Like Father

Posted on August 4, 2018 at 12:04 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness including drinking to deal with stress and to bond
Violence/ Scariness: References to illness and sad deaths
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 3, 2018
Copyright Netflix 2018

My review of “Like Father,” the new Netflix film with Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer, is on rogerebert.com.

Bell and Grammer are consummate pros. They cannot make this material surprising, believable, or even particularly moving, but they do their considerable best to hold our attention and are always watchable. Their scenes together are high points, even when the big speeches are thinly conceived. If the discussions about whether Rachel really needs to be on her phone at a gorgeous secluded waterfall and whether Harry has really confessed everything Rachel should know get tedious, the evident enjoyment that Bell and Grammer have in being together, especially in their silly karaoke number, make us happy to come sail away with them for a little while.

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Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Posted on July 12, 2018 at 5:40 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action and rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Comic, cartoon-style peril and violence, weapons, fire, attempted murder
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: July 13, 2018

Copyright 2018 Sony Pictures Animation
“You have to be carefully taught,” according to the Rodgers and Hammerstein song in “South Pacific.” Lt. Cable and Nelly Forbush sing ruefully about the prejudices drummed into them as children: “You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late/Before you are six or seven or eight/To hate all the people your relatives hate/You’ve got to be carefully taught.” That same sober theme is gently raised in the midst of the silliness and fun scares of this third in the animated “Hotel Transylvania” series about Drac, the doting-to-a-fault vampire dad voiced by Adam Sandler, his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), and her very mellow human husband, Johnny (Andy Samberg).

In just about every other respect, it’s pretty much the same movie as the first two, with slightly less clever monster jokes than the first one and a slightly more appealing storyline than the second one. Basically, Adam Sandler gets to do his two favorite things: speak in a “funny” accent voice and be lazy, preferably in an exotic location (IRS, check to see if he deducted a cruise as a business expense in developing this one).

Drac is still over-involved in his daughter’s life, worrying way too much when you consider that it is very difficult to harm a vampire. In case we were not clear on that, it is spelled out for us in the movie’s opening flashback, set in 1897, where vampire killer Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) is trying to destroy Drac. But he is no match for a vampire with nimbleness, courage, and imperviousness to any threat but garlic or a stake through the heart. The original story’s third weapon against vampires, a crucifix, is omitted in favor of cartoon secularism, as is the ickiness of subsisting on blood, the inconvenience of sleeping in sunlight, or the problem of marriage between someone with a human life span and someone who never ages. Any concerns about those issues are for Twihards.

These are cute and cuddly monsters, including the Invisible Man (David Spade), Frankenstein and his bride (Kevin James and Fran Drescher), Murray the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key), and Mr. and Mrs. Wolfman (Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon), with their dozens of wolf-babies. There’s nothing at all scary about them and they seem to spend all of their time hanging out with each other, first at the resort that gives the series its title and then at Mavis’ surprise vacation — a cruise ship with all the amenities. As Drac points out, that means it’s just his hotel except on a boat. There’s one other big difference, though. He’s not in charge, which is both worrying and a little bit relaxing as well. “You need a vacation from managing everyone else’s vacation,” Mavis tells him. And this will be a chance for them to have some quality time together as a family.

Drac insists that the cruise, headed for the Bermuda Triangle and the lost continent of Atlantis “is not the Love Boat.” But he is beginning to think he might be interesting in finding romance (the vampire term is “zing” for love at first sight), many years since the death of Mavis’ mother. He even tries to find someone he’d like to swipe right on on the monster version of Tinder, called Zinger. And then, he takes a look at the beautiful — and human — ship’s captain, Erika (Kathryn Hahn), and ZING.

There’s some “monsters gotta be monsters” stuff — “We’re here, we’re hairy, and it’s our right to be scary!” Though of course they’re not scary after all and as in the other films it is the humans and their unwillingness to look beyond the tentacles and fur to see that just like us, monsters love their families and don’t want to hurt anyone. There’s a lot of silly stuff, a cute dance number, some appealing if uninspired pop song selections (Bruno Mars, the Beach Boys, the ubiquitous Mr. Blue Sky), plus the one song no one can resist dancing to (I won’t spoil it, but the audience groans suggested no one was surprised). It turns out music does have charms to sooth the savage beast after all. And this movie has enough charm to soothe little savages on summer vacation for 90 minutes or so.

Parents should know that this movie has some schoolyard language, potty humor, peril and violence (including attempted murder of monsters and a character who is badly injured and ultimately almost entirely prosthetic).

Family discussion: Why did Van Helsing hate monsters? Which monster would you like to be and why?

If you like this, try: the first two films, Monster House, “Igor

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Sorry to Bother You

Posted on July 5, 2018 at 5:28 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use
Profanity: Very strong and crude language throughout
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: July 6, 2018
Copyright 2018 Annapurna Pictures

The title of “Sorry to Bother You” comes from the fake apology made by telemarketers. That’s the job the movie’s central character applies for in the first scene and finds himself unexpectedly good at, so good he gets a huge promotion as a “power seller.” This first film from musician Boots Riley shows Cash Green (short for Cassius, played by the limitlessly talented Lakieth Stanfield) literally crashing into the lives of the people he calls, showing us right away we are in the hands of a confident, provocative new filmmaker with a singular voice, and preparing us — almost — for a pointed journey into high social satire fueled by a sharp understanding of the politics of our time and the human nature of all times.

Cash and his artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson of “Annihilation” and “Thor: Ragnarok”) live in a garage. Cash’s uncle (Terry Crews) owns the house, for the time being at least. Money is tight and he may lose it. Cash applies for a job as a telemarketer, lying about his qualifications. The boss doesn’t mind; in fact, willingness to lie is a better qualification for sitting in a cubicle trying to get people to buy a lot of dumb stuff they don’t need. Cash puts on the headset, and starts crashing into people’s lives.

The guy in the next cubicle (Danny Glover) gives him some important advice: “Use your white voice. I’m not talking about Will Smith white.” He means the kind of white that conveys unquestioned and unquestioning privilege, the ones W.H. Auden described as “the homes I warm to,/though seldom wealthy,/ always convey a feeling of bills being promptly settled/with checks that don’t bounce.”

Cash finds his white voice (nasally supplied by David Cross), and is soon a “power caller,” invited upstairs and even to a debauched party at the home of the CEO, Mr. Lift (Armie Hammer). In the meantime, one of the other telemarketers (Steven Yeun as Squeeze) is organizing the employees into a union to get better working conditions. Cash is conflicted. He sympathizes with the workers, even as he moves up the ladder. But he likes being successful. He likes having better things. He likes the money.

And so he doesn’t look too hard at what is going on around him, particularly the omnipresent ads for something called WorryFree, a company that promised to solve all your problems by giving you a job, a place to live, and food, even your clothes. They hope you don’t notice that it is basically a prison, and that you will owe your soul to the company store.

Lift is still not entirely worry free, though. Those human beings are just so pesky, wanting justice and freedom, and all that. He has a solution and he wants Cash to be a part of it.

Riley’s visual flair and brash and bracing screenplay and superb performances by everyone, especially by Stanfield, Thompson, and Hammer, keep us so engaged that we are deep into the story before we realize how much it dares.

Ever since his extraordinary breakthrough in “Short Term 12,” Stanfield has brought a soulful gravity to a wide range of performances. His posture and eyes are deeply expressive, and he makes Cash the right Candide-like figure to take us through this story, always keeping an essential humanity in the midst of the heightened reality of the storytelling.

Thompson’s graceful Detroit is much more than the usual movie girlfriend. She is observant and thoughtful. She is really the stand-in for Riley because she makes everything around her art with a political message, from her earrings (all music lyrics) to the way she tosses the sign on the street corner for her day job.  We see her gallery show, including a performance art piece where she invites people to throw things at her. Her life, art, and politics are all one, yet she loves Cash because he is not a part of the art world, the part that she considers snobbish and commercial. She has views on honor and meaning, however, and there comes a point where she has to leave.

It gets so outrageous you may not realize until later how sneaky it is, delivering a powerful message about power, money, race, art, family, property, and having something that matters in your life. The film itself is its own answer — tell your story, make art, and don’t forget to “Épater la bourgeoisie.”

Parents should know that this film has very strong and crude language, explicit sexual references and situations with male and female nudity, alcohol, drugs, and peril and violence, including body horror.

Family discussion: Why would someone join WorryFree?  What companies are most like that?  Should Cash have stayed with the workers who were protesting?

If you like this, try: “School Daze” and “Downsizing”

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Comedy Drama Movies

Uncle Drew

Posted on June 28, 2018 at 5:58 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for suggestive material, language and brief nudity
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Theme of aging, medical issues
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 29, 2018
Copyright Lionsgate 2018

There are a lot of movies based on books and plays, and many movies based on songs and video games. And now, apparently, we’ve got a movie based on a television commercial. “Uncle Drew” is inspired by a 2012 series of Pepsi ads written and directed by and featuring real-life NBA player and science skeptic Kyrie Irving, disguised as an old man, astonishing some neighborhood hoopsters with his sweet moves. This version expands the story by adding more real-life players and upping the stakes to the $100,000 prize at the real-life Rucker Park competition in Harlem.

Basically, the serviceable script by Jay Longino and spirited direction from Charles Stone III (“Drumline”) follows the classic formula of all underdog sports movies, but it does so with three key assets. First, there’s an awesome dance-off scene, always a good thing, and here it is especially delightful because it turns out that people who are the best in the world at basketball have some sweet moves off the court as well.  Second, even for someone who is not a sports fan, the skills they show off here are not just impressive; they are truly aesthetically beautiful. Third is the fun these athletes are clearly having, so palpable it is genuinely infectious.  And for those who are sports fans, there are lots of inside jokes including one about too many time outs.

And they have the able support of “Get Short’s” Lil Rel Howery, “Girls Trip’s” Tiffany Haddish, and Nick Kroll, who must be getting a kick out of seeing someone else in old age makeup after wearing it every night in his “Oh, Hello” show on Broadway with John Mulaney.

So, no surprise here, Howery plays Dax, a coach who has put everything into his team in hopes of winning at Rucker Park. When his players and his gold-digging girlfriend (Haddish) are swiped by his rival (Kroll), the same guy whose block in a high school game shamed Dax into deciding never to play again.

Desperate, Dax invites veteran player Uncle Drew (Irving) to put a team together to compete for the prize. This means a road trip to visit each of the former members of what was once the Harlem Buckets. There’s a preacher who holds a baby about to be baptized as though he was a basketball (Chris Webber), a legally blind assisted living resident (Reggie Miller), a silent grandfather in a wheelchair (Nate Robinson), and a martial arts instructor (Shaquille O’Neal).  The preacher also has a wife who does not want him to go.  She is very tall.  She is also played by former WNBA player Lisa Leslie, so don’t be surprised if she gets called in as a replacement at a crucial moment.

It’s very silly, but surprisingly sweet and its unpretentiousness makes this at least a two-pointer.

Parents should know that this film includes crude humor, sexual references, a brief image of a bare butt, and some medical/aging issues.

Family discussion: Why did one bad experience make Dax quit playing basketball?  Why was it so hard for Uncle Drew to apologize?

If you like this, try: “Like Mike”

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