I Want You Back

I Want You Back

Posted on February 10, 2022 at 5:23 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some rear-end nudity, brief sex scenes, drug use and language
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and recreational drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Punch
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 11, 2022

Copyright 2021 Amazon Studios
Yes, the title song appears in the romantic comedy “I Want You Back” along with a bunch of other lively and well-chosen selections, but it might as well have included another classic hit single, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.”

Two characters are devastated by being dumped by their significant others in the movie’s opening scenes. Emma (Jenny Slate) is at a restaurant with Noah (Scott Eastwood), her boyfriend of 18 months, who offers her some of his steak because he says she needs to get more iron. “Are you trying to be the nicest, sweetest, cutest boyfriend in the world?” she says lovingly. Nope, he’s about to tell her that he’s met someone else. Peter (Charlie Day) is attending a birthday party for the young son of friends when Anne (Gina Rodriguez) tells him that after six years together she wants to break up because she wants “a bigger life,” not “making salmon and watching ‘Dancing With the Stars,” which is what she says is all they ever do.

Emma and Peter work in the same office building and they meet when they are both sobbing in the stairwell. When they discover they are there for the same reason, they go off to get drunk and sing sad karaoke, including “Oughta Know.” They christen themselves the “Sadness Sisters” and after a couple of commiserating meetings and a lot of cyber-stalking of their exes’ social media, they hatch the kind of plan you only (I hope) see in rom-coms; they are each going to break up the new relationships of their former significant others. Emma will seduce Logan (Manny Jacinto of “The Good Place” and “Nine Perfect Strangers”), a middle school drama teacher and Peter will befriend Noah. And so, Emma volunteers to help out with Logan’s middle school production of “Little Shop of Horrors” and Peter hires Noah as a personal trainer.

Slate and Day are better known for more heightened comedic roles — and for their distinctive husky but sometimes squeaky voices. But here they are wonderfully warm and endearing as two good people who are very sad and a little lost. Plus, they get strong support from comedy all-stars Jacinto and Rodriguez, Eastwood is game, and we get to see Slate in a wild blonde wig singing “Suddenly Seymour.” The skillful and witty screenplay by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger (“Love, Simon” and “This is Us”) makes them three-dimensional characters. As we see Emma interact with an unhappy 12 year old stagehand and Peter out at a club with Noah we have more reason to want them to find happiness than just seeing them mope in a bar about their break-ups. It also makes some of their antics a little less crazy. Slate and Day are an appealing couple and that puts the rom in the rom-com.

Parents should know that this movie has mature themes including sexual references, a proposed threesome, nudity, strong language, and alcohol and drug use.

Family discussion: Why do Peter and Emma see each other differently than Noah and Anne saw them? What bothered them the most about their breakups, their hurt pride, their fear of being alone, or their affection for the people who broke up with them?

If you like this, try: Another movie with a title taken from a song that is about two people who join forces after break-ups, “Addicted to Love”

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Comedy movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Romance
Pacific Rim Uprising

Pacific Rim Uprising

Posted on March 22, 2018 at 5:06 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence with disturbing images, giant robots, alien monsters, explosions, mass destruction, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 23, 2018
Copyright Universal 2018

I know you’re all eager to hear whether you will understand this movie if you haven’t seen (or, more likely, saw and forgot) the first one. Here is my answer: you won’t understand this film even if you did see and remember the first one and it just doesn’t matter. The first one was about giant robots fighting alien monsters and it ended with Idris Elba giving a great pep talk to the troops and then sacrificing himself to save the world.

Second verse, same as the first. Even bigger robots.  Even meaner monster aliens.  Even dumber dialogue.  Buildings knocked down and shattered as though they were made of eggshells.  A volcano. Plus mutant robot monster aliens.  A near-feral girl with a gift for creating robots.  A pilot with daddy issues.

And, I can’t help it, since it takes two pilots who mind-meld in a process called “drift” to operate the giant robots called Jaegers in perfect synchronization, every time they do it I keep thinking they’re playing Dance Dance Revolution.

That would be only slightly more silly than the actual storyline (hmm, a “Step Up”/”Pacific Rim” crossover — I offer this idea freely, noting that there is a promise of a third chapter at the end of the film).

“Star Wars'” John Boyega (who also co-produced) plays Jake, the son of the Idris Elba character. As he explains in a striking opening scene, the world has in some ways returned to normal after the defeat of the Kaiju monsters, though their enormous skeletons are still a reminder of the fight, one right next to the pool where Jake is enjoying a life of girls and parties. He has no interest in following in his father’s footsteps as a pilot or a hero. Like his “Star Wars” pal Rey, he is a scavenger, looking Jaeger robot junkyards. But things go wrong when a helmeted motorcycle rider steals the special part he promised to some very unforgiving guys. I note here the famous Roger Ebert rule that a mysterious helmeted figure will always turn out to be female. Yes, Amara (Cailee Spaeny) is not only female but young, and a Shuri-like tech whiz who is building her own Jaeger. The two of them end up in jail, and then, of course, sent to pilot training. “Ender’s Game”-style, younger recruits are taken because they are better at drifting.

When they arrive, Amara excitedly recognizes all the various Jaegers as a way of reintroducing us to them, and, discovering who Jake is, reminds us again that his father was a hero and he is not too happy about that. The tough, this-is-serious-business commanding officer is Nate (Scott Eastwood, channeling his dad), who says things like, “You and I both know you could have been great.”

There’s also a lot of “We need it now.” “It can’t be done.” “Do it anyway” “I need more time!” “We don’t have any!” “You got this!” “Let’s do this!” “Will it work?” “One way to find out!” talk and a lot of “20 kilometers to impact” military/tech language. And Jake says he can’t give a pep talk like his dad but he does. Does it include “This is OUR time!” Yes, it does.

The good thing is that the movie does not just know how silly it is — it embraces the silliness. The better thing is that it has EVEN BIGGER ROBOTS fighting EVEN BIGGER MUTANT ROBOT ALIENS! No matter how dumb it gets, no matter that the robots and monsters have more personality than the humans, no matter how much it seems like a mash-up of “Transformers,” “Ender’s Game,” “Starship Troopers,” and anime, it is undeniably fun to see robots bashing monsters, and thankfully there isn’t much in between the battles to slow things down.

Parents should know that this film includes extended and sometimes graphic peril and violence, many characters injured and killed, chases, explosions, scary monsters, some disturbing images, sad death of parents, issues of sacrifice, brief strong language, brief crude humor

Family discussion: Why did Jake insist that he was not like his father? How do you think the drift works? How do you prevent being defined by other people?

If you like this, try: The first “Pacific Rim,” “Ender’s Game,” and “Starship Troopers”

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Action/Adventure IMAX movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Scene After the Credits Science-Fiction Series/Sequel
Fist Fight

Fist Fight

Posted on February 16, 2017 at 5:40 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug material
Profanity: Extremely strong and crude language used by adults, teens, and a child
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs and drug dealing by teenager
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic peril and violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: February 17, 2017
Copyright 2017 Warner Brothers

Maybe it’s just here in Washington D.C., but when I saw “Fist Fight,” the biggest laugh from the audience was seeing the name of the executive producer, Steve Mnuchin, who had just been sworn in as the Trump administration’s Secretary of the Treasury. The timing of the movie, with its comic portrayal of an underfunded and wildly dysfunctional public school is uneasily, if inadvertently resonant with the times.

But mostly it is just not very funny. Five writers, including “New Girl” actor Max Greenfield, and a roster of more than a dozen producers, including the two stars, Ice Cube and Charlie Day, could not come up with anything more original than anatomical graffiti, a teacher who takes drugs and want to have sex with students, and a child performing a song with f- and b-words in her school talent show.

The producer/stars play Ron Strickland and Andy Campbell, teachers in a chaotic high school that is even more chaotic than usual because it is the last day before summer vacation. The senior pranks include obscene graffiti in the classroom and on the field, a drugged-up stolen race horse in the halls, the principal’s car covered with paint and left in the school foyer, and (I admit it, this was surreal and funny) a mariachi band trailing the principal for the day.

The students are openly contemptuous of the teachers. So is the administration, which is insisting on re-interviewing each of them to decide whether they will be kept on in their jobs. And poor Campbell, who just want to get along with everyone and impart to his students some of his love for words, has a wife who is about to go into a labor and a daughter who is appearing in the school talent show that afternoon. For some reason, he is performing with her, though she wants to make some last minute changes to the song. Do you think maybe the one she is springing on him has some bad language in it? Yes! Is that something that is inherently hilarious? Not in my opinion.

So, this is about two things: First is Campbell’s constant frustration at trying to do the right thing and the emasculating humiliation heaped on him by everyone when his nice-guy efforts are met with universal contempt. Second is the concept that nice-guy efforts should be met with universal contempt because what matters is the willingness and ability to beat someone up. Even the 911 operator (Kym Whitley) can only laugh when he calls for help.

The movie is filled with funny people. Unfortunately, it is bereft of funny ideas.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong language used by adults, teenagers and a child, drug humor and drug dealing by a teenager, jokes about a sexual predator, graphic sexual graffiti/humor, outrageous pranks, comic violence and peril.

Family discussion: Are Strickland and Campbell good teachers? What do they like about teaching?

If you like this, try: “Three O’Clock High” and “Ride Along”

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Movies -- format

Horrible Bosses 2

Posted on November 25, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Copyright 2014 New Line
Copyright 2014 New Line

Maybe it’s just the proximity to the horrible “Dumb and Dumber To,” but the cheerily offensive “Horrible Bosses 2” made me laugh. Full warning — it begins with an elaborate sight gag as our hapless heroes demonstrate their new product on a relentlessly cheery morning show. When the product, a “Shower Buddy” that combines the soap and shampoo with the shower head, demonstrated by Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) does not work at first, Dale (Charlie Day) kneels down behind it to make some quick repairs. His back-and-forth motions in the vicinity of Kurt’s lower torso make it appear to be a sexual act. This is followed by an expression of interest in the Shower Buddy by the TV host (the wonderful Keegan Michael Key), until he hears the name of the company. The trio has combined their three names: Nick, Kurt, and Dale, to sound like a racist epithet. If you’re still with me, then this is your movie.

Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt, and Dale are very happy to be free of their horrible bosses and running their own company, especially when a wealthy entrepreneur named Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz) places a large order. The guys rent a manufacturing facility, hire staff (mostly girls Kurt wants to have sex with, plus a black felon they are scared of and a Latina woman they can’t understand), and go into production. They are proud to report to Hanson ahead of schedule. But it turns out that Hanson planned from the beginning to bankrupt them and take over their company. They are back in the world of horrible bosses again.

They get some advice from one of their old horrible bosses, Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), now serving his jail term, and from M****F**** Jones (Jamie Foxx), the criminal they sought guidance from in the last movie, not realizing that his crime was only pirating “Snow Falling On Cedars.” They decide the best option is to kidnap Hanson’s spoiled, arrogant son (Chris Pine) and hold him for ransom. Their plot requires some laughing gas as a sedative, so they visit the dental office of Dale’s former horrible boss, the sexually predatory Julia (Jennifer Aniston), not knowing her sex addiction support group is going to be meeting there.

The kidnapping plot does not go well. They are not even sure how to spell kidnapping when they write it with permanent marker on their dry-erase board. But there’s a surprising twist that gives the story a second wind. Waltz and Pine, not known for comedy, are both excellent, especially Pine, clearly enjoying himself enormously. A lot of the humor is sheer outrageousness, much of it racist or sexist or both, but some of it is pleasantly loopy, like a doorbell that plays Badfinger. The three guys have great chemistry. And nobody is better at playing a horrible boss than Spacey. But the highlight of the film is the outtakes over the end credits, showing us that this movie was more fun to make than to watch.

Parents should know that this movie includes extremely crude, offensive, and graphic sexual references and situations, nudity, constant very strong language, and violence including murder.

Family discussion: Who was the worst boss you ever had? Who was the best?

If you like this, try: The first “Horrible Bosses” movie and “Ruthless People”

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Comedy Series/Sequel

Horrible Bosses

Posted on July 7, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Three old friends who work for deranged, abusive bosses decide that the only solution is a “Strangers on a Train”-style murder swap in a lightweight comedy sustained by recession-era resentment fantasies, some attention to plot structure, and a bunch of top comic performers enjoying themselves so much it is impossible not to join them.  As confirmed by the outtakes over the closing credits, even the stars were shocked into laughter by some of the more outrageous moments in the film.  This is what “Bad Teacher” wanted to be, cheerfully offensive with some forward propulsion.   It’s a wish fulfillment story with the vicarious pleasure of revenge and of seeing other people get into a lot of trouble for taking the risks we are much too careful to attempt.

You can see that Jennifer Aniston, looking like an inhumanly idealized CGI version of herself, is so happy to be out of those cloying rom-coms that she has a total blast as a predatory and sexually voracious dentist who only gets more excited by humiliating her assistant (Charlie Day as Dale). Even her dentist music plays “Crazy.”  Colin Farrell, unrecognizable as a paunchy cokehead with a hangover, clearly enjoys playing a nunchucking nutball whose primary influence on home decoration appears to Uday Hussein.  And Kevin Spacey, who pretty much owns the bad boss role brings it once again as a paranoid, manipulative bully.

No wonder Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), Nick (Jason Bateman), and Dale feel trapped.  None of them can find another job.  Horrible bosses don’t hesitate to threaten bad references and the job market is awful.  A high school classmate who was once a successful financier at Lehman Brothers is now reduced to, well, let’s just say he has his hand out.  So, being the dim-witted play by the rules guys that they are, with their only knowledge of crime coming from Dale’s intensive study of the “Law & Order” franchise, they try to find an assassin to knock off the horrible bosses, reasoning that “We don’t clean our apartments or cut our hair,” so why should they do their own killing?  They look for help first on the internet (and wonder whether they should have a cheese plate to offer the hired killer) and then try some random guy because he is black and has a scary nickname and lot of tattoos and therefore must be a badass (Jamie Foxx, very funny as Jones).

Unlike “Bad Teacher,” this film recognizes that the outrageous and shocking behavior works only if there is a solidly structured plot to keep things moving.  It is as funny to see how some of the elements from the first half come back in the second as it is to see Aniston’s sexual predator, spraying Day’s crotch with the hose from the spit sink and singing out, “Shabbat Shalom!” at what is revealed.  Bateman’s impeccably dry delivery is perfectly balanced with Sukeikis’ guy-next door (if the guy next door was constantly looking for short-term female companionship) cheer, and a nice restorative after the awful “Hall Pass.”  Julie Bowen (“Modern Family”), Lindsay Sloane, and Ioan Gruffudd make the most of brief appearances and good spirits about bad activities keeps things brisk and lively. It is most likely to be remembered in the future as a relic of (we hope) a low point in the American economy than anyone’s notion of a classic, but fans of raunchy comedy will find something to enjoy.

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Comedy Crime
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