Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Posted on February 11, 2021 at 5:38 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence, mostly comic
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 13, 2021
Date Released to DVD: March 30, 2021

I hereby forgive Jamie Dornan for everything “50 Shades”-related, even his terrible rendition of “Maybe I’m Amazed.” He is such a hoot in “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” and so clearly enjoying himself that I was utterly charmed.

I’m not sure what else it is fair for me to tell you about “Barb and Star,” though, because I want you to have the fun of discovering it for yourself. In order to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, it may be a bit cryptic. The best I can do is tell you that if you are looking for something amiably goofy and offbeat, ranging from gentle comedy to outright surreality, you will enjoy it.

I’m guessing that screenwriters and stars Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumalo (who also write “Bridesmaids”) created the irrepressibly cheerful characters of Barb and Star as way of goofing around together. Think a female, very midwestern version of the Gil Faizon (Kroll) and George St. Geegland “Oh, Hello” characters created by Nick Kroll and John Mulaney. Like them, Wiig and Mumalo have the greatest affection for their characters, recognizing how silly (and poignant) it is for them to be clueless and yet very sure of themselves in what may seem to us to be very constricted little worlds. We may laugh at them, but if we condescend because they are outside of our own world, we will learn about our own refusal to acknowledge the constrictions we live in, ourselves.

Star (short for Starbera) and Barb (not short for anything, just Barb), are middle-aged ladies, one divorced, one widowed, who “work” together at the Jennifer’s Convertibles, the poshest store in tiny Soft Rock, Nebraska. They also live together in a house that probably has tiles with cute sayings like “Kiss the cook!”

They never get tired of talking to each other. Indeed, they spend all day at Jennifer’s Convertibles sitting on one of the convertible sofas sipping coffee and talking to each other, a constant pleasant twittering. When a couple wants to talk to them about actually buying the sofa, they refuse. Which may be one reason they find out soon after that the chain is folding they are laid off.

They get some severance money and when a friend (Wendi McLendon-Covey) tells them about her wonderful Florida vacation (“Tommy Bahama top to bottom and a 24-hour CVS!”), they decide to go. It feels like a big risk. They are very comfortable knowing everything and everyone where they are. But the stories they tell each other are old stories, so maybe it’s time to make some new ones. And so they pack, including travelers’ checks left over from Barb’s wedding. And culottes (helpfully defined for us as a skirt with a cloth divider kind of like very wide shorts). And off they go, entertaining themselves on the airplane by imagining a friend they’d like to have named Trish.

And that is where they meet Edgar (Dornan), who is supposed to be carrying out a nefarious assignment, but is distracted by uncertainty, a hallucinatory gigantic drink called Buried Treasure, and of course Barb and Star. The rest of the film includes a wild musical number, another musical number, a mouse orchestra, a threesome, a child who looks like the kid from “Up” and sings along to Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb as he delivers newspapers (and more), a nefarious villain with a familiar face, a book called How to Know the Person You Love Loves You Even if They Don’t Act Like It Most of the Time, love advice from a crab, and, yes, Tommy Bahama.

The movie sails happily from the silly to the surreal, from the goofy to the even goofier. Director Josh Greenbaum holds it all together so that even the wildest moments feel part of the same world as the gentle jokes of two middle-aged women on their first plane trip. One reason is that he never condescends to the characters. He genuinely loves them, and so we do, too. Watching it is like having champagne bubbles tickle your nose.

Parents should know that this is a light comedy with some very mature material including brief strong language, crude sexual references and non-explicit situations, drinking and drugs, and peril and violence (mostly comic). A mega-villain plots a massive attack and commits an off-camera murder. There are also references to divorce and to the death of a spouse.

Family discussion: Why are Barb and Star such good friends? What surprised you about them?

If you like this, try: “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday,” “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion,” “Spy,” and “Lost in Paris”

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Where’d You Go Bernadette

Posted on August 14, 2019 at 5:44 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language and drug material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Family stress and loss, reference to serious illness of a child and miscarriages
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 16, 2019
Date Released to DVD: December 2, 2019

Copyright 2019 Annapurna Pictures
The screen adaptation of Maria Semple’s charming book, Where’d You Go Bernadette is…less charming, though perfectly pleasant in a late summer comfort food kind of way. Semple, a sharp and witty writer for television (“Mad About You,” “90210,””Arrested Development”) moved from LA to Seattle and her sense of dislocation inspired the book, with a sharp take on the crunchy, self-consciously wholesome culture of the Pacific Northwest in contrast to the glossier, smugger world of Los Angeles. Note the title, a question without a question mark. And in this version, the question mark-less question is for no discernible reason, answered at the very beginning, followed by most of the film as a flashback.

Missing the epistolary format of the book, which allows us to follow much of the storyline through the characters’ voices, the sharpness is softened in Richard Linklater’s film. Cate Blanchett plays Bernadette, a devoted mother of Bee (newcomer Emma Nelson). Clinically, she might be classified as struggling with depression or anxiety or agoraphobia, but as we will learn, the behavior that is un-social and non-productive is her way of responding to devastating personal and professional loss. She does not want to talk to anyone, except maybe Bee, with whom she has an easy, natural connection. Bernadette loves her husband, Elgy (Billy Crudup), but he has a demanding job at Microsoft, the reason for their move to Seattle, and is not around much. Bernadette ran from personal and professional loss by devoting herself to Bee. But now Bee will be going away to boarding school and she has nowhere to run.

Bernadette is an architect, but her house is a mess of unfinished repairs. When she spots a bump under the carpet that turns out to be a blackberry bush sprout from beneath the house, instead of pulling it up by the roots she neatly scores the carpet to bend the corners back and staple them to the floor so the bush can keep growing. She has contempt for the moms at Bee’s school who go on about their compost heaps. She refers to them as “gnats” and she is not above some passive aggression, including allowing one to create a lot of damage.

Elgy’s new assistant there is Soo-Lin (Zoe Chao), one of the gnats, who loves to gossip about how weird Bernadette is with Audrey (Kristen Wiig), one of those “Big Little Lies”-type school moms who likes to run everything, talks about her perfect life a lot, and has very strong views on how everyone should behave.

Bee reminds her parents that they rashly promised her a wish if she got perfect grades all through middle school. Her wish is a trip to Antarctica. Bernadette wants to give Bee her dream, but for someone who can barely leave the house, it is an insurmountable challenge — until other challenges of staying home become even more insurmountable.

This is disappointingly one-dimensional work from one of the world’s most talented and versatile directors, Richard Linklater. Instead of the innovative, perceptive work we saw in “Boyhood,” the “Before” series, “School of Rock,” “Waking Life,” “Bernie,” and “Everybody Wants Some!!” “Where’d You Go Bernadette” has all the depth of the Charlene song “I’ve Never Been to Me.”

Parents should know that this film has some strong language, some mayhem, some mild peril, and some discussion of miscarriages and serious medical conditions.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Bernadette tell her family where she was going? What problems are you good at solving?

If you like this, try: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” also starring Wiig.

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Despicable Me 3

Posted on June 29, 2017 at 5:33 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action and rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended cartoon-style peril and violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 30, 2017
Date Released to DVD: December 4, 2017

Copyright 2017 Universal Pictures
It does not achieve the delirious delight of the first in the series, but it is better than the second. “Despicable Me 3” is meandering and uneven.

The problem with making the title character into a happily married good guy who loooves his three girls is that he is not despicable any more. He is therefore much less interesting than the actually despicable villain of the movie, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker, co-creator of “South Park”), an 80’s child star embittered because he has been forgotten. Whenever Bratt is not on screen, the film deflates. It is a cute, fun, and sweet-natured family treat, but overstuffed at just 90 minutes with too many distracting detours.

Formerly despicable Gru (Steve Carell) is now working with Lucy (Kristen Wiig) at the AVL (Anti-Villain League), and Lucy is also trying to learn how to be a mother to the three girls, serious middle-schooler Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), mischievous Edith (Dana Gaier), and sweet, unicorn-loving Agnes (Nev Scharrel).

Gru and Lucy stop Bratt from stealing the world’s largest diamond, but he gets away, and the new, very ambitious, head of the AVL (Jenny Slate) fires Gru. Lucy quits in protest. As they begin to think about finding new jobs and Agnes sells off her beloved fluffy stuffed unicorn to help out, Gru finds out for the first time that he has an identical twin brother. “Parent Trap” style, when their parents split up, they split the babies up, too. An emissary from Gru’s brother, Dru (also Carell) invites them for a visit to Freedonia, presumably the country responsible for their accents and certainly the country where the Marx Brothers created memorable mayhem in “Duck Soup.”

Dru is identical to Gru except for luxuriant blond hair. And it turns out he wants to be despicable, like their late dear old dad. The brothers go for a wild joyride in Dad’s crookmobile. Bratt has now successfully stolen the world’s biggest diamond, and so Gru tells Dru they will steal it from him. Dru thinks they will keep it, but Gru plans to return it so he and Lucy can get their jobs back.

Meanwhile, the minions are performing Gilbert & Sullivan on a TV reality show and being thrown in prison. Lucy is still not sure how to connect to the girls. Agnes thinks she can find a unicorn. And Bratt is getting ready for the ultimate revenge on the Hollywood that rejected him.

The film flags whenever Bratt is off-screen. He is an inspired creation, with lots of 80’s references for the parents and just the right touch of whiny entitlement to seem quite timely. He just about makes up for the slow patches. The snatches of the terrific Pharrell Williams score from the first film serve as a reminder that this, too, is mostly just an inferior copy, we hope, the last.

Parents should know that this film includes cartoon-style peril and violence, mostly comic, crotch hit, some potty humor, and brief minion nudity.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Lucy know when to say no? What made Margo trust her? Why did Gru’s parents tell their sons they were disappointments?

If you like this, try: the other “Despicable Me” movies and “Megamind”

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Ghostbusters

Posted on July 14, 2016 at 5:20 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy/paranormal violence with some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 15, 2016
Date Released to DVD: October 10, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01I2FFGW6

Copyright Columbia 2016
Copyright Columbia 2016
I’m willing to believe them. I mean, sure, the original is a classic, mostly thanks to Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, and a new approach to action/paranormal comedy. But the reboot has the Mount Rushmore of movie comedy with SNL writer/cast members Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Kristen Wiig, plus America’s sweetheart Melissa McCarthy. That’s some serious comedy power there, and some serious dimples, too. It pays tribute to the original, opening with the Ray Parker, Jr. song and featuring cameos from original cast members Murray, Aykroyd, Hudson, Potts, and Weaver, and a couple of the original ghosts, too.

But it is very much its own take on the story, with a fresh script from director Paul Feig and Katie Dippold (“Parks and Recreation,” “The Heat”). There are tweaks on the original’s headquarters and car. And it has updated references — you know that if a New Yorker saw a ghost today, she’d whip out a selfie stick and Instagram it, and they pause for a burn on Reddit haters).

Like the original, it begins with scientists losing their jobs in academia because of their insistence on exploring the paranormal. Wiig plays Erin, a physicist who misses her chance at tenure when it is revealed that she once co-authored a book called Ghosts from Our Past — Both Literally and Figuratively. It was out of print, but the other author, her estranged friend Abby (McCarthy), has made it available on Amazon. Erin visits Abby’s lab and meets Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), a mad scientist type who literally plays with fire. When they are all fired, they start a company to investigate the paranormal and are soon joined by Patty (Jones), a subway worker who does not know much about science but has an extensive knowledge of New York city history. And they hire a receptionist named Kevin (“Thor’s” Chris Hemsworth) and get to work trying to capture a ghost so they can prove they are right.

Meanwhile, a nerdy guy is building a machine to unleash and intensify all of the spirits in the city, and so the women go from studying the ghosts to, yes, busting them, with a major confrontation in the midst of a metal concert with a group called “The Slimers” onstage and Ozzy Osbourne watching in the wings. The mayor (Andy Garcia) and his aide (Cecily Strong) thank the team privately but denounce them as frauds publicly to keep the city from panicking.

The final confrontation goes on a bit too long, which is probably why there is an obvious cut of what would have been a dance number (glimpsed in the credits and I hope added in full to the DVD extras). But the action scenes are strong and the comedy is first-rate, at its best achieving a deliriously loopy silliness that is refreshing in an era where gross-out, oh-no-they-didn’t jokes are considered wit.

Each of the four main characters is clearly having a blast showing what she does best, creating distinctive characters with very different styles but always working the chemistry between them with dialog that often feels improvised by actors trying to make each other laugh. It is refreshing to see a movie with four female leads who are professional, super-smart, and totally badass, kicking the butts of all the ghosts and demons and the Bechdel test as well. Their happily ever after is saving Manhattan not getting some guy to put a ring on it.

Newcomer-to the big screen McKinnon tears it up as a Doc Brown type with a wicked smile, a steampunk vibe, and a Faraday cage, swinging into a Glinda the Good Witch song and handing out weapons from a motion-activated proton glove to a Swiss army knife. “She’s doing a marvelous impression of a deflating balloon,” she says as one of her colleagues is being shot through the air. Jones, also in her first feature film lead role, is outstanding as Patty, who knows who she is and what she wants. McCarthy is adorable as always and has a lot of fun with a particular demon. And Hemsworth is flat-out hilarious as the incompetent Kevin. It’s funny, smart, and sweet and in every way as good or better than the original. Fanboys, have at it.

NOTE: Stay through the credits for glimpses of the excised dance scene and some other treats, and following the credits, a brief extra scene with some important information.

Parents should know that this film includes extended fantasy/horror peril and violence. Characters are killed (one off-screen, one suicide by electrocution), and there are some gruesome images and mild crude humor.

Family discussion: What’s your favorite ghost story? Which was the scariest ghost in the movie?

If you like this, try: the original “Ghostbusters,” “Monster House,” and “ParaNorman”

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