Why Him?


Talk about a generation gap...

Talk about a generation gap…

(2016) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Cedric the Entertainer, Keegan-Michael Key, Griffin Gluck, Zack Pearlman, Jee Young Han, Tangie Ambrose, Mary Pat Gleason, Kaley Cuoco (voice), Steve Aoki, Richard Blais, Elon Musk, Adam Devine, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Andrew Rannells, Casey Wilson. Directed by John Hamburg

 

The father-daughter relationship is a very special one. A man’s daughter is always his princess; the light of his heart, the twinkle in his eye, she inevitably has him twisted around her little finger. It goes without saying that no man will ever be good enough for Daddy’s Little Princess.

Ned Fleming (Cranston) is by all appearances a successful guy. He’s a pillar of his Michigan community and runs a paper company that has been one of the most successful in the Midwest for years; he has put his daughter Stephanie (Deutch) through college at Stanford where she is nearing graduation and his life is generally going just swell.

His bubble is on the verge of bursting though; his company is in serious financial trouble and there isn’t much of a future for it anyway – paper is going the way of horse and buggy given that most communication is electronic these days. His wife Barb (Mullally) and son Scottie (Gluck) are mainly unaware of this. However, the biggest blow is that Stephanie has a boyfriend that they don’t know about and what’s worse they’ve been together for more than a year. This disturbs Ned who had always assumed that his daughter told him everything. It seems she has a whole lot of secrets that he isn’t aware of. With the holidays coming, Stephanie invites her family to spend them in Northern California.

Said boyfriend is Laird Mayhew (Franco) and rather than being a doe-eyed college boy he turns out to be a 30-something tech magnate who earned his billions developing videogames. With a chest full of tattoos and absolutely no filter, he is a bit of a handful and a lot for the conservative Fleming family to take in. Most parents would be overjoyed that their daughter had caught the eye of a billionaire and seemed to be very much in love with him besides but not Ned. He’s suspicious of Laird and is positive that he’s up to something and Laird, to be honest, is a fairly manipulative guy. His high-tech Palo Alto mansion is full to the brim with all sorts of gadgets and toys, including a Japanese toilet/bidet combination that doesn’t quite work right (and hilarity ensues), a Siri-like house computer whose voice is that of Kaley Cuoco from Big Bang Theory and who tends to get cranky from time to time (more hilarity ensues) and a brand new bowling alley that Laird installed because he heard that Ned loves to bowl. Midwestern, right?

There is also a stuffed moose preserved in an aquarium full of it’s own urine which you just know is going to get all over someone sooner or later (not a spoiler: it does) and a valet named Gustav (Key) who is about every Eastern European goofball that populated sitcoms and movie comedies in the 80s and 90s and who, like Kato in the Pink Panther movies, attacks Laird with martial arts without warning (although to be fair the movie does name drop the series for additional laughs).

Laird means to marry Stephanie and wants Ned’s blessing, a blessing that isn’t forthcoming. It’s Christmas though and miracles can happen – although it might take several miracles to make this happy ending come true. Stephanie tries to make her father see that beneath the cursing (Laird drops F bombs constantly, a product of having no filter) and the sometimes bizarre behavior Laird is really a very nice guy, but that will be a tough sell to a father who already thinks that no guy is good enough for his princess.

In many ways this movie perfectly illustrates the disconnect between Hollywood and Mid-America which in turn spotlights why Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential election. Ned and Barb as well as son Scotty are portrayed as extremely naive particularly about pop culture sexuality, not knowing what either motorboating or bukake mean – not that those are common terms but certainly the way that it is portrayed here is that they’re the only ones not in on the joke and quite frankly it’s a bit cruel. The West Coast hip tech types, standing in for the elite liberal crowd, are condescending and a little put off by the squares. It may interest the left to know that there is Internet in the Midwest and most of the people living there are a lot savvier than given credit for.

Cranston and Franco are no strangers to each other and it shows here. The chemistry between them is letter perfect and both exhibit a lot of give and take in terms of who gets the laughs and who is the straight man. Both perform beyond what you’d expect for what is essentially a holiday comedy which often tend to be just paychecks for big name actors. Cranston and Franco earn both of theirs.

But all the good intentions and strong performances can’t save a script that has little bite and feels more like a sitcom than a big screen comedy. There are some really funny moments (like when Laird brings in Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley from KISS for Ned and Barb who are avowed members of the KISS Army) and a few cringe-worthy moments (the aforementioned moose piss gag) but by and large there’s nothing truly offensive here. Neither is there anything truly noteworthy either.

REASONS TO GO: Cranston is on point as always and he has some terrific chemistry with Franco.
REASONS TO STAY: The plot is a little heavy-handed and riddled with clichés.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of foul language and some sexual innuendo throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Ape Assassins game that made Laird Mayhew famous is available for download on the iTunes App Store.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/30/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 39% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Father of the Bride (1991)
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: 13th

Spectre


No vehicle is safe around James Bond.

No vehicle is safe around James Bond.

(2015) Spy Action (MGM/Columbia) Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen, Alessandro Cremona, Stephanie Sigman, Tenoch Huerta, Adriana Paz, Domenico Fortunato, Brigitte Millar, Lara Parmiani. Directed by Sam Mendes

The past has a way of surfacing when we least expect it. Sometimes, it’s just a pleasant memory we’d forgotten. Other times, our sins come back to haunt us in ways we could never possibly expect.

With the carnage of Skyfall behind him (there are spoilers here if you haven’t seen that movie so quick, go see it before reading on), James Bond (Craig) finds himself in Mexico City several months later during the Dia de los muertos celebration. He is after a terrorist who has plans to set off bombs somewhere in the city, but Bond has other plans. Before sending most of the men in the room making plans to end the lives of innocents to kingdom come, he overhears plans to meet with someone called the Pale King. As is the wont around James Bond, buildings are blown up, a chase takes place through the crowded streets of Mexico City and a fight ensues on a helicopter which narrowly avoids crashing into the crowd.

The trouble is, Bond wasn’t authorized to do any of this or even be in Mexico. The new M (Fiennes) is already having issues with C (Scott), the head of MI-5 who has recently merged with MI-6 and is now in charge, and who is threatening on dismantling the double 0 program and replacing it with the Nine Eyes directive – the combined surveillance material from the nine largest agencies in the world, including the intelligence communities of the United States, Russia, China and other nations. Only South Africa remains a holdout.

Given the ruthlessness of C, it isn’t any surprise when a terrorist attack in South Africa changes their vote. These events, Bond deduces, are related to his own chase of the Pale King. After seducing the widow (Bellucci) of the assassin, Bond tracks down an old nemesis whose daughter Madeleine Swann (Seydoux) holds the key to a sinister criminal organization known as SPECTRE – and it’s mysterious leader (Waltz) who has a connection with Bond’s past – in more than one sense.

This has every element that makes Bond films so entertaining; a debonair and cool as a cucumber spy, gorgeous women, mind-blowing gadgets, absolutely amazing action and stunt sequences and exotic locations. Well, it’s missing one element – a great theme song, but Sam Smith delivered an absolutely atrocious song that may go down as one of the worst of any Bond film ever – and there have been some absolute turkeys, although the vast majority of Bond themes have been fabulous.

Craig in his fourth film inhabits the role, and while he is contracted for a fifth film (which the ending sets up very nicely), he has said in interviews that he wouldn’t mind finishing out his run here. I think he may want to rethink that; this isn’t his best performance as Bond (Skyfall is) and he might want to go out on a higher note than this.

Part of the problem is similar to what plagued Quantum of Solace – it simply doesn’t measure up to the high bar set by the film before it. While this movie is much better than Quantum, it’s also no Skyfall and that isn’t a knock at all; Skyfall is in my opinion second only to Goldfinger in terms of great Bond movies. Sacrilege to some, I grant you, but that’s how I see it.

While Craig is ice cold through most of this, Waltz as the villain whose name I won’t reveal here is simply put the best villain of the Craig era and maybe the best other than Auric Goldfinger in the whole franchise. Waltz as…he who shall not be named….is as urbane as Bond, has a deadly edge to him and is certifiably insane, but not in a “Look at me I’m Napoleon” manner but in a quiet, serious “I’m going to do something spectacularly evil” way. You have no doubt that Waltz’ character is capable of conjuring up absolutely horrific mayhem and is quite willing to see it through.

We get to explore Bond’s relationships with his team, mainly Whishaw as Q, Harris as Moneypenny and Fiennes as M. There is a cameo by Judi Dench as the previous M whose posthumous message sends Bond careening off to Mexico, and we get a sense of Bond’s loyalty. He doesn’t trust anyone really, but one senses he trusted M – and not the new one, necessarily.

The stunts here are as good as ever – the Mexico City sequence is worth the price of admission alone – and while the gadgets aren’t as gee-whiz as in past years, the best line of the movie comes when Q hands Bond a watch and Bond asks “And what does this do?” Q responds with a droll “It tells the time.”

The movie feels like it’s cramming a little bit too much plot in; I don’t know that we needed to go all over the globe to finally end up in futuristic volcanic lair that we don’t really get to see much of but is apparently immense. They had to conjure up the largest explosion in movie history in order to…well, let’s just say that it doesn’t end He Who Shall Not Be Named’s nefarious plans.

Don’t get me wrong – this is thoroughly entertaining and certainly will keep Bond fans more than happy, although the critical reaction has been disappointing. I do hope Craig does do one more film and finishes his time in the franchise on a better note than this. It’s a good movie, but not a great one. I think Craig has one more great Bond film in him.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific action sequences. Waltz is the best villain of the Craig era. Continues the return to the iconic 60s Bond films.
REASONS TO STAY: A little on the busy side. Sam Smith’s song is terrible.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of action violence, some disturbing images, sexual innuendo and some mildly foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: At age 50 during filming, Bellucci is the oldest Bond girl to appear in the franchise by twelve years (Honor Blackman was 38 when she filmed Goldfinger).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/15/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: You Only Live Twice
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Veteran

Toy Story 3


Toy Story 3

Buzz and Woody discover that Jessie has a bigger cut at the merchandising than they do.

(Disney/Pixar) Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, Michael Keaton, Ned Beatty, Estelle Harris, Laurie Metcalf, R. Lee Ermey, Timothy Dalton, Whoopi Goldberg, Blake Clark, John Morris, Jodi Benson. Directed by Lee Unkrich

For many, the Toy Story movies are a warm reminder of childhood, either experiencing the movies as children themselves or being transported back to childhood as an adult. Eleven years after the second movie in the franchise (still the only sequel Pixar has made, although there are plans for sequels to Cars and Monsters, Inc in the next two years) would there be a demand for Woody, Buzz and the gang after all this time?

Years have passed since the adventures of the first two movies and Andy (Morris) is getting ready to leave for college. As time has gone by, many of his toys have fallen by the wayside – either having been donated, handed down to his sister Molly or thrown out, leaving only a few remaining holdovers; Hamm (Ratzenberger) the caustic piggy bank, Rex (Shawn) the unselfconfident dinosaur, Mr. Potato Head (Rickles) and his wife (Harris), Jessie (Cusack), the rootenist’ tootenist’ cowgirl in the West, Buzz Lightyear (Allen) the greatest toy ever made and of course, his best friend Woody (Hanks).

Andy is cleaning out his room before he leaves and has a hard time deciding what to do with his remaining toys. They’re old and worn-out and most people would throw them into the trash but Andy is not most people. He can’t quite let go just yet so he elects to take Woody with him to college and earmarks the other toys for the attic, but his mom (Metcalf) mistakenly throws them in the trash. Woody manages to help rescue them, and the toys, thinking that Andy no longer wants them, elect to go to Sunnyside Day Care as donations where maybe they might have a future, despite Woody’s attempts to persuade them otherwise.

Sunnyside is run by a strawberry-scented teddy bear named Lotso (Beatty) who seems kindly and welcoming at first. He has quite a set-up where toys will be played with forever in an ownerless world. At first glance, it seems like heaven for the toys but it quickly turns out to be the other place as Lotso assigns them to the Caterpillar Room where the youngest tots are gathered and unspeakable things are done to the toys. Lotso is revealed to be a tyrant running the toys of Sunnyside with an iron fist. Will Woody help his friends – his family – escape? Will Barbie (Benson) find romance with Ken (Keaton)? Why is Buzz speaking Spanish?

I can’t say this is a game-changer when it comes to animated features, but it is a marvelous movie nonetheless. Unkrich has managed to recapture the magic that made the first two movies classics even without the late Jim Varney (who passed on in 2000) as Slinky Dog (Clark, a close friend of Varney’s in real life, takes over the role). There is a bittersweet quality here that is only hinted at in the first two movies (especially the second); the essence of growing up and putting aside childish things. The last scene in the movie is one of the best in the series and should this be the last Toy Story film (and there’s no sign that it will be), it’s a marvelous way to go out, bringing things full circle in a sentimental but not over-the-top way.

The look of the movie is pretty much identical to the first two so in a way this is a step backwards for Pixar in that it doesn’t hold up against the magnificent animation seen in Wall-E for example, but it really doesn’t need to. The look of the movie is like going back home again in a lot of ways and seeing that things are exactly the way you left them.

They did add 3D and IMAX to the mix which to my mind didn’t really enhance the movie overly much; if you can take or leave either of those things I’d advise you to check out the standard version while you can; no need to spend $3-$10 per ticket just for those bells and whistles when the standard version works perfectly well.

I don’t really need to go over the voice characterizations. Most everybody who cares about movies has seen at least one of the Toy Story films and knows how good this cast is. Keaton and Beatty make fine additions and interact with the existing cast very nicely. There are some really clever moments (like a brief appearance of the Pizza Planet truck, or a train full of troll orphans) and some genuinely affecting moments that tug on the heartstrings without being manipulative.

The movie succeeds on all levels. Kids are going to go bananas for it – if you’re a parent, be resigned to demands to see it three or four times this summer. For adults, the underlying themes of memory, loss and growing up will hit home. After setting a Pixar record for the biggest opening weekend, the answer to the question I posed in the first paragraph is a resounding yes. More to the point, this is a summer family movie that will please everyone in the family and bear repeated viewings. Andy may be moving on, but given how good Toy Story 3 is it’s a good bet that the rest of us won’t be.

REASONS TO GO: Recaptures the magic. Ending had Da Queen in full-on bawl mode.

REASONS TO STAY: It doesn’t really break new ground nor does it measure up to Up or Wall-E but that doesn’t mean it’s not terrific.

FAMILY VALUES: Perfectly suitable for every audience.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Unkrich co-directed Toy Story 2 with John Lasseter and edited the first two Toy Story movies prior to being named director on this one.

HOME OR THEATER: Oh, big screen, definitely.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Paper Heart