Night School (2018)


Kevin Hart is THIS tall…

(2018) Comedy (UniversalKevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Rob Riggle, Romany Malco, Taran Killam, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Al Madrigal, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Keith David, Anne Winters, Fat Joe, Ben Schwartz, Yvonne Orji, Bresha Webb, Jeff Rose, Donna Biscoe, Owen Harn, Zach Osterman, Janet Metzger, Tim Ware, Miriam Kulick, Curtis Washington, Maria Legarda. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee

 

Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish are two of the funniest and most successful comics alive. You would think that a movie starring the both of them would be funny, no?

No. Hart stars as Teddy, a high school dropout who manages to literally burn his last place of employment to the ground. Desperate to find a job, he just needs a GED in order to win his girlfriend (Echikunwoke) and get a high-paying job at a merchant bank that his friend (Schwartz) has secured him.

Getting that GED won’t be easy. He has to return to his alma mater, whose principal (Killam) is now the nerd that Hart bullied back in the day and the teacher (Haddish) is a no-nonsense sort who isn’t falling one iota for Teddy’s streetwise hustler charm, particularly since it’s obvious that Teddy isn’t planning on putting much – if any – effort into the task.

San Francisco Chronicle reviewer Mick LaSalle (who was far more generous than his review than I am) gets the movie’s main problem down quite well; Hart is an aspirational comedian, one who makes his living off playing characters who want to better themselves but sabotage themselves at every turn. Haddish is more of an anarchic comic, one who excels by causing chaos and then resolving it. The two styles don’t really mix well, and the victim here is Haddish whose style is suborned to Hart’s, which turns out to be a colossal waste of her talents.

That doesn’t mean that the movie is without laughs – with the kind of talent in this cast top to bottom it would be impossible not to at least chuckle from time to time. Sadly, though the movie starts out as a ponderous monolithic bore basing most of its comedy on fart, butt and poop jokes, or at least humor on that level. Hart is much better than that. However, I will admit that if you stick with the movie, it does get better as it goes along…just not enough for me to really recommend it.

REASONS TO SEE: Gets better as it goes along.
REASONS TO AVOID: Predictable and unfunny. Not enough chemistry between Hart and Haddish.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of profanity, crude and sexual humor throughout, some drug references and a bit of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although hart has written several of his comedy specials, this is his first feature film writing credit.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft,  Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 27% positive reviews: Metacritic: 43/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING:  Summer School
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT:
The Predator

New Releases for the Week of November 22, 2019


FROZEN II

(Disney) Starring the voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina. Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

Elsa has magical powers, that much we know, but where did they come from? The question has become more important with her kingdom hanging on the line, Elsa, Olaf, Anna, Kristoff and Sven must undergo an adventure that even Elsa’s powers may not be able to protect them on.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action/ peril and some thematic elements)

21 Bridges

(STX) Chadwick Boseman, Siena Miller, Keith David, J.K. Simmons. The son of a slain cop is given responsibility to track down a pair of cop killers. As his investigation deepens, he goes from being the hunter to being the hunted.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Crime Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for violence and language throughout)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

(TriStar) Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper. A jaded and broken reporter is assigned to interview Fred Rogers, and has his life transformed by the experience.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language)

The Irishman

(Netflix) Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Anna Paquin. A former World War II veteran who earned his living postwar as an operative for a notorious crime family, reminisces about his part in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. This is the latest from legendary director Martin Scorsese and is said to be one of his best ever.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Gangster
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for some strong violence, and for language and brief nudity)

Waves

(A24) Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Sterling K. Brown. A suburban African-American family in South Florida led by a well-meaning but domineering father navigate the shoals of love and loss in this Oscar hopeful.
See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (opens Wednesday)
Rating: R (for language throughout, drug and alcohol use, some sexual content and brief violence – all involving teens)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Adithya Varma
Age Out
The Courier
Pagalpanti

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

Adithya Varma
Age Out
Cunningham
Frankie
George Reddy
Pagalpanti
Synonyms

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

The Divine Move 2: The Wrathful
Edie
Pagalpanti

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Adithya Varma
George Reddy
Pagalpanti

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

21 Bridges
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Synonyms
Waves

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Key West Film Festival, Key West FL
Ocean Dance International Film Festival, Miami FL

American Dresser


Give me life on the road.

(2018) Drama (Cinedigm) Tom Berenger, Keith David, Carmine Canglialosi, Gina Gershon, Penelope Ann Miller, Jeff Fahey, Bruce Dern, Kathrine Narducci, Andrew Bryniarski, Becky O’Donohue, Elle McLemore, Rob Moran, Jennifer Damiano, Wyatt Lozano, Scott Shilstone, Ryan R. Johnson, Josh Owens, Jim Ford, Michael Perri, Sophia Franzella. Directed by Carmine Canglialosi

 

There are few things more American than hopping on your motorcycle and going off in a cloud of dust to travel the highways and byways of our great nation. It’s been an idea that has captivated American cineastes at least as far back as Easy Rider and it is a motif that has shown up in movies over and over again ever since.

John Moore (Berenger) is dealing with the grief of his wife’s (Gershon) death from cancer and not at all dealing with it well. He has fallen into the bottle, much to the disgust of his two adult daughters who are further mortified when he shows up late to his wife’s funeral. Basically in an alcoholic stupor all day, he decides to assuage his grief by going through his wife’s things – doesn’t everybody? – which is when he finds a letter she had written to him but never sent. The contents aren’t revealed other than obliquely and even then not until late in the film but John is inspired to dust off his old bike and head off on a road trip to Oregon from whatever Eastern hamlet he lives in.

Joining him is Charlie (David), John’s comrade-in-arms in Vietnam. Charlie has been recovering from the effects of an auto accident and the surgeries haven’t gone well. Facing the loss of a leg, he wants one last adventure with his buddy before going under the knife. And, to paraphrase the great Paul Simon, they rode off to look for America.

America in this case being a land of sexy waitresses in honkytonks, barroom brawls with inbred rednecks, hooking up with a group of L.A.-based lady bikers, having the black member of the party accused of a murder he didn’t commit and beaten up by small town cops and for John, finding romance with the cousin of Charlie’s fiancée. They also pick up a stray in hunky Willie (writer-director Canglialosi) who helps them out in the previously mentioned barroom brawl and whom women seem drawn to like catnip. He’s also hiding a secret, on the run from the cops. There is a point to the journey for John but I won’t mention it here.

This is a movie I really wanted to like. Road films are some of my favorites and the strong cast promised at least decent acting but alas, that’s not what happened in either case, me liking the film and decent acting by the strong cast. Although Berenger is game, David is as always reliable and Miller is as pretty as ever, other than a cameo by Dern the acting is largely disappointing. The overall tone is kind of muted, like all the energy has been wrung out of the film before it unspools. Considering the level of talent in the film that’s pretty shameful.

The hero of the movie is not John Moore or the man that plays him so much but cinematographer Jesse Brunt who comes up with some iconic shots of the back roads of the Midwest and West, the somewhat forced shot of the bikers roaring past Mount Rushmore notwithstanding. While the movie seems meant for an older adult audience, there seems to be little here to drive them into theaters other than a blast from the past cast; the relationship between John and Charlie for example seems pretty sketchy with little filling in the blanks other than a few story references and the obvious band of brothers in Vietnam reality but other than some insulting boys banter, the bond between the two remains maddeningly unexplored. For my money Canglialosi the writer should have eliminated the part of Willie entirely; that would have at least forced him to develop the relationship between the two vets more thoroughly. Frankly, Willie adds almost nothing to the movie other than to be the brawn for the two older men.

To be fair, there is some fun in watching some of these veteran actors go about their business and the scenery along the road is wonderful but that’s really all the movie has going for it which is mighty sad. You get the sense that the writer didn’t really have anything to say other than that older people can still ride and anyone who has been to a gathering of bikers can tell you that anyway. Did the film make me want to get on a bike and ride off? To a degree yes, but definitely not with these people.

REASONS TO GO: There are some nice shots of the American road.
REASONS TO STAY: A little maudlin, a lot cliché, the tone of the film is tepid at best.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, drug references and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tom Berenger’s birth name was Moore, the same as his character’s last name.
BEYOND THE THEATERS:  Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/1/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 0% positive reviews. Metacritic: 24/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wild Hogs
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Queen of the World

New Releases for the Week of September 28, 2018


NIGHT SCHOOL

(Universal) Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Keith David, Rob Riggle, Romany Malco, Al Madrigal, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Ben Schwartz, Anne Winters. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee

Hart stars as one of several misfits taking night classes in an attempt to pass their GED exams. Haddish is the no-nonsense teacher assigned to help them get there.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, DBOX, Dolby, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content throughout, language, some drug references and violence)

Cruise

(Vertical) Emily Ratajkowski, Noah Robbins, Kathrine Narducci, Spencer Boldman. An Italian-American boy from the mean streets of Brooklyn falls for a beautiful Jewish girl from Long Island. It’s 1987 and anything is possible.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs

Rating: NR

Hell Fest

(CBS) Bex Taylor-Klaus, Tony Todd, Reign Edwards, Amy Forsyth. A masked serial killer finds a happy hunting ground in a horror-themed amusement park where the guests think that his gruesome murders are all part of the show.

See the trailer, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, DBOX
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for horror violence, and language including some sexual references)

Little Women

(Pure Flix) Lea Thompson, Ian Bohen, Lucas Grabeel, Melanie Stone. A modern update of the classic Louisa May Alcott novel follows the March sisters as they traverse the often treacherous path from girlhood to womanhood.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements and teen drinking)

Science Fair

(National Geographic) Cristina Costantini, Darren Foster. For high school science nerds, their super bowl is the International Science and Engineering Fair. This documentary follows nine students from around the world as they compete for the “Best in Fair,” an award that only one of them can win.

See the trailer and a video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements and brief language)

Smallfoot

(Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya, Common. A bright young yeti discovers the existence of what was thought to be a mythological beast – a human. The news of his discovery turns the world upside down for his people who wonder what else might be out there.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some action, rude humor, and thematic elements)

Sui Dhaaga: Made in India

(Yash Raj) Anushka Sharma, Varan Dhawan, Raghuvir Yadav, Govind Pandey. A husband and wife in India discover the need of entrepreneurship while trying to revive the artisan traditions of their homeland.

See the trailer and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

At First Light
The Bookshop
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Devadas
The Healer
My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
Nawab
Trico Tri Happy Halloween

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

The Apparition
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Devadas
Museo
My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
Nawab
Pataakha
Trico Tri Happy Halloween

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Blaze
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Devadas
My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
Natakam
Nawab
The Padre
Pick of the Litter
Trico Tri Happy Halloween

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Devadas
My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
Nawab

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Hell Fest
Night School

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

South Asia Film Festival (Maitland, FL)

The Nice Guys


An outtake from The Shining?

An outtake from The Shining?

(2016) Action Comedy (Warner Brothers) Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Kim Basinger, Margaret Qualley, Yaya DaCosta, Keith David, Beau Knapp, Lois Smith, Murielle Telio, Gil Gerard, Daisy Tahan, Jack Kilmer, Lance Valentine Butler, Ty Simpkins, Cayla Brady, Tammi Arender, Rebecca Dalton Rusk, Terence Rosemore, John L. Morris, Michelle Rivera, Nathaniel “Nate” Scott. Directed by Shane Black

 

1977 in Los Angeles was an interesting place. It was the golden age of porn; bell bottoms and flower shirts were the fashion, and guys with too-long locks and elaborate facial hair were on the prowl for chicks with teased hair. Smog choked everything and in the post-Watergate atmosphere, it felt a lot like innocence had been irrevocably lost. This is where and when I grew up.

Shane Black gets it note-perfect, and while I admit I had very little to do with the porn industry as a teenager (other than as a prospective consumer) this feels like the L.A. I grew up in. This is the kind of town where a sports car might crash from a hilltop road into your background, disgorging a beautiful naked porn star (Telio) whose final words are “How do you like my car?”

This is also the kind of place inhabited by Jackson Healy (Crowe), a Bronx-bred tough guy who is the kind of guy you call when you want someone hurt, but not killed. He’s also a bit of a knight in not-so-shining and dented all to hell armor, hired by a young woman named Amanda (Qualley) to discourage a guy who’s been stalking her.

That guy happens to be Holland March (Gosling) whom Healy appropriately sends to the hospital with a spiral fracture of his arm. But as it turns out, he’s been hired to find Amanda – he’s a private detective, albeit one who drinks far too much and isn’t nearly as bright as he thinks he is. After their encounter, Healy is visited by a pair of mobsters (Knapp, David) who are trying to intimidate him about the whereabouts of Amanda. March gets away from the two of them, leaving one of them with permanent blue dye all over his face.

Realizing that he’s stepped into something that doesn’t smell so good, he enlists the guy he sent to the hospital – March – to find out what’s going on and locate Amanda, who’s disappeared off the face of the Earth. At first none too pleased to be teamed up with him, March begins to grudgingly respect his new partner. The two are helped by March’s precocious daughter Holly (Rice) who is a better detective than either of them.

It turns out the case is related to the porn industry, the California Department of Justice whose head honcho (Basinger) turns out to be Amanda’s mother. On the trail is the chief bad guy John Boy (Bomer) who is thus named because he has a similar mole as Richard Thomas of The Waltons. And with avant garde pornographers, vicious hit men, and Vegas mobsters to contend with, these two ne’er-do-wells will have their work cut out for them if they plan to live to see 1978.

Black has always been a terrific writer, going back to his Lethal Weapon days and to an extent, he’s mocking the genre he helped create (the buddy cop movie) with this film, which would come out ten years after this film was set. As I mentioned earlier, he gets the period stuff right on with the fashions, the smog, the soundtrack and even the vibe. This is most definitely the City of Angels I remember.

He also casts his film nicely. Both Gosling and Crowe take to their parts like they were born to them, and the chemistry between the two is what carries the movie and holds it together. Crowe, who carries himself as a big guy, does the tough-with-a-heart-of-gold as well as anybody and while Gosling is often the comic relief, he never stoops to making his character a laughing stock, although March easily could be considering all the poor choices he makes.

Rice should also be given some credit. The movies are filled with precocious kids who are smarter than the adults in the movie, and often these types of characters are annoying as the fluctuating price of gas. However, Rice makes the character credible enough and vulnerable enough to avoid that pitfall, although again I do wish the adults here didn’t have to be quite so dumb.

The action sequences are decently staged as are the comedy bits, although I think most of the best comedy moments can be found in the trailer which is a bummer. At times, it feels like it is one irritable police captain away from a TV cop show from that era – Starsky and Hutch much?  There is also a little bit of a reach in the plot department in terms of the conspiracy going on in high places, although the movie is well-written overall in terms of plot construction. However, it feels a little bit like a noir film with a funk soundtrack, if you get my drift. Some of it just doesn’t work.

Overall though this is far more entertaining than a lot of stuff out there. It’s smart, it has some decent performances and it captures a place and time better than most. Some might find the immersion in the porn culture a bit distasteful but Black doesn’t stick it in your face overly much. Well, maybe not to me. While I have friends who dug this a lot more than I did, I can say they’re not wrong in giving this film the kind of love they’ve given it and as far as I’m concerned, Shane Black is the kind of director who always seems to make movies that are worthwhile viewing. Boom shaka laka laka, baby.

REASONS TO GO: Smart dialogue and plot construction. Crowe and Gosling have genuine chemistry.
REASONS TO STAY: Originally started life as a television pilot and has that kind of TV quality to it. A little far-fetched in places.
FAMILY VALUES: Violence abounds as well as sexuality and nudity with plenty of foul language and a smattering of drug use – all 70s-centric things.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the elevator scene, the same background Muzak plays as in the similarly-set scene in The Blues Brothers.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/20/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 70/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Inherent Vice
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Warcraft

New Releases for the Week of September 26, 2014


The EqualizerTHE EQUALIZER

(Columbia) Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Haley Bennett. Directed by Antoine Fuqua

McCall is a man with a mysterious and violent past that he would much rather put behind him. He lives a quiet life doing a non-descript job. When he meets a beautiful and sweet young girl who is under the control of vicious, violent and sadistic Russian gangsters, he is bothered. When they beat her up and put her in the hospital, he knows this will only end in her demise. He sets out therefore to use his skills to get her out of their control, even if it means taking on overwhelming odds but that’s nothing new for McCall. If you have a problem, he’s the man who can fix anything. Based on the 80s TV hit that starred Edward Woodward in the same role.

See the trailer, clips, a featurette and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday)

Genre: Action Thriller

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references)

Believe Me

(Gravitas) Alex Russell, Nick Offerman, Johanna Braddy, Miles Fisher. Everyone knows that the cost for higher education is terrifying. When four seniors discover that their money has run out and in order to graduate they’ll have to come up with a semester’s worth of tuition, they are concerned. When they find out how much that is, they are in full-on panic mode. With no jobs, no money and no ideas, they hit upon the idea of establishing a fake charity. They become so successful at raising money that real charities begin to take notice – and want them on board. Except those real charities might not be quite so charitable as they might seem.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some language)

The Boxtrolls

(Focus) Starring the voices of Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Simon Pegg. A community of mischievous but good-hearted creatures that live below the town discover an orphaned boy who has nobody to take care of him. Naming him Egg, they agree to raise him as best they can. Years later when the Boxtrolls are threatened by the townspeople, it will be Egg who must come to their rescue and get both sides to learn to live together.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for action, some peril and mild rude humor)

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

(Weinstein) James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, William Hurt. A couple whose relationship is falling apart make a last ditch effort to rescue it. Originally made as two separate films – one from the viewpoint of each person in the relationship – Weinstein in their infinite wisdom or lack thereof has decided to combine both films into a single movie. I suppose we’ll never know if the two film thing was gimmicky or innovative.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language)

Field of Lost Shoes

(Bosch) Lauren Holly, Jason Isaacs, David Arquette, Keith David. As the Civil War progressed, it chewed up soldiers at a terrifying rate. Particularly in the South where they didn’t have the manpower reserves that the North had, young and elderly men alike were called upon in the latter stages of the war to defend their native soil. At the Virginia Military Institute, raw cadets were tasked with defending the monstrously important Shenandoah Valley. This is their story.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: War

Rating: PG-13 (for war violence and some thematic elements)

The Notebook

(Sony Classics) Ulrich Thomsen, Ulrich Matthes, Laszlo Gyemant, Andres Gyemant. On the border of Hungary and Germany during the Second World War, a pair of 13-year-old twin boys are given a notebook by their father to chronicle their lives. Living with a terrifying grandmother, they train themselves to desensitize their bodies to the value of human life. Few films have ever captured the effects of war on the innocent as this one has.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: War

Rating: R  (for disturbing violent and sexual content, nudity and language)

The Skeleton Twins

(Roadside Attractions) Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell. A pair of twins, estranged for a number of years, are forced back together by economic circumstances. As they reacquaint themselves, they discover that the key to fixing their lives may just lie in repairing their relationship.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language, some sexuality and drug use)

The Song

(Goldwyn) Alan Powell, Ali Faulkner, Caitlin Nicol-Thomas, Danny Vinson. An aspiring musician meets and marries the devout daughter of a vineyard owner. As musicians sometimes do, he writes a song for his new bride. However, he is unprepared for what happens when the song becomes a huge hit. Beset by pressures and temptations he’s ill-equipped to handle, his life and marriage slowly begin to crack at the seams.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Faith Musical

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including some substance abuse, smoking and rude references)

Christmas in Compton


Sheryl Lee Ralph does Christmas Africa-style.

Sheryl Lee Ralph does Christmas Africa-style.

(2010) Holiday Comedy (Barnholtz Entertainment) Omar Gooding, Keith David, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Eric Roberts, Porscha Coleman, Miguel A. Nunez Jr., Orlando Brown, Edwin Hodge, Charles Kim,  Arif S. Kinchen, Charlotte Ayanna, Jayda Brown, Kristinia DeBarge, Melanie Comacho, Leslie Jones, Evan Rayner, Darryl Alan Reed, Emiliano Torres, Malin Yhr. Directed by David Raynr

hollynquill-2013

Having lived in Los Angeles for many years, I can say with certainty that the South Central community of Compton means different things to different people. Mainly populated by minorities (in particular African-Americans), the white community tends to view it with suspicion and perhaps a little fear. For the African-American community, Compton means something else entirely.

Big Earl (David) owns a Christmas tree lot that doubles as a flea market and community center. He is a well-respected member of the community, one who dispenses wisdom as well as Christmas cheer. However, his son Derek (Gooding) is a source of frustration. He wants his son to be a winner, successful as Big Earl himself is.

Derek though has other definitions of success. He dreams of being a music producer but Tommy Maxell (Roberts), the unscrupulous owner of a major record label, has stolen one of his acts and now has his greedy paws at the ready for his latest one, Sugar Stuff – a Destiny’s Child-like girl group. Derek is not real good about reading the fine print on contracts and is consistently getting screwed by those who write that fine print. Big Earl is anxious for Derek to give up what he considers to be unrealistic dreams and take over the Christmas tree lot, but Derek is reluctant.

Surrounding them are a cast of oddballs and hangers on like Steve Ho (Kim) who seems to relish being the token Korean, Squeaky (Kinchen) and Pookie (Hodge) who are kind of boys from the hood sorts, the beautiful single mom Kendra (Campbell) whom Derek becomes sweet on and her precocious 8-year-old daughter (Brown), and Abuta (Ralph) who has a love-hate relationship with Big Earl who looks upon her obsession with Kwanzaa as anti-Christmas and as such suspicious behavior. Abuta is kind of the surrogate mom for Derek since his own mom and Big Earl’s wife had passed on some years earlier.

Derek hates the thought of losing Sugar Stuff – they’re really his last shot at his dream – so he hatches a plan to steal some jewelry from Tommy and his wife and fence it with Delicious (Nunez), a fast-talking fence who constantly refers to himself in the third person, then use the money he gets to retain the rights to Sugar Stuff who are dazzled by the dollars being dangled by Maxell. Predictably, things don’t go as planned.

As plots go, this one is about as stale as a re-gifted fruit cake. It’s fairly standard for an urban comedy – think Barbershop and Friday for starters. Gooding doesn’t have the charisma and likability to really carry the movie – he comes off a bit bland. David, however, lends gravitas and genuine warmth which really makes up for it.

While not all the humor really appealed to me – keep in mind I’m not really the target audience for this film – there were some laugh-out-loud moments for me. Most of all though you want a Christmas movie to deliver heart and the warm fuzzies and Christmas in Compton does that. I don’t know that Compton in 2013 is anything like this – I suspect it isn’t all Kumbaya and neighborhood barbecues but the community spirit depicted here is at the core of what Compton is and was when I lived and worked there (just out of college I sold a subscription TV service there). Sure, there are problems there. Poverty will do that to a community, but there has always been a sense of togetherness that is enviable. I often wonder how much could be accomplished were the spirit of Compton a more universal thing.

In any case, despite the staleness of the plot, I actually found myself warming to Christmas in Compton which I didn’t honestly expect to. Sometimes a good heart can overcome an unremarkable script.

WHY RENT THIS: Nails the heartwarming aspect. Gives a sense of community.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Been there done that. Some of the jokes fall flat.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of foul language, some sexuality and some crude humor.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gooding is the younger brother of Cuba Gooding Jr. and also has a thriving rap career as Big O.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a short film, Santa Better Do Me Right.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Best Man Holiday

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The last day of The Holly and the Quill 2013!