe Lo Truglio's, Wayne, a nudist political novelist nearly steals it -- Rudd pulls off a typically charming, likable and hilarious turn.
Wanderlust isn't perfect. It suffers from a bit of sitcom-esque plotting that Wain had enough finesse to gloss over. But it is hilarious, and that's really all a comedy (or a fan of The State) really needs.
Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians
Christianity (and Christians) is full of contradictions, but director Bryan Storkel has captured a unique one with the new documentary, Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians.
Chronicling, over three years, the rise and fall of an investor-funded black jack team -- one made up entirely of devout Christians -- Holy Rollers winds up being an entertaining piece of work with some unexpected elements of intrigue.
Bow Your Head.
The group is ostensibly led by Ben Crawford a twenty-something family man who, after learning how to count cards well enough to beat a casino, teams up with his friends (and one woman) to take road trips to casino's all over the country, splitting up to different black jack tables in order to earn their part of a "bank roll" -- a monthly profit goal. If they can clear $100,000 dollars a month, they get paid out, their coffers stay full and their shadowy "investors" receive a 35 percent return.
And they are pretty good at it -- along with rationalizing the moral speed bumps that come along with engaging in vice for the greater good.
Employing everything from sheer luck (read: divine protection) to sophisticated disguises, the team must do what they can to avoid getting "backed off," as vigilant casino security does their best to root out the card counters they ironically consider to have an unfair advantage at the table (i.e. defying the law that "the house always wins"). If they get caught while they are down and kicked out, that can have a deleterious effect on the overall bottom line. It happens fairly often.
Storkel, a filmmaker with ties to Tulsa -- he got his start on Fox 23's Beef Baloney years ago -- has crafted a compelling and surprisingly fun documentary. Culled from interviews with the players and one world-weary security boss, hidden camera footage as they hit the tables (and often find themselves escorted out) and mortared together with some nice graphical flourishes that detail the finer points and mechanics of black jack card counting, Holy Rollers turns out to be a satisfying tale. The inherent contradiction of these characters -- who justify their love of the game with the knowledge that they are taking money out of a corrupt system -- makes them, and the film, even more fascinating.
The situation could be rife for fraud (earnings they report are pretty much all on the honor system) and the moral implications do cause some to question their actions -- after all they aren't taking this money, which over time amounts to millions and giving it to charity, they live on it. The whole endeavor becomes strained when one member (and the groups only non-Christian) is accused of embezzling from the otherwise chummy group of friends.
Storkel, directs it all with a deft and somewhat whimsical hand, never really letting things bog down as the morality and rationalizations of his characters give rise to what becomes an interesting tale of the highs and lows of a high stakes life.
Holy Rollers: The True Tale of Card Counting Christians, which until now has been picking up awards on the festival circuit, premieres March 6 on Cox Video On Demand.
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