Bad Moms

Posted on July 28, 2016 at 11:18 pm

Even the most outrageous comedy has to have some grounding in reality, if only through taking place in a world that is consistently imagined. If we don’t know where we are, there may be jokes, but it is not truly comedy.

Writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are not people with a lot of ideas. Their “21 and Over” was pretty much the same movie as their “Hangover.” And the big innovation here is that this time it’s girls-gone-wild instead of boys. But it plays like it was inspired by a couple of women’s magazine articles about the impossibility of “having it all.” The movie says it comes down on the side of not judging other mothers, those who seem to be losing it and those who seem to be holding it together. The message is that it’s good to forgive yourself for not being able to be perfect all the time. And it’s important to understand that loving your children means letting them learn to be responsible and not doing everything for them. But those good thoughts are undercut by the unexpectedly sour triumph of the main characters, with antagonists who must be shown as spineless or pitiful.

The reality of women’s lives is a target-rich environment for comedy and the reality of mothers’ lives is especially so. But this script is so lazy that it does not meet the level of basic cable sitcoms for originality and wit. Those shows may be bland and formulaic, but they have humor in 22 minutes than “Bad Moms” does in 101.

This is a movie that is supposed to be about female empowerment. There are two specific instances that involve women telling their cartoonishly awful husbands that they need to take more responsibility for their children and their households. And yet, this is a movie that consistently shows the PTA as apparently entirely made up of women, with the exception of one man who is shown at a PTA meeting specifically so he can be humiliated in public by his wife. Funny. amiright? And this is a school that apparently includes elementary, middle, and possibly high school students, does not notice when a mother does a child’s homework, and has a pot-smoking principal who can’t stand up to the President of the PTA. What?

“Hangover” worked because most of the movie was about dealing with the horrible consequences of a major sort-of-accidental bender. “Bad Moms” tries to persuade us that a bender and attendant irresponsible behavior are signs of liberation. The bender is a mild one, no tigers or tooth extractions. On the other hand, the issue of money is raised but in the kind of fairy tale way that suggests no one connected with the movie has had to think about how to pay for groceries — or damage inflicted on a grocery store — in a very long time.

We’re supposed to believe them when they talk about how much they love their kids and would do anything for them, but they don’t really seem to enjoy or support them.

And newsflash — jokes about foreskins, butt stuff, and girl-on-girl kisses as a sign of rebellion and edginess are so 1998.

The one-dimensional characters are as follows: Mila Kunis plays Amy, the exhausted mom of two who boots out her childish, cheating husband. She’s had no sex in years. Kristen Bell is Kiki, the exhausted mom of four whose husband treats her like Cinderella. They have sex once a week (“After “Blue Bloods!”) but he is not very, uh, excited or exciting. And Kathryn Hahn is Carla, the happy, unreliable slut who does not even know what a standardized test is, much less whether her son has to take and pass them. She talks about sex all the time but does not seem to be having any either. Christina Applegate is Gwendolyn, the Mean Girl (with henchmen played by Jada Pinkett-Smith and “Bridesmaids” co-writer Annie Mumolo (who should have done a major rewrite here).

One thing Lucas and Moore get right is the combination of the humblebrag and the insult-wrapped in a compliment handed out by the ladies who run the school. Yes, when they flutter their eyelashes and say, “I don’t know how you do it,” to Amy, she understands that they mean, “You’re doing it badly.” And there is a lot to be said about impossible standards and judgey people, especially when it comes to parenting. But that requires actually saying something, not just pointing it out.

Amy blows her top, decides not to try to be everything to everyone any more, and then when Gwendolyn lashes back, involving Amy’s daughter (in the Bizarro world of this movie, the head of the PTA is in charge of everything in the school), Amy decides to run against her, on a platform similar to but less authentic than that of Tammy in “Election.” Even in a PTA election, someone has to propose something more than “let’s do less and not judge each other.”

All four women are brilliant actors and comedians and make as much of this material as they can, but they all deserve much better. Jay Hernandez transcends the thankless role of the hot guy, making him the only male in the film who is not completely infantilized. Someone needs to put him in a leading man role. And someone needs to start putting women in the leading role of writing and directing stories about women, or at least men who can do better than this.

NOTE: The highlight of the movie is the series of conversations over the credits with the actresses and their real-life mothers, filled with exactly the wit and heart missing from most of the film.

Parents should know that this film is crude and explicit language throughout including very strong and crude language, drinking, drugs, sexual references and explicit nudity, and comic peril and violence.

Family discussion: Who is responsible for the standard the moms felt they had to live up to? How would this be different if it was about dads?

If you like this, try: “The Hangover”

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Posted on July 28, 2015 at 6:44 pm

Copyright 2015 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2015 Warner Brothers

I didn’t like the first one. I didn’t like the sequels. Keep that in mind when I tell you that I really did not like this latest in the gross-out, mean-spirited “Vacation” series, this time with the next generation going on another car trip to Wally World. You know how kids survive long car trips with earphones and DVD players? That’s what I wished I had to help me survive this movie. I even took extra time making my notes to have an excuse to look down at my notebook instead of looking at the screen. This is a movie that finds — or tries to find — humor in mistaking a sewage facility for a natural hot springs (with extended scenes of the cast spreading the “mud” all over themselves), sibling abuse, attempted suicide, a person and an animal in separate instances getting slammed by vehicles, excruciating humiliation, suspected pedophilia, and a misunderstanding of the term “rim job.”

Ed Helms plays Rusty Griswold. He bears no resemblance to the Anthony Michael Hall, who played him in the first film, or the young actors who played the character in the sequels. But Russ bears no resemblance to the character of the earlier movies, either. This Rusty is a genial bumbler who loves his family and works as a pilot for an airline.  He and his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) have two sons.  The little one, Kevin (Steele Stebbins), bullies the big one (Skyler Gisondo as James) with constant insults, attacking his manhood, personality, and overall right to exist on the planet.

Russ decides that what the family needs is some bonding time, like on that car trip to the Walley World theme park he somehow remembers very fondly from his childhood.  He rents a bright blue car called a Tartan Prancer, which he describes as “The Honda of Albania.” He has no idea what most of the buttons on the car do, but that means we all get to find out together.

The family swings by to visit Rusty’s sister Audrey (Leslie Mann), who is married to a guy who looks like a Norse god, because he is played by Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. He is a TV weatherman named Stone and he is rancher who intimidates Rusty by being handsome, muscular, wealthy, and good at everything, including being a loving husband, if you don’t count his preventing his wife from having a job outside the home. Oh, and as we and Rusty and Debbie get to see in detail (graphic detail at the end of the movie), he is exceptionally generously endowed and feels very, very good about it. And this is — really — the highlight of the movie.

Hemsworth and Applegate both rise above the material, but the material is below sea level, so that is not saying much.

Parents should know that this movie includes very strong and crude language, very explicit sexual references and some situations, graphic nudity, disturbing scenes, comic mayhem involving people and animals, attempted suicide, apparent vehicular homicide (portrayed as funny), and a lot of bad behavior (portrayed as funny).

Family discussion: What was your family’s best road trip? What road trip would you like to take?

If you like this, try: the original “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and its sequels

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Comedy Family Issues Series/Sequel

The Book of Life

Posted on October 16, 2014 at 5:56 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Themes of death and afterlife with some scary images of skeletons and desolation, peril including bull fights and snake bite, violence including sword fights and outlaws
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: October 17, 2014
Date Released to DVD: January 26, 2015 ASIN: B00Q599952
Copyright 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Animation
Copyright 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Animation

Jorge Gutierrez (Nickelodeon’s “El Tigre”) is co-writer and director of a dazzling new animated film that all but explodes off the screen in a kaleidoscope of color and energy and a love of life and storytelling and colorful characters and fantastic adventures.  It is filled with the richness of love and passion and life and death and music and bullfighting and courage and family.  It is a refreshing new aesthetic, inspired by Mexican folklore, with many of the characters looking as though they were carved from wood — not by trained experts and not recently.  It has great songs and stunning images, covers of songs by artists from Elvis to Mumford and Sons, with a sweet new duet from Us the Duo. Plus, there is a sensational and wonderfully varied voice cast that includes Ice Cube (superbly funny and warm-hearted), Cheech Marin, Placido Domingo, and Anjelah Johnson-Reyes (“Bon Qui Qui”).

And it is very funny and a lot of fun.

Even the opening logo for 20th Century Fox has been transformed, letting us know right from the start that we are in another world, or maybe three of them.

A museum guide tells a school group the story, which begins with a wager.  The afterlife has two parts: The Land of the Remembered, ruled by La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), where the newly dead are joyfully reunited with their families, and all is celebration, and The Land of the Forgotten, ruled by Xibalba (Ron Perlman of “Sons of Anarchy”), a bleak landscape where souls who are no longer cherished by the living are isolated and afraid.  The two rulers make a bet over which of two boys will win the heart of the girl they both love.  The winner will get to rule the Land of the Remembered.

The children grow up.  Xibalba’s candidate is Joaquin (Channing Tatum), who has become a brave soldier with a chest full of medals.  One he never lets anyone see was given to him by Xibalba, who is not above cheating to win the bet.  It gives whoever carries it courage and invulnerability.

La Muerte is rooting for Manolo (Diego Luna), who is studying to be a bullfighter like his father and all the other men in their family, but whose real passion is for music.  Both are still in love with Maria (Zoe Saldana), just returned from her studies in Spain.  Maria’s father favors Joaquin, who can protect the town from the evil, predatory bandit Chacal (Dan Navarro).  But Maria’s heart is touched by the romantic Manolo, even after his first attempt to serenade her turns into a disaster (hint: never let your companeros persuade you that the songs of either Biz Markie or Rod Stewart are romantic).  When it looks like he will lose the bet, Xibalba cheats again, sending a poisonous snake to bite Maria and Manolo.

Manolo is killed, and finds himself in the Land of the Remembered, where he is happy to see his mother and many other relatives.  But to get back to Maria, he will need to cross through the Land of the Forgotten. He meets the candle-maker (a warm and very funny Ice Cube) and a monstrous bull composed of all the bulls Manolo’s family has ever killed, makes a daring wager of his own before he gets back just in time for the arrival of Chacal.

It may seem thickly plotted at times, but that is all part of the Carnivale sensibility.  And the cavalcade of incidents and characters, both living and dead, is reassuring in its matter-of-fact approach, reminding us that it is all a part of the book of life, and that we can never lose what or who we truly love.

Parents should know that this film includes Day of the Dead-inspired images with skeletons and afterlife settings, characters in peril and some violence, sad deaths of parents and grandparent (reunited in afterlife), some scary monsters and villains, brief potty humor and some mild language

Family discussion: How can you tell when you follow your parents’ advice and when to do what feels right to you? What is the best way to make sure we remember the people who are no longer with us?

If you like this, try: “The Princess and the Cobbler” and “Rio” and the documentary “Walt and El Groupo,” about the real-life trip Walt Disney and his animators took to South America and how it transformed the look of Disney animation.

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3D Animation DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy Musical Romance

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Posted on December 17, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 For crude and sexual content, drug use, language and comic violence
Profanity: Strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic but graphic violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 18, 2013
Date Released to DVD: March 31, 2014 ASIN: B0083XXVFW

anchorman 2

Will Ferrell and his crew beat the sophomore slump with just the right mix of stuff we want to see again (yes, there will be jazz flute, a rumble with the other news teams featuring wildly improbable surprise guest stars and weapons, and a clueless character being yanked into a new understanding of women) and stuff that’s new (some surprisingly sharp satire about the current state of the news business and its origins in the shift to the 24 hour news cycle in the 80’s — and a twist on the infamous closet of potent man-scents featuring Sex Panther).

The first obligation of a sequel is to undo everything that happened in part one.  Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), married, with a son, and sharing the anchoring duties in San Diego,  find their happily ever after ending torn asunder when their boss (the first of several surprise guest stars) promotes her to a network job and fires him as local anchor. He tries working as an announcer at Sea World, and is soon on the brink of losing that job, too.  Ron Burgundy was put on this earth to “have salon-quality hair and read the news.”  What can he do next?

Something happens that no one could have anticipated.  A zillionaire (think cross between Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch) gets the idea for a 24 hour news channel.  And that means they’ll hire anyone.  Soon, Ron gets the band back together (Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, and David Koechner) and they’re on their way to two crazy destinations: New York and the 80’s.

“Anchorman” was not a huge hit when it was first released, but it has become, well, kind of a big deal, since it came out (especially unrated) on DVD.  It is one of those films that improves on repeated viewing, not because there are subtle jokes you miss the first time around but because its silly but good-natured humor make it particularly suitable for repeated viewings with friends reciting the catch phrases and acting out the goofiest bits.  That primes the audience for this next one, with a lot of silly, over-the-top comedy and “what were we thinking”-music, personalities, and styles of the era as in the first film.  (The terrific soundtrack includes classics like “Ride With the Wind,” “Muskrat Love,” “Feels so Good,” and “This is It.”)

In the original, the set-up was having the smug, macho world of the local anchors was invaded by a woman — and one who was vastly more intelligent and professional than they were.  This time, there is a woman who is not a subordinate or a peer; Ron Burgundy and his team have a new boss, Linda Jackson (Meagan Good).  She is not only a woman; she is black.  This provokes a whole extra layer of fear and fascination in Ron Burgundy.

Another difference — he is not the alpha male at the new station.  His team goes on the air in the middle of the night.  Prime time goes to the handsome and arrogant Jack Lime (James Marsden).  Ron rashly bets Jack that he will beat him in the ratings.

The sneaky genius of this movie is the way it makes sense out of Ron’s kind of genius response to this idiotic bet, and the way it explains pretty much everything that’s gone wrong with the world ever since. It turns out that the sense of superiority that keeps us laughing at Ron Burgundy may be overshadowed by his sense of superiority in laughing at us.

Parents should know that this film has very raunchy and explicit humor for a PG-13, with a lot of crude jokes and strong language, including bigotry humor.  Characters drink and use drugs and there is comic but graphic violence including a suicide attempt.  NOTE that there are alternate versions available including a much raunchier unrated version.

Family discussion:  Why was Ron so afraid of Linda?  Who should own the news?

If you like this, try: the original “Anchorman”

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Series/Sequel

Hall Pass

Posted on February 25, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Things have changed since the Farrelly Brothers smashed through boundaries and brought a new level of outrageous raunchiness to the screen with the box office smashes “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary.” First, they inspired others like Judd Apatow and Jason Segal to go even further, so they are no longer at the top of the list for shock value. And second, they got older.

So their new movie does not try for anything as outrageous as the unforgettable hair gel or zipper scenes (though there is a return to a graphic intestinal distress moment). And instead of focusing on the excruciating humiliations of dating (“There’s Something About Mary”) or honeymoons (the remake of “The Heartbreak Kid”), they have moved on to the challenges of married life, or what Zorba the Greek called “Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe.”

Rick (Owen Wilson) and his best friend Fred (“SNL’s” Jason Sudeikis) have jobs, wives, and mortgages in the suburbs of Providence. Rick, a realtor, and his wife Maggie (Jenna Fischer of “The Office”) have three children. Fred, an insurance agent, and his wife Grace (Christina Applegate) have none.

“All our wives’ dreams come true and ours don’t,” says Fred. For the men, it feels like it is all about sex. For the women, it feels more like romance. But everyone misses that feeling of being special.

The wives, frustrated and publicly humiliated by some very bad behavior by the men, give them a “hall pass,” a week off from marriage, with no restrictions. This is based on the recommendation of a friend (Joy Behar), who assures them it is “better than a slow boat to resentment.” Maggie takes her children to visit her family on Cape Cod, and Grace soon joins her, leaving the men behind to try to live out their fantasies of bedding babes non-stop like their friend Coakley (Richard Jenkins).

It turns out that they are more interested in eating themselves into a stupor at chain restaurants. And that, well, there’s no diplomatic way to say it. They just aren’t cool any more.

The more they try to be, the dorkier they become. Rick does not get a positive reaction to the pick-up lines he downloaded from the internet. When a very pretty Australian barrista tells Fred that the song she is listening to is from Snow Patrol, he thinks she is referring to the kiddie movie with Cuba Gooding, Jr. — “Snow Dogs.” When Rick tries to visit a massage parlor, it does not have a happy ending.

Meanwhile, on Cape Cod, Grace and Maggie have become friendly with a couple of nice guys who do think they are special.

The Farrelly brothers are going for situational rather than shock humor here, hitting singles rather than trying to bat one out of the park. That means there is less excruciating humiliation, but it also means less over-the-top, I-can’t-believe-what-I’m-seeing moments. The result is oddly toned down and sit-com-ish. It’s even more oddly and disturbingly misogynistic, a throwback to early 1960’s comedies like “How to Murder Your Wife” and “Boys’ Night Out” in its portrayal of perpetually childish men constantly chastened and terrified by scary mommies with daunting sexual demands. This is particularly disappointing for film-makers whose great strength has been their capable and good-hearted female characters. Like Fred and Rick, the Farrelly brothers here are off their game.

Parents should know that this movie has extremely raunchy and explicit humor including comic and very graphic male nudity, alcohol, strong language, and adultery.

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