REVIEW: Bad Moms

5 09 2016

We’re at a cultural moment where parents are more stressed and confused than ever as they try to prepare children for a newly competitive world while also imparting the requisite cultural norms necessary for survival. (Never mind having any time for their own personal happiness and satisfaction.) It’s the perfect time for a movie like Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s “Bad Moms” to come along and assure audiences that there is still value in just being a good, decent person. If only it were a little bit funnier, the film would be a cultural touchstone for generations to come.

Lucas and Moore’s background writing “The Hangover” shows as the film’s key trio bears a striking resemblance to the Wolfpack. Mila Kunis’ Amy has her act most together but struggles to find satisfaction amidst the demands placed on her by a louse of a husband (think Bradley Cooper’s Phil Wenneck). Kristen Bell’s Kiki is a meek, sexually naive mother of four who mistakes her ignorance for happiness (see Ed Helms’ Stu Price). Kathryn Hahn’s single swinger Carla proves a wild card in any scenario (sounds like Zach Galifianakis’ Alan Garner).

As they fight back against societal pressures to maintain the image of perfection, enthusiasm and optimism, these moms’ antics are more likely to spark discussion groups in sociology seminars than set social media ablaze with a killer line. Their candid conversations, easily more memorable than their Top 40-scored romps of bad behavior, are notable for the way the women speak to each other. They speak less as characters or friends and more as field workers looking for answers to research questions about modern motherhood.

Never fear, humor-seekers: Lucas and Moore always provide a joke line as a response. But “Bad Moms” doesn’t need a sequel so much as it needs a sitcom. In that format, the creators might really be able to delve into the issues that so clearly concern them without succumbing to the pressure for a giant comedic set piece on such a consistent basis. B-2stars

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REVIEW: The Boss

6 04 2016

Picture this: a highly successful businessperson, who augments the public’s perception of their wealth by doubling as a skilled entertainer, needs to bounce back after suffering some public humiliation.

This person enters a field knowing little about the profession but finds a way to prosper by exploiting complacency, deriding rivals with unwarranted personal attacks and even inciting violence.

The captain of industry boasts about cruel implementation of shrewd business tactics and remains unfazed when compared to totalitarian rulers.

(Oh, and this individual’s distinctively styled hair never gets dented.)

Did I just describe Donald Trump or Michelle Darnell, the lead character of the new film “The Boss” played by Melissa McCarthy?

The two larger-than-life figures share quite a few similarities, though McCarthy (along with co-writers Ben Falcone and Steve Mallory) could not possibly have known that her burlesqued portrayal of a corporate mogul would hit the marketplace at the same time as an equal ludicrous figure marched towards the nomination of a major political party. Literally, production ended on “The Boss” two weeks before Trump made the infamous escalator announcement. The ill-fated timing of its release makes it play like an inverse of “Zootopia,” this year’s most fortuitous arrival.

The odd parallel here and there between the fictional and the absurd business tycoon is not necessarily bothersome. And, in the interest of fairness, Donald Trump did not spend five months in jail for insider trading like Michelle Darnell. But a line feels crossed when she declares, “We’re participating in the American Dream!”

Out of context, this might seem harmless. However, Darnell utters it right before an all-out brawl takes place between her group of entrepreneurial thugs and the Girl Scout-like troop from which they disaffiliated. How can one find humor in the perversion of the American Dream on screen when a demagogue is ushering in a national nightmare in reality? Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dicator” showed that comedy had a definite place in a time of bullying leaders, though it ought to contain some confrontational element if it is to be anything more than a diversion. “The Boss” comes across as oblivious in regards to the implications of its dull satire.

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REVIEW: Frozen

8 01 2014

Disney’s latest home-grown animation effort, “Frozen,” seems like it’s going to follow in the path of their traditional princess narrative.  In fact, the film boasts two marriageable princesses that sing show tunes flawlessly.  Yet as the movie progressed, I couldn’t escape just how dark the whole thing was.

Sure, other Disney princess stories have their share of bleak moments, but they’re usually right before everything gets better.  From the get go in “Frozen,” Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel), one of the princesses, is banished to her room until she can control her magical power to create ice.  Because, you know, it would have just been too easy for some Disney-Pixar intermingling to allow Frozone from “The Incredibles” to come train her).

Her younger sister, Anna (voice of Kristen Bell), is left lonely as a result.  Had Anna’s musical number of desolation and emptiness pleading for her sister to come out and play, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” been a little less cloying, it might have had me in tears.  But the song, like nearly every other tune in “Frozen,” feels a bit over the top.  They aren’t really in line with the catchy Disney tunes of their ’80s and ’90s animation renaissance; they are stock Broadway numbers that recall the cliched sounds of “Wicked.”

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REVIEW: When In Rome

29 08 2010

I was preparing for the worst when I popped “When In Rome” into my DVD player.  It’s a romantic comedy, so that means a marriage to formula and the same old gimmicks for an easy laugh.  But the thing about low standards is that it becomes a whole lot easier for a movie to really surprise you.  Such was the case here.

Shockingly enough, it’s not half bad.  I’m sure you are shaking your heads, saying it’s not possible for a romantic comedy that looked pretty uninspired from the previews to actually be any good.  And I’m not saying that this a new classic for the genre or that it has successfully introduced a new formula into the romantic comedy lexicon.  It’s nothing highly original or innovative.  All I’m saying is that something about “When In Rome” … works.

At the start of the movie, I was preparing to hate Kristen Bell’s character Beth after she can’t stop rambling to herself about a bad experience in an Applebee’s.  It’s even worse because she’s a high-brow art curator and Guggenheim obsessive, something regular Applebee’s customers usually aren’t too fond of.  Yet at her sister’s wedding in Italy, she gets a little too much champagne in her and makes an impulsive decision, yanking coins out of a fountain of love.

All of a sudden, that paradoxical facade is wiped away, and Beth is someone we can actually like as she is thrown into a crazy situation.  She had never been the kind to actively seek love, but by taking the coins, the men who threw them come looking to her for love.  Four men are over-the-moon smitten for her: a sausage mogul (Abe Froman, anyone?) played by Danny DeVito, an Italian painter played by Will Arnett, a model in love with himself as much as Beth played by Dax Shepard, and a loopy magician played by Jon Heder.

And then there’s a wild card thrown into the mix: the best man at her sister’s wedding, Josh Duhamel’s charming Nick, seems to be quite interested in Beth after they had a connection at the reception.  Her concern at first is that these four men will ruin her chance with Nick, but she soon realizes that he could just easily be one of her head-over-heels lovers.  It’s a bit of a romantic mystery, enough to keep a little bit of suspense throughout the fun and funny “When In Rome.”  B /





REVIEW: Couples Retreat

28 11 2009

Hollywood loves combo deals.  A recent favorite is the probing exposé of a relationship mixed with comedy.  “Couples Retreat” follows this recipe, but there is only a fair amount of laughter added to offset watching long sessions of couples therapy.  Surprisingly, the script (written by stars Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau) captures a wide scope of realistic relationships, perhaps some of the best in comedy of this type.  However, the writing is also the film’s weakness as it plays like a rerun due to its devotion to the typical “relationship movie” formula.  You come to expect some master plan behind all the exercises that pull the couples apart (while subtly bringing them together), but the movie amounts to little more than just a string of events.

The married-with-kids couple whose relationship has become like a job (Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman).  The high-school couple who has been together way too long (Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis).  The anal couple who is frustrated because everything doesn’t go according to their perfect plan (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell).  The older man-younger woman couple that always manages to raise some eyebrows (Faizon Love and Kali Hawk).  Chances are, you know at least one of these couples.  “Couples Retreat” dwells largely on the familiarity of its characters to propel the more serious side of the movie.  At the same time, it allows the strengths of the actors to provide some comic relief.  Vince Vaughn does a few trademark trite spiels; Jon Favreau gets plenty of moments to be curmudgeonly; Jason Bateman plays average Joe with a tinge of neurosis.

“Couples Retreat” doesn’t really succeed as a comedy, but it does manage to portray some very realistic relationships with very real problems.  As the directorial debut of Peter Billingsley (Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” – you know, the one they play all Christmas on TBS), it’s not such a bad place to start, but it definitely leaves something to be desired.  We’ve seen all the stars in this movie do better, and it isn’t too far out of line to request more.  But for what it’s worth, this will provide you some amusement yet fail to deliver the belly-laughs we have come to expect from actors like Vaughn, Favreau, and Bateman.  B- /





What to Look Forward to In … October 2009

29 08 2009

We give the movie industry late August and all of September to recover from the busy summer season, but in October, it starts to kick it into gear again.  Unfortunately, my most anticipated movie in October, Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” was pushed back to February.  But the month still puts forth several great movies for all tastes.

October 2

This week, I can promise you that I will be throwing my money not at a new release, but at the re-release of two staples of my childhood.  “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” will hit theaters again for a few weeks.  1 ticket.  2 movies. 3-D.  Need I say more?

The week also gives us “The Invention of Lying,” which could be a sleeper comedy hit. The movie stars Ricky Gervais, who was the lead of the British version of “The Office.” Around this time last year, he starred in “Ghost Town,” a comedy with a heart that you need to go rent now, that was dismissed by audiences. I have high hopes for his latest, in which he plays a man who tells the world’s first lie on an alternate Earth. He continues to wield the power to suit his own selfish needs. The movie also features Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, and the always funny Tina Fey.

And not to mention, the week delivers Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, “Whip It.” The movie stars the irresistible Ellen Page (“Juno”) as Bliss, a teenager weary of the beauty pageants that she is forced into by her parents. One day, she discovers the world of roller derby and she finds the happiness that she has been so desperately seeking. The movie boasts a hilarious supporting cast including Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden, and Barrymore herself.

And it just keeps getting better.  The Coen Brothers (“No Country for Old Men”) are back with their latest feature, “A Serious Man;” they also wrote the original screenplay.  The movie seems to be a big risk.  It features no marquee names other than the Coens themselves. The trailer is cryptic, giving no indication of what to expect from the movie. I don’t mind an aura of mystique, but this is an aura of confusion. The movie is being marketed as a dark comedy, and I pray that it is the polar opposite of the Coens’ last foray into the genre, “Burn After Reading,” which I didn’t find funny at all. The movie starts in limited release and then will slowly expand from New York and Los Angeles.

The other major release of the week is “Zombieland,” a horror-comedy with Woody Harrelson.

October 9

The only exciting movie hitting theaters across the country this weekend is “Couples Retreat.”  A comedy centered around four couples at a luxurious tropical resort that is revealed to be a marriage therapy clinic, it appears to provide something for everyone.  It has pretty women (Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis) AND funny guys (Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau).  The movie is the directorial debut of Ralph Billingsley, best known for playing Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” and the screenplay is written by Vaughn and Favreau.  Hopefully it can provide some good laughs in a season usually replete of hilarious comedies.

Opening in limited release is “An Education,” a movie that has been garnering massive Oscar buzz for months now.  Most of it has centered on the breakout performance of lead actress Carey Mulligan.  In the movie, she stars as Jenny, a 17-year-old in 1960s England who is set on going to Oxford.  However, an older gentleman (Peter Sarsgaard) comes along and sweeps her off of her feet, introducing her to a lifestyle that she immediately loves.  But reality bites, and Jenny is left at a crucial crossroads.  The movie has also generated buzz around supporting actors Alfred Molina and Rosamund Pike (the red-haired villain of “Die Another Day”).  Raves are also flying in for the screenplay, written by author Nick Hornby, writer of “About a Boy” and “Fever Pitch.”  And with the 10 nominees for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, many people say it has a good chance of claiming one of the ten.

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