Scoob!

Posted on May 15, 2020 at 3:15 am

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action, language and rude/suggestive humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language, brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoon-style peril and action, some scary monsters, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters and issues of diversity
Date Released to Theaters: May 15, 2020

Copyright Warner Brothers 2020
Oh, jinkies, here they are again. You might think that the Scooby-Doo clan has exhausted every possible storyline for the members of Mystery, Inc. or, to put it another way, you might think that they have exhausted every possible variable on the theme of figuring out that what looks like some sort of paranormal phenomenon turns out to be some ordinary (but evil) person who would have gotten away with it except for those meddling kids.

If so, you’re pretty much right. But the gang’s first feature-length animated film sticks to the formula but winks at it a little bit, too. And those who have wondered how the gang first got together will get a chance to see them as kids on the fateful Halloween night when they met and solved their first mystery. You’ll even get to find out Shaggy’s real name.

We first see a lonely young Shaggy, maybe about 10 or 11 years old, walking to the beach and listening to songs about loneliness and a podcast from Ira Glass (as himself) about the importance of friends. The best Shaggy can manage is to start a conversation with two mounds of sand on the beach.

Hiding in one of the mounds with some gyro meat he stole is a puppy who can talk. Soon they are sharing an exotic sandwich that includes gummy bears and tater tots, Shaggy has named him after a packet of Scooby snacks, and they are the best of friends. They go trick or treating together as Shaggy’s favorite superhero, Blue Falcon and his sidekick Dyno-Mutt. When bullies steal his candy and throw it into the local spooky house, three kids come to the rescue: Fred (dressed as a knight), Daphne (Wonder Woman), and brainy Velma as Supreme Court (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg). The kids retrieve the candy and solve the mystery of the creepy house. “We’ll go into the haunted house this one time, but we’re not going to make a habit of it,” Shaggy inaccurately predicts. In just a few moment, they’ve solved the mystery and unmasked the culprit, who says, come on, say it with me, “I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling kids.” Cue the theme song.

And cut to present day, when the Mystery Inc. crew (Zac Efron as Fred, Will Forte as Shaggy, Amanda Seyfried as Daphne, and Gina Rodriguez as Velma) is seeking some investment funds to fix up the van and expand their operations. Simon Cowell (as himself) says he can see the value of Fred (muscle), Daphne (people person), and Velma (brains), but like many observers, he notes that Shaggy and Scooby don’t do much but eat sandwiches and get scared. And so, Shaggy and Scooby go off on their own adventure, which includes a new partnership with Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg), Dyno-Mutt (a delightfully dry Ken Jeong), and his pilot (the charming Kiersey Clemons of “Hearts Beat Loud” and the live action “Lady and the Tramp”). But this is the son of Blue Falcon, not quite the man his father was. Then there’s Dick Dastedly (Jason Isaacs, Lucious Malfoy in the Harry Potter films), who has all of the essentials for a supervillain, cool technology, an evil guy mustache, and a British accent. He’s after Shaggy and Scooby. Can the rest of the Mystery Inc. crew save them in time?

The CGI animation style is a departure from the traditional Scooby-Do Saturday morning aesthetic. But it is colorful, just the right mix of adventure and comedy, it benefits from top-notch voice talent (Tracy Morgan is a very funny caveman) and it is even witty at times, with some meta-commentary along with the usual silly wisecracks. A character describes Shaggy’s use of “like” all the time as “some middle-aged man’s idea pf how a teenage hippie talks.” There are the classic elements the fans will want like an abandoned amusement park and some un-masking, but also some new ideas, like the struggles of Blue Falcon 2.0 to be the hero his dad was. It is traditional enough to please the fans but contemporary enough to address (I’m not kidding) toxic masculinity and of course some nice reminders about the importance of friendship. And of the fun of movies for the whole family.

Parents should know that this film includes extended action-style peril and violence with some scary monsters. Characters use schoolyard language and make some threats and the movie has some potty and body part humor.

Family discussion: Why did Scooby leave when Shaggy asked him to stay? What kind of hero blames other people for his problems? Was there a time when you were scared or made a mistake but then learned to be braver or do better?

If you like this, try: The many, many other Scooby-Doo stories, especially “Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island” and “Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School”

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Animation Fantasy Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Mystery Series/Sequel Talking animals VOD and Streaming

The Greatest Showman

Posted on December 20, 2017 at 8:00 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements including a brawl
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence including fights and mob threats, fire
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 20, 2017
Date Released to DVD: April 9, 2018
Amazon.com ASIN: B077R32LVQ
Copyright 2017 20th Century Fox

I am in no way dissing “The Greatest Showman” by saying that when it is available on DVD and streaming it is destined, even designed to be popular for sing-alongs at middle school slumber parties. Or that it is a good old-fashioned movie musical to take the whole family to, including grandparents and grandchildren, over the holidays. “The Greatest Showman” is differences-make-us-great personal empowerment tuneful fantasy inspired by impresario P.T. Barnum, who revolutionized entertainment flavored with unabashed hucksterism in the 19th century.

This highly romanticized and simplified version of PT Barnum’s life has the young Phineas (Ellis Rubin) the son of a poor tailor, very much in love with the daughter of his father’s wealthy customer. She is sent away to boarding school and he is left an orphan and has to survive on the streets, but they write to each other (an “I wish” musical number, of course) and when they grow up, he returns to her family’s mansion so they can get married. Her father warns that she will be back.

At first, Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and his wife, Charity (Michelle Williams) are poor but very happy and devoted to their two daughters. But Barnum loses his desk job and has to come up with some new way to support his family. To get a loan from the bank he presents documentation that falls somewhere between exaggeration and outright fraud, then uses the money to rent a warehouse and sets up a series of exhibits.

No one comes to see it.

And so, inspired by his daughter, he decides to add “unusual” people to the displays. Attitudes toward disabilities and differences were very different almost 200 years ago, and many people who were unusual — little people, women with facial hair, people with albinism, conjoined twins — had no opportunities for school or jobs and were abandoned or hidden by their families. In the world of this movie, handled with as much delicacy as is possible in the context of a big, brassy musical, Barnum tells them they were beautiful and promises to make them stars. If there are echoes here of the unforgettably eerie “we accept her, one of us” in “Freaks,” consider this a refutation, not repetition. At one point, when Barnum is successful, he wavers, not wanting his circus “family” to mingle with the society patrons. But he rejects Charity’s society family as well. And the circus performers remind him that once they recognized their beauty, he cannot take that away from them with the stirring anthem, “This is Me.”

And really, and appropriately given the subject matter, it’s the stirring anthems and the pageantry that this movie is about, not the melodrama of its thin storyline. Barnum tours with his star, Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), straining his marriage. Barnum has a partner (Zac Efron), who falls for an African-American performer (a radiant Zendaya–can’t wait to see more from her in the next “Spider-Man” movie), straining his relationship with his family. And there are those in the community who are offended by Barnum’s performers.

But it’s just part of the show, there to give everyone a chance to sing and dance, with songs from the young Oscar and Tony Award-winning team from “La La Land” and “Dear Evan Hanson.” There’s no attempt to be true to the period; another reminder we’re just here to have some fun, the closest most of us will ever get to running away to the circus.

Parents should know that this film includes some mild language, family tension and drama, sad loss of a father, bullies, a scary fire, a brawl, and a racist remark.

Family discussion: Would you buy a ticket to see a Barnum show? What would you want to see? How would his show be different today?

If you like this, try: “The Great Houdini” and “Moulin Rouge”

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DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Posted on July 7, 2016 at 5:45 pm

mike and dave2So, two bros — literal, biological bros and bros in the bro-iest of spirits — advertised on Craigslist for wedding dates. This being America, that got them on talk shows, which led to a book deal, which led to a movie starring four of of Hollywood’s funniest young stars. Your ability to appreciate the result of this unstoppably bro-tastic marketing juggernaut will depend entirely on your tolerance for bro humor. Be warned; mine is pretty low. Your mileage may vary.

Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) love each other and their family. They love their life of awesome parties and wild hijinks. But their parents and sister Jeannie (Sugar Lyn Beard) stage an intervention. Jeannie is getting married in Hawaii and she would like them to tone it down, so she can have an elegant, civilized celebration, nothing requiring ambulances, fire engines, or lawyers.

They come up with an idea. The worst problems seem to occur when Mike and Dave are trying to impress or party with girls. If they can find some “nice, respectable, smart girls” to accompany them to the wedding as their dates, it will have a calming effect. So, committed to #doingitforjeannie but with no idea of where to find such nice stable ponies, they of course turn to the place one goes to find used furniture, Craigslist, leading to the Wendy Williams Show, where they are spotted by Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick), two girls who are as irresponsible and wild as the brothers. But of course they have to hide that to appear suitable for this occasion and thus get two free tickets to a lavish party in Hawaii. “We’re going to flip the script and Bachelorette that s***.”

Okay, we all know where this is going. Lots of mayhem. Lots of substance abuse and outrageous behavior. An ATV stunt that leaves the bride looking like “burn victim Barbie.” An intimate massage. Many inappropriate comments to various wedding attendees.

But “oh, no, they didn’t” comedy about irresponsible and grossly inconsiderate behavior only gets you so far, even in a gorgeous setting. Four of the most talented, appealing, and very funny performers anyone could hope for cannot make what is essentially a 10-minute sketch into a movie.

Parents should know that this film has extremely graphic adult material with very crude sexual references and explicit situations, comic peril and violence with some injuries, drinking, drugs, and very strong and crude language.

Family discussion: What makes someone a good wedding date?  Why was it so hard for Mike and Dave to behave themselves?

If you like this, try: “Wedding Crashers,” “American Pie,” and “Saving Silverman”

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Comedy Inspired by a true story

We Are Your Friends

Posted on August 27, 2015 at 5:35 pm

Copyright Warner Brothers 2015
Copyright Warner Brothers 2015

Director Max Joseph brings some of the “Catfish” sensibility to “We Are Your Friends,” with an intimate, documentary feel and a storyline about people in their 20’s who have big dreams but not much understanding about how to achieve them or even about the nature of their relationships. Joseph is the quieter co-host of “Catfish,” the MTV series sequel to the film that added its name to the lexicon, meaning an online relationship with someone who is not as described or presented. In “We Are Your Friends” (named for the Justice vs. Simian song) four bros hang out together, trashing each other and everyone else, promoting parties, enjoying easy access to drugs and girls, and reassuring each other that fame and fortune lies ahead. They feel like besties, but it’s just inertia and a shared fear of moving forward. In reality, they are very different.

Cole (Zac Efron) is a talented DJ who knows how to combine “the rhythm of a caveman” with a kickin’ bass line to “get the crowd out of their heads and into their bodies.” His pals are hot-tempered Mason (Jonny Weston), low-key drug dealer and aspiring actor Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez) and quiet but thoughtful Squirrel (Alex Shaffer of “Win Win”). They get jobs facilitating real estate deals (calling people in foreclosure) for a wealthy businessman (Jon Bernthal, all rough charm and menace in an excellent performance). And Cole meets James (Wes Bentley with Wolverine-style facial hair), a big shot DJ who has performed all over the world and who has a girlfriend/assistant named Sophie who looks like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, because she is played by Emily Ratajkowski, who is one. Ratajkowski was better in “Gone Girl.” Here she does more posing than acting.

There’s nothing wrong with a coming of age story about a young person with a strong creative drive who needs to learn to develop a singular voice, and Efron is, as always, an appealing actor. But too much of it seems borrowed from other films and the situations and settings (San Fernando Valley, aimless young men who party too much and wear their pants too low, the empty and foreclosed houses and predators who flip them) are washed out and played out. The big lesson for Cole is learning to develop a distinctive sound. But the scene where the scales fall from his eyes — or ears — so that he begins incorporating the sounds around him like that wacky carriage ride scene in “The Great Waltz” is just silly. It never persuades us that EDM is anything but derivative, mostly because the movie is, too.

Parents should know that this film has a lot of adult material including very strong language, crude sexual references and situations, nudity, drinking, smoking, extended drug use and drug dealing including marijuana, PCP, ecstasy, and cocaine, a fatal overdose, and a painful scene of foreclosure.

Family discussion: Why did Squirrel say the best part was before the evening began? What did James mean about the meaning of the word “irreparable?”

If you like this, try: “Magic Mike” and “Echo Park”

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