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Review of THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: A-
Entire family: Yes
2017, 104 min., Color
Animated action-comedy
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 2.41:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos True HD
Bonus features: B- (four shorts, 6 short features, 4 deleted scenes)
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

I’m curious: Is there a kid in America who hasn’t played with Legos? Since 1949 the Danish company has cranked out those distinctive, colorful plastic building blocks that really took off as a kid craze when the company began producing theme sets tied to history (knights, pirates, robots, Vikings, cowboys, dinosaurs, etc.) and movies (Batman, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc.). Lego stores are everywhere. At Downtown Disney in Orlando a giant Lego dragon rises up out of a manmade lake, while in a downtown Chicago Lego store an elaborate model of a downtown city block is on display. And some airports and trains have dedicated Lego sections where children can play. With Legos so culturally huge, the stage was set for The Lego Movie (2014) to do for Lego lovers what Wreck-It Ralph did for video-game lovers—and it didn’t disappoint.

In that first film, Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) was surrounded by a bevy of characters from other theme sets, though another figure was the unlikely hero. In The Lego Batman Movie the focus is totally on the Batman-Superman DC world, with guest villains popping up from other pockets of pop culture (say that three times fast). The result is dazzling, and the second film is easily as good as the first—possibly better.

The most striking thing about The Lego Batman Movie, which was computer animated in 3D, is its wide appeal.

—Young children who are just learning to stack the blocks will respond to the colors, the action, and yes, the talking characters who say things like “shoot shoot shoot” when they’re firing their toy guns, mimicking the kind of pretend play that children engage in.

—Older children who watch superhero movies and still have a box of Legos stored somewhere in their closets will love the stellar set design, the driving musical score, and the special effects that somehow manage to keep up with the breakneck pacing. It’s a pretty impressive assault on the senses.

—Teens and adults who are familiar enough with superhero movies to know all the tropes will love the wry and often egotistical and cynical running commentary by Batman (Arnett again) and the postmodernist self-consciousness that The Lego Batman Movie displays in simultaneously delivering the formula and making fun of it. There are, for example, dozens of “bat” vehicles, including a Batkayak. Chris McKay, who directed Robot Chicken (2005) and Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III (2010) knows how to have it both ways and absolutely crams this film full of pop cultural references and gags. The more you know, the more you’ll laugh—even as your wee ones are getting caught up in the action.

—Parents will love that different ages will see and appreciate different things. Like Toy Story the core message is one of family—and friends becoming a family. The Lego Batman Movie is rated PG, but the pacing is so brisk that anything close to objectionable will fly right over the heads of little ones, like this hilarious exchange:

Robin (Michael Cera): “My name’s Richard Grayson, but all the kids at the orphanage call me Dick.”

Batman: “Well, children can be cruel.”

Then again, you knew from the opening dark screen and voiceover that this was going to be a clever parody, as Batman says, “Black. All important movies start with a black screen. And music. Edgy, scary music that would make a parent or studio executive nervous.” Batman is a fast-talker, as they’d say in the Seinfeld world, and you’ve got to keep up or you’ll miss half the jokes. The plot? That’s easy:

Even as Batman hurts the Joker’s feelings by telling him he’s not as important as he thinks he is, Commissioner Gordon retires and his daughter, Barbara (Rosario Dawson), tells Batman essentially the same thing. And when the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and his fellow villains turn themselves in, Batman decides to raid Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and grab the Phantom Zone Projector to send the Joker to another dimension. Briefly Batman and Robin are jailed for their mischief, but when the Joker returns from the Phantom Zone with every single exiled villain Barbara realizes the city needs Batman after all. That’s pretty much the message, even as bad guys reconcile with good guys: that people need each other, even if it’s only being the yang to another’s yin. And as Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) tells Batman, if you lose a family, don’t brood . . . find another.

The Lego Batman Movie is funny, clever, action-packed, and rocking with music and kaleidoscopic graphics, but it’s those underlying messages that make it a great family film—especially on sparkling Blu-ray and with Dolby Atmos True-HD sound. And that’s not even counting the free kid’s ticket to Legoland that’s included with purchase.

Language: Just mild terms like “butt” or “sucks”
Sex: n/a, unless you count Robin tearing off his pants like a stripper in order to get down to the uniform we see
Violence: Lots of fighting, but it’s hard to take any of it too seriously when these are plastic figures with claw hands and clunky, Lego movements
Adult situations: Nothing here either, unless you count that running commentary
Takeaway: Pay attention, people. Warner Bros. Animation has arrived

Review of ROCK DOG (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: B-/C+
Entire family: Yes
2017, 90 min., Color
Animated comedy
Rated PG for action and language
Summit Entertainment
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1 widescreen
Preferred audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features: C+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

Rock Dog, a Chinese-American collaboration, is a better-than-you’d-think animated feature. It’s a true family movie with the potential to appeal to a wide range of ages. The characters are engaging, the animation is top-notch, and the story . . . well, if it worked in Kung Fu Panda, why wouldn’t it here?

Rather than a Panda who hears a different drummer, this time it’s a Tibetan mastiff that can’t quite bring himself to follow in his father’s footsteps as a guard dog of a village of sheep up on Snow Mountain. With a gang of hungry and opportunistic wolves ready to attack, a single dog following his ancestral tradition isn’t enough. The father (J.K. Simmons) needs his son, and he also needs “scarecrows”—a bunch of sheep dressed to look like mastiffs from a distance—in order to keep the wolves at bay.

Bodi (Luke Wilson) would rather play music, but since music was banned because it was a distraction, he defiantly breaks into the “hold” where confiscated instruments are stored and begins teaching himself how to play a traditional stringed instrument. But when a radio falls from the sky and Bodi discovers the delights of rock music, he modifies that instrument to create his own six-string acoustic guitar and finally gets his father’s reluctant blessing to head to the city to follow his dream of becoming a musician.

We’re not supposed to question why we’re unable to get radio reception driving on some roads, but high in the Himalayas everything comes in crystal clear. And we’re not supposed to wonder why character actor Sam Elliott was chosen to play the narrator Fleetwood Yak, since this is set in Asia and Elliott’s unmistakable Western drawl situates us immediately in the American West. Above all, we’re not supposed to question mastiff’s “Iron Paw” defense—a laser-cannon blast of energy that emits from the mastiff’s paws—and later, young Bodi’s musical variation of it. Director Ash Brannon (Toy Story 2, Surf’s Up) knows that if the writing and story are strong enough and the characters are strong enough, audiences will relax and just enjoy the movie.

Wilson does a fine job as the lead character, but the show-stealer is feline rock ‘n’ roll legend Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard). Almost every scene involving Bodi and Angus is shot full of energy and interest, and you can see it in their interaction that they were the most fun for writers to bring alive. Don’t expect much in the way of sideplots, though. A wannabe successful band—featuring a warm-hearted bass-playing fox named Darma (Mae Whitman), a slightly goofy goat drummer named Germur (Jorge Garcia), and an arrogant snow leapard guitarist named Trey (Matt Dillon)—has almost as little to do as TV mothers in the old father-centric sitcoms. But the real fun begins when Trey pranks Bodi into finding Scattergood and asking him to be his teacher and he leaves that group temporarily behind. Even a kidnapping involving the wolf gang led by Linnux (a mobster type who also is a fight-club owner) isn’t as much fun as the Bodi/Angus scenes—though, of course, the kids will like the infusion of action. In the end, though, it’s another tale of following your dreams and finding parental acceptance in the process.

Rock Dog is based on a graphic novel (Tibetan Rock Dog) by Chinese rock star Zheng Jun and with a $60 million production budget it ranks as the most costly animated film ever produced by Chinese. As I said, the production values are terrific, the script (though familiar) doesn’t sag anywhere, the characters are likeable, the action is sufficient, and the music is an upbeat bonus. It is, in other words, much better than you’d expect for a film that did not do well at the box office in China and drew a 39 percent “rotten” rating at RottenTomatoes.com.

Language: Some name calling and scattered use of “bloody” as a euphemistic swearword
Sex: Zero
Violence: Not much—just some wolves shot with a tranquilizer, a dog fighting a grizzly, and a cat being hit with a baseball bat, all for comic effect
Adult situations: Nothing really
Takeaway: The skills are here, but the filmmakers need an original idea and script to take it to the next level

Review of A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (Blu-ray)

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Grade:  A-/B+
Entire family:  Yes, for most
1992, 128 min., Color
Comedy
Rated PG for language
Columbia/Sony Pictures
Aspect ratio:  2.40:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features:  B-/C+
Includes:  Blu-ray, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

“There’s no crying in baseball!”

When it first came out, A League of Their Own was an out-of-the-park homer, and not just because Madonna’s name was on the marquee. Director Penny Marshall (Laverne, of Laverne & Shirley fame) drafted some of her old TV cronies and other pals in order to assemble an ensemble that was strong enough to go extra innings. If you isolate the performances and compare them to baseball cards, there isn’t a dud destined to be traded or clipped to the spokes of a bicycle wheel—especially when you consider that no doubles were used for the baseball action. Billed as a “family comedy,” it’s one of our family’s favorite baseball films.

AND now, here’s the line-up for YOUR Rockford Peaches:

C—Geena Davis, as Dottie Hinson. The “Queen of Diamonds” is the best player in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that was formed during World War II when men’s baseball was shut down and team owners needed something to keep the sport alive. A handful of teams based at small Midwestern cities played from 1943-1954. This 1992 film is based on that true story, but focuses on two players from a farm in Oregon—Dottie, married to a serviceman stationed overseas, and her younger sister who’s “as unmarried as they come.” Davis shines as the reticent star who manages the team in the early going and makes some amazing catches behind the plate (which, we learn in the extras, were really her own!).

P—Lori Petty, as Kit Keller, a kid sister with a big inferiority complex who’s as competitive in her sibling rivalry as she is on the mound. The fiery but tantrum-prone fireballer needs to be cooled off more than once, and though Petty plays it a bit over the top at times, she makes it easy for viewers to believe the love-hate relationship she has with big sis.

CF—Madonna, as “All the Way” Mae Mordabito. This chain-smoking female Charlie Hustle, who used to be a dime-a-dance girl, offers to spice up things by “accidentally,” ala Janet Jackson, giving fans a glimpse of her “bosom.” Marshall wanted Madonna because she needed a high-energy dancer for a roadhouse scene, but first the superstar had to pass the baseball test, like all the rest. Actresses had to show they could hit, throw, and run before they were even considered for a part. After consultants from the L.A. Dodgers told Marshall the material girl was “teachable,” she was in.

3B—Rosie O’Donnell, as Doris Murphy, Mae’s tough-talking toadie-style sidekick who hits for power and doesn’t pull any punches in her performance. The stand-up comic makes you believe she’s a “broad” from the Bronx. It turns out that O’Donnell, like Petty, was a tomboy who was already a darned good ballplayer. O’Donnell was told to become Madonna’s best friend during filming, and the close relationship they developed carries over onto the screen.

2B—Megan Cavanagh, as really ugly duckling Marla Hooch. Though the league wanted “dollies” who looked good in short skirts, Hooch’s switch-hitting power was too beautiful to pass up. If you never heard of Cavanagh, that’s because she was a waitress at Ed DeBevic’s, a diner where the wait staff does outrageous things. She provides a good chunk of the comedy.

1B—Anne Elizabeth Ramsay, as Helen Haley, one of the sensible ones. That’s ironic, because most viewers will recognize her as Helen Hunt’s daffy sister on the old Mad About You TV show.

LF/P—Tracy Reiner, as Betty “Spaghetti” Horn. Before you think that Rob Reiner’s daughter got the part just because her mom happened to be director, remember, she still had to pass the baseball test. And Mom, a great baseball player herself, apparently prepped her for the role when Tracy was still a young girl. Reiner turns in a sensitive performance in the film’s single serious scene.

RF—Bitty Schram, as Evelyn Gardner, who keeps forgetting to hit the cut-off “man” with her throws, which, of course, raises the blood pressure of the manager and provides for some great comic moments—as does her delinquent little boy, whom she brings on road trips.

SS/P—Freddie Simpson, as former beauty pageant winner Ellen Sue Gotlander, in a minor role.

Manager—Tom Hanks, as Jimmy Dugan, a former major-league star destined for the Hall of Fame but who drank himself out of baseball. Hanks usually has the stage to himself, but even in an ensemble he brings great vitality to his part. When he pees in front of the girls (you don’t see anything), shuffles along in an alcoholic stupor, mistakenly kisses the team’s chaperone (Pauline Brasilsford), and constantly spits tobacco juice, he couldn’t be any more convincingly hilarious. Marshall directed him before in Big, so she knew what she was getting.

Owner—Garry Marshall, as Walter Harvey, of Harvey Candy Bars, obviously patterned after P.K. Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate whose name is still on the stadium of the Chicago Cubs. Part of the film was shot at Wrigley, and in one of the extras the cast says how their wide-eyed entrance into that hallowed space wasn’t faked. They were genuinely awestruck by the Friendly Confines. Marshall is the director’s brother, and sitcom fans may recall he produced Laverne & Shirley. L&S alum Eddie Mekka (Carmine) makes an appearance in the big dance scene, while David L. Lander (Squiggy) turns up in the announcer’s booth.

Scout—Jon Lovitz, as the caustic Ernie Capadino, whose put-downs of the “milkmaids” he recruits would rival Don Rickles. Lovitz provides most of the humor in the early going, and the screenwriters reveal in one special feature that Lovitz was the only one they ever wrote a part for. He’s laugh-out-loud highlight reel all by himself.

Though the frame that sets up a flashback main story tugs a little too hard at the heartstrings—kind of like Stand by Me—the main narrative is full of humor and strikes just the right tone. It gives you an atmosphere that feels baseball- and period-right, and accomplishes Marshall’s side goal of drawing attention to these women . . . who may be in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown now, but most of their memorabilia is in storage. So much for equal rights. But it does make the title (already a pun) resonate with irony. More

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

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