Storks


For those who wonder how babies are made, here's your answer.

For those who wonder how babies are made, here’s your answer.

(2016) Animated Feature (Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Anton Starkman, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Danny Trejo, Stephen Kramer Glickman, Chris Smith, Awkwafina, Ike Barinholtz, Jorma Taccone, Amanda Lund. Directed by Doug Sweetland and Nicholas Stoller

 

In a cutthroat commercial world, one must adapt to survive. Nobody knows that better than the storks, who at one time delivered babies exclusively. However, as satisfying as that job was, it wasn’t very lucrative. Now they toil for Cornerstore, a dot com shopping site that bears a sneaky resemblance to Amazon. Less baby poop to clean up, too.

Junior (Samberg) is the best courier in all of stork-dom. He has earned the attention of Hunter (Grammer), the boss stork who is looking for someone to succeed him. Junior seems the most likely candidate. All in all, Junior’s life is going exactly the way he wants.

Not so for Nate Gardner (Starkman), a little boy who is bored and lonely. His Mom (Aniston) and Dad (Burrell) are both completely involved in their real estate business with little time for their son. He desperately wants a sibling to fill his time, preferably one with ninja skills. As a result, he sends a letter to the Storks hoping to get a new baby brother.

Junior gets his first assignment as Hunter’s protégé; he is to fire Tulip (Crown), a human girl (the only human on Stork Mountain) whose delivery to her parents was messed up by the psychotic stork Jasper (Trejo) so she has been trying to earn her keep for the storks, except that she’s something of a klutz. Hunter has had enough of her, but the tender-hearted Junior exiles her to the “mail room” where letters requesting babies are essentially warehoused, as the storks don’t answer those any longer. Of course, Tulip being Tulip, she accidentally activates the baby-making machine with a single letter – the one Nate Gardner sent.

Now there’s a baby to be delivered and Junior realizes that it must be done quietly or his career is history. So he and Tulip set off to get the rugrat delivered, while Nate prepares his house for the new arrival and the deliverers are chased by a pack of very limber wolves (don’t ask) and when Hunter finds out from Pigeon Toady (Glickman), a real stool pigeon, things are going to get even more complicated.

The tone here skews towards the whimsical, with occasional moments that recall the Looney Tunes which are part of the Warner Animation Group’s DNA. The Rube Goldberg-esque baby making machine is fun to watch in action and the Wolves who turn themselves into submarines and motorcycles (among other things) are also pretty clever.

That said the movie also goes for the Disney points by getting the family bonding thing going between Nate and his parents and setting Tulip up to find her “birth” parents. Kids today are also a lot more sophisticated; while they may not necessarily know how babies are born, they certainly know that storks don’t bring ‘em. In that sense, the story is a bit antiquated.

The voice casting is top of the line, and one must give the producers kudos for including both Key and Peele in the cast; they work as well together here as they do on their hit Comedy Central show, albeit with less scintillating material. In fact, things pretty much go the non-subversive route, although the anti-corporate tinge here might infuriate your average Trump supporter.

In any case, this is pretty lightweight material that will keep your kids occupied and likely not rile you up too much unless, of course, you tend towards the heavy capitalist philosophy of life. Chances are you’ll be drifting off with far better movies on your mind while you watch this bit of fluff with your kids.

REASONS TO GO: Plenty of whimsy displayed throughout the movie.
REASONS TO STAY: Plenty of cliches displayed throughout the movie.
FAMILY VALUES:  There are some thematic elements and some kid-friendly action sequences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The Ty Burrell character is a real estate agent; Burrell also plays a real estate agent in his TV series Modern Family.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/23/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Arthur Christmas
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Stray

99 Homes


These days a man's home is the bank's castle.

These days a man’s home is the bank’s castle.

(2015) Drama (Broad Green) Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Clancy Brown, Tim Guinee, Nicole Barré, Yvonne Landry, Noah Lomax, J.D. Eyermore, Cullen Moss, Jordyn McDempsey, Ann Mahoney, Judd Lormand, Deneen Tyler, Donna Duplantier, Wayne Pére, Cynthia Santiago, Juan Gaspard, Nadiyah Skyy Taylor. Directed by Ramin Bahrani

It wasn’t that long ago that the economy tanked in the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Homes were being foreclosed upon at rates unheard of since the Great Depression. Families were displaced, the rich got richer and in essence nothing has changed since then other than the banks are being more circumspect somewhat, but none of the regulations that had kept this from happening before have been reinstated.

Taking place in 2010, the events in 99 Homes are said to have actually happened although I’m unclear whether they took place in the Orlando locale the film is set in. Dennis Nash (Garfield) is a construction worker who discovers that the builders of the development he’s working for have run out of money and that the past two weeks he’s been working are going to go unpaid.

His childhood home, which he lives in with his mother (Dern) and grew up in is underwater and he’s several payments behind. The bank isn’t terribly interested in anything but foreclosure and his trip to court has left him reeling; the judge, overwhelmed with the number of foreclosure cases, simply rubberstamps the bank’s request and sends Dennis packing. Dennis is told he has 30 days to appeal.

A few days later realtor Rick Carver (Shannon) shows up at Dennis’ door and without so much as a fare-thee-well tosses him, his son Connor (Lomax) and his mom into the street along with all their stuff. He is forced to move them into a skeevy hotel which is mostly filled with other evictees, some of them who’ve been there two years or more. He needs to find work now more than ever but there simply isn’t any to be had, the construction business hit hard by the fact that banks aren’t making business loans so there is nothing being built.

When he discovers that some of his tools are missing, he goes back to Carver to demand their return. Carver, impressed with his moxie, puts him to work doing a particularly disagreeable job on a foreclosed home whose previous owners let their displeasure be known in a rather spectacular way. Carver, admiring Nash’s work ethic, hires him on to do odd construction jobs and then to snatch air conditioning units from foreclosed homes that the banks will pay Carver money to install “new” units, which of course Carver simply has Nash reinstall the old units. Shifty, no?

Eventually as Nash continues to help Carver do his dirty work, Carver puts him to work doing the work that Nash is most wary of – presiding over foreclosures. Nash is sympathetic to the victims but soon becomes good at it and continues to help Carver with his chicanery. He even helps Carver set up a deal that will make them both unimaginably rich.

The issue is that Nash has a conscience and it’s beginning to get pricked, particularly in the case of a particular homeowner (Guinee). And when it all comes to a head, will Nash choose money or conscience?

This is a movie that captures the Great American Nightmare circa 2015 (yes, it’s still the Great American Nightmare). It’s a story that’s all too tragically common and will hit an emotional resonance that will touch even those who haven’t had money problems in their lives.

Garfield takes a role that he’s really more suited to than the teenage costumed superhero that he has been playing most recently. He’s still not the commanding screen presence that he might be but he’s a talented actor in his own right. What shines here though is Shannon as the slimy real estate agent whose greed and cynicism are palpable. He has a speech in which he talks about America bailing out winners that sounds like something Trump would say. I daresay that the orange-haired Republican Presidential candidate would probably like this movie for all the wrong reasons.

Dern, who has become one of the best actresses that is always getting notice but never getting noticed if you catch my drift, is once again magnificent here. She is the movie’s conscience and there are few actresses who can pull it off without being maudlin but Dern accomplishes it. She probably won’t be more than an afterthought for a Best Supporting Actress nomination here but that’s more because the script goes off the rails at the end.

Yeah, the ending. Let’s talk about it. What bugs me about Hollywood endings is that you establish a character, establish their credibility and then as the movie ends suddenly they change and act a completely different way than they’ve acted throughout the film. That’s not the way real people act and audiences know that. If you’re going to be charitable through the first 85% of the movie, the audience is going to expect you to be charitable the last 15% too. You have to follow your own internal logic. This movie doesn’t do that.

Still, it’s a fine movie that for the most part covers an issue that faces all American homeowners even those who think they’re well off. Other than that 1% we’ve heard so much about, most Americans are only a single paycheck away from financial issues and once you’ve got those it can be excruciatingly difficult to climb out from under them. The game is rigged that way and nobody wants to talk about it. Thank goodness for filmmakers like Bahrani who do.

REASONS TO GO: Real life horror. Terrific performances by Shannon and Dern.
REASONS TO STAY: Inexplicably bad ending.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of foul language including some sexual references and a brief scene of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first time Garfield has worn facial hair in a film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/15/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Margin Call
FINAL RATINGS: 7/10
NEXT: All This Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records

5 Flights Up


All they want is a room with a view.

All they want is a room with a view.

(2014) Dramedy (Focus) Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton, Alysia Reiner, Carrie Preston, Sterling Jerins, Cynthia Nixon, Claire van den Broom, Korey Jackson, Josh Pais, Maddie Corman, Miriam Shor, Nadia Gan, Katrina E. Perkins, Joanna Adler, Hannah Dunne, Liza J. Bennett, Jackie Hoffman, Marcia DeBonis, Jimmy Palumbo, Jordan Baker, Maury Ginsberg, Grace Rex. Directed by Richard Loncraine

What makes a house – or an apartment – a home? It isn’t the things that you’ve accumulated over the years, although that’s a part of it. It isn’t the location, although that’s a part of it too. It’s mainly the people that live in it and the memories you make together.

Alex (Freeman) and Ruth (Keaton) Carver have lived in the same Brooklyn fifth-floor walk-up for the 40 years of their marriage. Now Alex, a moderately successful painter, and Ruth, a retired teacher, are both getting on in years and that five flights of stairs is likely to only get harder on them. They’ve decided to sell and find themselves an apartment that at least has an elevator for them.

Lily (Nixon), their high-strung niece who is also a realtor, is getting them ready for their open house. The neighborhood they live in has undergone gentrification and Lily is confident that they can get north of a million for the apartment. Alex is unsure about this move; he is fully aware that they’re unlikely to get an apartment that has the same charm as the one they own and certainly none of the memories. Ruth realizes this too, but she tends to be more optimistic that they’ll find a new place to fall in love with.

But there are some complications. Their beloved dog Dorothy has gotten to be very sick and requires an expensive operation. The open house itself, which brings quirky and shark-like New Yorkers to the apartment to try and snatch up the property before someone else can, is hindered by an ongoing news story about the driver of a fuel tanker abandoned on the Williamsburg Bridge who may or may not be a terrorist. The media being what it is these days opts for the former.

Alex’s misgivings grow as they find an apartment in Manhattan that they both like, which sounds a little strange. Sure it’s a nice apartment. Sure it’s got an elevator. But can it be a home? Doesn’t sound so strange now, eh?

Loncraine, who has produced some pretty solid romantic comedies and feel-good movies on his resume (Wimbledon, My One and Only) continues to mine that territory here. Much of the movie’s success resides in its casting; Keaton and Freeman both banter with each other so well and show each other the kind of affection that only couples that have been married for decades can really get right that it’s hard to believe the two haven’t been a married couple for as long as Alex and Ruth have been. The two are both such screen pros in any case that they know how to work well with just about anyone, and here they both make each other shine.

This is a very New York-centric movie and New Yorkers are going to get it more readily than those who live outside the Big Apple. For them, the soaring cost of housing is of no great surprise; the rest of us might be nonplussed at what a million dollar listing is in Brooklyn. Then again, if I had to walk up five flights of stairs every time I came home, I’d either be a lot thinner than I am now or dead of a heart attack.

There is also a whole lot of dialogue about open houses, listings, market values and real estate in general. Fortunately, great actors like Freeman and Keaton can make even that dry kind of conversation sparkle, but only so much. The movie could have focused less on the sale of the house and more on how the concept of that sale was affecting Ruth and Alex, although they do spend a fair amount of time on that.

Clearly this is a paean to the dwelling. Not as a physical space mind you, but as a concept and more importantly, as an emotional touchstone. Using flashbacks to act as memories that were on the minds of the couple (played as newlyweds by van der Bloom and Jackson who channel Keaton and Freeman respectively very satisfactorily) enhances the idea of residence being more than four walls but a place where memories reside as well as people. Long after the physical layout is forgotten, the memories of a lazy Sunday afternoon, a rainy day movie, or a Christmas morning will linger in the heart and mind.

Loncraine has crafted a winner of a movie that sadly got shuffled off to the side during the onslaught of early summer blockbusters. I think that the suits at Focus felt that the material would appeal only to older audiences and in that sense they’d be correct, but I think that that same demographic that made The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel a hit could have made this one a hit too. In any case, this is definitely a feel-good movie that left me with the warm fuzzies and is going to appeal to anyone who has ever lived in a home that they’ve loved. Although it got anemic box office during its limited theatrical run, I think that viewing this at home is the best possible place to see it.

WHY RENT THIS: Wonderfully effective performances by Freeman and Keaton. A celebration of home and hearth. A slice of New York life.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little more real estate chatter than I might have liked.
FAMILY VALUES: A smattering of curse words here and there, and some artistic nude images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the open house sequence, the book that Alex is trying to read in the corner is A War Against Truth by Paul William Roberts.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1M on an unreported production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon, iTunes
COMPARISON SHOPPING: On Golden Pond
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Southpaw

Date Night


Date Night

Steve Carell is flabbergated; he thought Tina Fey was smashing through the glass ceiling, not the glass door.

(20th Century Fox) Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Taraji Henson, Common, James Franco, Leighton Meester, Kristen Wiig, Mark Ruffalo, Ray Liotta, William Fichtner, Mila Kunis, Jimmi Simpson. Directed by Shawn Levy

At a certain point in every relationship, routine sets in. That can be deadlier to a marriage then money problems or even infidelity.

The Fosters, tax preparer Phil (Carell) and realtor Claire (Fey) live normal, unprepossessing lives in suburban New Jersey. They have two kids who can be the spawns of Satan but for the most part, are ordinary kids. They pay their taxes, mow their lawn and attend book clubs together. Every week, they go on a date together to the same steak house and always order the potato skins. They play the “what’s their story” game with other diners, imagining some rather colorful goings-on. Sex is occasional, growing more and more occasional.

They are both shocked when one of the couples they are closest to announce that they are splitting up. Brad (Ruffalo) confides in Phil that they had evolved from being a loving couple to being really excellent roommates, while Haley (Wiig) asserts to Claire that it’s the best decision that she’s ever made, that at last she can explore her own sexuality without any constraints and that Claire should “run with the birds,” a reference to a really bad feminist novel their book club is reading (and, you can be sure, one that will pop up again during the movie).

Both of them are secretly concerned that they are now dwelling in a comfortable rut and the other might be getting bored in the relationship, so when the next date night rolls around, Claire puts on makeup and a pretty dress rather than her usual comfortable clothes. Phil, surprised and delighted, resolves to go to a trendy restaurant in Manhattan rather than their usual steakhouse.

The problem with trying to go to a trendy restaurant in Manhattan spontaneously is that there is usually a waiting list to get in. Phil and Claire arrive too late to get a walk-in table, so the snooty host dismisses them to the bar, there to wait an eternity in all likelihood.

An opportunity arises when a hostess arrives in the bar, looking for the Tripplehorn party of two. When nobody responds, Phil on the spur of the moment decides to take the reservation of the missing Tripplehorns. Spur of the moment decisions can lead, as we all know, to lifetime regrets.

In this case, it leads to a case of mistaken identity. Two beefy gentlemen (Simpson and Common) show up at the table and firmly but politely ask the Fosters to follow them out. The Fosters, believing they’re from the restaurant, comply and are flabbergasted to see guns being pointed at them and the beefy gentlemen demanding that a flash drive belonging to a well-known mobster be returned to them forthwith.

Threatened with immediate execution and with the beefy gentlemen not believing their assertions that they are not, in fact, the Tripplehorns, Phil tries to stall the beefy gentlemen until an opportunity presents itself to escape. When it does, the Fosters go straight to the police until they are shocked to discover that the two beefy gentlemen are actually cops. Mortified and terrified, they go to a shirtless security expert (Wahlberg) to try and find the elusive Tripplehorns and elude the beefy gentlemen and other beefy gentlemen like them.

There’s plenty to like here, but the best thing about the movie is the chemistry between and Fey and Carell. They’re believable as a married couple who have been married to each other for awhile. There’s obviously love between them, but it isn’t as obviously on display as it might be for newlyweds.

They are just ordinary people caught up in events beyond their control. They don’t whip out submachine guns and start blowing people away, Phil isn’t an ex-Navy SEAL and Claire isn’t a third degree black belt. They are intelligent and inventive, but no more so than any one of us would be. They’re totally believable which gives the movie its heart.

Most of the rest of the characters are meant to be caricatures, particularly Wahlberg as the studly security expert. He spends the entire movie without a shirt and the sight of his pecs and abs gives Phil an inferiority complex the size of Mount Everest. The same sight lights Claire up like a Japanese lantern in the summer night.

Where the movie suffers from is that it takes a scattershot approach to comedy. There are lots of bits of business that are more or less extraneous and are meant to try and generate laughs, but come off as feeling a bit forced – the prime example is the sequence involving a head-on collision between the sports car Phil and Claire have “borrowed” from the security consultant and a taxi leaving the two vehicles hopelessly stuck together with armed bad guys shooting at them and the police (the non-corrupt ones) trying to arrest them.

The resolution of the movie is very sweet and I thought very realistic. While I think my relationship with Da Queen is a bit stronger than the one between Phil and Claire – I don’t see us questioning our relationship because another couple splits up – the movie end on a profoundly sweet note and I don’t have a problem with that. In these tough times, a little sweetness can make a lot of difference.

This is meant to be, I think, a screwball comedy and it certainly has many of those elements. The situation escalates from the slightly off-kilter to the totally absurd. There are plenty of laughs, some of which are a little on the blue side, but this is definitely got moments that will keep you chuckling for awhile.

REASONS TO GO: The chemistry between Carell and Fey is genuine. Wahlberg has a small but memorable role.

REASONS TO STAY: Too much needless “business.” Some of the laughs seem a little forced.

FAMILY VALUES: Some sexuality and sexual situations are the culprits here. There’s a little bit of foul language as well; probably not for the more impressionable sorts but generally fine for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Shawn Levy also tackled married couple dynamics in the remake of Cheaper by the Dozen.

HOME OR THEATER: Very doable at home.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Class and a mini-review of Winter’s Bone to kick off our coverage of the Florida Film Festival.

I Love You, Man


I Love You, Man

Jason Segel and Paul Rudd share a bro-mantic moment.

(DreamWorks) Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, J.K. Simmons, Jane Curtin, Jon Favreau, Jaime Pressly, Lou Ferrigno. Directed by John Hamburg

In this Age of Information, we have invented terms that didn’t exist before for relationships that had no name before. When two guys become obsessed with one another in a non-sexual way, it’s called a “bromance.” While there have been plenty of movies about male bonding, this one is the first to use the term, at least in its marketing.

Peter Klaven (Rudd) is an L.A. realtor who is looking to make his mark by selling Lou Ferrigno’s (playing himself) home. The commission he’d receive would give him enough cash to develop a property of his own and hopefully set him up for success. He has a fiancée, Zooey (Jones) that he adores and who is his best friend.

Peter is also a bit uptight and perhaps the least cool person in Los Angeles, a place where cool rules. Peter is somewhat metrosexual, and has always been more comfortable with women than with men. In fact, he has no male friends to be the best man at his wedding, a fact pointed out by his gay brother Robbie (Samberg) who is his dad’s (Simmons) best friend.

It turns out Zooey has some concerns about this as well, so Peter decides to go out on a series of “man-dates” to find himself a best man-friend. Initially, it goes horribly. He goes to a poker game run by Barry (Favreau), the husband of Zooey’s best friend Denise (Pressly), but winds up irritating Barry the Blowhard by winning at poker (and every other competition) despite having absolutely no idea what he’s doing, and finishing up the night by throwing up on Barry.

Other dates go soundly wrong as well, as Peter is mistaken for gay and other predictable results. It isn’t until another open house for the Ferrigno property takes place when Peter meets Sydney Fife (Segel) who is there for the free food that things finally begin to look up. Sydney’s insights and genuine free spirit strike a chord in Peter and they wind up exchanging numbers, which leads to some sweet hanging out.

Sydney has a nice little house a block away from Venice Beach, but we never see the inside of it. What we do see is Sydney’s “man cave,” a converted garage in the backyard where Sydney keeps his toys; a drum kit, flat-screen TV, recliner, lava lamps and the sort of things that bachelors like to keep in their homes to make them look cluttered and man-comfortable – and the sorts of things that go away once they get married.

Sydney and Peter share a love for the progressive rock trio Rush (a favorite of mine too, I have to admit) and other things to bond over and soon Peter is spending more time with Sydney than he is with Zooey. It looks like Peter has found his best man, but is he going to have a wedding to use him for?

Hamburg and company have almost surely studied the Judd Apatow method of modern film comedy, because this movie could easily have been made by Apatow, who has Knocked Up and Superbad on his resume, among others. There is enough crudeness to make it edgy but not enough to make it raunchy.

Rudd is one of the funniest guys you’ve never heard of. He is quite possibly the best comic character actor working today. He can take a character like Peter, find out the things that make him funny and underplay him just enough so that he doesn’t necessarily stand out, but you leave the theater finding that most of the best laughs were his.

In fact there were plenty of funny moments here, although there were also times that it seemed like the filmmakers were trying to force things a little bit. I get that guys talk like “Dude Dudingham” “The Great Bro-bowski” back and forth ad nauseum, but it doesn’t have to go on over and over again. We get it.

One other note; while I realize that being mistaken for gay has some humor potential, it made for some awkward stereotyping that I didn’t find funny. While there are plenty of bitchy gay men out there, I thought that some of the jokes in this area went over the line into the offensive zone. A little sensitivity might have been in order here.

But then again, if you’re overly sensitive you probably shouldn’t go to a comedy. The point of a comedy is that you should be able to laugh at yourself and if you can’t do that you might need therapy of a different sort. There is certainly plenty to laugh at here, just not as much as I was led to believe by the critics. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood for this. Oh well.

WHY RENT THIS: More of a “bro-mantic” comedy than a romantic comedy. Some genuinely funny moments. A credibly authentic look at male bonding.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the humor is a bit forced. The gay jokes are somewhat repugnant.

FAMILY VALUES: The language here is a bit rough for the younger sorts. There are also some fairly crude situations which make this unsuitable for children.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: J.K. Simmons’ character is named Oswald. In the HBO series “Oz” (which co-starred Simmons), the name of the prison the show was set in was Oswald State Correctional Facility.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Nothing listed.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Crazy Heart