31 Days to Scare ~ Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

The Facts:

Synopsis: Halloween comes to life in a comedy adventure based on R.L. Stine’s 400-million-selling series of books.

Stars: Jack Black, Madison Iseman, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Chris Parnell, Ken Jeong, Jeremy Ray Taylor

Director: Ari Sandel

Rated: PG

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: Fall is in the air and it’s definitely beginning to feel a lot like Halloween. This is the time each year I can watch whatever I want if it’s related to Halloween and not feel the least bit of guilt for neglecting non-genre films. That’s why I opted out of a screening for a movie with considerable more buzz than Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween and found myself in an early evening preview of this follow-up to the modest hit from 2015.  Side note…why aren’t all screenings at 6:30pm?  Makes it possible to have some part of your night free if you’re seeing a shorter film.

I found the first Goosebumps to be a perfectly fine family film that tweens could watch with their parents as an alternative to the adult fare. I’m already dreading seeing how many children there will be at the new Halloween movie next week. The original had a good-set up, decent effects, solid acting, and while it turned into too much mayhem near the end with iffy CGI it was still more than modestly enjoyable. To be honest, I wasn’t even aware a sequel was greenlit, much less in the can and ready to go until I caught the first preview several months back.

With the principals from the first film unavailable and star Jack Black (The D Train) tied up making the also Halloween family friendly The House with a Clock in Its Walls, screenwriter Rob Lieber (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Peter Rabbit) and original writer Darren Lemke (Jack the Giant Slayer) fashioned a new story set in a different fictional town in upstate New York that takes their Halloween very seriously. Houses are decorated to the max (must be nice to have expendable cash) and costumes are several notches above your standard vampire fangs.  Sonny (Jeremy Taylor Ray, IT) and his upperclassman sister Sarah (Madison Iseman, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) live with their single mom Kathy (Wendi McLendon-Covey, Blended) in Wardenclyffe, NY and it’s almost Halloween. Sarah is occupied with boyfriend troubles and trying to get into college, Kathy is overworked, and Sonny is just trying to perfect his school science experiment. Though it often takes a backseat to the shenanigans that will follow, there’s a nice family dynamic created here and one that stresses responsibility to ones self and loved ones – not a bad message hiding amidst all the scares.

Together with his friend Sam (Caleel Harris), Sonny finds himself in an abandoned house cleaning out junk and that’s where the two boys come across a hidden chest that holds only a locked book and a key. Opening the book releases Slappy the ventriloquist dummy and that’s when all Halloween hell breaks loose. Though Slappy originally starts out as being somewhat helpful by showing Sonny and Sam’s bullies a thing or two and doing their chores, his benign nature gives away to something more evil when he causes an accident that sends Sarah’s cheating boyfriend to the hospital. Eventually, Slappy’s true nature is revealed…he wants to make Halloween come to life 365 days a year and rouses every manner of beast and ghoulie to achieve his task.

Director Ari Sandel won an Oscar for a short film in 2007. I haven’t seen that movie but it’s clear he has some style seeing that the movie bops along so pleasantly for its 90 minutes. It’s fast moving without making too many narrative leaps and surprisingly cohesive even with a sometimes overstuffed plot. Introducing R.L. Stine (Black, who also provides the menacing voice for Slappy) late into the mix feels unnecessary because he doesn’t have much to do. I get the impression Black became available after the script was completed and went through a small revision to include him. It’s all low-stakes but that’s what makes it a less intense experience than the first one, making it easier to recommend for smaller children…but parents should still heed the PG rating if your kid is of the nervous variety or else plan to invest in a nightlight.

I’m liking these low-impact scary films targeted at families more and more as studios start to get the idea of how to make them not quite so scary. While it isn’t something I would normally seek out in theaters, both Goosebumps films (and a second sequel hinted at in the finale) have been pleasant diversions to the more intense creepy fare that rises from the dead this time of the year.

Movie Review ~ Hello, My Name is Doris

1

hello_my_name_is_doris
The Facts
:

Synopsis: A self-help seminar inspires a sixty-something woman to romantically pursue her younger co-worker.

Stars: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Natasha Lyonne, Kumail Nanjiani, Peter Gallagher, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tyne Daly, Beth Behrs

Director: Michael Showalter

Rated: R

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Some people watch scary movies peeking out from behind their hands covering their eyes. I do the same thing for movies with socially awkward people trying and failing to be heard. There’s something inherently not enjoyable about seeing a person already uncomfortable in their own skin being put through an emotional ringer. For the masochists out there that love a good grimace, you need look no further than Hello, My Name is Doris, a whiffle of a dramedy that ultimately finds success in its lead performers.

Sally Field is Doris, a data processer at a hip New York ad agency that has kept her around for politically correct reasons rather than necessity. Mourning the recent loss of her mother and avoiding the urges of her brother and his wife to sell their family home, she finds a ray of sunshine when John Fremont (Max Greenfield, The Big Short) joins the company. Newly relocated from Malibu, John is everything Doris is not…young, current, and confident. Doris develops a fixation on John and daydreams about him saying sweet words before locking her in a passionate embrace.

There’s more to the story thought, with a hoarding subplot that seeks to explain a little more about why Doris acts and reacts the way she does. Her friends (Tyne Daly, Caroline Aaron) chalk up the obsession to another wild fantasy Doris has dreamed up, before realizing too late that she’s doing more damage to herself in the process. When John starts dating another woman, Doris drinks away her sorrows and innocently sets into motion events that lead to an inevitable denouement.

You’ll wince through a lot of the movie; only because it’s hard to see a character so clueless learn such difficult lessons late in life. Shielded somewhat from the outside world and dreams of romance after caring for her mother for so many years, Doris sees John as a chance to reclaim some of the years she’s lost but can’t see that they’re on two different journeys running parallel to each other.

As usual Field (Steel Magnolias) is a treat, coloring Doris in a way that makes you feel for her even when she’s making a wrong move. I feel like every character in the film has at least one moment where they have a ‘poor Doris’ look on their face and Field earns those melancholy stares. Her best moments come near the end of the film, especially in one dialogue-free scene where the buttoned up woman literally lets her hair down and sees herself for the first time as she really is underneath all of her accessories.

Field is well matched by the appealing Greenfield, who manages to take a role that could have been your standard unattainable dreamboat and show some nuance to him as well with writer/director Michael Showalter (adapting this from a short film by Laura Terruso) making sure that John isn’t the image of perfection. At one point John tells Doris that he worries he’s boring…and you can see it’s a genuine fear of his. Because like Doris, he just wants to be noticed for who he is.

At 95 minutes, the film is well-paced and ever so slightly rough around its independent edges. More thought seems to have gone into Doris’s thrift store wardrobe and headscarves than continuity. Like Doris, it’s a bit thrown together and flat out drops certain central characters without much fanfare. A rather impressive roster of familiar faces pepper the supporting cast but their appearances are so brief that they become even more inconsequential to a film that only wants to focus (rightfully so) on the leads.

If you can muscle through an hour and a half of squirming uncomfortably every time Doris rocks out to electronic dance music or is caught embarrassingly daydreaming of romantic interludes, this might be the movie for you. It’s surely worth it for the performances Field and Greenfield turn in…but it’s not an easy watch.

Movie Review ~ Blended

1

blended_ver6

The Facts:

Synopsis: After a bad blind date, a man and woman find themselves stuck together at a resort for families, where their attraction grows as their respective kids benefit from the burgeoning relationship.

Stars: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Joel McHale, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Kevin Nealon, Jessica Lowe, Terry Crews, Dan Patrick, Bella Thorne, Emma Fuhrmann, Alyvia Alyn Lynd, Kyle Red Silverstein, Braxton Beckham

Director: Frank Coraci

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: Let me take you back to 1998 when Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler first teamed up for the retro fun of The Wedding Singer. Here was a movie that capitalized on the enormous appeal of Barrymore and the comedic shenanigans of Sandler that hit the right notes, poked fun at itself, and had the most excellent rapping granny that left the audience in stitches. Six years later, Barrymore and Sandler tried to recapture that chemistry in 50 First Dates, a pleasant but arguably lesser bauble for the duo that nonetheless brought Sandler ever so briefly back from the absurd films he was drifting into.

It’s 10 years later and while Barrymore (Cat’s EyeBig Miracle) has matured in her film selections and even displayed some genuine strength in her performances, Sandler (Hotel Transylvania) has regressed even further. After years of delivering knuckle-dragging doofus roles I’m wondering if Sandler’s manager suggested re-teaming with Barrymore again as a way to hit the reset button on a career that was flagging. Barrymore, bless her heart, took the bait and the end result is Blended.

I’ll say that Blended started out with a curious promise of something better…so much so that I remarked to my theater companion that, though the film was uniquely dumb, I was actually enjoying it. Clearly the movie was going to end up in the “Pleasant” category on my Enjoyable Time at the Movies scale.

Then I guess the inevitable happened. Once the audience was fooled into thinking the movie wasn’t going to be the lame write-off we’ve come to expect from a Sandler film, that nice rug of laid back fun was yanked from under us and Blended became another obnoxious bore of a flick that isn’t worth your time or your second-thoughts.

One thing the trailers fail to inform you is that precious little time of the film is spent in the African setting that’s in most of the promotional materials, even the poster. In fact, you have to wait at least 45 minutes before Africa is even mentioned and by that time you may be diagramming your escape plan from the theater. There’s some business of Barrymore and Sandler being set-up on a date, one that goes horribly wrong at the local Hooters. Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera’s wafer-brained script miraculously has the two meeting again, all in service to the single parents being in the right place at the right time to hear about an unused vacation package in Africa purchased by the head of Dick’s Sporting Goods.

OK…if anyone can legitimately watch this film and tell me how middle class Sandler and Barrymore manage to find the funding to go on this trip I will write a song about you and sing it in a slow straight tone ala Carey Mulligan in Shame. Even more…how Dick’s employee Sandler manages to have the private number of the owner of Dick’s in his cell phone. Or why Barrymore’s co-worker (a so-so Wendi McLendon-Covey) who was dating Dick would put her in touch with a man that she just dumped. At that point, the movie completely lost me and it never recovered.

The conveniences continue when Sandler and his three girls and Barrymore and her two boys arrive at an African resort that looks straight out of Epcot Center. The suite the two blended families have to share, the indignities they all suffer, and the attractions they embark on are over the top and provide zero laughs along the way. It doesn’t help that all five children are the kind of home schooled straight out of acting class teeth gnashers either…

It’s hard to develop any sympathy for both children and adults in the film because they’re either incompetent dipsticks (like Kevin Nealon and Jessica Lowe) spouting the kind of giggly double entendres that went out of style when people stopped saying “righteous”, incorrigible snobs (Joel McHale, the very definition of autopilot) with lackluster line deliveries, or a mixture of both.

Director Frank Coraci (a frequent Sandler collaborator and director of The Wedding Singer) isn’t talented enough to hide the many weaknesses of the script or coax some semblance of authenticity from the performances. Someone also dropped the ball in telling the extras that not only should you not look into the camera, you shouldn’t stare into it for long stretches of time when the action takes place elsewhere.

Running a truly punishing 117 minutes, I’d expect any sane audience member will not only be able to predict the ending but will know the exact dialogue and setting where it’ll take place. Even after the credits begin to roll, Sandler and company aren’t through with us because anyone who is desperately trying to rouse their friends rendered comatose from lack of laughs will be subjected to Sandler and his real life children bleating their way through the kind of home spun song that you’d record in a Hallmark card to give on Mother’s Day. Truly awful.

The third time’s for sure not the charm where Barrymore and Sandler are concerned. At this point, Sandler should start paying us to come see his films, though I’d require compensation in advance. Barrymore, to her credit, remains ageless and shows flashes of the breezy carefree nature that has always made her a bright light…even if she’ll never be an award worthy actress. A definite pass and an early contender for worst of 2014, Blended throws its audience on the rocks.

The Silver Bullet ~ Tyler Perry’s The Single Mom’s Club

tyler-perry-s-the-single-moms-club-35823-poster-xlarge-resized

Synopsis: Brought together by a vandalism incident at their children’s school, a group of single mothers from different walks of life bond, and create a support group that helps them find comedy in the obstacles of life.

Release Date: March 14, 2014

Thoughts: Make no doubt about it, mogul Tyler Perry is one smart businessman.  Writing, producing, directing, and sometimes regrettably starring in his own films, Perry (Alex Cross, Star Trek) can make films for pennies that rake in millions.  Though his films aren’t as boffo profitable as they once were, each turn a profit so as long as tickets are sold his movies will continue to be churned out.  I just wish the films were as good as the casts he manages to assemble.  In his latest picture he’s gathered what could be called a “B” cast of familiar character actors from television in a story that looks like it could be called The First Wives Club are Waiting to Exhale.  These films aren’t my bag but I will admit to being interested in seeing what dramatic chops comedian Wendi McLendon-Covey has in her bag of tricks.

The Silver Bullet ~ Blended

blended

Synopsis: After a bad blind date, a man and woman find themselves stuck together at a resort for families, where their attraction grows as their respective kids benefit from the burgeoning relationship.

Release Date:  May 23, 2014

Thoughts: Wow…it’s hard to believe that it’s been sixteen years since Drew Barrymore (Big Miracle) and Adam Sandler (Hotel Transylvania) first worked together in the smash hit, The Wedding Singer!  That 80’s set film was a pleasant retro flashback and succeeded because Barrymore was operating a peak charm and Sandler’s laid-back vibe had yet to be obliterated by a seemingly never-ending string of juvenile garbage films.  After reuniting in 2004 for 50 First Dates, Barrymore and Sandler are joining forces again to see if lightning could strike for a third time.  While Sandler’s films have miraculously made a boatload of money and Barrymore works consistently, neither has made a memorable film for ages…so could this pleasant (but very silly) looking comedy really work to their advantage?  The Wedding Singer director Frank Coraci is back on board which could be a good thing…until you see he was also at the helm for dreadful efforts like Around the World in 80 Days, Zookeeper, and Sandler’s Click.

Got something you think I should see?
Tweet me, or like me and I shall do my best to oblige!

The Silver Bullet ~ Cuban Fury

cuban_fury

Synopsis: A former salsa prodigy attempts a comeback years after his career was ruined.

Release Date:  TBA 2014

Thoughts:  Reminding me of a movie I may have seen in the mid 90’s when Euro comedy imports were all the rage, Cuban Fury looks as harmless as all of those other films…and just as skippable.  Though stars Nick Frost (The World’s End) and Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires) will probably make this a few notches better than the rest, overall I can’t see this picture becoming the kind of sleeper hit like Strictly Ballroom or The Full Monty were back in the day.  On the other hand, never underestimate the power of a feel good picture of the underdog getting its day…if the release is timed right Cuban Fury could be the very thing audiences will respond kindly to after a season of heavy Oscar material.