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

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
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2018

Wait. Don’t read any further. If you liked the first Deadpool, then go see the movie 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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Life of the Party

Posted on May 10, 2018 at 5:53 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual material, drug content and partying
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, gun, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 11, 2018
Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers

Thank you, Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone, for figuring out that what we want to see is Melissa McCarthy as America’s sweetheart, not a deranged sociopath. In their previous films, “Tammy” and “The Boss” and in McCarthy’s “Identity Thief” the brilliant comic actress with the adorable dimples was cast as weird, heartless, damaged and damaging characters. It takes nothing away from McCarthy’s considerable dramatic talent (she was outstanding in “St. Vincent” and we are very much looking forward to her performance later this year in the fact-based story of a literary fraud and forger, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) to say that she is at her very best and funniest when she is irrepressibly sunny.

And so Falcone and McCarthy have created just that in the role of Deanna, a loving mother and housewife who learns, as she and her husband (Matt Walsh of “Veep”) drop their daughter off at college for her senior year, that her husband is leaving her because he has fallen in love with another woman (“Modern Family’s” Julie Bowen).

Deanna, who wears a “Proud Mom” sweatshirt and has devoted her whole life to her family, is angry and disappointed. She decides that her biggest regret was dropping out of school when she became pregnant with Maddie (Molly Gordon), so what she wants to do is go back and get her degree. This has the additional benefit of being on campus with Maddie who is predictably a bit nonplussed, but supportive. And Maddie’s sorority sisters love Deanna’s enthusiasm and kindness. Yes there’s a mean girl (and an 80’s party dance-off! Yay!), but we don’t have to slog through the expected scenes of students underestimating Deanna just so she can show them how wrong they were.

As in McCarthy’s other best comic roles, in “Bridesmaids,” “Spy,” “Ghostbusters,” and “The Heat,” Deanna may be awkward and overly effusive, but she is also supremely capable and in most situations, confident as well. It’s easy to get a cheap laugh from incompetence and failure, and there are a few of those here, primarily from the underused Gillian Jacobs, playing an undergraduate who was in a coma for eight years and has some catching up to do. Deanna may have a problem with oversharing, she does not always make good choices, and for some reason public speaking puts her into a panic, but she is both smart and wise. She has a sustaining friendship (the invaluable Maya Rudolph) and a perpetual sunniness that everyone around her finds endearing. Her soon-to-be-ex with a skinny blonde girlfriend and a new earring tells her he needs an “upgrade.” But it is Deanna who finds herself upgrading in every category, including a handsome and devoted young beau, played by the very appealing Luke Benward. That is a satisfying starting point for some mostly-adorable silliness and a lot of heart. Deanna repeatedly says she is “down to clown,” which is supposed to be an eye-rolling mom-ism. But it is McCarthy who is truly down to clown and we are all the better for it.

Parents should know that this movie includes sexual references and situations, potty humor and crude jokes, drinking and drugs, comic mayhem, peril and violence, a gunshot, and some mild language.

Family discussion: What did the girls like about Deanna? What was the biggest change she made?

If you like this, try: More college comedies, including “Back to School,” “Sydney White,” “High Time,” and “The House Bunny”

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Jon Hamm in “Stinker Lets Loose!”

Posted on January 9, 2018 at 3:58 pm

It almost seems like there really was a movie back in 1977 called “Stinker Lets Loose,” part of those affectionately remembered cornpone road films like “Every Which Way But Loose,” “Cannonball Run,” and “Smokey and the Bandit.” There should have been, anyway. And now there sort of is, with the novel and audiobook (exclusively from Audible) starring Jon Hamm.

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Author Mike Sacks and director Eric Martin have created a fully immersive cinematic audio experience with an all-star cast. Stinker teams up with old pals Boner and Jumbo, plus new friends Buck and Rascal the Chimp, for a crazy ride across the highways and byways of Bicentennial America and meets scores of beautiful Southern gals, reams of treacherous villains, and even the Big Man!
Jon Hamm as Stinker
Rhea Seehorn as Gwyneth
Andy Daly as Boner
John DiMaggio as Jumbo and Sheriff Sledge
Paul F. Tompkins as Clarence Macleod and Mr. Walsh
Jessica McKenna as Buck
Kimmy Gatewood as Betty
Mark Gagliardi as Big Red
Justin Michael as Pip
With James Urbaniak as President Jimmy Carter and Jeremiah King
Guest starring Andy Richter as Orville Max and Phillip Baker Hall as the Big Man!
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BBC’s Top 25 Funniest Movies

Posted on September 2, 2017 at 8:00 am

The BBC surveyed critics to come up with the top 25 funniest movies of all time. Of course there’s a lot of overlap with the AFI list. And some of the movies are just what you might guess: “Some Like it Hot,” “Airplane,” “Blazing Saddles.” If by any chance you’ve overlooked any of these, please try to find them. If you’ve seen them, watch them again!

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