The Angry Birds Movie

Posted on May 19, 2016 at 5:50 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for rude humor and action
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoon action-style peril and violence, no one hurt
Date Released to Theaters: May 20, 2016
Date Released to DVD: August 15, 2016 ASIN: B01EK44M64
Copyright Sony Pictures 2016
Copyright Sony Pictures 2016

Like the wildly addictive Finnish app/game/toys that inspired it, the Angry Birds movie is colorful, with some silly humor and imaginative settings. And like the many, many attempts to make games into movies that have gone before it, this one has strong visuals, game talent, and yet never quite sustains itself as a story. It’s a rare movie for kids that endorses legitimate anger, but in these touchy times, it is peculiarly xenophobic.

Bird island is something of a flightless bird sanctuary, with no predators and a mostly happy, companionable community. Red (a perfectly cast Jason Sudeikis) is a bright red bird with Eugene Levy eyebrows, a tendency to defensiveness and snark, and a serious anger management problem.

Red is late to a “hatch-day” party he was supposed to work at as an entertainer. He insults the young bird’s parents and is accidentally standing in the wrong place when their new chick hatches, so that the baby imprints on Red instead of his parents. Red has an angry outburst leading to a court appearance presided over by Judge Peckinpah (Keegan-Michael Key), who sentences him to anger management classes conducted by the New Age-y Matilda (Maya Rudolph), where his classmates include the explosive Bomb (Danny McBride) and excitable Chuck (Josh Gad).

A ship arrives at Bird Island, carrying a cheerful pig named Leonard (Bill Hader), who oozes charm and promises friendship and merriment. He even puts on a show, in order to both pad and juice up the storyline.

Red is skeptical, but he is always skeptical. The other birds embrace their new friend, even after Red tells them Leonard has lied about coming alone. He has lied about his purpose, too. The pigs want the eggs. And…now the game part comes in: the birds need to get angry so they can get the eggs back. The whole part about foreigners/those different from us being evil and scary and wanting to eat our progeny, that’s pretty much glossed over as all in good fun, mingled with shout-outs to The Eagles (get it) and Rick Astley (because why not; it’s an easy laugh).

The birds have a possibly mythical leader, Mighty Eagle, the only bird on the island who can fly. Red, Bomb, and Chuck ascend to ME’s aerie and find that he is not as heroic as they hoped. If anyone is going to save the day, it will be the intrepid trio themselves. They have to find a way to get to the pigs’ island and get the eggs back.

It’s all bright and cheerful, but under-plotted and overproduced. Stunt-casting Oscar winner Sean Penn for a few grunts, throwing in pop songs and faux swearing to amuse the parents and bird poop humor to amuse the kids left me feeling a bit angry myself.

Parents should know that this film includes a lot of cartoon-style action and peril, with no serious injuries, some schoolyard language, and some bodily function/gross-out/crotch hit humor.

Family discussion: When is it helpful to be angry? How can you make the best use of anger?

If you like this, try: “The LEGO Movie”

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3D Based on a video game Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy Talking animals

Josh Gad and Billy Crystal in a New Comedy Series: The Comedians

Posted on April 8, 2015 at 8:00 am

I love meta, so I’m looking forward to seeing Josh Gad and Billy Crystal in their new series, “The Comedians,” where they play versions of themselves, Josh Gad and Billy Crystal (ish), starring in a new series.  It premieres tomorrow night on FX.

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Want to See A Movie With Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, and Olaf the Snowman’s Josh Gad?

Posted on March 21, 2015 at 8:00 am

I am quite fond of a little film from 2008 called “The Rocker,” starring Rainn Wilson. And it’s even more fun now, as three of its actors have become big stars. Wilson plays a drummer who was let go just before his group became hugely successful in 1998. Twenty years later, his life is a mess and he is living with his sister and her husband (Jane Lynch and Jeff Garlin). His nephew (Josh Gad) has a rock group called A.D.D. that will be performing at prom, and they need a drummer. The group takes off — in both senses of the word. Emma Stone plays the group’s bass player. And Bradley Cooper is unrecognizable under a massive wig in a brief but funny as a member of Wilson’s original band, along with Will Arnett and Fred Armisen. The cast also includes Demetri Martin as the director of A.D.D.’s music video, Jason Sudeikis as their manager, and Christina Applegate as the mother of A.D.D.’s frontman, real-life musician Teddy Geiger. It’s a lot of fun and the music is great.

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For Your Netflix Queue Neglected gem

Wish I Was Here

Posted on July 20, 2014 at 7:21 pm

My intention was to review Zach Braff’s new film without mentioning the controversy he stirred up in funding it via Kickstarter.  My view was that what mattered was the movie itself, and the kerfluffle over how it was all paid for was beside the point.  But it turns out that it is the point.  “Scrubs” star Braff says that despite the success of the first film he wrote, directed, and starred in, Garden State, not one studio was willing to give him the money for this follow-up.  So, he went to crowd-funding as a way to give him artistic freedom.  To those who said that crowd-funding should not be used by wealthy celebrities, he correctly pointed out that no one who objected had to send any money.  Many people did want to support the project.  He asked for $2 million. He raised $3,105,473 from 46,520 people.

That’s a good thing for making sure he got to realize his very individual artistic vision.  I’m just not sure whether we would not have been better off with a studio persuading him to make this film, as the suits in Hollywood like to say, “more relatable.”wishiwashere The script, written by Braff and his brother, is kind of a mess. Of course, life is kind of a mess, too, and movies don’t all have to be rigidly linear or consistent in tone. But this one does not come across as intentionally messy to reflect the rich tapestry of life. It comes across as undercooked and self-indulgent. Maybe I should say Kickstarter-enabled.

In “Garden State,” Braff played a struggling young actor named Andrew Largeman who returns to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral, decides to go off of his mood-numbing meds originally prescribed by his disapproving, remote father, meets the warm and loving and completely adorable Natalie Portman, and learns to begin to feel his feelings.

While not formally a sequel, in this film Braff plays a struggling less-young actor named Aiden Bloom married to a warm, loving, and completely adorable Sarah (Kate Hudson), and struggling with his remote, disapproving father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin).

Aiden and his father have agreed that if Gabe will pay the grandchildren’s private school tuition, he can pick the school. So, even though Aiden is not an observant Jew, his children go to an Orthodox yeshiva school. He is frustrated that his daughter Grace (Joey King) has become very devout. And he is even more frustrated when Gabe tells him that he will not be able to pay the tuition any longer because he needs the money for some experimental cancer treatment. “So much bad news all at once,” Aiden says, learning that his children will have to leave school and his father may be dying in the same moment.

Aiden unsuccessfully tries to persuade the school’s principal, an aged rabbi, to give the children a scholarship. Because Aiden is not trying to get a job to support his family, and because they would have to take money from other families who are in need, the rabbi says no, firmly but not unkindly. Aiden haplessly starts to homeschool his children as Sarah struggles with an obnoxious co-worker who insists on making highly sexual and completely inappropriate comments.  She gets no help from her boss, who tells her to lighten up.

Aiden also has a brother, Noah (Josh Gad), a brilliant near-recluse who lives in a trailer.  He has genius-level analytic skills but toddler-level interpersonal skills.

There are moments in this film that are pure, inspired, and clearly the work of an exceptional filmmaker.  Too many of the best of them recall even better versions of themselves in “Garden State.”  And too many other moments are spoiled by an unwillingness to trust the audience.  The portrayal of Judaism borders on the grotesque (rebbe on a Segway — funny; rebbe on a Segway he can’t maneuver — not).  Braff as writer and director makes the mistake we see too often: Jewish actors and filmmakers who portray Jews feel that they have to ACT Jewish so they go painfully over the top.  The way Aiden and Sarah handle their daughter’s wish to be more religious is insensitive and unrealistic.  The way she chooses to demonstrate her faith is inappropriate for a young girl and makes no sense.  Until a moment late in the film when a quiet conversation with a sympathetic young rabbi, the portrayal of the Jewish community is unremittingly negative.  And Aiden is not as endearing as his director/portrayer apparently think.

It is a second quiet conversation that makes up for a lot of the missteps along the way.  Kate Hudson speaks to a man in a hospital bed, and it is touching and moving. There are some striking images and some choice performances, especially Jim Parsons (who had a similar role in “Garden State,” also in a wild get-up) as another aspiring actor.  And, as with “Garden State,” the music on the soundtrack is beautifully curated.

If Braff decides to go back to Kickstarter for #3, I might sign up.  Until then, I’ll think of this as a transitional film and hope that Braff will learn from it that sometimes when people say no it’s for a good reason.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong language, some crude, some used by children, explicit sexual references and situations, pornography and workplace sexual harassment, and drinking.

Family discussion:  How did Noah and Aiden respond differently to Gabe’s parenting?  Was Sarah right to support Aiden?

If you like this, try: “Garden State” and “Scrubs”

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Comedy Drama
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