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WHO GETS THE DOG? (DVD)

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whogetsthedogcoverGrade: C-
Entire family: Yes
2016, 95 min., Color
20th Century Fox
Rated PG for language and a brief drug reference
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: n/a
Trailer
Amazon link

Australian actor Ryan Kwanten stars opposite Alicia Silverstone in Who Gets the Dog?—a cute-premise film whose writing and scenic construction never rise to that same level of cuteness. In fact, this formulaic, straight-as-the-crow-flies romantic comedy can feel plodding and downright dull at times, perhaps because we’re never given any scenes that explain what attracted Chicago Wolves hockey goalie Clay Lonnergan (Kwanten) and doctor Olive Greene (Silverstone) to each other in the first place, and what, specifically, drove them to the divorce that’s announced in the very first scene.

whogetsthedogscreen1All we’re told is that Olive is tired of waiting (wait for it) . . . for Clay to “grow up.” Yet he doesn’t engage in any irresponsible behavior. In fact, if they had to go to trial for their divorce rather than for who gets custody of their white lab, then Exhibit A might be that he dresses sloppily, lives sloppily and can’t cook. But that’s not the clichéd Peter Pan syndrome. That’s just an informal guy who also still likes hanging out with the guys, and why wouldn’t he? Clay makes his living as a professional athlete, where guy bonding is crucial to success. What we see in him is a hard-working goalie who wants to make it to the next level of professional hockey. And he works with kids too. What’s not grown up about that?

Consider it one example of facile writing, and a logical problem that’s matched by some head-snapping others in the film. Set in Chicago during a typical Chicago winter, Who Gets the Dog? features some great shots of the city, but it does make you take notice when truck tires screech and “burn rubber” in snow and slosh, just as later when Clay is living by himself and burning muffins so badly that the RV fills with smoke, and  he removes the tray with an oven mitt but then seconds later barehands it, no problem. You tend to notice things like that when there isn’t much else to divert you. A side plot featuring dog whisperer Glen Hannon (Randall Batinkoff) trying to date Olive isn’t developed nearly enough, and neither is a side plot involving youth hockey—which, let me say, seems like another hard-to-believe scene. We’re talking about players older than age 10 and they’re falling down on the ice after a face-off as if they were five and six year olds.

whogetsthedogscreen2But the biggest problem is that there’s not nearly enough exposition to make you care about the characters or really want them to get back together again. You care more about the dog, and maybe that’s the point. We see Clay working out and talking with a friend, and we see him involved with youth hockey. But we really don’t see much of Olive’s life apart from the main plot, and even that main plot revolves around such goofy things as seeing a doggie counselor together or dealing with site visits from court-appointed authorities.

Silverstone and Kwanten are likable enough, but they don’t have the chemistry between them to explain the happy ending that the film offers, and dog lovers can’t help but think that the one Timmy’s-in-the-well moment also could have been stronger, and that the dog actually could have been featured more. Who Gets the Dog? feels like the kind of made-for-TV movie you’d see on the Hallmark Channel, which seems to crank out dog movies and Christmas movies because people like them. But it’s a film that never rises to the level of cuteness promised by its premise. Whole families can watch Who Gets the Dog? and it’s simple enough for even the youngest children to follow. But there are better options out there.

YOURS, MINE AND OURS (1968) (Blu-ray)

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yoursmineandourscoverGrade: B-
Entire family: Yes
1968, 111 min., Color
Olive Films
Not rated (would be PG for mild language and innuendo)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS 2.0 Mono
Bonus features: n/a
Trailer
Amazon link

In 1968, a year before The Brady Bunch charmed television audiences, two blended family movies played in theaters: With Six You Get Eggroll, starring Doris Day and Brian Keith, and Yours, Mine and Ours, with Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda as the parents. The latter was popular enough to spark a less successful 2005 remake (with Rene Russo and Dennis Quaid). Of them all, the original Yours, Mine and Ours is the best—partly because of a decent script by committee, partly because of the stars’ steady performances, and partly because it’s based on a real story.

yoursmineandoursHelen North was a Navy wife whose husband was killed in an air crash when she was 30 and pregnant with their eighth child. When she married Navy Warrant Officer Frank Beardsley in 1961, her eight children were blended with his 10. And a year later, when each of them legally adopted the others’ brood, they made headlines for the largest group adoption in California history and ended up as guests of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Yours, Mine and Ours is based on her memoir, Who Gets the Drumstick.

Only a fraction of her story is recounted in the film, which focuses on the courtship between Helen and Frank, their marriage, and their attempts to raise 18 children together in the months leading up to that adoption. Though dated (what sixties’ movie isn’t?) Yours, Mine and Ours is still cute —and “cute” is the word that came to my wife and myself as we watched and sometimes laughed out loud.

It’s a little bit of a stretch to accept 57-year-old Ball and 63-year-old Fonda as fertile parents of these combined families, but the casting makes sense when you realize that Ball’s Desilu Productions bought the movie rights. Though the two of them are old enough to be the children’s grandparents, they still make for believable parents once you get over the initial shock. Fans of the old I Love Lucy series will find it interesting to watch Ball in a mostly seriocomic role, with only two scenes that feature slapstick/physical comedy—things that Ball did best. There’s a funny scene at a crowded bar, and later, when Frank brings Helen home to meet his children, the teenage boys (among them Tim Matheson of Animal House fame) put a little extra booze—make that a lot extra—in her drink. Ball, in that scene, evokes a few memories of her Season 2 episode “Lucy Does a TV Commercial,” in which Lucy takes a little too much of the alcohol-based elixer Vitameatavegimin.

yoursmineandoursscreen2Fans of vintage TV will also smile seeing another TV dad, Tom Bosley (Happy Days) playing a doctor. If you’re a Brady Bunch fan, you’ll realize how many of the blended family situations came from this movie. The level of realism and believability is enough to offset anything corny or quaint comes from Yours, Mine and Ours being so wholesome and nearly 50 years old. It’s still enjoyable family fare, and because it is so dated looking it’s going to provide a nice touchstone for children to see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same when it comes to family dynamics.

Aside from Matheson, the actors who play the children are believable but unremarkable, while the same could be said of the film’s minor characters—except for Van Johnson, a leading man who gets to play the sidekick this outing. Directed by Melville Shavelson—who got his experience shepherding stepparents and stepchildren in the Oscar-nominated romantic comedy Houseboat, starring Cary Grant and Sophia Loren—Yours, Mine and Ours is a wholesome, cute family movie. And age hasn’t diminished its cuteness one bit.

Age has, however, affected the print, which is a little rough in the opening. But the graininess gradually becomes less after the title sequence. Like the stars’ ages, once the film gets rolling you it all smoothes out, and the colors especially look rich in this HD presentation.

Language: Nothing here except literally a handful of “damns” and “hells”
Sex: Nothing here either, apart from a few phrases (“sex maniac”), a boy reading a Playboy, mild innuendo, and references to a boy who expects a teenage girl to “prove her love”
Violence: Just one scuffle and an implied schoolyard fight with a black eye to prove it
Adult situations: Aside from the innuendo, a few fertility jokes, and the drinking/drunkenness, nothing offensive
Takeaway: As old as Ball and Fonda seem at the beginning of the film, you quickly forget their ages and appreciate two professionals—two Hollywood legends—at work

DORIS DAY AND ROCK HUDSON ROMANTIC COMEDY COLLECTION (Blu-ray)

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DayHudsoncoverGrade:  B+
Entire family: No
1959-64, 310 min., Color
Universal
Not Rated (Would be PG-13 for drinking, smoking, and innuendo)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1, 2.35:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 2.0
Bonus features: B-
Trailer (Pillow Talk)
Amazon link

Back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, the romantic comedy was synonymous with two names: Doris Kapplehoff and Roy Sherer Jr., better known to audiences as Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Though the pair only made three films—Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, and Send Me No Flowers, all included on this Doris Day and Rock Hudson Romantic Comedy Collection—they helped define the genre for a generation.

Are the films dated? Of course. These are sex romps without the sex, innuendo without the indecency. One of the funniest quips ever made about Doris Day came from comedian-pianist Oscar Levant, who remarked, “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.” Her onscreen performance was virginal, even in Send Me No Flowers, when she and Hudson played a married couple. The writers and directors changed, but all three films followed a tradition that dates back to Shakespeare by incorporating double entendre, confusion over disguises, mistaken identities, or misunderstandings, and minor characters whose job it is to prod and push the main characters toward a chaotic quasi-screwball climax. The colors are deliciously oversaturated compared to today’s color films, and the lifestyles and the moral values are pure ‘50s. Yet, as my teenage son said—and he gave all three films high marks for entertainment value—“These are great!”

Pillow Talk (1959) A-
DayHudsonscreen1The one that started it all is still the best, but the concept might take some explaining. An interior decorator (Day) who shares a party line with a womanizing songwriter (Hudson) ends up being romanced by him as he pretends to be a shy Texan, first to have fun at her expense, and then to seduce her. But of course love and decency win out. As Brad begins to fall for her and realizes he has no chance with her if she finds out his true identity, the plot twists even more so.

It helps to know that in the age of rotary dial phones there were only so many private phone lines available. As a result, many people had to share a line—a party line—and sometimes work out use patterns between them, while others opted for the party line to save money.

The script is clever and all of the actors have a lot of fun with it. Tony Randall is hilarious as a rich client of Day’s who also happens to know Hudson’s character and serves as his confidante, while Thelma Ritter plays Day’s maid, the obligatory hungover heavy drinker that turns up in almost every ‘50s and ‘60s comedy. TV’s Johnny Yuma, The Rebel, appears as an all-hands college boy, while Hayden Rorke (who played Dr. Bellows on TV’s Bewitched) also has a small role. In 2009 Pillow Talk made it into the National Film Registry because of its cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance.”

Lover Come Back (1961) B+
The formula returns in this follow-up, with Day and Hudson playing rival Madison Ave. ad executives competing for accounts. Always the wholesome one, she pitches ideas, while he uses women and booze to DayHudsonscreen2win accounts and has plenty of “conquests” himself. To keep one of them from going to the ethics board he invents a product (VIP) and keeps her in line by telling her he’ll make her the VIP girl. When Day’s character gets wind of the new product, she tries to find out more about it and goes to a Nobel Prize-winning chemists that she suspects her competitor has hired. Here’s where the mistaken identity comes in: Day walks in just as the chemist went into the back room, leaving Hudson in his lab coat. And Hudson decides to play the part, again to have some fun at her expense and to keep her occupied so she can’t cause him any trouble.

The bonus for fans of classic TV is that Donna Douglas (Ellie Mae on The Beverly Hillbillies) appears as the secretary of the CEO (Tony Randall again) at the firm Hudson’s character works for, while Ann B. Davis (Alice on The Brady Bunch) plays Day’s secretary, and other familiar faces also turn up, like Joe Flynn (McHale’s Navy) and Jack Albertson (Chico & the Man). Lover Come Back is slightly more risqué (though nothing is shown) insomuch as the two main characters wake up in bed together after a wild party. There’s more drinking and smoking in this one than in the first, but the mistaken identity formula works just as well, and in the end, it’s awfully tame compared to today’s movies, yet just as entertaining.

Send Me No Flowers (1964) B+
DayHudsonscreen3Universal decided to switch it up for the third outing. In this one, Hudson plays a hypochondriac who, after overhearing his doctor talk about the x-rays of a dying man, thinks he has only two weeks to live. His first thought is, of course, for his wife, and after talking to his best friend and neighbor (Tony Randall) he decides the best thing to do is to try to find another husband for her, so she won’t be all alone after he’s gone.

There are plenty of twists and allusions in this one, with TV’s Cheyenne (Clint Walker) riding on a horse to save Day from a runaway golf cart. It turns out that he’s her old college sweetheart, and a little too familiar with her for the jealous Hudson, who nonetheless reminds himself that he is, after all, looking for a replacement husband. Norman Jewison (Moonstruck, Fiddler on the Roof) directed this one, which also offers a fun amount of familiar faces. The acerbic Paul Lynde plays a cemetery director, while veteran character actor Edward Andrews (who guest starred in so many TV sitcoms it’s hard to name them all) also appears.

All three of these films share the same winning formula, and while there are dated elements, the core ingredients are timeless. Families with older teenage children should enjoy these together. They’d probably merit a PG-13 rating today, for their use of tobacco and alcohol and sexual innuendo—though again, it all seems so tame compared to today’s movies. But all three of these romantic comedies still work. Fans might hope that the next “collection” Universal releases will be the Doris Day and James Garner Romantic Comedy Collection. Though the pair only did two films together (The Thrill of It All, Move Over Darling) they’re as much fun as the Day-Hudson romps.

THE REWRITE (Blu-ray)

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RewritecoverGrade: B-
Entire family: Yes, but . . . .
2014, 107 min., Color
RLJ/Image Entertainment
Not rated (would be PG-13 for drinking and adult situations)
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features: C-
Trailer

Hugh Grant is known for his boyish good looks, casual charm, and dry sense of humor. Writer-director Marc Lawrence is known for casting him.

Thus far Grant has starred in four of Lawrence’s lightweight PG-13 comedies, and while Music and Lyrics remains the best of the bunch—partly because of the chemistry that Grant had with co-star Drew Barrymore—The Rewrite is better than Two Weeks Notice and Did You Hear About the Morgans?

There are some genuinely funny moments in this comedy about an Oscar-winning writer who can’t find work and quickly manages to upset the apple cart after arriving at SUNY-Binghamton to teach a screenwriting course as a visiting writer-in-residence.

Keith Michaels, a one-hit wonder known only for penning Paradise Misplaced, violates teaching ethics by bedding the “apple polisher” that flirts with him his very first night in upstate New York. He drinks too much at the classic wine-and-cheese faculty reception and insults their Jane Austen scholar (Allison Janney). He becomes the talk of the campus after selecting his students on the basis of their attractiveness rather than the strength of their screenplays. And he all but forces an easygoing department chair (J.K. Simmons) to reprimand him after he meets with his students for a total of five minutes and tells them to come back after a month, when they’ve written a complete screenplay.

Michaels isn’t quite at rock bottom, but he still needs to travel a pretty long character arc to reach a point of redemption. And that’s what screenplays are all about.   More

WHAT IF (Blu-ray)

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WhatIfcoverGrade: B
Entire family: No
2013, 98 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, including references throughout, partial nudity and language
Sony Pictures
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features: C+
Trailer

What If Daniel Radcliffe took a break from the horror-thriller movies he’s been making since his Harry Potter run ended and tried his hand at a romantic comedy? And what if he was paired with writer-actress Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks)?

According to Radcliffe, “There was something lovely about just stepping up on the set and talking,” since this was the first contemporary character he’s ever played.

So what if a nice-guy med school dropout named Wallace (Radcliffe), who’s been burned one too many times in a relationship, meets a woman (Kazan) who already has a boyfriend and clicks with her instantly? What if she drops the “f bomb” on him that no guy likes to hear: “Let’s be friends. Just friends”? And what if the two of them find themselves growing so close as friends that he definitely wants it to be more, and on some level, so does she? What would it take for good friends to move beyond that, without wrecking what they have? And without pushing the film’s rating into R territory?

That’s the premise of What If, a PG-13 rated comedy-drama-romance that features intelligent writing, a believable chemistry between the slightly staid Wallace and borderline free spirit Chantry, and one “close-your-eyes” skinny-dipping moment that shows both actors’ bodies from behind in a moonlit (sorry, bad pun) long shot.

These two are friends, and so the emphasis is on friendship and clever dialogue rather than the steamy couplings and break-ups and make-ups that often shape the contemporary rom-com. There’s a meet-cute, certainly, but everything else takes a different route from the typical romantic comedy. That’s refreshing, especially since these two are moral individuals who care about each other, and the film emphasizes caring over romance, and romance over lust (which hardly makes an appearance).   More

TEACHER’S PET (1958) (DVD)

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TeachersPetcoverGrade: B+
Entire family: Yes (except for the very young)
1958, 119 min., Black-and-white
Not rated (would be PG for adult drinking)
Warner Bros. Archive (not available elsewhere)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Bonus features: None
Trailer

If you believe that a steady diet of contemporary films ought to be supplemented occasionally by an interesting foreign film or black-and-white classic in order for the kids to have a broad sense of culture, you might consider Teacher’s Pet for a family night movie.

Along with Pillow Talk it’s one of Doris Day’s most delightful and enduring romantic comedies, and the kids get a two-for, since she’s paired with pop culture icon Clark Gable.

Yes, eyes will roll as Day sings the cheesy (albeit catchy) title sequence song, but in the first scene the Internet generation gets an introduction to old-school newspaper production. We watch a group touring the New York Evening Post and see what they see: presses rolling and the chaotic excitement of the newsroom. The film’s theme is introduced in this early sequence when a mother who had snuck onto the tour begs city desk editor James Gannon (Gable) to fire her son so he’ll go back to school. Gannon, who never went to high school, is convinced that real job experience is more worthwhile than college.

Most of Day’s romantic comedies depend on an opposites-attract formula that pits the former band singer’s screen naiveté and virginal attitudes against a more promiscuous male, and while there’s a little of that here, the main contrast is still college instructor Erica Stone’s belief that journalism can be taught vs. Gannon’s resistance to education.  More

FATHER GOOSE (Blu-ray)

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FatherGoosecoverGrade: A-
Entire family: Yes
1964, 118 min., Color
Not rated (would be PG for some peril and adult drinking)
Olive Films
Aspect ratio: anamorphic widescreen (16×9)
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA Mono
Bonus features: None
Clip

Father Goose is one of those rare films that appeal not only to lovers of the genre—in this case, romantic comedy—but others as well. There’s humor and WWII adventure in this amiable 1964 film, which will appeal to boys in the family. The girls, meanwhile, will be won over by the seven schoolgirls of varying ages that are rescued by a reluctant (and still very funny and attractive in his second-to-last film) Cary Grant.

Grant plays teacher-turned-beachcomber Walter Eckland, who dropped out of the world and in return just wants the world to leave him alone. Though war in the Pacific is raging all around him, he’s determined to be neutral and uninvolved. We first meet him when he turns up at British-Australian naval base that’s under fire, and, bothered more by a pelican that keeps hitching a ride on the boat he recently bought than by shells exploding nearby, he proceeds to try to “borrow” cans of gasoline and rations.

FatherGoosescreenThat plays right into the hands of the dockmaster, an old friend named Houghton (Trevor Howard) who’s been ordered to evacuate and set up shop coordinating more than 30 coast watchers spread across the Pacific islands. He needs one more coast watcher and Walter needs supplies, so they strike a deal . . . which Walter had no intention of abiding by, until Houghton “accidentally” rams his boat and forces him to make for the island. Then, to get Walter to actually report Japanese airplane and ship movements, Houghton hides bottles of scotch whiskey and gives Walter the directions to a bottle for every confirmed sighting.

Walter never gets drunk, and his drinking is played for laughs, so most parents won’t find it objectionable. After all, there is a war on, and when Walter ends up rescuing a pretty young teacher (Leslie Caron) and her charges, she immediately sets about trying to reform him. He may be gruff, but he’s still a likable fellow that the girls find as appealing as their teacher does.

Sparks eventually fly, and the action intensifies, and in no time at all you’re rooting for this pair of opposites to come together in spite of all that’s happening in the world around them.

It’s one of the better Cary Grant films to introduce children to, and a darned good “starter” romantic comedy because of all the other distractions. Don’t expect a laugh-out-loud comedy—just a lot of smiles, and a little tension, too, as the world threatens to tear this couple apart before they can even come together. It’s a fun, light adventure that’s perfect for family movie night.