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Review of SING (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: B+
Entire family: Yes
2016, 108 min., Color
Animated musical-comedy
Rated PG for some rude humor and mild peril
Universal
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: ATMOS Dolby True HD
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

When I saw the trailer for Sing I thought, Could there possibly be a less imaginative premise than to build a film around a concert? Whether it’s original oldies like the Broadway Melody films and White Christmas or more recent variations, the concept has been done so many times you pretty much have to watch for the performances. Any plot will be just enough to string those tunes together.

That’s what viewers get in Sing, a film from Illumination Entertainment (The Secret Life of Pets). But here’s the crazy thing: somehow the film holds your attention and works as family viewing. The difference, I think, is in the animation. The art form allows filmmakers to be more playful in the build-up and in the details as they bridge those musical numbers. Though Sing is still no Pitch Perfect, it also helps to have a cartoon koala as the lead “actor.” Cute, right?

Matthew McConaughey gives voice to Buster Moon, a dreamer who thought he’d be much bigger in the theatrical world than he is. Put it this way: he’s no Ziegfeld. To save his theater he decides to mount a production that is guaranteed to pack the seats: a singing competition, to which all the friends and relatives of the entrants will come. Yep. It’s basically an extended animated animal version of The Voice or America’s Got Talent.

Failure hangs on Buster like a cheap suit, so he coaxes his friend Eddie (John C. Reilly), a sheep who isn’t afraid of going against the flock, to ask his retired legendary singing grandmother, Nana Noodleman (Jennifer Saunders), to sponsor the competition. She won’t do that, but she agrees to see a preview of the show. As in Nativity! disasters threaten to cancel the show, but hey, the show must go on, and it does.

A sequence that emulates a fast-moving drone camera introduces us to the contestants and prepares us for a narrative that will shift from character to character. Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) is this film’s Miss Piggy, a housewife who has a brood of 25 piglets and a dream of making it in music; Johnny (Taron Egerton) is a gorilla whose criminal dad wants him to follow in his footsteps instead of pursuing a career in entertainment; Ash (Scarlett Johansson), is a porcupine rocker who splits with her boyfriend in order to prove she can do it on her own; Gunter (Nick Kroll) is a German piggy who seems trapped in the age of disco; Mike (Seth MacFarlane) is an old-school crooner of a mouse who plays guitar on the street for spare change; and Meena (Tori Kelly) is an extremely shy elephant who has more stage fright than talent, and her talent is considerable.

All of the characters are fun, but the scene-stealer is Buster’s elderly lizard assistant, Miss Crawly (“Has anyone seen my glass eye?”), voiced by the film’s writer-director, Garth Jennings. Miss Crawly’s eye plays a big role too, as it’s responsible for adding a few zeroes to the amount of prize money advertised on fliers—the main complicating factor in this otherwise thinly plotted film that’s really all about the performances.

Sing features snippets and extended renditions of 65 different songs, some of them performed by the actors, and the rest of the soundtracks covering a wide range of styles and talents, including Maino, Cat Stevens, Dave Brubeck, Crystal Stilts, Dennis de Laat, Ennio Morricone, Boomish, Carly Rae Jepsen, Major Lazer, Cyndi Lauper, Kanye West, Luciano Pavarotti, David Bowie & Queen, Katy Perry, Spencer Davis, Drake, Gipsy Kings, Wham!, Stevie Wonder, and Ariana Grande. The music is one reason this film works; animation is the other.

For decades Disney has been the absolute best at creating a world, but Illumination pays just as much attention to background details and small jokes and gets it right. They bring to life a world that gives pleasure just to look at it and to appreciate those details. If this were live-action, I think it would be a yawner. Even Glee had more plotting. But the animation sells it and makes it entertaining for all ages, despite the tired premise. And for children, the message is as hopeful as The Voice: if they can pursue their dreams, so can we!

Language: “fart” and “hell” are uttered, but that’s it
Sex: Except for a reference on “cheating,” nothing here
Violence: A building is demolished but there are no casualties; other than that, porcupine quills shoot people accidentally
Adult situations: Johnny is involved in robberies, his father is imprisoned, and Mike is pursued by bear gangsters
Takeaway: Time for Disney to blaze new trails, because Illumination Entertainment and other studios are starting to catch up

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (Blu-ray combo)

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edgeofseventeencoverGrade: A-/B+
Entire family: No (17 and older)
2016, 104 min., Color
Universal
Comedy-Drama
Rated R for sexual content, language, and some drinking, all related to teens
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: D
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

More than a few critics have remarked how ironic it is that some 17 year olds might not be able to get past the ticket-taker to see the R-rated film The Edge of Seventeen, which stars 20-year-old Hailee Steinfeld as a teen whose world is turned upside down after her only friend starts dating her only sibling—a brother who is everything she’s not, and who has never shown her any kindness. In fact, the only person young Nadine felt connected to died several years ago, and that’s no spoiler: we see it fairly early in the film.

edgeofseventeenscreen2Nadine and best buddy Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) really capture the behavior of teenager besties, while Blake Jenner as the got-everything-going-for-him older brother struts his stuff—those perfect abs, great hair, and jock standing that make him popular. The gap between the outgoing and accomplished Darian and his introverted and awkward sister is so great that you wonder if they’re really brother and sister . . . until you see more of the mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and realize how incapable she seems of handling life’s problems. The ratings paradox, meanwhile, is the result of another gap: the one between reality and standards of decency. Are today’s teenagers drinking, swearing, and having sex? Not all, and maybe not even most . . . but many, certainly. Do parents feel comfortable admitting this? Not remotely.

The Edge of Seventeen is a film that teenagers would like, and a film that ultimately models the kind of behavior most parents would hope would be their children’s default, no matter how much they experiment or stray (as even the best ones are apt to do). Nadine sexts the boy she’s crushing on and she goes with him in his car to an isolated spot, but her default morality kicks in when it matters most. It’s implied that another couple has had sex, since they’re in bed together, but aside from bare shoulders and a hand moving up and down under the blanket, nothing is shown. Aside from teens making out at a party, that’s the extent of the sex in this 2016 film from newcomer Kelly Fremon Craig. I’ve seen PG-13 films that have had more explicit moments.

edgeofseventeenscreen1So what makes The Edge of Seventeen R-rated? Language, mostly (some of it sexually explicit), plus teenage drinking and puking—the filmmakers certainly don’t glamorize partying. Nadine says the f-word a lot, and her teacher almost matches her. Woody Harrelson makes a small role large as the acerbic Mr. Bruner, who has embraced deadpan understatement as a defense against students who tend to be overly dramatic . . . like Nadine. There’s a certain amount of shock value attached to hearing a teenage girl talking like a phone sex operator, but it’s part of life—at least part of her life while she tries to get it together.

“There are two types of people in the world: the people who naturally excel at life, and the people who hope all those people die in a big explosion,” Nadine says in voiceover. Nadine has issues, to put it mildly. While The Edge of Seventeen isn’t as edgy a film as the title implies, it provides enough space for her to grapple with those issues and emerge by film’s end a better person. It’s not exactly a caterpillar-to-butterfly tale. More like a grub to a beetle—a different kind of coming-of-age story, yet one that’s oh so familiar as Nadine learns to appreciate the people right there at arm’s reach.

The cover says this is one of the “best reviewed comedies of all time” and the trailer makes it seem like it’s going to be a laugh-fest, but The Edge of Seventeen is a drama with comedic moments, some of them laugh-out-loud. Think Juno, but a little edgier. With a lot more F-bombs.

Language: Pretty much a steady stream that eventually tapers off
Sex: Other than what I’ve written in the review, nothing else
Violence: Nothing here
Adult situations: The Edge of Adulthood is probably a more exact title, as all the situations are adult or borderline adult
Takeaway: Being a teenager used to seem so much easier, and yet some things never change

FINDING DORY (Blu-ray combo)

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findingdorycoverGrade: A
Entire family: Yes
2016, 97 min., Color
Disney-Pixar
Rated PG for mild thematic elements
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

Who says 13 is unlucky? Thirteen years after Pixar created Finding Nemo they struck underwater gold again with Finding Dory, a gorgeously animated sequel that flips the original premise and tosses in an endearing octopus for good measure.

In Finding Nemo it was the gimpy-flippered clownfish son of Marlin (Albert Brooks) who strayed into the open ocean and was captured by an Australian dentist-slash-aquarist, while a blue tang named Dory helped Marlin try to find and rescue Nemo (voiced in the original by Alexander Gould and in the sequel by Hayden Rolence).

Ellen DeGeneres was so hilarious and spontaneous as Dory, a fish with short-term memory loss, it’s no surprise Pixar decided to turn the spotlight on her. This time Dory’s the star, and she has just enough memory flashes to where she realizes she had parents and thinks she knows where those parents might be. Impulsively, she sets out to find them, and though it’s crazy for her and other reef fish like Marlin and Nemo to travel across the open ocean to California, what else can friends do but go with her to help and try to keep her from getting into too much trouble? The title is a pun, since Dory not only literally gets lost along the way, but has been lost, figuratively speaking, since she was separated from her parents. Will she find herself by finding her family? Every Disney-Pixar fan is betting on it!

findingdoryscreen1Along the way, Disney and Pixar do what they do way better than anyone else. They offer characters with such expressiveness that you fall in love with each and every one of them, and they create and animate an underwater world so lavish that your jaw drops with every new scene. Finding Dory is easily as good as Finding Nemo. If it doesn’t win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, I’ll be shocked. This sequel was such an instant hit with audiences that it became only the second Pixar film to top $1 billion worldwide (Toy Story 3 was the first), and critics loved it so much that they gave it a 94 percent “fresh” rating at Rottentomatoes.com.

If Disney-Pixar decided to spotlight the most endearing supporting character in the first sequel, then you can bet that if the future holds another sequel it
will star Hank, a seven-legged octopus that is an expert in camouflage and Houdini-like escapes. Grouchily voiced by Ed O’Neill (Modern Family), Hank is another reversal of the original premise in that he wants to go to an aquarium in Cleveland rather than be rereleased into the ocean after he’s findingdoryscreen2rehabilitated at California’s Marine Life Institute (a fictionalized version of the Monterrey Bay Aquarium and various rescue centers). Dory is a strong character, but Hank tends to steal every scene he’s in. That said, young fish enthusiasts will delight in seeing how the Disney-Pixar crew has rendered such sea creatures as kelp bass, chicken fish, ocean sunfish, porcupine fish, damselfish, cleaner shrimp, and groupers, and a particularly hilarious scene involves a fish-eye view of a hands-on touch tank. There’s a lot here to spark wonder and delight.

Every member of our family chimed that they’d give it an A, because, honestly, there isn’t a scene that needs work or a concept that wasn’t sufficiently milked for laughs or another emotion.

If your family has a 3D set-up you should go for the 3D version, but this Blu-ray also has plenty of visual pop. In either case, a bonus feature tells how octopus Hank was the most technically challenging character that Pixar has ever animated, and you can see it. As he climbs his body conforms to his surroundings, and it’s the most accomplished bit of animation I’ve seen. In terms of settings, the kelp “forest” is pretty impressive, though children will no doubt be as seduced by the colorful coral reefs as they were with the undersea sequences in The Little Mermaid. It may be a cliché or overstatement to say so, but in this case it seems appropriate: Finding Dory is an instant classic.

Language: n/a
Sex: n/a
Violence: Nothing, really, though there are plenty of instances of peril
Adult situations: Finding Nemo and now Finding Dory are probably this younger generation’s Bambi, with traumatizing moments involving separation from a parent
Takeaway: Disney-Pixar is still the champ

WILD OATS (DVD)

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wildoatscoverGrade: C+/B-
Entire family: No
2016, 86 min., Color
Anchor Bay
Rated PG-13 for language sexual content
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: n/a
Trailer
Amazon link

Usually one “sows wild oats” in youth, but this 2016 comedy from Andy Tennant (Ever After: A Cinderella Story, Sweet Home Alabama) flips the script and gives viewers two widows in the twilight of their lives who decide to go a little crazy.

Maddie (Jessica Lange) is more crushed learning that her sixty-something husband dumped her for someone a third her age than she was by his death, and Eva (Shirley MacLaine) feels bereft after her husband—also implied to be a cheater—dies. The set-up implies that what’s good for the gander is good for the goose, and sure enough, when Eva receives an insurance benefits check for $5 million instead of the expected $50,000 she deposits it and talks Maddie into going with her on a Thelma-and-Louise-style binge in the Canary Islands. There they enjoy life to the fullest while unintentionally causing Eva’s daughter (Demi Moore) stress as the media gets wind of their escapades and the insurance company sends someone after them. But don’t expect a Thelma and Louise ending. Wild Oats is a positive film.

There’s a lot of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Wild Oats, and not just because an older cast of characters decides to really live life and sprint for the finish line rather than letting the finish line come to them. Tonally the films are similar, marked by warmth and a gentle humor, with pacing that befits a cast of sixty-somethings. The question, at least for a site like Family Home Theater, is how broad of an audience a film like this might have. That’s hard to say, especially in 2016, when an irascible old anti-establishment coot like Bernie Sanders captured the hearts and imaginations of Millennials.

There’s an anti-establishment vibe to Wild Oats too, though not a political one. It’s more a film about going against the grain, of living life to the fullest, of taking a chance—in other words, a message that might very well resonate with younger people who have been “feeling the Bern.” That trickle-down effect will probably only go as far as the last two years of high school, though. Younger than that, and I fear that younger viewers who tend to like a film only if they can identify with the characters might not be able to look past the wrinkles to see themes that do in fact speak to a broader audience. After all, they’ve got time. No need to worry about such things as living life to the fullest just yet, is there?

wildoatsscreenWild Oats is rated PG-13 for “sexual content,” and I can picture a few “ewwwws” coming from younger viewers when Lange finds herself in a Mrs. Robinson situation and, ripping the shirt off a young man, turns into a bit of a sexual tiger. Nothing is seen, but his bare chest and her writhing send a pretty clear message. So does talk of “doing it,” and when Eva says it’s been seven years it might be a little disorienting for a younger audience who’s been doing the family head count (“Let’s see, three kids means Mom and Dad did it three times!”). So while this is a gentle film and the sex is underplayed, it’s not something pre-teens and under should see—unless Grandma or Grandpa just went off the deep end in your family.

The MacLaine-Lange pairing is good but not great, though I’d be hard-pressed to tell you exactly why. Maybe it’s because you don’t feel any depth to their friendship, and they’re supposed to be best friends. Alan Arkin and Sarah Jessica Parker were originally cast as co-stars, and I can only assume that if they bolted for reasons other than scheduling it was because there’s even less depth to the supporting characters. Moore really has little to do, and the men who pursue these two women (and we’re talking about two very different types of pursuit) have only a little more. It’s really the MacLaine-Lange show, and the women seem to enjoy the spotlight in one of Hollywood’s rare films featuring older actresses as the romantic leads.

Wild Oats debuted on Lifetime before its limited theatrical release, and if you’ve seen Lifetime movies you know what to expect: nothing too complicated, nothing too crazy, nothing too original, and something that borders on the cheesy (especially the humor). That’s what we get here. Like the MacLaine-Lange pairing, the film is good but not great . . . no matter what your age.

Language: Surprisingly, one subtle f-bomb and a handful of other swearwords
Sex: No crucial body parts shown, but one graphic scene of implied sex along with a gentler one; sex talk includes talk of “doing it again” and how good one’s “ass” looks
Violence: Nothing here
Adult situations: The whole premise is a felony, and there is drinking and drunkenness
Takeaway: It’s nice to see the full range of human experience on the big screen, and I hope the Bernie phenomenon paves the way for even more films like this

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE (Blu-ray)

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centralintelligencecoverGrade: B-
Entire family: No
2016, 107 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for crude and suggestive humor, some nudity, action violence, and brief strong language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B-
Trailer
Amazon link

Teamed with Ice Cube, Kevin Hart was funnily clueless in Ride Along, and he’s along for the ride again in another buddy cop variation—this time with Dwayne Johnson. Essentially, Central Intelligence is another Knight and Day, with Johnson replacing Tom Cruise as the slightly crazy spy-gone-rogue whose own agency is out to get him, and Hart taking the place of Cameron Diaz as the swept-along civilian. The one new wrinkle is that instead of a chance meeting throwing the two together, the agent (Johnson) seeks out the only person who showed him any kindness in high school.

The drama and poignancy in this lightweight comedy comes from the characters’ reversal of fortunes and high-school flashbacks. Now Calvin Joyner centralintelligencescreen1(Hart) is an ordinary schmuck who’s not getting the promotion he’s worked hard for and who feels like a failure compared to the promise he flashed as a teenager. In high school he had everything. A multiple-sport star athlete who was dating the prettiest girl in school (Danielle Nicolet as Maggie), “The Golden Jet,” as he was called—sorry for the appropriation, NHL legend Bobby Hull—even had a signature backflip move that drove the crowd nuts. Meanwhile, overweight and nerdy Robbie Weirdict was constantly made fun of and ultimately humiliated when a bunch of guys tossed him butt naked onto the center of the basketball court with a packed house laughing at him.

Kids who have been bullied or are sensitive to bullying will find such sad moments made even sadder seeing how the now-buff agent who changed his name to Bob Stone—a name that seems a nod to novelist Robert Stone, author of such politically charged action adventures as Dog Soldiers and A Flag for Sunrise—thinks of Calvin as his best friend. And of course Calvin doesn’t feel the same way. In this respect, the broad comedy and comic violence is balanced with an underlying tone that’s often sad but, typical of Hollywood, blossoms into something more positive by film’s end.

centralintelligencescreen2It really doesn’t matter why a “rogue” agent is being hunted, does it? I mean, it’s always a save-the-world situation to some degree, and in this case its satellite codes that simply can’t fall into the wrong hands—especially if those hands belong to the Black Badger, a dangerous international criminal who clearly dabbles in terrorism. The minor characters really are minor in Central Intelligence, though Amy Ryan (Birdman, Gone Baby Gone) is superb as C.I.A. honcho Pam Harris, the agent leading the effort to capture Bob Stone and recover the codes, and Jason Bateman clearly enjoys his small role as Trevor, the guy who masterminded the worst night of Bob’s life —a point humorously made when Bob revives after reliving that high-school nightmare and feels relieved that he’s being tortured instead.

Hart and Johnson actually pair up nicely, and Central Intelligence is a fun action-comedy largely because of their antics and the chemistry that they manage. Will there be a sequel? Of course—especially when you consider that the pair is already filming Jumanji, in which Johnson plays Dr. Smolder Bravestone, Hart plays Moose Finbar, and Jack Black is Professor Shelly Oberon. That’s the thing about formulaic films: if anything in them clicks, as Hart and Johnson do, the formula actually works, no matter how familiar it all seems.

This Blu-ray release comes with both the theatrical version and a 116-minute unrated version that pushes the film closer to “R” territory.

Language: One “f-word” and multiple other swearwords, including “shit”
Sex: No sex, but a long butt-view of the Rock’s rotund high-school character is shown in the shower and kids make genitalia jokes about Robbie’s last name
Violence: Besides the torture scene (which turns out okay and is partly played for laughs) there are multiple shootings, fistfights, and explosions, with some blood shown
Adult situations: Nothing more than what I’ve already talked about
Takeaway: Since Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines starred in what’s probably the first buddy cop action-comedy (Running Scared, 1986), the genre has really taken off. Now it’s just a matter of pairings, and Johnson and Hart go well together.

FISHES ‘N LOAVES: HEAVEN SENT (DVD)

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Fishes'nLoavescoverGrade: C
Entire family: Yes
2016, 103 min., Color
Lionsgate
Rated PG for brief suggestive material
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: n/a
Includes: DVD, Digital
Trailer
Amazon link

Fishes ‘n loaves aside, I’m a sucker for fish-out-of-water stories, and the promotional description for this 2016 “comedy” made it sound promising:

“When his parish closes, a big-hearted California preacher is dispatched to a church in tiny Eufala, Arizona (pop. 4,521), a land of rodeos, square dances, love-struck-goats, and amateur musicals. Can Pastor Randy (Patrick Muldoon) and his loved ones keep their sanity long enough to inspire a community that’s gone astray?”

So I was primed and ready to experience Fishes ‘n Loaves: Heaven Sent, “a comedy of biblical proportions,” as the tagline described it. My wife thought it sounded cute, and my daughter was along for the ride.

But it wasn’t long before we started giving each other sidelong glances.

Funny how you don’t give casting a second thought until it seems wrong. And from the minute that Patrick Muldoon stood in front of a sparsely populated but really impressive church and delivered his sermon, I wasn’t believing him as a minister. He had the vibe of a business executive leading a team-building exercise, not someone who felt it his calling to tend to God’s flock. Dina Meyer also seemed far from what we think of when we think of preacher’s wives—a little too glam, a little too worldly, maybe. Their children were fine, though we all laughed that the family’s refrigerator is covered with alphabet magnets and the kids are in their teens. But details like that make a difference, and we had a hard time swallowing the “reality” that Fishes ‘n Loaves was serving. Stiff lines of dialogue didn’t help, nor did situational lines that seemed totally unbelievable. I mean, what teenage guy, upon meeting a teenage girl with his family standing right there next to him, would gush, “Gee, you’re pretty”?

Fishes'nLoavesscreen1So here’s where we’re at: Pastor Randy is told that they’re closing his parish—though the building is huge and in pristine condition, so there’s obviously money—and they want him to go to a tiny town in Arizona. His wife, meanwhile, wants him to work for her brother at his pizza place (something else I’m not buying, given the casting) and give up this preaching stuff. Really? One minute Pastor Randy is trying to decide how to tell his family they’re moving, and the next minute he’s mopping the floor of the pizza joint and looking like a mope. I just wasn’t believing his crisis of faith or the way they dealt with decisions in their relationship—at least the way that it was presented here. Did he really need a heavy-handed push from a homeless man named (wait for it) DeAngelis (Michael Emery), who basically explains to him the cliché that when God closes one door another one opens, or that God wants him to go to Arizona? No, but he (and we) get it anyway, and it adds an unnecessary layer of hokiness that even the normally ebullient Bruce Davison, as Pastor Ezekiel, can’t penetrate once the film relocates to its primarily rural setting.

But really, it all keeps coming back to casting. Even in Eufala, the assortment of characters lacks the charm and presence to make this city fish feel enough out of water to where it flops and squirms the way it needs to in order to make for successful comedy. Same with the hackneyed “talent auditions” that pop up in way too many movies.

Bottom line: for a comedy,  Fishes ‘n Loaves: Heaven Sent just isn’t that funny. What’s more, it falls short of being inspirational because the film’s trajectory is an overly simplistic line from Point A to Point B. (“You’ve taught us city folk the true meaning of how to love one another”). Even a similarly uncomplicated film like Miracles from Heaven does a better job of inspiring because of nuance, better writing, and (here’s that word again) casting.

Language: Squeaky clean
Sex: Same here
Violence: n/a
Adult situations: Some mild suggestive material
Takeaway: The only fish out of water in this film are the actors

THE COMMITMENTS (25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray)

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CommitmentscoverGrade: B+
Entire family: No
1991, 118 min., Color
RLJ Entertainment
Rated R for language throughout
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B+
Trailer
Amazon link

Like Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins), who auditions people in his home for a band he fantasizes will be the next big musical act to come out of Dublin, director Alan Parker listened to a non-stop parade of raw home-grown talent: 64 bands, 1500 individuals at an open casting call, and another 1500 audition tapes. Not coincidentally, they both came up with the same people to form The Commitments—one of the great movies about rock ‘n’ roll . . . or, more precisely, soul, of the Wilson Pickett, Mary Wells, James Brown, Otis Redding variety.

Parker was famous for directing Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982), and The Commitments is his light side of the moon tribute to rock ‘n’ roll—a love letter to American soul music and the gritty side of urban Ireland.

Commitmentsscreen1Like Almost Famous and This Is Spinal Tap, The Commitments is one of the classic behind-the-scenes movies about the life of a band. It’s funny, it’s raw, it’s energetic, it’s authentic, and it’s filled with wall-to-wall music and images of Dublin that tourists never see. But don’t expect much in the way of plot. We see a little where-they-are-now before Jimmy does his auditioning, and after that the band rehearses, performs, rehearses, performs, and gradually gets on each others nerves so you can see why, by movie’s end, they will eventually break up—though they sound so good you want them to stay together.

In a six-page booklet that comes with the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray, Parker writes, “It was pointed out to me that there were as many as 1200 bands playing in Dublin, which is extraordinary in a city of just over a million people. . . . I think the film captures a little of the spirit and spunk of the working-class kids in Dublin’s Northside.” It looks great on Blu-ray and Parker’s commentary track and additional bonus features are well worth watching.

Though rated R, The Commitments has just pair of minor incidents of violence and one bedroom instance of implied coupling innocent enough to be included on the trailer. There’s really nothing that would make it inappropriate for young teens except the language, which is non-stop. And hey, all the characters are Irish, so it’s tough to understand half of those swear words anyway—so much so that RLJ Entertainment felt the need to provide a glossary on the inside cover.

Commitmentsscreen2The Commitments practice and perform a lot during the film, and at least three songs are complete. They’re so entertaining that you’re glad of that, and glad that Parker made the decision to go with near-constant music. By the end, you’ve absorbed so much that you really feel as if you’ve experienced the band and not just witnessed it. Along with a later cover by Buddy Guy, their rendition of “Mustang Sally” could be one of the best I’ve heard. And the shots of Dublin’s “mean streets” and alleyways are mesmerizing, almost lyrical, given the musical backdrop.

For many viewers, Colm Meaney will be the only recognizable cast member. Meaney plays Mr. Rabbitte, whose reverent obsession with Elvis is illustrated by the fact that a painting of Presley hangs just above a portrait of the Pope. But you’ll also see two people whose names were not familiar then but are well-known now: Glen Hansard (“Once”) as one of the band members, and Andrea Corr (The Corrs) in a non-singing role as Jimmy’s sister. And that’s okay. Not knowing any of the actors adds to the realism to where it almost feels like a guerilla-shot documentary—especially with Jimmy doing imaginary press interviews about the band throughout the film.

Both of our teens liked it a lot, and The Commitments remains a gem of a movie even a quarter century after it was filmed. Crank up the volume and enjoy!

Language: F-bombs dropped by characters of all ages, plus lesser swearwords and Irish variations; it’s pretty much nonstop
Sex: It’s implied that one “player” has been intimate with three women, but nothing is shown
Violence: One band member is beaten up and bloodied, and another bar fight emerges
Adult situations: Lots of smoking and drinking, plus a bar brawl
Takeaway: The Commitments still feels fresh because it has always felt honest and a word that’s often used today:  immersive

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