[REVIEW] ‘Playing with Fire’ and Longing for the Family Comedy

Honestly this post will feel more like an editorial than a review. I don’t have that much to say about the latest comedy Playing with Fire. It’s one of those films that think being made for kids is synonymous with making it stupid. Of course, the truth is the reverse: anything made for children needs to be twice as clever and engaging.

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There are a few hard earned laughs from Keegan-Michael Key but he needs to be careful as he runs the risks of over-exposing and diluting his talent in projects like Playing with Fire. I also thought the kids were pretty cute; although the teenager Brynn is played by Brianna Hildebrand who is 23 and it shows.

Unfortunately there are many more things I did not like. First of all, the film has bad timing with its release coinciding with the fires in Southern California. It feels in poor taste to show firefighters acting like morons when they are risking their lives at this very moment.

Also the film is chocked full of product placement which is always especially distasteful in a movie for children. It’s not bad enough they make a movie that does nothing for their creativity or intellects but they have to sell them SPAM, Kleenex and My Little Pony every 5 seconds?

The oldest child is also very reckless causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage while committing felonies. I’d think she’d be a little grateful for someone saving her life but she sure has a strange way of showing it!

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All this said, the biggest problem with Playing with Fire is it is just not funny enough. As I was watching it I kept thinking back to the live action Disney films from the 50s and 60s. Sure not all of them were classics but I miss them.

Now we mostly get remakes from Disney live action and even outside of Disney most family comedies are animated now. Whatever happened to films like Blackbeard’s Ghost, The North Avenue Irregulars, The Parent Trap, That Darn Cat etc. Even Herbie or The Absent-Minded Professor are much better than most family comedies we see today.

I would so love to get these small budget family films back! We don’t need fancy special effects or expensive actors. Just well written scripts the whole family can enjoy. Why is that so hard?

Instead we get Playing with Fire and I think that’s a real shame

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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‘Booksmart’ Review

The teenage coming of age comedy has long been a regular entry into the movie landscape each year. Some I enjoy like Clueless and Juno and others I am more mixed on like Edge of Seventeen and Lady Bird. At times the sullen angry teen can be hard for me to connect with and leave me feeling drained (I’m probably the only one who connected much more with the mother character in Lady Bird than the title character). Recently all of film twitter has been abuzz about the latest entry called Booksmart, and I’m delighted to tell you I agree with the buzz. While very raunchy I found Booksmart to be a funny comedy but also a treatise on the importance of friendship.

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Booksmart stars Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein as 2 seniors in high school who realize they missed out on all the ‘fun’ of high school because they were too concerned with academics. To make up for it they decide to have the ultimate night of partying (and most of the night is spent trying to get to the party).  It’s a pretty simple premise but executed very well.

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My favorite part of Booksmart is the funny script. It reminded me of a more R-rated Juno. In particular Billie Lourd as the effervescent new-age Gigi was hilarious. I also enjoyed Jason Sudeikis in a small role as the uber-driving principal.  I wouldn’t be surprised if a decade from now we look back at much of the cast going on to be big stars like we do with Dazed and Confused.

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There are also some very creative sequences. As a stop-motion animation fan I especially loved a surprise Barbie doll, stop motion segment. It kind of reminded me of the stop motion in the 80s teen comedy Better Off Dead.

As far as any negatives of Booksmart, some of the cast felt under-used. In particular Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy’s parents only had a few scenes and they are such funny actors I wish they had gotten more. I would also have liked to have seen more of Jared (Skyler Gisondo) and Molly together to buy what happens at the end with their characters.

Mostly I loved the theme of friendship and seeing Amy and Molly’s relationship grow and change. They are characters who think they know the other perfectly but in fact they have much to learn. I particularly loved a scene towards the end when they get in a big fight and the frustrations of adolescence come out. That kind of pent-up anger at the world I can relate to much more than characters who are mean-spirited and hateful to each other (Edge of 17…).

Just a reminder Booksmart is a very raunchy movie and is not for everyone. It was definitely out of my comfort zone but sometimes I take chances and push myself a bit. In the end, I’m glad I did.

7.5 out of 10

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Also I give a huge frown to Molly’s hideous yellow turtleneck!

 

Uncle Drew Review

Over the years, there have been many humorous sports movies. I’ve laughed at everything from Dodgeball to Caddyshack to Major League. I even love Fever Pitch with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon. Whether it is focusing on the players or the fans, there is something about the intensity of sports that can provide great fodder for laughs. Unfortunately for Uncle Drew, the writing fails to live up to this tradition of funny sports movies and it failed to make me laugh more than a passing chuckle. The film is based on a series of Pepsi ads and that’s where it should have stayed.

Uncle Drew stars Lil Rel Howery as Dax, a man who grew up in an orphanage with nothing to inspire him but the NBA. Unfortunately, as a teen, he has an embarrassing defeat on the basketball court at the hands of rival Mookie, played by Nick Kroll. As revenge, Dax becomes a coach and decides to enter a team in the streetball  tournament called The Rucker Classic.

After a long introduction, Dax ends up without a team and he begrudgingly recruits a local legend, Uncle Drew, to join his roster. Drew, played by Kyrie Irving (just like in the Pepsi ads), then gathers his senior citizen friends including Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and Lisa Leslie to join the team. The first hour of the film is Dax being introduced to the characters who have a variety of old people problems – one is blind, one is in a wheelchair, one has a grudge against Drew, etc. None of this was interesting and it certainly wasn’t funny. There is even an especially egregious scene where Preacher (Chris Webber) is baptizing an infant and it is swapped out for a doll and then close-ups of the baby in the most awkward ways. I was cringing during the entire scene.

Eventually we get to the big game and it plays out fairly predictably. As I was leaving the theater, a woman was saying, “it was a love letter to basketball,” so clearly the sentiment paid off for her but, as only a marginal basketball fan, I wasn’t moved by the story.

However, the biggest strength to Uncle Drew is the makeup. They do a very good job making Kyrie Irving and company look old. It doesn’t look like prosthetics and feels convincing.

Other than that. Uncle Drew is not for me. The biggest problem is none of the jokes landed. I laughed one time at a joke about the Chris Webber character. That’s it. I realize humor is subjective but my theater had nothing but a few courtesy chuckles. So I wasn’t the only one not laughing.

Also a few characters meant to be funny came across as very irritating. I realize, for example, Nick Kroll is meant to be an antagonist but he was extremely grating as Dax’s rival. More annoying was that ‘humor,’ often in supposed comedies, when characters complaining about each other is supposed to be funny. All that does is make your characters shrill and unlikable. You see this a lot with the nagging female trope; it’s not funny and usually comes across as more than a little sexist. Tiffany Haddish is billed as a lead character but she’s really not in the film much and was an overbearing harpy the entire time. It certainly didn’t make me laugh. 

In fairness, the basketball stars all do a serviceable job with what is given to them. There is a particularly nice moment of reconciliation between Kyrie Irving and Shaquille O’Neal that is well done and sweet.

Despite some positives, Uncle Drew just wasn’t funny. It was always an uphill climb to transform a 30 second Super Bowl ad into a feature film but with a good script this could have worked. Sadly, it was a bit of a chore to sit through and one of the worst studio films I’ve seen this year. As they say, “funny solves all” and this was depressingly lacking in funny.

Utah Movie Club 1: Boatniks Review

Hey guys! I’m so excited to share with you a new development in my life. I have movie friends! Not just all of you lovely readers but actual friends who are as into movies as I am! Recently I became friends with 2 movie buffs Phaedra Johnson and Stanford Clark. They are totally awesome and you should check out their blogs.

http://phaedrajohnson.blogspot.com/

https://stanfordclark.wordpress.com/

I have been to many movies with one or both of them and had a great time. They will even see obscure animation with me like My Entire High School Sinking in the Sea! And they both love Your Name as much as I do!!

We have decided to start up a Utah Movie Club where each month we get together and watch a film together and yesterday was the first meeting. Phaedra couldn’t make it but hopefully she will soon and it will continue to grow.

This month we decided to watch the Disney comedy The Boatniks. It was based on my suggestion as I had recently seen it and thought it was charming. It seemed like a good fit to start off summer.

My review of The Boatniks!:

In many ways the Boatniks feels like a comedy from a forgotten era. Now I rarely go to comedies because they are so raunchy and crass that they don’t interest me. Just this summer alone there are 6 hard R comedies. The Boatniks has a few adult moments but is still something I would have no problem watching with my family and having some laughs.

The Boatniks is about a marina in Southern California that is managed by the US Coast Guard. Things get nutty when 3 jewel thieves and try to take their contraband to Mexico and have tons of problems getting a boat. Crazy shenanigans begin! There is also a new recruit named Tom Garland who has one mishap after another- all while trying to charm a local boat renter named Kate.

The highlight of the Boatniks is the jewel thieves played by Phil Silvers, Mickey Shaughnessy and Norman Fell. I especially love Phil Silvers who I think could read the phone book and make me laugh. They go through about every kind of boat, plane and even submarine you could imagine trying to get those jewels to Mexico.

I also thought Stephanie Powers and Robert Morse were charming as Tom and Kate if a little bit forgettable. Don Ameche is also hilarious as Tom’s exasperated commander.

The Boatniks is on a sitcom level of entertainment. It’s not reinventing the wheel like say Monty Python might but it is a charming comedy nonetheless. Watching it made me yearn for the Disney comedies of old where you could watch and enjoy them together as a family and have a great time together. At the very least it is worth seeing for Phil Silvers who owns every scene he is in.

Overall Grade- B

Table 19 Review

table-19You know that wedding you attend when you don’t know anyone but the couple and so you sit there in awkward boredom with nobody to talk too? Well, that is basically the experience of the new comedy Table 19. It tries to be a mash-up of Breakfast Club and My Best Friends Wedding but without the good writing or likable performances of those films. Certain story elements are super cliched and most of the jokes are ‘look how quirky we are’ and not funny. Mostly I was just super bored.

table-19-2The movie is about a woman named Eloise played by Anna Kendrick who is attending a wedding of a friend who’s brother she recently broke up with. As the recently broken up, she ends up at the table with 5 other outcasts that were invited more out of politeness than actually expecting them to come.

table-19-4We then get 87 minutes of their quirky adventures that aren’t funny or insightful and that feel much longer. The only characters I liked were a couple played by Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson. I wish the movie had been about them. Everyone else felt completely cliched and lame like right out of a bad sitcom.

table-19-3The script is also very lazy. Like Thomas Cocurquel is introduced as a love interest named Huck but then he kind of disappears. We also learn something about June Squibb’s character that is kind of forgotten about quickly after. Like I said, only Robinson and Kudrow have interesting characters or fleshed out stories.

This makes the resolution for all the characters feel trite and bland despite the best efforts of the actors.

There was honestly only one joke that made me laugh. It involves Lisa Kudrow’s jacket. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for a comedy when the jacket joke is the only laugh.

This is a definite skip.

Overall Grade- D+ not worse just for Kudrow and Robinson.

As far as content there is a brief shot of a butt twice and some profanity and drug use but it’s pretty tame

Young Frankenstein Review

young-frankensteinAs I mentioned in my post on watching previously reviewed films on big screen, I recently watched Young Frankenstein for the first time. My friend over at Dellens 456 and I have been looking at the National Film Registry and deciding if the films deserve their spot. This month we selected Young Frankenstein, which was perfect timing since it was getting a big screen release by Fathom Events.

Young Frankenstein was made in 1974 and was directed and co-written by Mel Brooks. Gene Wilder had the idea to do a parody of the Universal Frankenstein movies and did the lion-share of the script but it definitely has a lot of Mel Brooks signature style as well.

In this version Gene Wilder plays the lead, a man named Frederick Frankenstein who is a brain scientist. He is embarrassed by the legacy of his Grandfather Victor Frankenstein and insists on being called Fronkenstein.

After finding out he has an inheritance in Transylvania, Frederick heads there and becomes more interested in his Grandfather’s work by the minute. He eventually creates a monster played brilliantly by Peter Boyle. young-frankenstein2A hilarious cast of characters then comes into play including Igor or “Eye-gor” played by Marty Feldman and an assistant Inga played by Teri Garr. They are all so funny. This script doesn’t settle for the easy sight gag like so many parodies do today but it goes deeper and it carries gags longer. Like there is one character who whenever they say her name the horses neigh. You think they’d eventually forget about that but no. Every time they say her name they neigh.

young-frankenstein4There is also a sense of love for these horror movies and it is not mocking in tone at all. I loved a scene where Frederick and the monster sing Putting on the Ritz before a group of scientists. It was funny but also kind of sweet.

young-frankenstein3Another absolutely hilarious scene is when the monster gets away and receives soup from a blind man played by Gene Hackman.

Cloris Leachman and Madeline Kahn are also a riot in their roles. I loved the black and white cinematography and the carefully made production design and costumes. There is nothing here that feels cheap or tacky like most parodies today.

young-frankenstein5Young Frankenstein does have its naughty moments and it earns its R rating.

I personally have seen The Producers,  Blazing Saddles and Spaceballs by Mel Brooks, and I think this is much better. I laughed more and it is more carefully made.

So should it be in the National Film Registry? Yes absolutely it should!

Have you seen Young Frankenstein? What did you think?

Overall Grade- A