Mrs. Doubtfire (2017)

2017’s cinema has felt like a wholesale reboot of the 1990s. In fact, this isn’t even the first 90s reboot starring The Rock I’ve reviewed. Fortunately, I can report The Rock’s reimagining of the classic family comedy Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) really honors the memory of the late Robin Williams. I think it’s safe to say that if Robin were alive today, he would gladly perform a cameo role in Mrs. Doubtfire (2017).

If you’re familiar with the original Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), you’ll recognize the plot of Mrs. Doubtfire but with a few tweaks to suit The Rock’s unique talents. Daniel Hillard (The Rock) is a freelance bodybuilder in Phoenix, Arizona. Though a devoted father to his children Lydia, Chris, and Natalie, his wife considers him unreliable. One day, while having mo-cap sensors attached to his body for use in a video game, Daniel learns that the video game encourages kids to play football for recreation. Realizing that his body is being used to introduce kids to a dangerous sport that causes head trauma, Daniel quits in a fit of rage.

Daniel drives home to throw a lavish birthday party for his large son Chris (Rico Rodriguez) despite his wife’s objections. The neighbors complain about all the noise from the party. Daniel responds by throwing his body through their living room window and tackling the neighbors to the ground, creating a situation with the police. Daniel’s wife files for divorce, and the judge gives sole custody of the children to her due to Daniel’s pending charges for assault, but tells Daniel if he can reform his ways joint custody may be a possibility in the future.

Daniel hires a great lawyer to get his neighbors’ assault charges dismissed, and learns that his ex-wife is seeking a nanny to watch over the children. Daniel gets help from his bodybuilding buddies to create the Mrs. Doubtfire persona, injecting him with hormones to make him more feminine. Daniel also has his brother use his hacker skills to see who else is applying for the job, and then physically intimidates all the other applicants to prevent them from showing up for the interview.

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Mrs. Doubtfire is the only applicant to show up for the nanny interview, and though Daniel’s ex-wife is uncomfortable, she pipes down when Mrs. Doubtfire threatens to sue her for discriminating against intersex people. Once he becomes the nanny for his own kids, all kinds of hijinx ensue, culminating in a crazy scene at a restaurant where his ex-wife is out on a date with Daniel Craig.

I loved Mrs. Doubtfire (2017) for the laughs and the humor and the heart. While the movie isn’t perfect, I admired The Rock for daring to take on a role that’s more complicated than his usual he-man action hero wheelhouse. In a way, it’s a throwback to earlier The Rock classics like Tooth Fairy (2010) but with more complex emotionality. As they inject themselves with more and more hormones, Mrs. Doubtfire’s gender and sexuality becomes increasingly ambiguous and mercurial. For a movie star of The Rock’s stature to tackle such strange and controversial subject matter in 2017 means he deserves an Oscar nomination in my opinion.


TL;DR Mrs. Doubtfire (2017) uses its energetic lead and a bizarre twist to offer an emotionally demanding yet highly entertaining update on its classic source material.

 

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“The Rock is back, baby, and he’s better than ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“The first, but hopefully not the last time The Rock will star in a cinematic grotesque.” – Mother Waddles, Daily Mirror

“Why?” – Muhammad Rizky Chaniago, Film Racket

“Todd Solondz does what he can to turn The Rock’s usual charms into something disturbing and corrupt while transforming an appealing family entertainment into a much darker story.” – Nutdanai Nilchai, ScreenAnarchy

“The Rock’s soft – but not comically squeaky – voice gives Mrs. Doubtfire the soul she lacked in hot girl form, back when all the screenwriters could think of to have her do was take selfies.” – Amy Nicholson, Uproxx

Melonmeter® Score:

80% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

Star War: The Force Awakens

With the release of Star War: The Last Jedi, I thought it might be fun to revisit my review of the previous film in the series, which also happens to be the last George Lucas helmed Star War film.

George Lucas has done it again. He fooled me once, shame on him. He fooled me twice, shame on him. He fooled me three times, shaaaaame on him. He fooled me a fourth time and now I’m starting to think I’m the one that should be ashamed, like I did something wrong. But really, I did nothing wrong. I just bought a ticket to see the new Star War movie. It’s not my fault the movie was just as bad as if not worse than the prequels. And let me tell you why.

First of all, I don’t know how the idea of doing Star War at Christmastimes got past the drawing board. These movie executives are supposed to be smart guys, so I don’t know what they were thinking. I’ve always felt Star War is supposed to be a summer thing like going to the beach. So having the first scene of the new movie be a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on Tatooine where it doesn’t even snow just seemed like the opposite of what you’d want to do to open the first Star War to come out in a decade.

Secondly, I love Han Solo. Han Solo is my favorite character in all of Star War. But making him the lead in this movie was a huge mistake. Because now that Harrison Ford is elderly and confined to a wheelchair, he just isn’t in any condition to anchor an action adventure story in my opinion. Whenever Chewbacca had to push Han Solo really fast to get away from the stormtroopers, it really strained my ability to suspend disbelief and be whisked about in a galaxy far, far away. I also felt that the newer younger characters looked pretty disgusted and sometimes disturbed whenever Han took out his dentures in the middle of a conversation.

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I never wanted to see Han Solo like this.

Speaking of bad casting, George Lucas should definitely not have cast himself in the movie. He has never appeared in front of the camera in Star War before, and I think it was a big mistake to break that convention now. I know he wants to be remembered by future generations, but I didn’t understand why the scenes he appeared in had to be in the movie. They seemed more like home movies, because most of his scenes were just shaky camcorder footage of Lucas wandering around his mansion in the dark mumbling about Ewoks and Gungans and things. Though I did enjoy the scene at the end where George Lucas and a  woman I didn’t recognize waited in line at a theme park to get on a Star War ride. That reminded me that I need to go back to Disneyland soon to check out the new Star War Land they have there now.

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George Lucas in Star War Land

I should also warn you that this new Star War movie included a lot of offensive material, and I’m not easily offended. Giving the villainous Snoke an oversized nose and a yarmulke suggested to me that Lucas wants us to think one thing: Jewish. I think other members of the creative team tried to cover up Lucas’ racist caricature by making Snoke look like Voldemort. Also his name reminded me of Snape, another character from Harry Potter. But these choices just served to muddle things further without really hiding the fact that Snoke is basically an offensive and old fashioned Jewish stereotype. I thought those had been consigned to the dust bin of history, but leave it to that wily bigot GL to bring such trash back into fashion.

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This is apparently not an image of Snoke. Main difference: no yarmluke.

Star War has gotten a lot of flak over the years for lacking diversity. It’s true that the series hasn’t had many very memorable black characters (though when people forget about Captain Panaka I always take them outside and show them what it’s like). But I think this new movie was overcompensating by putting an interracial relationship at the center of the whole story. It’s the 21st Century guys, you’re not getting credit for that anymore. Make it about a human and alien both of the same gender, and then maybe we’re talking.

Okay, this is a minor quibble, but Admiral Ackbar’s role in the movie was not nearly as significant as I was expecting given that he was easily the coolest new character to be introduced in Return of the Jedi, and this Star War movie was supposedly a sequel to Return of the Jedi. But I guess when you introduce a character that cool you always raise expectations for what he (or she!) will do in the next entry of the series. This same thing happened with Boba Fett too. It’s a trap, I guess.

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Aw, yeeeeah.

By far my biggest problem with the movie was the sense that the whole thing was coasting on my nostalgia and deepest affection for the original Star War movies. Every movie nowadays seems to be targeting me on the basis of me remembering something I liked from my childhood. But I never would have liked the original Star War movies if they had starred Harrison Old (sorry, that’s a cheap shot I know) as a character who you know is going to die in the end because he’s geriatic and needs to be put out of his misery. There’s no dramatic tension in Han Solo being cut down by a lightsaber when he’s moaning and grumbling throughout the whole movie about how painful it is to still be alive when you’re 92 years old.

I don’t know, maybe the movie just wasn’t for me. I know a lot of big blockbuster movies these days are intended for the growing Chinese moviegoing audience. Perhaps I missed out on some context for what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish because I’ve never even been to China. I know what you’re thinking, what have you been waiting for? And the answer is that I haven’t been waiting, it’s just very expensive to fly to China. I’ve been meaning to do it ever since I saw Iron Man 3, and I promise to get to it before I write another movie review.

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Iron Man 3 will make you want to travel and see the world.

 

This review was originally posted on Saturday, December 19, 2015 at A Gilded Planet.

Star War: The Last Jedi

Star War: The Last Jedi is bringing home the intergalactic bacon this weekend, with approximately $45 million from Thursday evening previews, amounting to the second largest domestic preview gross of all time behind only Star War: The Force Awakens,  55% ahead of Rogue One‘s $29 million from previews last year. The latest tale from a “galaxy far, far away” also began smashing international records on December 13th in 14 foreign markets. So far, it’s grossed an estimated $60.8 million and Disney’s numbers guru Rasputin Zynsky estimates the opening two days of The Last Jedi in overseas markets are +63% ahead of Rogue One and only -25% behind The Force Awakens if you look at the same suite of markets and adjust for today’s exchange rates.

Star War: The Last Jedi “used the force” to yield an estimated $104.78 million on Friday, it’s official opening day. This is despite the hex placed on the opening days of all future Star War movies earlier this year by known witch Colin Trevorrow who was fired during preproduction for Star War: Episode IXThe Last Jedi is looking at a $215+ million three-day debut. This is the second largest Friday ever behind only The Force Awakens which “made the jump to light speed” with $119.1 million.

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“I can feel the boffo box office flowing through you!”

Star War: The Last Jedi is only the second movie in history to earn over $100 million on its opening day. Based on a combination of Thursday night previews and opening day, the movie is expected to “become more powerful than you could ever imagine” by beating the $215 million prediction of most global box office analysts. The Last Jedi alone is forecast to earn 82% of the total box office for all movies in theaters this weekend. That’s more dominant than the Jedi were at the height of the Old Republic. Wow! To quote Jedi Master Ki-Adi-Mundi, “When was the last time someone stood up to five Jedi & held his own?!”

Globally, The Last Jedi is projected to “fire off its proton torpedoes” to the tune of $425 million in box office through Sunday to “encase in carbonite” one of the five largest worldwide box office openings of all time (not adjusted for inflation). The movie will disintegrate Warner Bros.’ Batman v Superman, which only earned a puny $422.5 million over its comparable opening weekend in 2016. “The force is truly strong with” The Last Jediwhen compared to the rest of the blockbusters released this year.

Additionally, the film now holds the following domestic records:

I’ll tell you one thing: with numbers like these, Disney shareholders are going to be singing and dancing like Ewoks at the end of Star War: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi come Monday morning. At the very least, you’ll see Disney shareholders singing and dancing like Gungans at the end of Star War: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.

TL;DR – Disney-Lucasfilm’s sci-fi actioner Star War: The Last Jedi “made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs” at the box office yesterday with the second-biggest single day box office of all time, lagging only The Force Awakens’ $119 million Friday, and its looking to rake in around $215 million from 4,232 North American theaters. If you include $45 million from Thursday previews — the second-largest Thursday night preview total of all time, below Star War: The Force Awakens 2015 total of $57 million — the blockbuster from a “galaxy far, far way” earned an incredible $104 million from Friday, and is looking to earn a bountiful $100 million between Saturday and Sunday. Assuming the built-in dangers of a big drop the second time out (Rogue One was a standalone spin-off and not a direct sequel to The Force Awakens so it doesn’t count in this case), I am positively stunned that Rian Johnson’s boffo sequel is more or less keeping the pace with its predecessor. Credit that to an appealing mix of fresh faces and returning elders.

What the rest of critics are saying:

“For what it’s worth, The Last Jedi is slightly less frontloaded than The Force Awakens. To wit, The Last Jedi earned 43% of its Friday number on Thursday, as opposed to Rogue One which earned 38% of its Friday number on Thursday and The Force Awakens which earned 48%. And, for what it’s worth, that Friday number is down 12.9% from 2015, which is better than the 16% drop for the first Friday of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ($31m) in 2012 versus The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ($37m) in 2013. So, yeah, this isn’t an Alice Through the Looking Glass situation.” – Scott Mendelson, Forbes

“The total gross will make “The Last Jedi” the fourth film in domestic box office history to make over $200 million in its first weekend, joining “The Force Awakens” with $248.8 million, “Jurassic World” with $208.8 million, and 2012’s “The Avengers” with $207.4 million. “The Last Jedi” will finish significantly above Star Wars spinoff “Rogue One,” which opened with $155.1 million on the same weekend a year ago.” – Erin Nyren, Variety

“Industry estimates are even higher this morning for Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII, now having earned $104M-$105M on Friday, easily the second-best opening day after Force Awakens‘ $119M, and a three-day that’s between $216M-$220M, the second- best ever behind 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($247.966). PLF is driving just under 15% for Last Jedi, while 3D screens rep close to a third of the weekend. Per-theater average for Last Jedi is a whopping $52K. What’s the end game stateside for Last Jedi? Analysts are predicting $750M, which would rank behind Force Awakens ($936M) and Avatar ($760.5M) on the all-time domestic list.” – Anthony D’Alessandro, Deadline.com

“Star War is back, baby! And it’s more profitable than ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

 

Melonmeter® Score:

94% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

 

 

Justice League

Justice League (2017) could have been a great film. Alas, the winds of fate have conspired against the latest entry in the DC Cinematic Univese (DCCU). Instead of another Zack Snyder masterpiece, we are forced to sit through a movie that is very strange and nearly incomprehensible.

The winds of fate that snatched Justice League from the teeth of excellence were ignited by the recent plague of misconduct claims against an astonishing plethora Hollywood stars. The epidemic of misconduct claims last month snared Kevin Spacey who was supposed to star as the Martian Manhunter in Justice League.

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(Martian Manhunter happens to be my all-time favorite character in the entire DC Extended Universe [DCEU] so forgive me if I’m take this all very personally.)

In the olden days, if misconduct claims marred the career of a distinguished award-winner like Kevin Spacey, he would definitely have to check into rehab and disappear from the limelight for a few years. But any movies he already completed would still be released as planned, with audiences agreeing to “separate the art from the artist,” as the old saying goes.

Nowadays, the terrain in which morality bears fruit has shifted. No longer can we watch a Kevin Spacey movie without thinking to ourselves, “I wonder if he went and placed his heavy body atop a twelve-year-old boy right after shooting this scene?” Thus, Kevin Spacey’s performance as the Martian Manhunter had to be edited out of Justice League altogether.

With the advanced digital technology available to filmmakers in this day and age, a simple change to the film’s content along these lines should have been no sweat. With computer generated imagery, it’s possible to swap in an entirely different actor into a scene that’s already been shot whenever necessary.

And it happens all the time – James Franco was digitally inserted over the performance originally delivered by Johnny Depp in Oz: The Great and Powerful, Bradley Cooper was the motion-capture replacement for Christian Bale in American Sniper, and most famously Emma Stone won an Oscar for her performance in La La Land, which was shot entirely after principal photography wrapped and re-edited to replace Kristen Stewart who originally played Mia Dolan.

Unfortunately, when the Kevin Spacey scandal broke, the producers of Justice League chose actor-comedian Louis CK to digitally replace Spacey as the Martian Manhunter. Little did they know that Louis CK would face his own storm of misconduct claims shortly after removing the mo-cap sensors from his face. CK’s substitute portrayal of Martian Manhunter was instantly ruined by real life allegations that he forced women to watch him masturbate.

Digital compositors immediately starting clicking CTRL+Z and DELETE on their work to insert Louis CK’s Martian Manhunter over the top of Kevin Spacey’s Martian Manhunter. But the film had to be sent to theaters in time for its heavily promoted November 17th release date. Producers intervened and told the digital compositors to stand down. The clearly unfinished film would have to do.

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If Martian Manhunter played only a minor role in Justice League, maybe no one would have noticed. But Martian Manhunter is one of the seven main characters in Justice League, alongside Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Cyborgia and the Two-Headed Dog. Removing Martian Manhunter from Justice League is like tearing off the leg of a spider – it will survive, sure, but it won’t be much fun to play with anymore.

Though many of his scenes were cut altogether, many sequences remain in which Batman or Wonder Woman will speak to the void, a black absence where Martian Manhunter should have been standing. These moments are unsettling and disorienting to say the least.

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To make matters worse, Martian Manhunter plays an essential role in Justice League’s quest to recover the Mother Boxes before they fall into the hands of the evil Steppenwolf and his nasty squad of Parademons. Without Martian Manhunter, the recovery of the Mother Boxes just doesn’t make any sense to an adult with the intellectual capacity to understand a logical plot.

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The DC comic book movies always had an advantage over the Marvel movies in that they appealed to rational grown-ups rather than a bunch of dumb kiddies. Unfortunately, Hollywood misconduct has claimed another victim. That victim is Justice League.

TL;DR Justice League is the first major blockbuster to be disfigured beyond recognition by the toxic horrors of Hollywood Misconduct.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“The post-production fixes were so rushed that there’s actually a scene near the end of the movie where Martian Manhunter appears momentarily, looking at first like Kevin Spacey and then briefly like Louis CK. In the next moment, he’s gone. It’s a haunting effect, and probably the only thing in the movie worth seeing.” – Nathaneal However, NYRB

“Making a Justice League movie without Martian Manhunter is like making a James Bond movie without Miss Moneypenny. Why would you even do that? There’s just no point to it.” – George “Ramble” Bortz, Arizona Republic

“Kevin Spacey would have made a great Martian Manhunter. Louis CK may have been a decent alternative. Instead, we get no Martian Manhunter at all, and everyone’s unhappy.” – Pepper Schwartz, E! Online

“In the comic books, the Two-Headed Dog barks in response to Martian Manhunter’s superintelligent quips. But in Justice League (2017), the Two-Headed Dog barks at nothing, alone.” – Jonathan Lethem, The Believer

“The New York Times ruined more than the careers of two universally respected geniuses. It ruined the first movie in the DCEU with a chance to knock out Marvel’s monopoly on superhero cinematic greatness.” – Ernie van Schledorn, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

“Martian Manhunter’s great flaw is his chronic, compulsive masturbation. Louis CK would have perfectly captured the soul of the character, in much the same way Robert Downey Jr. once did with Iron Man. It’s too bad we’re not allowed to have anything fun in this Age of SJWs.” – Romyn Araxie, Breitbart.com

“Hollywood Misconduct has claimed more than Justice League (2017). It’s also claimed the solo Martian Manhunter movie that was planned to follow. Which is the greater crime? I don’t know.” – Jubal Swinglehurst, Ain’t It Cool News

“Kevin Spacey’s not back, baby! And he might not ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

Melonmeter Score:

23% liquid & seed retention – watermelon-512  THOROUGHLY LACKING IN JUICE AND SEEDS AND RATHER CANTALOUPE-LIKE TO BE HONEST™

Lowercase Larry

Luckless loser ‘Lowercase’ Larry Lexington learns to love and loot one last lonely time in this loony laughfest from acclaimed independent filmmakers Steven Soderbergh and Channing Tatum. I loved looking at this movie’s lavish likenesses, listening to its lyrical soundtrack, learning life lessons from ‘Lowercase’ Larry, and lying down in bed afterwards to literally lull myself to sleep while lusting after Channing Tatum’s luscious larynx.

Wait, hold on, sorry…

Okay, I was feeling kind of dizzy there so I went to go splash some water on my face. Now I am feeling much better and will proceed to finish reviewing Lowercase Larry, the innovative new film from acclaimed independent filmmakers Steven Soderbergh and Channing Tatum.

Lowercase Larry is not just a roller coaster ride that combines action, romance, comedy, and dance. It’s also the first time in movie history that anyone has shot entire movie from first person perspective.

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Channing Tatum’s hands are badass.

This gives the movie an intensity not seen since video games. It really puts you in the middle of the action, and this movie has a ton of it – hand-to-hand combat, shooting guns, and even a cooking scene that made me feel like I was truly making tacos along with Lowercase Larry himself.

On the other hand, you don’t get to see Lowercase Larry’s face except when he looks in a mirror or a reflective pool (which happens more times you’d think during the movie’s 79 minute runtime). You also occasionally get to see his arms reaching out, or his legs or body when he looks down.

Now you may be thinking, wait a minute, aren’t those things Channing Tatum’s best assets as a movie star actor man? Turns out, he don’t need ‘em as much as you think. Turns out Channing Tatum’s husky voice is a movie star in its own right. And that’s when we need a genius like Steven Soderbergh to discover that knowledge and share it with the world by making the movie Lowercase Larry.

TL;DR – High-octane fun that’s smartly assembled without putting on airs, Lowercase Larry reminds us of the devastation wrought by Steven Soderbergh’s recently announced retirement — who will continue to innovate, educate, and entertain now that’s he’s quitting movies for good?

What the rest of critics are saying:

Lowercase Larry doesn’t just get under your skin, it gets behind your eyeballs and uses your head as its own cockpit.” – Clark Peeper, Inverse

Lowercase Larry is sensational, and the fact that it stole my heart away with seemingly so little effort whatsoever is the greatest heist of them all.” – Sara Michelle Fetters, MovieFreak.com

“A clever, goofy and a thoroughly entertaining ride.” – Marija Djurovic, Cairo360

“Such is the merriment of the movie, and so spirited is its pace, that you barely notice it is all presented from a first person perspective.” – Bastien Sauvage, Premiere

“Soderbergh raises clumsy and absurd moments to keep the mood wrapped in country-style musical atmospheres.” – Zark Henckel, The Culture Trip

“Channing Tatum is back, baby! And you can’t see his face or body throughout most of the movie!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“For lowercase lessons, Larry is your guy.” – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

“Lowercase Larry is like watching the world’s best FPS video game directed by Steven Soderbergh while on acid in the midst of an earthquake.” – Jacqueline Coley, Black Girl Nerds

“Tatum’s husky voice is so alluring that you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.” – Belkina Mazona, IndieWire

“Lowercase Larry is both the past and future of filmmaking, but it isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea.” – Brad Miska, Bloody Disgusting

Melonmeter® Score:

89% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

 

 

Home Again

The new romantic comedy Home Again features Reese Witherspoon returning to her most iconic role as saucy southern belle Melanie Smooter in this sequel to 2002 smash hit Sweet Home Alabama. But Home Again isn’t just a retread – the movie has a streak of darkness and maturity just beneath its familiarly perky surface.

For those who’ve forgotten the plot of the original Sweet Home Alabama (all two of you!), it was the tale of a hotshot New York fashion designer’s (Witherspoon) journey home to obtain a long delayed divorce from her ne’er do well childhood sweetheart of a husband (Josh Lucas) so that she can marry the next president of the United States (Patrick Dempsey aka network television’s Dr. McDreamy). But Melanie discovers she still loves her husband (Josh Lucas), who is actually an accomplished glass sculptor with ambitions of making it in New York just like Melanie.

Home Again flashes forward fifteen years later to see Melanie and her husband (Josh Lucas) happily married, financially successful, but losing a long battle against the fickle goddess of fertility. Though they desperately want children, every method they’ve attempted to initiate a successful pregnancy has failed.

But Melanie is a go-getter and won’t give up. Though her womb cannot support life, she is determined to find a surrogate to carry her pregnancy to term. But not just any surrogate – Melanie believes the woman who gives birth to her child must be a southern belle just like herself.

The desire to maintain a sense of heritage takes Melanie and her husband (Josh Lucas) back to Alabama once again in search of a host body for their unborn baby. They soon find more than they bargained for when they meet Charlotte Beauchamp (Elle Fanning) in a chance encounter at the local bowling alley slash gun club.

Melanie and Charlotte initially butt heads over everything. Charlotte’s saucy attitude drives Melanie up the wall. And she can’t stand Charlotte’s vivacious flirting with her man (Josh Lucas). But after a night of drinking and singing country songs at the local honky tonky bar, Melanie and Charlotte strike up an unlikely friendship.

Melanie sees more of herself in Charlotte than she was willing to admit at first, and decides Charlotte could be the perfect surrogate. And Charlotte enthusiastically agrees to bear Melanie’s child after hearing she’ll be paid enough money to get the hell out of small town Alabama for good.

The scenes dealing with the process of artificial insemination are funny, poignant and educational. I personally knew nothing about the procedure and now after seeing the film I know more than I ever could have imagined about the science of creating life.

Once the the baby’s in the oven (as the old Alabama expression goes), Melanie and her husband (Josh Lucas) try a million madcap tricks to get Charlotte to quit drinking and smoking. (Charlotte protests: “What else is there to do in Alabama? Tell me that Mr. and Mrs. New York Big Shot!”)

It’s all fun and games until Melanie receives an ominous letter. The letter is from an old doctor Melanie once knew growing up who has since retired to a ranch outside of town. The reclusive Dr. Rountree (Sam Elliott) requests Melanie pay him a visit. Melanie goes to meet the quirky hermit, who prefers riding horses on his ranch to any human interaction.

Along with a generous helping of homespun wisdom, Dr. Rountree reveals a dark secret that rocks Melanie’s world. Back when he was still a practicing obstetrician, Rountree delivered the baby Melanie had when she was fifteen years old. Then he performed hypnosis on her to rid her of trauma of giving the baby up for adoption.

Dr. Rountree felt he had done the right thing up until he heard about the artificial insemination of Charlotte. But now, reluctantly, he feels compelled to tell Melanie that Charlotte is her long lost daughter that she put up for adoption all those years ago.

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Melanie Smooter (Reese Witherspoon) realized that her unborn granddaughter is growing inside of the womb of her long lost daughter.

This is undeniably the most dramatic and emotional moment in the movie, and Reese Witherspoon and Sam Elliott leave it all on the mat. They are both heavy hitter actors and you can tell by how much laughter and tears they are able to generate when put to the test.

Melanie and her husband (Josh Lucas) have to come to terms with their parenthood, but they can’t fathom having to raise a child who is both their daughter and granddaughter at the same time. The movie deftly switches back into comedy mode as they realize the fetus inside of their daughter has to be aborted.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard to get an abortion in Alabama, as the soon-to-be-grandparents quickly realize. But in one dazzling scene, Melanie’s husband (Josh Lucas) is struck by lightning as he plants metal rods in the beach to create more of his famous glass sculptures. That’s when it hits him: they should bring their daughter back to New York City to get the abortion.

The movie concludes with a scene that’s heartfelt and funny in equal measure. At a fancy clinic in Brooklyn, Melanie and her husband (Josh Lucas) hold Charlotte’s hand and crack jokes as the procedure is performed just in the nick of time. And though we see her phone vibrating, Melanie never lets on that the zealously pro-life Dr. Rountree is calling over and over again to try to stop them from going through with the abortion.

As the credits roll, we hear Dr. Rountree’s angry lunatic ravings left on Melanie’s voicemail over the familiar riffs of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” I say they are familiar because the song is played at least seventeen times throughout the movie. I lost count at a certain point, and honestly that’s one of my biggest complaints about the movie.

TL;DR – Home Again gathers a talented crowd of rom-com veterans on both sides of the camera for a charming yet surprisingly weighty follow up to one of the most beloved rom-coms of all time.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“Watch this film for some turn-off-your-brain prettiness. Be prepared, however, to rethink all your reproductive choices afterward.” – Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times

“A bubbly brunch mimosa you drink up before the fizz is gone, then chase it with a Bloody Mary, followed by a few Moscow Mules and Long Island Iced Tea and by that point you should be ready to pass out.” – Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

“Reese Witherspoon is back, baby! And she’s better than ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“The story is told cleanly, the characters are engaging and a few sequences (the meeting with Dr. Rountree, the pregnancy termination scene) are cut together brightly. However, I didn’t care for the glib way in which the filmmakers chose to depict abortion. ” – “Deaf” Smith Zuzax, Amarillo Globe News

“Home Again is a film with its heart in the right place. It also has the guts to take a unabashedly pro-abortion stance, which is refreshing in otherwise lighthearted rom-com.” – Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic

“It’s a flighty screwball scenario told with thrift-shop economy. But the abortion twist threw me for a loop.” – Radheyan Simonpillai, NOW Toronto

“A situational comedy that is transgressive yet sweetly predictable.” – Vang Anh Trung Nguyên, New York Daily News

“Shame on Abortion-loving murderers in Hollywood for producing this insipid trash.” – Adam Yoshida, Unqualified Reservations

Melonmeter® Score:

80% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

 

Space Explorer Man

Seth MacFarlane IS Space Explorer Man in the risky new space adventure from 20th Century Fox out now in theaters everywhere. Having already conquered genres as diverse and varied as raunchy cartoons, naughty bromances, and dirty westerns, it was only natural for MacFarlane to test his effervescent wit and visionary talent on a space movie next.

In addition to writing and directing, MacFarlane also stars as Captain Orville Galois. But everyone just calls him ‘Space’ for short (short for Space Explorer Man, that is). As his name implies, Space is an intrepid explorer man of deep space.

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MacFarlane uses his very white face and body to develop a complex characterization of Captain Space. This characterization draws on many traits of famous explorers of the past: Neil Armstrong’s pioneer spirit, James Cameron’s keen intelligence, and Buzz Lightyear’s bravura, take-no-prisoners attitude.

Space also has a passion for late twentieth century pop culture that all of the other characters find deeply perplexing, as the movie is set four centuries in the future. “Is Milli Vanilli the name of the next alien species we are to encounter?” they wonder before realizing Space is once again referencing something none of them have heard of for no reason at all. This quirk is later revealed to be the result of serious brain injury Space suffered as a child on the planet Dorgon.

In addition to obsessing over forgotten ephemera from centuries past, the childhood brain injury occasionally causes Space’s mental faculties to fail him altogether, such as in the scene he is assigned a new ship by his commanding officer. The alarmed commanding officer watches as Space begins to shove marbles in his mouth, thinking they are candies. When informed of their true nature by his superior (since in his submental state his mouth is unable to discern the flavor and texture of marble), he spits them out like an untamed beast.

The brain injury is also blamed when Space commits hideous acts of savagery against alien species, or whenever he reveals his shockingly retrograde attitude towards women.

Of course, MacFarlane knows a lot about marriage and long term commitment and is eager to explore that subject as he is deep space. To accomplish this, Space’s ex-wife and his current girlfriend are both members of his crew. As you can imagine, this drives a lot of the movie’s conflict, at least when the character’s aren’t busy discovering new planets and stars.

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Space Explorer Man on a space exploration adventure.

I’m grateful to report, Space Explorer Man boldly goes where no space movie (or television series for that matter) has gone before. Unfortunately MacFarlane’s comic sensibility doesn’t mesh all that well with the optimistic, pioneering sci-fi adventure with cerebral themes that he tries to create. If only someone was to make the same movie but without all the pop culture references and bizarre attempts at postmodern humor. Or maybe a TV show, who knows?

TL;DR – Enormously imaginative and original, Space Explorer Man is an exciting and wondrous space movie only marred by an awkward yet piquant sense of humor MacFarlane seems unable or unwilling to shed.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“I was especially taken with the costumes: how did MacFarlane imagine such a stylish yet plausible outfits for his space ship crew to wear.” – Brayton Exira, Collider

“The social commentary struck me as a little tone deaf, especially the debate between Captain Space and his ex-wife over whether an alien baby should have received gender reassignment surgery.” – F. Debnie Amberson, NPR

“Sort of like if A Million Ways to Die in the West was set in space.” – Trim Richulds, Entertainment Weekly

Space Explorer Man finally transcends Family Guy and MacFarlane’s other work by being something more than a copy of an iconic television series or movie filtered through his irreverent sensibility.” – Gulluzar Baboudjian, Boston Herald

“I couldn’t help but stare deeply into Captain Space’s beady black eyes.” – Mother Waddles, Daily Mirror

“I felt like I was hallucinating as I watched this garbage fire of a movie. I just couldn’t believe it was authorized, funded, or (God help us) released.” – Nikita Urevich, Film Freak Central

“A deeply offensive waste of everyone’s time.” – Mameh Immanuel Sisma, The Guardian

“Seth MacFarlane is back, baby! And he’s better than ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

Melonmeter® Score:

50% liquid & seed retention – galia melonA SORT OF GALIA MELON, OR THE EAST ASIAN SARDA, CLAIMED TO CAUSE ANXIETY AND EVEN BIOLOGICAL REVULSION IN SOME PEOPLE

 

It (2017)

If you’ve been missing the Addams Family, you will absolutely love It (2017), the new franchise spin-off that also doubles as the kick-off entry to the rebooted Addams Cinematic Universe (ACU). It (2017) is an entertaining melange of macabre comedy and gothic horror that depicts the origin story of Cousin It.

For newcomers to the Addams Family franchise, Cousin It is a short being whose entire body is surrounded by a thick draping of beautiful golden hair. Over the front of this draping, It wears a pair of dark sunglasses. On top of the draping, It often dons a brown bowler derby hat or a dark velvet beret.

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Cousin It has long been considered the most enigmatic member of the Addams Family, so it’s no surprise that Guillermo del Toro chose to tackle the character first as part of his long term commitment to shepherd the ACU from now until his death several decades in the future.

Del Toro’s obsession with the eery and unfamiliar has been well-documented, and Cousin It is a perfect vehicle for his Lovecraftian impulses as a storyteller. The movie opens in a world of subterranean tunnels where Cousin It was born to the branch of the Addams Family that is entirely felted with hair.

The hairy burrowing vole beings have strange customs and beliefs, but before long they notice young It’s distinguishing sense of fashion and unusual taste for sunlight. It’s unclear whether they want to banish or reward It for being so different, but in any case the vole beings send It off to live with Professor Doctor Fester.

Professor Doctor Fester is of course Uncle Fester before an unfortunate lawn bowling accident left him bereft of his wits and ambition. (I’m sure we’ll find out more about what happened in Fester’s Follies, due out this Christmas.) Fester takes Cousin It under his wing, and they set off on all kinds of wacky adventures together.

I would describe the rest of the movie as just a straight up buddy comedy, except Fester and It encounter such creepy and unsettling creatures along their merry way. That’s unlike any other buddy comedy I’ve ever seen. Except for Men in Black. So it’s sort of like Men in Black, I guess.

TL;DR – Another Guillermo del Toro classic featuring more creepies and crawlies than you can shake a stick at, It (2017) is also a promising restart to the venerable Addams Family franchise.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“Once the creepy hairy vole beings make their exit, it’s bedtime for bonzo!” – Bethpage Ballpark, Salon.com

“It (2017) is like the Iron Man (2008) of gothic comedies.” – Benedict Seal, Bloody Disgusting

“Guillermo del Toro’s unerring sense of the macabre serves the material well.” – Troni Uwchlan, New Orleans Times-Picayune

“It’s awful nice that they gave MC Hammer a cameo.” – Epock Tines, The Baffler

“Cousin It is back, baby! And he’s better than ever. Or she’s better than ever? They’re better than ever? I’m really not sure about the gender of this one.” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“Here’s hoping Fester’s Follies will offer us something a little more substantial.” – Legs Lavish, New York Observer

Melonmeter® Score:

84% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

Assassins vs. Killers

Late summer is the time of year when the studios dump their mistakes and boo boo movies that didn’t quite work out the way they planned. That seems to be the case for the new action thriller Assassins vs. Killers. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the movie is actually much better than I expected given that it’s been dumped in the late August junkyard.

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Emily Blunt stars in Assassins vs. Killers as a sexy yet lethal killer

Emily Blunt stars as a sexy yet lethal killer opposite costar James McAvoy who plays a charming but deadly assassin. When they are both assigned to execute the same high-placed UN diplomat, they end up in a pulse-pounding cat and mouse game that is as erotic as it is fatal.

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James McAvoy costars in Assassins vs. Killers as a charming but deadly assassin

The action scenes are the reason to go to a movie like this, and they don’t disappoint for even a minute. While it’s nothing you haven’t seen in Hard Boiled, The Killer, The Raid: Redemption, The Raid 2, Ip Man, Ip Man 2, Ong-Bak, Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning, or Ong-Bak 3, each fight and chase is expertly choreographed, not to mention sexy and stylish and full of smooth moves and cool guns.

But what elevates this movie above the usual late summer action doldrums is the two main villains. Jason Statham oozes frightening intensity as the Chief of the League of Killers. Part-reptilian, the Chief is descended from long dead lizard overlords.

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Jason Statham as the part-reptilian Chief of the League of Killers

Even better is Lucy Liu as the Grand Imperatrix of the Assassin’s Guild. It’s great to see Liu back in action after all these years, and she plays the part-insectoid Imperatrix with an alluring joie de vivre. The Grand Imperatrix is born of fearsome insects but hides it under her elegant white robes. She’s also just a straight badass who combines wizardly eastern wisdom with karate chopping kicks.

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Lucy Liu as the insectoid Grand Imperatrix of the Assassin’s Guild

I also enjoyed Famke Janssen and Peter Stormare as the top henchmen to the Chief and the Grand Imperatrix respectively. Their performances were over the top, and they each made the most of their lengthy and grotesque death scenes.

The movie’s plot is mostly predictable, but embedded within it is more compelling allegory than you usually get with this type of brainless action fare. It turns out the leaders of the Assassin’s Guild and the League of Killers are working together to dominate the globe in secret along the lines described by sociologist C. Wright Mills in his landmark 1956 book The Power Elite.

By the end, McAvoy and Blunt must join forces to overthrow the evil alliance of insect-people and reptilians who deprive us all of our liberty and freedom. And they also have sex with one another, and it’s hot.

TL;DR – Assassins vs. Killers is a pretty damn good movie with violence, sex and a meaningful message you won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“Lucy Liu is back in action and she’s better than ever, baby!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

Assassins vs. Killers contains not a single recognizable human character or moment throughout its hundred or so arid minutes.” – George “Ramble” Bortz, Arizona Republic

“Sort of like if every other character in The Raid: Redemption was secretly an evil reptilian or insectoid monster.” – Brayton Exira, Collider

“With Assassins vs. Killers, director Paul Greengrass delivers the most effortless fusion yet of the political themes of his early films and the action conspiracy thriller tropes of his later movies.” – Kokia Cookei, Empire Magazine

“The mythology describing an alliance between insects and reptiles to rule over humanity was somehow both entirely nonsensical and deeply unsettling all at once.” – Lonesy Windrows, Washington Post

“Am I only one lamenting the total absence of Jeremy Renner’s crooked smirk in this one?” – Ernie van Schledorn, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

“Deadening to the senses and corrosive to the soul.” – Book Denison, Associated Press

Melonmeter® Score:

71% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™

 

 

Atomic Blonde

You absolutely have to go see Atomic Blonde, the new film about the pioneering female pilot who flew the Enola Gay B-29 bomber that dropped an atomic warhead on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. The film is more than just an exhilarating action adventure story, it’s also a powerfully moving historical drama about the resiliency of the human spirit.

Charlize Theron stars as Elsinore Perth (aka the “Atomic Blonde”), an audacious woman with a passion for flight who perseveres in the face of the rampant misogyny dominating the military at that time in our history. Theron plays Perth as feisty yet dashing, with a take-no-prisoners attitude that wins over any man dumb enough to step in her way.

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Oscar-winner Charlize Theron as Elsinore Perth, aka the “Atomic Blonde”

After becoming the most accomplished and daring civilian aviator in the world by the early 1940s, Perth became maniacally obsessed with circumventing the regulations that prevented women from entering combat divisions of the United States Armed Forces at the time. Perth determines that the only way to use her ample skills to serve her country effectively is to disguise herself as an 18-year-old boy named Billy Bishop so that she can be admitted to fly combat missions. This leads to some wonderful comic set pieces that recall classic films such as Some Like It Hot.

As Bishop, a preternaturally talented pilot and all around wiseass, Perth rises quickly up the ranks of the U.S. Army Air Forces until she’s flying some of the most dangerous missions of the war. She soon holds the record for bombing runs dropping incendiaries and other payload on dozens of Japanese cities.

Theron deserves another Oscar for deftly switching between Perth’s boyish persona as Billy the flying wunderkind, and Perth herself, a more feminine but equally irascible character. By the time she flies the fateful mission to drop Little Boy on Hiroshima, killing 126,000 Japanese and winning the war for the United States, I was moved to tears by Elsinore Perth’s derring do.

As the credits rolled, I had a lot to think about but was pleased to see real photos and even some newsreel footage of the real life “Atomic Blonde.” Even better, this historical footage was followed by some brief talking head interviews with powerful women of today including Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Theresa May, Sheryl Sandberg and Condoleezza Rice. Each describes how she was personally inspired by Elsinore Perth’s pioneering work as an indomitable female trailblazer in a traditionally male profession.

My only quibble is that Theron’s hair color appeared more auburn to me than blonde. I don’t know the color of the real Elsinore Perth’s hair, but if Atomic Ginger didn’t work as a title, they should have just taken cinematic liberty and allowed Theron her classic blonde look.

TL;DR – Based on true historical events, few films can match Atomic Blonde’s potent combination of awards-worthy dramatic acting, pulse-pounding action and suspense, and gorgeously lensed flight sequences.

What the rest of the critics are saying:

“Charlize Theron is back, baby, and she’s better than ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com

“The movie seems to sweep U.S. complicity in war crimes under the rug a bit too casually for my tastes.” – Epock Tines, The Baffler

“It has beautiful cinematography, a star performance that is shocking in its authenticity, a careful eye for nuance and detail and an irresistible blend of action, drama and even comedy that should spell automatic success.” – Dian Rizki II, Austin Chronicle

“When it takes to the skies Atomic Blonde really soars with thrilling recreations of Perth’s bombing runs.” – Kokia Cookei, Empire Magazine

“If you’re the kind of person who deplores the modern vogue for debunking historical figures, and who welcomes the opportunity to indulge in heroic feats and exotic locales, then this is the film for you.” – Sukhdev Sandhu, Daily Telegraph

“As Perth sees the flash of the atomic explosion, her eyes light up in shock and then she erupts with monstrous peals of laughter. I felt chills shoot up my spine.” – Mameh Immanuel Sisma, The Guardian

“The film discreetly tiptoes around Perth’s responsibility for the incineration of tens of thousands of Japanese in favor of swashbuckling adventure and rip-snorting spectacle.” – Youtan Poluo, New England Movies Weekly

“The hair color kerfuffle really threw off the whole experience for me.” – Ginger Thorch, NewsBlaze

Melonmeter® Score:

99% liquid & seed retention – watermelon_icon_pitr-1979px CERTIFIED JUICY™