The Story of Us

Some movies are feel-good the whole way through. Others are just sad. Others still take you through ups and downs to leave you sighing because you have just experienced life as it is, or almost anyway. This film is definitely one of those. I won’t call it feel good but it can still be called a romantic comedy. Hat tip on this one to Rob Reiner.

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Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer play a couple who have been married for 15 years and have reached the breaking point. It’s a series of flashblacks intermingled with present day challenges. There are some real keen insights into marriage: what works and what takes years to work out.

The rest of the review may contain spoilers

They have two kids, which makes the film more heart-rending. In one scene their daughter lays in bed with them pulling their hands together, very touching. You go through the whole movie asking yourself if they will get back together. In fact, you sometimes hope they won’t, the fighting is stressful to watch. You ask yourself if she has a real gripe with him because he “talked intimately” with another woman at work. She caught wind of it and initiated the separation. The issue of affairs and what really constitutes one comes up again and again.

It seems to me there were a lot of conflicts prior to the questionable “talking.” As you watch the film it seems questionable whether they should have ever gotten together at all. She is a mathematical, ordered thinker whereas his head is in the cloud. Can an analytical type ever be happy with an artist? That’s another question brought up here again and again.

It’s a movie singles and couples can enjoy. If you don’t identify with the couple, perhaps you were the children at a younger age. The great thing about this film is that it dares to present real people. I’ll take that over a fake romance, unless I want to watch fake romance, which from time to time I do, then I wouldn’t watch this. Still, I’m glad it’s here, I’m glad this film was made.

Storks

My Rating: 7/10

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Storks
Cast

Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer

Directed by

Nicholas Stoller, Doug Sweetland

Written by

Nicholas Stoller

Other Info

Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Rated PG
89min (and no more, thankfully)

For grown-ups:
For kids:
Storks landed in my local theater tonight and I was there with my 2 daughters ages 9 and 11.  By the way, I’m 47. I’m happy to report the 9 and 11 year-olds loved the film. I was only somewhat impressed.

IMDB gives this synopsis: Storks have moved on from delivering babies to packages. But when an order for a baby appears, the best delivery stork must scramble to fix the error by delivering the baby.

If that sounds like  a convoluted story, you don’t know the half of it.

Kids will like it though.

This film has been promoted in theater trailers and internet for what seems like a year at least. I think the makers felt the title would resonate in so many people’s childhood memories that they would mark the premiere date on their calendar as well as their Google alerts. As old as I am, my parents never told me anything about storks bringing babies. If any parents needed an explanation, it was them. I’m the oldest of 4 siblings and I was intelligent and very inquisitive as a kid. Thankfully for me, they shared the truth about how babies are made and how they come into the world at a reasonable age: no need for storks.

My dad on the other hand did get the stork story when he was a kid. I sent him a text after the movie joking that he should see this film. Maybe he’ll get it. I think this film assumed the audience knew this dishonest legend that parents used to tell their kids. It’s ironic how parents in the 1940’s needed storks to explain the mystery of childbirth to children. After this movie, a lot of parents will have to explain the mystery of the storks in the movie through the actual explanation of birth.

But, enough about the weird stork angle, let me tell you 2 things that do work in the film. 1) The babies. The first strong impression I recall of a baby in an animated film is Jack Jack in The Incredibles. He is a firecracker. I loved the way he giggled as he was blurting out superpowers. I think he stands out in all our minds as a movie baby we won’t forget. The babies in this film are amazing in a similar way. Their voices are perfectly timed with deft CGI artistry. This makes them extremely cute and loveable. The best aspect is the laughs. Their laughs make the Pilsbury doughboy sound stand-offish. They invite you to love them. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of merch comes from this film. 2) SOME of the jokes. There is a small bird who is a sort of pseudo-nemesis. He is very funny. Some of the jokes lag too much though. I was surprised this film was so flat in its humor after having been in production for a year or more. Usually they test things like that with focus groups etc. This film feels “off the cuff” a lot. Moreover, so much is predictable because we have seen all this before.

Having said that …

Kids will like it. To them, I recommend it. All else, tell me what you think. I think I could have skipped this one and not have missed much.

‘Ashby’ – Legendary Mickey Rourke as Mentor

My Rating: 6/10 – Mickey Rourke is an irresistible performer. I’ve been watching his movies since I was a kid and his presence in movies had drawn audiences for years and up to the present day. Is Ashby a welcome presence? Hmmm.

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Ashby (2015)
Cast

Mickey Rourke, Nat Wolff, Emma Roberts

Directed by

Tony McNamara

Written by

Tony McNamara

Other Info

Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rated R
1h 40min

Ashby is one of those movies you keep questioning whether it’s an independent or major studio motion picture. You think it must suck as the latter and might be hip and cool if it’s the former. Turns out, neither platform can save this film, it comes up empty on several levels.

The premise is that a High-school student Ed Wallis (Nat Wolff) enters into a friendship with his neighbor, Ashby, (Mickey Rourke) a retired CIA assassin who only has a few months left to live.

The basic plot bears similarities to Scent of a Woman. The main difference is that Mickey Rourke doesn’t play the role as deftly as Al Pacino. In fact, his character is boring and without charisma. It’s hard to believe we are watching the same Mickey Rourke that kicked ass in Iron Man 2. Maybe he came off as lucid there because he was playing with a thick accent. His character could have been performed much better. The film’s biggest weakness is in him being mis-cast. He’s a great actor and I have huge respect for him. Another film I truly loved him in was The Wrestler. This is not The Wrestler. Unfortunately his performance falls short and almost nonsensical in this film. The romance present in the film can’t save it either. Emma Roberts and Nat Wolff are both charming but the other story overshadows everything and mostly, you want to forget it. I actually chose to watch this film because it was a romance but I think that is another “mis” in the movie along with miscast: a mislabeled.

It’s a fun idea for a story and for a while, I wanted to see what was going to happen. Soon however I lost interest in the characters and the predictable story unraveling before me. When a high school kid is mentored by an old dude, cool things can happen. I guess the trouble here is that not enough cool things happen. The film weaves a high school film into a hit-man drama with another “coming of age” cord woven in. If each were like seasoning, I’d say each overpowers the other. Nothing is subtle. I’ll be a Mickey Rourke fan to the end but this is not one of his films I can wholeheartedly recommend. I wanted deeper, more rounded characters and a better story. I see what they tried to do but in the end they missed it. It’s not a total bomb so if you are a fan, you may enjoy it because hey … it’s MICKEY ROURKE! Still, Ashby doesn’t pack the punch of some of his other hit films.

Deadpool

Title: Deadpool
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 2016
Director: Tim Miller, known for “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.”
Top Billed Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller
Brief Synopsis: A former military dynamo turned reckless mercenary is transformed into having a superpower.
My Word to the Wise: Add another film to the Marvel superhero franchise. It mocks formulas but is formulaic to a fault. As far as Marvel films go, this is more fun than they are usually allowed to be. It’s definitely fun but not what I had imagined. The reviews made it seem like something apart from Marvel, it’s not.

Spoilers may follow in the rest of this review.

Ryan Reynolds does a good enough job in this Marvel film that sets out to be more gritty than the rest. He’s delivering jokes almost from credits to credits. It’s funny, for a while. I don’t mean to judge like a puritan, because I ‘aint one fo sho, but it seems like the producers wanted nudity, excessive blood, and reckless profanity throughout this movie, that appeals mostly to teenage boys. It’s so obvious they’re doing it you almost expect Deadpool to address the age group in one of his asides. By the way, there are many asides which is new for these movies.

I would like to see Deadpool take on Iron Man. This is partially because I never liked the Iron Man’s false bravado. I know the audience would root for Deadpool because, quite frankly, he way more crazy. I went into this movie not knowing how locked in to Stan Lee and the gang it was. The reviews I read seemed to hint at a superhero outside of the commercial loop. I saw that in about the first 1/3 of the movie. After they explain how Deadpool came to be, it because just another Marvel/X-Men/Avengers for me. They act like they are making fun of the genre with clever writing but Deadpool is just a slightly different incarnation. I hope I’m not bumming anyone out who wants to see it. It is certainly a lot of fun as any Marvel film is. Many buckets of fake blood gave their lives for this film and there’s a lot of nude scenes. I don’t recall seeing those in a Marvel film before. Trust me, I’m not complaining, just being real.

The teenage boys, ages 11-19 will love this film. The older ones will be mildly entertained. Based on the ratings out there in the strongholds: Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB, it’s a “great film.” I suppose I agree with them. There’s a lot more on my mind bout this film but I’ll let it come out in comments on other people’s reviews. I really wanted to love this movie but after all the hoopla and watching it, I just like it. I have a platonic relationship with it. Will I see it again? Probably not. It has nothing on an intellectual level I’m afraid. Because it tried too hard to make fun of a genre that it was itself (it didn’t seem to know that) it lost a star. I have movies that “try.” Because I felt the R rating was sought out of indifference for the ten boys who make up the main audience, it lost another star. It’s definitely worth seeing though and damn funny at times. In closing though, I do not feel it lives up to the hype it’s receiving as “something different” in a superhero movie.

A lot of my friends loved this movie. Whether you agree or disagree with my appraisal, please let me know in the comments.

Finding Dory

This sequel to ‘Finding Nemo’ pleases with the introduction of some new hilarious characters, a similarly cute story, and the unforgettable talent of Ellen Degeneres.

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Finding Dory
Cast

Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill

Directed by

Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane

Written by

Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse, Bob Peterson, Angus MacLane

Other Info

PG | 103 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Riley’s Rating:

The question for viewers should not be, “Why is this good?” but rather “Why did it take 13 years to make this sequel?” Some movies are difficult to improve upon and This film betters ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003) in some ways. However, in other ways it is fish food compared to the live bait we viewers took in 2003. For example, no scene touches the amazing dentist office escape sequence in the first movie. Still, there are some new characters and laughs well written in ‘Finding Dory’ that do their own pleasing and that makes it well worth going to see.

The seals are among my favorites. You have two Laurel and Hardy types that love their rock as if it were a heated waterbed at sea. A funny third reminiscent of Beaker from the Muppets, tries to sneak up on the rock to have “a taste” but the two kings of the mountain always shuffle him off. This is a recurrent gag that works very well as comic relief. Then again, do we need comic relief from the amazing comedy of Ellen Degeneres? Not in theory but here she is the voice of the main character. In ‘Finding Nemo’ she herself was that relief. For anyone wondering if she pulls it off as a main comic, yes, she passes with flying colors.dory1

The story is identical to the first one only this time it is set in a wildlife preserve/theme park/museum sort of place. Dory remembers her parents that she lost prior to the first movie and she wants to get back to them somehow. This is made nearly impossible by her short term memory loss. Dory runs across a litany of new fish in the new setting, the most notable is an octopus named “Hank,” voiced by Ed O’Neill. Hank starts out as an antagonist but before long, Dory wins his affection and he ends up being the one who can help her most in getting back to her family. Virtually every aspect of the movie parallels number one so I suppose that could have been improved upon with some original sidebars.

The movie was originally set to be made for Disney by Disney’s experimental group “Circle 7 Animation.” That didn’t work out and the rights went back to Pixar who created the first animation for Disney on ‘Finding Nemo’ in 2003. In conclusion, I recommend this film to you but with a microscopic caveat that it isn’t base on anything original (to speak of, the search for her parents is slightly different than the other way around in ‘Nemo’). It lost a star from me for that. Still, I had a blast watching it at the drive in. I hope a lot of people get a chance to see this film.

The Secret Life of Pets

There’s a new foil for movies and it’s getting more and more prevalent, especially in holiday trailers. It happens when misinformation is conveyed about what a movie is about. This is a funny, cute, well-made animation film but it was advertised to be something that it’s not. Kids are likely to enjoy this more than adults, there’s no humor for grownups.

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The Secret Life of Pets
Cast

Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart

Directed by

Yarrow Cheney, Chris Renaud

Written by

Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch

Other Info

Animation, Comedy, Family
Rated PG
90 min

The Secret Life of Plants (1973) is a book by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. It was once part of pop culture consciousness. Among other things, the book and study indicated that plants grow better when they’re spoken to. I can’t help but suspect the sound of the title resonated well when they named this film. It was advertised of a year with a trailer that should pets doing things in their apartments: playing records, rocking out and head banging, and getting a massage from the electric mixer whisk. Those are only the initial scenes. After that they leave the apartment building and have a rip-roaring adventure on the streets of New York. This is no “mellow at home” peek at the secret life of Pets, which is unfortunate, I would have liked to have seen an understated funny film like that.

Katie is Max’s owner, he’s a little white dog. She leaves him in the apartment every day when she goes to work. Through a random sequence of events that don’t need detailing, Max is kidnapped. The dogs in his building, led by Gidget, a female white fluffy dog. The movie consists of finding and rescuing Max. I might add that the kidnappers are a rouge group of animals that have escaped from the animal shelter. The number of animal characters is overwhelming. Short little gags bring you back but most of the movie it’s hard to follow the motivation of any given character. It is a children’s film so I ignored that flaw. Still, movies like Toy Story showed how to have a lot of characters without losing the focus on the primary characters.

the-secret-life-of-pets-has-record-breaking-opening-at-the-box-officeThere are interesting voices here but honestly, they sort of fade into the collage of action happening in the movie. I usually am very curious to look up who the voices are, not so this time. It’s too busy to hear any soul or expression from the voice actors. There is a scene where Duke is pulling Max on a rope through the water and he says: “You’re not doing great but you’re not drowning and that’s something.” I think that summed up the film for me. It had the flash that would attract the kindergartners but won’t charm the older kids or the adults.

The best thing about this film is the small gag stuff, I wish it had a lot more. For example, when the pets are cleaning up after their party, one yells to the hamster atop the vacuum “Myron Vacuum!” Myron is riding the vacuum in a hilarious way. You have to see it to laugh I think. There are a handful of moments like that. They hold the attention of the viewer. The story is not very tender or endearing. There is never a reference to what time it is that would bring the suspense up remembering when the dog owners are coming home. It felt like they deviated from the original idea and added a Flushed Away type adventure that would be fine for another movie but not this one. This film aspires to be something original but ultimately, it’s like so many other animated films we’re seen come down the pike in recent decades. Because the writing was not endearing to the animals it portrayed and because I felt it was advertised incorrectly, it lost two stars with me. I recommend it for very young kids, say 11 and under.

‘Eddie the Eagle’ – Inspiring Jumps Despite Predictable Turns

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Starring: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman
Genres: Comedy, Sport
Directed By: Dexter Fletcher
Studio: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating
PG-13

This is the “based on a true story” film adaptation of the olympian Eddie Edwards. It’s special because he fights harder than any other athletes to achieve his goal. The other reason it’s noteworthy is because no skier from England had ever up to that point competed in his chosen competition: long distance ski jumping.

Taron Egerton does a great job as the eccentric Eddie. He seems to get his determination to win an olympic medal early on in life. Hugh Jackman plays his washed up coach trying for redemption. As it turned out, he did not train for the ski jumping competition. Rather he just looked at something he was interested in that he felt he had a chance of winning at and got right to work. It’s an inspiring small town hero story as much as a comedy. Parts of it reminded me of Rudy, another based on truth story film about a short and underweight football player for Notre Dame. You definitely get a load of inspiration from Eddie.

What the film creates in optimism and inspiration it loses in a poor script and very predictable turns. As I watched I felt let down a few times because I really wanted to see the film get serious and show what the olympics are. The film will not disappoint the younger viewers though. I would say kids who are interested in sports ages 0-13 may appreciate the humor and feel the inspiring moments. As for me, it fell flat and lost points for making Eddie look stupid all the time. There must have been a serious athlete in there at some point to do what he did. The Eddie portrayed is more a goofball than anything so that’s where it lost points with me. But that doesn’t make it a “bad” movie. This might be a good DVD or VOD to get with the kids to assuage the butterflies in the stomachs before a first soccer game or the like.

Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice

In 1969, things were more open minded than in decades past. It was “The Age of Aquarius” and I imagine couples were delving curiously into open marriage affairs and wife swapping.
Title: Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice
Number of times I’ve seen it: 1
Genre: Comedy, Drama
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 1969
Director: Paul Mazursky, known for “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” “Antz”
Top Billed Cast: Natalie Wood, Robert Culp, Elliott Gould, Dyan Cannon
Brief Synopsis: 2 couples explore open marriage affairs and a wife swap.

This film gets into those social mores without being an x rated film. It is a comedy but the concepts show the difference between traditional and modern marriages which can sometimes make for an uncomfortable scene. Natalie Wood is stunning. She plays an open-minded wife who lets Robert Culp’s character have an affair. Through doing so, she has an impact of Dyan Cannon’s character who initially has no intention of allowing her husband, played by Elliot Gould, to have an affair. It’s a funny, interesting study of free love marriage in 1969.

Nine Lives

Nine Lives is a Disney-like film that reminded me a bit of Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Since I review movies quite a bit, I pay attention to the critics. Since they were not kind to this film, I let it leave theaters. My 9-year-old daughter asked me to watch it with her tonight and I was amazed at how funny and well-made it was. This is another reminder to not trust the critics.

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Cast

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Directed by

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Written by

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Other Info

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The cat they got to play in this film is great. He’s very fluffy which makes you want to hug him. Unfortunately, I could never have a cat that hairy because it sheds and makes my nose itch. But this cat does great on the screen. I had feared there wouldn’t be enough cat stuff for my daughter after reading the premise of the film. I’m happy to say there is enough cat-on-screen time to satisfy the kids’ curiosity.

Christopher Walken is great in this, though he plays nearly the same role as he plays in Adam Sandler’s Click. There are a couple of scenes where he says things that are downright spooky. They aren’t spooky like a horror movie but rather like Goosebumps spooky. Jennifer Gardner is beautiful and does a great job as the wife and mom. Kevin Spacey is hilarious as a “Trump-like” business mogul who doesn’t spend enough time with his family.

After demonstrating to the audience he is an egomaniacal workaholic, Kevin Spacey’s character stops by a creepy cat store in a last-ditch effort to buy his daughter a cat for her birthday. The shop owner, Walken, puts a mystical spell on Spacey that later switches him into the cat’s body and vice versa. Through a course of events, the family and Spacey learn about themselves and it’s a hilarious ride as they go.

This is not a perfect film by any means. The jokes are all canned and it needs cat jokes and cat images often to keep it palatable. My 9-year-old laughed all the way through so that says a lot for its appeal to young kids. I thought it was cute and it gave me a chance to laugh with my daughter and enjoy some funny cat scenes. They indeed are the best part of the film. I recommend this one for parents to see with their 5-12 year olds as a light bonding movie where everyone can relax and have a laugh. I think the critics were way too hard on this one.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Mostly I was struck by the deadpan comedy of this show. Watching Rachel Bloom play this goofy, cute character with such total investment is a laugh a minute. Before too long, I could see it was a periodic musical. I usually don’t like those unless they have amazing tunes. The tunes here are good but the humor is what holds it all together and makes it a behemoth.

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Cast

Rachel Bloom, Vincent Rodriguez III, Santino Fontana

Directed by

Steven K. Tsuchida, Alex Hardcastle, Joanna Kerns (multiple more directors)

Created by

Rachel Bloom, Aline Brosh McKenna

Other Info

Comedy, Musical
31 episodes ( As of time of writing this) – 41 min

I always run to my blog when I find a great new show to binge watch. Today it’s Crazy Ex Girlfriend streaming on Netflix. This is not a spoilers review but rather a preview. Rachel Bloom is tons of fun to watch for both myself and my wife so I know she’ll appeal to may viewers. Her self-deprecating humor makes the show entertaining but the music and sketch sets make it a wondrous journey to and from the insanity of love.

In the series, Rebecca Bunch leaves her posh, successful law practice to follow a high school crush (Josh played by Vincent Rodriguez III) to West Covina California where she takes a lesser paying job. She is okay with his because her over-reaching goal is to win the heart of Josh! Meanwhile, she develops a platonic relationship with Josh’s best friend Greg, played by Santino Fontana.

I am sure as the episodes play out we will see a love triangle between Greg, Josh, and Rebecca. She’ll be back and forth a hundred times between the two. This is predictable but always fun when there’s good solid comedy and music in the mix! And not just music, but self-effacing music the lead girls sings and dances to. It’s a riot, Rachel Bloom is a delight and highly entertaining. At time of writing this, the first season is streaming on Netflix. My wife and I are looking forward to binge watching the rest of the first season and then checking out the show as new episodes unfold.