Bennett’s Song


In a family with fourteen kids, every night is a girl’s night out!

(2018) Family Comedy (Vision) Tara Reid, Dennis Haskins, Aphrodite Nikolovsky, Calhoun Koenig, Harley Wallen, Victoria Mullen, Morgan Nimmo, Arielle Olkhovsky, Joseph Ouelette, Dennis Marin, Aleksandra Luca, Evan Keoshian, La’Kenya Howard-Luster, Da’Mya Gogoua, Rees Curran, Cayleigh Brown, Maya Patel, Janellyn Woo, Lucas Yassayan, Chevonne Wilson. Directed by Harley Wallen

 

Family is family; they come in all shapes and sizes. One person’s idea of what a family is may be completely different than what another person might think they are. No two families are ever alike; they all have their own dynamics, their own issues.

\Susan Song (Nikolovsky) is a cheerful 40-something dentist who is a divorcee left with seven adopted kids of various ethnicities. She meets ex-MMA fighter and current gym owner Cole Bennett (Wallen), the son of a Saturday morning TV show host (Haskins) who something of a touchy-feely version of Bill Nye the Science Guy. He’s a widower who, like Susan, has been left raising seven adopted kids of various ethnicities on his own.

The two hit it off and begin dating – awkwardly. It becomes clear soon enough that the two belong together but a family of fourteen kids of varying ages and ethnicities is going to be no easy task to raise. With Pearl Song (Koenig) having dreams of pop stardom, the family soon realizes they are going to have to work together to make things work for everyone. With a neighbor (Reid) who seems hell-bent on making the new blended family miserable and incidents of racism causing anguish for some of the younger kids, that’s going to be easier said than done.

This is very much a family film in the vein of Cheaper By the Dozen and The Brady Bunch. There is definitely a warmth and charm generated by the film but unfortunately it isn’t enough to overcome glaring problems. Perhaps most glaring of all is the acting; it is wooden, stiff and unnatural. The line delivery sounds more like a script reading than a finished product. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is clunky, with the jokes sitcom-stale and hoary (“Sure she’s smart and pretty and she’s standing right behind me isn’t she”) in an inoffensive way. You don’t need to be vulgar to be funny but you don’t need to be inoffensive to be family-friendly either.

When your two biggest names come from Sharknado and Saved by the Bell you have problems. There’s just nothing here that approaches even the lowest standard of acceptable filmmaking. To be fair the writers do attempt to address 21st century family issues like racism, blended families, financial issues and bullying but the problem here is that it doesn’t address them believably.

I get that indie filmmaking sometimes requires a little bit of a lower bar when considering the inexperience of a newer cast and crew but this is more like a filmed version of a community theater play and a bad one at that. In fact, saying that is an insult to community theater and I don’t mean it to be. There’s nothing about this movie that I can recommend unless you’re itching to see Tara Reid in a villainous role.

REASONS TO GO: The acting is wooden and lifeless. The dialogue is cliché. The comedy is all recycled from sitcoms.
REASONS TO STAY: Their heart is in the right place.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual innuendo.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dennison, who was 15 when the movie was released, was legally unable to see it in his native New Zealand.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vimeo, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/29/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Yours, Mine and Ours
FINAL RATING: 3/10
NEXT:
Juliet, Naked

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Goosebumps


For Jack Black, the only terrifying thing about this movie are the reviews.

For Jack Black, the only terrifying thing about this movie are the reviews.

(2015) Family Comedy (ColumbiaJack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan, Jillian Bell, Ken Marino, Halston Sage, Steven Kreuger, Keith Arthur Bolden, Amanda Lund, Timothy Simons, Karan Soni, R.L. Stine, Caleb Emery, Gabriela Fraile, Nate Andrade, Sheldon Brown, Melissa Brewer, Vivian Kyle, Clare Halstead. Directed by Rob Letterman

In the 90s, kids flocked to author R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. The books were essentially Twilight Zone episodes focusing on monsters that terrified many a kid back in the day. Stine continues to be a prolific author but has moved on to different series, but Goosebumps is the one that started it all.

When young Zach Cooper (Minnette) moves to a small Delaware town, he’s not exactly thrilled. He’s still dealing with the death of his dad a year ago and his mom (Ryan) has found a job as an assistant principal at the high school there. She thinks a new start in a new town might bring Zach out of the doldrums and while Zach puts up a good front, it’s clear he’s hurting.

Then he meets the girl next door and for any teenage boy, the girl next door is excellent tonic. Hannah (Rush) is beautiful and seems interested in him, but her tyrannical father (Black) seems more interested in keeping Zach as far away as possible. Georgia might do.

But Zach and his self-appointed friend Champ (Lee) discover that Hannah’s dad is none other than R.L. Stine and that the manuscripts in his basement, all of which are locked, contain the spirits of the monsters he invented and that unlocking those manuscripts transforms the creatures from imaginary to very real. And those real monsters are out to wreak havoc all over town, led by Slappy (also voiced by Black), a homicidal ventriloquist’s dummy that is seeking revenge against Stine for incarcerating him inside the manuscript for so many years.

The concept is a swell one, especially given the popularity of Stine and how many kids – who are now adults with kids of their own – know all of his books backwards and forwards, and for them and kids who are looking at their teen years with impatience, this is going to be a must-see and although Halloween has come and gone, this is excellent kid fare for that season of the year.

Black is as manic as ever as Stine, although his accent is a little bit bizarre. Black, being the human cartoon that he is, is perfect for this kind of audience and he doesn’t disappoint. He doesn’t get the majority of laughs here – Lee gets those – and Minnette is essentially the protagonist but Black is really the presence here. None of the other actors can really compete with his personality which is bigger than life. Bigger than ten lives, to be honest. Rush is also memorable as the ingenue.

The CGI creatures – and there are a lot of them – range from giant praying mantises, abominable snowmen, murderous garden gnomes, hungry zombies, implacable alien invaders and a gigantic Venus flytrap, among others. Pretty much every monster from the prolific series makes at least a cameo appearance, if you can call the Invisible Boy an appearance. In some ways it becomes sensory overload; a few monsters go a long way but hundreds soon becomes kind of background noise.

Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe does a nice job of setting the mood, and a setting of an abandoned amusement park is both lovely and bittersweet (Zach and Hannah have an encounter there early in the movie). I could have done with a few more moments like that although frankly, that’s not what the target audience is looking for so I can understand why those moments were few and far between.

The humor is pretty much vintage Nickelodeon although there are some clever bits, most involving Lee as the cowardly wingman. The pacing here is a little bit choppy although it generally moves pretty quickly and to Letterman’s credit he gets right into things without an overabundance of exposition. That’s both good and bad; good for those devotees of the book series who want to get right into it, bad for those less familiar with the books who need at least a little bit of explanation.

For the most part this is harmless entertainment and little more than that. This isn’t going to be (and never was intended to be) anything more than a distraction for a couple of hours. And that isn’t a bad thing as far as I’m concerned. For whatever it’s worth, this movie will probably be on a lot of family viewing lists for many Halloweens to come. Not a half bad fate for a movie, don’t you think?

REASONS TO GO: Some scary monsters. Nifty concept.
REASONS TO STAY: Loses something if you haven’t read the books. A little over-the-top in places.
FAMILY VALUES: Some creature scares (a few of them intense) and some rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real R.L. Stine makes a cameo as a teacher named Mr. Black, who passes Jack Black, as R.L. Stine, in the school hallway.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/22/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fright Night
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Documented begins!

Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat


Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat

The Cat and Things One and Two scurry off into the sunset.

(2003) Family Comedy (Universal) Mike Myers, A,ec Baldwin, Kelly Preston, Dakota Fanning, Spencer Breslin, Sean Hayes, Amy Hill, Danielle Ryan Chuchran, Taylor Rice, Brittany Oaks, Talia Prairie, Dan Castellaneta, Victor Brandt (voice), Clint Howard, Paris Hilton. Directed by Bo Welch

After the success of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas it made sense for producer Brian Grazer to try for a repeat. Take a beloved Dr. Seuss classic, stick an A-list comedian in the title role, and watch the bucks roll in. The trouble with Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat is that instead of Ron Howard directing, it is Bo Welch making his big-screen directorial debut. And while this Cat looks slick (Welch is a production designer), it lacks the heart that made the Grinch film so charming.

Conrad (Breslin) and Sally (Fanning) are polar opposites. Conrad is constantly doing his own thing, breaking rules and finding new and unique pathways to trouble. Sally is a bossy, tightly wound control freak who is the perfect little angel to the adults around her, but a nightmare to her friends.

Their mom, Joan (Preston), works at a real estate agency whose hypochondriac boss (Hayes) has a phobia about germs, but insists his agents meet and greet clients at special monthly parties. It’s Joan’s turn to play the hostess, and the house must be absolutely immaculate or else, as the boss puts it, she’s “FIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII-UR-DUH.”

When her babysitter conks out, Joan rushes home, where her next-door neighbor and would-be paramour Quinn (Baldwin) hopes to marry the attractive single mom and ship off the troublesome Conrad to military school. With an admonishment to her children to keep the house spotless, Joan leaves them in the care of a new sitter (Hill) who turns out to be narcoleptic. And for the two bored siblings, the rain truly begins to fall outside … which brings in a 6-foot tall Cat (Myers). The Cat is all about having fun, and after some initial moments of “scream and run,” he befriends the two kids in an attempt to bring them into balance.

Despite the protestations of a CGI fish (voiced by Hayes), the Cat wreaks havoc on the house, especially after the appearance of Thing 1 and Thing 2 (played by a phalanx of gymnasts). With the Things is a crate which — the Cat warns Conrad — must be left closed and locked, else the world from which the Cat in the Hat comes will encroach on this one. Naturally the rule-breaking Conrad opens the crate and gets the crab-like lock stuck on the family pooch’s collar. Said pooch promptly runs away, leading to a merry chase through town in which the suspicious Quinn follows, trying to get possession of the dog to finally bust Conrad permanently and give his mom a reason to ship the boy away.

If you’ve read the classic children’s book, you basically know the story and how it ends. There is a great deal more back story here, and a ton of gags, some of which are a bit more adult than Theodore Geisel might have used.

Myers plays the cat as a demented cross between SNL character Linda “Kawfee Tawk” Richman and the Cowardly Lion; he has moments where he is charming, but sometimes goes a bit more over-the-top than works. The kids are cute enough, but Conrad is such a jerk early on you kind of hope that he does get sent to military school — it might just do him some good.

The star here is the production design — no surprise, since that’s how Welch has mostly made his living. The town of Anyville is a melding of the kitschy suburbia of Edward Scissorhands and the curved-line chaos of Whoville, with a bit of theme park architecture. Everything is in bright primary colors, not unlike the books. And while Myers is more of a Cheshire cat than the thin, angular drawing of the Seuss books, the vision is still very Seussian.

But this Cat simply didn’t have as much heart as it needed. These days, kid movies really need to play to adults as well, but The Cat in the Hat goes a bit overboard in that direction. Some of the jokes are inappropriate for younger children. Myers’ Cat is more of a smarmy game show host than the force of nature depicted in the book, and there is almost no charm to him. Jim Carrey brought charm to the Grinch, which helped that film work.

This is a close call. It is a visually attractive movie, and there are some moments — particularly near the end — which are quite magical; just not enough to sustain an entire movie. Given what the character has meant to children for fifty years – even the grown-up ones – that’s a shame. The kids in this movie probably could have used a good spanking – although they probably would get a time out in this day and age. The filmmakers should have gotten one as well.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrific production design. A theme park come to life.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Tries too hard to appeal to all audiences. Myers doesn’t capture the essence of the character. A major disappointment.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is a little bit of crude humor, as well as a few jokes that might raise the eyebrows of parents as being inappropriate.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: As a result of this film, Audrey Geisel, widow of Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, refused to consider any more live action versions of her late husband’s work, giving as her reason that this movie veered too much from her husband’s family-friendly work.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There is a brief – very brief – featurette on Dr. Seuss, and also a feature on choosing which image to use on a U.S. Post Office Cat in the Hat stamp. For kids, there’s a dance along feature.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $134.0M on a $109M production budget; the feature lost money during it’s theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Cedar Rapids