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
Date Released to DVD: September 24, 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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Tag

Posted on June 14, 2018 at 5:46 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use and brief nudity
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic peril and violence, medical issues
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 15, 2018
Date Released to DVD: August 27, 2018
Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers

One of the most reliably funny situations in literature is adults taking on with utmost seriousness the kinds of concerns generally left to children. The bigger the gap between the actual and perceived stakes, the funnier it gets. One of my favorite P.G. Wodehouse stories, “The Purity of the Turf,” is a classic example.

Tag” is the story of adult men who have been playing the same game since their schoolyard days. The players may not be all-stars when it comes to tagging each other, but as comic actors they are at the top of the class, and every one of the actors is a standout. Despite a couple of missteps in the script, it is one of the most consistently and even endearingly funny films of the summer.

Children like the game of tag because the rules are simple enough to learn immediately but complicated enough to negotiate over (no tag backs!), and because you can run around and triumph over each other. Normally, though, when children get older they prefer more structure and complexity and move on to amateur versions of popular games that you can see professionals play on television like tennis and golf. Not the “Tag Brothers,” though. As described in a 2013 Wall Street Journal front page story, a group of Catholic schoolboys spend a month each year trying to tag each other. They wear disguises and sneak into each other’s workplaces. They say that it keeps them young and literally keeps them in touch.

While this is a highly fictionalized — and very funny — version of the story, some of the wildest elements are true. One notorious tag occurred at the funeral of one member’s father. He became “it” as he stood at the side of his father’s grave. And, in an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, he said his father would have loved it.

In a job interview, Hoagie (Ed Helms) explains that even though he is a veterinarian, he is applying for a job as a janitor because it is on his apparently quite literal bucket list. The job is at a large corporation, where Callahan, the CEO (Jon Hamm), is about to be interviewed by a reporter for the Wall Street Journal (Annabelle Wallis as Rebecca). Hoagie successfully not only tags Callahan but persuades him to leave the interview, the office, and pretty much any shred of adult responsibility to spend the month of May playing tag. There is a special reason for this year’s tag game. Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is the only one of the group who has never been tagged. He’s essentially the tag ninja. He is getting married on the last day of the annual tag month, and the game may be over after that. Hoagie, Callahan, their stoner friend Chilli (Jake Johnson), and the high-strung Sable they interrupt in the middle of a therapy session (Hannibal Buress) join forces to get Jerry at last.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing,” the tag team likes to say, even though they are not always accurate about who said it. But it turns out that you can keep playing but you can’t put off getting old. The simplest game in the world, probably dating back to the Cro-Magnan era, cannot help developing an overlay of complexity as the players get older, both in tactics and stakes. That is part of what makes this movie so much silly fun. Seeing grown-ups strategize a game of tag — including formal legal amendments to the foundational agreement — gives this movie a joyful bounciness that becomes positively giddy.

The mayhem is deftly staged by director Jeff Tomsic and editor Josh Crockett, but the film never loses sight of how much the game means to the players and the people around them. Isla Fisher, as Hoagie’s wife, brings that “Wedding Crasher” intensity. She is as committed and competitive as the whole group of guys put together, and thank you to the filmmakers, including producer Will Ferrell, for not relegating the women in the cast to the “Now, honey, it’s time for you grow up” roles. Thomas Middleditch makes the most of his scene as a health club attendant with a braid and an attitude. Helms, Buress, and Johnson are all terrific, creating complete characters in the midst of the comic chaos, but it is a special pleasure to see Hamm and Renner, known for their dramatic roles, show off their comedy skills. With a team like this, I’d keep playing, too.

Parents should know that this film includes constant very strong and crude language, vulgar sexual references and situations, a bare behind, extended comic peril, mayhem, and violence, medical issues played for comedy including cancer and a miscarriage, alcohol, alcoholism, and marijuana.

Family discussion: What childhood game do you still enjoy? What keeps you connected to your old friends?

If you like this, try; “The Hangover” and “Cedar Rapids”

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray movie review

Oceans 8

Posted on June 7, 2018 at 5:50 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language, drug use, and some suggestive content
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Marijuana, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 8, 2018
Date Released to DVD: September 10, 2018
Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers

Heist films are irresistible, especially when they are as twisty and stylish as “Oceans 8.” First, there is the practicality of the puzzle part. I always love the way they set it up to show us how impossible it is, so we can fully appreciate the cleverness of the characters in coming up with plans to surmount the various traps and security features. And then things always go wrong in the moment, so we have the fun of seeing problem-solving in real time. But just as important is the luxury of the fantasy element. We get to identify with people who, like wizards and superheroes, operate outside of the usual rules. All we need is some very slight reason not to worry about the people who are being stolen from (they are usually either unworthy or so institutional it seems impersonal), and we’re on board.

“Oceans 8” has another reason to intrigue us as well. We are already very familiar, perhaps too familiar with the “Oceans 11” series, which rather wore out its welcome by the last in the trilogy and perhaps the original, starring Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. Freshening up the concept with an all-female group of grifters and thieves with a cast that features three Oscar-winners and a sensationally beautiful style icon gives it an embedded freshness and underdog quality. “A him gets noticed; a her gets ignored,” Debbie Ocean says. “For once, we want to be ignored.”

Debbie (Sandra Bullock) is just out of prison after five years, eight months, and twelve days. She explains to the parole board that she has learned her lesson and all she wants is “the simple life. Hold down a job, make some friends, go for a walk after work in the fresh air, pay my bills.” They buy it. And soon she is out, shoplifting herself a new wardrobe and swindling herself a hotel room. She visits the grave of her brother, Danny (the character played by George Clooney in the male “Oceans” movies), though the movie does leave open the possibility that his death might just be another con. And she gets in touch with two of her partners in grift from the past, Lou (Cate Blanchett), who has been dealing in petty cons like watering vodka, and art dealer Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), against whom Debbie seems to have quite a grudge.

Debbie has spent her time in prison devising a heist of delightful complexity and ingenuity. Of course in reality it was devised by director Gary Ross, who wrote the script with Olivia Milch, and one of their best ideas was to set the robbery at the most glamorous event in America, the annual Met Gala (that’s GAH-la, not GAY-la). Their plan: to get the event’s celebrity chair, an air-headed actress named Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) to wear a $150,000,000 diamond necklace so they can steal it.  And this gives us a peek into the most exclusive party of the year, with a delicious chance to get up close to huge celebrities in fabulously over-the-top gowns (though gala empress Anna Wintour is played by an anonymous extra in an impeccably coiffed wig).

This will involve a combination of talents from the psychological (persuading Kluger to choose an out-of-fashion designer and persuading Cartier to loan the necklace) to the technological (everyone needs a hacker these days) to the embedding of various moles to good old-fashioned pickpocketing. As we used to say in the 70’s, sisterhood is powerful.  I won’t spoil any of the twists or surprises; I’ll just say that I enjoyed them all very much and this crowd and they are welcome to steal a necklace from me any time.

Parents should know that this film has criminal behavior, some mild peril, brief strong language, alcohol, and marijuana.

Family discussion: If you had a crackerjack team of thieves, what would you want to steal? What would be the biggest obstacle? What was the movie’s biggest surprise?

If you like this try: the documentary about the Met Gala, The First Monday in May and other sophisticated heist movies like the original and remake versions of “Oceans 11,” “The Italian Job,” and “The Thomas Crown Affair” as well as “How to Steal a Million” and “Topkapi”

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Book Club

Posted on May 17, 2018 at 5:11 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sex-related material throughout and for language
Profanity: Some strong and explicit language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 18, 2018
Date Released to DVD: August 27, 2018
Copyright 2018 Paramount

Hey, people behind “Sex and the City,” you might want to call your lawyers. Maybe those of you behind “The Golden Girls,” too. “Book Club,” starring four Oscar winners from the 1970’s, is pretty much an AARP version of SATC, with four women who endlessly confide everything in each other, mostly about sex and some about romance. How does a movie with these magnificent, strong, smart stars fail the Bechdel test?

In this mix, Jane Fonda plays Samantha, I mean Vivian, the luxury hotel owner who has a lot of sex but only with men she doesn’t care about. “I can’t sleep with people I like,” she says referring to the literal act of slumber. “I gave that up in the 90’s.” Mary Steenburgen plays Charlotte, I mean Carol, happily married to a man she loves (Craig T. Nelson), but not happy about their humdrum sex life. Candice Bergen is Miranda, I mean Sharon, a judge who is long-divorced and resolutely single, living only with a cat called Ginsburg. And Diane Keaton plays a character named Diane who is somewhere between Carrie and “Golden Girls'” Rose, a sweet-natured recent widow with two devoted and over-solicitous daughters (Alicia Silverstone and Katie Aselton), who want her to leave her home and move in with them in Arizona.

The women have had a book club together for decades, mostly an excuse for them to get together. When Vivian hands out copies of the naughty bondage and discipline Fifty Shades of Grey novel by E.L. James, it causes all four of them to rethink their own romantic and sexual options. Vivian reconnects with the guy she almost married four decades earlier (Don Johnson, whose daughter starred in the movie version of Fifty Shades). Diane meets a very handsome man on a plane (Andy Garcia) and has to decide if she is open to a new relationship. Sharon decides to try swiping right with a little online dating and ends up having dinner with a tax lawyer (Richard Dreyfuss, every bit as charming as he was in “The Goodbye Girl“). And Carol tries to spice it up with her recently retired husband, who seems to have no interest in sex.

This provides many opportunities for the foursome to get together to discuss each other’s situations in detail. And if you think that they might omit the makeover scene with everyone weighing in on what one of them should wear on a big date and a scene of triumph over the ex’s new young love, rest assured they did not.

It is good to see these brilliant stars give it their best, which is what it takes to overcome the drippy screenplay, co-written by director Bill Holderman (with Erin Simms), and pedestrian direction. It’s like taking a Hallmark Romance Channel movie script and instead of casting the farm team (1990’s television series stars), it sends in the All-Pro heavy hitters. Or a “Love Boat” episode from the days when one segment always featured some 80-something former movie star. This group is able to carry it pretty far, especially Fonda, clearly relishing her role, and Garcia, who is able to give some grounding to a thinly written Prince Charming character. But the silly premise, Bumble product placement, clunky double entendre, unimaginative soundtrack, and Viagra humor make us long for the more reliable middle-age female empowerment fluff of Nancy Meyers.

Parents should know that this film has extensive and explicit sexual references and situations, including the visible results of a double does of Viagra, played for comedy, as well as some strong language and alcohol.

Family discussion: Why were Diane’s daughters so worried about her? Why was it hard for her to tell them no? Why was Vivian reluctant to become close to Arthur? Did the books have an impact on their choices?

If you like this, try: “The Jane Austen Book Club” and some of the earlier films of these stars like “Barefoot in the Park,” “Starting Over,” “Melvin and Howard,” and “Annie Hall”

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Deadpool 2

Posted on May 15, 2018 at 9:04 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and very graphic peril and violence, many characters injured and killed, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 18, 2018
Date Released to DVD: August 20, 2018
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2018

Wait. Don’t read any further. If you liked the first Deadpool, then go see Deadpool 2 before you read or hear any spoilers and come back here afterward to hear what I thought and share your own reactions. Oh, no, one thing before you go. No popcorn, no Twizzlers, no giant sodas for this one. Between laughing so hard you gasp for air and just gasping at some of the crazy stunts, if you try to eat or drink something as you watch, you just might choke or spill it.

Remember the first “Deadpool?” That crazy sloooow-motion opening action scene to the tune of “Angel in the Morning” with Ryan Reynolds’ deadpan Deadpool voiceover introducing us to the fourth-wall-breaking, meta-meta, winking-at-us-and-itself while-delivering on the action and a tender romance as well Marvel movie about the special forces guy turned gun for hire turned cancer patient turned science experiment turned super(anti)hero? Well, he’s back, (temporarily) blown to bits, out for revenge, and out for something a bit unexpected as well. Yes, believe Wade/Deadpool when he tells you that this is a story about family. Also butterfly-effect-free time travel, a prison break, ironic use of a classic pop song, some snark on DC (and Wolverine, of course), one of the funniest scenes ever filmed about a bad guy trying to get information from the good guy’s buddy, a bad guy played by the same actor who played Thanos but this time less CGI, a new ballad from Celine Dion, a blink and you’ll miss it cameo by one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, the guy from “Catastrophe,” the guy from “IT,” and some very persuasive evidence that the best superpower could just be….luck. And that last one would be Domino, perhaps the only superhero character whose name is not as cool as the name of the actor — Zazie Beetz, who needs her own movie, now.

Just in case you’re still with me and have not seen it yet, I’m doing my best to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, though I would love nothing more than telling you some of my favorite funny moments. Bad stuff happens and Wade/Deadpool seeks revenge. Then a sort of cyborg from the future with seemingly infinite very powerful weapons named Cable (Josh Brolin) shows up, Terminator-style, in search of a kid who has been abused in a “conversion” facility for mutants with special powers (Julian Dennison of “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”). Deadpool puts together a team he dubs the gender-neutral X-Force. (Speaking of dubbing, there’s a whole thing in the movie about dubstep, too.

The quips and pop culture references come at you “Airplane!”-style, faster than the bullets, meta on meta, times meta, meta about meta, breaking the fourth wall and probably the fifth, sixth, and seventh as well. “No more speaking lines for you,” DP tells one character. Instead of the director’s name in the opening credits, it just says “Killed John Wick’s dog.” (That’s David Leitch, and he did.) And yes, there is some sweetness, too, every bit as important in making this work as the wisecracking dialog and bone-cracking stunts. It does not take itself seriously, but it does take delivering a smart, funny, entertaining, and satisfying movie very seriously. With so many superhero franchises out there, it is great to see them developing sub-genres, and “Deadpool” has found the sweet spot in one of the most purely entertaining.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong, explicit, and crude language, sexual references and situations, graphic comic nudity, drinking, drugs, and extended action/superhero violence with many characters injured and killed and some disturbing images.

Family discussion: How do Wade and Cable respond differently to tragedy? What would you say to Russell? What’s the best joke in the movie?

If you like this, try: “Deadpool” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”

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