Movie Review ~ A Bad Moms Christmas


The Facts
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Synopsis: A Bad Moms Christmas follows our three under-appreciated and over-burdened women as they rebel against the challenges and expectations of the Super Bowl for moms: Christmas. And if creating a more perfect holidays for their families wasn’t hard enough, they have to do all of that while hosting and entertaining their own mothers.

Stars: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Jay Hernandez, Christine Baranski, Susan Sarandon, Cheryl Hines, Peter Gallagher, Justin Hartley

Director: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Rated: R

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: It’s a good thing for the filmmakers of A Bad Moms Christmas that I’m not in charge of the naughty or nice list because it would be coal for all if I had my way. What a stupid piece of trash this one is, so lame-brained and barely breathing that I’m amazed it was produced and released at all. It exists for no one other than the tax write-off seeking producers and holiday cash starved actors willing to lower themselves to the level of writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Office Christmas Party).  I didn’t care much for 2016’s Bad Moms (actually, I didn’t care for it at all) so when it became a sleeper summer hit and this holiday-themed sequel was fast-tracked I must admit I was curious to see what new shenanigans the ladies would get up to. Turns out it’s just more of the same inane antics that are really just barely-there ideas for vignettes weakly strung together to create a 104-minute film. A very long 104-minute film.

As in the original film, the lives of these women are scripted entirely by the male writer and directors and I’d love to hear what their moms and wives think about their take on the mother’s role in the Christmas season. Lucas and Moore seem to believe that all mothers hate the holidays because it’s nothing but endless amounts of work for them with no thanks and certainly no fun. They are forced to put up a tree, decorate the house, buy presents, wrap presents, cook, clean, host parties, and do it all with a fake smile plastered on their face. At least that’s how Mila Kunis’ Amy tells us it is as she narrates the opening of the film that shows the aftermath of the holidays.  As a camel saunters by, she promises to tell us how she wound up with her house destroyed.  Sigh…if we must.

Flashing back through the six days leading to Christmas, we meet up again with Amy, her children, and her new boyfriend (Jay Hernandez, Suicide Squad) as they prepare for the arrival of Amy’s shrill mother (Christine Baranski, Into the Woods) and milquetoast dad (Peter Gallagher, Hello, My Name is Doris). Across town, Kiki (Kristen Bell, Frozen) is surprised that her smother-mother (Cheryl Hines, Wilson) has showed up three days early while Carla (Kathryn Hahn, We’re the Millers) is shocked her free-wheelin’ mama (Susan Sarandon, Tammy) has showed up at all. Kunis (Ted), Bell, and Hahn share precious few scenes together with Lucas and Moore opening up their world a bit more now that they have more characters to juggle. That means kids and males are left in the dust as the moms and daughters work out their issues as the holidays get closer.

There’s so much to dislike about this movie. From the extremely long leash the filmmakers give the usually funny foul-mouthed Hahn to ham it up while waxing the testicles of a ‘sexy’ Santa (Justin Hartley, who we’re forced to watch poorly strip-tease THREE times during the course of the film), to the uncomfortably ugly way that Baranski and Kunis spar over everything from décor to holiday spirit, to Bell blindly ignoring the fact that her mom is maybe so clingy because she’s completely alone and has no friends of her own.

Straining to see some good, I will say that though Baranski has fashioned her entire career on playing these types of frigid shrews, she gets some of the best moments in the movie with her deadpan reactions and sharp comebacks. They even let her sing a bit during a too-long caroling scene that at least serves as an opportunity to bring back the sorely missed Christina Applegate (Vacation) for a brief cameo. I also enjoyed Sarandon’s crass take on an aging biker chick that barely realizes she’s a grandma and the best passage of the entire film is when all three moms gather together to work out their woes.

At the end of the first film there was an excellent scene during the credits where the actresses and their real moms were interviewed. It was by far the best part of that whole movie and I was halfway looking forward to something similar here. Unfortunately, all that’s available during the credits is an exhaustive dance sequence clumsily filmed against a green screen. It’s just another example of the hap-hazard filmmaking that brought A Bad Moms Christmas to our cinematic mantle. My advice would be to throw this one into the fire and ask Santa to bring you a real comedy for the holidays instead.

Movie Review ~ Bad Moms

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The Facts
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Synopsis: When three overworked and under-appreciated moms are pushed beyond their limits, they ditch their conventional responsibilities for a jolt of long overdue freedom, fun, and comedic self-indulgence.

Stars: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Jay Hernandez, Annie Mumolo, Jada Pinkett Smith, Christina Applegate, David Walton

Director: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: Man, 2016 has just not been a great year for mom movies.  I’m barely over April’s otherworldly awful Mother’s Day (RIP Garry Marshall) and now Bad Moms has been plunked down on our cinematic doorstep like a heap of garbage.  Not only is the movie tone-deaf, stupid, tiring, and boring, but the way it squanders the talent of every single cast member is really something for the record books. Like the recent Ghostbusters reboot, here is a movie that doesn’t know what to do with its perfectly capable but script stymied stars.

The first hurdle to overcome is buying the fact that 32-year-old Mila Kunis (Ted) has a 12-year-old.  Yeah, I know mathematically it works but throughout the film when sharing scenes with her two awkward children (that look nothing like her in the slightest) she looks like their babysitter instead of their mom.

Kunis is Amy, a hard-working mother of two who manages to get everything done without any help from her slacker husband or her emotionally stunted (read: awful and spoiled) tykes.  In addition to her mom duties, her part-time job for a coffee company has her putting in 40+ hours a week.  So it’s easy to see why she’s just a tad stressed when Gwyneth, the head of the PTA (a disappointingly comatose Christina Applegate, Vacation) and her two cronies (Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumalo, Joy) puts a target on her for bringing store-bought food to the school bake-sale.  Working with two other PTA-averse moms (Kristen Bell, The Boss and Kathryn Hahan, Bad Words), Amy decides to challenge Gwyneth in the upcoming PTA election.

That’s pretty much all she wrote folks, or in this case all he wrote or, more to the point, all they wrote because director/screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore don’t bother to do anything original or, I dunno, funny with this material.  Though Bell’s hapless simp is fleetingly amusing and Hahn gets in some dandy zingers clearly ad libbed on the spot, the bulk of the film is an astoundingly lame exercise in men writing about the secret life of moms.  For example, take Jada Pinkett Smith’s (Magic Mike XXL) uptight Stepford wife remarking after oogling dad-hunk Jay Hernandez (Suicide Squad), that she’d “let him put it in my”…well, I’ll let you fill in the location.  That’s literally one of Pinkett Smith’s first and only lines in the film…what an impression.

Make no mistake about it, I have no objection to a movie going crass in style.  Plenty others have shown they can do it well but here it’s so uncomfortable to witness you’ll be tempted to watch certain scenes through splayed fingers normally reserved for horror movies.  Hahn knows her way around raunchy material but even she looks like she’s totally over her dialogue comprised mostly of F-bombs and synonyms for the female anatomy.  Kunis is pleasant enough but seems out of place with Bell and Hahn…I would have loved to see her switch roles with Applegate because both actresses seem to be pining to be playing any other role than their own.

At 101 minutes the film could be a good 10 minutes shorter without the numerous slo-mo scenes of bad mom debauchery.  The first time it’s used to good effect in a late-night grocery store rampage but it soon wears out its welcome, as does the tendency to blast a pop song every three minutes to punctuate scene shifts.  It’s a sloppy movie that comes in well below the taste level I’d expect of this group of otherwise pleasant actors.

As much as I disliked this film on the whole, I have to say the end credits may just be the best I’ve seen all year.  Interviews with Kunis, Bell, Hahn, Pinkettt Smith, Applegate, and Mumalo sitting next to their real life moms provides more laughs and heart than the preceding 98 minutes.  What a shame Lucas and Moore didn’t start with these interviews and find some inspiration for the screen moms they created.  Maybe they would have been more than just male cartoon visions of what moms look and sound like.

Movie Review ~ The Visit (2015)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A single mother finds that things in her family’s life go very wrong after her two young children visit their grandparents.

Stars: Kathryn Hahn, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Olivia DeJonge

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 94 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I remember seeing the preview for 2006’s Lady in the Water and when director M. Night Shyamalan’s name appeared the entire audience squealed with terrified delight.  By that time, Shyamalan had become synonymous with twist endings and scary tales more interested in the human side of horror than blood and guts.  After The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village Shyamalan was riding high but he’d wind up drowning with Lady in the Water, a self-serving bit of poppycock that felt more like an ego trip than a fully formed movie (Shyamalan wrote, directed, and had a significant role in the film…an ill-advised move).

It was all downhill from there as Shyamalan followed up Lady in the Water with his first R-rated flick, the hysterically terrible The Happening in 2008 featuring a too-serious Mark Wahlberg having a conversation with a plastic plant he thought was out to do him and his family harm (!).  Things only got worse with 2010’s The Last Airbender before he hit rock bottom in 2013 with After Earth, starring Will Smith and his son Jaden, two actors with possibly even bigger egos than Shyamalan.  In the span of several years, Shyamalan’s name went from being the top selling point of a movie to a moniker that spelled box office poison.

I’m not sure what happened in the last few years but Shyamalan must have taken a long hard look at his career and made some changes for the better.  He scored as the producer and occasional director of Fox’s eerie mystery show Wayward Pines and he’s back in top form with The Visit, a keep-the-lights-on at night thrill ride that could have gone very wrong but winds up hitting (almost) all the right notes.

I must admit that when I heard The Visit was a found footage film my heart sank a bit for Shyamalan…what was he doing tapping into the genre that has two feet, hips, and a chest already in the ground (see the wretched The Gallows if you don’t believe me)? While I still marvel at the fact that even in moments of high horror the person holding the camera manages not only to keep a hold of the device but also frame things like a recent film school grad, I have to say that Shyamalan makes good use of the found footage angle and finds a few new ways to exploit the trope.

Opening with Kathryn Hahn (We’re the Millers) nervously sending her kids off to her estranged parents’ house for a week, Shyamalan offers just enough back story to push off from, choosing not to linger too much in history.  We know that Hahn’s single-mom hasn’t seen her parents in 15 years and her two children have never met them.  They’ve tracked her down and want to meet their grandchildren and, as a way to make-up for her behavior when she left home, she agrees.

That’s fine and dandy for her kids Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould, Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day) because they want their mom to spend time with her new boyfriend and also to help build a bridge between the grandparents they’ve never known and their mom who carries a heavy burden of guilt that she won’t speak about.  It’s nice to report that DeJonge and Oxenbould are not only good child actors but that Shyamalan didn’t sketch them in the typical annoying kid kinda way…these are normal, decent kids with big hearts.

Arriving in a rural Pennsylvania town, they’re greeted by Nana (Deanna Dunagan, excellent) and Pop-Pop (character actor Peter McRobbie) and aside from some awkward first meeting jitters, all are soon settled in a quaint farmhouse near a frozen lake.  Nana makes good meals and Pop-Pop seems interested in the kids and what their life has been like.  It all goes swimmingly until…well, things get weird.

Over the next several days and nights red flags start to pop up that give the siblings cause for some concern.  I have to be careful what I say because the last 2/3 of the movie is full of spoiler-heavy turns that keep you on the edge of your seat as you try to figure out what exactly is so off about the grandparents. The “big twist” that Shyamalan is so well-known for is fairly easy to predict, but even if I did have some notion of how it was all going to turn out Shyamalan throws in interesting curveballs that throw you off along the way.

And did I mention it’s scary?  Like, legitimately scary.  I’ll easily jump as much as the next person if there’s a jolt of loud music or something leaps out at you, but Shyamalan has cleverly crafted sequences with the kind of sustained scares rare to not only the found footage genre but the horror genre in general.  More than once I had a rash of goosebumps emerge and felt my cheeks flush with an uneasiness that was exciting/scary/fun all at the same time.  Amidst all the expected shrieks there’s one highly effective scare and another gross out moment that had our audience rightfully speechless.

If the film has some flaws, it’s in a few more light-hearted moments that can throw off the balance of the tone of the film.  I can absolutely see why Shyamalan would want to toss in a few comedic moments to ease some of the tension (Oxenbould’s rapping skills are put to good use…maybe one too many times) but they are oddly placed in the middle of some fairly frightening moments, creating the feeling that it’s all one big joke to the director.

No matter, even these small moments don’t detract from a film that winds up being about more than just scaring you but manages to teach a small (if heavy-handed lesson) before the credits roll.  If this is the new Shyamalan, then I welcome him back with open (and slightly petrified) arms.

Hasta La Vista…Summer (May)

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Hasta

We did it! We made it through another summer and while the outdoor heat wasn’t too bad (in Minnesota, at least) the box office was on fire.

I’ll admit that I indulged in summer fun a bit more than I should, distracting me from reviewing some key movies over the last three months so I wanted to take this opportunity to relive the summer of 2015, mentioning my thoughts on the movies that got away and analyzing the winners and losers by month and overall.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride read.

May

Though the summer movie season has traditionally been thought of as Memorial Day through Labor Day, in the past several years studios have marked early May as the start of the summer movie wars and 2015 was no different.

Kicking things off on May 1 was Avengers: Age of Ultron and, as expected, it was a boffo blockbuster that gave fans more Marvel fantasy fun. While it wasn’t as inventive as its predecessor and relied too much on jokey bits, the movie was everything a chartbuster should be: big, loud, worth another look.

Acting as a bit of counter-programming, the next week saw the release of two very different comedies, neither of which made much of a dent in the box office take of The Avengers. Critics gnashed their teeth at the Reese Witherspoon/Sofia Vergara crime comedy Hot Pursuit but I didn’t mind it nearly as much as I thought I would. True, it set smart girl power flicks back a few years but it played well to the strengths of its leads and overall was fairly harmless. I hadn’t heard of The D Train before a screening but was pleasantly surprised how good it turned out to be, considering I’m no fan of Jack Black. The movie has several interesting twists that I didn’t see coming, proving that Black and co-star James Marsden will travel out of their comfort zones for a laugh.

Blythe Danner proved she was more than Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom in the lovely, if slight, I’ll See You in My Dreams. It may be too small a picture to land Danner on the end of the year awards list she deserves but the drama was a welcome change of pace so early in the summer.

Another early May drama was a wonderful adaptation of a classic novel…and one I forgot to review when I had the chance…here’s my brief take on it now…

                                         Movie Review ~ Far From the Madding Crowd
far_from_the_madding_crowd_ver2The Facts
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Synopsis: In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor.
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Juno Temple, Tom Sturridge
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 119 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: This adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s celebrated novel was a moving drama brimming with quietly powerful performances and lush cinematography. It’s a story that has been duplicated quite a lot over the years so one could be forgiven for feeling like we’ve seen this all before. Still, in the hands of director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) and led by stars Carey Mulligan (Inside Llewyn Davis), Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust & Bone), & Michael Sheen (Admission) it stirred deep emotions that felt fresh. Special mention must be made to Craig Armstrong (The Great Gatsby) for his gorgeous score and Charlotte Bruus Christensen for her aforementioned picturesque cinematography. You missed this in the theater, I know you did…it’s out to rent/buy now and you should check it out pronto.

Around mid-May the summer bar of greatness was set with the arrival of Mad Max: Fury Road. The long in development fourth outing (and semi-reboot) of director George Miller’s apocalyptic hero was a movie lovers dream…pushing the boundaries of cinema and filmmaking into new places. A vicious, visceral experience, I can still feel the vibration in my bones from the robust film…a real winner.

The same week that Mad Max came back into our lives, a so-so sequel found its way to the top of the box office. Pitch Perfect 2 was a lazy film that’s as close to a standard cash grab as you could get without outright playing the original film and calling it a sequel. Uninspired and lacking the authenticity that made the first film so fun, it nevertheless made a song in receipts and a third film will be released in the next few years.

Tomorrowland and Poltergeist were the next two films to see the light of day and neither inspired moviegoers enough to gain any traction. Tomorrowland was actually the first film of the summer I saw twice…admittedly because I was curious about a new movie theater with reclining seats that I wanted to try out. As for the movie, the first half was an exciting adventure while the final act was a real mess.

I thought I’d hate the Poltergeist remake way more than I did…but I ended up just feeling bad for everyone involved because the whole thing was so inconsequential that I wished all of that energy had been directed into something of lasting value. While Sam Worthington made for a surprisingly sympathetic lead, the entire tone of the film was off and not even a few neat 3D effects could save it from being a waste.

May went out with a boom thanks to two wildly different films. If you asked me what I thought the prospects were for San Andreas before the screening I would have replied that Sia’s cover of California Dreamin’ would be the only good thing to come out of the action picture starring everyone’s favorite muscle with eyes, Dwayne Johnson. I still feel like Sia came out on top but the movie itself was a more than decent disaster epic, a little too long but made up for it with grand sequences of mayhem and destruction. Can’t imagine it will play nearly as well on a small screen but I wasn’t hating the film when the credits rolled.

A film I wasn’t too thrilled with at all was Aloha, Cameron Crowe’s own personal disaster flick. I still don’t know quite what to say about the movie because it was so dreadful that I’ve attempted to clear it from my memory. What I do remember was that it wasted its strong cast and exotic locale, as well as our time. Truly terrible.

STAY TUNED FOR JUNE, JULY, and AUGUST!

The Silver Bullet ~ She’s Funny That Way

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Synopsis: When an established director casts his call girl-turned-actress in a new play to star alongside his wife and her ex-lover, a zany love tangle forms with hilarious twists.

Release Date: August 21, 2015

Thoughts: You know what’s not funny?  How many times this movie has changed titles and release dates…never a good sign for an impending release.  Though it’s directed (and co-written) by Peter Bogdanovich, from the looks of the trailer She’s Funny That Way appears to have been made in the style of Woody Allen, acting as almost a sequel to Bullets Over Broadway.  Bogdanovich can do this type of backstage shenanigans well, as evidenced in the flop big screen adaptation of the Broadway play Noises Off! but this whole thing looks beneath nearly everyone involved.  With stars Jennifer Aniston (Cake), Owen Wilson (The Internship), Kathryn Hahn (Bad Words), Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment), and Rhys Ifans (The Amazing Spider-Man) mugging their way through the trailer, it suggests that this could be a guilty pleasure of a watch…but then again it could be another forgettable exercise at one director attempting to capturing the magic of another.

Movie Review ~ Tomorrowland

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Bound by a shared destiny, a teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory.

Stars: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Judy Greer, Tim McGraw, Hugh Laurie, Kathryn Hahn, Thomas Robinson, Keegan-Michael Key

Director: Brad Bird

Rated: PG

Running Length: 130 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Just last year I made my first trip to Walt Disney World in Florida in over a decade and the area I was most looking forward to visiting in the Magic Kingdom was Tomorrowland, home to Space Mountain, the PeopleMover, and most importantly to me…the Carousel of Progress. Now, all you Disney fans out there you probably read that and thought. “Carousel of Progess? Nerd alert!” but I’ve always found that the ride documenting the advances in technology stirred a nostalgia within that superseded any feelings that the ride is dated (which it surely is).

So it was pretty exciting to hear the theme song for the ride, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” pop up in Tomorrowland within the first twenty minutes.   While the song is just one of several references to the various attractions from the section of the park that the film takes its name from the movie is more than just a big screen version of a theme park attraction and, like the imagination of the man that created it, it’s filled with lots of big ideas and strong ideals.

Admittedly not the slam dunk picture I wanted it to be, the large majority of Tomorrowland works both as a sturdy give-them-what-they-want blockbuster and as a throwback to the Disney studio films of yesteryear which showcases an ordinary person finding themselves in the middle of an extraordinary adventure.

Establishing two stories in quick succession, the movie begins at the 1964 World’s Fair where young inventor Frank Walker hopes to win a prize for his jet pack invention. When his creation is rejected by a weary adjudicator (Hugh Laurie) the young boy catches the attention of a mysterious little girl (Raffey Cassidy, Dark Shadows) who gives Frank a gift that unlocks a whole new world to him.

Flash forward to the present where teenager Casey (Britt Robertson, much more at home here than she was in The Longest Ride) is doing everything she can to keep her NASA employed father (TimMcGraw wearing his newest toupee) on the job even though the space program has been cancelled. Sneaking in at night to the retired launch site in Cape Canaveral, Casey is being watched by a face from the past, a presence that needs her help to save the world from destruction.

It’s at this point, about forty-five minutes in, that the film hits its peak potential and all the elements are working in its favor. There’s an air of mystery that’s kept afloat by the breakneck direction from Brad Bird (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and the script from Bird and Damon Lindelof (Prometheus, World War Z) doesn’t give away all of its secrets in one breath. Then it gets messy.

There’s an oddly wacky scene featuring Kathryn Hahn (We’re the Millers) and Keegan-Michael Key (turning in a performance for the second week in a row that generates zero laughs…last week it was Pitch Perfect 2) that feels spliced in from another Disney film…just one of several sequences/loose ends that are never fully explained or resolved. Where’s Casey’s mother? Judy Greer (Carrie) has a literally blink and you missed it cameo as Casey’s mom but is never mentioned again. There’s a band of square-jawed robo assassins hot on Casey’s trail but we never fully understand who exactly they’re taking orders from.

When an older Frank (George Clooney, The Monuments Men) meets up with Casey is when the movie that felt like it was about to sputter out shows more potential. It’s best to leave the rest of the film for you to discover on your own because Bird and Lindelof have snuck in a pretty good message underneath a bunch of handsome special effects and unexpected turns that occupy the final 1/3 of the film.

Surprisingly rated PG even though it’s quite scary (have fun explaining nuclear war to your kids!), this seems like a film that doesn’t quite know where its audience is. Disney clearly wanted to target the family folk but Bird/Lindelof have a script that’s decidedly more mature and could bore little tykes as the film approaches the end of its 130 minute run time. Still, it’s brainier than your average summer blockbuster and considering the caliber of people involved, it’s a marginal win at the end of the day.

Movie Review ~ The D Train

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The head of a high school reunion committee travels to Los Angeles to track down the most popular guy from his graduating class and convince him to go to the reunion.

Stars: James Marsden, Jack Black, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike White, Kathryn Hahn, Henry Zebrowski, Kyle Bornheimer, Adria Tennor, Russell Posner

Director: Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul

Rated: R

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: I used to be a movie-goer that loved to see previews of coming attractions sometimes more than the feature presentations themselves.  I’d consider being late to a movie if even one preview had unspooled…but over time the fifteen minutes worth of trailers took their toll on me and I was exhausted before the movie even began.  A nice part of being a critic and seeing screenings of films in advance is quite often there won’t be any previews before a movie…cutting down on my exasperated saturation of seeing the same teaser over and over and over again.

I mention this right away in my review of The D Train because it was one of those rare flicks I went into without ever having seen a preview or reading much about it.  All I knew was that it starred Jack Black (Bernie), James Marsden (Robot & Frank), and Kathryn Hahn (Bad Words) and that was good enough for me.  While not the biggest Jack Black fan in existence (his shtick having long since worn out its welcome on me in the mid-2000s) I’ve come to appreciate that the actor has taken some risks at this stage in his career.

The D Train is another risk that’s paid off not only for Black but Marsden too.  While not graced with the most profound character arcs thanks to writer/director Andrew Mogel & Jarrad Paul’s almost fully formed script, the two actors deliver surprisingly effective performances that are even-keeled and grounded even with some unexpected twists and turns that pop up.

Black plays another middle-aged everyman but this time the actor makes his Average Joe a human being and not some overgrown man-child.  The head (more figurehead) of his high-school reunion committee, Black works for a non-descript boss (Jeffrey Tambor, The Hangover Part III) at a non-descript job in a non-descript office that isn’t even wired for high-speed internet.  Though he has a loving, high-school sweetheart wife (Hahn) and kids he’s flatlining and knows it.

That all changes when he catches a commercial late at night featuring a high-school classmate (Marsden) that moved to LA shortly after graduating.  Hatching a plan to up the reunion attendance and at the same time becoming a local hero by convincing the “star” classmate to attend the reunion, Black travels to California to reconnect with an old pal that can’t remember him.

Up to this point, Mogel and Paul have kept things pretty standard fare.  Even a hackneyed scheme for Black to get his company to pay for his trip out west seems like something out of an ‘80s comedy checklist.  When Black arrives in LA, though, things take an unexpected turn that I wouldn’t dream of giving away.  Needless to say, it instantly ups the ante of Black and Marsden’s comedic stock and elevates the picture from being just another screw-up-makes-good farce.

That’s not to say it’s totally smooth sailing from then on out.  There’s more than a few slow sections in the third act of the film and the resolution seems a bit too pat considering all the carefully placed turns that came before; however at the end of the day I was more impressed with the comedy than I thought I would be.  There’s a certain sweetness to it and Black makes for a charmingly hapless sad sack dealing with a lot of feelings he hadn’t planned on exploring.  Marsden is one of the gamest actors out there, willing to play against type and trade on his looks if the part calls for it.  Make no mistake, though, the actor is always 100% aware of what he’s doing, which at times means you can see him stretching to be acknowledged for coloring outside the lines.  While she’s become known for being a gifted comic actress, Hahn has dramatic chops to counter the laughs and those are put to good use here as well.

With its retro synth score and overall old school ambiance, The D Train would be a film I’d think ‘80s maestro John Hughes would have given his stamp of approval to.  In a season getting stuffed with big budget action lollapaloozas and high concept studio comedies, you’re encouraged to hop on the indie goodness of The D Train.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Visit (2015)

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Synopsis: A single mother finds that things in her family’s life go very wrong after her two young children visit their grandparents.

Release Date:  September 11, 2015

Thoughts: It’s been rough going for director M. Night Shyamalan these past years.  The once-hot director went from being an Oscar nominated A-lister to a joke of an easy target after releasing wacky yarns that didn’t play as well as his earlier work like The Sixth Sense, Signs, and Unbreakable.  I remember a time when the appearance of his name in the trailer would cause the audience to shriek…first with terror with first looks at The Village and later in laughter with The Happening.  It got to a point where his name wouldn’t be in any of the promotional materials because he had such a stigma following him around.  Shyamalan’s latest film employs the tired hand-held camera angle but part of me thinks this could be a nifty little horror morsel if Shyamalan is able to put a decent plot and solid scares ahead of any big twist he may be planning.  Cautiously optimistic about this one…

The Silver Bullet ~ Tomorrowland

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Synopsis: Bound by a shared destiny, a teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory.

Release Date:  May 22, 2015

Thoughts: Shrouded in secrecy for the duration of its filming, we’re a little over a month away from Disney opening the gates to Tomorrowland and after two trailers I’m still not quite sure what we’re in for.  Now, in this spoiler-ready climate we’re living in today I think that knowing less is better and I have faith that director Brad Bird (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and screenwriter Damon Lindelof (Prometheus, World War Z) have some magic up their talented sleeves.  With Hollywood heavyweight George Clooney (The Monuments Men) and rising star Britt Robertson (The Longest Ride, Cake) leading the pack, this stands a good chance at being the second boffo blockbuster of 2015 after the May 1st release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Movie Review ~ This is Where I Leave You

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When their father passes away, four grown siblings are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother and an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens.

Stars: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Abigail Spencer, Dax Shepard, Jane Fonda

Director: Shawn Levy

Rated: R

Running Length: 103 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: I suppose I need to start my review of This Is Where I Leave you by coming clean and saying that I read Jonathan Tropper’s novel on which his screenplay is based and hated it. Filled with endless turns of cliché situations and characters that seemed discarded from NBC’s 2004 pilot season, the book never made a case for its popularity in my mind. Still, based on the cast director Shawn Levy (The Internship) assembled I hoped the film adaptation would be able smooth out some of the book’s trite developments and be that rare unicorn where the movie was better than the book.

Alas, while the film does ultimately fare better than its source material, it remains a painfully laborious affair with no family squabble left un-squawked and no amount of gooey angst left un-squeezed. While Tropper has streamlined his novel for the big screen, he winded up throwing out more than a few interesting elements that provided these characters with what little interest they were sketched with in the first place. Particularly disappointing is the full-scale lobotomy performed on eldest brother Corey Stoll’s (Non-Stop) backstory, robbing the actor and the audience of some meaty insight into why the man is so gruff and glowering.

Returning home to sit shiva (a Jewish mourning period of 7 days where the family receives guests and remembers the deceased) the Altman children come back to the family homestead with baggage both physical and emotional. Cuckolded brother Judd (Jason Bateman, Bad Words) is dealing with his marital woes, unhappy sister Wendy (Tina Fey, Muppets Most Wanted) juggles scampering children and a non-present husband, responsible brother Paul (Stoll) can’t seem to get his wife (Kathryn Hahn, We’re the Millers) pregnant, and free spirit Phillip (Adam Driver, What If) speeds into town with his older fiancé (Connie Britton, The To Do List) in tow.

Living under the same roof again with their famous child psychiatrist mother (Jane Fonda, Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding) could have made for a much more interesting mix of comedy tinged with pathos but Tropper and Levy hardly let a moment go by without a joke involving Fonda’s silicon-ized breasts, even sacrificing a hugely emotional scene near the end of the film to get in one more boob joke.

It’s time for Bateman to hang up this exasperated character he’s been playing for several decades now. He’s interesting enough of an actor to take some stretch opportunities but he’s returned to this well one too many times. Though he creates some nice sparks with Rose Byrne (Insidious) as his high school sweetheart, the rest of his performance seems flat and workmanlike. Hahn is mysteriously underused here, like Stoll she suffers from Tropper’s slicing up of her story arc…though it must be said I’m glad he removed one particular turn of events that would have had audiences furious. Britton barely makes an impact and while Fonda gets some of the best scenes in the movie, she looks like she’s going through the five stages of Botox as the film progresses.

Driver may be the next big thing but I’m yet to be sold on his charm – still, in his own way he gives the role some needed charisma, however oddly he delivers it. Though it pains me to say it, Fey is the real mistake of the film. She probably should have swapped roles with Hahn because her attempts to dig deep find her in shallow waters that she just isn’t yet capable of navigating.

It doesn’t help that these characters are the kind of gross oversized family unit that only can be displayed on the big screen. My movie companion thought that I missed the point because, as an only child, I may not be as in tune with the family dynamics that exist within a large household. This could be true but my problems lie not with the device but with the execution. Worse, the film introduces these messy people and then dares to provide the tidiest of wrap-ups without earning it. Instead of feeling sympathy for the misery everyone is enduring (of which none is related to the death of the patriarch, by the way) I felt like everyone got what was coming to them in one way or another.

The large ensemble family dramadey has been done so much better before in films like Parenthood – leave this one alone and take another look at that film instead. Not much to see here.