Deidra and Laney Rob a Train


Deidra and Laney are on top of the train situation.

(2017) Young Adult Comedy (Netflix) Ashleigh Murray, Rachel Crow, Tim Blake Nelson, Missi Pyle, Sharon Laurence, David Sullivan, Danielle Nicolet, Myko Olivier, Sasheer Zamata, Arturo Castro, Kinna McInroe, Brooke Markham, Cj Strong, Deborah Lee Douglas, Tua Kealoha, Lance Gray, Chad Wright, Gerry Garcia, Nick Moceri, Kami Christiansen, Monica Moore Smith. Directed by Sydney Freeland

 

When you’re a single parent, making ends meet can be no easy task, especially if your employment options are limited and your ex isn’t paying the child support they owe. It’s a difficult situation, one which can go from precarious to catastrophic in a single moment.

Deidra (Murray) is the class valedictorian in a small Idaho town where she is the oldest of three children, including her middle sister Laney (Crow) and her youngest brother Jet (Gray) who likes to play with action figures. They live on the wrong side of the tracks (literally; the train tracks border their back yard) with their mom Marigold (Nicolet) who works at a Best Buy-type electronics store.

One afternoon she unexpectedly loses it at work and goes on a rampage, smashing a big screen TV to pieces. Her erstwhile employer not only presses charges, they insist on making her out to be a domestic terrorist, raising her bail to unaffordable heights. There are bills to pay and Deidra realizes that not only can they not afford to keep food on the table or the electricity turned on, a social welfare worker (McInroe) is threatening to move Jet into a foster home if they can’t demonstrate that the environment is suitable.

In desperation, Deidra visits her ex-con dad Chet (Sullivan) who works as a technician for the railroad. He only has $13 to give them but he gives Deidra something much more valuable; an idea for a way out. He offhandedly mentions that there have been a spate of train robberies lately that have gone unsolved and the railroad brass has sent a security specialist named Truman (Nelson) to investigate. Vaping incessantly, he also has a checkered past in which he’d been drummed out of law enforcement for excessive use of force. He is clearly not a man to be trifled with.

Nonetheless Deidra figures out that she can hop aboard a freight car, break the lock and take whatever she can find in them. She knows she can’t do this alone so she enlists her sister Laney – who is embroiled in the Miss Teen Idaho pageant which she had only entered to support her “friend” Claire (Markham) who immediately turned her back on Laney when Laney was also selected as a finalist . Laney is at first reluctant but when things start to get desperate she agrees to help.

Deidra also enlists her ex-boyfriend Jerry (Olivier), who she dumped for selling pot, to sell the stolen merchandise on E-Bay. She’s set a goal of $12,000 which would be sufficient to catch them up on their bills and get their mom out on bail. She’s also pressured by the guidance counselor Ms. Spencer (Zamata) who believes that if she can get just one student out of town on a scholarship she’ll get promoted and Deidra is her best shot at it. With all this going on, the social worker and the railroad dick both sniffing around their lives and her dad trying to make up years of neglect to his kids, can this high school senior and her sister pull off the larceny they need to get their family whole again?

Those who have paid attention to my reviews over the years should by now realize that I’m not a big fan of the programming on the Freeform cable network. This movie positively reeks of the things that really make me frown about the cable network’s offerings. The script is absolutely ludicrous; for one thing, can you imagine a mother, particularly one who realizes she is the sole support for her kids, melting down like that and then treating her jail time as a vacation? None but the most irresponsible of parents would react that way and even then if they were of that nature they likely would have had their kids taken away from them long before. For some reason (and this goes back a long ways before Freeform was a gleam in Disney’s eye) kids movie/TV show writers delight in making adults be absolutely incompetent so that they can show how kids can solve their own problems.

Of course, normally Freeform and other Disney outlets don’t approve of using crime to solve the problems that their heroes and heroines are grappling with, but these are interesting times. For the working class, these types of conditions are reality and while the mom being hauled off to jail would in reality have ALL the kids taken to foster care, life for the working class particularly in rural towns is bleak and hopeless in a lot of ways – you can see why they chose to vote for the maverick outsider when it seemed like neither political party gave a rat’s behind about their situation. The movie reflects that frustration.

Murray, who also starred in the CW series Riverdale this spring, is a find. She plays Deidra as smart without being condescending and compassionate while being fierce. She avoids the clichés that so many young adult actresses fall into. Sadly, the material she has to work with here isn’t really up to her performance.

While the movie is entertaining for the main part, it’s clearly meant for a young adult audience and will offer little for audiences with a “two” or more as the first number in their age. I’m of the perhaps misguided belief that you can write terrific material for young adults without talking down to them as this movie does; it creates a world where the right thing to do is the wrong thing to do also. While empowering the girls in the movie, it also empowers them without consequences to their actions, something that really doesn’t happen often in the real world, even for adults. I applaud the filmmakers for making this an inclusive film that looks at the real economic situations faced by working class families everywhere; I just wish they could have presented real solutions and real information that kids who find themselves needing to be empowered can do so without fear of being jailed for it.

REASONS TO GO: Murray avoids young adult actress clichés. There is a decent entertainment value here.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie has a Freeform/Afterschool Special vibe (not necessarily a good thing). The ludicrous plot is clearly meant for youngsters, not adults.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity and some just as mild violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The high school scenes were filmed at Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City, Utah.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/6/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hell or High Water
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Meghan Leavey

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Toy Story 2


Mesmerized by the boob tube.

Mesmerized by the boob tube.

(1999) Animated Feature (Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, Wayne Knight, John Morris, Laurie Metcalf, Estelle Harris, R. Lee Ermey, Jodi Benson, Jonathan Harris, Joe Ranft, Andrew Stanton, Jeff Pidgeon, Sheryl Bernstein. Directed by John Lasseter and Ash Brannon

It’s not often that a sequel turns out to be better than the original, but Pixar’s computer-animated Toy Story 2 definitely fits into the exception category.

Woody (Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Allen) and all the gang are back with a few charming new additions. Woody is kidnapped by a dastardly toy collector (Knight) to complete a group of “collectables” (remember when they were just plain ol’ toys for playing with?) that he intends to sell to a Japanese toy museum. His pals, of course, take a little trip out into the world beyond Andy’s room, once again, to rescue their friend.

Except that Woody isn’t sure he wants to be rescued. See, he’s discovered that he used to be a BIG star – his own television show and a pretty impressive array of merchandising (remember when we used to call it toys?) – Yo-yos, lunchboxes and, of course, the precursors to action figures, or what used to be called “dolls.”

The other three figures in the set – Stinky Pete the prospector (Grammer), the hyperactive bronco-bustin’ cowgirl Jesse (Cusack) and the faithful steed Bullseye – have been languishing in storage waiting for their set to be completed. They are initially chagrined that Woody wants to return to his owner. A particularly poignant song, “When She Loved Me,” illustrates the lot of toys (and makes me wish I’d treated my own better) and leads into an examination of the nature of love, disguised as the relationship between kids and their toys. It is thought-provoking scenes and songs such as this that elevate this film above the average kid movie.

Eventually, Woody chooses to go back to Andy but to get there he must surmount the Evil Emperor Zurg (don’t ask), another Buzz (again, don’t ask) and a traitor amongst his friends (gasp!). Woody’s sentiment – “I know he’ll grow up,” says Woody in a moment that really defines the movie, “and I want to be there for every minute of it” – turns out to be a metaphor for parenting in general. Who knew?

There are a lot of great gags that will be appreciated by kids of all ages. Kids will dig seeing their heroes in action again, and parents won’t be bored with much of the action taking place at a level that reaches the young and old alike. Da Queen and I took our then ten-year-old son with us to the theater back in the day and I’m pretty sure we enjoyed it at least as much as he did, if not more.

Toy Story 2 requires a few leaps of faith in its own internal logic, and there are a few in-jokes that may sail over the heads of the terminally unhip, but beyond that it’s nearly perfect entertainment for the entire family. Unlike some of the other big kidflicks from roughly the same era, parents can actually enjoy this together with their kids, instead of having to go in knowing they’ll be subjected to ultra-violence, dumbed down to the lowest common denominator and made with the express purpose of making money off of spoiled kids and their parents determined to demonstrate their love by how much they spend. Ain’t that a poke in the eye?

Here is a win-win situation for families who want to head to share a movie night as a unit. Heck, you’ll enjoy it even if you don’t have kids.

WHY RENT THIS: Something both kids and parents alike will love. Sophisticated, layered story that respects kids. Chances are you’ll want to own this one, especially if there are kids in the house.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A few minor lapses in the movie’s internal logic.

FAMILY MATTERS: A couple of scenes of toy peril but otherwise suitable for the entire family.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The address of Al’s Toy Barn in the movie is the same as Pixar’s animation studio at the time in Richmond, California.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: The 3-Disc Ultimate Toy Box edition from 2000 that combined both Toy Story films at the time includes the outtakes shown at the end of the movie and the classic Pixar short Luxo, Jr. The 2-Disc Special Edition includes these as well as an introduction by co-director and Pixar chief Lasseter, an excerpt from the Japanese game show Ponkickies involving Woody, a music medley, some interviews from the film’s 1999 release and a couple of games. The Blu-Ray edition includes all of this as well as some features on Pixar and the late Joe Ranft, a preview of Toy Story 3 and a look at Buzz Lightyear on the International Space Station.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $485.0M on a $90M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Up

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

NEXT: The Truth About Romance

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen


In this movie machines command far more attention than the stars.

In this movie machines command far more attention than the stars.

(DreamWorks) Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn, Ramon Rodriguez, Julie White, Isabel Lucas, John Benjamin Hickey, Rainn Wilson, Michael Papajohn, Deep Roy. Directed by Michael Bay.

The most anticipated movie of summer 2009 was easily Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. After Michael Bay’s Transformers was a megahit in 2007, a sequel was inevitable. The questions are; would it be entertaining and would it be as good as the first.

Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) is trying to put his past behind him. Having helped defeat a race of evil robots, he is ready to resume a more-or-less normal life. He’s leaving home for college at an Ivy League school, much to the pride of his mother (White) and to the financial discomfiture of his father (Dunn). He is still with Mikaela (Fox), a much hotter girlfriend than he has a right to be with, and a robot guardian who transforms from a sick sportscar into Bumblebee a mute robot with the loyalty of a terrier.

However, destiny isn’t quite done with Sam Witwicky. A sliver from the Allspark that was destroyed in the first movie remained in his hoodie. When Sam picks it up, he begins to have visions of strange symbols, the meaning of which he can’t understand. He also begins to display an understanding of math and physics that is way beyond what humans currently understand.

The benevolent Autobots have not strayed far from Earth. Led by the noble Optimus Prime, they assist NEST, a military team led by Major Lennox (Duhamel) dedicated to rooting out stray Decepticons that have remained after the battle in which their leader, Megatron was apparently destroyed. Optimus and Lennox are disturbed because they have been a lot busier of late than they’ve ever been. Lennox believes that a signal sent out into space by Megatron before Optimus shut him down may have attracted new Decepticons to Earth, but for what purpose? With the Allspark gone, there isn’t anything left on Earth that the Decepticons would want – or is there?

The reason for the season turns out to be found in an ancient fact; the Transformers had been on Earth thousands of years before. It turns out they had been hopping from planet to planet, utilizing a machine that was able to extract energy from stars. The Primes, the ruling class of the Transformers, had forbidden the use of this machine on a planet that had life on it, but one of their brethren, to be known thereafter as The Fallen, attempted to use the machine on Earth, leading to a battle that would ignite the civil war that continued for millennia. The machine remained hidden on Earth, and the means to use it protected by the very bodies of the Primes. The Fallen, locked in exile off-planet, has plans to reactivate the machine and claim final victory over his nemesis Optimus Prime, but he would need his apprentice Megatron to do it. The wheels are turning and events set in motion. The stakes are sky-high; if Sam Witwicky can’t decipher what these symbols mean, the human race is lost.

Michael Bay has developed a reputation as a director as one who specializes in loud, aggressive action movies with lots of explosions, and this one is no different. In some ways, it’s the perfect summer movie – it doesn’t require too much thought and moves from one action sequence to the next with a minimum of exposition and a maximum of explosion. There are also gratuitous shots of Megan Fox looking worried (and sexy), annoyed (and sexy), disappointed (and sexy), scared (and sexy) and sexy (and….oh never mind). It’s a wet dream of a movie for adolescent boys. The pacing is meant for those with the attention span of adolescent boys.

The problem here is that most of the acting is as wooden as a log cabin. LaBeouf in particular seemed uninvested in the movie; I got the impression that we would have seen more passion from him at the bank while he was depositing the very large check he undoubtedly received for making the movie. Also, I have no idea why Megan Fox is in this movie other than to provide the target audience of young boys some sort of fantasy figure to run in slow-mo away from explosions. On that end she is at least successful; she looks very good running in slow-mo away from explosions. Only Turturro, Dunn and pop star Tyrese seem to be having any fun at all and Turturro is so over-the-top he’s almost annoying, like he’s a villain in a Robert Rodriguez children’s movie.

The special effects and action sequences are top-notch; I can guarantee you get more than your money’s worth in those departments. They’re good enough in fact to allow for a mild recommendation, which is more or less irrelevant because this movie will make big box office bucks regardless of what any critic has to say. And say it they will, and not without justification. My issue with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is not that it’s a bad movie; just that it’s a lazy one. It could have been written better, it could have been a much more satisfying film in so many ways if the filmmakers had taken the time to give it just a little bit of depth. One of my favorite movies from last summer was Iron Man – there was no shortage of action in that movie, but it was well-written and well-acted. Iron Man is a movie I own on DVD; I doubt I will be that interested in owning Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen unless it shows up in the Blockbuster pre-owned bin at a ridiculously low price.

So about those questions I asked earlier: is it entertaining? Definitely yes. Is it better than the first movie? I’d have to say no. If the reason you’re coming to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is, as my 20-year-old slacker son says, an excuse to see robots battling each other, you’re in for a treat. I have to admit, though, that’s an awfully low bar of expectations to have in this day and age.

WHY RENT THIS: Special effects and robot battle scenes are extraordinary. Those who grew up with the Transformers are going to not only want to rent this but buy this for their home collection.

REASONS TO STAY: Poorly written and woodenly acted. It’s sometimes difficult to tell which robot is battling which, and who the good guys are (hint: they are the ones with color). It’s definitely aimed at adolescent males which may be a problem if you aren’t one.

FAMILY VALUES: Smaller children may be terrified at the battle scenes and the very LOUD sound effects.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: John Turturro was allowed to climb the pyramids in Giza for a climactic scene, a rarely-granted privilege. While filming the scene, he became so overwhelmed by the location that he broke down in tears.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: On the 2-Disc DVD and Blu-Ray editions, there is a feature on the history of the Transformers, and one in which a film crew accompanied director Michael Bay for 24 hours revolving around the film’s premiere in Tokyo. On Blu-Ray there is an Allspark feature that allows you to Transform customizable vehicles to see what happens. There is also a database of new characters for the movie that allow viewers to take a unique 3-D 360 degree look at the machines.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Away From Her