Table 19

Posted on March 2, 2017 at 5:59 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual content, drug use, language and some brief nudity
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril, no one hurt, medical issues
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 3, 2017
Date Released to DVD: June 13, 2017
Amazon.com ASIN: B06XYSX6KQ
Copyright Fox Searchlight 2017
Copyright Fox Searchlight 2017

I know. They hate the term. But it is impossible to talk about Mark and Jay Duplass (as writers, anyway, aside from their work as actors, directors, and producers) without the dreaded term “mumblecore,” which was applied to their early microbudget work because of the improvisational, shaggy-dog, millennial-ness of their work. Traces of that remain in “Table 19,” cross-bred with a more conventional romantic comedy, and it turns out to be a welcome blend of sweet and sour. This is not the usual Jennifer/Jessica with a quippy best friend, a meet cute, and a makeover.

We’ve all seen that placecard and most of us have been seated by it: the table for leftover wedding guests who aren’t the family or close friends of either bride or groom but somehow had to be included. Eloise (Anna Kendrick) provides the fellow denizens of the dreaded Table 19 with the inside scoop. Back just a few months earlier, when she and the bride, her oldest friend, were planning everything together, Table 19 was for the people who did not fit in anywhere else, the people who had to be invited but who the hosts were hoping would not make it, still sending a gift from the registry.

The characters may be third-tier in the minds of their hosts, but they are played by top tier comic talent. Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson play a married couple who have fallen into a marital death spiral of bickering that makes them miserable and humiliated, but they cannot seem to find their way out of it. Stephen Merchant is a cousin of the groom who seems unfamiliar with social interactions of any kind. “The Grand Budapest Hotel’s” Tony Revolori is a teenager with raging hormones but no idea of how to talk to girls. June Squibb plays the bride’s first nanny.

And then there is Eloise, once a maid of honor and dating the bride’s brother/best man (Wyatt Russell), but, since they broke up two months earlier, stuck at Table 19, on the other side of the ballroom, near the restrooms.  We know she almost didn’t come; she even started to burn the invitation. But for some reason, she was determined to be there, and there she is, on the wedding table island of misfit toys. A mysterious and handsome man appears and he has an English accent and a way with an aphorism. Could he be her Prince Charming?

Very able performers make up for some story shortcomings, including a too-neat resolution that I’m guessing was recut after test screenings. Kendrick is as always a marvel of precision, heart, and comic timing, so every time things start to go off kilter, we know she will get us safely home.

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language and comic mayhem, brief comic nudity, drinking and tipsiness, marijuana, and sexual references including adultery and pregnancy.

Family discussion: Why did Eloise go to the wedding? How did sitting at Table 19 make it possible for her to acknowledge her feelings? What’s your funniest family gathering experience?

If you like this, try: “Rocket Science” with the same director and star

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Romance

The Ringer

Posted on December 20, 2015 at 3:49 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language and some drug references.
Profanity: Some crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Scenes in bar, character chews a cigar
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, serious injury played for humor
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 23, 2015
Date Released to DVD: March 23, 2016

The single most interesting aspect of The Ringer, a movie about a man who pretends to be disabled so that he can compete in the Special Olympics, is that the movie was made in cooperation with and with the endorsement of the Special Olympics organization, and 150 Special Olympics athletes appear in the film.

Unfortunately, the story of how the movie got made is much more interesting than the formulaic story of the movie itself. Steve (Johnny Knoxville), a nice non-disabled guy who needs money to help someone get an operation pretends to be “high-functioning developmentally disabled” to compete in the Special Olympics. He assumes that as a former high school track athlete, he will have no trouble winning, so that his gambler uncle (Brian Cox) can win a huge bet, paying off his own gambling debts and getting the money for an operation. Of course Steve (1) learns that he is the one with the more serious disability, and (2) meets a very pretty volunteer at the Special Olympics (Katherine Heigl as Lynn). You know the rest.

The one thing that is not formula in this movie is its portrayal of the developmentally disabled athletes as loyal, dedicated, smarter than most people think, and very funny. While the non-disabled people in the movie are often clueless, inept, or corrupt, the Special Olympians are on to Steve almost immediately, and they don’t just out-smart him; they out-nice him, too. They become the first real friends he has ever had.

This aspect of the movie provides some fresh and funny moments, but too much of the film is taken up with sub-par “jokes” like Steve’s uncle registering him for the competition under the name of a notorious serial killer and a man having three of his fingers cut off in a lawnmower. The developmentally disabled cast members show considerable charm, especially Edward Barbanell as Steve’s roommate, Billy.   Barbanell contributed the movie’s funniest line and delivers it with exquisite comic timing. But a lackluster script and charm-free performances by Knoxville and Cox don’t do justice to the Special Olympians in the story or in the cast. Furthermore, despite its best intentions, the use of non-disabled actors to play disabled characters in many of the key roles gives the film an air of condescension that is never fully overcome. I’m glad the Special Olympians have been recognized in a mainstream Hollywood movie; I just wish it was the movie they deserved.

Parents should know that the movie has some crude language and crude humor, including getting hit in the crotch. Characters drink (scenes in a bar) and smoke (Steve’s uncle is constantly chewing on a cigar).
Families who see this movie should talk about friends and family members with disabilties and how to prevent prejudice against them.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy an old movie called Miss Tatlock’s Millions, in which a man pretends to be a long-lost heir who is developmentally disabled so that he can get the money. They will also enjoy Stuck on You (some mature material), directed by the Farrelly brothers, who produced this film. They cast disabled performers in all of their movies and the credit sequence in Stuck on You has a lovely speech by one of them about how much the experience meant to him. A scholarly article from Disability Studies Quarterly explores the portrayal of disabled people in the Farrellys’ movies.

Families who see this movie should talk about what Steve learned from his experience and why.

Families who want to learn more about how this movie was made can learn about what it takes to be a Special Olympian.   I recommend this report from the magazine of the Special Olympics organization and this statement from the heads of the organization about what they hoped the film would accomplish:

“Laughing at a person and laughing with a person are very different forms of humor, and it is our belief that this comedy will give audiences the chance to laugh with Special Olympics athletes while appreciating their joy and wisdom. Equally importantly, we believe that the stigmas presented in the early scenes of the movie will be seen as folly by the end of The Ringer. Many of us know all too well how hurtful insensitive words can be. Special Olympics hopes people seeing the movie will be inspired to reach out to people with intellectual disabilities and say, to quote Special Olympics athlete Troy Daniels, ‘Come sit by me’ – a simple gesture that reflects a world of acceptance and mutual respect.”

The Special Olympics, founded by Eunice Shriver, the sister of President John F. Kennedy, now serves more than 1.7 million developmentally disabled athletes in more than 200 programs in more than 150 countries.

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Sports

Pixels

Posted on July 23, 2015 at 5:37 pm

C-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive comments
Profanity: A few bad words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, including drinking to deal with stress and alcohol humor
Violence/ Scariness: Sci-fi action-style violence, no one permanently injured
Diversity Issues: Some sexist and homophobic "humor"
Date Released to Theaters: July 24, 2015
Date Released to DVD: October 26, 2015
Copyright Sony 2015

I never thought I’d see Max Headroom or “Fantasy Island” again, much less have to explain them to someone sitting next to me who was a toddler when they were on television, but Adam Sandler is still relentlessly working his slacker way through every pop culture meme of the decade where he spent his late teens and early 20’s, and apparently the last decade he was willing to pay attention to. He’s used up most of the good ones. That means that this is another film that was pieced together from the cutting room floors of his previous movies plus VH1’s “I Love the 80’s” series. Yes, I know that it is impossible to believe that there was anything worth remembering that happened in the 80’s that they did not cover. And yet, here we are, with a movie about 1980’s arcade games that have become real-life alien invaders. If you remember and retain some affection for games like Frogger, Pac-Man, Tetris, and Q*bert, or if you like Sandler and are relieved he is not making “Grown-Ups 3,” then you might get a few smiles out of “Pixels.”

Grading on a curve, it is tempting to provide some positive reinforcement for Sandler, who in the hands of director Chris Columbus, is better than some of his recent films. But just because it is safe to say he probably will not be a winner at the Razzies this year does not merit him an endorsement. This movie is less predictable and less entertaining than the charmingly retro 8 bit games to which it pays tribute. And unfortunately, one more element carried over from the 80’s is the idea that homophobic and sexist jokes are funny and permissible. Having a female character be a capable military officer does not mean that it is okay to have the other female characters be one-dimensional (literally, one one case).

Sandler, looking puffy and bored, plays Sam, a Geek Squad-style technician who installs fancy television and gaming equipment in people’s homes. In a flashback, we see that as a kid, he had a natural facility to recognize the patterns in arcade games and made it to second in a national competition. The winner was Eddie (Peter Dinklage from “Game of Thrones”), a mullet-coiffed braggart who triumphed over him in the final round. Another competitor was a whiz kid named Ludlow (Josh Gad, “Frozen’s” Olaf) with poor social skills, conspiracy theories, and a pretty pervy obsession with a video game avatar. And Sam’s loyal friend and supporter was Cooper (Kevin James).

Footage of the competition was sent into space to introduce the galactic community to life on Earth. But it was misinterpreted as a declaration of war, and now the aliens have arrived. Just as in the era of arcade games, they wreak destruction by dissolving everything around them into pixels, according to the same rules and patterns of the original games. Fortunately, if improbably, Cooper is now the President of the United States. So he is able to call on Sam, Eddie (who has to be sprung from prison), and Ludlow to save the day. Helping to coordinate the defense is Violet (Michelle Monaghan), first met by Sam when he is installing a television/game system in her home and finds her sobbing in the closet over her husband leaving her for a Pilates instructor named Sinnamon (with an S) and he comforts and then hits on her. But it turns out that she is actually a top military officer who can muster whole new categories of weapons, train the SEALS, and engage in sizzle-free romantic banter at the same time.

The effects in the battle scenes are fun, turning these very rudimentary characters into real space invaders without losing their iconic 8 bit design. Centipede in particular is impressive, glowing like a Chinese New Year Parade dragon made from Lite-Brite as he slithers through the mushrooms. Like some of the other arcade characters, he is far more vivid and has more personality than the humans in the story.

Parents should know that this film has a handful of bad words, potty humor, sci-fi/action violence with peril and apparent injuries, brief comic view of a portion of a bare butt, and comic but crude sexual references including a threesome. There are alcohol jokes and alcohol is used to deal with stress.

Family discussion: Why did coming in second change Sam’s life? Is Violet a snob? How could the skills you have help save the planet?

If you like this, try: “The King of Kong,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” and “Galaxy Quest”

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Fantasy movie review Movies -- format Science-Fiction

Earth to Echo

Posted on July 1, 2014 at 5:55 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action and peril, and mild language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Sci-fi-style action and peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 3, 2014
Date Released to DVD: October 20, 2014
Amazon.com ASIN: B00MHIKRVA

 

Copyright 2014 Disney


Three kids go on a wild adventure and make an extra-terrestrial friend in this updated take on films like “E.T.” and “The Goonies.” It being 2014, that means that the found footage genre, pioneered in “The Blair Witch Project” and featured in adult thrillers like “Paranormal Activity” and “Cloverfield,” has permeated family film as well. What makes this intriguing is that its intended audience of digital natives, kids who played with iPads before they could talk, may just be better able to process the fragmented, jerky cinematography designed to appear as though it was shot by the kids in the story themselves, than any adult in the audience can imagine.

As it begins, an entire community is being shut down for a highway construction project and all of the families who live there have to leave. Three close friends, confident, talkative Tuck (rapper Brian “Astro” Bradley), shy techie Munch (Reese Hartwig), and sensitive Alex (Teo Halm)have received mysterious messages on their phones and they want to find out where it is coming from and what it means.  Some guys from the construction project have some to the door offering to exchange new phone vouchers in exchange for the phones they say they have damaged with their drilling. But the boys realize that their phones are not broken. They are being contacted by someone or something who wants them to find him/her/it.

The trio is able to get away for one last night because their parents are too distracted by the move to notice what they are doing.  They get on their bikes and bring along a movie camera and some “spy glasses” that surreptitiously take movies as well. The signal leads them to a tiny, owl-like robotic alien they call Echo, who needs their help to repair his ship so he can return home. But the “construction guys” are looking for Echo, too. Tuck, Munch, and Alex have to race against time and the men who want to capture Echo in a treasure hunt for the parts Echo needs.

There are no surprises in the storyline, but the likeable kids, cute alien, and novelty of the found footage approach makes this heartwarming story of four friends on a thrilling adventure a good choice for a family outing. Echo does not speak; he/she/it just beeps, which means the kids have to do the talking, and that keeps the focus on what they are learning as they try to understand and take on the responsibility of helping someone in a meaningful way for the first time.

Those not accustomed to the mosaic style of “found footage” films may find it disorienting, but the sense of adventure and the strength of the friendships is palpable throughout, and kids and their families will enjoy being along for the ride.

Parents should know that this film has sci-fi action and peril, some schoolyard language, 0underage drinking and drunkenness and references to tween kissing.

Family discussion: Why did the kids feel “invisible?” What questions would you ask Echo? What did Tuck learn about Alex? Why did Tuck lie about Emma?

If you like this, try: “E.T,” “The Goonies,” “Super 8,” and “The Last Mimzy”

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DVD/Blu-Ray Fantasy movie review Science-Fiction Stories About Kids

2 Guns

Posted on August 1, 2013 at 6:00 pm

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drug dealers
Violence/ Scariness: Constant intense and graphic peril and violence, some very disturbing images, torture, guns, chases, explosions, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 2, 2013
Date Released to DVD: November 19, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00BEIYN9Q

 

Copyright Universal 2013


The couple with the most electrifying chemistry on screen so far this year is Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg in “2 Guns.” As the title of the the graphic novel by Steven Grant and Mateus Santolouco suggests, it is a double-barreled shoot-em-up. It is very violent, and it seems that the two stars think they are making a more light-hearted, escapist bang bang frolic than the movie can deliver.  The other characters in the often-sour story seem to be in a different movie.  But as long as the two stars are trading quips in syncopation with the rounds of firepower, it is very entertaining.

Washington plays Bobby, a DEA agent who has been undercover for a couple of years infiltrating a Mexico-based drug ring.  Wahlberg is Stig, working undercover for the Navy for the same reason.  We’re told they are the best at what they do, but somehow when they are trading banter about the best doughnuts in three counties and the drug dealer henchman who has been separated from his head they never figure out that they are both working for law enforcement.  Me, I think I might suspect that Bobby was not the usual bad guy when he stops in the middle of a robbery to pick up and soothe a crying baby.  But Stig is too busy being cool to notice.  Other than that, and repeatedly trusting the wrong people, and not making much progress in getting anyone arrested or confiscating any drugs or weapons, they are both crackerjack detectives.

Bobby has some issues.  He is a loner.  He does not “have people.”   He has a sometime girlfriend, a Justice Department attorney named Deb (Paula Patton).  “Did you ever love me?” she asks him when they are in bed together.  “I meant to love you,” he says.  Stig is more easy-going, but he may be too far in the other direction when it comes to trust, not able to see when his “people” are less loyal to him than he is to them.  That may be part of the explanation for their mutual blind spot in not figuring out that they were both doing the same thing.  Neither they nor we have much time to think about that as very quickly it turns out that they have been set up and betrayed, and they will need to find a way to work together in the midst of being hunted down by three separate groups who want to kill them.

After that, it’s just banter, chase, banter, shoot-out, banter, a couple of torture scenes, banter, betrayal, more quippy banter, and then ludicrous even in the context of this movie side-story about the perils of illegal immigration, then pay-off (literally).  It is an uneasy mix, but the stars own the fizzy dialogue with such brio, electricity and pure charisma that they provide the real explosive power.

Parents should know that this film includes constant comic book-style violence, some graphic and disturbing images, torture, guns, explosions, chases, fights, many characters injured and killed, non-explicit sexual situation, female nudity, some strong language, and pervasive corruption.

Family discussion: The issue of loyalty occurs several different times in this movie.  How do Bobby and Stig show their views about loyalty?  How does Deb?  How do their views change over the course of the story?

If you like this, try: “Lethal Weapon,” “Shoot ’em Up,” and “The Other Guys”

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Action/Adventure Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Crime DVD/Blu-Ray
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